4x17: it's a terrible life

So I rewatched “It’s a Terrible Life” today and there’s that moment in the elevator when Dean thinks Sam is flirting with him and of course turns him down but then I thought about it, and once again either I’m reeeeeeeally late on something or I’m looking into it too much.

Dean Smith is a health nut (my point being he’d hang out at a health club when he’s not at work) and a bit of a workaholic, so it could make sense if if he actually means, “Flirt with me outside of work. We are coworkers and this is unprofessional to be flirting right now.” Right? Not to mention he’s leaning *towards* Sam if anything.

Hi. I ship Wincest and saw the episode for the first time months ago, and only now do I notice this alternate interpretation.

I was watching It’s A Terrible Life (04x17) and I made myself really sad.

There is so much going on in this episode, but one scene really caught my eye today.

After successfully getting rid of the ghost, Sam and Dean recount how ‘awesome’ it was. But soon enough, Sam suggests that they take up hunting as a regular thing. He recognizes how natural it comes to them and feels that it’s something in his blood. He’s so eager to do it that it takes Dean by surprise.

Now, we have to remember, this is just Sam Winchester with his memories wiped. Winchester hated the hunter life because he could only associate it with his father and his hostile feelings towards him. Sam was always reluctant to hunt because he had only done so by force, a consequence of growing up in a family of hunters.

Sam was repelled from the hunter life. Because his father was so strict and his childhood so warped, he rebelled in the only way he could; through school (which is one of many reasons one can argue that Sam is, at his core, good, because most other kids smoke or drink to rebel but Sam sought a healthy and helpful way to escape.) It was the only outlet he could find that he could use to help him dig his way out of the life and into normalcy. It wasn’t that he particularly yearned for an education or to become a lawyer. It was that he didn’t want to be like his father. For all we know, if Sam hadn’t been raised that way, he might never have been the smart, Stanford-educated man we’ve come to know, but rather, he’d be an entry-level corporate drone with very little drive.

But Sam Wesson doesn’t have these memories. He jumps into hunting for 'the first time’, and it’s exhilarating. It’s second-nature. Maybe this is only because he’d unknowingly done it his whole life. But maybe it’s because he had always enjoyed hunting deep down; it was only clouded with bad associations from his past. This Sam isn’t satisfied with the daily corporate grind, and he yearns for something more. This Sam was made for hunting, and he knows and embraces that fact because his judgment isn’t affected by anything else. Through Sam Wesson’s experience, we learn that Sam, deep down, always was and always will be a hunter at heart.

Now Dean is another story, and a heartbreaking one at that.

First off, Dean fits into this life easily. If Dean never grew up a hunter, chances are he would end up something close to this. He exhibited his intelligence multiple times throughout the series (building an EMF reader from scraps, citing references to a number of books, and coming up with clever schemes on a regular basis). Dean is a smart guy and he thrives on learning. In this episode, he brags about his research skills and he’s even eager to do it, unlike the Winchester in him. He’s actually confident in his abilities because he never had a father who only appreciated and tolerated a certain set of skills he possessed rather than Dean as a whole, multifaceted person. Dean Smith even says that he went to Stanford! In this life, without growing up in the life, Sam and Dean’s roles are reversed; Sam is the slacker, the dropout, and Dean is the successful go-getter. And this is who they would have been.

When Sam Wesson suggests that maybe their life isn’t real, that “this isn’t who we’re supposed to be,” Dean Smith immediately denies it and points out the proof that anchors him to this life, mainly, his family. He mentions Bobby, Ellen and Jo, his own nuclear family, and he refuses to take Sam’s words as anything but nonsense. But Sam asks him when he last spoke to any of them, and instead of answering, he changes the subject. This is because he realizes he doesn’t have an answer for Sam, but he doesn’t want to admit (to Sam or himself) that any of what Sam is saying might be true.

Now, throughout the episode, the two pointed out similar feelings. When Sam says he based his suspicions of a ghost on instinct, Dean says he has the same instinct. They both seem to exhibit abilities they never knew they had. But then Sam says that the whole time he’s had this feeling in his gut that something was fishy about their entire existence and he knows that deep down, Dean had “got to be feeling it too.”

Dean doesn’t want to say Sam is right, but it’s written all over his face. Zachariah’s magic must be flawed because Sam is suspicious from the start. And Dean must see it too; we all know Dean is more paranoid that any other character in this entire series. But he chooses to ignore his own suspicions because he doesn’t want the truth. He prefers the illusion, not unlike what he felt back in season 2 when he was under the djinn’s spell. He wants the life he has here. Sam goes on to say that who they are isn’t who they truly are, “this isn’t you.” At this point, Dean tells Sam to leave.

He does this because Sam was attacking a reality Dean always wanted for himself, and until Sam came along, he had no reason to have any suspicions, again different from his experience with the djinn because then his memories were intact. Note that when he mentions his parents, they aren’t John and Mary, but Bobby and Ellen. Dean Winchester’s relationship with his parents wasn’t exactly perfect. His mother was wonderful, but she was gone, burned up by a demon, his memory of her tainted with grief. And his relationship with his father could hardly count as father and son, but more like soldier and commander. His real father figure, the one who took him to play catch, the one who gave him a chance at enjoying his childhood every once in a while and who he could confide in, was Bobby. And it’s not unlikely that Ellen is the only mother he’d ever really gotten to know, and her caring for Jo is probably how he imagined his mother might have been had she survived. And he only ever knew Jo after she was grown and while he did care for her, they weren’t dependent on each other like Sam and Dean were. They could have had a normal sibling relationship, not one filled with worry and fear.

This is the life Dean wants. Unlike Sam, he wasn’t forced into hunting. He did it because that’s what his family did, and the only thing that ever mattered to him was that family. So it can be assumed that if Dean had never gone into hunting, if his family had gotten to grow normally, this is how Dean would be. Notice how Sam Wesson at least had a fiancee and he was still unsatisfied with his life. But Dean Smith seems to be single and he’s perfectly okay with that. The anchors in his life are his parents and his sister and even in this alternate reality, he’s devoted to the family he came from, and he doesn’t have any desire to build his own family because he’s happy with the one he already has, much like how he feels with Sam

So when Sam casts doubt about the validity of their lives, Dean puts up a wall and defends himself from that doubt. He doesn’t want to believe that his life isn’t real because for once, he’s happy with it.

But sadly, even he can’t deny that this kind of life was never meant for him. He enjoyed the hunt as much as Sam did, and that life called to him. When he gives his notice, he’s giving up this stable life because he knows he’s meant for something else, not this apple-pie life.

This episode does a great job of meeting Zachariah’s goal. Dean played right into it and came to believe exactly what Zachariah wanted him to. While his only target is Dean, both brothers can’t seem to deny their destinies. And even if they choose not to give themselves up as vessels, they know they weren’t meant to have regular, peaceful lives. They truly were born to be hunters, just like the angels have planned it for millenia.