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Supernatural Book Club: 1.12 - Faith - I worship at the television altar
tariel22
tariel22
Supernatural Book Club: 1.12 - Faith
Welcome to panns's Supernatural Book Club! For this chapter, I've chosen Episode 1.12 - Faith. Everyone is welcome to revisit this episode with us, and delve a little deeper into this show we all love so much.


In revisiting this episode, I wanted to explore the role faith plays not only in this episode, but in the boys' lives overall. Faith in its larger meaning beyond religion: belief in something beyond its tangible assurances, conviction that is unshakable in the face of doubt.

Everyone cites Episode 1.15 - The Benders as the one where the big bad wasn't supernatural. After all, that's where we got the classic Dean quote, "Demons I get, people are crazy." But this episode features a purely human evil, using a supernatural entity, the reaper, as a weapon. Not only that, it is an evil wrapped in religion, corrupting the very heart of human hope and inspiration. As such, Sue Ann represents one of the most twisted monsters this show has known, and yet one the boys are almost powerless to fight, given Sam's refusal to kill a human being. As Dean says, "God save us from half the people who think they're doing God's work."

As the episode opens, Sam faces the unthinkable. Dean, his big brother, protector, father figure, and hero, has fallen. Medical science holds out no hope, so Sam must find his own. For the first time, roles are reversed, and it's all up to Sam. And Sam has faith. Faith that Dean is meant to live, that the fight must go on, and that somewhere in this crazy underground world they inhabit, the same world that dealt Dean his death blow, lies Dean's salvation. So Sammy goes to work.

Dean scoffs at his efforts, struggling to come to terms with his fate, but Sam doesn't waver. The scene in the hospital, where the brothers talk, breaks my heart. Sam is barely holding it together, but is fierce in his determination to find a way to save his brother. Interestingly, Sam doesn't seem to have faith in his father. In Home, Dean's first move was to call John and plead for him to come help them. And ultimately, his father answered that plea. Sam doesn't even go there. He calls John, gives him the facts, says he has it under control, and hangs up. Sam saves his faith for the one who's always been there for him, his brother Dean.

And so Sam brings Dean to Nebraska, and Roy Le Grange. This is the first time we see how the brothers view God differently, and I can't help but wonder how one has faith and the other does not. Was it Dean's protection that allowed Sam the luxury of belief? Was he spared the unrelenting confrontation with evil that perhaps fostered Dean's cynicism? Or did John and Dean have a habit of dropping a young Sam off with Pastor Jim while they went hunting, thereby giving him a religious education?

As Roy heals Dean, he assures him the cure will make Dean believe, will give him faith. Tragically, in fact, it has the opposite effect, cementing more than ever Dean's belief that God does not exist. What Dean does have faith in, and rightly so, are his hunter's instincts, the feeling of wrongness his cure leaves in its wake. Now Dean is on the job, doing what he does best, but this hunt brings no satisfaction, no peace. It brings instead a crushing guilt and unbearable anguish, and a burden Dean will carry for all time.

A big theme of this episode is corruption. Roy preaches against it, blind in more ways than one because he is oblivious that his healing power is built on Sue Ann's corruption of his ministry. Sue Ann first used the binding spell to save her husband, but became corrupted by the power it gave her, and continued to use it to build her husband's glory, and to pass judgment on those who embraced beliefs different than her own. And the fact that she sought out a spell in the first place makes me think her faith was never very strong. Layla's mother professes to be faithful, but is actually selfish and bitter, corrupted by her disappointment that God has not answered her prayers. The only truly faithful character we meet, I think, is Layla herself. Her quiet acceptance of God's will, the definition of faith in my opinion, was a welcome respite from the dark side of religion we saw throughout the episode, and represented a shining moment of hope for us, and for Dean as well, as the episode ends.

In this show, Sam says he has faith in God, and Dean says he does not. Dean has faith in John; in fact, he's built his whole life on it. Dean also has faith in evil, that it will always be there, and that it will always need to be fought. But nothing surpasses the faith our boys have in each other. What they have together goes beyond trust, beyond family, beyond love; what they have is faith personified. They will always be there for each other, no matter what, and their faith in that is what gives them the strength to go on, day after day, in a battle that never ends. No wonder Dean made the choice he did in All Hell Breaks Loose: Part Two. How could he possibly face life without Sam by his side? And that faith is what we, the audience, respond to the most, I think. This relationship, and how perfectly these two actors portray it, is what keeps me coming back, week after week, with the faith that this show and its storytelling will never let me down.

Let's take a moment to talk about the performances in this episode. Jared's Sam amazed me with the depth of unexpressed emotion he portrayed: the stark anguish in his eyes, the shine of unshed tears, and the quiet desperation of his actions, both while trying to save Dean and struggling to stop Sue Ann. I felt everything he was feeling, and often without one word of dialogue. And Jensen just killed me. Dean's despair over the life his cure cost, and his inability to give that life back, was truly heartbreaking. His anguish for Layla's plight, his disgust for Sue Ann's betrayal of the faithful, and his immeasurable guilt over simply being alive were all incredibly real, and Jensen's performance brought me to tears more than once. Even early in this series, I have a difficult time remembering that this is just a television show.

Just a few random thoughts: If Dean doesn't believe in God, why does he believe in holy water, or the power of consecrated ground? If Roy was innocent in Sue Ann's scam, how did he pick the people to be cured? How awesome was the use of Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper in this episode? Why doesn't Dean wear a hoody more often? Mmm, bendy Sam. How many days until we have a new episode?! :)

So what did you think of this episode, and what role do you think faith plays in the Supernatural world? Tell me your take on Faith.

Next week: Brit from TVGuide.com will be reviewing Episode 1.05 - Bloody Mary. Be there!

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Comments
sarie_wanderer From: sarie_wanderer Date: January 22nd, 2008 04:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooooh, good discussion. I especially like your observation of Dean having faith in John and the boys faith in each other (which can never be mentioned too often ;) ) What I remember the most about this episode when I first saw it was realizing how low Dean's feeling of self worth was. Apparently getting killed in the line of fire was his highest aspiration. This is before he realizes what deep trouble Sam is in with the YED, which I think is what gives him the feeling of purpose he needs to fight the reaper in IMToD. But at the time of Faith he thinks that if he dies Sam can just go back to his Stanford life, and his father is obviously fine without him.

As for the difference in the brothers' faith, I think it has a lot to do with Dean's age when their mother died. At 4 Dean lived in a safe, loving home, with a mom who tucked him in at night and told him that angels were watching over them. At that age kids think their parents know everything and mothers are the source of magic and comfort. Usually that kind of faith changes slowly as children grow up and learn the realities of the world. Instead, at such a tender age his life is ripped apart by evil and chaos and his mother is killed. The faith he had through his mother's words went from True to False. Sam, however, never knew that magical faith of early childhood. It is likely that any religious teaching he got was from Pastor Jim (good catch, by the way, hadn't thought of that), a man who was aware of all the evil in the world. Sam never had the "God doesn't let bad things happen to good people" kind of faith that is so easily broken. He has more of the "pray for strength and for the state of your soul, but bad things happen in real life" kind of faith.

Sue Ann, however, is apparently more of the "God gives people what they deserve" persuasion. God "gave" her the means to save her husband and control the reaper. Obviously she must be better than other people and therefore has the right to choose who dies.

Layla's mother is indeed bitter, but I can't really blame her. To see that many miracles and not be able to help her own daughter must have been very hard. When someone you love is dying, it's hard to hear about the other people, the ones who were saved by the "power of prayer", or by their faith. Those people are basically telling you (without meaning to, of course) that your loved one is not special enough, that you're not praying hard enough, that you don't believe enough. With the "cause and effect" of praying and miracles right in front of her eyes, well, it would be too much for any mother of a dying child to bear.
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 22nd, 2008 04:52 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you're so right about Sammy's "special kid" status giving Dean a renewed purpose in life. In Faith he practically dug in his heels before letting Roy even try to heal him, while with Tessa he was adamant that he still had work to do. Similarly, now that he's brought Sam back from the dead and dispatched the YED, he's ready to accept the fate the crossroads demon has promised him. I wonder what will finally change that?

That's an interesting point, the trauma of having your parents' promises torn apart at such a young age. I also think the loss of the faith his mother offered would be compounded by John's starkly real world view, that focused so much on the evil side of existence. Sam grew up inside the routine of hunting evil, but as we saw in A Very Supernatural Christmas, was sheltered from it entirely before he was 8 years old. Perhaps in that time he had already developed the ability to hope, trust, and believe. After all, in Faith he says the very existence of evil proves the existence of good as well.

Sue Ann is the worst kind of religious person, the kind who passes judgment on anyone who is different from herself, and dispenses hatred and intolerance in the name of God. The scary part is that there are lots of Sue Anns in the world; luckily they don't have reapers under their control.

If I were in Layla's mother's position, I don't doubt I would become bitter too. Nothing tests faith more than an inconceivable tragedy, an unexplainable loss. And I can't imagine anything worse than losing a child. I feel like I would die, quite literally, if that happened to me. I think the only part that I found shocking was her frankness in expressing her feelings to Dean, but who knows to what lengths that kind of despair could take any of us?

Thanks for commenting! I love your insights into this episode.
panns From: panns Date: January 22nd, 2008 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
(also posted at TVGuide.com)

But this episode features a purely human evil, using a supernatural entity, the reaper, as a weapon.

You know, I never thought too much about that. I focused on the Supernatural entity, the reaper, and while I knew that what she was doing was evil, I didn’t think about the fact that the enemy to be defeated was human, not supernatural.

Interesting how she was driven to black magic in the first place. I mean, most obviously to save her husband, the parallel to Dean’s future actions is strong. However the difference is there too. Sue Ann kills others so that she can be with her husband, Dean offers himself in place of his brother.

Interestingly, Sam doesn't seem to have faith in his father. In Home, Dean's first move was to call John and plead for him to come help them.

So true. Another example of how different the boy’s relationships are with their father.

I love your comparison of how different people have faith in this episode. Roy is positive that he is doing God’s work. He has faith in what he does. Dean has faith in what he does too, which is why he doesn’t believe in God. Sam seems to believe in God, but has faith in his and his brother’s actions. And you are correct, the person with the most pure faith is Darla . . . oops, I mean Layla. ;-)
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 22nd, 2008 05:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Sue Ann kills others so that she can be with her husband, Dean offers himself in place of his brother.

That's a great comparison. It's funny, some people would see Dean as ethically challenged, what with his credit card fraud and everything, but his code of honor is unassailable. He would never sink to the level of the evil he hunts, even for his deepest desire, but self-sacrifice? It's practically a daily ritual for him. *hugs Dean*

So true. Another example of how different the boy’s relationships are with their father.

One thing that I think is interesting is how this has changed over the course of the series. Even after John's death, how the boys feel about him and remember him continues to evolve. I would say that they're much closer to being on the same page about John now than they ever used to be.
whimsywinx From: whimsywinx Date: January 22nd, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Two things have always struck me about Faith: Dean knowing his cure was "wrong" and the simple beauty of Layla's faith. I also still wonder what Roy saw to make him save Dean. Save Sammy, save the world? Or a task that's all Dean's own?

But nothing surpasses the faith our boys have in each other. What they have together goes beyond trust, beyond family, beyond love; what they have is faith personified. They will always be there for each other, no matter what, and their faith in that is what gives them the strength to go on, day after day, in a battle that never ends.

That is beautifully said. I think Dean does have faith in goodness, which, for him, is not the same as a faith in a higher power. If he didn't have faith in that goodness, personified for him in Sam, I don't think he could keep fighting.

(x-posted on TVG)

Edited at 2008-01-22 02:48 pm (UTC)
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 22nd, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm still confused about Roy. I don't think God actually speaks to him about those he heals, because that would make God complacent in what Sue Ann is doing. So I see Roy as misled, I guess, mistaking something within himself for the voice of God. So what is it, exactly, that leads him to choose? Clearly Roy has faith, but isn't his faith based on a lie to a certain extent? His own cure, and subsequent healing powers, did not come from God.

If he didn't have faith in that goodness, personified for him in Sam, I don't think he could keep fighting.

Oh, that is it exactly! Sam does represent goodness for Dean, which is why John's whispered instructions in In My Time of Dying hit him so hard. I think it changed the way he saw his father, because the idea of possibly having to kill Sam was just so incomprehensible, so completely wrong, that it made him question his faith in John for the first time.
whimsywinx From: whimsywinx Date: January 22nd, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think of Roy as being influenced by Supernatural's version of PTB. Not God, but maybe gods or something like that.
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 22nd, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
LOL! When I read PTB, in my head I was like, you mean Kripke? I'm so used to seeing TPTB used for the producers of a show, I got confused. *facepalm*

I like the idea that the universe is looking out for Dean Winchester. Because they (whomever "they" are) know he's one of the good guys.
whimsywinx From: whimsywinx Date: January 22nd, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hee! I was thinking of the PTB on Angel.
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 22nd, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, right! I totally forgot they called them that. hee!

Okay, now I'm really getting off-topic (I'll have to reprimand myself for that, since this is my journal, after all), but do we know if Jensen knew what John whispered to Dean all along, so he could gauge his performance accordingly, or was he as much in the dark as we were?
whimsywinx From: whimsywinx Date: January 22nd, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know. I want to say that he didn't. Hmm . . . I wonder if they say on the commentary for IMToD?

You know what that means . . .

RESEARCH!!
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 22nd, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
We have a mission! LOL! Now I know which episode I'm watching tonight! I watch at least one a night to get material for my game, but I haven't watched that one yet. It's such a favorite episode for everyone that I figure anything from it would be too easy, so I've passed it up so far. I'm glad to have an excuse to watch it! Maybe I'll get a trivia question from the commentary, for hardcore fangirls only. :)
whimsywinx From: whimsywinx Date: January 22nd, 2008 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Woot!
(Deleted comment)
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 22nd, 2008 11:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for reading, and commenting! It's definitely worth watching again. I especially think I didn't appreciate Jared's acting enough before. He and Jensen are both amazing in this episode.
From: koosh2012 Date: January 24th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Faith. I loved this episode and it really was the first episode of Supernatural that got my attention and persuaded me to tune in regularly because it complicated “reality.” I found the episode to be less about purely human evil than about how humans construct evil to suit their own purpose – about how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It is such a slippery-slope into self-delusion when we step onto the path of self-justification for acts we take that are motivated by fear and fear alone – it is the path of spiritual suicide because the one fundamental law of the universe is that we will always and unconditionally reap what we sew: SueAnn creates her fate by stepping onto the path, and balance returns through unseen synchronicities attracted to her actions (i.e. the one person in the world cynical enough to figure out what’s going on just happens to be smacked with irreparable heart damage).

Life (and faith and god) to me is all about learning these kinds of lessons. That it’s up to us as humans to experience, and to take responsibility for the kind of world we create around us. Dean immediately recognizes that something’s “not right” – he feels cold, he senses the Reaper bound, and he chooses to act upon these feelings rather than walk the path of powerlessness and reprieve, and thus becomes a model for ethical behavior. Being true to our own inner purpose is then divine, and Layla’s “faith” reinforces this conclusion. Ultimately, the absence of “god-out-there” demonstrates the presence of “god-in-here” because free will enables us to co-create and define our own reality.


Huh. *GRINS* This is why I (always) hesitate to comment on the episode Faith. It gets me all riled up with metaphysical explanations for how I see the world: beyond good and evil.
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 25th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I love what you have to say about this episode! That's one of the things that makes this show so compelling; the storytelling transcends the limitations of any particular religion's definition of good and evil, and Sam and Dean interact with the universe on a more fundamental level than that which can be contained inside a traditional Christian framework. In that way, the boys' struggle can speak to us all.

I've seen people who say that Supernatural is bad because only God can defeat demons, and that Sam and Dean should just be asking God for help all the time, or basically performing rituals like an exorcism, and it drives me crazy. First of all, that would be a terrible show, of course, but also, why do we have to see ourselves as so lacking in power?

i.e. the one person in the world cynical enough to figure out what’s going on just happens to be smacked with irreparable heart damage

And isn't that just the most beautiful thing? The universe will always find its balance. Awesome.

Thanks so much for your comments! I really think it's wonderful how this episode touches so many different people in so many different ways, and how we can share its impact with each other.
From: koosh2012 Date: January 25th, 2008 10:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Tariel. Only God can defeat demons, huh? I have a big problem with the whole "demons are real" mentality. In the show, I take it as a metaphor for how the world works, and I agree with you about power. We've been culturally conditioned for hundreds upon hundreds of years to believe that only special, elite people have power, including spiritual power. In some ways, Supernatural reinforces this status quo, but in others, I feel like it deconstructs it because power is more or less defined as knowledge acquired through experience.

The "real" supernatural. It's interesting. I've been watching GhostHunters (SciFi), and more recently, Paranormal State (A&E). They both drive me absolutely crazy for completely different reasons. Excuse the criticism, but, I find the GH bunch to be terribly naive and the PS people to be down right frightening. I'd always wished Jason & Grant and Co. were a little more open-minded (or "sensitive"), and then I saw the Paranormal State approach - performing seances to contact malevolent spirits and performing very Christian exorcisms. Mea culpa! I owe Jason & Grant lunch for my dissing...:):):) It's not a matter of believing or disbelieving for me, it's just that my most profound personal experiences have involved non-earth-bound entities and they're not going to hang out to be "recorded" because it's a matter of faith and personal relations - if that makes any kind of sense - and all the rest is quite irrelevant to living life.

I've always had this really strong belief ever since I was a little girl (energetically emerges from my guts) that I can tell "things" to get the hell away and they will. I have power. Whenever the hair begins standing on the back of my neck, my immediate response was always a psychic "no way, not even, don't fucking go there!" which really attentuates the experience immediately. I guess you'd call it being mildly "sensitive" tempered with a huge dose of impatience for things that don't matter. *GRINS*

My former room-mate drove me crazy because this "entity" made her sick every time she changed, or thought about changing the house. I walked in on her in the middle of an episode in the sun room one afternoon and mentally screamed at what ever it was and lectured her saying, look! tell it to get the fuck away from you! and she finally admitted to me that she "kind of liked it." ... Hello?!!! There's nothing anybody can do if there's someone around inviting it, you know? I myself had a few little funky-funkies in the house that were entirely benign and, if the truth be told, a little loving. Could have been guide related, but I started lighting candles for the "spirits of the house" because it really seemed like something was there that liked to be noticed and appreciated and loved. As a result, I learned that sometimes it's the wind opening the closet door three feet away, and sometimes it's something else - and if you're open and neutral, you can "feel" the difference.

Sorry. Guess I digressed more than a little... *facepalms* Every once in awhile, Supernatural actually comes close to getting it right (particularly, I think, regarding how earthbound spirits are "born," and about how we create our own consequences). But what they always get right has to do with human relations and human experience. It's really important to never confuse meta-language with tangible reality. There is a dark side, but it's inside us, and we all battle it every day.
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 26th, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find your perspective fascinating. I have a friend who is very in tune with the kinds of forces you're talking about, but I always feel at a loss when I talk to her. I have never seen anything even the slightest bit out of the ordinary, and I feel pretty closed off from those kinds of experiences. The single exception is that I have felt my grandmother's presence very strongly from time to time since she died, but I sometimes think that's just wishful thinking on my part.

I don't know if it's because I spend my days in the analytical world, because of what I do for a living, or if it's because my parents ridiculed my interest as a child, but I've always been enthralled by the paranormal and supernatural. No wonder I like this show. :)
From: koosh2012 Date: January 27th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm saying it... Have you ever read Sylvia Browne? I used to think she was full of it - i.e. like a celebrity fascination with nothing useful to say. *ahem* I was wrong. Do you remember the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus tells Neo that the Oracle told him "what he needed to hear" because "knowing the path is different than walking the path"... That's how I experience spirituality. I read a couple of Sylvia's books, and I can't say that I'm a fan, but I believe that who she is, what she does, and the advice she shares is real (caveat, there are so many, many ways and truths and realities). She said something in passing about our spirit guides that changed my life: they can't read our thoughts, unless we give them permission. I thought about this intensely for half an hour and then I said out loud that I gave them permission because if this is a "group effort" and they really love me unconditionally, I would choose to have the strength to trust both them and myself.

Changed. My. Life.

Trusting and believing in yourself is the most important thing in the world, Tariel. Spirits, like your grandmother, don't visit to scare us because spirit is all-loving. We have to ask to be aware. That's the real "secret." Also, I must add, the best awareness is simply being in tune with our own individual purpose regardless of where that takes us. The ordinary is spectacularly extraordinary when we stop to really observe it. The numbers and mathematics you work with, for example? Sure, hey, equations are conveniently "ordinary" tools, but equations are extraordinarily elegant and miraculous when you start asking them questions about where they came from and how they work really. And then there's inspiration operating in every genre of so-called ordinary experience. In alot of ways, I think we error by putting too much emphasis on the word "super" rather than "natural," you know? It's like a teeter-totter KripCo plays with, I think. The "natural" really balances and grounds experience: how Sam and Dean feel, how they negotiate brotherhood, responsibility, and just simply living a life detailed with the little joys that make it worthwhile.
tariel22 From: tariel22 Date: January 27th, 2008 02:16 am (UTC) (Link)
It's very cool that you are so sure of yourself and your place in the world. I've never heard of Sylvia Browne, maybe I'll see if they have her books at the library. I'm always up for expanding the way I think.

I honestly do believe my grandmother watches out for me, and has saved me or warned me a number of times. It always makes me reexamine my life a bit, and try to figure out if I'm living up to the life she keeps giving back to me.
From: koosh2012 Date: January 28th, 2008 06:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Blessings, T. To be honest, I almost fell off my chair laughing at the notion of me being so sure of myself and my place in the world. From your lips to gods ears, honey, as the saying goes! But I guess I do speak strongly sometimes. It's my own blessing/curse.

Cheers and best wishes to you and your grandmother.
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