Over several seasons, there have been three instances of mirrored symbolism that I’ve noticed. I’ve now decided to do a three-part meta on the symbolism of each of those.
Anyone who reads here regularly will probably have gathered that I am slightly obsessed with episode 4×9, I Know What You Did Last Summer. So here’s my first essay concerning it.
During a recent rewatch, I noticed something. There’s one of those iconic SPN shots in Lazarus Rising, just after Dean crawls out of his grave- a starburst of felled trees around him.
Then, in I Know What You Did Last Summer, when Sam goes to try and change places with Dean in Hell, the camera pulls back in an exact mirror of the Lazarus Rising scene, and we see this.
The scenes these separate shots feature in could not be more different. Dean’s scene is in the day; he emerges from the darkness of his coffin out into the light. Sam’s is at night, and there is no transition from dark to light. It’s been almost literally a long, dark tunnel for him ever since Dean died.
There’s a cross in both of these shots, too. The first one is the tiny shadow just above Dean’s grave- possibly symbolic of his sacrifice for Sam, and how little it matters in the big picture. If this is true, we already know we are being misled with this image, since Dean selling his soul was the pivotal point of the series, in many ways.
Then there’s the circle of felled trees, fanning out around Dean. This alone functions as a symbol of the angels- the white tree trunks, obviously a conscious decision, bear a resemblance to the white light the angels give off. And he is surrounded and dwarfed by these trees- and here we have an interesting case of foreshadowing.
Obviously, this was Season Four, and there was no way the writers knew there would be a Season Eight. But I’m of the opinion that once someone has created something, it takes on a life of its own and we are therefore free to interpret it however we like. And the fallen white trees- the metaphor reminds me strangely of the fallen angels from Season Nine, damaged and yet still dwarfing Sam and Dean. But in this image, Dean seems too small to be anything but powerless in the face of the trees- just as with the angels.
And this is where we’re misled, because of course, this is not the case. However powerless Dean looks, the fact is that he ends up defeating the same angels that order him ‘raised from perdition’.
As for Sam’s shot, in a way, there’s two crosses here. There’s the signpost that, when seen from above, forms an X shape- and then there’s the fact that he’s standing at an actual crossroads.
The signpost is interesting- while it’s a cross, and therefore a symbol of sacrifice, it’s also symbolic of the directions Sam has open to him. It’s telling us something: there are different paths he could go down, but every one of them will be about sacrificing himself- whether his life, his soul, his sanity, or his humanity. As we know, he eventually sacrifices them all. But every path that leads off from where he stands is dark.
Unlike Dean’s in his shot, Sam’s shadow is huge. From a distance he still appears powerful- and here Sam’s image is misleading also, because in this instance, Sam is at his most powerless. At this stage, he still has no idea how to save Dean. But his instincts to sacrifice himself are pointing him down dark roads, as evidenced by that signpost- and we all know where those roads lead by now.
I love you, Kim Manners and Serge Lacedour.
Next up: father figures and the Mysterious Case of the Dropped Cups.
Oh, and if anyone has any points to add to this, I’d be very grateful.