“So many men don’t have someone with the strength to be vulnerable, to tell them how much they mean and how huge a hole it would leave if they left.”
I’ve been watching Supernatural since it premiered in 2005. Along with BBC’s Sherlock and Stargate: Atlantis, it is one of the few shows that I have ever hurried home from work or skipped a training session to watch right when it came on. From the beginning, it was a pretty decent show about two cool guys who ran around killing monsters and protecting pretty girls—not a bad fantasy for a young man of nineteen or twenty who believed in notions of chivalry, on one level or another. I watched it go from this to a well written contemporary Western with an awesome classic rock soundtrack and, even later, an almost labyrinthine take on various takes of world mythology, especially obscure notions from the odd corners of Christianity and Judaica. In addition to all of this it has been, since the first episode premiered, a story about the relationships between men, especially blue-collar ones. Brotherhood, friendship and filial relationships have all been explored in detail over the show’s almost decade long run.
One of the best examinations of family dynamics was during the fifth season episode, “The Curious Case of Dean Winchester.” This also managed to address, using the old conceit of a magical card game, fears about growing older and suicide, the great scourge of masculine life. According to the statistics from suicide.org, men kill themselves at a rate four times that of women. Up to seventy-three percent of all suicides are white males and the group most likely to kill themselves are elderly men. This could be because so many men feel hemmed in by their ability to do things, to work or hunt or move around, and when they can’t manage it anymore they feel like less of a man, less of a human being in general.
Supernatural addressed this in the person of Sam and Dean Winchester’s (the brothers at the heart of the show) paralyzed father-figure Bobby Singer, as played by the incomparably wonderful Jim Beaver. Because he is no longer able to work as a Hunter (pursuing all those things that go bump in the night to protect people from their predacious attention), Bobby feels like he has become a useless dead weight which just drags the brothers down on their quest. This is what drew him to the magical poker game, where years are wagered instead of dollars, which makes up the episode’s central paranormal metaphor. During an emotional conversation with Dean, Bobby claims that the only reason he has not yet killed himself—thus relieving them of his burden—is because of cowardice.
Dean, who has already lost his father, mother and many friends, responds with the expected lack of enthusiasm to this news. His response to Bobby, eloquently penned by Sera Gamble and adroitly delivered by Jensen Ackles, deserves to be replicated in full: “You don’t stop being a soldier cause you got wounded in battle. No matter what shape you’re in, bottom line is, you’re family. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but me and Sam, we aint got much left. I can’t do this without you. I can’t. So don’t you dare think about checking out. I don’t wanna hear that again.” The speech is reminiscent of the Marine Corps motto, semper fidelis, and their dedication to never leaving a man behind. It fits well into the mythology of the show, overall, because Dean’s late father, John, was a veteran of the Corps and the conflict in Vietnam.
The discussion is powerful, and Bobby is moved to reconsider his course of action. The two men don’t hug or anything—this wouldn’t fit their blue-collar, working class, almost greaser code of ethics—but Bobby does offer Dean his emotional equivalent, cracking a genial insult about folks who “share their feelings” too much. He has been talked down from the ledge, for now, at least, and the episode ends like so many others of Supernatural, with our heroes roaring off in a classic car.
So many men don’t have their own Dean, though, someone with the strength to be vulnerable, to tell them how much they mean and how huge a hole it would leave if they left. That’s why I make an impassioned plea to the people of the world… be willing to open yourself to others, willing to help and be helped. If you see someone who has always been strong, like a mountain or a tall tree, start to crack, then don’t be afraid of trying to hold him up, helping him put the pieces together. So many people have been lost to the demons dwelling in their own souls. If we can manage to save just one it will be magnificent, but no matter how many we do save it will never be enough.