"He Could Have Pie, He Just Won't Eat It Though...": On the Absence of Pie in Season 12 and the Demystification of Mary Winchester
I am prefacing this by saying that I haven’t watched the most recent episode yet, so if Dean and Co. happen to eat pie in 12x13 “Family Feud” I had no way of knowing it. :)
That said, in the end, even if Dean did enjoy a slice in this week’s episode, it really wouldn’t change a whole lot, because so far we have seen Dean very rarely eat one of his favorite types of food in S12: pie. Sure enough, the reason why we may see Dean not indulge in eating as much pie may be entirely be explained by things outside of the show - like maybe Jensen saying “man, please no more sweet stuff” ;) - still within the context of a show the absence of pie his season feels very telling. Especially so as pie for Dean definitely was a typ of comfort food and held a good deal of connotations and associations that all circled round notions of family, home, safety and love.
In the 12 seasons of Supernatural Dean’s love for pie has become just as infamous as his love for his baby. Even more so Dean’s eating habits as such have been used as an indicator for his emotional state of mind, his longings and wishes and especially over the course of the “Mark of Cain”-arc Dean’s hunger or lack thereof was drawn attention to as it revealed a lot about his emotional struggles (I have written lot on this topic, I’d insert links but as I am typing this on my phone I can’t) as well as the fight he faced within between human and demon. After all, little else is such a direct example of basic human necessities: the need to eat and drink to survive. That entire plot with Dean edging away from being human to becoming a demon was exemplified heaviest when Dean “left that cheeseburger uneaten” as Crowley reminisces before raising Dean as a demon in 9x23 “Do You Believe in Miracles”. Dean’s arc was contrasted with Castiel’s, who as a human for the very first time experienced hunger and thirst as two real necessities to be able to function.
The topic of hunger and food as indicators for humanity therefore have been very directly written into Dean’s personal story arcs from S8 onwards. Given this focus of recent seasons paired with the shows adamancy of inserting Dean’s love for pie as a recurring stylistic device over 12 seasons of the show in general, it feels very striking that Dean seems to have lost his taste or love for pie in S12 almost completely - the season in which he sees his mother returning from the dead.
As mentioned above Dean’s love for pie seems to be to a good extent directly connected to the memory and love of his mother. In fact, 5x16 “Dark Side of the Moon” even gives the audience as much of a “starting point” as to how Dean’s love for pie came to be in the first place when we see one of Dean’s memories play out in which we (as much as Sam) learn that the Winchesters’ “marriage was never perfect until after Mary died” and that Dean comforted his mother when his father had moved out for a couple of days after a bad fight (one now has to wonder if maybe that could have been due to Mary disappearing and hunting), told her that “daddy still loves her” and offered emotional support to his mother when he was a mere 4 years old. It’s that memory standing out clearest in relation to Deans love for pie as Mary not much later after she calls Dean “her little angel” offers him some pie. It’s by no means a truly happy memory imo, especially as it does kind of showcase how Mary tries to lighten the mood with the offer of pie. It’s this action really that frames and explains Dean using pie as “comfort food” in the most literal sense of the term. So of course this will sound somewhat over the top, but one could argue that every time Dean enjoyed a slice of pie in his life he remembered this moment with his mom. A moment nonetheless in which he again acted almost like an adult rather than a child (and yes, that is suppose will just always remain the tragedy of Dean Winchester: his lost childhood, that, as the show progresses, it seems was lost much earlier than when his mother died…
Keeping all of this in mind I think it is interesting to take a look at S12. The season of Mary Winchesters return. The undoing of the past. But for sure not the erasure of old wounds, scars or traumas, but rather the start to add a few new on top. Amara giving Dean “what he needed most” was his mother. She gave the Winchesters a chance to re-write their story, because maybe she wished her and her brother could do the same. What Amara wanted - and there is not a single doubt in my mind, because even though Dabb seems to have forgotten what he himself wrote at the end of last season, Amara wasn’t cruel just cause - was for Dean to be happy and find peace. Little did she know that bringing back the Winchesters’ mom would hardly bring that for him.
Now, as I have written about multiple times at the end of last season and prior the beginning of this season with Mary’s return we aren’t just loosely following the possible re-write of the Winchesters’ story (though much of this season to me feels sadly like “same old same old” and plain repeat), most of all we see the demystification of Mary Winchester - and that may actually be one of the most painful ones for the Winchesters and Dean especially as it seems countless times he is proven that his mother really is nothing like he remembered her to be. Of course there are few characters that have had such a “cult” surrounding them on the show as Mary Winchester. Her own children never really got to know her as a person as they simply were way too small for that to be the case, yet over time Mary was stylized, idealized and turned into a symbol that had very little in common with the very real Mary Winchester - as this season explores.
Not a single episode this season didn’t feature some sort of deconstruction of Mary Winchester as a person and character or a realization of who she is opposed to how she was imagined to be. It’s vital to see things for what they are, but there’s no denying it’s tough and eliminates foundations that provided at least some sense of stability - and so far we have not seen any kind of building new ground together for a stronger and more mature foundation. In the first episodes Dean learns that Mary “never cooked” or “continued hunting even when she was already married” and that many of his memories are unveiled to have been “false”. Getting to know their mother really is a constant progression of disillusionment for the Winchesters (and for Dean much more than for Sam since he doesn’t have any memories that could be rendered untrue or incomplete or downright “wrong”) and while I firmly believe that Mary does somehow care about her grown up sons, true emotion and connection doesn’t seem to be there. And one can’t really blame anyone for that because of course for Mary suddenly being alive is hard and she never learnt how to have grown up kids, because well… she never lived to have them in a natural progression.
Still, I think it is fairly well portrayed how much Mary struggles to form a meaningful connection with Sam and Dean. A relationship that could build into becoming the loving relationship that meant safety and home and everything being okay for Dean for example as seen in his memories - and one memory in particular featuring pie. Coming back to the symbolic meaning of pie again I think it’s valid to analyze the absence of it in S12 (I truly only remember Dean eating pie in 2nd episode when all was still fairly “okay” and happiness prevailing over Mary being back rather than the start reality setting in) in relation to the demystification of Mary as a symbol and mother figure. Pie may simply not provide the comfort and safety it once did for Dean, because like so much of his past and memories regarding his mother have been overturned and corrected, but not in a very healing - or worded differently - comforting way.
So in a way this season exemplifies imo rather perfectly the saying “You can’t have your pie and eat it too”, which describes you can’t have two good things at the same time, which seems awfully fitting to the whole Mary Winchester arc. And in that regard I think it is indeed very revealing how now that Mary is back “Dean could have pie”, but we don’t see him eat it…
"On November 2nd 1983, Don't Get Out Of Bed" (Don't Make Me Go Down That Road Again)
Ever since Dean took the Mark of Cain, I’ve been thinking about Dean’s mindset in the current narrative and how everything that happened in his past shaped him into this disturbed, lonely man who can’t think anything better of himself than this:
9x10: “Come on, man. Can’t you see? I’m poison, Sam. People get close to me, they get killed… or worse. You know, I tell myself that I help more people than I hurt. And I tell myself that I’m… I’m doing it all for the right reasons, and I… I believe that. But I can’t - I won’t drag anybody through the muck with me. Not anymore.”
I have been talking a lot about how I believe that Dean has reached his lowest point so far, how he is losing himself, spiralling into a bottomless pit of self-loathing… and it breaks my heart a little bit more every time I think about how it all traces back to that night on November 2nd, 1983.
I think, deep inside, the Dean we know is still stuck inside his paralysed 4-year-old self… smoke filling his lungs, feeling fiery heat on his skin, his mother’s screams echoing in his mind, holding on to baby brother… and waiting for his mum and dad to come out and save him.
But instead of being rescued he is left alone all his life, clinging to Sammy, trying (and failing) to find his way back into the comfort of his mother’s arms.
I imagine 4-year-old Dean standing outside his burning home, clutching at his little brother (which is the only actual warmth he feels in that moment that isn’t deadly fire). He’s in shock, frightened, confused: he’s just seen his Mum screaming on the ceiling, has heard his dad yell orders at him with wild panic in his eyes, feels sudden responsibility thrust upon his shoulders, has to swallow everything he feels in order to keep his arms around little Sammy - little smiling baby Sammy whom he just kissed goodnight a few hours ago. He wants to go back and find his Mum, make sense of what he’s just witnessed, wants to feel her tight embrace and her warm, loving eyes reassuring him that everything is going to be okay… but everything around him is burning and his dad’s frantic order keeps replaying in his head… he holds on to Sammy and he runs as fast as he can - just like his dad has told him to.
(please mind the trigger warnings mentioned in the tags)