‘These guys are psychopaths,’ said Aaron in Everybody Hates Hitler, and it’s not difficult to see why he thought so, given that Sam was warming his hands on a burning corpse at the time. It was hardly the first instance of the Winchesters displaying behaviour that some might think of as psychopathic, however.
The first scene that springs to mind here is in The Devil You Know, when Sam and Dean are about to kill Brady. They stand in front of a salt line, staring at him.
Brady: What is this?
Dean: All those angels, all those demons, all those sons of bitches. They just don’t get it, do they, Sammy?
Sam: No, they don’t, Dean.
Dean: You see, Brady, we’re the ones you should be afraid of.
It sounds like something out of a serial killer AU fic.
Then there’s the scene from Inside Man, which I mentioned in my Sastiel meta, which is literally one of my favourite scenes in the entire show. You can watch it here. It’s astonishingly satisfying because by that stage, who didn’t loathe Metatron? But I also get a kick out of how bored Sam and Cas seem as they slit Metatron’s throat, steal his grace, and casually shoot him in the knee. Which really should make me question my own morals, but frankly I love the scene too much to care. And that proves something all by itself.
Scenes like these- like the scene where Paris Hilton gets decapitated, or Sam cutting off Gordon’s head with razor wire- they are necessary. The main attraction of SPN for a lot of people is the love that Sam and Dean have for each other, and so usually we think of them in these terms. Scenes like Dean telling Sam there’s nothing he’d put before him, or Sam kneeling in Brother’s Keeper, or the brothers dying in one another’s arms, are the first ones that spring to mind when we think of the show. Sometimes we need a reminder that the vehicle of the show is these two men who are essentially born-and-raised killing machines. Often, Sam and Dean try to convince the monster to change, telling them that being a monster is a choice, and that’s all well and good.
But if that happened every time, not only would the boys come across as self-righteous, they’d be dead. When we see the Winchesters behaving with as little compassion as anything they’ve hunted, we know how they’ve survived all these years.
Obviously there would have to be a degree of detachment- after all, basically all the monsters have looked like people. Many of them have looked like children. Demons possessed innocent people. The only way a human being who was not originally a psychopath would be able to kill these things on a regular basis is by disassociating, so these scenes make total sense.
But what about us? I’ve felt compassion for very few monsters, and only those because I feel that I know them- citing Madison, Amy, Crowley, and occasionally Sam and Dean themselves. (Not that I’d class Soulless Sam as a monster. More… amoral.) It gets to the point where you find yourself watching the death of a djinn that looks like a young boy without a glint of compassion in Pac-Man Fever. As an audience, we’ve disassociated too- even though we aren’t hunters. We don’t need to. (At least, I’m not a hunter. Are you a hunter?)
We don’t need to dissociate, yet we do so anyway. It’s surprisingly easy to slip into a mindset where you cheer at the death of, say, an angel possessing an innocent human. (Phone call for Metatron. Or Uriel. Or Naomi.) The show doesn’t back away from these issues- the question of vessels was addressed through Cas’s Claire arc in Season Ten, for example. But what does it say about us when we feel triumph at the death of a Pagan god who looks exactly, exactly like Paris Hilton?
On the other hand, there’s the occasional scene- like Sam’s torture of the demon at the beginning of Season Ten, or Dean kneeling in a roomful of massacred humans in The Things We Left Behind, or the montage of Sam being scary in Mystery Spot, where their actions are just as ruthless, yet we feel not triumph at a killing but concern.
Concern for the victim? Nah. For the killer, obviously. We’re scared for them because we sense that they are in a mental pit of their own making, and we don’t know if they’ll ever crawl out. And mostly, they don’t- the other brother forcibly drags them out instead. Usually by returning from the dead.
I think it’s the underlying desperation in such scenes that make us feel for them- Sam screaming ‘WHERE’S MY BROTHER?’ at the demon in Black, the lost look on Dean’s face even as he sat surrounded by corpses. It says something about the depth of these characters that they can do the most terrible things and our reaction is compassion- yet we rarely feel for monsters who appear as children, to whom equally terrible things are done.
Then we have Season Seven’s episode Slash Fiction, which really was like a serial killer AU. I mean, I don’t want to think about the amount of selfcest fic it must have spawned (probably more than The End, but not as much as The Man Who Knew Too Much). In it, two leviathan masquerade as Sam and Dean, going about America in a mirror of Sam and Dean’s journey, committing mass shootings wherever they go.
The episode equates Sam and Dean to couples in Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction, and also the fact that it’s called Slash Fiction at all is, uh… but I’ll put that aside for if I ever do another Wincest meta.
The point is that we see an episode crammed with ideas of how Sam and Dean could have turned out if they’d been just a little different. On my first viewing my overwhelming reaction was anger on behalf of the real Winchesters- it is one of a few episodes, I think, where we are truly invested in the Leviathan plot. (Plus the scene with the leviathan in the diner bitching about the brothers is just so ridiculous and so good.)
All this is why moments like the one in Everybody Hates Hitler- when we step back and look at Sam and Dean and say, ‘Wow, these guys really aren’t normal,’ are so important. In the early seasons the Winchesters were occasionally able to look at their lives and say, as in Salvation, ‘Our lives are weird, man,’ or, my favourite bit from Route 666-
‘So this killer truck-‘
‘I miss conversations that didn’t start with ‘this killer truck’.’
It seems to start about Season Three that the boys are in it too deep to be able to look at themselves like this. Now, there’s no way they’d be able to. ‘These guys are psychopaths’ let a little air into the belljar of Sam and Dean’s world.
It was also very funny. Which helps.
This’ll be my last meta for a week- I’m going on holiday with no WiFi, unfortunately.