By Paula R. Stiles
Tagline: Sam and Dean are murdered by hunters and end up in Heaven, where they go looking for an angel named “Joshua” who talks directly to God. But Zachariah’s also after Dean and that’s not good.
Recap: Quick recap to generic music of the various ways the guys have died over the seasons, notably Sam being killed by Jake near the end of season two and by Anna in “The Song Remains the Same” Dean being dragged off by hell hounds and Dean dying (many, many times) in “Mystery Spot”. We also get a recap of Dean’s amulet, both Sam giving it to Dean when they were kids and Dean giving it to Castiel to find God.
We see Dean sleeping (for a guy who suffers from insomnia, we see him do that a lot). He wakes up to see two masked guys holding Sam at gunpoint. They start ranting about Sam causing the Apocalypse and Dean immediately recognises them as two hunters named “Roy and Walt”, AKA “Dumb and Dumber”. They’re each scared of Dean killing them, but this doesn’t stop Walt from coldbloodedly shooting first Sam and then Dean. Because every hunter not named “Dean”, “Sam” or “Bobby” is dumber than a box of rocksalt and has the lifespan of a fruit fly. Yes, by all means, go piss off Godzilla. You might live longer than pissing off Dean Winchester.
Dean wakes up in the Impala to the sound of thunder and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” (which also played in “Houses of the Holy”). When he gets out, he sees Young Sam with a box of fireworks. As they stand out in the middle of a field and set off firecrackers and the like, Dean realises his “dream” is a memory from the Fourth of July in 1996. For just a little while, Dean is happy, but it’s obliterated by a brief memory flash of being shot.
The car radio comes on and it’s Castiel. Dean thinks at first that Castiel is visiting him in his dreams (note how ordinary angel dreams have become to Dean), but Castiel tells him to remember. It comes back to Dean – he’s dead. Castiel tells him he’s in Heaven.
Dean asks where Sam is and Castiel asks him what he sees, a river or a tunnel, something like that. Dean says he’s on a road and Castiel says, fine, follow it. So, Dean drives off down the road. I have to pause to suggest, when you watch this, that you check out the sky. It’s extremely beautiful, a rotation of multicoloured stars around an eclipsed sun (obvious reference to the Pink Floyd album of the title, which ends with the lines, “And everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” Big lifelong Pink Floyd fan, here. There is also Pink-Floyd-like music during the sequence, but if it’s an actual Pink Floyd song, it’s one of the very-early ones that I don’t know because I didn’t recognise it.
We cut to a house where Sam is in a shirt and tie, having dinner with a large family (next to a young girl who keeps feeling him up). Sam’s startled to see Dean standing in the doorway, leather jacket and all. They talk and Dean explains where they are, that it’s not a dream. Sam is bewildered at how he ended up in Heaven. He figures Dean would, as a matter of course, but not him. Dean assures him that he should be off the hook because his intentions were good. Sam notes that the road to Heaven is not paved with good intentions.
Sam then points out that this is a memory and they do say that your “life flashes before your eyes” when you die. Dean admits that he woke up in a memory, too: “Remember that Fourth of July when we burned down that field?” Is Heaven just a set of memories?
This philosophising is interrupted by a white light and an earthquake, which shuts down the memory but leaves the house, like a wrecked exhibit at Disneyland. When it fades, Dean goes to the radio, determined to recontact Castiel. Sam thinks he’s nuts at first, until Castiel appears on the television set. Castiel warns them not to go into the light. He tells them that it’s Zachariah looking for them.
Castiel explains that they need to “follow the road”. It’s the “Axis Mundi” [axis of the world] that leads through Heaven and will take them to the “Garden”. He says that many people see it many different ways. In the case of the brothers, they see it as “two-lane asphalt”. He says that Zachariah wants to return them to earth because they can’t say yes to Michael and Lucifer if they are dead (interesting point). However, the brothers are “beyond the wall” (probably another Pink Floyd reference to their album The Wall) and can spy around to find out what’s what. Specifically, they can locate an angel named “Joshua” who reputedly talks to God. Then Castiel’s reception goes out.
When the brothers go outside, however, all they find are woods. The road is gone. So, Dean starts looking around inside, much to Sam’s bemusement (Sam thinks he’s nuts. Again), and finds a “road” in a closet (can we say, “Narnia”?). It’s a Hot Wheels set (I used to have one of those). When Dean runs it, they find themselves in a bedroom, Sam dressed the way he is on hunts and Dean now dressed…like a four-year-old. With a t-shirt that says, “I wuv hugs.” They’re in Dean’s old room from when he was little. And in comes Mary a moment later to call him down to lunch. She pours him milk and cuts the crusts off his sandwiches. But she never responds to Sam. This is apparently because it’s Dean’s dream. And despite Sam’s urging, Dean can’t bring himself to leave it right away.
The memory quickly turns dark, though, when Mary takes a call…from John. Dean then recalls that Mary and John had fought when he and Sam were little and John had left “for a few days”. Mary is upset after she hangs up, so Dean goes over to her and hugs her, just as he did when he was four. Mary calls him “my little angel” and then asks him if he wants “pie” (Aha! That mystery’s solved), while Sam ruefully admits he never realised just how long Dean has been stuck cleaning up after John. The look on Dean’s face in response is pretty raw.
After they look around the house for more clues, Sam finds a postcard of Route 66, which quickly turns into the two of them in a room, staring at a wall of postcards. A golden retriever appears and Sam delightedly calls him “Bones” and hugs him (Jared Padalecki, who has two dogs of his own, clearly enjoys interacting with his canine costar). It turns out that Sam ran away for two weeks when he was 11 and it was one of the best times of his life. It was also one of Dean’s worst times, since Dean looked high and low for him, thought he was dead and caught hell from John when John came back (so much for the idea some fans have had that John didn’t leave them alone for weeks at a time when they were still kids). They go out the door, Sam reluctantly leaving Bones. The fight grows worse after they come out onto a dark street (the house disappearing behind them) and Dean remembers that this is the night Sam left him and John to go to Stanford. Dean is hurt and furious that Sam’s happiest memories were of when he “ditched” his family. Sam tries to say that it’s not his fault these memories are coming up, but Dean’s not buying it.
Their fight is interrupted by more bright lights from the sky (the effect is like a cross between Nazi spotlamps in a WWII concentration camp flick and an alien abduction). They run into the woods, get lost, and quickly find themselves being stalked by Zachariah. Zachariah taunts them then snaps his fingers, making night day. They run, but everywhere they turn, Zachariah seems to be…until they run into a bizarrely-caped figure who tells them to come with him. He draws a symbol on the door of a derelict shed and disappears inside. They follow him into what turns out to be a bar. When he talks off his mask and hood – it’s Ash, the hippy computer genius from season two. And they’re in a heavenly version of the Roadhouse.
Ash gives them the low-down on Heaven. It’s not just one place but many (so the green room from “Lucifer Rising” was probably also in Heaven and not just some anteroom), predicated on the happiest memories or fantasies of its inhabitants. Sometimes, people share a heaven, but only if they’re “soulmates” (Dean rather pointedly doesn’t look at Sam). Ash calls heaven like “Disneyland, but without all the antisemitism” (Disneyland is antisemitic? So…Disneyland is bad, but Santa’s demonic helpers and making a Celtic festival a demon are okay?). At the center is “The Magic Kingdom” (the Garden).
Ash has a magic laptop that detects angels (a rather cool graphic) and then drops a bombshell on the boys. And I don’t mean his casual assertion that he can move around Heaven at will when others can’t. No, the bombshell is that the brothers have been to Heaven before, many times. They just don’t remember because the angels made them forget. But he doesn’t know that Ellen and Jo have died (and he hasn’t seen them around Heaven). He also hasn’t seen either John or Mary Winchester.
He does, however, bring in Pamela, who has been on tour at the best concert ever. Pamela smacks Dean upside the head for getting her killed (as I recall, she wasn’t exactly a passive participant in all that, but whatever), yet holds no grudges. What Dean told her about going to a better place turned out to be true. She loves Heaven.
Dean, on the other hand, is skeptical, feeling that these private heavens are “lonely” and draconian. He’d rather be on earth, which is “real”, than in a heavenly fantasy. He’s also creeped out by Pam’s pro-angel policy, considering how she was anti-angel when she was alive. She even thinks it’s not a big deal if he says yes to Michael, since those who die will simply come up to Heaven. Yeesh.
Ash then finds a shortcut to the Garden and the boys leave, though not before Sam gets a hug and Dean gets a long, slow, wet kiss from Pamela. My, things sure have changed in Heaven. Ash tells them he’ll likely see them again soon.
But when they go through his doorway, they land back in their old house and Dean’s heaven. It’s night. Mary comes in (in her nightgown from the pilot) and asks if Dean had a nightmare. When Dean tries to put her off, telling her that he loves her but she’s not real, she turns very nasty. She calls him a “burden”, that she was “shackled” to him. Then her eyes turn yellow.
Suddenly, the room is bathed in green light (it looks a lot like Beetlejuice) and all exits are blocked off by brick wall. Mary savagely twists the knife, describing her death in gruesome detail, but ending with the relief that at least, she got away from Dean. She points out that everyone leaves Dean, eventually, right before Zachariah comes in to gloat. Angels appear behind the brothers and pinion them, while Zachariah tortures them by acting in a grossly sexual way with the flirty Mary construct and beating up Dean. It turns out that Zachariah (identified by his self-description as a seraph) used to be a rising power until he was assigned to Sam and Dean. Dean, especially, from the look of things. And now, he’s determined to make them pay for making him a laughingstock of Heaven.
However, he’s interrupted by the arrival of an older black man. The man is mild in demeanor, but wields the threat of God’s “wrath” with a heavy hand. Zachariah backs down and disappears. Suddenly, the brothers find themselves in the Garden, which looks like “the Cleveland Botanical Gardens”, which the boys once visited on a field trip. Sam guesses, rightly, that their rescuer is Joshua.
Joshua explains that God talks him and not the other way around. He thinks it’s because they’re both “gardeners” and that God gets “lonely”. He also has more startling news – God is on earth (though Joshua doesn’t know where) and doesn’t want to be disturbed. He figures that since He put the boys on the plane in “Sympathy for the Devil” and resurrected Castiel, even allowed Sam to go to Heaven, he’s done his bit for the boys and he’s all done.
Dean is heartbroken and rejects God then and there as just another “deadbeat dad, well, I’m used to that.” Joshua is sympathetic, telling Dean that he knows God was Dean’s “last hope” and that Dean is afraid “you can’t do it this time. You can’t kill the Devil.” That Dean is losing his faith in himself and in Sam. Dean doesn’t protest or deny it. Joshua then sends them back with their memories intact, because this time, God wants it that way.
In the epilogue, Castiel is even more heartbroken than Dean and calls God a “son of a bitch”, declaring, “I believed in you….” Devastated, he gives Dean back his amulet, counting it “worthless”. Sam tells Dean they’ll keep fighting and somehow find a way, but Dean’s not buying it. Instead, he just goes out the door, dropping his beloved amulet in the trashcan on the way out.
Review: Hoo boy.
So, do I really think that an episode that happens to land on Maundy Thursday and centres around the search for a heavenly garden (along with yet another Garden of Gethsemane moment for Dean, on top of last year’s 16th episode, “On the Head of a Pin”), in a season where the writers managed to do a Valentine’s Day episode, is really a coincidence? No. I really don’t. Once again, Dean has it shoved in his face that he has to stop the Apocalypse and save everyone, somehow thwart the angels – then is given no viable way to do this. Needless to say, this leaves him in total despair by the end of the episode. Castiel is almost as bad off, if not worse.
One thing that struck me right off about the way Heaven was portrayed was how the individual heaven concept is so seductive, yet also profoundly self-centred. And it seems to be used as a control mechanism for the souls inside it, like the Lotus Eaters of Greek myth. Dean compares it to The Matrix, which is not entirely off-base. Even Ash, who appears to move freely about, doesn’t seem to understand that part of his own special heaven is probably that he can (or only appears to be able to) move around freely and game the system. And Pamela’s suddenly-pro-angel attitude is…creepy. I thought she was spreading the blame too freely when she was alive (the boys did strongly urge her to back off right before she got her eyes burned out), but the sudden turnaround made me think she was one of Zachariah’s agents. As it turned out, however, the Mary construct was that.
The concept of loved ones bringing you home to paradise and then turning on you in the night gave me a chill, being just like one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read, “Mars Is Heaven!” (1948) by Ray Bradbury. Later included as part of his famous Martian Chronicles, the story follows the Third Expedition to Mars, which discovers a town where dead friends and relatives of the crew live. Too late, their captain realises it’s a trick and they are all murdered in the night by said “relatives”, who are really sinister, telepathic Martians.
The Mary construct’s brutal words to Dean and threatening, kittenish demeanor in the night hark back to the Bradbury story (not a surprise, really, since Lilith’s subplot in the season three finale, “No Rest for the Wicked”, is an unabashed homage to Jerome Bixby’s equally-terrifying “It’s a Good Life” (1953). The writers know their scary-ass Golden Age SF). Way to completely destroy Dean’s concept of Heaven. Now he doesn’t even have that to come home to. Talk about a salt-and-burn. At least Sam still has his fantasies of escape from his family.
I just have to pause for a moment to say that Samantha Smith still kicks ass as Mary and needs to come back a lot more often. She’s even scarier than Kurt Fuller as Zachariah, and that’s saying something. The totally-inappropriate sexual vibe between them made my skin crawl almost as much as it must have made Sam and Dean’s. Speaking of this scene, the green lighting is also reminiscent of the climactic wedding scene in the film Beetlejuice.
How much is truth and how much are lies are good questions about “Dark Side of the Moon”. Take, for example, the question of why – and whether – the boys deserve to come up to Heaven. Sam admits (and is also told by others in no uncertain terms) that he doesn’t really deserve Heaven, but he got it, anyway. No one ever explains why. On the flip side, no one ever questions that Dean completely deserves Heaven. The fact that he’s a killer, thief and slut who spent forty years way down south for bartering away his soul (and broke the first seal of the Apocalypse while there) only comes up when he halfheartedly complains about the lack of “triplets” in Heaven and Zachariah trots the whole “You guys started it all” canard. But when we get to his version, it’s not even remotely sexual.
Joshua talks about the brothers’ quest as if only Dean was ever the one truly on it (Surely, Sam would be as devastated by God’s indifference as Dean, so why focus just on Dean’s disappointment?). Joshua even hints that this isn’t Dean’s first time as God’s trigger man (“this time”). In fact, Ash talks a lot about how he’s figured this way and that to move around Heaven and that it’s actually impossible for others to leave it unaided. Yet, Dean simply takes Castiel’s advice, drives down the road and strolls into Sam’s Heaven before moving him down the road. And Sam’s heaven is not the same as Dean’s.
Then there is Mary’s declaration that she never loved Dean, that he was a “burden” and she was “shackled” to him (not long after calling him her “little angel”). I doubt that this would sum up all of Mary’s feelings about Dean. At the end of “The Song Remains the Same”, she seemed quite happy to be having a baby. On the other hand, having Jesus wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for the Virgin Mary, who (even the Bible hints) wasn’t thrilled to have the ultimate cosmic problem child dumped on her. Sam is not called a burden or anything like it. The Mary construct doesn’t even notice him.
I have to say that if the writers are going for a storyline, ultimately, where Dean is some 100%-human-by-God special snowflake, I’m going to be pissed. That would be a huge waste of potential of a potentially-intriguing storyline (though they could pull a few more triggers a little faster, here, regardless). There are so many divine parallels for him and his mission at this point that he almost has to be Christ (or even an amnesiac God, since God is on earth) for any of it to work.
Dean talks about how being in your own personal eternity would be “lonely” because none of it (or the people around you) would be “real”. Joshua calls God “lonely” because he has no one to talk to in his creation who understands him. Dean calls God a “deadbeat dad” and says straight-out that he has plenty of experience with them (He and Sam also share some not-so-glorious memories of John). Sam even notes that Dean’s cleaning-up-after-Dad role goes back much farther than he ever knew. Speaking of God as a deadbeat dad, anybody notice how similar Joshua’s relay of God’s assertion that the boys should “back off” and leave Him alone was to John’s phone call to the boys at the beginning of “Scarecrow”? Or that John leaving his family (who don’t want him back at first) “for a few days” is much like God leaving Heaven and going incognito on earth? Except that this time, Dean is totally stick-a-fork-in-me done with the whole “good son” deal.
Zachariah is bound to fall or die by the end of the season. He’s almost a poster child for Pride. I’m reminded of the parable of the husbandmen and the vineyard (Mark 12:1-12), where the distant owner sends servants (to collect from the vineyard) who are beaten and turned out by the evil husbandmen. When he sends his only son, they kill the boy and throw his body out of the vineyard, thinking to steal his inheritance. But when the owner comes back he will “destroy the husbandmen and give the vineyard to others.” Zachariah is like the leader of the evil husbandmen, greedy for the inheritance of the vineyard while setting up his own doom.
Radical Catholic theologian Hans Küng compares Christ to other religious leaders in history. He talks about how the others died surrounded by their friends and family, but that Christ “died condemned as a criminal, alone and deserted by those whom he thought he could trust.”
Küng goes on to say that “the Christian story starts with a human failure who is at the same time the incarnate love of God. The story of the rise of the Christian church is, for all of the dark side of human wrongdoing, still filled with an amazing array of very broken people who, by God’s power, did and said things that have overthrown the world in order to make way for another.” This makes me think the writers are trying to set up a storyline where Dean is being “disinherited” by Zachariah and his faction, broken and stripped of everything before he comes roaring back. It’s a great idea if that’s where they’re going, but I do wish they’d hurry up.
I didn’t recognize any actual Pink Floyd used, but there were numerous references, both to Wizard of Oz and to Pink Floyd albums, especially the one that supplied the episode’s title. There’s the beautiful visual near the beginning, for example, when Dean wakes up on the road and the stars are circling an eclipsed sun. Also, Sam seems to think Dean is crazy at certain points in the episode. Madness is a huge concern in several Pink Floyd albums, including Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall.
The ending is…well, what can I say? Jensen Ackles said at the recent con that he has been slowly losing Dean’s other jewelry since 5.04 (“The End”), though he didn’t say why. And now, Dean has dumped his amulet after Castiel tossed it back to him like so much trash, along with what looks like most of the rest of his faith in Sam. Those fans who reflexively hate Dean (alas, they exist) have already latched onto this as Dean being a big meanie and terrible to Sam. Um…well, yes, except that this time last year, Sam was lying his ass off to Dean and sucking down demon blood, not to mention the part toward the end of the season when he tried to strangle his brother. So, Dean’s trust in Sam was pretty fragile this season and finding out that he wasn’t any part of Sam’s heaven (Sam was in Dean’s heaven, but as a child or a baby) bitchslapped it but good and ground it underfoot with a well-placed high heel. Does this make Dean a bastard? No. Sam still has a ways to go to right the scales. But it does make me wonder what the hell the writers think they’re doing, stripping Dean right down to bare wood and replacing it with…nothing. I sure hope they have some major payback coming to all of his naysayers because the Dean-Bash Brigade is getting a little tiresome.
Dean [to Castiel]: You gotta stop poking around in my dreams. I need some “me” time.
Dean: I’m dead!
Sam: How are we in Heaven?
Dean: All that clean living, I guess.
Sam: Okay. You, I get, sure, but me? Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’ve done a few things.
Dean: You thought you were doing the right thing.
Sam: Last I checked, there wasn’t a road to Heaven that was paved with good intentions.
Dean: Well, if this is the Sky Mall, where’s the triplets and the latex, you know? I mean, a guy has needs.
Dean: Whaddaya mean? We had Thanksgiving every year.
Sam: We had a bucket of extra-crispy and Dad passed out on the couch.
Dean: We are taking the escalator back downstairs. [goes to the radio and taps on it] Cas!
Sam: What are you doing?
Dean: What does it look like?
Sam: Like you’ve lost your mind.
Castiel: Don’t go into the light!
Dean: Okay, thanks, Carol Anne.
Sam: What do you think?
Dean: I think we hit the yellow bricks and find this ‘Joshua’ cat.
Dean: Sam, we are royally boned. So, prayer? The last hope of a desperate man.
Sam: You think the road is in a closet?
Dean: We’re in Heaven, Sam. Our memories are coming true. Cas is on TV. Finding a road in a closet would be pretty much the most normal thing to happen today.
Dean: Pretty trippy, right?
Sam: Yeah. More trippy…apparently…you wuv hugs.
Dean: I remember this. They were fighting and Dad moved out for a couple of days.
Sam: Dad said they had the perfect marriage.
Dean: Wasn’t perfect until after she died.
Dean: It’s okay, Mom. Dad still loves you. I love you, too. I’ll never leave you.
Mary: You are my little angel…how ’bout some pie?
Dean [to Sam]: What?
Sam: Just never realised how long you’ve been cleaning up Dad’s messes.
Zachariah: Wow. Running from angels. On foot. In Heaven. With out-of-the-box thinking like that, I’m surprised you boys haven’t stopped the Apocalypse, already.
Ash: Buenos dias, bitches. [claps hands and lights come on] Welcome to My Blue Heaven.
Ash: How’s a dirtbag like me end up in a place like this? Been saved, man. I was my congregation’s No. 1 snake-handler.
Sam: So, there are two heavens?
Ash: No, more like a hundred billion. So, no worries. It’ll take them angel boys a minute to catch up.
Ash: You boys die more than anyone I have ever met.
Dean [to Pamela]: If it makes you feel any better, we got Ash killed, too.
Ash: I’m cool with it!
Dean: He’s cool with it.
Dean: Spending eternity trapped in your own little universe while the angels run the show, it’s lonely. That’s not Nirvana, it’s the Matrix.
Pamela: Attic’s still better than the basement.
DreamMary [to Dean]: Don’t you walk away from me. I never loved you. You were my burden. I was shackled to you. And look what it got me.
Mary [about her death]: One silver lining: at least I was away from you. Everybody leaves you, Dean. You noticed? Mummy. Daddy. Even Sam. Ever ask yourself why? Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you.
Zachariah: In Heaven, I have six wings and four faces, one of which is a lion. You see this [indicating his vessel body] because you’re…limited.
Zachariah [to Dean]: Let me tell you something. I was on the fast track, once. Employee of the Month, every month, forever. I’d walk these halls and people would AVERT THEIR EYES! And then they assign me you. Now look at me. I can’t close the deal on a couple of pathetic, flannel-wearing maggots? Everybody’s laughing at me. And they’re right to do it.
Joshua [to Zachariah]: Fire me if you want. But sooner or later, he’s going to come back home. And you know how he is about that whole “wrath” thing.
Sam: This is…Heaven’s garden?
Dean: It’s nice-ish. I guess.
Joshua: You see what you want to, here. For some, it’s God’s throne room; for others, it’s Eden. For you two, I believe it’s the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. You came here on a field trip.
Next week: 99 Problems: Sam and Dean are rescued from demons by an apocalyptic cult, led by a very scary young girl who thinks she has all the answers. Been waiting quite a long time for a scary cult episode, so this could be good.
You can watch (or download) this season five episode, in standard or HD definition, on Amazon.com.