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4x17 It's a Terrible Life.

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  • 4x17 It's a Terrible Life.

    It's a Terrible Life. Heeeee!

    This was great. Fantastic. You know what I love most? That they switched so abruptly from the utter despair of last week to the light-hearted humour of this week without giving us whiplash! That tonal shift was built into the plot as part of the central mystery of the episode and it worked. And it wasn't just humorous – there was a lot of subtle depth and meaning woven into seemingly throwaway fragments of dialogue. Nice job. Real back-to-basics stuff, and after all the doom and gloom of recent episodes it was like a breath of fresh air.

    I found myself counting coup at the end of the episode, because I had the scenario pegged as a kind of health spa for Dean right at the beginning, and figured only a trickster or angel would have the juice to pull it off. Since there didn't seem to be any motivation for a trickster to do such a thing – there was no twisted joke being played – that just left the angels. A set up to allow Dean to recuperate and encourage him to get his head back in the game, which makes sense, from an angelic point of view, and on the face of it looks to have been a fairly effective and successful strategy. Plus, it allows the writers to make the transition past the despair of the last episode back toward Dean at least being functional again without having to wade through a lengthy recovery process in the immediate wake of all that trauma. They get to skip a step.

    The cinematography of the episode is fabulous, so bright and colourful all the way through…until the 'spell' is undone, when the drab greys of reality are returned.

    Right. Stream of consciousness time: here goes!

    Dean Smith. Sam Wesson. Mwahahahah. Smith and Wesson. Could be 'Alias Smith and Wesson', even. Oh, Show.

    Ooooooooh. Dean's man-about-town outfits. With the braces and side parting and bright colours, white collar on striped shirt! On Dean. Driving a Toyota Prius and pulling a face at classic rock on the radio. Tossing his tie over his shoulder to eat. Eating salad! Drinking steamed latte with rice milk and discussing faddy diet plans and recipes. No carbs. Clams! De-toxing.

    And so clean-shaven – him and Sam both. They both look so young and fresh-faced here!

    "Save it for the health club, man."

    I kinda love that they made Dean a sales director with a penthouse office and stuck Sam in a lowly cubicle – made for an interesting dynamic, putting Dean back in charge of Sam, even though Sam still instinctively took the lead when Dean held back, reluctant. Also a reminder that Dean is a smart and competent guy; he just isn't educated. If he had lived a conventional life he could have gone far, had he chosen to do so. He is very adaptable. This false life gave him a taste of what he is capable of, the kind of subtle positive affirmation that he needs, with his self-esteem at rock bottom.

    Also? I love Sam as an IT tech. "Have you tried turning it off and then turning it back on?" HEEEEE! And messing about, wasting time on the job, because he knows that this isn't the life that he should or could be leading – both because he is a hunter and because he is too smart for this position, he is capable of so much more.

    "How much DD did you play when you were a kid?" Sam has weird dreams in any reality, apparently, and I wonder if that was connected to his psychic mojo or deliberate, if the angels deliberately allowed fragments of his real memories to bleed through to ensure that he and Dean would pick up on the haunting, if Dean was experiencing much the same thing but couldn't bring himself to admit it, a side effect of the false scenario for them both. Either way, Sam was far, far keener to admit that something was wrong with this situation than Dean, and it wasn't just because he was stuck in a cubicle while Dean had the plush office and apartment. Dean's subconscious had every reason to bury itself in this swanky new life and identity. And doing so was healing for him, in the short term. Breathing space.

    "I don't know you. But I'm going to do a public service and let you know that you over-share."

    Suicide by microwave – yikes! Pencil in carotid – yikes! :eek: Show does love its gory deaths.

    I really loved that this was a solid old-fashioned haunting, tossing in clues that we all immediately recognise from previous episodes, like the cold spots. And the electrified fingers to zap the unwary, just like Ellicott way back when!

    Why was Dean re-dressing in the office? Oh, he had to change shirt because there was blood all over the other one. Right. Did he spot his angelic handprint, I wonder? Did it not occur to him to wonder where that came from? Or was it hidden from him by the same spell that wiped his memory?

    Even without their memories, the brothers are so much who they are: Sam suspicious of what's going on, trusting his instincts, assembling clues; Dean automatically trying to help people, also trusting his instincts even when he didn't want to. And all their hunter instincts alive and well in spite of the memory wipe.

    "I used some skills that I happen to have to satisfy my curiosity."
    Hee. I love this moment. It's a moment of these two apparent strangers finding some kind of balance. Sam is admitting to a sackable offence, and he doesn't regret what he did, but he is nervous about it and rightfully so. And Dean approves, even though it is a sackable offence and he could have this guy fired in a heartbeat. Manager and subordinate finding a level on which they can be equals. Because there is something seriously wrong here and both of them instinctively feel the need to find out what that is and put it right, recognise that in each other. Slowly finding their way back to one another – something they need to do in 'real life', as well.

    "It's like we've done this before. […] I can't shake this feeling like I don't belong here. Like I should do something more than sit in a cubicle."
    "I think most people who work in a cubicle feel that same way."

    "It feels like I should be doing something else. There's just something in my blood. Like I was destined for something different."
    "I don't believe in destiny. I do believe in dealing with what's right in front of us, though."
    Oh, those lines there. Something in my blood. I don't believe in destiny. That is just so very them! And they don't even know it.

    It kills me that Dean says research is what he does best. Mwahahah. Oh, but then the 'Sammy' exchange.
    "Did you just call me Sammy?"
    "I think I did."
    And after Sam had let Ruby call him Sammy last week! So poignant. But his face is funny as he contemplates and rejects the nickname! And it is appropriate for Sam's recent development, chafing against Dean's view of him as the little brother in a way we haven't seen since season one, striving to exert his independence and adult status.

    I really loved how this episode used the Ghostfacers! Just video clips on their website, rather than actually having them in the episode proper, a quick and easy means of moving the plot forward, providing Dean and Sam with crucial information – and this so-brief snippet also sufficient to tell us how much these minor characters have grown since we first met them. How much they have learned. Baby steps, maybe, they are still who they always were, but they have learned a lot. From trying to prove ghosts exist to trying to exploit them to teaching people how to confront and destroy them, all wrapped up in their own inimitable style. Grudgingly admitting that they learned everything they know from Dean and Sam, even as they spit their resentment of how these real hunters have treated them. Great stuff. Makes me wonder what they are doing now, if they are actually practicing what they preach, or just talking about it still. Either way, I love that they are trying to educate people about how to deal with ghosts – it is both so responsible and so irresponsible, at one and the same time, and that is very them.

    It killed me to see Dean and Sam giving up on the idea of using a gun because they can't think how to get hold of one at short notice! They have been turned into such Average Joes…and yet. All their instincts remain.

    "How are we going to find a speck of DNA in a skyscraper?"

    Seeing the brothers so excited about going to the 14th floor to investigate was so cute, both of them trying to play it cool and not act like overgrown kids. This experience has to have been good for them both, respite from the burdens of their normal lives, allowing them to get back to basics and rediscover the simple pleasures of the life they lead.

    Oh, but that scene with the guard in the elevator, I was hollering at my screen the moment he started climbing out of the car. Sensible Sam not going with him. And…they chopped the guy in half! Gross! Ick! :eek: And yet…Sam was freaked, but not as freaked as he should be. Not squeamish at all – Dean reacted more to the blood than Sam did, and he only saw a fraction of it. Even in this state, Sam was kinda hardened, even though he didn't know why, and that's a little worrying.

    Minus all memories, the brothers still fight together so naturally. They really are the perfect team. And they are both so exhilarated by the experience, the rush of resolving the case and putting the spirit down and saving lives. Again, it's back to basics stuff, a timely reminder of what their lives are about, with all the baggage stripped away.

    "We should keep doing this. […] We could help a lot of people."
    "You don't want to go fighting ghosts without any health insurance!"
    It's so fascinating to see Sam arguing in favour of taking up the hunting lifestyle, while Dean sees nothing but negatives. It is both such a role reversal from their initial standpoints way back when, and such a strong reflection of their current standpoints, if only they remembered it. Overburdened, Dean has lost his ability to find joy in small things, while Sam has learned to draw immense satisfaction from his ability to help others.

    "We were friends. More like brothers, really. What if that's who we really are? What if we think this is our life, but it's not? This is not who I'm supposed to be. […] We are supposed to be something else."
    Oh Sam.

    "Are you saying that my family isn't real? That we've been injected with fake memories?"
    Oh man, the fake memories created for both brothers were priceless! Taking minor details from the brothers' real memories and twisting them into a whole new life – Dean having gone to Stanford instead of Sam. Bob and Ellen as Dean's parents and Jo as his sister – it's about time Show acknowledged that Ellen and Jo still exist! Madison instead of Jessica as Sam's ex-fianc?e…but her number connecting to an animal hospital. Oh Show.

    It was beautiful to see Sam pleading with Dean for them to become hunters together, wanting to have Dean at his side, even though he was ultimately prepared to go it alone if need be. With his memories stripped away, and all external issues and distractions taken with them, Sam too was reminded of his core drives and motivations – and his brother is an important part of those. This scenario might have been set up especially for Dean, but Sam must surely benefit from it as well. He has been so distant from his brother lately, increasingly so, holding Dean at arm's length and pushing him away more with every new deception, too wrapped up in his own issues to heed the damage he is doing. Hopefully he will heed this reminder of what is really important.

    "This isn't you. I know you."
    "Know me? You don't know me, pal."
    Oh, that line hurt. Because it cuts both ways in their real life, as well as this fake life in which they only just met. They don't know each other any more, in so many ways. Yet stripped of their emotional baggage along with their memories, they swiftly found their way back to each other. They need to find a way to do that in real life, as well.

    I loved Sam's little fit of rage at that telephone – I feel that pain!

    Oh, and then there was the Big Reveal, the AHA! moment where I got to pat myself on the back for having guessed right way back at the beginning. I really loved that even when the angel Zechariah was playing at Corporate Boss, just about everything he said still had a double meaning: "I hear everything, and I'm pleased with what I'm hearing. That's why it's important to me that you're happy. […] Want to make sure you're not going anywhere. […] Real go-getter, carving your own way. I see big things in your future." He was talking to mind-wiped Dean there about his corporate career…but also speaking to the real Dean about the future that lies ahead of him. Nice one, Show.

    I especially loved that after rattling off that list of negatives to Sam, Dean still realised that the bonus and promotion and life chained to a desk was not for him, that he wanted more – wanted that other life he'd caught a glimpse of.
    "I have some other work I have to do. It's very important to me. […] This is just not who I'm supposed to be."
    And Zechariah was relieved that he could finally drop the charade and get down to business again, fingers to forehead in that angelic gesture already familiar to us from Castiel. And I loved the transition from the bright colours of the oh-so attractive fake life to the drab greys of real life – but no change of location, indicating that the experience was very real.

    I loved Dean's reaction to getting his memories back, the gradual realisation of what just happened. "Why am I wearing a tie – my God am I hungry! Did I just get touched by a – you're an angel, aren't you? Oh, great, that's all I need is another one of you guys!"

    So this Zechariah is Castiel's superior? Now I'm all kinds of intrigued by the chain of command and wondering if Castiel has had his knuckles rapped over last week's shenanigans, which was quite a stupendous balls-up, really, when you think about it – especially since his boss has been forced to intervene like this in an attempt to repair the damage. We are catching such tantalising glimpses behind-the-scenes of Camp Angel – seeing this guy puts a face and personality to at least one of the characters Castiel was so troubled about being made to doubt last episode, fellow angels that he knows well and trusts. Makes me wonder again how he deals with knowing now that there are still traitors within angelic ranks and they could be anyone and how can he tell? He couldn't tell with Uriel until it was far, far too late. He won't want to get caught like that again, but he hasn't yet learned to trust his independent judgement either way. But he also can't just go rogue, because he still believes wholeheartedly in his cause and in his brethren. Tricky one. I love how messy the situation has become on all sides.

    "Real place, real haunting – just plunked you in the middle without the benefit of your memories."
    This wasn't any kind of alternate universe created just for Dean's benefit, then, clearly – which means that Sam's experience was also real, for which I am very glad. A lot of the episode followed Sam's POV, and it's a shame we don't get to see his reaction to regaining his memories. It'll be interesting to see what he takes away from the experience – what both brothers take away from the experience. At the very least, it seems clear that angelic forces don't seem inclined to take action against Sam any time soon.

    And…ooh. If Zechariah was the one who bent reality to create a false existence for Dean, Sam and himself in this company, that means Zechariah was the one who called them Smith and Wesson. Dude! Forget Uriel, this is the angel with the sense of humour!

    "Believe me, I had no interest in popping down here into one of these smelly things. But after the unfortunate situation with Uriel I felt it necessary to pay a visit. Get my ducks in a row."
    "I am not one of your ducks!"
    "Starting with your attitude."

    I kinda like Zechariah. He is exactly what he should be: brusque, impatient and businesslike. His underlings messed up and he has been forced to intervene to clean up that mess, because the war is going badly and Dean is a very valuable weapon that they can't afford to lose. His attitude seems harsh, given how utterly destroyed Dean was at the end of the last episode, but his focus is on resources rather than feelings, and anyway – when you think about it, Dean has always responded better to this kind of gruff pep talk than he has to coddling. And when you listen to what Zechariah has to say…a pep talk is exactly what this is:
    "To prove to you that the path you're on is truly in your blood. You're a hunter. Not because your dad made you, not because God called you back from hell, but because it is what you are. And you love it. You'll find your way to it in the dark every single time and you're miserable without it. Dean, let's be real, here. You're good at this. You'll be successful. You will stop it."

    You're good at this. You'll be successful. You will stop it. Dean needs that kind of affirmation, needs to hear that someone believes in him, believes that he is strong enough to succeed, because heaven knows all he's heard or believed lately is the exact opposite. And maybe he is ready to hear it now. Zechariah's strategy was extreme, but seems to have been fairly effective. Having these few weeks away from the crushing weight of his guilt and despair, having and the exhilarating experience of a good old-fashioned ghost hunt free from all his accumulated emotional baggage – the detox diet even – it's been good for Dean. It has given him time and space to recuperate, which he would probably not otherwise have had.

    "You'll do everything you're destined to do. All of it. I know, I know: you're not strong enough. You're scared. You've got daddy issues. You can't do it. Right?"
    "Angel or not, I will stab you in your face."
    "All I'm saying is: it's how you look at it. Most folks live or die without moving anything more than the dirt it takes to bury them. You get to change things. Save people. Maybe even the world. All the while you drive a classic car and fornicate with women. This isn't a curse. It's a gift. So for God's sake, Dean, quit whining about it. Look around. There are plenty of fates worse than yours. So, you with me? You want to go steam yourself another latte? Or are you ready to stand up and be who you really are?"

    That 'quit whining' line is harsh, and very military, and my heart bleeds for Dean, being told to just suck it up and get on with his destiny, after everything he has been through. But the situation is what it is. The war is going on now and the forces of good are losing. They need Dean, and they need him to be functional. And again, there is a hell of a lot of positive affirmation thrown in there, the angel encouraging Dean to look within himself, to rediscover the joy in little things along the way that have always made his life worth living. Encouraging him to believe in himself – as well as reminding him that he doesn't really have much choice, since the die has already been cast.

    I can't see this being a miracle cure, and sincerely hope that it is not, because that wouldn't be realistic, and Show tends to be nothing if not realistic in its character development. All that crushing guilt and despair are still there and they aren't going to go away any time soon. But what this little interlude provides is a transition, allowing Dean to move past the shattering trauma he suffered last week and realise that he can still function, that he still wants to function. Maybe even the first step in the healing process. Only time will tell.

    Overall? Fantastic episode. Great fun and with forward character development to boot.

  • #2
    Finally watched it this afternoon. Originally, I was afraid about how this episode would play out especially given that On the Head of a Pin was incredible. This episode surpassed my expectations by a lot.

    Anyways, I love how the episode started out with Dean (and Sam eventually) going through their daily morning routines. Dean working hard to make the company what it needed to be and Sam just doing what he needed to do at work. The episode gave a lot of great insight into Dean Smith and Sam Wesson because you can honestly sit back after watching the episode and know their backstories for the most part. Sam's friend (did he have a name?) was a great guest because he made Sam's dreams seem even better when they were actually viewed on screen.

    When Sam finally approached Dean in the elevator and shared his dreams with him, Dean's reaction was priceless, but it also fit really well. I liked that Sam felt so connected to Dean before his dreams started getting more intense.

    Then the suicides started to come into play and those were done perfectly too. I especially didn't know what was going on with Ian when he went to the room with the microwave and he started breaking the fork up. Then the next morning came and the stare off between Sam and Dean was pretty intense and I kind of liked how Dean tried to play it off. Then the second suicide happened in the bathroom and Dean realized that he couldn't deny it especially after Sam came to give him the speech.

    I have to say that I really enjoyed how the plot started to build up and it was like one of the classic hauntings from the older seasons. The researching and that stuff just made it even better. It was like a S1 plot with S4 acting which was perfect. LOL at the Ghostfacers website and the references to Sam and Dean too.
    Was I the only one hoping that Sam or Dean would make a reference to the Winchesters when the Ghostfacers dudes mentioned them? Especially since Sam said that he hates his last name.

    The scene where Sam and Dean go into the man's old office and start investigating was nicely done IMO. But I have to say that I loved the scene in the elevator even more. I thought that Sam was going to beat up the cop when the elevator closed and they were alone, but the fact that his head was just smushed like that and the blood just splattered on Sam took me by surprise. Very very creepy, but nicely done. I love that they kept the continuity with the walkie talkies, though.

    So the actual confrontation with the ghost occured and I pretty much loved that scene. They were working together nicely and they were willing to do what they needed to make sure that the other person was safe. The scene afterward was a really powerful scene and I have to say that I was completely on Sam's side while he was giving his speech. But Dean's comeback to Sam was very harsh and just provided perfect closure nicely like Llywela said.

    Both of the brothers quitting their jobs at the company was seemed like the perfect way to bring the episode to an almost-end. Then the reveal of Zechariah was the part that pretty much solidified how awesome the episode was. I liked how Dean still struggled with his belief about hunting when Zechariah was talking to him and that they didn't just lightswitch Dean's wish to continue to stop the Apocalypse. Awesome ending.
    Next week looks like it'll be amazing.


    • #3
      I am pretty sure that anybody who knows me even a little bit, can easily figure that I loved It’s A Terrible Life to bits, even if I had some quibbles with the ending. While episodes 11 to 16 were a long descent into darkness, this week’s episode strengthened my hopes that there will eventually be a light at the end of the tunnel for Sam and Dean. Maybe not tomorrow, but they will get there. Sera Gamble’s script was a delightful reminder of times past, but full of subtle references to where the brothers currently stand, as individuals as well as with each other. Awesome!

      Okay, let’s get something out of the way first. For someone like me, who missed Sam’n’Dean like something fierce all season long, this episode was like a gift all wrapped up in shiny, shiny paper. Still, I can see long-term problems with this episode for the overall believability of the character arcs, especially Dean’s, if the show treats It’s A Terrible Life as a miracle cure for the burdens the boys have to carry, if it just works as a reset button. Dean was terribly beaten down at the end of last week’s episode and a simple reminder of who he used to be, before John and Sam died and he sold his soul, was tortured in hell and burdened with the task to save the world, may work as a starting point for picking himself up again, but if they turn it into the solution to Dean’s post-hell trauma arc, I would be extremely disappointed. So, the overall impact of the episode on the plot needs to be judged from the next couple of episodes and until that happens, I will just revel in the brotherly goodness It’s A Terrible Life delivered.

      It’s maybe important to first make a note of the fact that this episode was no alternative universe in a strict sense. The angel Zechariah confirms at the end, that this was a real company in the real world and that they simply altered Sam and Dean’s memories and then threw them into their new lives. The false memories freed them of the burdens of their past, but left their basic personalities intact. The fact that a considerable part of this episode was shown from Sam’s subjective point of view, unlike for example in Dean’s fantasy in What Is and What Should Never Be, confirms that this was a real experience for Sam as well, not only for Dean. His reactions and emotions were genuine and consequentially this episode gives us just as much insight into Sam as in Dean.

      A frequent problem with the show’s habit to air comedic episodes right after emotionally complex and devastating episodes is that the change in tone often feels forced and that the ongoing development and consistency of the characters is sacrificed for self-indulgent reasons. It’s A Terrible Life though successfully avoided that trap by furnishing Sam and Dean with a clean slate, thus allowing the writers to infuse Sam and Dean with their S1 personas without violating the ongoing characterisation. As far as plot devices go, this one worked beautifully for the story.

      Dean: "I don’t believe in destiny. I do believe in dealing with what’s right in front of us though."

      Despite the fact that the corporate environment for the boys was designed to present as much of a contrast to the Winchesters normal world as possible, I thought that as far as career choices go, the angels did a good job with Dean. He’s at the top of the company, knowledgeable, competent and socially accepted, someone who makes decisions. It responds to a lot of Dean’s natural traits: He is intelligent and resourceful, capable to fit into any background if he sets his mind to it and social by nature. It’s no surprise that family is a big part of Dean’s new identity as well, and I like the thought that the angels used already existing familial bonds between Dean and Bobby, Ellen and Jo instead of just making up random people.

      Dean obviously feels at home in his new life and feels no need to question or even break out of it. This fabricated life offers his battered self a retreat to recuperate and regain some sense of control, so it is no surprise that he reacts dismissive to Sam’s initial attempts to drag him into the hunt. His instincts might tell him just as early that there is something weird going on, but the safety of ignorance wins out for a while. Only when he sees the ghost with his own two eyes and denial is impossible, he reconsiders his position and that’s a very Dean reaction. Once he overcomes his doubts though, he throws himself into the hunt with just the same fervour as Sam and allows his instincts as hunter to take over.

      Still, when all is said and done, he is unwilling to leave his safety net behind and follow Sam’s 'crazy' suggestion of a permanent life as ghost hunters. He subconsciously still struggles with accepting his path, especially since he doesn't have the same advantage like Sam, namely 'dream memories' of his real life, that would build an emotional bridge between this life and his old one. His vehement argument against hunting, listing all the reasons why this lifestyle is a bad idea, is a sharp contrast to his point of view at the beginning of the show, but clearly reflects his current state of mind and demonstrates how much the events of the last couple of years wore him down. In the end though he can’t deny his own instincts and the feeling that there is something more waiting for him than a comfy office chair and a good portfolio.

      Sam: "It feels like I should be doing something else. It’s just something in my blood. Like I was destined for something different."

      It was interesting to see that the angels put Sam in a position that was clearly below his abilities and motivated Sam to look for a more satisfactory direction in life, especially with the added incentive of having dreams of a different, more adventurous, life. I wondered if that was a deliberate choice, to ensure that Sam and Dean won’t get stuck in their new lives. Since the whole experience was designed to give Dean an urgently needed time-out and hence he wouldn’t necessarily have the motivation to question his life, the angels had to create some other kind of imbalance and Sam would have been the obvious choice. It’s interesting to think that however wary the angels are of Sam, they do realise his importance as a driving factor in Dean’s life, trusting that he will find a way to reach Dean and pull him out of his standstill.

      Sam’s restlessness and instant enthusiasm for the hunt, as well as his easy conviction that this is his true purpose in life, reflected the fact that the real Sam has already wholeheartedly embraced his path and stopped to struggle with his destiny. His natural competitive streak, his need to excel in whatever he does and to always strive for something better in his life motivate Sam to break out of the life enforced on him, and he finds his way back to who he really is effortlessly. Sam chooses to be a hunter without hesitation, he left the kid that only wanted to be 'normal' behind long ago.

      Most importantly though, he chooses to go into this new life with Dean at his side, convinced that they are destined to follow this path together. While ultimately Sam is prepared to go his way alone, when Dean forces him to do so, he prefers to have Dean as his partner and friend with him. Sam pleading with Dean to give them a chance to explore that new life together and Dean’s harsh rejection were heartbreaking to watch. Sam knows from his dreams that he shares an emotional connection with Dean and that his is not who they are. His 'memories' give Sam an insight Dean lacks and consequentially Dean shuts Sam out, when Sam becomes too personal. Dean’s statement that Sam doesn’t know him goes beyond the fact that in this life they just met each other. It also refers back to the fact that their 'real selves' have become strangers to each other in so many ways over the last couple of months.

      That it is Sam who tries to build a bridge here shows to me that deep down he is desperate to reconnect with his brother, despite the fact that the real Sam has closed himself off from Dean and doesn’t know how to get out of the net of lies and distrust he spun for himself. An impression that is further deepened by he fact that from the moment Sam meets Dean in the elevator, his instincts tell him to trust him and he foregoes the normal boundaries that exist between strangers in favour of confiding in Dean about his dreams. Now Sam only needs to find a way to overcome the boundaries in their real lives as well.

      Sam: "Did you just call me Sammy?"
      Dean: "Did I?"
      Sam: "I think you did, yeah. Don’t."

      I thought it was interesting that Sam and Dean’s new lives initially established an external power gap between them, i.e. Dean acting as Sam’s superior, that reflected their past relationship as siblings, with Dean as the older one, who took care of Sam and had quasi-parental authority over his little brother. Over the course of the episode though, they overcome that artificial social barrier in favour of an equal partnership, even if it was Sam who initiated the teamwork, and I think that’s an important aspect of their future development as brothers. In Sex and Violence it became clear that Dean held onto an image of Sam that’s mainly rooted in the past and that he didn’t quite adjust to the changes in his brother yet. He is caught in their old behavioural patterns and the realisation that those don’t work anymore, left him disoriented.

      The fact that they were strangers to each other in It’s A Terrible Life allowed Sam and Dean to look beyond those established sibling dynamics between them and meet each other on common ground, without expectations or prejudices. It was wonderful to watch how the brothers instantly connected, once Dean overcame his doubts, and how they worked off each other, both equally contributing to solving the case, following their inherent instincts, having each other’s backs and most importantly enjoying themselves immensely during their shared experience. This side of their job, the fun, the elation and the enthusiasm got lost in these last couple of years. Sam and Dean fell in sync without even trying, and that shows that deep down on a basic level their partnership functions just as it always did and emphasises that it’s all the baggage between them that keeps them apart.

      Dean’s subconscious slip when he calls Sam 'Sammy' and Sam’s rejection of that diminutive not only reflected their changing power balance in their ‘real’ selves, but also reminded of the loss of closeness between the brothers. Sam stepped out of his role as the protected little brother ever since Dean came back from hell and even reversed their roles and took the leading position, when Dean’s post-hell trauma rendered him passive. It became increasingly important for Sam to assert himself as an adult and equal to Dean and the childhood endearment is a reminder of times past. I don’t think they will ever be able to go back to their old dynamics as brothers, but I am convinced that they can find a new balance and rebuild the closeness between them in the process. I am also sure that as soon as that happened, Sam won’t object against Dean calling him 'Sammy' anymore.

      Zechariah: "You’re a hunter. Not because your dad made you, not because God called you back from hell, because it is what you are."

      I think it was very important for the overall impact of the episode to allow Dean (and Sam) to come to his own conclusions before the angel revealed himself. In the end it’s not Zechariah’s pep talk that allowed Dean to rediscover his determination and follow his own path, but Sam’s passion and conviction that their destiny lies elsewhere, and Dean’s own realisation that he has a job to do and that Dean Smith is not who he really is. The divine intervention might have presented the opportunity to the boys, but in the end the conclusions were all their own. Zechariah’s little motivational speech to Dean hit a lot of right notes though, namely that Dean is his own person and not simply his father’s creation or God’s tool and that deep down he loves who and what he is. The angel tries to reinforce Dean’s confidence in himself, reassuring him that he will succeed and has the strength and courage to do what is necessary.

      Still, at the end Zechariah’s pep talk makes a turn into condescendence and that annoyed me greatly. His figurative kick in Dean’s ass, telling him that he should quit whining and get over himself already, was completely out of line, because it implied that Dean’s suffering isn’t justified, despite the terrible things that happened to him. It invalidates Dean’s pain and I find that unacceptable. I also don’t buy the 'there are plenty of fates worse than yours' line, because really, a cushy 9-5 job and an ordinary life might be boring and have less of an impact on the world than being a hunter, but these two situations are hardly comparable. Considering the immense personal sacrifices Sam and Dean had to make over the last couple of years, I find it insulting to downplay the gravity of what happened to them in such a manner.

      Zechariah’s carrot and stick tactic towards Dean might make sense from the perspective of a commanding officer, who has no real concern for his underling’s struggles and simply looks towards achieving the mission goal, in this case winning the war by getting his key player on track, with whatever means necessary. Still, from a personal perspective his words anger me greatly on Dean’s behalf. It’s true that Dean always responded better to an order than to sympathy, but there’s a difference between ordering someone to step up to the task given to him and belittling his pain. The lesson provided by the alternate life would have worked in itself without Zechariah’s harsh lecture at the end.

      Anyway, I was glad that as soon as Dean regains his memories, his attitude changes to anger and defiance in the face of the angel’s manipulation and his doubts visibly snap back in place. The unwitting vacation from his own life might have allowed Dean to restock his resources and kick-start a healing process, but he is far away from falling into line, at least that’s what I take from his exchange with Zechariah. I hope that the next episode ties in with It’s A Terrible Life by emphasising that the intervention moved Dean to a headspace that allows him to function again, but didn’t magically eliminate his post-hell trauma. Anything else would be a cop-out of the complex situation the writers created.

      Dean: "So what? This was all some sort of a lesson? Is that what you’re telling me? Wow, very creative."

      When we left Sam and Dean at the end of On The Head Of A Pin both brothers were in completely different mindsets. Dean was broken, his self-confidence destroyed. He considered himself weak. Incapable. Worthless. Consequentially he rejected the path Castiel laid out for him, the task he has been given. Sam on the other hand had already fully embraced his own path, but along the way, he lost the connection to his brother and succumbed to the temptation of his powers without questioning how they affect him. I think the lessons for both brothers in It’s A Terrible Life were specifically designed to remind both of them of what’s important.

      When it comes to Dean, I don’t think that the lesson was solely about reconnecting with the hunt itself, but more about what the hunt stands for, what it means for him personally. It’s something that gives Dean an agenda, a direction and purpose in life. A job that he not only loves, but also fills out with competence and knowledge, something he is good at. The opportunity the angels provided for Dean allowed him to look beyond the pain and the burdens of the past years and reconnect with his real self, the confident and capable hunter, who finds satisfaction in the little things and dedicated his life to saving others. Obviously that doesn’t change the bleak situation Dean is confronted with or annihilate the very real suffering at what he went through in hell, but it might give him just enough of a push to take back the control over his life, instead of passively reacting to the events.

      Sam’s journey in It’s A Terrible Life served as a reminder that the connection he has to Dean is a crucial part of his life and his mission, because Sam’s instincts instantly tell him to trust and confide in Dean even when they are complete strangers. The divine intervention allowed Sam to look past the complex and problematic entanglement of emotions concerning his brother and reconnect with him on a simple basis of friend- and partnership. I think Sam’s 'lesson' also entailed remembering that the hunt isn’t all about having superpowers and that success can be achieved with simple skill and teamwork. Again, that doesn’t change Sam’s current difficult relationship with Dean or his addiction to his powers, but it may serve as the first step on a path to self-awareness.

      In that light I find it all the more disconcerting that Sam’s last memory of their short interlude was of Dean rejecting him again and that he never learned about Dean’s change of heart. I think it would have been important for Sam to know that in the end his enthusiasm and his conviction that they are destined for more reached Dean and motivated him to reconsider his attitude. As it is, Sam was left with the impression that he has to go his way alone, again, and unless Dean told him afterwards what happened with Zechariah, that would be the wrong message to sent to Sam.

      So, on the one hand I really wanted the episode to end on a scene between Sam and Dean, so it ended on a positive note for both characters. On the other hand I can see that reuniting Sam and Dean at the end would have undermined the complex state of their current relationship the show worked so hard to build up over the last couple of weeks. It would have turned It’s A Terrible Life into an easy deus-ex-machina to fix their issues with each other. The real Sam and Dean still need to work on getting past their problems, but I hold out hope that this episode foreshadowed the things to come, namely that Sam and Dean will find a way back together in order to successfully face the task at hand: averting the apocalypse.

      What else was noteworthy:

      I loved the many shout-outs to recurring characters of earlier seasons, and I completely adored how they managed to incorporate the Ghostfacers in the episode. Not only did it allow for the effortless continuity of Harry and Ed's story, showing us that they learned their lesson from their last encounter with the Winchesters, but it also made for the rather funny scenario of the brothers basically learning how to hunt from themselves. The whole sequence with Sam and Dean trying to realize the instructions from the Ghostfacers training videos was just hilarious.

      This episode was a delightful package of fun moments and witty one-liners: From naming the brothers Smith & Wesson, over Dean's sudden love for salads and detox drinks, to Sam's bored IT-Tech routine, it all hit the right notes for me. The brotherly scenes, from Dean's initial irritated reaction to Sam approaching him in the elevator to later, their boyish excitement over their adventure were completely adorable!

      In conclusion: While I had some problems with the resolution of the episode, the simple joy of watching the brothers reconnect, work together in sync and have each other’s backs after such a long stretch of bleak episodes, overrides any concern I have for its long-term impact on the story at the moment. I think both the audience and the characters urgently needed this breathing space, needed to break away from the doom and gloom and find a new perspective. As such It’s A Terrible Life worked beautifully and the rest remains to be seen.
      Last edited by galathea; 30-03-09, 12:22 AM.