4x01 “Lazarus Rising”
On the Aspect of Objectification and Invasion of Privacy
So I re-watched this episode the other day and I felt the need to type this up after this scene rolled around, because imho it is actually quite a disturbing moment as it is one incident of many over the course of the show in which Dean as a character gets objectified (yes, he partially joked about just that in S3 when he has his “She’s All That”-moment with Bella and yes, it is also one of the few incidents outright playing with the notion of Dean on SPN being framed with typically female associated stereotypes such as prettiness, being emotional, etc.) or rather downright harassed.
As I said before the list of Dean having his privacy - physically as well as mentally - invaded is a long one. Think of Meg force-kissing Dean without his consent or how Amara got way too close into Dean’s personal space and overrode his agency. Azazel is another good - or well, horrifying, example - but there sure are many more incidents in which characters either comment on Dean’s good looks in a defaming/degrading fashion (you could even count Bobby’s “princess”-comment here, but for the moment I’d file that under parental loving teasing even though of course there are a lot of problematic things that could be said about this) trying to ridicule Dean or catch him off-guard or physically get way too close to be considered in any way appropriate.
The reason why this scene makes me so deeply uncomfortable is due to how a) it is embedded into the narrative and b) how it seems to be supposed to be perceived by the audience.
So let’s take a deeper look at this scene, shall we?
We start into this scene with Dean having just returned from Hell and being plagued by his experiences there as the flashbacks clearly indicate. It’s just mere days after he dug himself out of his grave and the first few minutes the audience meets Dean after the last it seen him was one season prior when he was strung up on chains about to be pulled apart in Hell by meat hooks. And yes, Dean’s Hell is sadly rather descriptive of Dean’s entire life in which he was the one desperately trying to keep a family together that was drifting apart with him smack in the middle and therefore ending up being the one hurt most. He was pulled apart alive figuratively speaking, in Hell - as we know - he was pulled apart literally. From everything that we can gather from Dean’s flashbacks and later on the confrontation with Alistair who is probably the prime example for the abuse Dean suffered mentally and physically in Hell and what he continues to reveal to Sam over the course of S4, it is not too crazy to assume that Dean has been subjected to torture and abuse of any kind and in ways unimaginable.
Keep that in the back of your mind when looking at this scene play out and also keep in mind why Dean after Hell proceeds to sleep only fully clothed (I’ve written about that topic, about protective layers last in my “Dean Wearing John’s Old Leather Jacket” before HERE). That’s telling you a lot without Dean having to say a single word about what happened to him in Hell. So yes, keep all that in mind and now look at this moment again. The reason that Pamela throughout the show and the few times she pops up is framed as “a friend/good person” might be why people don’t pick up on it immediately, but what Pamela does here is wrong and disgusting on so many levels and checks all the boxes for harassment/non-con. Sure, her and the boys have joked about a threesome before, but this right here is never in any case okay.
And it gets even worse when you know that the only people he was touched by with “loving hands” after 40 years of torture were Bobby and his brother - and I bet even those hugs must have been somewhat difficult at first (even if they then were very cherished). Now he is back, but barely with head above water and trying to find out who saved him from Hell and they go see a stranger and then that woman proceeds to just grab him between the legs. There is nothing remotely normal or funny about that and when you look at Dean’s face you can tell how freaked out he is about the whole incident. He is fragile all over in this entire episode and scene (the whole season really, and frankly who wouldn’t be after returning from Hell) and so self-conscious about the handprint alone. Just showing that bit of skin to someone he doesn’t know you can see is a task for him and then right before this happens.
And then there is the question of how the show intended for this scene to be perceived. I’d argue many casual viewers would not recall this as an extremely problematic moment at all and that is exactly what unsettles me tbh, because similarly as “Yellow Fever” - and yes, I can understand Dean being afraid of a cat may seem funny, but really the whole episode is not - I feel/fear most casual viewers would probably smirk or even laugh. Now tell me, would they do that if the roles were reversed..?