“Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna bitch. There's always gonna be holes. And since it's the ending, it's all supposed to add up to something. I'm telling you, they're a raging pain in the ass.” Chuck Shurley, S5E22: Swan Song
“CONVERSATIONS WITH HEAD PEOPLE”
AUGUST 15, 2011
Dean appears behind my shoulder and reads the last few lines of text. Here we go again.
“Oh, that is just sick. What is wrong with you?”
“Leave her alone, Dean.” Sam sits awkwardly at the table opposite my desk.
“Have you seen what she’s written here?” Dean demands.
“I’ve seen it all.” Sam and I catch each other’s glance and we share a sad, secret smile.
“She’s defaming our reputations, casting aspersions on our characters!” Dean exclaims.
“Oh, come on, Dean,” I protest. “Do you seriously believe there’s anything about your character that isn’t out there already? As homoerotic subtexts go, yours is pretty super. It’s glaringly obvious to anyone who’s read a little Joseph Campbell. All I’m doing is providing an alternative metaphorical solution to the imperatives implied in the show’s psychodrama and the mythic framing narrative.”
Dean’s lips part to speak then just purse in confusion. He looks cute as all hell, but I realize I’m being unkind. As if Dean’s ever read any Joseph Campbell. Sam has, though, and he isn’t smiling any more. He’s giving me a very unfriendly look and I know I deserve it. Nobody dicks with Sam’s brother except Sam.
“Listen, sister, there’s nothing psycho about me,” Dean insists when he finds his voice.
“And there’s nothing homo, either. If you have any doubts about that, I’ll gladly give you a demonstration,” and he treats me to his best “how you doin’?” grin. He does this because, as I write, I’m the kind of young blonde bimbo that Dean would typically give that grin to – because, as I write, I can be anything I want to be. So perhaps its worthy of scrutiny why I never write myself as the kind of woman Dean would desire, or any woman for that matter. More often I’m Dean himself or, most commonly, Sam. It surprised me when the first Supernatural fanfic I wrote came out POV Sam, considering the obsession I have with Dean but, on reflection, it made sense.
Dean’s still grinning at me but, tempting as his offer may be, I always try to be an honest writer and there’s no way I can make myself believe that that’s ever going to happen. And I’m certainly not brazen enough to write myself into a wish-fulfillment fantasy with Dean while Sam’s sitting right opposite, watching me like a hawk. So, much as I’d love to drink your bath water, Dean, I’m going to let you fade into the background for now while Sam and I discuss narrative arcs.
Oh, get over it. It isn’t like you don’t get enough air time. You’ve already had three seasons more than you were supposed to get.
Sam is surveying me critically again.
“It’s true, Sam, and you know it,” I admonish him. “And you know why that is, don’t you?”
“Dean has a point,” he says, ignoring my question. “You’ve done some fucked up stuff to us. You had Dean possessed in ‘The Personal Demon’; you made him your clown in ‘Sugarcoated Sam’; and what you did to me in that chapter 2 of ‘I Can Never Go Home’ – that was just . . .” his tongue rolls around the inside of his cheek and he shakes his head “. . . really awkward.”
“And you didn’t enjoy a moment of it, did you?” I ask archly.
He doesn’t answer. He just sits with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped between them, fingers interlocked, nodding at the floor with a half smile on his face that just touches his dimples. It isn’t an acknowledgement. It’s just Sam, thinking whatever Sam thinks, and not letting on to anyone what that might be.
Sam’s a mystery. It’s true what I said about Dean. As close and private as Dean always tries to be, he’s really an open book. His motivation is plain and clear for anyone to see. Most people can write Dean to some degree, and mostly they write him the same way. Castiel and Bobby, too. Each of their characters is so idiosyncratic that a few stock phrases or mannerisms will call them to the page, but Sam is different. You can describe the mannerisms and the familiar expressions, but they won’t give you Sam, not the core of the character, because nobody’s sure what that is. Everyone writes him a little differently, even from story to story. It’s like he’s a blank canvas on which we all paint the colours of our own soul.
“And you’ve got worse planned for us, haven’t you, Fanspired?” Sam prompts me, calling me from my reverie.
“Probably no worse than your own creator has,” I counter.
He purses his lips and the corners of his mouth turn down. That is an acknowledgement.
“Anyway, it isn’t all my fault,” I protest. “I only try to write honestly and this stuff just happens. I come up with a premise and put you guys in it then you take it from there. I can’t help the way you react, or the issues that get raised in the process. That’s your doing. All I do is ask, ‘what happens next?’ and you answer me.”
Which brings me back to my original question: “So, what does happen next, Sam?”
Without raising his head he lifts his gaze and surveys me through his soft fringe of eye-lashes. His hazel eyes are flecked with twinkling gold. “You know I can’t tell you that.”
I grin. I have to ask the obvious question. “Can’t, or won’t?”
And he grins knowingly back at me, his dimples deepening.
“Come on, Sam. How about it? Are your writers honest? Are they going to deal with all the issues they’ve raised over the past six seasons? Are you? Are you finally going to confront the issue of your powers?”
“Do you think I should?”
I roll my eyes. “I think you should have done three seasons ago. The only reason you didn’t was to keep Dean around and, god knows, I sympathize; we all want more of Han Solo, but Luke Skywalker’s gotta become a Jedi sooner or later!”
“So you think I should start chugging demon blood again?”
“You know better than that. Ruby told you, you didn’t need her to float your feather. And who says your powers are demonic, anyway? Ruby once said they were God given. Maybe that was just a turn of phrase, but maybe it was a slip up. What about that mobile in your nursery that started turning before the demon came? Was that electrical interference, or was that you? Did Azazel really give you your powers, or was he just trying to corrupt them?”
Sam’s trademark crease appears between his eyebrows. “Dean thinks I’m a freak,” he says in a small voice. “And he’s right. Look what happened when I tried to use them before - ”
“You were arrogant, then, drunk with power. Maybe that was the lesson you had to learn: ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’.”
“So now I’m Spider-Man?”
We both laugh now. But, as usual, it all comes back to Dean. He has a lesson to learn, too. And that raises a dark issue that drove Season Two and has been lurking in the background of every season since, but has never been properly confronted. “Dean has never truly faced the issue of whether he will have to save you or kill you.”
“The issue was dodged at the end of Season Two because Jake killed you instead, but the theme of fratricide keeps rearing its ugly head episode after episode all the same. Maybe it’s been projected onto Castiel now, since Dean’s acknowledged him as a brother, but I think that’s a bit of a cop out.”
Sam’s knees are jouncing agitatedly. His jaw is tight and he jerks it to one side. “You want Dean to kill me?”
“Of course not! The choices of save or kill were the product of your father’s limited vision. There’s a third option.”
Sam looks up. His gaze is alert.
“He could accept you.”
Sam draws in a deep breath, leans back in his chair and gazes off to one side. Why should that seem so impossible?
“That’s the lesson Dean should have learned when Castiel sent him back in time to meet your mother,” I persist. “She made it clear what he needed to do. He needs to love you for exactly who you are.”
“Complete with freaky psychic mojo?”
“Why not? He accepted it from the anti-christ child in Season Five. When that boy used his powers, Dean called him awesome. He accepted it from Castiel, originally. In fact he told Castiel he was useless without them. And I saw the look in his eyes when you first confronted Alastair in Season Four. It wasn’t disgust, it wasn’t even fear. It was awe.” I lean forward conspiratorially. “Between you and me, I think it turned him on.”
Sam says nothing, but the dimples are showing again.
“Besides, you’ve done Hell and Puragatory so you know where you have to go next. And how are you going to take the battle to Heaven without your powers? How are you going to defeat Castiel if you’re not ready to accept yourself?”
“Because me killing Castiel is so much better than Dean killing me!” Sam’s irony is chilling.
There’s silence in the room for several moments. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate the destruction of that poor, sad innocent, and yet it seems inevitable. “Castiel committed hubris. He has to die. The best we can hope is that he’ll be redeemed first. Besides, we all know that his death will just be a metaphor for you assimilating another fragment of your broken psyche, like when you killed Soulless Sam and Hell Sam.”
“That was in my head.”
I laugh out loud now. “Sam it’s all in your head.”
He tries to look shocked for a moment, but then the corners of the lips tweek down again. He knows what I’m saying. And so we’re back to Dean again.
“That’s what’s wrong with the idea that Dean needs to save you or kill you, or with the oh-so-neat, homophobic, family-first, Season Five finale with its trope of you sacrificing yourself so Dean could lead a ‘normal’ life. You keep trying to deny it so you can live out another season, and another, and another with Dean - resetting yourself back to the helpless baby brother again and again so he can keep playing the hero, endlessly sacrificing himself to save your life while you sacrifice your ego to save his . . . but Dean isn’t the hero of this story. You are. He was the one who called you to the quest. He’s the psychic projection, not you. If anyone has to die, it’s Dean. And, lets face it, the Reaper told him it was his time at the beginning of Season Two. That’s when the dicking with Destiny started. Death tried to show Dean there were consequences to trying to do that, but who needed Death to point that out? Look at the consequences of Dean’s survival: John’s death, your death, Dean’s bargain, the Apocalypse, Lucifer, the destruction of an Angel - ”
“Stop!” Sam’s nostrils are flaring now, and I shut up. Hell, I’m not going to risk provoking Sam Winchester when he’s angry. “I’m not going to kill Dean!”
I hold my hands up in a pacific gesture. “Hey, I’m not saying you should! Or that you will. Maybe you’ll both go out in a blaze of glory, Butch and Sundance style. Maybe you’ll drive off into the sunset. God knows, if it were up to me, death wouldn’t be my choice of metaphor for reuniting the two halves of the psyche.” Then I risk a small twitch of a smile. “Well, maybe a little death.” Maybe I wink, too. “If it were up to me, you know I’d give you both a happy ending.”
Even Sam can’t help laughing now. His tongue rolls around his mouth again, and he nods. “Yeah, I know you would.” He chuckles a little longer but then the laughter fades and he looks a little sad. “Do it, then,” he says.
“Do it. Write us a happy ending.”
I give him a sidelong look, but if he’s being cute with me there’s no clue in his impassive expression.
After a moment he adds “Just in case.” He looks hard, straight into my eyes and I realize he’s serious. “I’ll be your vessel,” he says. “I don’t mind. You can make me do anything you want me to.”
It’s a disturbingly suggestive metaphor. “And if you’re my vessel, what does that make me?” I ask him.
He casts a look sideways and shrugs before answering. “You’d know best,” he responds evasively.
“Mm” I reply. “Of course, it could equally be argued that I’m your vessel.”
He smiles. “That works, too.”
“I’d be making Dean do things, as well,” I remind him.
Sam stares in silence at the floor. Moments pass before he draws in a deep breath and responds, “he won’t know.”
“No,” I acknowledge, sighing. Poor Dean: always abused, always betrayed, by me, by Sam, by his creator . . . “Why is Dean always the victim?” I ask Sam. “Why does he suffer so much?”
“Because he has to. Because it’s . . . dramatically necessary.”
“Sam. Come on.”
Again, Sam stretches his jaw to one side. “Because we want him to,” he concedes, with a suspect quaver in his voice, “Because that’s when we love him the most . . . because the only way to get inside him is to break him open.”
“We’re monsters, Sam”
“You suffer, too, Sam.”
“I deserve it.”
I feel myself make a slight, involuntary forward movement. I have the urge to touch him, comfort him, but he’s out of my reach. “Do you?” I ask gently. “Are you sure, Sam?”
“I don’t know . . . Maybe we’ll find out next season.” He smiles ruefully.
And maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll never know who Sam really is. Sam Winchester is a Chinese puzzle. You can break him open but you won’t find any answers inside him. No matter how many pieces you break him into, you only find more layers, more mystery.
For a little while we say nothing. I just watch him, contemplating his form, his gestures, all the accidental details that clothe the mystery: the canopy of hair that’s been growing every season, the eyebrows that have been plucked down to neat lines, the eyes that I’ll swear change colour in keeping with some symbolic code that I haven’t been able to crack satisfactorily – the odd disparity between the almost delicate sensitivity of his facial features and his impressive, even intimidating, height and musculature. What does it all mean?
“Who are you Sam Winchester?” I ask. “Who are you really? Eric Kripke? Ben Edlund? A composite of all the writers? Are you just a purpose-made void where viewers can deposit their own identities, or do you have more control than that? Are you a soul in your own right?”
Sam lifts his head and gazes into the distance. His lips are pressed together and I’m shocked to see tears glinting in eyes grown deep and dark. His voice trembles when he speaks. “If I knew who I was, there wouldn’t be a show,” he says quietly.
I take a while to digest what’s just happened before I reply. “Do you know what, Sam?”
He looks at me and shakes his head slightly. “I didn’t see that coming,” I tell him. “I didn’t plan it. It just happened. Right there, in the moment that I wrote it. What do you think that means?”
He shakes his head again.
“Maybe it means you do have a soul, a life of your own, feelings, needs, desires that have to be satisfied, regardless of my whims or those of your creator. You’ve taken on life and form outside of the show now. You’re out of the box. You’re no longer entirely under anyone’s creative control. I’ve always known how this story was going to end, but you’ve just altered the significance of that ending, just by doing something I didn’t expect. You’re writing me right now, as much as I’m writing you.”
Sam is studying me intensely now. The furrows between his eyebrows are at their deepest.
“Are you saying you believe I have free will?”
I take a deep breath. “Sam, I’m not sure anyone really has that but, if anyone does, then I believe you have as much as the next person. And I want to believe you can take control. More than anything, next season, I want to see you take charge of your own destiny. Accept yourself. Believe in yourself. Write your own ending.”
Sam’s staring at the floor again, hands clasped. He’s nodding.
“Sam. Please. Promise me.”
He’s still nodding. It seems mechanical rather than positive, but eventually he looks up and turns a steady gaze on me.
Moments pass in silence, then we both know it’s time. There’s only one thing left to do now. He leans back in the chair and wipes a nervous hand over his mouth. “Right, well . . . er . . . what should I . . . where . . . do you want me to . . . ?” he directs a questioning glance back toward the bedrooms.
I shake my head. “No. It won’t be here. I’ll send you to where Dean is.”
“And where’s that?”
I smile. “Are you ready?”
He blows out a steadying breath. It’s touching how nervous he is: like a young groom on his wedding night. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“You know you have to say it,” I remind him teasingly.
He grins, flashing me those endearing dimples for the last time, then he takes a deep, trembling breath. “Yes,” he says.