By Paula R. Stiles
[lots o’ spoilage ahoy]
Tagline: When Bobby falls into an inexplicable coma, Sam and Dean investigate, discovering that dreams can kill you.
Recap: In the teaser, we see Bobby roaming around a house, knife in hand, looking bewildered. Suddenly, he’s attacked by a screaming woman. Cut to Bobby asleep (apparently peacefully) as a young maid comes in. She tries to wake him, first by calling out politely, then by shaking him gently, then harder, then panicking and calling out for help. Nothing works.
Cue title cards (did you know that season three’s cards included a subliminally-elaborate devil’s trap?).
Sam is in a bar in the afternoon, getting drunk. Dean walks in and looks concerned. He sits down next to Sam and tries to talk to him, but Sam is already deep in the bottle. So, what Dean gets instead is a rant from Sam about how Sam can’t save Dean, no matter how hard he’s tried and what he’s tried, and it’s all kind of Dean’s fault because Dean doesn’t want to be saved.
Dean’s verdict? “You’re drunk.”
This rather one-sided conversation (such as it is) is interrupted by a call on Dean’s cell phone. It’s about Bobby. Next we see the boys (Sam now cold sober) talking to a doctor. Seems Bobby used one of Dean’s many aliases as his next of kin (awwwww). Bobby went to sleep in his hotel room bed in Pittsburgh and never woke up. Tests can’t determine why, so the brothers head over to Bobby’s room to check things out. It’s inordinately clean and innocuous-looking except for the hidden research nook Sam finds in the closet. They discover that Bobby was looking into the death of a local professor in sleep research and something called “Silene capensis” (AKA African Dream Root). Not actually an hallucinogen, it induces intense dreams. Wouldn’t have much effect on me, then, as I’ve always been an extremely active and vivid dreamer, but it sounds like fun. Anyway, in the episode, it’s given properties similar to LSD (probably to telescope the transition to the dream state). Keep in mind that’s not so in real life.
Dean dresses up as a detective and goes to harass the professor’s grad student into giving him her former boss’ secret research on dreaming. Turns out Bobby was ahead of him on this. Then he visits one of the subjects of the sleep study, another grad student named “Jeremy”. Turns out Bobby was ahead of Dean there, too. Jeremy offers Dean a beer, which Dean accepts, and then tells him that when he took the root, he had extremely vivid dreams that scared him. So, he dropped out of the study.
Back at the hospital, Dean is sitting beside Bobby with that dead look he gets on his face sometimes that’s never a good sign. Sam walks in, breaking into Dean’s reverie (there are a lot of references and demonstrations of different altered states of consciousness ranging from alertness all the way to death in this episode). Sam fills Dean in on what the Dream Root does: it’s been used by South African shamans to “dreamwalk in other people’s heads”. Sam thinks maybe somebody has used the Dream Root to victimise Bobby by trapping him in a dream state and also killed the professor (who died in his sleep). Dean suggests they get hold of some Dream Root, themselves, and go dreamwalking in Bobby’s head to find out what’s going on. Sam thinks the idea is nuts, and even more so when Dean suggests they get their season-three nemesis, Bela, to score them some of it. But they’re out of good options, so they go with the idea.
In the next scene, Sam is on his laptop at their motel when Bela knocks on the door. When he lets her in, she starts telling him how much she’s been lusting for him and drops her trenchcoat to reveal a very fetching teddy. They fall into bed together, but just when things are getting really hot and heavy, a shout from Dean wakes Sam up. He was having a wet dream about Bela. Dean knows what kind of dream Sam was having (“You were making all kinds of happy noises over there”), but Sam won’t admit it was about Bela. To his great embarrassment, there’s a knock on the door and in strolls Bela with the Dream Root. Dean had just said he’d called her and she’d turned him down. Seems she’s changed her mind. Dean isn’t very nice to her and he probably has reason for it. When he goes over to the motel safe to put the Dream Root in, Bela watches him intently. She’s up to something. But whatever she wants to do, Dean curtails it for the moment by telling her to go get her own room. She’s not staying with them, even though it’s two a.m. As Bela flounces out, Sam sends a half-assed lustful goodbye after her, making Dean give him a WTF? look.
The brothers sit on the twin beds and load up on Dream Root. At first, they don’t think it worked, until Sam notices it’s started raining. Dean goes to look and sees it’s raining up. When he turns around, they’re no longer in the motel room but in the house from the teaser. Sam realises that this is Bobby’s house but with a different decor. Bobby is nowhere to be found. Sam goes outside to investigate and is locked out. When he calls to Dean inside the house, Dean can’t hear him. Outside is bright and frighteningly cheerful, like a Tide commercial. As Sam wanders around, he even finds a bunch of white sheets on the line. As he’s wandering through them, he’s ambushed by someone with a baseball bat. We see it’s Jeremy the grad student. Jeremy starts ranting about how this is his own little fiefdom and he can do whatever he wants. Sam is trespassing (even though it’s Bobby’s head). Sam makes the mistake of telling Jeremy he’s nuts, which prompts Jeremy to start beating him up with the bat.
Inside, Dean finds Bobby hiding in a closet. Bobby tells him “she” is here and points a shaking figure at a woman approaching in a white dress. She has multiple bloody stab wounds and dead eyes. When Dean asks who she is, Bobby replies, “My wife!”
She starts ranting at Bobby that he killed her. Bobby begs for her forgiveness, pleading, “Baby, you were rabid! And I didn’t know then what I know now!” It turns out that she was possessed and Bobby was forced to kill her when she attacked him. She chases Bobby and Dean into another room. As she screams and pounds on the door, Dean ties it shut and then tries to persuade Bobby that he’s in a dream. “You can snap out of it!” Dean tells him. his dialogue fragmenting into deliveries of the same line. Bobby won’t believe him at first and wants to give up. So, Dean smacks him upside the head with a little tough love, telling him that Bobby is “like a father” to him and that he can’t die (this conversation is later echoed at the end of “The Curious Case of Dean Winchester”). Dean begs Bobby to take control of the dream. Finally, Bobby tries it and the screaming stops. Dean then persuades Bobby to “wake up”. Bobby does so just as Jeremy is about to bash Sam’s head in. Bobby wakes up in his hospital bed and the boys wake up in their motel.
Later, in the hospital, Dean asks Bobby if the dream about his wife was true. Bobby admits this obliquely by saying that everyone “gets into hunting somehow”. That was his reason. Dean apologises for witnessing it, but Bobby tells him not to be sorry. He’s glad Dean knows now.
Sam comes in and says that Jeremy has cleared out his room and gone to ground. In the course of the conversation, they determine that Jeremy must have got Bobby’s DNA (an important ingredient one must drink in order to go walking in another’s head) from a bottle of beer that he offered Bobby. Dean then reluctantly admits that Jeremy offered him a bottle, too. Now, neither he nor Bobby can sleep until they find Jeremy.
Two days later…
Dean is driving down the road and it’s clear they haven’t found Jeremy. Why? Because Dean is wide awake, wired and scaring the crap out of Sam in the shotgun seat. The phone rings and he practically does a seat-jig getting it out. It’s Bobby, who is working with Bela (who’s doing the Tarot) to find Jeremy, but no luck. Dean rants at Bobby, who tells him to knock it off. Dean apologises and gets off the phone. Finally, he pulls over. He’s had it. He’s just going to go to sleep and confront Jeremy in Dreamland. Sam thinks he’s nuts, so he pulls out some of Dean’s hair and gets out the Dream Root to g in with him.
Sam and Dean are still in the car. Sam wakes Dean up, but it turns out they are both dreaming. They get out of the car and Lisa (Dean’s one-night-stand from “The Kids Are Alright”) appears. It turns out to be a fantasy where she and Dean are married and her son, Ben, is also Dean’s son. Dean is humiliated (especially because Sam looks so sad and compassionate about it) and claims he’s never had that dream before. I should add this is one of the few instances in Supernatural where they also got the song (by The Mamas and the Papas) that makes up the title. It appears here.
Lisa vanishes, but the boys spot Jeremy. They give chase. Sam wakes up back in the car, apparently next to Dean. But it’s Jeremy with the bat. Jeremy smacks him one. Sam crawls out of the car to get away from Jeremy, but Jeremy comes around and ties him to the ground with ropes (in a scene somewhat reminiscent of the “vine rape” scene from Evil Dead). He starts beating Sam’s legs with the baseball bat. It turns out that his father was an abusive drunk who smacked him in the head with a baseball bat when he was a kid. Since then, he’s had Charcot-Wilbrand Syndrome, where he can’t dream. When he took the Dream Root, he could dream again and he’s become addicted to it. He’ll do anything to keep dreaming.
Meanwhile, Dean finds himself out of the woods and inside a hallway with woodslike wallpaper. Only one door, at the end of the hallway, is halfway ajar. He goes to it. Inside, someone is sitting at a desk, randomly clicking the desk light on and off (this is really eerie because it resembles the scene in Fatal Attraction where Glenn Close is sitting alone in the room, psychotically clicking the room light on and off and listening to opera). The person turns around – it’s also Dean, dressed exactly like “our” Dean.
Our Dean professes not to be intimidated. He says that he can just click his fingers “and you go bye-bye”, that it’s his dream and he has control over it. But when he does so, nothing happens. Dream Dean smiles grimly and pulls out a shotgun, saying that they have a lot to talk about. He coldly starts to tell Our Dean that he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, that he’s just a “blunt instrument” that John created to protect Sam, that John always loved and doted on Sam more (something we know is not true; John probably loved Dean more than Sam). This is how Dean feels about the three of them, that he was always coming in third rather than the centre of the family triangle as we, the audience know. Our Dean gets increasingly upset until he flips out. He grabs the gun from Dream Dean and starts beating on him with it, screaming that he was always a good son and John was a terrible father. At the climax of his rant, he pulls the trigger, shooting Dream Dean (himself) dead.
But this doesn’t last. As Our Dean goes to investigate the dead body, Dream Dean springs to life, his eyes demon-black. He screams at Our Dean that he can’t escape his dream self. He’s going to die and become a demon.
In the forest of Dean’s mind, Sam is getting the crap beaten out of him. But he manages to turn the tables when he tells Jeremy that he took the Dream Root, too, and can also control the dream. He calls up Jeremy’s father, who died when Jeremy was a kid. While Jeremy is distracted, cringing in fear at his father, Sam clobbers him with the baseball bat. We see Jeremy in a hovel somewhere roll over and die, just as Demon Dean stands up, terrifying Our Dean into waking up. Some fans have said it was Sam’s killing Jeremy that ended the dream. However, Bobby’s dream showed that only the dreamer can end the dream. Jeremy can really only distract the dreamer from waking up and then “kill” him/her. So, it would have to be Demon Dean coming after Our Dean that wakes Dean up, not Jeremy’s death, since it’s Dean’s dream.
Afterward, Bobby asks Sam how he managed to kill Jeremy and if it was his powers. Sam is confused. He doesn’t think it was that, but he could be wrong. This is forgotten, however, when they find out Bela has disappeared…and so has the Colt. Bela has stolen it. Dean packs in a fury, dragging Sam along with him. In the car, though, Dean asks Sam what Sam saw of his dream (Sam didn’t see Dream Dean at all). Then he finally confesses that he doesn’t want to die or go to Hell. Touched, Sam reassures him that they’ll find a way to save him. Dean pretends to be comforted, but we’re given a last flash inside his head of Demon Dean screaming at him. Then there’s a final black-and-white shot of Our Dean, smiling with eyes demon black, snapping his fingers and turning off the episode.
Review: As I implied last week, this is probably my favourite episode of Supernatural. It goes up against stiff competition in “Faith”, “Houses of the Holy”, “Phantom Traveler”, “Scarecrow”, “Skin”, “Asylum”, “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”, “Croatoan”, “What Is and What Should Never Be”, “Yellow Fever”, “Monster Movie”, and “Sam, Interrupted”, but it still wins. Not because it’s so “worthy” or because it’s a fan favourite (it really isn’t the latter, though it has been greatly discussed), but because I enjoy it in such a cracky way. The very last image and Dean’s mano y mano scene with himself leap to mind, as does my love of dream imagery (with which this episode is stuffed to the gills) and stories that switch back and forth between dream and waking. We even get a satirical, left-leaning re-confirmation of Dean’s casual attitude toward drug experimentation (and anti-authoritarianism) when he drops out of character as a cop for a moment and cheerfully admits to having a bad acid trip in his past.
But I also really liked that we finally got to “meet” Bobby in a more-than-one-dimensional way as That Helpful Exposition Guy and find out how he got into hunting. We also got Dean’s heart-warming confession (in the middle of the two of them running from Bobby’s dead wife, natch) that Bobby has replaced John in his heart, as well as Bobby’s talk with Sam at the end (indicating Bobby has become a surrogate father to both boys).
Of course, John Winchester’s reputation as a father (and even a hunter) conversely takes a huge hit, possibly the biggest of the show (though “Jump the Shark” was pretty massive in its own right), which displeased some when “Dream a Little Dream” first came out. But it really isn’t that abrupt – Dean’s anger against John had become increasingly vocal since early season two. This was just the pre-angelic climax of that storyline.
Another thing that worked is that the first dream scene of Sam outside in the very bright outdoors is probably the only really effective example of the experiments with lighting the showrunners were doing in season three (contrasted well with the night scene inside Dean’s head and the gloominess of Bobby’s house). There is some nice balance between the two brothers where we find things out about both of them that are revelatory and a tad uncomfortable to process.
I also giggled at the infamous “sex scene”. I can’t believe that so many people who were shocked – SHOCKED – to see Sam have an innocuous wet dream about Bela handwaved his real sex scene with Ruby in the “borrowed” body of a dead girl in “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, or even found it “hot”. Quirky wet dreams about thieves who are both alive and (it must be said) cute are bad, bad, BAD, but skanky and violent necrophilia sex is okeydoke. Ewww. Methinks somebody needs to detox from watching so much Canadian indie film.
The only thing I really didn’t like was the way Bela’s “I’m just helping Bobby” storyline turned out to be one big con. It made the boys look stupid (though I suspect we were supposed to believe, once we found out that she’d made a deal, that the black magic of said deal helped cloud the minds of her enemies and rivals and allow her incredible luck…until her deal, and luck, ran out, of course). Up until the last scene of “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope the character would improve somehow. After that scene, I was all done with her for good. I don’t get it. Why shove in a last-minute “justification” like that lame and insulting abuse backstory later on in “Time Is on My Side” when they could have Bela really helping out initially because she felt she owed Bobby, get confronted having to choose between stealing the Colt to save her own hide or help the brothers, and make the wrong choice? People do that all the time. But they didn’t go there, so I just lala past the part where they find out she stole the Colt to the final conversation in the car.
Oh, and I’d like to add that this very tight little story comes in at ten seconds under forty minutes, including the recap and end credits.
None of this is why I’m reviewing “Dream a Little Dream” this week. It has much more to do with the fact that this dark, quirky little puppy comes across initially as an MOTW…but is one of the most mythological of the show’s episodes. And that means it has heavy relevance to recent season-five episodes ranging from “Sam, Interrupted” to the next new upcoming episode, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, to the point where you could call these episodes direct sequels. Even “The Song Remains the Same” makes the Michael scene a near-copy of an earlier version of the Dean versus Dean scene that was supposed to be Dean versus Dream Dad (until they found out they couldn’t get Jeffrey Dean Morgan in for that episode).
Which just makes that last image of Demon Dean snapping his fingers and turning off the episode that much more disturbing. Forget the Supernatural convention in “The Real Ghost Busters”. Forget the Winchester Gospel. It doesn’t get any more meta than a supernatural version of a main character ending the episode you’re watching with a snap of his fingers. Or messed up. They haven’t explored this image in subsequent episodes yet, but since they’ve explored pretty much everything else in “Dream a Little Dream of Me” – and that image is very popular despite only appearing on as a screencap – you can expect to see it back at some point.
Things that come up and have been addressed (a lot, even) since:
Sam’s anger. They finally settled on an explanation for what was going on in “Sam, Interrupted” and I’m relieved to say they also finally realised that blaming it all on the demon blood was just stupid. Sam is angry and doesn’t know why. Not that it’s hard to understand from the outside – he had a terrible childhood and his father really wasn’t that different from Jeremy’s prince of a sperm donor (except that John was somewhat less violent and far more focused on an outside goal). Yes, Dean probably had it worse, but that’s only in relative terms. Both brothers have ample reason to be angry. And it’s not like the show is saying that Dean isn’t angry. We know perfectly well that he is. We also know it’s part of why he’s nuts. Sam isn’t (too) crazy. He’s just very angry and I think it’s that which allows him to take control over the dream. And isn’t it interesting that both times, Jeremy is ostensibly trying to kill someone else, but he’s actually attacking and killing Sam.
Sam’s addictive personality. Even prior to the demon blood addiction, we saw that Sam liked to go off on the odd bender and become a sloppy drunk, and boy, does he do it at the beginning of this episode, too. We also get an example (in Jeremy) of someone who allows addiction to push him into killing people to get what he needs. Good foreshadowing of Sam’s actions late in season four (and yes, I know they probably didn’t have that in mind, yet, when they wrote this).
Dean’s tendency to compartmentalise to a pathological extent. If Dean hasn’t already separated into multiple personalities, it’s a wonder how he’s managed to avoid it. This is not the first time we see Jensen Ackles play two personalities, even ones that are somewhat linked (That would have been “Skin” way back in season one), but it is the first time we see two versions of a person who is definitely Dean (rather than a shapeshifter reading his thoughts and imitating him). It’s a testament to Ackles’ skills as an actor that Dean, the shapeshifter in “Skin”, Dream Dean, Demon Dean, and Future Dean are all distinct personalities with separate body language. In “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, Dream Dean is characterised by a stiff carriage and a cold demeanor that starts off almost reasonable and pedagogical and quickly progresses to threatening, just plain nasty, and raging psychotic, demon-style. Kind of like Dean’s imaginary Dr. Cartwright. I’ve seen some fans say that maybe Dr. Cartwright was real in her first scene with Dean, but I’m guessing otherwise. Note the total lack of reaction to her of anyone around the two of them. Also, it seems a bit odd (considering the way the staff utterly ignore Dean, otherwise, and no one so much as mentions her) that Dean would get a personal visit from a psychiatrist like that. And she’s definitely not real in the mirror scene because the doc who admitted them only says “Hi” to Dean. He would certainly have also greeted the colleague right next to Dean – if she were real. That’s a big early hint that she’s all in Dean’s head.
There was a lot of discussion at the time “Dream a Little Dream of Me came out over whether John’s voice inside Dean’s head was supposed to be toxic self-talk or a real “voice”. Some insisted that it didn’t mean Dean was crazy. Well…now we know otherwise. Also disturbing is Dean’s willingness to kill “himself” for telling him truths he doesn’t want to hear. It’s not the first time we see Dean commit virtual suicide and it probably won’t be the last, either. And isn’t it terribly creepy that the Dean snapping his fingers, left-handed, at the end, all black-eyes and demon-y, is not Dream Dean after all, but Our Dean?
Sam: What’s the big deal? You get sloppy in bars, you hit on chicks all the time. Why can’t I?
Dean: It’s slim pickings around here.
Jeremy: I had the most vivid, super-intense dream. Like a bad acid trip, you know?
Dean: Totally…I mean, no.
Sam: This Dream Root is some serious mojo. You take enough of it, with enough practice, you can become a regular Freddy Krueger.
Dean: Dude, you were out. And making some serious happy noises. Who were you dreaming about?
Sam [flustered]: What? No one. Nothing.
Dean: Come on, you can tell me. Was it Angelina Jolie?
Dean [bemused]: Brad Pitt?
Sam: No! No. Dude, it doesn’t matter.
Dean [losing interest]: Yeah, whatever.
Dean: So, should we dim the lights and synch up Wizard of Oz to Dark Side of the Moon?
Dean: Dude, what did you do in college?
Sam: Hey, when did it start raining?
Dean [goes to the window]: When did it start raining upside-down?
Bobby [to his dream wife]: You were possessed, baby! You were rabid. And I didn’t know what I know now. I didn’t know how to save you.
Dean [grabs Bobby and speaks to him, the dialogue doubled and spliced together in dreamlike fashion from different takes]: Look at me. Look at me! You gotta snap out of this now. You gotta snap out of this now! You’re not gonna die. I’m not gonna let you die. I’m not gonna let you die! You’re like a father to me. You gotta believe me, please.
Sam [in the car]: Dean, you sure you don’t want me to drive? You seem a little…caffeinated.
Dean: Well, thanks for the newsflash, Edison!
Our Dean: Well, aren’t you a handsome son of a gun.
Dream Dean: We need to talk.
Our Dean: I get it. I get it. I’m my own worst nightmare, is that it? Huh? Kind of like the Superman III junkyard scene? A little mano y mano with myself?
Dream Dean: Joke all you want, smartass. But you can’t lie to me. I know the truth. I know how dead you are inside. How worthless you feel. I know how you look into a mirror…and hate what you see.
Our Dean: Sorry, pal. It’s not gonna work. You’re not real.
Dream Dean: Sure, I am. I’m you.
Our Dean: I don’t think so. See, this is my siesta, not yours. All I gotta do is snap my fingers and you go bye-bye.
Dream Dean: I’m not going anywhere [door slams and locks]. Neither are you. Like I said [lifts a shotgun and points it at his head], we need to talk. Talk about low self-esteem. I mean, you’re going to Hell and you won’t even lift a finger to stop it. Then again, I guess it’s not much of a life worth saving, now is it?
Our Dean [muttering]: Come on, Dean. Wake up. Wake up!
Dream Dean: I mean, after all, you’ve got nothing outside of Sam. You are nothing.
Our Dean [shaken]: That’s…that’s not true.
Dream Dean: No? What are the things that you want? What are the things that you dream? I mean, your car? That’s Dad’s. Your favorite leather jacket? Dad’s. Your music? Dad’s. Do you even have an original thought? No. No, all there is is, “Watch out for Sammy! Look out for your little brother, boy!” You can still hear your Dad’s voice in your head, can’t you? Clear as a bell.
Our Dean [dangerously]: Just shut up.
Dream Dean: I mean, think about it: all he ever did was train you, boss you around. But Sam…Sam he doted on. Sam he loved.
Our Dean: I mean it. I’m getting angry.
Dream Dean: Dad knew who you really were. A good soldier and nothing else. Daddy’s blunt little instrument. Your own father didn’t care whether you lived or died! Why should you?
Our Dean: Son of a bitch! My father was an obsessed bastard! All that crap he dumped on me about protecting Sammy? That was his crap! He’s the one who couldn’t protect his family! He’s the one who let Mom die! Who wasn’t there for Sam. I always was! It wasn’t fair! I didn’t deserve what he put on me. And I don’t deserve to go to Hell! [shoots Dream Dean]
Demon Dean: You can’t escape me, Dean! You’re gonna die! And this, this is what you’re gonna become!
Next week’s Retro Recap: On the Head of a Pin: When the angels kidnap Dean so that he can torture Alastair into revealing who’s been killing angels, Sam does something really dangerous to try to get his brother back.
On March 25: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid: The brothers encounter a town full of “friendly” zombies. To complicate matters, one of them is Bobbie’s wife.
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