Vivisecting Supernatural- The Many Hells Of Team Free Will

Please understand that this isn’t about saying which character had a ‘worse’ time in Hell. I just intend to take a closer look at Sam, Dean, Cas and Bobby’s experiences of Hell, and what they could say about that character.
So let’s start with Dean. The facts are these: Dean went to Hell for four months, i.e forty years, after selling his soul, and what they did to him was with the purpose of ‘breaking’ him (in order to break the first seal and yadda yadda).
The most we see of Dean’s Hell involves him stretched out over an abyss, a hook piercing his shoulder. The sexual connotations are there, though never explicitly spoken. With Dean, everything is sexualised- like, practically every monster they meet comes onto him. For instance:
Sex seems to be a kind of safe retreat for Dean, usually. Perhaps this is because only then does he get to be both open and safe- look at his post-coital heart-to-heart with Cassie in Route 666, or Lisa in The Third Man (in hilarious contrast to the following scene, with Soulless Sam working out and casually paying a prostitute).
Monsters pick up on this chink in Dean’s armour, and they always use it against him. All in all, I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that Dean was raped in Hell.
It’s a systematic destruction of all his safe places, basically. And when he gets back, his time in Hell has twisted his perception. He seems to automatically place less trust in Sam when he returns- even before he finds out about the whole demon blood thing- and he seems to have left a part of himself behind, as Alastair says.
Most importantly, though, when Dean’s in Hell he’s screaming for Sam- who told him that he would not go to Hell, that Sam would find a way to save him- and nobody is answering. He has no way of knowing that Sam is tearing himself up trying to get Dean back. And this goes on for forty years.
In short, Hell breaks Dean by making him think his brother has abandoned him, and by using sex- which has always been Dean’s comfort zone- against him. We do see the beginning of a healing process concerning the sex thing, when Dean and Anna have sex in the Impala in Heaven And Hell- it’s a very gentle, peaceful scene, and the way she puts her hand over Castiel’s handprint on Dean’s shoulder is like she’s trying to erase his pain.
Then of course there’s the fact that he turned to torture. It’s interesting that endverse!Dean, who had gone back to torturing for information, only began doing that after he and Sam were separated. Endverse!Dean was frighteningly similar to Dean in Season Four’s On The Head Of A Pin, in fact.
Sam and Dean’s relationship is dangerous, yes. But they need each other anyway. Because otherwise this sort of thing happens.
Sam’s Hell problems were a different animal altogether. Sam jumped into Lucifer’s Cage to save the world, and spent a year and a half down there- about one hundred and eighty years in Hell time. He was basically a source of entertainment of Lucifer, and possibly Michael. There would probably be a revenge element involved too, as it was thanks to Sam that they were in the cage.
When Sam got out and his Hell memories were unleashed, it resulted in a psychotic break.
The question here isn’t so much what happened to Sam in the pit as what didn’t happen to Sam in the pit. Over one hundred and eighty years basically everything would have happened. As Hallucifer says, ‘the rapier wit, the wittier rape’…
Yet the image that is chosen, over and over, to represent Sam’s time in the Cage is this one.
It’s used repeatedly in Season Six. Then, in Season Seven, there’s this:
One day, I will sit down and write an essay entirely about that image. I mean, come on, SYMBOLISM. But not just yet.
The fact remains, they could have chosen anything out of the varied repertoire of things Sam went through, and every single time, they went with fire. Given what he says in Defending Your Life about feeling like being in Hell had erased a lot of his guilt, it seems that Sam’s Hell time was like a kind of trial by fire for him, a purification. One that drives him insane.
And look! He ends up in a mental hospital. Wearing all white. Apart from the Samifer scene in Season Five’s The End, it’s the only time we see a Winchester completely dressed in white. Colour symbolism, yay. Also, I suspect that the Jesus Stubble is no accident.
It’s a genuinely heartbreaking episode, by the way. Basically the culmination and resolution of Sam’s Hell trauma plotline. Sadly, the purification thing doesn’t last long for Sam, as anyone who’s seen the last few episodes of Season Eight- and that awful, devastating I’m not clean speech- will know.
Sam may have felt purified, but Dean certainly hadn’t. Possibly the difference was to do with the reasons that landed them in Hell- whereas Dean was there as a result of what was essentially his own selfishness in resurrecting Sam (though I don’t think any of us blamed him), Sam went in order to save the world. Sam knows he’s made the ultimate sacrifice and that no-one can ask any more of him- until they do, in Season Eight, when he must go through the whole trial-by-fire thing again. Literally, this time.
But the great thing is is that the purification process was never finished in Season Eight. The great thing is is that the Winchesters don’t, when it comes down to it, care about purity. They care about each other.
It comes down to this: Hell reveals their vulnerabilities. Dean’s is through sex and loneliness. Sam is vulnerable because he is convinced of his own invalidity as a person, thanks to the disease he has crawling through his veins. Actually, Sam functions as a pretty solid metaphor for mental illness- that thread’s there right from Season One’s Asylum. Sam’s sanity is as permeable as Dean’s sexuality.
As for Cas, his trip to Hell was brief, simply to discuss his ‘business transanction’ with Crowley. There is no plot-related reason why the Hell shown here would be specific to Cas, but the only time we see this particular variation on Hell is through Cas’s eyes- suggesting some subtextual link to his character.
In case you don’t remember, it’s a line of people stretching way back, and when anyone gets to the front of the queue they just go straight to the back again.
It isn’t difficult to spot a metaphor for the angelic garrison. They, too, are like sheep, waiting for orders from God that never come. Cas’s plotline that season was all about defeating destiny. Obedience is Cas’s Hell. ‘No-one likes waiting.’
In fact, the hilarious picture of Crowley on the wall is suggestive of Raphael’s version of Heaven. Both Raphael and Crowley try to control Cas- as Crowley says, ‘You do realise you are the bottom in this relationship?’ Just as he betrayed Raphael, Cas betrays Crowley.
Obedience, then, is Cas’s Hell. We see this again with Naomi. Like the Winchesters’ relationship, Cas’s rebellious tendencies cause as much harm as they do good. Cas’s entire character is about free will, freedom.
The last one of them to go to Hell was Bobby, whose soul was basically stolen by Crowley- probably for leverage, though we never know for sure. Bobby spent just under a year in Hell, so probably about a century in Hell time.
Bobby went to ‘normal Hell’. Or so we can assume. The episode in which Sam breaks him out- Season Eight’s Taxi Driver- is beautiful, in a Dantesque kind of way.
It seems fitting that the version of Hell that’s implemented at the time Bobby is there is so classical.
SPN 009

It turns out that Bobby’s Hell was endless black-eyed versions of Sam and Dean. Which, I mean, he could just have stuck around for Season Ten, but whatever. I imagine that a hundred years of that kind of psychological screwiness would have a similar effect to Chinese water torture, but Bobby seems to be holding it together relatively okay.
The fact that they chose Sam and Dean to torture him, though- that says a lot. Not Karen, not Jody, not his parents, not Rufus. His surrogate sons. The worst thing Bobby can conceive of is that Sam and Dean would become so twisted and evil. Many people, including Dean himself sometimes, think Sam and Dean are as bad as the things they hunt. It’s a question that acquired special relevancy in Season Ten, with Sam’s involvement in Lester’s deal and Dean’s whole demon thing. Supernatural is in many ways about the grey areas in morality- the road to Hell is paved with, etc etc- but even Team Free Will must draw the line somewhere. Bobby draws it at black eyes. To him, once Sam and Dean become demons, they are no longer Sam and Dean.
Sam doesn’t draw the line here when Dean becomes a demon. He pleads with him instead.
Bobby is vulnerable through Sam and Dean, yes. But by extension he’s vulnerable through the choices they make and what they become. Like Mary saying that the worst thing she can imagine would be for her sons to grow up hunting, the worst thing Bobby can picture is the corruption of his sons.
Thus do Team Free Will’s Hells entwine.


20 thoughts on “Vivisecting Supernatural- The Many Hells Of Team Free Will

  1. Great post.

    I’ve often thought that the reason Sam’s always going through these purification plots is because of the demon taint in his blood. He says himself that he’s never felt clean, so this may explain why he’s on this permanent redemption arc. Even this season was about him trying to make up for the things he did and didnt do in season eight.

    If Sam’s arc is about trying to become good, then Dean’s arc is about recognizing that he already is good which makes Sam’s argument to him, in the season ten finale, so emotionally meaningful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. Exactly. And the way Dean reacted to Sam not looking for him in Purgatory would only aggravate that. And great catch about Dean’s arc, that sums it up perfectly- calling back to s3 when it took him half a bloody season to even admit he didn’t deserve to go to Hell.


    • “If Sam’s arc is about trying to become good, then Dean’s arc is about recognizing that he already is good which makes Sam’s argument to him, in the season ten finale, so emotionally meaningful”

      OH this^ so much this^

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m loving your analysis of Supernatural too! You made some very good points and I can see your point of view clearly. Makes me want to write my own reviews and re-watch Supernatural, even though I just watched 1-9. As far as whose Hell is the worse, it is all relative to the characters and the person watching. Ones Hell might not be viewed the same as another. Wonderful post! I’m looking forward to the next one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are really good. They appeal to me because you write them with an academic voice. Which is not to say you don’t have opinions or feelings on what you’re saying, but you say it in a way that makes me believe you’ve thought for a very long time about real literary aspects of the writing for the show, not just, “OMG Dean drank an ‘Angel’ brand beer…You know what that means!!!” (If you listen super hard, you can hear my eyes rolling back in my head right now.) These are really excellent and I hope I will be reading more from you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much! I actually only started watching in February- I’m fifteen and in the middle of GCSEs so I probably shouldn’t even be thinking about this stuff right now. I know what you mean about the whole “OMG Dean drank an ‘Angel’ brand beer…You know what that means!!!” thing (dying of laughter now, by the way). That was the sort of stuff I often spotted on Tumblr that made me defect over here. I’ve found it a much more… ahem… reasonable community so far. Thanks a lot for commenting.


      • Okay, I’m nearly 45 and the daughter of a retired English teacher and I can say with confidence that you, fifteen-year-old you, write better material than I have seen in some magazines.
        You have a nice command of language. You must be a voracious reader. I also hate you. I write, but dear Lord I struggle at it. You’ve got natural talent that I envy. I definitely hate you.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s true though. You write great meta.i have no patience for what I like to call “fan-wanking”, where people make assertions without backing up them up.
    I can tell you’ve really put some intellectual heft into these arguments and I like a good, well thought out post. If this is you at fifteen, how impressive will you be after twenty years of writing?


    • It’s the fan wankery that pissed me off to start writing my own stuff, actually. If you’re going to be bitchy, fine, but WHERE THE HELL IS YOUR EVIDENCE?
      Sorry. Ahem.
      Thanks a lot, seriously. I just really like this stuff. It’s hard not to get sucked in.


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