pinocchio with free fall

Dean and Amara/the Darkness, Castiel and Metatron, Sam and God/Lucifer - the sixth episode of the season showed all our main characters in dire straits, their autonomy and agency in danger, the integrity of their souls in peril (yes, I’m including Cas here, cause I think he’s grown a soul a long time ago) and their stories wrapped in the hands of creators, authors trying, who tried to turn their visions into Team Free Will’s realities. While all of them fought and were confronted with their past, in the end it was just one of them, who managed to free himself from his puppeteer by cutting the strings.

All of the episodes of this season have so far in one way or another been showing Dean, Sam and Castiel in dangerous predicaments, situations confronting them with the fleetingness of life and the very realy threat of dying - and possibly for good. All of them managed however to free themselves out of their respectives prisons. Some of them with a little help of a ~friend, some completely on their own.

My Body Is A Cage, But My Mind Holds the Key

11x02 “Form and Void” showed Sam on the brink of death, because he was infected with the disease that was spread when the Darkness was freed and him finding the solution in himself, by using his mind and being helped along by the visions he thought to have been sent by God and reaper Billie’s words about him being “unclean in the biblical sense”. In a similar fashion Dean was in danger of being eaten by the Nachzehrer in 11x04 “Baby”, but found a way to free himself out of the prison that was his own car - a metaphor for his soul - with the help of a hair pin in the shape of a moth. And in 11x06 “Our Little World” Cas found himself trapped and unable to leave the bunker deeply affected by PTSD - effectively making him a prisoner in his own body and mind. All of them so far this season have been re-connecting with how it feels to be a prisoner of your own body and mind, which is what all of them have experienced more than once before.

Sam has experienced not being the one calling the shots in his own body and mind when he became Lucifer’s vessel, when he was plagued by hallcinations and when Gadreel rode shotgun in his head. Dean has been threatened to become Michael’s meat suit and effectively became the vessel for a Goddess and lost his free will in the process and Cas was overpowered by the leviathans and later by Sam’s hell match scars. They all know how it feels to be out of control, to not be the one pulling the strings and 11x06 “Our Little World” made them remember that as painfully and relentlessly as little before.

Are You My Blue Fairy or My Jiminy Cricket?

With the rewrite of the grand story dangling over Team Free Will’s heads and the Darkness walking the Earth the show has been playing heavily with oppositions such as darkness and light, good and evil or right and wrong and tied all that to the importance of the human soul and the question of conscience, one certain story about decisisons, about repsonsibility and growing up comes to mind: the story of Pinocchio. The wooden puppet that strives to become a real boy, but makes the wrong choices time and again (despite Jiminy Cricket serving as his conscience) and is lead astray until he learns from his mistakes and gets granted his wish and after the time of decay gets transformed into a real boy of flesh and blood by the Blue Fairy.

The journey Pinocchio embarks on in many ways feels comparable to the soul theme on Supernatural and with that to the stories of Team Free Will, who at certain moments in their lives have felt like puppets on a string. This season shapes up to finally see all of Team Free Will cut those ties that bind them, make them whole again and move to the next level to truly become themselves - real boys.

“I’m like a robot-puppet-man”

All throughout the first six episodes of the season it was heavily suggested that Dean may be incomplete, may miss a part (of his soul) and to a certain extent is just “going through the motions”, remembering how it was before and acting accordingly but feeling hollowed out and empty by the past experiences. 11x05 “Thin Lizzie” provided two mirror characters - Sidney and Len - to spell that out. Particularly important in relation to the rest of the season seem to have been Dean’s talk with Len, who referred to himself as “a robot-puppet-man”, who wished for Amara to put him back, set him right, make him whole.

While on the surface how Len talks may remind of Sam at first glance, when looking at it a little deeper, it does apply much more to Dean, because the robot-puppet-man feels like a direct link to the robot as the tin man, who feels he’s missing his heart (a part of his soul) and the puppet, he seems to have become for the Darkness/Amara. She is pulling Dean’s strings and Dean is unable to do anything about it, just stands frozen in time. @lost-shoe has been speaking repeatedly about how the show lately may have started to framed Dean not only as the tin man, but also the scarecrow since Calliope in 10x05 “Fan Fiction” used the scarecrow like a puppet to protect the vision of the author, which feels awfully fitting when seeing Dean framed with strings as noted here and the word “protect” in the background in this week’s episode as noted here just when he says they should kill Amara and in that moment the silent storytelling already suggesting that Dean - as later turns out right - won’t be able to harm Amara in any shape or form.

While Dean goes into battle to fight Amara - having the key to unlocking her room and once more framing them as lock and key, two halves of one whole - and looking to defeat her with a knife in hand, it’s clear that she is holding Dean’s strings in her hands and Dean doesn’t manage to cut them, but has to watch as she paves the way for his escape, already dictating his path.

Much like Pinocchio is tested throughout the story multiple times and is led astray and only does what he wants - Dean behaved that way as a demon. Now he’s facing the aftermath of living with the Darkness for almost two years and what imprint they both left on each other. And it’s that connection that poses the question, if in the end, like Len wished, Dean may come to the conclusion that Amara/the Darkness is the only one, who could put him back (give him back that piece of himself that’s missing) and become his Blue Fairy. In any case she seems to play the author in their confrontations, though Dean knows, as he told Len himself (much as if he was Jiminiy Cricket) “if there’s just a shred of conscience, there may be hope”. After all that’s how it plays out in the film:

The Blue Fairy:   “You must learn to choose between right and wrong.”
Pinocchio:   “Right and wrong? But how will I know?“
Jiminy Cricket:  [watching] “How’ll he know!“
The Blue Fairy:  [to Pinocchio] “Your conscience will tell you.”

“Now we’re getting there. Pinocchio’s seeing his strings.”

Whereas for Dean, it was Amara/the Darkness pulling Dean’s strings in one way or another this episode and season, for Sam and just like in the seasons prior the one pulling his strings was Lucifer (or possibly God, though Lucifer seems more fitting in this regard here). And that was shown quite literally in 11x02 “Form and Void” when Sam was pulled apart and his eyes pulled open by strings attached to his eye lids.

For Sam the framing as “a puppet” has been going on for a while longer and really heavily started with the revelation of him being Lucifer’s vessel. When Cas fetched Sam from hell, but didn’t manage to raise all of Sam, we first were introduced to the topic of soullessness on Supernatural. Probably one of the most important episodes relating to Soulless!Sam as being a puppet was 6x09 “Clap Your Hands If You Believe” in which the question of “conscience”, faking it and what it means to be human and what it means to have a soul (to care mostly) - as prevalent in Dean’s talk with Len - are addressed. This is how it plays out on screen.

Dean: “You have to care!“

Sam: “About what exactly?”

Dean: “About everything, man! About being human at least.”

Sam: “Look, Dean. You obviously care. A lot.  And that’s great.  But I can’t care about what—I can’t care about it, you know?  What do you want me to do, fake it?”

Dean: “Yes. Absolutely.  Fake it.  Fake it till you make it.”

Sam: “What happened to you wanting me to be all honest?”

Dean: “Hey, you wanna be a real boy, Pinnochio, you gotta act the part.”

Sam: “I was faking it Dean! Ever since we got back on the road together, I was picking every freaking word. It’s exhausting.”

Dean: “Okay. All Right. But until we get you back on the soul train, I’ll be your conscience, okay?”

Sam: “So you’re saying you’ll be my… Jiminy Cricket.”

Dean: “Shut up. But yeah, you freaking puppet. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

So in S6 it is already established that to Dean Sam minus his soul is incomplete, so “not a real boy”, but rather seems gift wrapped for Lucifer, which just one season later turns out becoming reality when Sam’s wall collapses and all “hell’s spilling loose” and with that also the memories from the cage and Lucifer. Sam sees and hears Lucifer like Jiminy Cricket explains what conscience is to Pinocchio (”A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to. That’s just the trouble with the world today…”) and later the more Sam suffers, and starts to get hostile and screams and shoots at thin air, he even goes as far as saying about Sam that “Pinocchio’s seeing his strings”. It feels like the same thing may be happening now once more, but Sam is inclined to - or desperately wants to - believe that whatever is happening inside his head is not a sign of Lucifer, but God giving him clues, but isn’t “pulling his strings”  though the chances of that being the case don’t look to good.

“I’m reality’s author”

So in this episode we had two deities or middle men of those entities reach out to the Winchester brothers and pull their strings. None of them was able to cut those ties. The only one, who managed that was Cas, who faced off against the former Wannabe-God Metatron. Cas has probably the longest list of being instrumentalized by certain powers and forces and people than any other character. First he was trying to be the typical angel of the lord, though he never did as he was told. Then he lost his agency because the leviathans overtook his body and after that Naomi, Metatron and Rowena were pulling Cas’ strings.

While he was the one shown in the beginning of the season to truly be a prisoner in his own body under the attack dog spell, in 11x06 “Our Little World” Cas was shown a prisoner of his mind while suffering through PTSD symptoms, in the end he was the only one - by going after Metatron, who tricked him more than once, strung him along and manipulated him, took back his agency and cut the last bits of strings with also taking back the demon tablet, forcing Metatron to give him answers and letting him go afterwards.

With all that he seems much further along in his quest for identity than Sam and Dean. The show has been making it clear repeatedly that Cas no longer truly ~qualifies as a human and the he doesn’t consider heaven his home any longer. By choosing the Winchesters yet again, Cas’ decision as what he identifies most these days has been made clear. And in the end, Cas truly fits Pinocchio’s story in so far best as he started out as an angel, who now has become a real boy. There’s only one last step left to complete the transformation, to truly become himself: Cas will have to have to choose to want to become human on his own terms, not because his grace was stolen, but because he wants it.

Becoming Real Boys

So what does it all ad up to? Pinocchio was tested, made mistakes, grew and was granted his wish to become a real boy in the end. Right now it seems this set up is supposed to lead all of Team Free Will to a place where they have to confront the character’s pulling their strings to cut them off once and for all. Dean will have to find a way to feel whole again - possibly by embracing everything he is without suppression or deflection. And so Sam has to too. While for Dean it’s Amara/the Darkness, for Sam it’s Lucifer/God and the cage. After all this episode did not end for nothing with a shot of the cage, held in place by chains - or differently worded - strings so very reminiscent of Dean’s hell. It seems to be one of the last important steps in their individuation process, oen of the last steps to becoming real boys.

The thing the boys may have to realize before or on the way to get there though is that they don’t need no Jiminy Cricket or some Blue Fairy, because they are both. And with that they are the only ones, who can cut the strings that manipulate them or hold them back. It’s them, who will have to free themselves. As Dark!Charlie said “The magic was in you all the time.” they just have to find the key to themselves. Given that all of Team Free Will managed to do that much more by using their own skills than any belief in a higher power at least suggests, that even though things may seem dark right now and may still get a few shades darker there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.