This week, in honor of the Season 7 finale on Friday, I’ve decided to do a five-part meta about why I love flawed, beautiful, broken Season 7 so much.
Yesterday I explained how Season 7 was basically one long Descent/Eye of the Storm stage of the Heroine’s Journey for Dean Winchester, in which all of his weapons and resources were stripped away, one by one. Today: I look at the rest of the Heroine’s Journey stages and speculate on what they could mean for the season finale—and Season 8.
The Descent stage might be bad, but what comes next is lethal: Once the protagonist has been stripped of all her weapons, the next stage in The Heroine’s Journey is Death. As I wrote last week:
In the Death stage, everything goes to hell at once. The Heroine is caught off guard when the villain comes back, and this time, the Heroine doesn’t have any of her weapons left to fight. The villain, intent on the Heroine’s destruction, and the Heroine believes there’s nothing she can do to stop it. She is utterly vulnerable. Everything is lost. She dies: She failed at her journey and accepts defeat.
Despite his shiny new leather coat (which serves as a visual metaphor for death and rebirth), I don’t think we’ve really seen Dean hit rock bottom yet. An entire season of loss, alcoholism, and grief haven’t really caught up to him so far – he’s just sort of pretending it didn’t happen at this point—and in fact, with most of the Leviathan Sword completed, he and Sam seem in good shape to take on Dick Roman.
That of course will be rectified in the finale. Everything will go to hell at once. For whatever reason, the sword won’t work, and all of Dean’s weapons that were stripped from him in the Descent stage will be shown to be useless once more. You’ll see Cas refuse to fight. Bobby will go vengeful spirit. Sam will somehow be neutralized and taken out of the fight (if the writers really want to be mean about it, they’d combine those last two; it’s what I would do). The Impala will come back, only to be destroyed. Frank will re-emerge, but he’ll be working for the Leviathan, and so on. You get the drill. Shit will hit the fan, and a point will come where it looks like there’s no way for Dean to win.
Spoilery Season 7 Goodness – And A Whole Lotta Speculation — Behind The Break:
So how does Dean crawl out of the Death stage? The only way out is through—he must trust in himself and rely on his own instincts—and, most importantly, accept support from those around him, which leads us to the Support stage:
When the Heroine comes out of Death into the Support stage, it means she’s finally reached the point in her journey where she can trust again and accept help from others. As Schmidt writes, “she can’t be betrayed again because she has her own strength and self-realization that can’t be taken away from her.” Another way of saying this is, she can’t be healed from her own death until she understands that there’s strength in numbers – the heroine realizes it’s alright to be part of a group, even if that group is just one other person
How will translate to the finale? Well your guess is as good as mine, but assuming they stick to the Heroine’s Journey formula, here’s what I think could happen:
I’d be willing to bet that all this business with Crowley’s blood is a bit of misdirection; the real reason the Leviathan Sword won’t work is because the bone of a nun just won’t cut it. She’s not the right kind of “righteous mortal”. When God says “righteous”, God means Righteous in Capital Letters— and who else could offer up “the bone of a Righteous Mortal” but Dean Winchester, the original vintage Righteous Man?
Note too that all the other components of the weapon required Dean’s greatest remaining antagonists – Crowley, the Alpha Vamp – and his greatest ally – Castiel – to give a part of themselves that’s vital and intimate (their blood). That’s foreshadowing, a hint that to defeat the villain, Dean too must give something of himself up. It’s Chekov’s gun – or, in this case—femur.
Stepping back for a moment: Just as Dean gave Cas a new name when they met back in Season 4, so too did Cas give Dean a new name—the Righteous Man. In a way, the name is a gift, a talisman to remind Dean of who he really is, of the strength and goodness within his heart, and what wonders he can achieve if only he chooses to do so.
Thus I think in the season finale Dean will eventually work out that he’s the righteous mortal that the Word of God is referring to—probably at the major climax of the episode, given that this is what his entire Journey this season has built toward—and he’ll do so specifically by remembering or being reminded that Cas once called him “the Righteous Man”.
It’s a big moment. Dean has struggled all season with the loss of his best friend (and romantic love, as I argued yesterday), with that abandonment and grief; and it will be this first gift that Cas gave him, the gift of a new name, that should lead Dean toward defeating the Leviathan and accepting the goodness within him. The name is more than just a name; it’s proof that despite all the physical ways Cas has abandoned Dean — death and amnesia and crazytown – metaphorically, Cas has never left his side.
It’s this moment, this realization, that will finally begin to bridge the gulf between them. Dean will finally forgive Cas for abandoning him, while Cas, in turn, will take up arms again and prove he is sorry for breaking Dean’s trust. When he sees Dean accept that the appellation he first him, Cas will find renewed purpose and abandon his unwillingness to fight—like the bees he so adores, Cas will use his stinger when the situation demands it—and when Dean is threatened, he will step up to defend him. He will, as he promised at the start of the season, redeem himself to Dean.
I’ve focused on Cas here, because I think he’s probably the ally most tied into the season’s narrative, but Sam, Bobby, Frank – heck, maybe even Kevin, Charlie and Garth, in their own ways—will step up to provide support to Dean at this crucial stage.
No matter what, once Dean realizes he is the Righteous Man, things will start to move very quickly. The next stage of the Heroine’s Journey is Rebirth: The Moment of Truth. In it:
The Heroine has found her strength, her resolve, and now she reaches out and grabs her goal with open eyes and open arms. Like TARDIS-Rose laughing at the Daleks in Season 1 Dr. Who, she laughs at those silly enough to oppose her. She is no longer afraid to die – she has braved death, and come out the other side – hell, she realizes now she was already dead way back in the glass bubble. She has learned her lessons. She has faced her fears. She is reborn. Nothing can stop her now.
This is the stage in which Dean, with renewed strength and purpose, actually kills Dick Roman with the “bone of the righteous mortal”.
So exactly what is the “bone of the righteous mortal”? If it were up to me, I’d go with a rib bone. I’m not sure how Dean would procure one of his own rib bones, exactly, but doing so would provide two nice Biblical callbacks. First, Adam’s rib was the part from which Eve was conceived—while the Eve of the show is a Purgatory Beast, the Mother of all Monsters; a rib bone would be a neat metaphor for humanity and monsters forming a partnership to defeat the Leviathan. Second, we know that Castiel permanently marked a “seal” into Dean’s body in two spots—the arm and the ribs. In my opinion, this is an homage to the Biblical “Song of Solomon”, in which the besotted author begs his love to:
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Dean killing the Leviathan with one of his own ribs, marked with Cas’s seal, I think would tell an elegant love story without using a single word – and we do know how Dean likes to use actions, not words, to express his thoughts.
Regardless, once Dean has realized the truth about himself, Dick Roman won’t put up much of a fight – unlike the Hero’s Journey, where the battle with the Big Baddie is a major deal in the narrative, in the Heroine’s Journey it’s more of an afterthought. Dean will use the Leviathan Sword, Roman will go down, the rest of the Leviathan will probably all melt into black goo or get sucked back into Purgatory or something, and the Leviathan problem will be solved. Sure, this is Supernatural, so we know it can’t be that easy for our heroes, but for one brief moment, it will seem like it is.
That brief moment is the final stage of the Heroine’s Journey, Full Circle—Return to the Perfect World:
The Heroine has achieved her goal, and returns home a changed woman, utterly capable to live a better life. Her job now is to share her experiences, to influence the group, and help those still in the glass bubble break out and embark on their own journeys. In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero gets the girl, or the kingdom, or some other external reward, but in the Heroine’s Journey, the Heroine gets a sense of strength, awareness, or some other internal reward. There are more battles to be fought, yes, but she knows that she can face them, chin up, eyes open.
In this case, Dean and the rest of Team Free Will can take a momentary breather—but note, this won’t feel like a “happy ending” in the episode, not by a long shot. Cathartic, yes, but not fluffy. Team Free Will probably will need to say goodbye to Bobby at this point (and I doubt Frank, if he returns, will make it through the finale alive either). And given that Dean nearly died in the battle with Roman, he might still be on the edge of physical death. Sam too will probably bear new scars, either mental or physical, from the encounter. And although Cas has returned to Team Free Will, he still has a lot of healing to do, and the relationship between him and Dean is by no means completely fixed.
Still, Dean is in a better place than where he started the season, and as painful as this situation is, he’ll be able to cope with it in in a healthier manner than what he’s demonstrated before. We the viewers will get the sense that Dean is strong enough now to handle whatever lies on the road ahead.
The thing about the Heroine’s Journey, though, is that it’s episodic. There’s always new battles to be fought, always new Journeys to be taken, and oftentimes, the Heroine’s example inspires or catalyzes his or her companions to take their own Journeys. Thus, the final moments of the season finale will set up the next Journeys to be taken in Season 8—which is where the cliffhanger comes in.
If the pattern from previous seasons remains intact, then the cliffhanger will be Team Free Will’s worst-case-scenario; whatever our heroes have fought to prevent all season will be what comes to pass in the episode’s final moments. In Season 3, the worst-case scenario was Dean going to Hell. In Season 4, it was Lucifer’s escape. Season 5, it was that the unbreakable Cage could be broken, and Season 6, it was that a power-hungry Cas became the new God.
What’s the worst case scenario in Season 7? I can think of a couple possibilities that might fit the bill:
Ultimately the cliffhanger will be something we probably didn’t expect, but has been seeded throughout the season from the get-go. Once we know it’s there, we can look back on the Season and be able to see its foreshadowing.
Whatever it is, I can’t wait.
Tomorrow: A few final thoughts on Season 7, what I liked and didn’t like, and why I’ll be sad to see its end.