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?