There was a big ceremony, speeches. The lieutenant governor even showed up. Three days later, another car rolled off that same line. No one gave two craps about her. But they should have, because this 1967 Chevrolet Impala would turn out to be the most important car -- no, the most important object -- in pretty much the whole universe.
â€“ Chuck, Swan Song
Supernatural is, despite being a thoughtful show shot through with a vast web of emotion, a program that lives largely on red-blooded everyman American action. So what the hell am I doing comparing it with that most interior of novels, a septet of bourgeoisie etiquette, titled nobility and late nineteenth-century French salon culture, Marcel Proustâ€™s Ã€ la recherche du temps perdu?
Not the entire work to be sure, for I donâ€™t recall Sam and Dean ever sipping gentle fare in sartorial dress â€“ though they came close at the Sea Pines Maritime Museum. Proustâ€™s work, for all intents and purposes, begins with the most famous moment of involuntary memory in literary history, the dipping of a madeleine in tea. Thatâ€™s where his story began, and to paraphrase, if not mangle, Chuck, the end, our end, is where this involuntary memory, er, ends. Why such an inversion? The world of Proust, though fiction, is highly autobiographical and real, rational. Sam and Dean inhabit a world that scholars of the ancient Greeks would have called the irrational; except the irrational is really the rational, only most of us civilians donâ€™t know it. Thus where else would we find the key save when the last lines of ink are still drying on the sheet?
Hey now it's time for you and me Got a revolution Got to revolution Come on now we're marching to the sea Got a revolution Got to revolution Who will take it from you We will and who are we We are volunteers of America
â€“ Jefferson Airplane, Volunteers
And suddenly the memory appeared. That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because that day I did not go out before it was time for Mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt LÃ©onie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea or lime blossom. The sight of the little madeleine had not reminded me of anything before I tasted it; perhaps because I had often seen them since, without eating them, on the shelves of the pastry shops.
â€“ Marcel Proust, Swannâ€™s Way, p.47, translated by Lydia Davis
The Impala is ubiquitous; it has been part of the background for 106 episodes, a commonplace like rock salt, smart aleck demons, devilâ€™s traps and Samâ€™s ugly ass paisley shirt. But, as Chuck relates in Swan Song, this hunk of steel is more than meets the eye. As the scenes roll by and we find ourselves in Stull Cemetery for the ultimate revolution, the final showdown between brothers, one pair heavenly and the other flesh, Dean is saddled with a full plate, getting pummeled by a Lucifer-possessed Sam whilst simultaneously pouring his guts out to no effect. Mais, quoi? The lightbringer is blinded, not by some magical, Elysian trick, but by the light of involuntary memory.
An involuntary memory forged by his meatsuit in this car with his brother, Dean.
And upon this rock, I will build my church
Oh let's go, let's strike a light We're gonna blow like dynamite I don't care if it takes all night Gonna set this town alight What do you want? What do you want? I want rock'n'roll, Allright! Long live rock'n'roll Rock of ages, rock of ages Still rollin', keep a-rollin' Rock of ages, rock of ages Still rollin', rock'n'rollin'
â€“ Def Leppard, Rock of Ages
But, when nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after the destruction of things, alone, frailer but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste still remain for a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, upon the ruins of all the rest, bearing without giving way, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory.
â€“ Swannâ€™s Way, p.47
The psychological power of Lucifer, the ontological control Sam is subject to, is severed. Samâ€™s resolve to fight, his anger, only fed the Prince of Lies, and this anger has now been replaced by its polar opposite. The death of people (Mary, John, Ellen, Jo), the destruction of things (Ilchester, Maryland; Carthage, Missouri; Chicago; those afflicted with the Croatoan virus), these cannot stem the inexorable tide of memory. Lucifer, for millennia, ate of nothing but that anger, revenge. Once upon a time, he too loved, but he had forgotten this pleasure, lost this vital substance of existence to the fog of time. This was his weakness. Whatever memory he had of it had been overwritten.
Sam? He could smell Deanâ€™s burger overpowering his salad, the smoky aftermath of fireworks, taste the beer after one more exhausting save, and more; hear the classic rock chords under his badly sung vocal, touch the Legos and little green army men, see them hid inside the carâ€™s nooks and crannies. Those are memories founded upon a bedrock of love, and what defense could Lucifer hope to have against that?
Sam, it's okay. It's okay. I'm here. I'm here. I'm not gonna leave you. I'm not gonna leave you.
â€“ Dean, Swan Song
The Impala isnâ€™t the story nor is it the narrator any more than a cookie was in Proustâ€™s masterpiece, but it was that key to the mansion containing the relics of who Sam was and is, a key that could only have been brought by one person, and one person alone.
Proustâ€™s novel is veiled in a bittersweet mien, as is Supernatural. Monsters, demons, specters, the devil himself, these are the vapid duchesses and bigoted anti-Dreyfusards with whom Proustâ€™s narrator must deal. Here, as there, all disaffected, wounded, none more than Sam and Dean Winchester. These wounds, and the accompanying strength to deal, are found in those relics, joined by new artifacts each and every day, ready to be summoned by the subconscious without anticipation. We hope, when needed most.
[so] now all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swannâ€™s park, and the water lilies on the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all of this, acquiring form and solidity, emerged, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.
â€“ Swannâ€™s Way, p. 48
Cup of tea? Alright, a bottle of beer.