“I think I know how you feel.”
If I hadn’t fallen in love with Dean Winchester the moment he was barely more than a shadow seemingly breaking into a house and stumbling to “look for a beer” and tell his very surprised brother that “dad is on a hunting trip and that he hasn’t been home in a few days” already, I’d have to say this episode was the one, where I knew that I am in over my head. Because even if it was only the third episode, you already had such a well-rounded grasp on who Dean Winchester is, what he struggles with, what means most to him and how deeply he cares and loves.
I love this episode, because it gives us more than glimpses, but really panoramic view on Dean Winchester and what he’s been through at that point, at 26, already and how it shaped him into the person he has become.
Best don’t even think about everything he will go through on the coming 9 years it might want to rip your own heart out an watch it beating in your hands. This episode unmistakably shows Dean’s facade crumble and we see the real him shine through the cracks.
It’s the episode, it’s also getting undeniably clear that Dean, the tough cool guy (wearing a leather jacket at least 3 sizes too big for him), is just another persona. Another persona like a wildlife sherrif, like an FBI agent, like a firefighter. Only that it is one Dean doesn’t even realize he is playing it anymore. He wears it like a second skin, slips into it because it provides a sort of safety. Albeit a false one, one that pushes the true Dean underneath the surface. But here, in this episode, when he is talking to Lucas, he drops the act completely and we see Dean. Without any snark, without any barriers, without any masks. And what we see shine through is in equal measures sad and tragic, but also just so so beautiful.
It’s an episode about people dying horribly in the water. Their loved ones having to watch them being taken away. And a little boy witnessing how his father was killed by something that grabbed him while swimming and pulled him underneath the surface. All while that small boy was unable to do anything about it and could only watch in horror how his dad disappeared in the lake. He stopped talking after the incident. Deeply traumatized.
It is the perfect parallel to what Dean went through when he was four years old and how it affects him to this day still. In Lucas’ case it was the element water that killed a little boy’s father (most probably letting him feel guilty about being unable to save his father) while for Dean it was the element fire that killed a little boy’s mother. And just like Lucas for a while Dean stopped talking if we are taking “John Winchester’s Journal” into account as fringe canon. Deeply traumatized.
Dean relates to Lucas not only because of their shared heartbreaking experiences and trauma, but also because in a lot of ways Dean is still this kid at heart. That’s also why he gets ridiculously excited about Castiel farting when he sits down on a whoopee cussions, that’s why his face lights up times a thousand when Sam comes out of “Plucky Pennywhistle’s” covered in glitter with a giant slinky in hand, that’s why he loves LARPing (Because there he can be and feel like a hero, because in RL he doesn’t think of himself that way - Oh Dean…).These are the light aspects of Dean carrying this child within, close to his heart (in S9 this kid was drowned out, but there is no doubt in my mind that it will resurface and play a pivotal part in Dean’s healing process). But the dark aspects are overshadowing these aspects often times. Dean still is this kid. 4 years old. Scared, traumatized and struggling to find firm ground under his feet again. Choking on words and not expressing himself as openly as he would want to, because he thought and still thinks no one would listen or hear him anyway. That’s how he felt as a child and that’s why he tells Lucas, what he would have needed to hear:
“Maybe you think no one would listen to you or… believe you. But I want you to know that I will.”
Yes, in a way this goes even deeper: Dean is Lucas and in a way he is having a talk with himself here. To open up, to let people in, to let people help and shoulder the weight on his shoulders. Too bad he never realized that he could actually do that. Have people help him shoulder the burdens. Not until it was too late… 8 season later Dean fell apart, was crushed by responsibilities that he shouldered like the toy soldier he used to play with. Like the toy soldier that is still stuck in the Impala. Trapped in old grounds, unable to break free. But he will, oh yes, I am sure he will. And while healing he will re-connect with that kid inside and embrace it.
And then, last but not least, there is Dean’s drawing. Simple, yes. But so telling. He may not be an artist, but how he draws his family is so indicative of his perception of self:
His father. Larger than life, towering over the rest of them.
His mom. Where he needs a moment to collect himself before talking about her or rather just say “mom”. And when he does is his voice breaks and he sounds so small, so vulnerable, like he has to fight really hard to hold back the tears.
And his geek brother.
All of them have something unique - or at least Dean emphasizes their importance. Either by how he drew them or how he describes them. And naturally, Dean mentions himself last. Not just out of poilteness, but because he is thinking of himself as least important… He is just him. Nothing more nothing less. And I only wish he realized and would begin to understand that that is enough. Just him. And that he is loved for exactly that (and that one day he may start loving himself as well - because in a way it’s so important to love yourself in order to save yourself). For his flaws, for his strengths. Yes, that he is loved just cause.