The depiction of Deanmon is a subtle layering of physical and emotional performance by Jensen Ackles that results in one of the most complex examples of demon-hood I’ve seen in Supernatural.
Are Knights of Hell really so different from your basic run-of-the-mill demon? Except for Abadddon, I think so. Abaddon was a great villain, but she only had one note. The most complex demons we’ve seen outside of Abaddon are Crowley, Meg and Cain. I’m not sure what Abaddon’s backstory is. Was she a human that Cain chose to be a demon or was she a demon he elevated to Knighthood? We don’t know. Will never know, I expect.
The most disturbing aspect of all these demons except Abaddon , are the unsettling glimpses of their humanity. Meg’s empathy, Crowley’s likeability, Cain’s love. And now Dean.
Our first up close observation of Deanmon is in Black and what we see is that this is not your typical, mustache twirling, one note villain. For one thing, he doesn’t seem to have any goals beyond self gratification. True, most demons are strict adherents to that philosophy but what they find gratifying seems to be causing as much pain as possible. Dean doesn’t even seem to be trying to get humans to debase themselves. He resides in a place where humans are already living according to the worse part of their nature, so there’s no need for corruptive tactics in such a place. He’s not interested in taking over the world or ruling over all the demons, which he could easily accomplish. He seems to be entirely focused on pleasing himself.
Except occasionally, his mask slips.
For example, the drinking. In the past Dean drank as a response to extreme stress. If he’s enjoying himself so much, what possible stress could he be under? He’s certainly not getting falling down drunk for enjoyment. Deanmon is drinking to forget his fear, to forget what he is, and possibly, drown out the song of that Blade. The fighting is to release the tension that arises from The Blade and the whoring, and the singing, well that’s to help pass the time until Sam finds him. These are all typical Dean reflex actions, just on a demonic scale.
From time to time in Black, Ackles facial performance shows that Dean is conflicted or troubled by his new freedom. And there’s a frantic desperation to his activities that seems to preclude any enjoyment of them.
And this Dean is afraid. This terror informs every one of his pleasures.
He’s too tense. He’s too quick to take offense and too intense in his response to offense. Now, I don’t know if that’s the influence of the First Blade or if there’s still a tiny spark of human Dean, huddling inside the demon, that occasionally peeks out and is appalled at what this particular version of Dean is doing. I suspect that Dean knows his earthly pleasures can’t last. That they won’t last.
Sam is coming. Sam will save him.
After all, how can he not know that writing that note to Sam, telling him to let him go, would’ve been like issuing a challenge to him. Perhaps even be seen by Sam as a cry for help.
Ya, know what? Let’s talk about that note. Not the words in the note. We’ll disregard those and focus on why the note was written at all. Dean could’ve left with Crowley and while Sam would’ve known something was up, he would’ve been none the wiser. In fact, I’m going to argue that the note was completely unnecessary. Some people will ascribe evil motives to that note because hey!demon, but I’m not going to do that because that’s too easy. I’m going to call a bluff here.
If Dean wanted to cause the maximum amount of pain, he would’ve confronted Sam with his blackened eyes and taunted him as soon as he was up and running. As a demon, that should’ve been his first act or he could’ve just disappeared, without a trace. Writing that note actually caused Sam the least amount of pain. Rather than guessing where Dean is, he knows Dean is alive and with Crowley. Dean knows that Sam would see the note as a cry for help or a challenge and would hunt him down, and the most important part of my argument…Dean ran away.
Now let’s talk about the words of the note. “Let me go.” is a callback to the discussion they had at the beginning of season eight. How not looking for each other was a non-agreement agreement. The phrase sounds a bit cryptic at first but Dean knew, when he wrote it, that Sam would do the exact opposite of what was in it. I mean, they TALKED about this. Dean spent all of season eight bitching and moaning about Sam’s decision to NOT look for him.. It’s the death-note version of “Poughkeepsie”. Only in this case it means, “Haul ass and come get me”.
This would also account for why Dean doesn’t actually appear to be enjoying himself, while he’s supposedly enjoying himself. It’s all a performance. And he’s trying not to hurt anyone too badly while he waits for Sam to come save him. He’s trying but it’s a battle he’s starting to lose, evidenced by the one human we’ve actually seen Dean kill with little provocation – Crowley’s client.
Dean ran away because there’s a part of him that still loves and protects Sammy. The part of him that left that note in the first place. He’s spent a significant amount of his life loving and protecting his brother and if who they are as a humans informs the personalities of the demons they become (and I believe this is true), then that part of Dean would be just as reflexive in it’s response to Sam. All other parts of his nature being consistent, the drinking ,the whoring, the fighting, well then certainly the love and protection of Sammy is certainly going to be there too. Dean isn’t nearly as monstrous as he would like Sam to believe. What we’ve seen so far is a rambunctious, cocky biker guy, (who is probably slowly losing his shit – example, Crowley’s client again), who is displaying some disturbing elements of regret and compassion.
Coles’ phone call. What difference would it make to Deanmon, whether or not Cole betrays him by killing Sam? Why would a demon care about proof of life? And watch his expression when Sam finally confronts him in the bar. He sighs. He looks almost relieved that his wait is over. And he was waiting there, idly poking at piano keys. What song was that again?
In both episodes, there’s a element of busily standing in place to Dean’s actions. Even after he’s informed that Sam is on his way, he makes no effort to leave. But the waiting is chafing at him. The First Blade wants blood. So far he’s managed to satisfy it with some demon blood and fistfights, and even the human he did kill, had a demon deal with Crowley to have his wife killed, so he was already on his way to Hell.
But to get back to his behavior towards Sam. In Reichenbach he threatens to cause Sam pain but I’m not buying it. He says he doesn’t want to be saved. I say, that’s the lie. That’s Deanmon’s performance talking. He says he left Cole alive to cause maximum suffering but I’m not buying that either. I say, he left Cole alive because Cole is an aggrieved innocent. I think he remembers Cole and remembers leaving him fatherless. And above all else, Dean does not kill the innocent.
I believe that a lot of what demons say and do is to mask, distract and deflect from their own pain. And yes, they do feel pain.
Look at Crowley, who has shown time and again, all through season nine, that he just wants to be loved. A greater cry of pain has never been uttered by a demon in this show. Most importantly, however, he wants to be loved by the two people he most admires in the world – the Winchesters. In fact, I would argue that Crowley loves them. I think everything he says and does throughout the entirety of season nine is informed by this need and the more forthright he became about his emotions, the more human he appears to the viewer.
Above all else, demons must behave demonically. After all, any sign of vulnerability is a weakness to be taken advantage of by other demons. Crowley’s blood addiction, Cain’s love for Colette and Meg’s devotion to her cause, were all used against them. And because Dean is a demon now, he must perform too. He can’t afford to be straightforward about his thoughts and feelings either, lest the other demons see that as a weakness.
The irony here is that it is demons who keep other demons towing the party line if they don’t want to be betrayed. Demons help keep each other evil. And they keep performing even when other demons aren’t anywhere near. It’s compulsive. At what point does burying all vulnerability and pretending to be evil, for those demons who have embraced their debasement, become your real self? How long does that take, exactly? The worst part of being a demon is not that you’re a demon or being removed from Gods love, or maybe even not receiving love but being able to feel love and never being able to express it for fear of punishment. Is it their performance of hatred that keeps them being demons?
Dean’s weakness is Sam. So, he can’t stay with Sam. He might slip up and show he cares. He might deliberately hurt him. He has to run away and wait for Sam to give chase. People like to say Dean’s worst nightmare was becoming the thing he most hated. I argue that his worst nightmare is not becoming the thing he most hated, but something that would not love or protect Sammy.
This is Dean’s grand performance piece and Jensen Ackles is astounding. But Deanmon isn’t where the performance ends. The real performance will be in the emotional repurccussions of having been a demon. I think,we are all in for a real masterclass in acting this season.