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!