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SPN 11.17 Red Meat

Posted on 2016.04.25 at 19:56
Current Mood: worriedworried
SPN 11.17 Red Meat

Maybe, abnormal is found not in how we live or even in how we survive. Maybe, abnormal is something as simple as going against choosing the right. Maybe, madness is in the things we do that goes against the very nature of all that is good and true. Maybe, just maybe, normal is something as simple as not hurting someone for your own gain.
-- Shannon L. Alder

This episode had a lot to chew on, no pun intended. We had several old patterns of behavior resurrected, and the opportunity to see what, if anything, has changed, as well as how our different characters mirrors both reflected and split apart from each other.

Two normal people, Corbin and Michelle, kidnapped and tortured by werewolves. One of those "there's just chaos, and violence, and random unpredictable evil that comes out of nowhere, and rips you to shreds" scenes. Two traumatized civilians learning about the existence of supernatural evil, barely still alive, and Sam and Dean come in for the rescue. It does not go smoothly. The fight was chaotic, violent, and Sam ended up shot, badly wounded, and in even worse shape than the people they came to rescue.

How do these two normal people handle the trauma they've just been put through? First focus of priority is survival, of course.

How do Sam and Dean handle their trauma? Focusing on survival. And that is where the first split began to show.

Whose survival was more important? Was it about playing the numbers game? Was there a moral way to act in this situation of survival?

Is there a normal choice for Dean or Sam, and a different normal for Corbin and Michelle?

As it turned out, not so much.

In the past Sam and Dean both have acted from desperation to save the other, a kind of madness in not caring about the consequences as long as the other survives.

Seeing Corbin's desperate ugly choices as he calculated what he believed needed to happen to save his wife was a chilling mirror to some of the choices Sam and Dean have made in the name of saving their own family. We are conditioned to forgive Sam and Dean, to understand that those actions, such as making deals with demons and witches, dealing with Death, utilizing dark magic despite knowing the cost will be something horrific... all came from a place of love for the person they were trying to save. So were Corbin's actions any different?

Michelle: Hey, what happened back there? Talk to me.
Corbin: I saved us. Look, you're hurt bad and... and I love you, Michelle. I can't lose you. I did what I had to do.

Wanting to save the one you love is normal.

But there are still lines.

I suppose we could start by pointing out the differences in Corbin's choices.

Sam: Guys? Go find Dean. Get out of here. Hey, please. Go. You got to go.
Corbin: He won't leave you. And we won't last out there without him.

That first crossroads for Corbin, and he took the wrong turn. If the mirror stopped there, it might have ended on a very damning reflection for Sam and Dean and all their grayed up history of choices. But here is where the mirror twisted into a reflection of how different Sam and Dean are from Corbin.

They try to do the right thing. To save others, not just themselves. To make right what they might have done wrong.

Corbin didn't. He started out with an act of desperation, but then continued to compound that evil as his humanity slowly eroded away. How much of this was pure Corbin and how much was the werewolf manifesting its changes in him, we will never know. But that starting point, that was still the man. He couldn't help his eventual decline into monsterhood but the first step was from his human side - wanting to save his wife no matter what.

That ended up showing the great big divide between Corbin, and Dean and Sam.

Corbin: I didn't want this. Okay, any of this, but... it's happened and it feels so... you'll see. We'll be together.
Michelle: No. Please.
Corbin: Forever.
Michelle: No!

In the end, Corbin planned to turn his wife into a monster just like him. It wasn't enough to keep her alive, as she was. Now he planned to change her into something she didn't want to be.

How tragic that their love could be twisted into such a horrifying outcome.

What about Dean and Sam?

Dean went back to his old tricks of trying to make a deal with a Reaper to save his brother.

Billie: It's cute, though. You pretending you're trying to save Sam for the greater good, when we both know you're doing it for you. You can't lose him. But even if Sammy could win the title bout... the answer would still be “no.” The answer will always be “no.” Game's over, Dean. No more second chances. No more extra lives. Time to say bye-bye to Luigi, Mario.
Dean: I'm asking you... I'm begging you, please. Bring him back. Bring him back and take me instead.
Billie: I'm not here to bargain with you, kid.

Billie reiterates her message that the Winchesters are not going to get a free Reaper pass anymore, but the callback goes deeper.

Their normal contrasts with the civilian normal once again.

Dean: I need to... I need to talk to a... well, I wouldn't call it a friend, more like a... scary, crazy death machine. Werewolves aren't the only monsters out there.

Corbin wasn't the only person making a desperate choice with the intent of saving his loved one. But the Winchesters do one thing differently - back to that opposite mirror.

Sam: I unleashed a force on this world that could destroy it . . . to save you.
Dean: And I told you not to.
Sam: And I'd do it again. In a second, I would do it again. And that is what I'm talking about. This isn't on you. It is on us. We have to change. (11.01)

So if Dean is up to his old standby, where is the change?

I remember back to the first time Dean lost Sam, back in All Hell Break's Loose, Part II (2.22), when Bobby was trying to get Dean back in the game, to stop Yellow Eyes's plans from coming to fruition, pleading that the world was going to burn. And I remember Dean's grief-stricken response.

Dean: Then let it burn!

Contrast that with now.

Corbin: He wants to stay.
Michelle: No, you can't!
Corbin: Hey, hey, you stay, you fight, you die. And so do we. Look...he's gone. I'm sorry, but he's gone. Help us. Please.
Dean: I'm gonna come back for you, okay? I promise. Okay. Okay. Let's go.

This time Dean was able to force himself to walk away and put saving others ahead of his own feelings of loss. So I don't see his decision to contact Billie as backsliding. That is one area he is not going to change in. They will continue to save each other, whatever the risks to self. But I guess we could say he found a better balance in how he reacted.

Normal is a word that has many possible definitions, depending on the viewpoint.

Michelle was the most normal character of the episode in many ways. She recognized the sacrifice Sam and Dean had made in saving her and Corbin. When she had a strong idea of what Corbin had done, she reached out to try to comfort Dean, then help him in what had to seem a crazy course of action, based on her need to try balancing the scales and giving back some help to him, even if she didn't understand what he was attempting. And in the end, shattered by her loss, she had one thing to hold onto.

Michelle: Corbin wasn't a killer.
Dean: I know.
Michelle: He did it for me.

It was her only comfort, and her living guilt. Her way of looking back at the man he used to be before transforming into the bloody monster she faced in the end. Their love had been real. It just... didn't get the happy ending they had once believed in, and fought so hard to survive for.

Dean's gentle empathy in the face of her loss, and understanding her pained inertia, gutted me almost as much as Michelle's tears did.

Dean: Michelle, this is gonna be very hard. But you will be okay. And, eventually... eventually you'll get back to normal.
Michelle: No, I won't. They said I could leave... an hour ago. But where am I even supposed to go? After everything we survived together... I watched the man I love die. There's no normal after that.

I would bet he was hearing the same echoes from the past -- just because he bypassed normal and got Sammy back doesn't mean he doesn't remember what it felt like. Not just from this last brush with the idea of losing his brother, but again...

Dean: What am I supposed to do? Sammy. God. What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?! (2.22)

Michelle chose right. She didn't even ask about the "scary evil death machine" option for herself. And even though she wasn't ready to hear it, she will get back to normal. Her old life will never be the same, true. She is now aware of the existence of real monsters, and true evil in the world. She had to watch her husband die. Home will never be the same again for her. But she can eventually make a new home, and a new normal for herself.

That is what Dean meant, but didn't press the point. She maintained her humanity, and that is the most valuable normal she can continue to hold onto.

Maybe my biggest takeaway is the growing worry about Sam and Dean's normal. They "keep each other human" (5.04), but they are not okay without the other. What happens if they face that same question -- if after everything they've survived together, it still ends in tragedy?

Sam: Hey, so, what did you do? When you thought I was dead? What did you do?
Dean: Thought about redecorating your room, you know, putting in a Jacuzzi, a nice disco ball... really class up the joint.
Sam: Right, seriously.
Dean: What, I, uh... I knew you weren't dead.
Sam: Right.
Dean: I knew.

That is the real darkness on the horizon. If they are supposed to work on changing their own patterns of behavior so as to stop unleashing forces that can destroy in the world in their efforts to hold onto each other, to take Michelle's path instead of Corbin's, or that fuzzy gray line they've been walking all these years, where does that leave them?

One of these days they won't beat the odds and bounce back like a rubber ball. What then?


borgmama1of5 at 2016-04-26 04:19 (UTC) (Link)
It's very interesting that Corbin's motivation--save his wife--and Dean's motivation--save his brother--are very much alike...and the Winchester's have done some not-very-good things to save each other, but we forgive them...is it because the consequences of what the boys have done are so hugely global that we don't feel it the same way as watching one person killing another to survive? Or is it just that Sam and Dean get a pass? If Corbin had killed a random hunter, would we have cared?
blackcat333_99 at 2016-04-28 00:02 (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, good question. I think in Sam and Dean's case, speaking for myself, it matters that when they do not-so-good things to save each other, it's not a direct act of evil. Dean's first deal hurt himself only -- directly. The impact on Sam and the path Sam spiraled off as a result was indirect and in part became part of Sam's choices. Sam released Lucifer... but Lucifer is responsible for his own kills, not Sam. Not directly. When Cas released the Leviathans.. again there is a pattern of the damage coming from something bad being released, but the evil being done isn't directly done by Sam and Dean. Now with the Darkness and all... They know there will be consequences, dire consequences, but it seems a step removed from directly strangling or shooting or killing, etc in the name of saving the other. We have seen them torture/kill something evil, but again... never to my memory someone who was purely innocent. Not directly. They are the collateral. It is a small distinction that doesn't absolve them of the responsibility for the consequences of their choices, but I think there is a difference that makes them far more forgivable, at least for me. And at the very least, they take responsibility for what they did wrong and try to fix it. That is key for me.
freya922 at 2016-04-27 11:45 (UTC) (Link)
Really insightful and beautifully written review; I hadn't even picked up on some of the parallels and nuances.
blackcat333_99 at 2016-04-28 00:03 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!
Queen of the Monkey People
adelheide at 2016-04-27 15:01 (UTC) (Link)
This ep wasn't just a h/c fest. There was a lot going on and you nailed down so much of it.

I like the enormous mental discipline Dean exhibits, even if he has to take a knee in the woods.

I like Smart Michelle. She immediately knew something was wrong with Corbin and wasn't just willing to hug her new husband and ignore it. She was also Strong Michelle, especially at the end, and that is not something we see a lot. The Winchesters come in and save the day. But it's often messy and there are people left behind.
blackcat333_99 at 2016-04-28 00:05 (UTC) (Link)
I also really like Michelle. She felt real, you know? I would like to see her again some day, hopefully recovering and putting her life back together. The actress playing her did a great job in conveying all the trauma and pain and yet strength and goodness within this woman.
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