The character of Cole Trenton played a fairly significant role in Season Ten, and I think we can expect him back for Season Eleven. His original purpose was to take revenge on Dean for killing his father back in 2002 (his father ate livers). Thus Cole forcefully entered the Winchesters’ lives, having somehow in all his research of Dean managed to evade any knowledge of the supernatural. As an ex-soldier, he was able to hold his own with Sam and Dean- but what, precisely, is his function?
I mean, he’s clearly a Winchester mirror. In the early seasons, Sam and Dean’s main goal was to hunt down the demon that killed their father; Cole’s goal is to hunt down the demon that killed his father, though Dean wasn’t a demon at the time of the killing. Dean is therefore compared to Azazel, and by extension Sam and Dean’s role in people’s lives is compared to the YED’s. Maybe Sam and Dean do what they do because they have to, but the comparison points out that their actions can leave children just as traumatised as Sam and Dean were, seeing Jess and Mary die, and Sam and Dean’s actions can rip families apart just the same as the YED’s did. Of course, Sam and Dean had to do what they did; that isn’t questioned. But we’re nevertheless invited to think about the holes that Sam and Dean leave in the lives of others.
Trauma is a theme integral to Supernatural- has been ever since Dean shoved Sam up against the bridge in the Pilot and yelled at him about Mary, and it’s lasted through Sam’s nightmares about Jess’s death, through Dean getting back from Hell, through Sam’s psychotic break, through Dean’s trip to Purgatory- and then we have great little moments like the beginning of Stairway To Heaven, where Dean woke Sam up too suddenly and Sam nearly shot him. Anyway, Cole’s character is all bound up in themes of PTSD.
He’s first introduced as Sam’s captor and torturer, and our sympathies are, of course, with Sam- Cole at that point seems nothing short of sadistic. But one episode previously, it had been Sam who was torturing the possessed girl in order to get information on Dean. Cole said outright that he thought Sam was a ‘psycho liar’, and he’d presumably been following the Winchesters’ impressive crime careers over the seasons, including the leviathan debaclé in Slash Fiction (and what happened there, anyway? Why do they now introduce themselves socially as Sam and Dean Winchester? Did they get Cas to do some kind of all-America mind-wipe? It’s my least favourite continuity error in SPN history). From Cole’s point of view, the Winchesters are monsters too- at least at first, though he must have felt some level of compassion for Sam, as he let him escape.
Later, it’s Cole who’s on the receiving end- this time from Dean, in the electroshock scene in The Things They Carried, also known as The Scene That Launched A Thousand Ships. And Dean isn’t torturing Cole for information, he’s trying to save him- but he ends up almost killing him before they switch tactics to rapid dehydration (leading to the ‘imma drink you like a fountain’ exchange, also known as The Scene That Launched Another Thousand Ships). When Cole tortures Sam it’s done for selfish reasons, and when Dean tortures Cole it’s done to save his life, but the situations end up similar anyway.
The set in that screencap is giving me Hannibal flashbacks.
It’s another nod to the effects that Sam and Dean can have on the people they try to save, and Season One’s Something Wicked comes to mind- Sam and Dean solve the case and kill the shtriga, but they also traumatise a kid. At the end of the episode, Sam says, ‘Sometimes I wish I could have that kind of innocence, you know?’
‘Sometimes I wish you could too,’ says Dean.
In fact, while Dean and Cole are busy wallowing in their homoerotic tension, Sam is trying to save the other victim of the
PTSD metaphor con-worm that is the MoTW. But in yet another nod to the side effects of saving people, hunting things, Sam ends up having to kill the victim, probably traumatising the poor guy’s wife and adding another nightmare to his own list.
In other words, when Cole is round, trauma as a subject comes up. He’s like Gordon in that he reflects the flip side of hunting, except that he reflects the morally grey bit of it. He allows the issue of PTSD to be subtextually poked with a stick. And after everything the characters have been through, a way of handling these issues was much-needed.