Dabb and Loflin’s Dark Side of the Moon is in many ways the apex of fifth season, the culmination of many plot-threads that had been set up in previous episodes. I want to draw attention to one specific parallel revisited in it, set up in Dabb and Loflin’s own, previous episode of the season, Sam, Interrupted.
In both episodes, Dean Winchester is kissed by a woman. He does not kiss a woman, he is kissed by a woman, and this is important.
Both episodes in which Dean is kissed by a woman were written by the same writers, and one would argue that they set up these scenes on purpose, especially given Andrew Dabb’s adherence to narrative symmetry. And as Dark Side is not only the more significant of the episodes, the myth-arc episode, this suggests that we must look at the MOTW episode to tell us something about the more important episode rather than the other way around.
So why are we shown Dean Winchester kissed by two women?
In Sam, Interrupted Dean is kissed by one of the patients, Wendy. She tells him “Hi” and moves on. We’re given the impression that kissing strangers is something she does. The important thing comes later in the episode: Dean thinks that Wendy is going to kiss him again, but she goes for Sam this time. She kisses Sam in front of Dean and tells him that he wants Sam now because he’s larger.
We’ve discussed the symbolic function of these women as proxies before, and in the figure of a woman that shows sexual interest in both Sam and Dean Wendy is a call-back to the medium, the literal proxy, Pamela Barnes. In Lazarus Rising she shows sexual interest and flirts with first with Dean and then Sam. Grumpy is invited to a threesome. Dean isn’t into that, just to make it clear.
But this is important: in spite of Pamela first flirting with Dean, she shows much more interest in Sam subsequently. In Heaven and Hell she calls him Grumpy affectionately again, feeling up his ass. She tells Sam that she can sense he wants her. Neither thing is true of her regard toward Dean: she does not flirt with him nor give him special attention.
The same continues in Death Takes a Holiday: Pamela whispers to Sam that he has a great ass, calls him Grumpy again. She calls Dean Chachi in a less affectionate tone, more exasperated than anything else. She does not flirt with Dean at all. To recap: after their intial encounter, Pamela does not flirt with Dean but flirts instead with Sam both openly in front of Dean and where Dean cannot hear. The psychic has suggested that her psychic powers allow her to tell that Sam is sexually attracted to her, as well, although he never does anything about it beyond seeming pleased by this fact.
I want to underline this: these things are true of the real Pamela Barnes. The living Pamela Barnes. Pamela Barnes is sexually attracted to Sam Winchester. Like Wendy in the mental hospital, Pamela has chosen Sam because he’s… larger. And also because she’s psychic. She’s psychic and can tell Sam is into her, too.
Wendy, that is, recreates the dynamic of Sam and Dean vis-a-vis Pamela. She tried out Dean first, but then went for Sam and seemed much more enthusiastic about Sam.
The reason I bring up this backstory is the fact that the Pamela Barnes we meet up in heaven in Dark Side of the Moon? Is nothing like the Pamela we met on earth.
The Pamela that Ash retrieves, we are to believe, from her heaven that’s “one long show at the Meadowlands” isn’t interested in Sam at all. In fact, she barely acknowledges his existence. The only acknowledgement by her that Sam exists at all is her use of the plural “boys” as she greets them. Beyond that, it’s as thought Sam is air to her and her focus solely on Dean. She does not refer to Sam as Grumpy, which is something she did in every episode in which we met her alive. As they’re parting, her attention shifts briefly back to Sam and she hugs him, telling him to watch his ass. But it’s a pale echo of how strongly she came onto him on earth.
But in contrast to this, she kisses Dean. Pamela Barnes who showed no sexual interest in Dean Winchester after their initial encounter kisses Dean and confesses to him that she’s fantasized about it, what it would be like to kiss him, doing this in front of his brother. Again, this is very different from the Pamela we’ve met previously.
But what I find fascinating is how her focus is on Dean, how the reality seems to be warped around Dean specifically (and not Sam). And this is the reason I wanted to bring this up: I think Pamela Barnes’ behavior is one of the strongest indicators that the Road House heaven is Dean Winchester’s heaven (whether it’s also someone else’s heaven is another question, but it is Dean’s heaven, something that he explicitly, textually confirms in Of Grave Importance).
Whether or not Ash is the real Ash and whether or not he actually managed to retrieve the real Pamela from her heaven, what we see in the episode is that her character is suddenly focused on Dean in a way that she never was alive.
Her character, drinking whiskey and partying at the Meadowlands, her character who tells Dean everything that he wants to hear including that she’s better off dead and not blaming him for it, who finds him more desirable than his… larger brother – all of this seems like Dean Winchester’s fantasy of Pamela Barnes rather than the genuine article. They knew each other briefly, but there are indicators that the Pamela of heaven does not match the Pamela on earth, and the ways in which they differ are warped by Dean’s perception (Dean’s, and not Sam’s). She’s everything he wishes she was.
And in the context of personal heavens, that’s extremely suspect.
And this contrast is interesting. Because Dean thinks that these women prefer his brother to him because he’s… larger, the real reason seems to be that they both sense a difference between him and Sam, both objectively very good-looking young men. They sense that he’s not on the market. That his heart isn’t in it. That he’s going through the motions. And Pamela Barnes is by far not the only genuine psychic on the show that has come to this same conclusion.