Season One, Part II: Crossing the First Threshold (Sam, Dean), The Belly of the Whale, Atonement With the Father (John), Apotheosis(John), The Ultimate Boon (John)
Season Two, Part I: The Special World, The Road of Trials, Sam's Meeting With the Goddess
Season Two, Part II: (Forthcoming) Dean's Meeting With the Goddess, Dean's Refusal of the Call (!Again!), Dean's Atonement With the Father, Dean's Apotheosis, Dean's Ultimate Boon, Sam's Rescue From Without
“Why do I hafta be some kind of hero?”
A Hero’s Journey Analysis of Supernatural
Season One, Part I
"Heroes ain't born; they're cornered."
"Heroes ain't born; they're cornered."
- Redd Foxx
- Redd Foxx
“Your happiness for all those people’s lives, no contest.” Right?
But why? Why’s it my job to save these people? Why do I hafta
be some kind of hero? What about us, huh? What – Mom’s not
supposed to live her life, Sammy’s not supposed to get married?
Why do we have to sacrifice everything, Dad?
- Dean Winchester
“What Is and What Should Never Be”
There is nothing like the Monologue at Father’s Grave to set a hero straight.
At this point in the television series Supernatural serious doubt as to the fight’s value are raised. Here Dean Winchester reflects upon his – and his family’s – life path of hunting the supernatural. He reflects on the personal cost to his family. But above all, he reflects on the idea of the “hero.”
Because that’s what Sam, Dean, and even their father John Winchester are. At least in the Joseph Campbell sense of the word. In the monomyth narrative
In the case of Sam and Dean, it’s completed in a black ’67 Chevy Impala. It’s not – just – a questing knight’s horse. It’s three hundred twenty-five horses.
The Impala carries the brothers on a continual road trip through supernatural truck-stop
They just have a classic American muscle car to do it in.
The road-stops the Impala travels through in the Hero’s Journey are clearly marked in the series: certain episodes equate snuggly with their appropriate stage. More importantly, entire seasons equate with their appropriate part. The Hero’s Journey is sectioned off into three: the Departure, the Initiation, and the Return. The link between each is a threshold, an in-between, a struggle, and a death. Due primarily to emotional factors, Season One is the Departure. Season Two’s premiere, “In My Time of Dying,” is the in-between stage of The Belly of the Whale. From the premiere onwards until the Season Two finale is the Initiation. All the stages within each part, all the hero-tasks, are recognizable within their respective seasons. In fact, the stages come in stereo: Sam and Dean travel through the Journey as their own distinct Hero.
Both the brothers perform the deeds of the hero-task and also face these story-steps in different ways. It can be perceived they together create a composite archetypical Hero, filling in the gaps the other one leaves. Yet in fact, each is traveling his own Journey, which is impossible to advance without the other. Each is an essential catalyst to the other, a mirror of character.
Sam and Dean are riding in the same car, but they’re traveling two separate roads.
Season One: The Departure
One night their mother Mary is awoken by baby Sammy’s cry on the monitor. At the nursery doorway she spots a figure hovering above the crib – a shadow she assumes is her husband. Mary turns to return to the bedroom, but then notices a light flickering down the hall. She approaches it curiously and gives it a few experimental taps until the light steadies. Then – again – another light catches her eye. The ghostly blue of the flickering television screen and muffled sound lures her down the stairs. She turns the corner and spots John asleep in front of the television. Panic strikes through her. She bolts up the stairs to save Sam from the strange shape.
John awakens to his wife’s scream. He stumbles into the nursery to find nothing. Sam gurgles serenely. John signs out the adrenalin from what seems a dreamt sound and walks over to his son. A dark spot drips near Sam’s head. Confused, John reaches out to touch it. Three more deep red drops drip on his hand. He looks up to the horrified face of Mary, pressed against the ceiling, midsection bloodied. Before he can even fully register the gruesome scene, Mary bursts into flame. John yells, cringing at the flood of fire. His moment of terror is broken by Sam’s screams. He grabs his son, and running out into the hall, intercepts little Dean. Quickly he hands Sam to Dean’s care, giving him the enduring Order:
“Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don’t look back!”
Dean carries his infant brother outside while John returns to the nursery to save his wife. But it is far too late. A spit of flame licks out to consume him, yet he emerges at Dean’s side in the front yard, snatching his children away from the house as the nursery windows explode. The prologue ends with the
The Call to Adventure is a dying and rebirth. Old concepts and ideas - the whole World as once was known – “no longer fit” (
wandering around, alone and lost and I can’t do anything…
Who knows, maybe I am… (Super-wiki, The Journal)
What he witnessed doesn’t settle into the rationalizations of the former World. His behavior is inconsistent, erratic, and his whole being is bent on finding an explanation. The Call is always unsettling and “signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown” (
John meets Missouri Mosely, a local psychic, who initiates him into the esoteric knowledge of the supernatural world. “
And as hunters Sam and Dean were raised. Theirs is an Unordinary World. They are privilege to special wisdom and training. In the pilot episode, Sam doles out the exposition:
Sam: When I told Dad I was afraid of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45.
Sam: So? I was nine years old!
He later sums it up with “We were raised like warriors.”
But Supernatural’s main character is not John Winchester. His Journey is essential, but it is through the eyes of his sons that this story is told. This fact brings up a large problem with the Journey meshing nicely into the show. Sam and Dean’s childhood is nothing but the Supernatural World. This is not the departure point that the audience can relate to.
Luckily, the hero’s childhood includes the “infant exile and return” (
The audience thus begins with a day in the life of College Sam. It is familiar ground for a diving board. This is “the remote land of exile from which he returns to perform his adult deeds among men, [this] is the mid-point or navel of the world” (
But what about Dean?
The older brother
Dean comes as the herald of the Call: their father is missing, and he wants Sam to help find him. This premise drives the story for Season One. The simple, yet powerful, two-word motivation of “Find Dad” threads Season One as the Departure of Campbell’s monomyth. Here is Sam’s Call from his Ordinary World back into the Supernatural World, the realm which he left in self-imposed exile.
But how close are we adhering to the steps of
Dean never left the special childhood. He was always comfortable with the life of a hunter, and from his father’s first order to him at four years old he is bound to an obedience that Sam does not share. “I had to stay home. With Dad” (“Skin”). He has embraced the rather claustrophobic Special World, where his only companions have been his father, and until two years ago, his brother.
Considering this, the hunting life is Dean’s Ordinary World. Therefore, the Call (his father’s disappearance) would only be beckoning him into his usual hunt?
Or is it?
Even though Dean has been out working jobs on his own, the watchful eye of his father infuses his Ordinary World of the hunting lifestyle. John was the stabilizing force in the unpredictable Special World. Dean subsisted on the structure of John’s training and John’s orders, and probably had a hearty bowl of “Dad’s Rules” for breakfast each day. When his father vanishes for too long, Dean’s world is now made anew, “The familiar life horizon has been outgrown” (
Dean: I can’t do this alone.
Sam: Yes you can.
Dean: Well, I don’t want to.
Because Dean’s emotional and mental stability have been compromised, he feels the Call intensely. Sam, however, cut himself off from emotional dependence on his brother and father; he re-latched it onto his girlfriend Jessica. Obviously, he Refuses the Call. To compound the weight against the Journey, he has an interview for law school in two days: “It’s my whole future on a plate” (“Pilot”). He means, it’s his whole “normal” future at stake. Sam essentially is faced with two contrasting and conflicting Calls. Only with Dean’s silver-tongued convincing does Sam see that their father may truly be in danger. Yet he tags on an ultimatum. He will plunge into the Special World for two days, and two days only.
To find John, Dean proposes they hunt what John was hunting before he disappeared: a phantom hitchhiker in
Sam is Dean’s foil in respects to his inner motivations. Just as Dean is John’s protégé and obedient soldier, Sam shucks controlling authority figures. His individuality clashes with Dean’s responsibility. Sam is
Even through the friction, Sam can see the value in hunting and spending time with his brother. The boys “make one hell of a team,” and help save people from a world which they don’t want to know about and couldn’t possibly handle. Without the Winchesters, many would die.
After the hunt is over, Sam traces the coordinates that their father left behind in his journal. John’s journal is the physical symbol of the Call and the gift of their
Sam identifies the locale as
Here is the persistent Refusal of the Call: Sam watches Dean pull away in the Impala from the front of his home. He watches and wonders, and ultimately turns to enter back into the Ordinary World. Christopher Vogler, in his writer’s guide to using the Hero’s Journey, “The Writer’s Journey,” pinpoints Sam’s exact action. It will lead to tragedy. “Looking backward, dwelling tin the past, and denying reality are forms of the Refusal” (Vogler 109).
Nothing he could possibly foresee.
Destiny is a godlike force working in the Hero. Sam’s individuality will always crash with his fate: a controlling father he could walk away from; a controlling abstract force he cannot. Sam must be severed from the Ordinary World he would not leave voluntarily. Nothing can keep his heart there.
The fateful drop of blood sprinkles down on Sam’s forehead. He flinches, and like John in the prologue, it takes more than one drop of the terrible reality to turn his eyes upward. Jessica is pressed to the ceiling, stomach slit. As Sam shudders with his scream, a liquid fire consumes her body. And even as his own hero in his own Journey, Dean is the personification of destiny when he kicks in the front door and grabs the shocked Sam. In continual parallel with the portentous childhood fire, Dean pulls his baby brother from the supernatural flame.
The Call to Adventure is the fearsome force of Nature. Mortal man crumbles before it, yet the hero will physically survive. But not even the hero can Refuse his destiny forever. It will either convince him to Journey, or cleave him from the Ordinary World. Sam is an obstinate character. So his persistent refusal required the most cruel of Calls: the murder of a loved one. His bright hope for normalcy and love, his Jessica, was the sacrifice for the Hero’s “first step into the unexplored” (
The pilot episode of Supernatural is its own encapsulation of the Departure. All Stories turn into themselves with repeating and layering of miniature Journeys, like the Golden Ratio twirling a nautilus shell towards an infinite point. Each episode, for example, contains the basic plot of (1) the Departure (Sam and Dean answer the Call of a specific hunt), (2) the Initiation (Sam and Dean hunt), and (3) the Return (Sam and Dean save a life and restore order). Expanding the mythic structure into what creator Eric Kripke calls the “mytharc,” Season One is Supernatural’s Departure. When Kripke speaks of the mytharc, he speaks of the grand view encompassing many seasons.
The primary reason Season One is the Departure of the show is that beyond the first threshold is a realm unknown to the hero. Both Sam and Dean may be in new ground hunting without their father, but John is still alive in the world and their life’s goal is strong. Additionally, the act of hunting is nothing foreign to the boys. There are moments where Sam and Dean initially appear out of their depth (“Home,” “Faith”), but through prior childhood training and their father’s journal, these tasks are overcome.
What occurs in Season Two is “beyond the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant” (
Supplement reasons for Season One as the Departure relate to the steps required therein: Supernatural Aid, Dean’s Refusal of the Call, Crossing the First Threshold, and Belly of the Whale (Season One to Season Two transition).
The theme, the Ariadne’s Thread of Season One sets on “Find Dad.” Sam and Dean are essentially seeking their mentor, or Supernatural Aid. John is the hero of his own Journey, a path that began with the 1982 fire (his Call to Adventure). He is the “
Sam perceives his father differently. “The Mentor-hero relationship can take a tragic or deadly turn if the hero is ungrateful or violence-prone…”(Vogler 122). After briefly re-uniting with their father in “Shadow,” the
Dean fears this conflict erupting because it was the exact catalyst of the family scission. In “Dead Man’s Blood,” Sam and Dean again team up with the
When Sam cuts John’s truck off with the Impala and forces the hunt to a halt, the Mentor-Hero conflict breaks open to reveal its gory pus – an unhealed and ancient wound that was never tended to. It was ignored, avoided, and infected by time. Dead man’s blood is like poison to vampires. The theme of the episode is about revealing wounds and exposing weaknesses. Dean’s greatest fear is losing his family, and he has to literally pry his brother and father apart to keep them from destroying each other. Sam doesn’t understand how strong-willed Dean, decisive and persistent for months during their hunts, could voluntarily hand over the reins to John. To smile while accepting a child’s position. In “Scarecrow,” Sam yells at Dean “I don’t understand this blind faith you have in the man!” The young
In this case, Sam’s stubborn nature pries open their father’s plan, and John tells them about the Colt: a semi-mythical revolver Samuel Colt made especially for a hunter in his day, The weapon and its limited, specially-made bullets are believed to have the power to kill anything. John seeks the gun to kill the Demon, the murderer of Mary. It is the Demon’s weakness.
For twenty-two years John’s entire existence has been bent on the destruction of Mary’s killer and the defense of his family. He protected his sons by training them.
John: I wanted you prepared. Ready. It’s just somewhere along the line I…I stopped being your father and I became your drill sergeant.
(“Dead Man’s Blood”)
John evolved from a friendly
Sam: You know, I don’t get you. You can’t treat us like this.
John: Like what?
Sam: Like children.
John: You are my children. I’m trying to keep you safe.
(“Dead Man’s Blood”)
John’s role as
In the midst of Supernatural Aid comes Dean’s Refusal of the Call. In “Salvation,” the Winchesters track down the Demon to Salvation,
Dean: Sam, I wanna waste it, I do. But it’s not worth dying over. I mean it. If hunting this demon means you getting yourself killed, then I hope we never find the damn thing.
Dean Winchester’s first priority has been and will forever be the well-being of his family. Hunting will always fall away when family is threatened. When John is kidnapped at the end of “Salvation,” Dean bursts out: “Listen to me: everything stops until we get him back, you understand me? Everything.” The emotion is repeated in Season Two’s season finale, “All Hell Breaks Loose, part two.” It is the core of Dean’s Refusal of the Call. He will not Journey without family.
The stage of Supernatural Aid , or Mentor-seeking, continues after John is kidnapped. Confused and needing solid ground to regroup from, Sam and Dean seek out Bobby Singer, fellow hunter. Not only does this action prove they are still in Departure, it cleverly sets them up with a second