I blame it all on Marshall Hall. Remember him? He's the guy who died at 4:17 p.m., the exact time Dean was healed in "Faith".
Marshall Hall died in a swimming pool locker room. And this weekend, I spent a lot of time at the pool. I was watching my 10-year old daughter race in what was a very important competition for her. She was trying to shave one tiny second off her best time so she could qualify for a really big interprovincial swim meet. (She did it. Yippee!)
She was very nervous. So, the two of us spent a lot of time discussing faith, but not in the religious context. We talked about believing in yourself and your abilities, trusting your body, listening to how it feels, and mostly, having faith that if you put some effort in, you can achieve your goals.
Then, I went home and watched "The Slice Girls". Maybe it was just spending so much time at a pool, which triggered thoughts of Season One's "Faith". But I think it's more than that. I saw many echoes of "Faith" and its themes in the saga of Dean's one-night stand, Amazons and Sam's slow, silent collapse.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am compelled to admit I may have had a religious experience watching the first 15 minutes of TSG. I confess I am now an Acolyte of the Ackles Abs. (Note to Jerry Wanek. Really??? You couldn't have lingered on that amazing and rare footage for another couple of seconds? Really??? Devoted disciples so rarely glimpse the reality of that virile manifestation of the divine!)
I know many are lamenting how despondent and apathetic Dean appeared. I take a slightly different view. True, he was letting Sam drive. But, I think that has more to do with missing The Impala than anything else. He loves his Baby. It's one of the longest, most enduring relationships he's ever had. Behind her steering wheel, he finds sanctuary. A place where he can gather his strength, replenish his courage and find the will to persevere. For Dean, any other vehicle is just a car. If he's not going to get the emotional charge he needs from driving, why bother? He might as well let Sam have the distraction. However, Sam looked dangerous behind the wheel. He didn't seem too focused on the road, either.
Driving aside, I believe I saw a glimmer of old Dean in this episode. Let's take the most obvious sign. He had sex!! Emma's birth means he actually closed the deal with Lydia! (I have a whole argument about how the writers screwed up the DNA thing, but I won't go into that now.) It's been a long, long, long time since Dean chose that particular type of release (bad pun). In "Defending Your Life", he had to psyche himself up just to go on a date with the bartender.
DEAN: It's been a while. But you owe yourself. It's nothing but a ground ball -- you just got to put your mitt down. You are Dean Winchester. This is what you do.
In "The Mentalists" he was picking up, but pushing aside the "I'm interested in you" vibe from Melanie. In "The Slice Girls", he actually went for it. Did he ever! He was still smiling about it the next day! (I believe he used protection. His reaction to Sam's suggestion he didn't proves that. "I'm not brain dead Sam!" But to quote the Brothers Winchester "one might have slipped past the goalie!")
Of course, you can argue a meaningless, athletic one-night stand is just another form of escape and denial. And it certainly is. But at least Dean did it this time. To me it hints at a tiny bit, a smidgen of faith in himself, at least enough to "get the job done""¦ so to speak.
As well, I agree he was cool to the case at first. It's clear he'd much rather be hunting Leviathans, and getting Dick Roman (oh, the fun you can have when your villain is named Dick Roman!). But once he'd been to the morgue with Sam, and decided that the case was in the general vicinity of the ballpark of their kind of thing, he was quite engaged.
His enthusiasm and energy kicked into overdrive once he met Not!Baby Emma and heard her talk. As he told Sam, he spent the afternoon eating out at the buffet of strange. His hunter instincts were fully intact, and screaming that something was not right. That, in fact, something was seriously, seriously wrong.
What I found intriguing is that Dean suspected something was hinky with Not!Baby & Little Girl Emma, long before Sam's research did. I think Dean even suspected he might have played a role in her creation, but he wasn't ready to admit that to Sam.
That's where I heard the first echo of "Faith". After Dean is healed by Roy LeGrange, he goes to a doctor for a check-up. She assures him that everything is fine, and that healthy, young 27-year olds don't usually drop dead of a heart attack. Except that Marshall Hall just did. Here's the conversation that follows.
DEAN: When I was healed, I just...I felt wrong. I felt cold. And for a second...I saw someone. This, uh, this old man. And I'm telling you, Sam, it was a spirit.
SAM: But if there was something there, Dean, I think I would've seen it, too. I mean, I've been seeing an awful lot of things lately.
DEAN: Well, excuse me, psychic wonder. But you're just gonna need a little faith on this one. Sam, I've been hunting long enough to trust a feeling like this.
SAM: Yeah, alright. So, what do you wanna do?
In both cases, Dean's gut is warning him that all is not as it seems, and he's willing to act on that feeling. Interestingly, in both cases, Sam is somewhat reluctant to acknowledge what Dean is sensing. In "Faith" I think it's because he's worried that something supernatural saved Dean, and he's starting to feel guilty that an innocent person may have died because of it. In "The Slice Girls", I think it's more complicated. I think Sam feels that grief and alcohol are affecting Dean's instincts, so Sam doesn't trust them. But, I think he's also very afraid of acknowledging the danger Dean might be in, if indeed Dean's "workout partner" is supernatural.
Either way, I liked that Dean was listening to, and trusting his spidey sense. To me, regaining some confidence in his intuition suggests maybe he's finding faith in himself again.
That's why I found the final driving conversation so fascinating. To me it's the Conversation on the Road to Damascus. We finally see some spark, some fire, and some anger from Dean. And on the positive side, Dean wasn't driving, so at least he's being responsible enough not to get charged with Driving under the Influence!
Joking aside, Dean actually confesses he wasn't dealing at all well. He admitted it, and sounded guilty about it. He even tried to voice his fears that Sam isn't coping either.
SAM: You know what? Bobby was right. Your head's not in it, man. When Cas died, you were wobbly, but now...
DEAN: Now what? Oh, what, you're dealing with it so perfect? Yeah, news flash, pal "“ you're just as screwed up as I am! You're just... bigger.
DEAN: I don't know.
I really appreciated the honesty in this exchange. It suggests to me there is part of Dean that has been noticing Sam's quiet anguish. It's just he's not consciously acknowledging all those signs. We'll have to see whether he puts all those observations together and that's what leads to Depressed!Dean's conversion back to Bad Ass!Dean.
I also admired the reality of his statement that he'll do what he can to stay alive.
A few years ago, a dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. Her kids were very young at the time. She and her husband sat them down, and told them she needed surgery, and would be sick and weak for a while. Her eldest asked the obvious question, "Are you going to die, Mommy?"
I can't believe how brave my friend was, because as much as she wanted to say "No, I'm not going to die"; she knew that was a real possibility. Instead, she said "The plan is to get better and be back to normal soon. But sometimes plans don't work out the way we want them to. I'll let you know if the plan starts to change."
I think it would be worse for Dean to promise Sam he's not going to die. Unleash a promise like that into the ether, and Karma or Fate/Atropos or just the city-bus-with- your-name-on-it is going to hit you for sure. But sadly, Sam is in no shape currently to deal with a practical response like that. He doesn't have the emotional resources. If the stone that is Dean turns to sand, Sam will turn to ashes and dust himself.
To me that whole conversation harkened back to the final exchange between Dean and Layla in "Faith."
DEAN: Must be rough. To believe in something so much, and have it disappoint you.
I could almost hear Dean saying this about himself, to Sam. Dean has always measured his worth by whether he can save and protect those he loves most. The mere fact that Sam is broken from his time in Hell means Dean failed in his own personal One Commandment - Thou Shalt Protect Thy Sammy!
Dean's also smart, and self-aware, usually his own worst critic. He knows he's made mistakes, taken some dangerous risks and those actions are frightening Sam. Dean's disappointed in himself. I'm sure he thinks Sam is too.
What I wish is that both brothers could hear Layla's wise response. It's not a platitude. It's not easy advice to follow. But it's a perfect summation of the challenge of faith "“ to keep believing even when there seems to be nothing to believe in.
LAYLA: You wanna hear something weird?... I'm Ok. Really. I guess if you're gonna have faith, you can't just have it when the miracles happen. You have to have it when they don't.
Dean and Sam aren't seeing many miracles these days. Their faith in everything, including each other, is being shaken, pushed to the breaking point.
But they do have one miracle in their corner, and it's the most powerful one of all. Love. It's saved them before. It will save them again. It's just going to be a long, dark night of the soul to get there. I guess we'll all need to keep the faith.