I really like this episode, mostly for the speeches by Sam and Dean showing their love for each other and affirming each other’s worth. There were also some really cute moments and I went all out on the gifs. I hope you enjoy!
First, a brief overview of Sam and Dean in Season 8. At the start of Season 8, Sam is feeling 'unworthy'. He runs from hunting, believing that he is no better than any other hunter, and wishing to ‘be safe’ and concentrate on the simple task of taking care of a dog or doing odd jobs and basically having a ‘normal’ life as he mourns Dean. Dean being disappointed in him for not searching for him and not protecting Kevin adds another layer to these feelings - namely that he has let Dean down.
As he hunts with Dean, Sam ends up agreeing with Dean that he has responsibilities that he cannot run from - namely saving Kevin from Crowley and closing the gates of Hell (for the sake of revenge. He has work to do and he can’t pretend and stay inside his dream world or he would only hurt himself and the people around him. His feelings of having let Dean down are always there in the back of his mind, and maybe he feels that by doing this, by helping Dean, he can prove his worth to Dean again.
Dean also starts off with feelings of worthlessness for not being able to save Cas in Purgatory. He also has a sort of PTSD from his stay in Purgatory that makes it hard for him to get used to life on Earth. He tries to cling to that ‘pure’ life by clinging to Benny. He finally realizes, just as Sam does, that he has to stop living in his dreamworld. He also still carries feelings of worthlessness just as Sam does. As we have seen in the past several eps, he is feeling more and more that Sam has got the MoL brains while he has got the Campbell brawn. Especially maybe since Sam has expressed so much interest in carrying on the library work at the bunker.
Both are now driven to ‘do what they have to do’ - get revenge on the demons for ruining their lives and killing their friends and save the world by closing the gates of Hell, but they also find another mission - more long term than just closing the gates of hell, and that is to carry on the MoL legacy - They are the only people who can carry on the work of their grandfather.
In the eps since finding this mission, Dean has felt an increased sense of unworthiness while he sees Sam with renewed interest and purpose in carrying on the work of the MoL and feels that if anyone has to die doing these trials it should be him. Sam should carry on the legacy and maybe have that normal life he wanted.
On the other hand, in this ep, Sam sees Dean ‘nesting’ and enjoying a piece of normal life that he has not experienced since he left Lisa. Dean has decorated his own room in the bunker and sees it as ‘home.’ This makes Sam feel happy, and want more of the same for Dean. Not only that but the thing I was reminded of the most in this ep was the fact that Sam really does want to get through the trials without dying. He wants to show Dean that they can do so - or that he can do so and prove his worth to Dean. Sam’s determination here, shows that his wanting to die later to save the world could have been a weakness born from the trials themselves and not what he started out with. In future season 8 eps, the trials start to make Sam feel unclean, and make him feel like completing the trials would cleanse him. It also weakens him physically so that these thoughts begin to control his actions. First that he is worthless (unclean) and that by ‘saving the world’ he could be worth something (become clean). The trials weaken his resolve to stay alive as he insists here. They destroy his hope.
That actually reminds me of the Werther Project - where the spell urges those people affected by it to drain themselves of their own blood and kill themselves by showing them how terrible they are. Wow… I had not seen the similarities between that safe and these trials until now but it is very clear now. I hope I can come back to it later.
What is important this ep is that Dean is the one going ‘I’m going to close the gates of hell if it kills me,’ while Sam is saying, ‘no.’ We are both going to survive this. I don’t want you to die, and I’m not going to die either.
The title is also interesting to think about. It at least has two meanings - the learning through mistakes type meaning with regard to the episode story line itself, and also about the Trial for closing the gates and Error, possibly by Dean, that allows Sam to do the trials instead of him. I really wonder what would have happened if Dean had done the trials. It would be interesting to address that in a fic.
The episode, then.
We start with Kevin’s life on the boat. He is driven, since he made his mom leave, to concentrate on translating the Word. He is working as if he is nearing the finish line and on the last spurt. He is working so hard he starts bleeding from the nose and has some sort of stroke as he figures out the first bit about the trials. This kind of lifestyle reminds me of Japanese exam students - especially those who take a year after highschool to study for their university of choice. Kevin being Asian and from a family where education is a priority, he must be very acquainted with the whole life.
We jump to Dean, nesting. His guns on the wall, his memory foam mattress, and the picture of mom moved from his wallet, to his desk.
DEAN: Hi, Mom.
Sam comes in and sees the room decorated Dean style - which I guess he has never seen before because they have never had a house of their own since he was six months unless some fanfic turns out to be true. Dean has bought a new memory foam mattress and is dying to show it off XD
Sam, impressed or not, throws his garbage toward the wastebasket and misses. Dean can't believe what he is seeing. SACRILEGE! LOL He's like, pick that up dude! And, I don't think Sam DOES see the relevance of what he is seeing here until Dean leaves to make them something to eat in the kitchen.
As Dean leaves, Sam sees the picture on Dean's desk, looks around Dean’s room again, and smiles.
I’ve always just seen this scene as a happy nesting Dean scene, but this little bit at the end with Sam looking around the room is really important for the theme of the ep. Seeing how Dean is enjoying stability and his own room, he feels that Dean deserves more of this ‘normal’ life, just as Dean feels happy for Sam watching him update the MoL library. This also must affected his decision to do the trials instead of Dean - give him incentive to stop Dean from his suicide mission - just as Dean tries to provide a way for Sam to survive and have a normal life one day.
Another little surprise for Sam. Dean can cook - or Dean actually knows what a kitchen is! I had to make a gif of this. I have so many of Dean eating a burger but none of Sam :D
Dean gets a call from Kevin and they have to go, but Sam can’t help taking his plate with him <3 That is just such a nice scene.
When they get to Kevin’s they find him retching and nose bleeding and otherwise in bad shape. Dean is worried that Kevin is not eating well.
But Sam and Dean are both overjoyed to hear about Kevin cracking part of the passage on the trials and Dean has to give smelly Kevin a hug.
After Kevin explains to them about the three trials, and how dangerous they were, as well as the details on the first trial - killing a hell hound and bathing in it’s blood, Dean is eager to get on it. But, after he gets some healthy food for Kevin.
Now this obsession with ‘nesting’ and his sudden interest in health must mean more than letting us go ‘Awwww<3’ I mean just a few episodes ago he was telling Sam that he was a warrior and couldn’t live on vegetables. He was getting exasperated with Sam for going to a farmer’s market. But in those episodes he was still getting over Purgatory. Before that, he was in the kitchen quite a lot with Lisa and I think he must have been interested in such things then. So having a kitchen again has sort of resurrected those interests he has always had, but could not afford to think about. Maybe another important point is that Dean does not see this situation as lasting. When has anything stable lasted? Maybe that's why he can enjoy it as he does.
While Dean is gone, Sam has a little talk with Kevin, telling him that he needs to slow down. Get sleep. Open a window. Kevin gets upset, saying that he really needs this to be over. Now, every demon on Earth is after him and he can’t leave the boat for fear of his life. Once the trials are over and the gates are closed then he can have his life back.
SAM: Trust me on this. This whole Saving the World thing, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve gotta take better care of yourself.
When Dean gets back, Sam has found a family that must have got some demon deal. Dean has gotten Kevin some veges, but he’s also got him some pills for headaches and ‘pep.’ Sam asks, are you sure that’s a good idea?
DEAN: Sam we are on the one yard line. It is time to play through the pain.
Sam finds that he and Dean have a little different view of where they are in this ‘saving the world’ race. And I guess this is where he gradually becomes alarmed at Dean’s plan and decides that he can’t let Dean do it - throw away his life for this cause.
So Sam and Dean head to the Cassidy farm, act all dorky but get the job anyway.
Dean doesn't particularly enjoy cleaning horse shit. XD And he misses his room.
Their first error is in assumptions about who has made the demon deal. They rule out the help and the soft husband and think it’s just the bitchy wife, Alice.Are they in for a surprise. Turns out that while Alice is gone to check on the horses, the hellhounds kill the husband!
Dean gives up right away and tries to move on, now to call a crossroads demon himself to get a hellhound. He can’t see this as a case or as helping people. All he can see is an opportunity to get a hellhound. He tends to be uncaring about people who make crossroads deals anyway - he doesn’t see them as deserving of help. They made their choice to make a demon deal, they deserve to go to hell for it is what he seems to think. He changes his tune a bit by the end of the ep., especially when he finds out that Crowley didn’t tell these people about the ten year deadline. But it’s not just that. He is like a horse with blinds, on a sprint for the goal, not really caring about anything except getting that hellhound himself, and soon.
Sam tells him that getting a hellhound by going to a crossroads themselves is suicide. Sam is also not so sure about this case being closed because the husband that got killed didn’t wish for oil, so there must be someone else that did.
SAM: I want to kill a Hellhound and not die. How about you?
And there is this silence while Dean thinks about it. THINKS about it. And then he gives Sam two days - then they do it his way. HIS way sucks. And he knows it. So why?
Does this sort of remind you of Sam in Season 1, trying to go after the 'yellow-eyes' in the burning house in Sacrifice and Dean stopping him, telling him that he'd rather let Yellow-eyes go than lose Sam? Except Sam is stopping him now saying, hey, I'd rather do the trials and not have you die on me. Interesting that Sam doesn't go as far as to say, I'd rather not do the trials at all than lose you, maybe because he knows how important this is to Dean. Their roles reverse again, of course, at the end of the season.
They stay to help with the family dinner - Dean with the barbecue, Sam with the drinks. The girl, Ellie, is appreciative of Dean’s barbecue skills and we are reminded of Lisa and Ben and that time when Dean used to be domestic and do lots of barbecues.
Dean’s room, Dean cooking, Dean caring about veges, Dean barbecuing… They all make us wish that Dean could enjoy the normal life again. They make us sad and confused even that Dean is so bent on getting killed. There are three trials, Dean. What’s the use of getting killed getting a hellhound? That’s my reaction, anyway, and probably Sam’s as well.
Sam is pouring wine during the dinner and the Cassidy's are talking about the last time they all got together, which was ten whole years ago. Their lives really went wild after their deals aye? Sam is ‘impressed’ with how the family is talking to each other. They are just slamming each other right and left.
While talking, the Cassidy's remember the ‘traveling salesman’ that dad invited to dinner, who was none other than Crowley. Sam quickly goes to tell Dean, but they still don’t know who made the deal or if they all did. Kevin calls and tells them about how you can see the hellhounds through an object scorched with holy fire.
Dean’s like, alright, I’ll get the glasses, you keep everyone else inside.
Sam stops to tell Kevin he’s awesome and Dean looks at him like - you’re wasting time when we could be working, or don’t encourage him, we need him to keep working… or something of the sort. We see Kevin all happy with the praise though and going to take some more pills so he can keep working. So here again is indication that Dean is in too much of a hurry, only seeing the prize in front, not noticing important details, only one thing on his mind.
Sam goes back and sees the old man and Margie go out to get ‘the wolf that got Karl.” The guy is drunk at least. He won’t listen to Sam when he tries to stop them. But Sam asks to come with, and they give him a rifle.
Dean, meanwhile finds some glasses and douses them. Ellie (the help) comes and finds him and suggests they go have some sex. I thought just for a minute here that this should have seemed suspicious to Dean - a girl coming on so hard must have some reason! But then maybe that happens to Dean a lot? She does tell him she doesn’t usually do that, but Dean doesn’t catch on and ask why. He tries to ask for a rain check and she tells him it’s a one night only, too bad.
Meanwhile, Sam’s group is walking around in the forest and Sam hears something so he goes to check it out and leaves the two to their fate. Here is another error - this time by Sam. Marcy is dead.
The dad gets back to the house with the Winchesters and they put everyone on lockdown. Unfortunately no one confesses to a deal and the boys naturally have a hard time getting them to take them seriously.
NOAH: No way. No way. You can't do this. You can't—
DEAN:Yes, I can. You want to know why? Because it's what I do. And, buddy, I'm the best. See, I gut old yeller out there, and maybe – just maybe – you walk away. I don't – you're meat. So, sit down, shut up... And put these on.
I thought this little conversation was important - first on how Dean thinks of people who sell their souls, and also what he says about himself. This is the one thing Dean feels he is “the best” at - hunting. The brawn.
Dean is all OK, I’m going to go find the hellhounds. Sam you stay here. Sam says but they are on lock down. You need back up.
DEAN:No, I need you to be safe, Sam, okay? That's what I need.
SAM:What? What am I – when are WE ever safe?
DEAN:This is different.
DEAN:Because of the three trials crap – God's little obstacle course. We've been down roads like this before, man – with Yellow-Eyes, Lucifer, Dick friggin' Roman. We both know where this ends – one of us dies... Or worse.
SAM:So, what – you just up and decided it's gonna be you?
DEAN:I'm a grunt, Sam. You're not. You've always been the brains of this operation.
DEAN:And you told me yourself that you see a way out. You see a light at the end of this ugly-ass tunnel. I don't. But I tell you what I do know – it's that I'm gonna die with a gun in my hand. 'Cause that's what I have waiting for me – that's all I have waiting for me. I want you to get out. I want you to have a life – become a man of Letters, whatever. You, with a wife and kids and – and – and grandkids, living till you're fat and bald and chugging Viagra – that is my perfect ending, and it's the only one that I'm gonna get. So I'm gonna do these trials. I'm gonna do them alone – end of story. You're staying here. I'm going out there. If landshark comes knocking, you call me. If you try to follow me, I'm gonna put a bullet in your damn leg.
Gah… This speech makes me cry. Fatalistic Dean, who wants to die fighting, and his thoughts for Sam, who has finally found some purpose and normalty in the MoL. He also clearly says to Sam that Sam is the brains, Dean is the grunt and he wants Sam to survive and be happy. These are not the words of a brother who feels Sam ‘let him down’ or that values Cas or Benny over him. But we gotta start wondering why Sam thinks this at the end of the season. It could be just the trials talking as I speculated above. But, on the other hand, maybe Sam feels that Dean’s just saying this because he believes Sam can’t do it? We will talk about it later when it comes up, but Dean does say some things that could also make one think that he didn’t believe Sam could do it… but then he doesn’t believe HE can either. He believes that whoever does the trials will end up dying, and it would rather be him than Sam.
I have been rereading/remembering eps in the past and one of raloria's posts made me reread All Hell Breaks Loose and Dean's "I need you to be safe, Sam" makes so much sense in that context. Also, I remembered how at the beginning of this season, Sam was talking about wanting to be safe - you remember that? He didn't want a normal life, he wanted a safe life. So in a sense, Dean is trying to remind Sam of what Sam himself said he wanted, and telling him that that is what Dean wants for him too.
OK, let’s go on.
Dean walks off and Sam has no choice but to let him go, but I assume he plans to go to help as soon as he thinks it’s safe. As he waits with the Cassidy family, Alice remembers how Margie used to say "if we were rich, we’d all be happy."
So we find out the youngest was actually the one that made the deal for oil, and it’s a big surprise, because like the boys, I am expecting the “bitchy” people to have made the deals. And I also wonder. Only one of them actually made a deal. The youngest, Margie. (The husband made his deal separately at a crossroad) And she made the wish so that they could all be happy, for the sake of her family. But basically their family situation is crap. Everyone is so mean to each other. Is it because of their easy success? Or were they all just awful people to begin with? They must have been - Margie probably just wanted that to change and for them to get along.
Then Alice makes a run for her car. The hellhound is there and maybe Sam sees it. He tells Alice to go back to the room. He may have realized here that she couldn't hear or see the hellhound, and that none of these three made a deal… Maybe he just has a bad feeling and thinks to hell with it. I don’t know but he goes to help Dean after this.
Dean has gone around to the barn in search of hell hounds. Why is this? I can’t understand why, if he thinks it’s the rich family that made the deals, he doesn’t stay nearby and just wait for the hellhounds to come. But maybe he feels bad for letting Ellie down and thinks that he should warn her to stay inside too. He hears music from inside Ellie’s room and peeks inside. Talking with her there, he finds out that it was actually Ellie that made a deal (other than Margie who is already dead). She was trying to save her mom from Parkinson's. She also knows the hellhounds are coming for her - not because Crowley told her, but because Karl (Alice’s husband) was killed and she had heard from him that he had made a deal at a crossroads. The only decent people in this story seem to be Margie, who made the deal for the sake of her family, and Ellie, who made it for her mom, which is interesting considering what Dean expected and thought of people who made deals.
Dean asks her why she did it, when she must have known what would happen in 10 years. She tells him Crowley didn't tell her what would happen, which is also really interesting because we know Crowley as the stickler for rules. He just killed a demon in Season 7 for the same reason.
ELLIE: I did it for my mom, Dean. What would you do for your mom?
And here we are reminded of the whole reason they are trying to close the gates of hell. Of course their excuse is that they are saving the world, but it is really about revenge for their mother and Jessica’s death. I also am reminded of Dean at the beginning of the ep, putting the photo of his mom on his desk.
Dean says, alright, just stay in the goofer dust and I’ll kill the hellhound for you.
When he goes out to the barn, the hellhound is coming in and attacks Dean. Dean is thrown and his knife bounds away where he can’t reach it - as well as his glasses. He is also wounded.
Sam comes in from behind and shoots at the hellhound to get it’s attention, then grabs the knife and ends up killing the hellhound.
They go back in to Ellie and she does some first aid on Dean’s side. She tells him he should go to the hospital, and Dean shrugs, I’ve had worse. Sam agrees. This is just so macho LOL
They tell Ellie that they will give her a charm to hide her from the demons so she can avoid hell (for a while). Then Dean tells her to excuse them because they have to talk privately.
Dean wants to do the spell. He says the words but it doesn’t work, of course. He tells Sam we’ve got to go and find another hellhound! But Sam is like, I can do this. I want to do it, because I see the light. I want to do the trials and not get killed.
DEAN:Sam, I didn't pass the test.
SAM:But I did... And I'm doing the rest of them.
DEAN:My ass you are!
SAM:I'm closing the gates. It's a suicide mission for you.
SAM:I want to slam hell shut, too, okay? But I want to survive it. I want to live, and so should you. You have friends up here, family. I mean, hell, you even got your own room now. You were right, okay? I see light at the end of this tunnel. And I'm sorry you don't – I am. But it's there. And if you come with me, I can take you to it.
DEAN:Sam, be smart.
SAM:I AM smart, and so are you. You're not a grunt, Dean. You're a genius – when it comes to lore, to – you're the best damn hunter I have ever seen – better than me, better than dad. I believe in you, Dean. So, please – please believe in me, too.
This is interesting, because Dean has already said how good he is at hunting, but has never really equated that with being smart. Sam’s like hunting requires brains buddy, and you have them LOL
Dean gives in and gives Sam the spell. I like the face Sam makes as he gets the paper - almost of disbelief. He didn't expect Dean to give it to him, and has to take a moment to deal with what he has asked for. And Dean's face as well, almost like he's saying alright, if this is about proving that I believe in you, then here. You do it. But you better not die! Gah... so expressive.
Sam says the words, his arm lights up his veins - and I like the contrast between this and Dean’s lighting up but for the MoC. He’s in pain, but he turns back and reassures Dean that he’s ok. That he can do this.
SAM: I'm OK. I'm good. I can do this.
(You'll have to excuse this gif - he is actually saying 'I can do this' in this part but it looked like 'I'm good' to me when I put it together. Think of it as getting two sentences in one gif XD)
Dean is still worried that Sam might die, but he wouldn't have given over to Sam unless he at least wanted to believe, and thought that rather than he do it himself with suicidal thoughts, there was a better chance that Sam with his optimism could finish the trials, without dying - he had just seen evidence of this when Sam saved him and killed the hellhound. But both of these expressions.. Sam reassuring Dean and Dean super worried for Sam... gah...