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"Defending Your Life" Review: "We're Not Catholic"
ChuckWriting
farawayeyes4
First Appeared on The Winchester Family Business on October 17, 2011

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"We're not Catholic."

"Defending Your Life," may have featured an Egyptian God, but the guilt contained within is clearly of the Catholic variety.

Dean is put on trial here, by Osiris, who will then weigh his guilt. Dean carries an awful lot of it around indeed, but most of it is misplaced and excessive---the definition of Catholic Guilt. Only one event truly condemns him: the killing of Amy Pond in the episode prior. It is the single thing that is eating away at him the most as the episode begins---especially after Sam thanks him for trusting him to let her go. It's not so much killing her that is making him feel guilty. It is the hiding it from Sam, the breach of trust that is making him feel guilty.
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But before he ends up in chains before his judge, jury, and executioner, the Winchesters seem to have found an ordinary and black and white case. This episode, still early in the season, is yet more set up for what will come down the road. Most of Sam's cards are on the table---his hallucinations of Lucifer, his memories of Hell, and such. Dean's cards are slowly being laid on the table and turned over one by one.

It is obvious that they have no intentions to leave the case with Amy Pond twisting in the wind or forgotten---which is good. To make the event so significant only to drop it would have been a mistake. As it kept hitting Dean through the episode, it seems this might be something we see resolved by the mid-season finale perhaps.

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This episode also evokes episodes such as season 4's episode "Are You There God, It's Me, Dean Winchester," with the raising of the witnesses and season 2's "Crossroad Blues" as they try to protect a man from the approaching Hell hounds.  We also see parallels to "No Rest for the Wicked" and "Yellow Fever," with Dean facing a ticking time clock---although this one is far less defined. It's a nice touch bringing in darker and deeper currents into what originally appeared to be a routine salt and burn. It's also nice to see twists on older moments weaved through the current story.  It still has that early season feel, refreshing and not overly complicated while giving us information for what is yet to come within the season later.

Each person that is killed by a ghost turns out to have killed someone. A man is run over on the tenth floor by a car---because he had backed over a ten year old little girl ten years earlier. A man that ran a dog fighting ring is killed by a spectral dog. They try to protect the last man from the ghosts of the two people he murdered in 1981. By law, he has served his time in prison and has paid his dues to society, but it turns out that he still harbors an intense guilt. It is his undoing---at Osiris's hands.
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This is a classic example of the so called Catholic Guilt. Each person involved in this case has extreme and excessive guilt. The man who ran over the little girl, possibly while drunk, has made it a point to not forget that and went out of his way to turn his life around with the help of AA. He can't take back or forget what he did, but he shouldn't allow guilt about it to fester. The man that ran the dog fighting ring turned his life around as well, giving far more back and becoming a huge volunteer at the shelter. He may have started it at court order, but he most certainly seems to have learned and grown from the experience---and yet he too holds onto guilt for the crime he committed. And then there's Warren, who parallels Dean's own guilt most. He killed, in his youth, two store owners in an impulsive moment. He has never let that go, despite spending thirty years in prison. He lets it eat at him every single day.

The lesson guilt here is clear: guilt eats and festers, tearing a person apart. It is much better to learn from a mistake or wrong doing than it is to turn it over and over, further condemning one's self---especially after making amends or attempts to atone for past sins. It is a lesson Dean MUST learn.

As they investigate the case, it can't go unnoticed that Dean is struggling even more. His drinking is getting Sam's attention, even if he's uncertain of how to stop it. He appears to be going through the motions. They come back from the original salt and burn on the case, and Dean is exhausted. He asks Sam to take the first shower---but Sam is busy researching the next victim of the case while reading the paper. It is obvious that not only is Dean struggling with extreme guilt, he is also dealing with being in the life and questioning if it is what he wants to do or should do any longer. He feels hopeless and trapped, knowing that his attempts in the past to leave hunting behind has only brought him death and heartache---a lesson he most certainly learned the hard way with Lisa and Ben especially.

He is also grieving, albeit inwardly, for his angel friend Castiel, who has gone unmentioned deliberately by both brothers.
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Once Sam realizes they aren't done with the case, he tells Dean to "suit up." Dean is stunned and manages to get Sam to ask if he's alright. In true Dean fashion, he stifles his distaste and exhaustion and does as his brother requests. Despite telling Amy Pond in the previous episode that people cannot change, Dean has obviously done so and is having a difficult time picking up old patterns and behaviors. He's trying to put forward the typical Dean Winchester facade, but it is crumbling quickly around him. He feels that he must do the expected, and therefore he makes the quips and does the investigation, but it's not the same as it once was to him. He goes skulking for chicks, but his heart isn't in that, either. Not if he has to do a pep talk. It is expected of him to sleep around and drink. And so, Dean does it in an attempt to keep his brother from asking him questions about how he's doing.

Sam, on the other hand, seems eager. Too eager. Too at peace with the life. Sam is in the eye of a hurricane, waiting for it to crash ashore and wreak havoc. We know the storm is still swirling each time Lucifer manages a whisper and Sam shoves his thumb ruthlessly into his healing palm. He may have accepted his lot in life, but he is far from being adjusted. The proverbial shoe Dean mentioned will drop. It's only a matter of time before the hurricane revs up and starts to tear Sam apart.
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At the bar, Dean encounters the pretty bartender. As he starts to drink, he lets it slip that he feels guilty for killing Amy behind his brother's back---in generic terms of course. She tells him, "Now you feel bad? Well, Dean, if you had to, why feel guilty? That doesn't make any sense."

While this might not entirely apply to what Dean did to Amy, this is a lesson he must learn. It also ties into the guilt that he harbors and is revealed in his trial later on. Unfortunately, his confession isn't simply told to the bartender. Osiris, trolling for his next victim, has also heard and plans to make Dean his next mark.

Meanwhile, Sam investigates the apple orchard, tracking the dirt left behind at each crime scene. The fact that this is an apple orchard harkens all the way back to the season 1 episode "Scarecrow." Bobby calls him on the phone to tell him what the case is about, letting him know that it is Osiris and that he targets the guilty. He says to Sam, who is well aware of Dean's struggles despite his elder brother's attempts to hide it, "This guy hones in on people who feel guilty. Who does that sound like to you?"
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It makes Sam call Dean repeatedly, trying to make certain that his brother is safe. Dean doesn't answer his phone. The bartender does. After he meets up with her and hears what happened, he rushes to the barn to save Dean.

This is where the true guilt of this episode sets in. Osiris is aware that Sam is present and calls him out into the courtroom where he has put Dean in chains. He is not pleased and demands that Sam leave---until Sam steps forward to be Dean's lawyer. This is the glimpse of what Sam could have been if he hadn't been pulled back into the life---feeding Dean's Catholic Guilt Monster. He is quick on his feet and argues effectively.
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The first witness is a hard one to swallow: Jo Harvelle. She died in the hardware store, giving them time to hunt down Lucifer only to fail in making a kill shot with the ineffective Colt. It is something that wore heavily on both brothers---but Dean in particular. It is a sore spot, too. It's not hard to imagine that he feels guilty for her death, and Osiris is ready to feed upon that.

Dean's guilt is highly excessive here and has been long nursed. He saw her as a little sister, even if she had when alive wished to be more to him. Because he saw her as a younger sibling, her death proved to him that he was once again a failure at being a big brother---the true kernel of guilt here. Dean didn't light the fuse. He didn't rip her guts out. What happened in the hardware store was not truly his fault and to hang onto such guilt not only gives Osiris what he needs to condemn him, it also eats at Dean's psyche needlessly.
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Sam stands up to question her, asking, "So why'd you start? To impress some loudmouth ass you just met... Or 'cause you wanted to be like your dad?"

Jo answers immediately, "Daddy issues. Definitely."
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This is not the answer Osiris wants to hear.  He was expecting Jo to blame Dean, to condemn him for her death. Instead, she brushes that charge aside. Hunting is dangerous, and any case could end a hunter's life. Any one, even one that seemed as green as Jo did, knows this about "the life." He makes her disappear and calls his next witness: Sam himself.

It may seem odd that the Egyptian God would call a living person to the stand, considering he uses the dead to do his bidding, but here it makes sense when one goes beneath the surface. This trial may have ended with Dean's conviction, but that was not its point or goal. Osiris was teaching Dean a lesson about himself and his life. The trial was meant to expose to Dean---and in part to Sam---Dean's excessive guilt. He meant to teach Dean the lesson that there are things that just happen and are out of one's control---another hot button issue for Dean. Being in control is crucial for him, and it is something he doesn't feel he has or has had for some time. His guilt for things such as Jo's death is highly misplaced and Osiris is trying to point that out to Dean. It's the only reason to bring Sam to the stand. As he can read the guilt in a man's heart, he also knows what causes that guilt in the first place.
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Osiris alleges to Sam, "But were you or were you not happily out of the family racket until Dean showed back up in that gas guzzler? Ah-ah. The truth, now."

Before Dean ever appeared at Sam's apartment in Palo Alto, Sam's destiny was sealed. It had been sealed in that single moment when Azazel dripped blood into his mouth at six months---an act that Dean holds no responsibility for. Dean simply showed up at the same time that Azazel came to claim Sam and awaken his powers. If anything, Dean's appearance at that particular moment is what kept Sam from being forced to lead the so called demon army and raise Lucifer all that much sooner.
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It's shocking to find out that Dean harbors guilt going that far back. He has let this single moment fester this long and has now returned to it at Osiris's command like a tongue to a sore tooth. Sam staunchly tells Osiris the truth. He tells him that he is "positive" that he would have been pulled back into the life regardless of Dean's actions. He also does it one further, calling Dean himself to the stand.

Harkening back to the bartender Mia's assertion that if you have to do something, why feel guilty, Sam pointedly asks Dean, "So, Dean. When you came and got me, did you know Jess would die? Or any of it?"

Dean sits a bit stunned, but has to answer, "Of course not."
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Calling further on his own history and part in what lead to this trial, Sam steps it up again, trying to defuse Dean's excessive guilt, "Right. How could you? I mean, are you psychic? That's a question."

Sam was the psychic, not Dean. He had no idea anything might happen when he burst into Sam's apartment all that time ago, while Sam had dreamed of Jess's death prior to it actually taking place. Osiris is not really placing the blame on Dean for dragging Sam back into the life as much as he's bringing to light Dean's own guilt at having done so.

He even tells both brothers, "I don't decide anything, Sam. I don't decide Dean's guilt. I just weigh the guilt that's already there. This is solely about how Dean feels, way down deep. Them's the breaks."
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This is exactly where Osiris reveals his hand, giving them the lesson that Dean must learn. His guilt is condemning him---rather it be to put to death at Osiris's commands or by a reckless death at the hands of another monster on a different hunt or by deliberate suicide. He is trying to instill in Dean's mind that he must let go of guilt or it will kill him.
Dean has allowed such guilt about bringing Sam back into the life and Jo's death to fester for long enough. It is only a matter of time if he will learn the merit of letting that go from this trial. Unfortunately, his real guilt is not in either of these things, but rather it is in Amy's death and hiding it from Sam.
To keep this secret further, he takes Osiris's offer to not call his final witness. Osiris immediately convicts him and sentences him to death.
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Dean's guilt over killing Amy doesn't so much, again, stem from the actual act nearly as much as it does about hiding it from Sam. He is ashamed not only of keeping it secret but of what it makes him become---something he does not want Sam to see. Killing Amy is symbolic of trying to kill a part of himself, something he is excessively guilty about---and it too is an old wound. His time in Hell.

Because Dean sees himself as the monster, as evidenced by his statements in "You Can't Handle the Truth," and "The Girl Next Door," he is trying to sever that part of himself. He is feeling excessive guilt, Catholic Guilt if you will, for what he did while in Hell. It is an issue that he has never addressed, despite confessing his crimes to Sam in "Heaven and Hell."

The fact that we see that flash by in a flash back montage is telling of the truth underlying what Osiris was really digging at with Dean's guilt. The fresh killing of Amy is first and foremost in Dean's mind, but it is clearly his struggles with what he did in Hell that frighten him. He is becoming a monster of his own making and he is aware that it is happening----all without being able to stop it from spiraling out of control.
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Part of the reason why this wound, never healed or tended to, is rearing its head now is indirectly because of Sam. Dean is seeing, first hand, what someone looks like after they've been tortured. It makes him think of and remember what he was downstairs, carving into other's souls and what it made him become. Sam is a walking and talking reminder, hallucinating Lucifer and seizing from the effects. It tears at Dean's psyche, thrusting such terrible and dark issues into his face repeatedly. It also gives rise for him to carry excessive guilt because of it.

So far, the cards in Dean's deck for season 7 seem to be his views of himself as the monster and now his guilt at being said monster. He must learn to let go of both issues.

The last person that should be giving Dean the lesson he needs is Jo herself. She, while being forced to kill Dean in the same way she died at Osiris's command, says to him, "You carry all kinds of crap you don't have to, Dean."
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Dean's lesson is that he must learn to let go. He doesn't have to forget, as he must learn lessons from mistakes, but he cannot allow these things to fester. The fact that Jo is so reluctant to follow through, to kill him, arguing that he doesn't deserve this is testament to that fact. It's tragic that Osiris has chosen her to be Dean's executioner. She represents his failures and his shortcomings---both to her in life and now again in death. It's touching to see her reach up, after Sam has put Osiris back to sleep, and caress Dean's cheek before flickering out of sight.

Once the case is over and the brothers can finally relax, they stand around the Impala. Dean continues to flounder, wracked with his excessive Catholic Guilt over what was and wasn't brought to light in his trial. He has noticed that Sam seems to be doing well, despite everything that has happened. Dean needs to know how his brother is doing that for his own sanity. He asks, "But...why'd he skip you?"

Sam answers, "Hell."
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It stuns Dean that he could find such peace after such a horrible experience, but perhaps this admission is the thing Dean needs to hear more than anything. His guilt over his behavior in Hell is the underlying cause for why he killed Amy and why he harbors such overwhelming guilt at all. Certainly, Sam's struggles are still lurking in the darkness, waiting to claim him again, but it is just the message Dean needs to hear that there can be good brought from such dark bad.

Dean has a lot of guilt to let go of: collecting Sam in the first place, Jo, killing Amy, torturing others in Hell, to name a few. It can only be hoped that he learns what he needs to from this experience: that carrying excessive guilt, to let Catholic Guilt fester and grow in the gut, to place unnecessary blame on the shoulders leads to misery. It also can wreak havoc and explode out in actions that only feed the beast. He must get a handle on these issues not only to continue the job at hand but to resist and survive the Leviathans hunting him and his brother---figures that were only briefly mentioned in the early part of the episode.

We will hopefully see that growth that has been needed in Dean for quite some time come to fruition. Both brothers have their own issues to get a handle on and this is the time to do so. If they do not, they will die---either by reckless behavior on a hunt, direct suicide, or at the Leviathans's hands. The cards are being shuffled and dealt, and now it's a matter of the brothers playing their hands.
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Seeing Alona Tal reprise Jo Harvelle was a bittersweet treat. Her character, one that divides fandom, always had potential to be much more involved in the story, even if she was a failed love interest of Dean's. Alona's portrayal of Jo seems to become much more mature each and every time she appears. It might be due to the evolution of the character, but Jo here is a far cry from the one we met in "Everybody Loves a Clown." We can tell by her body language that Jo is in a mix of being at peace and being in pain due to Osiris. Jo is muted and demure but still has that fire. Alona most heartbreaking moment with Dean is when she runs her hand across his cheek, showing us that Jo forgives and still loves him, despite everything that happened---or rather didn't.
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Jim Beaver, seen in snippets throughout, was in true Bobby form. It's obvious that he's busy rebuilding and assembling his library, but still there if the boys need a life line. Seeing Sam reach out to him gave the episode an old school feel, which was delightful. I loved how he delivered the line, "No, you idjit. It means you two got to get the hell out of Dodge. This guy hones in on people who feel guilty. Who does that sound like to you?" Something about the way in which he said it just stuck out to me, long after the episode ended. He also got some classic Bobby lines such as, "A way to give him a dirt nap." It's good to see that Bobby is still there with the boys every step of the way, despite the havoc they've brought into his life.
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Faran Tahir gave a great performance as Osiris. He brought the Supernatural tongue in cheek flavor to the character, making certain that the role didn't become too overtly serious. I sensed a lot of amusement in his Osiris, at both brothers and their methods. He seemed rather taken with Sam's lawyer skills. I also sensed that he was more there to teach a lesson, probably aware that the brothers would find away to stop him, than he was out to kill Dean. The way Tahir carried the character provided that through diction and body language alone, and that was a fantastic touch. The way he relished the control in the courtroom was delightful and a treat to watch. I found him riveting in the role.
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Jensen brought us a continuing to struggle Dean. He keeps giving us tidbits here and there of Dean's unfolding story. I could really feel Dean's weariness in the hotel, when he flopped back and again after Sam said they had to go back out and keep investigating. His scenes with Alona Tal towards the end with Jo were so heartbreaking, mostly with the story at this stage told through the stiff way he held his shoulders and with his eyes. He somehow managed to take what would have been classic Dean lines such as, "I gave up AA for Lent," and with diction alone reveal Dean's weariness and guilt. His most heartbreaking line, however, is when he says to Jo, "You and Sam. I just -- you know, hunters are never kids. I never was. I didn't even stop to think about it." This is another card that is being put on the table for Dean, and this is a line that will linger for a long while after this episode. The resigned way Jensen delivers it breaks the heart, revealing Dean's inner turmoil at being robbed of a childhood and his failures at preserving first Sam's and then Jo's---also perhaps his lingering guilt over almost ruining Ben's as well. Dean's story this season is tragic not because he is an instrument of destiny or tainted by demon's blood as Sam had been in the past. It's tragic because Dean is only now realizing he has never had a chance to pursue anything he wants---that he was thrust into this life without any chance at something else and Jensen keeps bringing that story to life each week.
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Jared finally got to bring Sam to life as he had been intended before the demon blood woke up: he got to be a lawyer. Alright, so Sam as a lawyer here was most certainly unconventional, but it was clear that he could have been a good one given the chance. Jared really shined in the courtroom scenes, being forceful and arguing quickly on his feet. Jared's also managed to show how the merged Sam blends together, Soulless Sam peeking out in Sam's behavior and enthusiasm for the hunt while his compassion for Warren and Amy is his soulled self. He also sold us a calm and at peace Sam while again giving us that slight niggling worry that it is not all well with the younger Winchester. His struggles with Lucifer may have been brief in the beginning of the episode, but we saw how Sam, through Jared's skill, is far from being okay when he is startled from his building hallucination by Dean upon arrival at the crime scene.
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As each card is laid on the table, we learn more about what the brothers will have to face both inner and outer. This episode is no exception to that rule. It'll be curious to see just when Dean lets his guilt overflow and his secret becomes exposed. It'll also be nice to see the old school flavor continue through this still very young season. After all, next week we get witches!

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