Ever since iamsuchaleo started speculating on the tablets (and what they mean for the end of season) I’ve been itching to talk about them. Mostly because they fit so seamlessly into the show’s previously established mythology, but also because they provide such brilliant symmetry for the characters and their individual journeys.
I was rereading rootsunknown’s utterly brilliant meta on Genre and the Main Character, and in it she talks about Sam acting as the adventure/fantasy hero.
- He’s [Sam] an eminently good person coming to grips with an inner darkness and a fate he never asked for. He has inhuman powers and has to struggle to find the best way to contain and direct them for the good of humanity.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about SPN is its ability to combine and cross genres, and rootsunknown is exactly right in suggesting that this happens (and can happen) because they’ve embodied different genre characters in their two leads. So Sam, who is the adventure/fantasy guy, tends to get assigned tasks: i.e., he’s a far more interesting character when he’s doing something. He’s the character that needs to go from point A to point B (aka the character who needs the quest, the adventure) in order to grow and develop as a person. Without that quest, he stagnates (one of the primary complaints re Sam in S6/7 was his lack of quest, making the character almost redundant). So when it was announced that Sam would do the trials, I was not only unsurprised, but delighted (and quite shocked by the outrage in certain corners of the fandom).
Sam’s demons (pun intended) have mostly been external. While he has struggled with his inner nature (his inner darkness) the things that prevent him from reaching his goals tend to exist outside himself. In short, Sam gets demons (Azazel, Meg, Ruby, Lilith, Lucifer). His entire character arc has been centred around his myth arc, his character journey about how he comes to terms with his inner darkness while facing and fighting the (physical) demons standing in his path.
So it absolutely makes sense that Sam would be the one to close the gates of Hell (Hell is Sam’s story). It also makes sense that doing so would require physical trials. Setting this up not only ties into previously established mythology, it also provides perfect symmetry for Sam as a character. Sam was always going to be the one doing the trials, because he is the only character in need of a quest.
Dean, on the other hand, gets angels. He’s the good, obedient son; the righteous man the angels saved from hell so that he could stand as Michael’s vessel. He is the character who, in defying Heaven, overcame his destiny so that he could (passively) save the world (and then later fall in love with an angel just to nicely close that loop). If Sam is a representation of Hell, Dean has always been a representation of Heaven.
But as rootsunknown points out, Dean is the psychological hero. His demons are all internal (PTSD, depression, alcoholism, suicidal tendencies, codependency, etc.). His journey has never been tied to a quest. His journey is the character struggle. What Dean does is less important than the psychological ramifications his (and others) actions have on him (and those around him). In short, Dean’s journey is a psychological journey, whereas Sam’s journey is a physical one.
So what does this mean for the tablets? I think we can all safely assume Dean’s arc will involve the angel tablet. Giving Dean the angel tablet not only completes his mythology, but creates perfect symmetry for his character (just like Sam with the demon tablet) so it would be a wasted opportunity if Dean didn’t get the angel tablet. That’s not the interesting bit. The interesting bit is that we can very easily predict what the angel tablet will say simply by looking at Dean through the lens of the psychological hero.
Basically, I don’t think the tablet will say anything about closing the gates of Heaven, or if they do, the instructions will be metaphorical in nature (and there’s an interesting meta on the literal nature of Hell versus the metaphorical nature of Heaven in SPN verse that’s just begging to be written).
The demon tablet includes instructions for closing the gates of Hell, and these instructions include physical trials, something epically suited to Sam and Sam’s role as the fantasy hero. The angel tablet then, if it is meant for Dean—and I think it is—should align with a journey meant for the psychological hero. I very much doubt they will involve an end goal or a series of physical trials.
The angel tablet, if the writers continue to work within the genre boundaries previously established, will be psychological in nature. They will, I think, address control, and their breaking/working will require a mental exercise that is tied directly to Dean’s journey to date.
I’m not entirely sure how this will manifest (hallucinations, dreams, psychic projections) but I believe whatever instructions they contain will see Dean facing a mental challenge, whether it’s addressing his fears, his repressed nature, his identity. There are dozens of possibilities. What Dean won’t have to do is go through a series of steps (trials) like Sam is doing. And the angel tablet endgame won’t result in a permanent, physical goal. That story belongs to Sam. Dean’s is meant for a different genre.
Right now my money’s on the angel tablet including instructions for angel control, and that Dean, through his psychological journey, will find a way to bring angels true free will. It’s a nice full circle story that ties in not only with the series’ existing mythology, but with Dean’s character arc so far. It also, incidentally, would tie in perfectly with S8’s themes of perception, control and exploration of self.