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Inspiration is a wondrous creature – suddenly it raises its head out of nowhere, when you least expect it… after watching a couple of old Supernatural episodes, Indeep’s song from the eighties – Last Night a DJ Saved My Life – was played on the radio … Suddenly words began to form in my head, pounding against my skull to be let out. You’re the ones who will suffer for it, I guess…
 
We know that demons lie, kill, betray and simply screw with the Winchester brothers (and their friends), but are they helpful, too, sometimes?  After all, the importance of monsters in the Winchesters’ lives can’t be contradicted. The question is, could we paint some of that significance in a positive color or is it all bad…?
 
We’ve had the imbeciles of demons, the almost human ones, and some really cool baddies (Crowley was one of those), and we had ‘queen-bitch’ Ruby, a former witch, and her boss Lilith who probably wasn’t able to decide whether she preferred a child’s body or that of a comely dental hygienist…
 
Demons played crucial roles in several moments in the brothers’ lives. I’ve been wondering, what would have happened to them if it had not been for demons… or for some of them…
 
Paranormal creatures have been foes in a very traditional way (kill ‘em and leave ‘em – and in the pre-colt-period exorcism was the method of choice to get rid of them), but they have also been ambiguous beings, even helpful, and sometimes they gave the brothers a glimpse at an alternative life. Angels did that, too.
 
It’s a terrible, terrible life…
 
The theme of alternative reality or altering the present reality has brushed past this show several times now.
 
The brothers had their encounters with crossroad demons: in Crossroad Blues Dean considered making a deal to get dad back… even though he didn’t answer Sam’s question concerning the matter we knew he had been a breath away from closing a deal (but Dean did so for the poor bastard who had sold his soul to save his wife’s life, thankfully not endangering his own soul at least this once), and in All Hell Breaks Loose he actually did cross that line. In Bedtime Stories and in (in flashbacks) I Know What You Did Last Summer Sam fruitlessly tried to free Dean from his deal.
 
In other episodes, demons, angels formerly known as demi-gods or simply angels toyed with the Winchesters to proof some absurd point or plainly because they had fun doing so or – even more fundamental – to just feed.
 
The Trickster (aka Gabriel) changed reality to enjoy his pranks in Tall Tales, then to hammer some message into Sam’s soul by killing his beloved brother over and over in Mystery Spot, and even later he tried to teach them yet another lesson, all the while pushing them during Changing Channels from one tv-planet to another in a manner that would have anyone’s head spinning. And that probably was not the last we’ve seen of him.
 
Castiel send Dean back in time to stop important events in In The Beginning, and Zachariah tried to make clear that another existence than being a (celestial?) hunter was A Terrible Life and that Dean’s resistance to give in to Michael was only one step closer to The End.
 
Furthermore, occasionally the brothers met demons able to change or influence realities, like the Djinn in What Is And What Should Never Be or the crocotta in Long-Distance Call
 
Is there anyone out there who has never allowed that subjunctive to enter your brain with an idea like ‘What if I had not done this? Wouldn’t my life be better?’  I guess at some point, especially when we face difficulties in our lives, a question like that might arise – when trying to solve a problem, we often strive to find out what went wrong or where we should have taken another turn, which is essentially not a bad strategy, as we learn from our mistakes. Every failure, every retrograde step eventually will allow us to advance.
 
Now, luckily no one of us has to deal with supernatural adversaries in a manner Sam and Dean Winchester are forced to. What would they do if they were not hunters? What would their relationship be like? We’ve seen a glimpse of one possible and heartbreaking reality in What Is And What Should Never Be.
 
That episode introduced us to a stuck-up Sam, law student, respectful son, but reserved in regard to Dean. Sam, in fact, looked down on his brother – ‘I see you started off Mom’s birthday with a bang, as usual’ – and was not comfortable or at ease with him (backing away when Dean touched him, counting off Dean’s misdemeanours from some years back).  Dean, on the other hand, worked at a garage, the impala’s trunk littered with skin mags and candy and fast food wrappings. He led a rather unspectacular, normal life, dating a lovely nurse, without any greater ambitions.
 
In this reality, both probably would not have gotten along, even if Dean had tried to make it up to Sam (which he only aspired to do because he remembered that he didn’t belong there, the Dean from that particular reality might not have cared that much…). The gap between the brothers was huge.
 
In It’s a Terrible Life they did not even know each other. Dean was superior in rank to Sam’s tech support status, a career guy who needed to detox and who prepared himself to spend the upcoming years working his butt off to become some big Kahuna in that company. After some awkward moments they found out how great they worked as a team and decided to quit their jobs in order to pursue some other, more rewarding life – ‘saving people, hunting things’.
 
In the beginning of the show, before we became acquainted with the cosmic plan for the guys and the horrific ordeals that caught up with them, there was some Indiana-Jones and Jedi-Training-Camp – vibe about the show as well. A twisted version of the all-American road trip. There was that great, classic car that put up a ‘this is a cool show’ sign, and its gun-stuffed trunk would have made Indy proud. There was an appealing ease about the brothers taking care of business, accompanied by some of the best rock music ever written (I’m still hoping to hear Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town and BTO’s Taking Care Of Business,…Eric Kripke, how about that?)… all that angst and pending apocalypse was not yet there… and somehow, after watching the first seasons I began to think – they needed the demon world.
 
This was the Winchesters’ calling. And their curse. No light without darkness. They were protectors of the innocent, sometimes of the guilty, they sent Evil back to where it belonged or simply cut off some of its heads – but they paid a price for that kind of heroism.
 
Nevertheless, they enjoyed aspects of that life – in particular Dean. He had never even considered being something else but that. He had dreams of a family, a loving wife, kids, but essentially all he really tried to be was a hunter. He did not allow himself to even aspire another life.
 
Dean’s self esteem had always been low, depending on his qualities of being a good son and brother – and a skilled hunter. As long as he was able to protect his family and ‘kill some evil sons of bitches’ he was fine. Dean was not made to be a scholar. It wasn’t his goal. Although he apparently did read, he had more fun watching porn, flicking through Busty Asian Beauties mags and working on his car. So, with all that in mind, he would have probably indeed become a mechanic, perhaps eventually developing an alcohol problem (as he seems to have a tendency to drink in stressful moments), had he not been a hunter.
 
Fixing cars doesn’t carry anything heroic with it per se. Mechanics work long hours for low pay. It’s hard and dirty work. Unless they really dig that job, their self-esteem will not be buffered automatically by the outcome of their work.  Dean would not have been able to draw on his skills of saving others to feel somewhat significant, as he would not have learned how to save anyone… except perhaps using his fists in a bar brawl.
 
And Sam? Sam wanted to be a lawyer. He did not choose law without reason – growing up with a family that lived on credit card scams and hustling pool might have fuelled his wish to live within the law. Depending on the direction his studies might have taken, Sam would still have been able to help others – with his skills as the lawyer he was about to become.
 
Who knows what profession Sam would have chosen had they not been in the monster killing business. My guess is, he would have gone to college nonetheless, as he was of an academic mind. Chances are he would have ended up in an office, working on his career, non unlike Dean in It’s A Terrible Life.
 
The fact remains, that we love to see the brothers do what they do. There is nothing glamorous about their lives, but we love to follow their exploits. They are modern day heroes, even though you cannot put any aesthetic value on the kind of horrific fights they get into. It’s mostly blood and gore – and heartbreak, and yet they are the adventurous archeologists (well, you know, Indy’s heirs) of this generation.
 

Comments  

Randal
# Randal 2009-12-20 05:56
So, yay, demons, go demons, it's your birthday? :D I'll buy that, but I've never even heard of that song. I blame Master of Puppets.

There *is* a dignity, for, according to societal standards, what are their rewards? Disbelief, straitjackets, punches in the face and jail time. (song suggestion: AC/DC's Jailbreak? C'mon, Kripke, get on the ball!) Doesn't get much more heroic knowing that your heroism isn't going to essentially have the demon AND human world against you.

Ruby appealed a bit to his lizard brain and once that switch was flipped, she could work on his reasoning, whose belief in 4.1 was that he still didn't trust her yet was willing to follow for the greater good, saving the possessed. But once you've got your hooks in the visceral, emotional part of someone, it's so much harder to break away.

So, yes, thanks Ruby (and assorted other baddies - I can't believe you didn't mention Casey, I'm crushed, sniff), and that's not so strange, for did not Dean once say "hey, whatever works?"
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-20 05:57
IS going to essentially have. Now I actually make sense.
Narcissus
# Narcissus 2009-12-20 09:20
*crawls slowly out of hiding, waves at everyone*

I've never heard of the song either. But I do think I smell the beginnings of Supernatural's very own dating system: BC - Before Colt, AC - After Colt :mrgreen:

Ruby is indeed the Miss Universe of lying skanks, but apart from indirectly starting the apocalypse, she was a useful skank who fixed the Colt and saved Sam (only to eventually break Sam, who went on to break the world...I think my brain cells are starting to fry).

The 'what if' question is something everybody thinks about, but at the end of the day, we have no way of knowing what would change if anything had gone differently in our lives. The boys are who they are because of the lives they lead, because of the (internal and external) demons and angels that they fight (and love?), the baddies that make them stop and ask questions about life and their actions. Had any of these elements been missing, the Winchesters wouldn't be boys we know and love. And now I'm just being repetitive, forgive me.

I think that the attractiveness of their lives lies in, at least partly, its utter futility and hopelessness. Who hasn't at some point or other felt that way? Who hasn't, for at least a moment, felt completely lost and unanchored, like we face nothing but hostility no matter where we turn? For the boys however, at the end of the day, they save people. Their misery comes to something good eventually..and that gives us hope. And when we are feeling so lost, that tiny glimmer of hope keeps us going, no matter how fallacious it may or may not be. I think that is also the same reason Sam followed Ruby despite his initial distrust.

And Randal, we've got our Crowley and you've got your Casey..tit for tat hahahaha
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-20 17:29
Randal and Narcissus, thank you!

Nay, Randal, my birthday is in summer, I’m a cancer by astrological sign…

Funny, I’ve been discussing some aspects of the show with a colleague who happens to be a fan also, and we both agreed that many of us (well, you know, the guys who deal in mental sickness) would probably put the brothers on medication the same instant they mentioned something about hunting ghosts or angels and stuff.

I remembered a heated debate I had with a shrink, once, and I offered the hypothesis that schizophrenics perhaps saw a part of reality others did not. I had a patient once who described a pair of card players sitting in her shower. What if she saw something I was not able to see? Oh, well, they would send Joan of Arc also to a rubber room… One could get crazy even thinking about various forms of reality…

Oh, dear, next time I’ll think of Casey, promise (you still are in need of tissues, aren’t you?).

Narcissus, lovely dating system idea…liked your point that we connect to the show because we have also felt hopeless, lost, etc. Personally I’ve always drawn inspiration from stories that tell of people who are able to overcome the worst possible difficulties and grow by doing so. These men are right there…

I don’t think anyone can exist in the long run without hope. And I agree – many actions of Sam or Dean are driven by hope or the desperate need to find it.

Well, that song… strange thing, inspiration…

Thanks, and good night (it’s almost midnight here and I need to get to be a bit earlier today… Because of the snow I’ll have to get up earlier, since it’ll take me longer to get to work than usual…), Jas
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-20 17:35
great, grammar program not working at this time of day, frozen probably... I meant, of course, 'I need to get to sleep a bit earlier' which proves me right.... :o
Suze
# Suze 2009-12-21 04:58
Nice one ... I like Ruby, I mean obviously she's bad. bad, bad as they come from the tips of her painted toes to her Evil-Barbie hair extensions, but she's tough and funny and I warmed to her in a way that I didn't to Big J, who was undeniably good but totally all cross and shouty-like. You're right, too, that the guys would have been toast on a number of occasions if she hadn't bailed them out.

All in all, if you can have good guys like Big John leaving a trail of wreckage with the best of intentions then you can definitely have the opposition doing the opposite ( if you see what I mean, I'm in danger of strangling in my own syntax here, so I'll shut up ... )
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-21 10:57
Narcissus, yeah, but your love-from-afar is still alive! Sniff. ;-)

I think you're on to something with the futility. How often has it been said or implied about going down swinging? Tolkien said of his world (in one of his letters I think, but my memory isn't what it used to be) that he saw it as 'the long defeat.' Think of Ragnarok. The gods know they're going to lose, but fight anyway, because that's what heroes do.

Jas, are you saying that you're a demon? I think my wife thinks I am, must be a Cancer thing, muah.

Hang on, I have to wipe a tear from my eye.

Re: reality. That wouldn't surprise me if that's the case, not that I know for I 1)have zero training, unlike you and 2)I'm not schizophrenic as far as I can tell. Perhaps there's an element of synethesia in it? One could almost view the brothers and other hunters like that; they see something us lay people don't.

Suze, hey, sometimes syntax needs a good kick in the pants. My biggest problem with Ruby wasn't her existence (c'mon, who doesn't love when the moral waters are muddied up a bit) but the difference between the actresses - which is NOT a slam against Genevieve Cortese. I get that her relationship with Sam had changed, but I missed that extra layer of snark that Katie Cassidy played. I would imagine that, more than anything, that was the choice of the writers, but it was noticeable.
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-21 11:26
Oh, Suze, it seems to me that you come up with wonderful pointy ideas when you’re strangled in your own syntax… I liked Ruby, too (now, you would have never guessed, right?), but I also hated her guts… Multiple personality, anyone?
Thanks a lot, really, Jas
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-21 11:27
Randal, I might well be a demon, well, who knows? So much blood mixed up in my veins from various peoples that I wouldn’t be surprised if demons had been among them… Nice idea… Are you saying you’re a cancer or your wife is?

Believe me, you’re not schizophrenic. And, of course, the idea of the schizophrenics perhaps seeing more than us ‘normalos’ is not exactly a topic a shrink will believe to be true, well, most won’t. You can hardly discuss a metaphysical question like that without raising the suspicion that you might need a rubber room in the near future… But I like the idea that there might be another reality just in front of our very noses. It’s poetic. And scary, too.

I had a problem in the beginning with two actresses playing Ruby. Well, it’s the law of the trade, I guess. I don’t know why Katie Cassidy wasn’t around anymore, but I suppose she was busy elsewhere (good for her, the woman had a job). I liked both performances, but I also loved Katie’s ‘snark’ (to borrow your words).

Can’t find my Tolkien letters, they’re still in some box… Should have written on ALL boxes what kind of books are in them…
Sigh, Jas
Randal
# Randal 2009-12-21 13:37
Jas, hey, doesn't get more mutt than us across the pond. I am, but I still maintain that I'd be moody whatever cosmic label humans had invented.

I wish I had more than minimal background on such subjects, because such topics are certainly fascinating, and not strictly in a hard science sense. The poetry of something is far more interesting than knowing a bunch of enzymes and whatnot are 'responsible' for our behavior. I think I'd make a terrible scientist.

Revisiting the show is, for me, anyway, like revisiting an album. At first glance (or listen), you'll miss many nuances, but your opinion of the piece or creation can change. I appreciated (and enjoy) the Ruby character more than I initially did. Everything is fluid.
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-21 18:17
Well, I’m no expert on planet astrology, either, Randal. But I agree with you that the nuances of a thing, especially those that can’t be labelled, enhance a thing’s or a person’s appeal. And some things just are, I believe, some things cannot be explained (which I also love – the mystery of something (or someone)).
Everything is, indeed, fluid. When I watch episodes I think I know by heart, I always see a tiny bit I haven’t noticed before, and all of a sudden there will be more to the story… Another token of this show’s undeniable quality.
;-), Jas
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2009-12-21 21:15
So late here to reply, but I LOVED your article Jas.

I loved Casey and was always wary of Ruby. Ruby's 'good' was all part of her agenda. She needed to get Sam to trust her more than he did Dean. So she used that, and Dean's depression at his time in hell, to twist Sam to her way of thinking. All part of the plan. :evil:

Narcissus...loved your BC/AC dating system...I think we should make that a permanent feature of the site!

Jas...You would question someone telling you about ghosts? I would think you could specialize in paranormal patients after SPN. :D

And yes…there are a lot of things out there we don’t know about, so we all need to keep an open mind. :P
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2009-12-22 00:17
Thank you, Sablegreen - there actually was a moment I thought of dealing with paranomal activities (many years back), a few universities I know offer a major in parapsychology. It is considered to be a branch of science. But it all sounded too DrVenkman for me... I believe that there is 'something out there', but some things are better left in the dark (especially if you don't own a magic colt or don't carry tons of rock salt with you, like me).

Happy that you loved my article.
Right now I'm kind of sucking in everything on this site, since I'm going on Christmas vacation and won't have access to a computer as much (can't take mine with me),so I won't be able to follow what's going on here as closely as I used to. Which might allow me to prepare a lecture I have to give in January, though... Ah well, stop complaining Jas...

Hooray to us open minders! ;-) Jas
ElenaM
# ElenaM 2009-12-31 18:19
Your articles always end up sending my thoughts down interesting tangents... well, interesting to me anyway :lol: But you got me wondering, what sort of lawyer would Sam Winchester have been? I like to think that the heroism & sacrifice he was raised to would still influence his choices, and imagine him, i don't know, heading up some nonprofit legal aid organization or becoming the nation's best public defender (hey, there, Matlock). Plus Sam was still a sweet and sensitive guy at that time... Academic and pointless spec, but fun to think about for me anyway :D

As for Ruby, I'd always wondered whether keeping the boys, especially Sam, alive wasn't part of her mission from Lilith. You know, let all the demons vie for his head as that will mask our nefarious true endgame, but keep him alive--after all, for Sam to die before he could break the final seal, and become Lucifer's vessel, simply wouldn't do. I reckon they didn't want to wait for the next generation of psychic kids. Saving Dean allows her to keep dangling him in front of Sam as bait, and scores points with him too.

I think we all wanted to grab Sam, like Dean, and say, Dude, nothing good will come of this, you should know better... but I can see where, manipulative as Ruby is, repeatedly saving Sam's hide had to gain her some mileage eventually. I can see how Sam would at some point say, ok, you've proved yourself enough, I choose to trust you. Which of course grossly underestimates just how manipulative she is, in light of her murky motives and a clearly complex and longstanding demonic conspiracy. Oops.

Love Narcissus' comments on why this story draws us in the way it does. I've been wondering that a lot lately, and found it hard to pin down for myself. I've enjoyed many a tale of epic heroes, but this is the first one that affected me so much. And it's on TV, on the CW, no less. Who'd have thought? But come to think, stories of heroes struggling with a particularly harsh world and morally ambiguous decisions have been particularly interesting to me... I think Randal may have said something too about a visceral quality to this story and the way it's been told, the attraction lying in its humanity...

Whew...too much rambling. You just bring that out in me Jas ;-). If anyone actually read this, my apologies, I'm just thinking out loud...
elenaM
# elenaM 2009-12-31 18:25
Plus managing and manipulating the psychic kids seemed like a bothersome job, not to mention Azazel's not around to do it anymore... I'll stop now. Seriously, this time I mean it! :D
Yvonne
# Yvonne 2010-05-25 02:39
Finally found this, Hurrah! Wonderfully written, per usual. Even though I originally wanted to read for the Ruby stuff, other matters grabbed my interest. But, the Ruby stuff, nicely said! Poor Sammy, she really did have the wool over his eyes. I apologize ahead of time for length.

The what if question…how fun?
Not sure if Dean didn’t have the family dream, even way back when in Season 1. There is a line that Papa Winchester says that stood out to me. “I want you to go back to school. I want Dean to have a home. I want Mary back…” That line always rips my guts. I always thought how well that portrayed John’s understanding of the boys. He wanted the dream, knew it to be impossible but knew what his boys wanted. And Dean, apparently, wanted the home. When I first heard him say that (after my initial sob) my first thought was ‘Really? Dean wants a home?’ Seemed to be an early insight into his hidden character. Not that I’m saying he didn’t love hunting. Make no mistake, I think he loved it! He just never allowed himself to admit he might want more. As to how he may have turned out if his Mom had lived…well, we’ll never really know and I’m not sure how well I trust Dean’s dream in DALDOM. After all, his mind could only pull from what he knew and Dean knew that he drank in times of stress and had low self esteem. But a ‘real’ Dean raised with a caring Mom and unscarred Dad? His self esteem could have been much higher, perhaps even with larger aspirations.

As to why we love those boys and avidly follow their rather miserable lives? My theory (other than their familial loyalty, plight of hopelessness, beauty etc) They have a system of beliefs and code that they stick by, even when it is completely stupid. Don’t know how familiar you are with the story which eventually became the movie of ‘Blackhawk Down’. There were two soldiers that got brief mention in the movie; Coster-Waldau and Shughart. Couple snipers who rode a helicopter above one of the crash sites. They requested THREE times to be put on the ground to protect another soldier and were refused, then advised of their certain deaths, then allowed to go. They died. Couple idiots right? So why do I admire them so much? Same reason I’m so willing to venerate the Winchesters. A.)Couple bad asses ready to die so I can live. B.) Ownership of honor and integrity. Sure, they screw up sometimes (with bigger repercussions than the normal Joe) but seem to return to basics. One of my favorite moments in S5 was in ‘Hammer of the Gods’ after they were zapped to the motel room. The first, the VERY first, thing on their list was to save the people in the freezer. I’d actually forgotten about them! But not those two. Nope. As cheesy as it sounds, those boys live by the axiom “Death before dishonor.” (I realize what with the apocalypse, there has been some graying, but that’s too many other levels of complicated to cover here.)