The Road So Far
Last season saw the brothers in a battle with their biggest foe yet: the Darkness. Upon reuniting the Darkness with her brother, AKA God, the brothers were able to take a long relaxing vacation…oh wait, nope. The boys never catch a break. Dean and Sam are reunited with their mother…who’s been dead for thirty-three years. Oh and Lucifer is footloose and fancy-free (with a baby on the way!) Spoilers ahead.
“Regarding Dean” begins with Dean, mid-hunt, seemingly cursed by a witch, and then awakening the next morning in the middle of a park, cuddling a bunny. Nothing seems amiss; he calls Sam, they meet for waffles (which Sam doesn’t eat, tsk tsk) and it all seems normal.
Until Dean forget which key is for the Impala.
After that, Dean increasingly forgets the little things: he can’t name a lamp, he doesn’t recognize the pretty girl he hooked up with at the bar, or that he rode the mechanical bull, and he forgets how to drive Baby. This all leads to a very concerned Sammy, and leads them to call Rowena, the mother of the King of Hell, for advice. Rowena advises them that the only way to break the curse is to kill the witch who cast it, which is a problem considering Dean can’t remember his own name.
Rowena joins the Winchesters, and she “babysits” Dean while Sam goes off witch hunting. There’s something about a Druid coven/circle that has bad blood with Rowena, and we also learn that Rowena has a history with the British Men of Letters. If I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember much of what happens in the rest of the episode, because it was at this point when I realized that this wasn’t going to play out whimsically, like 50 First Dates, but much more gut-wrenching and evocative, like Still Alice. The post-its that Sam places everywhere begin as a light-hearted reminder of Dean’s forgetfulness, until one scene the camera pans out and everything is covered in post-its. This isn’t an age regression; this isn’t Benjamin Button. This is a bittersweet exposition of what Dean would be like without the thirty-something years of repression and emotional trauma. While we see a Dean who is proud of being a hero, we also see a Dean who feels greatly disturbed for the darker things that Sam and Rowena tells him that he’s done.
When Rowena tells Dean, “You’re a killer,” it is not said out of malice; she’s stating a fact. Dean’s reaction to this fact is the most telling of all: he is losing himself.
He stares into a mirror, repeating over and over that his brother is Sam, his mother is Mary Winchester, and his best friend is an angel. “My name is Dean Winchester,” he says, but he no longer sounds like he believes it.
I am almost incapable of describing the overwhelming feeling that came from watching someone forget themselves. It was not so different for my grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Even now, I find myself putting post-its on the wall when I need a reminder, because it became habitual from watching my mother do it for hers when I was seven. It hurt to watch Sam fight to cure his brother before Dean forgets him, because I watched my mother call doctor after doctor after doctor to find a way to save my grandmother.
I’ve often heard it said that Alzheimer’s is the disease that takes someone from you before they’re really gone, but for me, memory loss is the fear I saw in my grandmother’s eyes when she could no longer remember my mother’s name. It’s the same fear that we saw in Dean’s.
In the end, “Regarding Dean” doesn’t move the season’s bigger arcs forward, but it nevertheless serves to show us that Rowena is more than a badass witch–she is capable of empathy and compassion–and that all it takes is forgetting everything he’s done for Dean to be truly carefree and lighthearted.
Forgive me if this week’s recap is more serious than my usual snarky self, but this plot struck close to my heart, and it’s episodes like this one that keep Supernatural very dear to me.
But also, on a more lighthearted note, Jensen Ackles rode a mechanical bull. (Trust me: it’s no easy thing to do!) Be still my fangirling heart.
I’ll be here, saving gifs of Dean & Larry until the next episode.