It’s a couple of weeks since Brother’s Keeper aired, and this seemed like as good a time as any to address a few things. Namely, the parallels to Swan Song and Sacrifice.
While I considered Brother’s Keeper, on the whole, a strong finale- with a few reservations, but I’m not here to discuss those right now- I think Swan Song was better as a whole. However, when it comes to the devastating climaxes, the two are pretty much neck and neck.
Specifically, the it’s okay, Dean, I’ve got him scene in relation to the close your eyes scene.
The parallels are pretty obvious. Both scenes involve one brother holding the other’s life- and the fate of the world- in their hand. Both involve that brother being under some kind of malevolent supernatural influence. Yet whereas Swan Song’s scene leads to Sam and Dean saving the world through their bond, Brother’s Keeper shows them damning it. (For the fifth time, but with variation, so that’s okay.)
Some people have argued that the ending of Brother’s Keeper- Sam and Dean’s bond effectively causing the Darkness to be unleashed- proves that Sam and Dean’s love is destructive and essentially ‘bad’. Which, I mean, come on. Shades of grey, guys. We’ve seen time and time again how it can go both ways- their love can mean salvation or it can mean damnation. It just depends on how they use it.
In a way, the climatic scene of Brother’s Keeper acts as a catharsis to the trauma of Swan Song. With Swan Song, Sam’s fighting to keep Lucifer under control, and he’s barely hanging on- there’s no time for so much as a goodbye, no time for long teary speeches. And Supernatural keeps those to a minimum anyway. Whenever they do break out the OPT you know some serious shit is hitting the fan.
There are no Single Man Tears in Swan Song, though their pain comes through loud and clear. But there is a tear in Brother’s Keeper- and such a tear.
Jared freaking Padalecki, guys.
In Swan Song there’s sadness, but it’s overshadowed by Sam and Dean’s blind terror. The final scenes of Brother’s Keeper are pure sadness. Up until the whole killing Death thing at least. And then there’s Sam’s speech: ‘You will never, ever hear me say that you- the real you- is anything but good’. And the whole ‘remember what it was to love’ thing. Honestly, on any other show it would feel like gratuitous tear-jerking, but they have earned this. It’s their bloody tenth season– they’re entitled in a way they weren’t with season five.
It’s been said that the show lives and dies with Sam and Dean; the whole thing revolves round their relationship, and both the episodes show them using it as a deadly weapon. If anything, Brother’s Keeper highlights the power of both the boys combined, which has pretty much the effect of a nuclear blast at the end of season ten. Stuff like this is why I’m gradually becoming convinced that the show will only end when both Sam and Dean are dead. It’s also why I get annoyed when I hear tin-hatted Cas fans* being all like ‘they don’t need to tell us again how much Sam and Dean love each other! We already know!’
I’m sorry- have you seen season nine? More than anything, the Brother’s Keeper scene was a way of rebuilding their relationship, which crumbled after the Gadreel fiasco. It’s not an obvious dovetail, but Sam’s ‘I wouldn’t have done the same for you’ its reminiscent of Dean’s ‘at least he dies human’ after discovering Sam’s addiction- and Swan Song was Sam and Dean’s relationship finally being fixed, but only through its sacrifice.
Obviously this happens again in Sacrifice, the devastating masterpiece of a season eight finale. Major angst throughout that season- Benny, Amelia, hitting dogs, you name it- all culminating in Sam’s complete breakdown at the end. Dean effectively tells the world to go screw itself so that Sam won’t have to sacrifice himself again. This is what Sam does for Dean in the season ten finale, but in a vastly different way- Sam had been physically weakened by the trials, but the Mark of Cain strengthens Dean terrifyingly, and Sam is basically appealing to Dean’s oldest instincts. Big-brother instincts.
We’ve been here before.
Sacrifice and Brother’s Keeper both have the big brother/little brother dynamics, but whereas Sacrifice shows Sam leaning on Dean- literally and figuratively- they are equals in Brother’s Keeper. Maybe not in physical strength, and maybe Sam’s looking up to Dean, but they’re equally strong- just like in Swan Song, where it’s Dean looking up at Sam through his mashed-up face, and Sam looks like he’s about to shit himself. I mean, you can’t blame him.
Scenes like these are the Winchesters with everything else stripped away. The three cited here aren’t the only examples, but they’re the most significant. When this happens, the consequences tend to be pretty… interesting.
So many books and films and shows depict love as a cure-all. I can’t believe I’m referencing this right now, but look at Frozen- a relatively recent hit- as an example. Even Harry Potter does it (though Harry Potter gets a pass because, you know, it’s Harry Potter). But Supernatural treats it differently. Love is powerful, sure. It’s also incredibly destructive. And it can to lead to this:
Or it can lead to this.
The insane bond of the Winchesters has fuelled Supernatural for ten seasons. May it continue to do so for many more.
*So it’s probably unfair to blame the Cas fans, since I’m sure most of them are perfectly reasonable, but as an example.