What is it about Dean Winchester?

For Christmas this year, I got Supernatural seasons 1-5 on DVD. Yes, it was damned merry.

One of the things I’ve been doing on my internet break is watching through. I think I’ve seen through the end of season 3 via Netflix. At this point, having started from the beginning again and trying to include my husband in the watching, I’m only in season 2.

So while I’m watching, you know, I have to have these musings on lovable characters, what works, heroism, etc, and I have to ask myself: what is it about Dean? Obviously: pretty pretty pretty, and Jensen Ackles just has this charm about him that’s undeniable. (I mean, you loved his Dark Angel character too, didn’t you? You know you did.)

But it’s more than that. Because sometimes I’m watching Dean and I’m thinking: I’m not supposed to like this guy. There are a lot of characters who, if I saw them out there objectifying women the way Dean does, it would be a complete turn-off. Generally speaking, if a our hero makes references to porn every time the subject of the internet comes up, most of us get turned off pretty fast. Doesn’t matter how pretty he is, if he’s a guy who typically summarizes a woman thusly, “The secretary’s name is Carly. She’s 23, she kayaks, they’re real,” it’s usually hard to like him.

(At least it is for me who has said of Heinlein: if I have to choke down one more story in which some old intellectual dude has nubile young hotties falling all over each other to have sex with him, I’m just going to freakin’ scream. As a recurring theme, having cardboard females in wish-fulfillment scenarios does not work for me. But I digress.)

Or do I? Because last night I was watching season 2, episode 15: Tall Tales, which you may recall as the urban legend episode with the slow-dancing alien. It was very comedic, had a lot of good laughs, and also a lot of Dean being Dean with regard to women and me thinking, really, why am I so into you?

But I also know that I just can’t help myself. So then my self-respect requires some moments of reflection. (Yes, I probably take shit way too seriously. It’s just freakin’ TV. Just…stick with me here.)

When I think about Dean, who he is, I always think of him as one of the stupid bravest guys out there. And there are two main components to that. One is Sam. I think one of the things that gets a lot of us is Dean’s incredible love for, loyalty toward, and protection of Sam. He’s always taken care of Sam, that’s always been his responsibility. And while he does have his occasional very human moments being freakin’ tired of that, at the end of the day he’ll always be willing to do whatever it takes for Sam. There’s tremendous strength of character in that and it is absolutely moving.

The other component is Dean’s zest for life, which is generally the basis of behavior I know I choose to see as charmingly roguish rather than womanizing. Where Sam is more reserved, seems more serious, etc, Dean is his outgoing, impulsive complement. And I think part of what brings out the magic of Dean is that he’s never afraid to tell us he wants to live. Go back to the end of season one, the Winchesters facing off against the Big Bad, and Dean tearfully demanding of his father, “Don’t you let him kill me.” Or the beginning of season two, Dean in a coma and trying to communicate with his family, yelling at them how they need to find a way to save him. That was the kind of thing that I could see fatalistic Sam just sort of stoically bearing in silence while trying to use his quiet intellect to get him out of it. But Dean’s always running around, full of life and rage, yelling at his family, yelling at reapers, making demands.

What I’m getting at here is that Dean always makes his love of life and fear of death obvious to the viewer. If you think about what’s most important to him, it’s life.  His, his family’s. And that sort of makes it all the more impressive how he’s constantly willing to risk that to protect his family, and to protect complete strangers.

As a viewer, those are the things that make it easy to make excuses for Dean’s character flaws, and even to see them as endearing.

I think Dean is a great lesson in stakes, and how much more moving a character and his situations can be in fiction when he has things about which he cares deeply, and yet he’s constantly driven by circumstance and a set of principles into situations that put those things at risk.

These musings, of course, don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the awesomesauce that totally covers Dean, the Winchesters, or Supernatural. If you need to do some fangirl squee in the comments, please feel free.

And what about stakes? Can you think of other characters and fictions where stakes are used so effectively?


A great list of Supernatural stuff.


Filed under Superheroes, Heroism, and Romance

21 responses to “What is it about Dean Winchester?

  1. :tears self away from a fantasy of licking said awesomesauce off of…: Who? What? :clears throat: I’m with you…Dean is strangely appealing, despite many flaws that would make me blow off a guy in real life. And yeah, part of that is his zest for life and willingness to do anything for those he considers his. Part of it, too, is that he really embodies this sort of archetype of bad boy with a heart of gold that many of us love so much…and he really feeds into that fantasy many women have about taking those womanizers and taming them (…for the love of a good woman…). You haven’t gotten past all the angels and demons and apocalypse storyline yet, so I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s definitely a segment in there that feeds the notion that a good woman can make a man like him, with all those sorts of flaws, be a better man. And it’s so funny that I adore him so much as a character, because in real life, it’s totally Sam I’d have gone for. Well, pre-apocalypse Sam before things get weird…

    • I’m currently about to start the last disc of season 4 (which has been all the angel/apocalypse stuff). I totally get what you’re saying, as I read such a shit-ton of bodice-ripping rogues and charming rakes as an impressionable girl during the historical romance Fabio cover era, and you’re so right.

      • I totally dated one of those before I met my husband… When that ended epically badly and went down in flames, I learned my lesson, grew up, and married…well, not a Sam, actually, but someone who defies either category…

  2. Wulfie

    Where do I even start? I could become a total fangirl here. Like…o.m.g. lol

    Loved reading this. I discovered Supernatural a couple of months ago during a marathon. It’s awesome! I dug it so much that I now own it on DVD.

    Dean rocks and he is a brat and, yeah, what you said. For me his womanizing comments are perfect for HIM. Somehow he makes it almost flattering and always funny and he can get away with it because he actually IS a big teddy bear. I get a kick out of thinking about the actor playing Dean who is also acting like the big tough guy when he’s really a big old softy. (he’s six one…which means Sam must be something like six four or five)

    Sam…oh heaven help me…I have such a crush on him too, especially when he’s the brooding, angry one who’s ‘acting’ so gentle but once he lets his inner demon (lol) loose everyone better get out of the way. It’s as though the two play each other – if that is at all understandable. Dean plays at being tough but is the softy so he HAS to play tough. Sam plays the softy but is actually the angry tough guy who’ll get it done even if it does take him a few minutes to get in the mood to expose that side of himself. (like Chuck Norris’s characters always had to get their asses kicked before they finally got angry enough to really fight back.)

    Misha…Castiel…oy! I love how complicated his character is and the arc that he goes through as the seasons progress. Plus…NOMMY!

    Yeah, Supernatural is awesome for character studies and discovering ways to combine contradictions in a single character. Let’s face it, we are all psychos. Really. The inner nag, witch, wuss, maid, slut, child…. This show and these characters really put that to good use. One of the main reasons I love the show is that all the characters are so multidimensional and that’s great stuff to cull to help us create written characters who have the depth and realism to make them real to readers.

    This was really fun to read, thanks for posting it…and getting my motor revving before I’m even fully conscious. And now…of to watch my morning episode of Supernatural and have some coffee. Did I mention NOMMY!?

  3. I am totally and completely 100% a Dean girl. I completely agree with you that his love for Sam and life are big reasons why I love him. I would also like to propose that Dean isn’t as womanizing as some of his lines come across. If you look at Dean’s actions in the show he actually connects really well with women and children. Somehow Jensen Ackles manages to deliver his line with just enough humor that Dean comes across as joking rather than creepy.
    However, it seems to me he is the most easily identifiable character for women which is surprising given the uber masculine character Dean is. Despite Dean proclamations of no chick flick moment he always has them, he wears his heart on his sleeve. Dean also is the most nurturing of the two which is another quality women identify with. If you look at the episode “What is and can never be” where the djinn has him the life Dean is put into he is surrounded by women and in a monogamous relationship and honestly that is completely expected. The only other man in that episode if his brother. Also looking just at the brothers Sam is obviously his father. They share so many of the same character traits but Dean in the same breath is his mother. They also share the same traits of wanting to keep the family together and safe at all costs. I think this is really what makes his sometimes crude behavior acceptable.

  4. Claire

    Apparently, I should add this show to my ENDLESS list of TV shows to be watched.

  5. Dark Angel. While I read, I thought it and then saw you wrote it. That’s some mind meld we got going.

  6. LMAO

    Naw, I’m not distracted! REALLY. Let’s try this:

  7. Tiffany

    In regards to Dean’s womanizing ways, he always reminded me of my brother-in-laws best friend. My mom always said, he’s great to have as a friend but not someone she would want her daughter to bring home.
    I think most people would have a hard time not liking Dean. Yes, that is a turn-off, but there’s so much more to his personality that’s great.

  8. You all can scoff at me if you wish, but I don’t watch Supernatural. *sigh* I know. I tried during season one when it first aired. I didn’t want to watch scary stuff right before bedtime though. LOL!

    However… I use a picture of Jensen as the basis for one of my characters. And this post was so interesting because most of the description of Dean applies to the character I based purely off Jensen’s look – his facial expression – in one specific image I found. My character is arrogant, vain, chooses to hang out with the bad boy crowd, etc. But he’s as protective and loving to his family as they come. He defends his sister to cost of everything else that matters to him. Jensen’s face must just lend itself to that kind of character. 🙂 *swoon*

    • My husband watched it through Season 2 before I got into it. He kept talking about how awesome it was, but I do NOT do freaky scary horror stuff. (And he’s learned not to make me after I scared the bejeezus about of him screaming in my sleep) So when we went back to watch it from the beginning (I think I was home sick for several days or something because I remember a marathon), I made him do it in the middle of a bright sunny day. To my mind, not a single episode was scarier than the first. And it evolved into something that’s kinda campy (though less so than Buffy). It’s just a lot of fun.

  9. tamberly

    Susan I so thoroughly enjoyed your article. I feel fortunate to have known some wonderful men similar to Dean.

    My younger brother for one:He is charismatic, charming and absolutely loves and adores woman, he looks at them when he talks to them, he appreciates everything about a woman, how they look, how they think, all that they do to make them women, the nurturing, the giggles and whatever he loves it all. Most of his friends are women,and they love him. BUT he’s also a rogue, a maveric,a guys guy and just as quickly to get in a fight as he is to flirt. He’s playful and mischievious but intensely loyal and protective of all that he claims as family and friends.He says he’s not a womanizer, he just loves them all and can’t get enough.

    I believe that it’s a testament to Jensen Ackles, that he can take His own charisma and charm and infuse it into the character Dean and make him so absolutely ‘adorable’. I also believe that he has made Dean a lover of women, they bring him pleasure not just sexually but their companionship, their comfort, their nurture and acceptance.

    At the heart of Dean is the child, the little boy, who when he smiles, gets his own way,He carries those child like qualities with him always and when he is in a safe place they surface.

    If any other actor had played this role we would not be in love with him. Jensen has made him worshipable, adorable and loveable. And the prettiest ‘fangirling’ object in the universe along with the Impala

    • An amazing comment, Tamberly, thank you! I guess another reason I forgive Dean is because at the heart of him is that child who essentially lost both parents at that very young age. He’s been the nurturer, but really hasn’t had anyone to do that for him, possibly making women all the more an addiction for him that he needs to talk about the way he does rather than acknowledge what he’s really looking for.

  10. Pingback: How Dean Winchester Saved me | Cher Dawn's Shadowrites

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