"What is and What Should Never Be"
--Robin's Rambles by Robin Vogel
Of all the episodes of SUPERNATURAL, this one is often given as many fans' number one favorite. For me, next to the one in which Sam dies, it's also the most heartbreaking. Trust me when I tell you that the first time I saw this episode, I pretty much cried from beginning to end. It was so sad and hard to watch what Dean had to go through and what he was forced to give up.
Dean, courtesy of a Djinn (genie), is given the opportunity to have the life he might have had Mary never diedâ€”Jessica alive, Sam in law school at Stanford and engaged to her, and Dean himself living with a beautiful nurse, working on cars at a garage. Missing: John, who died of a stroke in his sleep at age 52 (because JDM was unavailable), a close relationship with Sam, and the deaths of every soul he and Sam had saved as hunters. So the situation wasn't completely idyllic, and forced Dean to make a tough decision.
Dean is captured by the Djinn in a warehouse. Sam is talking to him on his cell as Dean drives up and down, trying to find the genie's lair. They've been forced to get a new plate for the Impalaâ€”CNK Q83â€”after their escape from prison; they've ditched the credits cards, too. Ignoring Sam's directive to pick him up first, Dean goes alone to the warehouse he thinks the Djinn is holed up in. When the creature traps him, the seemingly multi-tattooed genie touches Dean's forehead and blue electric sparks flash through his fingers into Dean's face.
On a TV set, a lizard man carries a woman. Dean awakens, sits up in bed, and stares at the beautiful brunette lying apparently naked beside him. He's wearing a St. Christopher medal around his neck. Hurrying out of the bedroom, he calls Sam and tells him the Djinn attacked him and he woke up with a hot chick. "Carmen?" asks Sam, amused that his brother thinks gin attacked him. He suggests Dean drunk-dialed him and urges him to get some sleep. "See you tomorrow," says Sam. Dean checks the mail on the table; letters addressed to Dean Winchester and Carmen Porter in Lawrence Kansas. Carmen comes out of the bedroom and offers to help him get back to sleep with, presumably, sex. Dean responds automatically to her kiss, but wanders into the living room instead and sees a picture that stuns him so much, he drops it on the floor and races out the door.
Dean drives the Impala to the home where he grew up, pounding at the door and ringing the bell like a crazy man. Mary answers. "Mom?" he says, staring at her, overwhelmed. She's worried about him; Carmen called, thought he'd been drinking, is coming to get him. "When I was a kid, what did you used to tell me when you were putting me to bed?" asks Dean. "That angels were watching over you," answers Mary, puzzled. He grips her so tightly in his embrace, she says he's scaring her. Maybe wishes do come true, he mutters, and tells her how beautiful she is. "Was there ever a fire here?" he asks. "Never," she says. He goes over to shelves against the wall and looks at wondrous family photos of himself with his parents, Sam, and John in a softball outfit. He loved that team, his mother says fondly. He coaxes Mary to reveal how John died, and is actually happy to hear it was a stroke, in his sleep. When she's shocked at his reaction, he says, "It's better than the alternative."
Mary asks if he's been drinking and is surprised when he says he wants to sleep here. "I've missed the old place," he says. When she caresses his face, he leans into her mother's touch. "Get some rest," she says, "I love you." "Me, too," says Dean. She leaves. He gazes at a photo of the three of them when he and Sam were little and John was wearing a Santa outfit. There's also a photo of Sam in a graduation cap and gown with John and Mary. (Everything is badly Photoshopped, but a total hoot nonetheless.)
Pretending to be the professor's student, Dean goes to a local college to ask if genies can really grant wishes or perhaps alter reality. You do realize they're mythic creatures, don't you, son? asks the prof, who also wants to know if Dean's been drinking. Why does everybody ask me that? wonders Dean, annoyed. (It's apparent he IS a heavy drinker in this life.) When Dean leave the college, he opens the Impala's trunk to find magazines and junk. "We're civilians, Baby!" he chortles to his car. He spies a girl across the street, staring at him. She looks like a ghost, but when he crosses the street to get to her, nearly getting struck by a car, she disappears.
Mary, wondering why Dean's isn't working at the garage (he took the day off, he claims), fixes him a sandwich, which he eats with delirious delight and pronounces "The best sandwich ever!" He asks about Sam and she says he'll be here soon. His enthusiasm about seeing his brother seems odd to her, as is his desire to mow the lawn. "Knock yourself out," she says, noting that he's acting like he's never mowed the lawn before. As the Ramones' "It's a Wonderful World" plays in the background (I cried), Dean, smiling joyously, mows the lawn on a bright, sunny day. He waves to his neighbor, we see bright flowers and lawn gnomes, and he sits down on the front step with a cold beer when he's done.
Sam and Jess pull up in front of the house; Dean runs to meet them. The couple is dressed in their preppy best., Sam looking so damned fey compared to what we're used to. Dean hugs Jess so hard, she can't breathe, and realizes his brother and girlfriend just flew in from California, where Sam's going to law school. Little brother bursts his brother's high by pointing at the beer, noting that it's Mom's birthday, and Dean's already started celebrating. They all take Mary out for dinner for her birthday, some vegetarian place that plops something Dean wouldn't eat on a bet in front of him. We'll get you a cheeseburger later, Carmen whispers to him, and he asks how he ended up with a cool chick like her. Low standards, she teases, and kisses him. Moments later, Sam and Jessica announce their engagement, to Mary's delight, and Dean sits there, reveling in his happy, normal, LIVING family. Mary hugs Sam, wishing John were here to see this. Dean expresses his congrats to Sam, who seems puzzled over his brother's exuberance. Spotting the strange girl again, Dean leaves his seat and goes over to her, but she disappears before he reaches her. His family wonders about his behavior, staring at him, but he dismisses it.
When they get home, it's only nine o'clock, and Mary heads off to bed. Dean wants Sam and Jess to go out with him and Carmen; the night is young and so are they! Sam takes Dean aside and wants to know what's with the warm fuzzy ecstasy all of a sudden--and calling him SAMMY? They've never been closeâ€”Dean snaked his ATM card, never showed up for his graduation, slept with his prom date, Rachel Knave, on prom night, people don't change, they have nothing in common, so? What about hunting? asks Dean, upset to hear what a dick he's been to his brother, even though he agrees it all sounds like him. Sam's never been hunting in his life, and advised Dean to get some rest.
At home, Carmen gives Dean his favorite beer and tries to comfort him about his relationship with Samâ€”he and his brother just don't know each other too well. He's going to fix things with Sam, and with everyone, he vows. He kisses her eagerly, and says he gets why she's the one. Carmen doesn't know what's gotten into him, but she likes it, and responds to his kisses. When he tries to seduce her with more, she groans and begs him not to do this to her; she has to go to work! Turns out he's living with a nurse, so RESPECTABLE! He gets a terrible shock while watching late night TV, thoughâ€”there's a memorial for all the people who died in the crash of Britannica Flight 424, the plane he and Sam prevented from going down! Dean checks the internet and is horrified to find that ALL the people he, John and Sam saved have died. They never became hunters, and this is the result.
In his closet, he finds bodies hanging by their tied-together wrists, and again sees the girl who keeps disappearing. Upset, crying, Dean goes to the cemetery, to John's grave, and pours out his heart out to his father. They're all dead, he says, a woman is haunting me, like my old life is haunting me. . .why do WE have to save all these people? Our happiness vs. the lives of all these people. . .Sam? Mom? We have to make all these sacrifices? Wiping the tears from his face, he disconsolately walks away.
Sam, sleeping beside Jess, hears a noise downstairs. We get a weird repeat of the scene from the Pilot when the brothers first encounter each other as Sam creeps downstairs with a baseball bat and Dean tackles him to the floor and teases him about how easy it was. Sam realizes Dean has their mother's silver service out. Dean explains he's in debt to a bookie and needs the money. (This is so sad, but it's obviously easier than telling anything resembling the truth to THIS Sam.) Dean tells him he's sorry they don't get along, but people's lives depend on what he's doingâ€”"Tell Mom I love her. See ya, Sammy." Dean grabs one knife from the set and leaves. He's shocked when he gets into the Impala and finds Sam climbing into the shotgun seat. "You're still my brother," says Sam by way of explanation, and if you're doing something dangerous, you're not doing it alone." Sam dips his head in a very fey way. "Bitch," says Dean. "Why'd you call me a bitch for?" asks Sam, offended. "You're supposed to say jerk," says Dean, but gives it up.
The car's plate is TMD 5H2. Sam finds a container of lamb's blood and is grossed out. Dean explains that there are bad things in the dark. Sam thinks his brother has had a psychotic break and tries to make a call on his cell. Dean grabs his phone and tosses it out of the car, to Sam's consternation . "Sit tight," says Dean as "Mr. Saturday Night" begins to play. Sam falls asleep until Dean awakens them when they're not in Kansas anymore, but in Illinois.
They enter the Djinn's warehouse. Sam nervously says Carmen will be worried, they should go. Dean tells him, "Stay behind me." They find dead people hanging, just as Dean saw, and the girl that kept appearing to Dean, too. Hearing the Djinn coming, they quickly hide. The girl has come awake and is asking for "Daddy." The Djinn places his hand on her face, apparently putting her back to sleep. (Probably what kept happening anytime someone told Dean to "get some rest" in his trance.) He cuddles her for a few moments, the way a parent might. Then he takes the tube from her blood bag and lets some of it flood his mouth. Sam makes a sound of disgust, alerting the genie, who goes up the steps they're hiding under to look for what made the noise.
This is real? asks Sam, horrified. "She thinks he's her father," realizes Dean. "It makes you think it grants wishes, but this is all in my headâ€”it's like supernatural acid. Maybe I'm hanging here, too, like her! He's been feeding on us slowly, and I've been getting flashes of reality." Dean accuses Sam of not being real. He pulls out the knife coated in lamb's blood and says if he kills himself, he'll wake up, as he would in any other dream. Sam assures Dean he's NOT a dream. Dean is 90% sure this is a dream. Mary, Carmen, and Jess step forward. Sam asks, "Why did you have to keep digging?â€”You were happy." Mary urges him to put the knife down, "The life here is better than what you had, we'll be a family again." "I'll die," says Dean, tears in his eyes. "Here with us, it will seem like a lifetime," Mary assures him, "no more pain or fear, just love, comfort and safetyâ€”stay with us." Jess assures Dean he'll no longer have to worry about Sam, "You get to watch him live a full life." Carmen kisses Dean and says, "We can have a future together. Have our own family. I love you, Dean. Please." Finally, Sam steps up and asks, "Why is it our job to save everyone? Haven't we done enough?" I'm begging you. Give me the knife." Dean looks at all of them one more time, focuses on Sam, and says, "I'm sorry. He stabs himself. Blood gushes from his mouth. "DEAN!" cry out the Sams in both universes.
Dean awakens, weak from blood loss. "Auntie Em, there's no place like home." Sam carefully removes the needle from Dean's jugular vein. The Djinn attacks Sam and is about to put the hand-whammy on him when Dean picks up the knife and stabs him. He rushes over to the girl, who is still alive. "I got you," says Dean, as Sam cuts her down.
In their hotel room, Dean stares at the girl on the El Sol beer labelâ€”Carmen! No wonder she was his perfect woman; she is the model on his favorite beer! Sam reports that he called the hospital; the girl is doing well. Sam asks Dean if he's OK. Dean describes how Sam was a wussy in the other universe and they got along badly. I thought it was supposed to be perfect, says Sam. No, I just wished that Mom had lived, says Dean. In that life, they had never hunted, we were never close, you had Jess, Mom would have had grandchildren. Sam indicates he's very glad they ARE close. "I wanted to stay so bad," says Dean brokenly. "Ever since Dad, , ,what this job has cost us, we've lost and sacrificed so much." "People are alive because of you," Sam reminds him, "it's worth it. It's not fair, and it hurts like hell, but it's worth it." The longing look on Dean's face says he doesn't agree.
I'm not asking any questions here. Just. . .what did this episode do to you? It broke me in half. Stomped on my heart. Made me applaud the fabulous acting of both Ackles and Padalecki, one more time! It made me wonder what would happen if the Djinn grabbed my face in his hands and gave me my greatest wish, whatever that would be, and if I would die for it to come true, even in my mind.