Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Winchester: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


When I told my husband I was writing a post about John Winchester, he asked, “Can’t you just write that in your sleep?” Yes, I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and may be more forgiving on John Winchester because of it. But as I wrote on, I found little to love about John.


Now we know John was a normal guy who loved his wife Mary above all, and whose life was turned upside down by forces he didn’t understand when she died. We get most of our clues from the boys’ relationship with him-Dean’s immediate obedience and Sam’s rebellion.

We presume he drank to dull the pain. Sam talks about it on more than one occasion. At first, in the pilot when he tells Jessica that his dad is hanging out with Jack, Jim and Jose, I thought he might be covering up, but he’s mentioned it again. (Of course, I can’t think of any off hand, and no time to go through the DVDs, drat it.)

We know he searched everywhere for answers of why his wife died PINNED TO THE CEILING. We know he took his sons and left Lawrence in search of those answers. I’m not sure why he kept the boys with him. At first, I argued that he did it to keep them safe, but then he left them defenseless in motel rooms time and again. Why didn’t he leave them with family? So I started to wonder how long he knew about Sam. He told the Yellow-Eyed Demon in In My Time of Dying that he knew about it for awhile. How long is awhile? Did he keep Sam with him to protect him or to keep an eye on him?


Another question…did he keep the boys with him because Mary’s family and friends were being killed? Again, if this was the case, why did he leave the boys alone again and again?

He did teach the boys how to fight when they were old enough. I wonder how he felt about that. He believed it was necessary, but he had to know what he was doing would scar them forever. He had to know that asking Sam to shoot him when he was possessed by the YED would tear up his son. In trying to protect his sons, he lost the chance to love them the way he wanted.


What did John think would happen once the YED was dead? Surely he didn’t think his sons would return to a normal life, knowing what they knew. He might have hoped it, but he couldn’t have believed it.

Even his last act, giving up his revenge on the demon, had heartbreaking consequences. Dean, who already had the self-esteem of a beaten dog, blamed himself for his father’s sacrifice (which made his bartering his soul for Sam’s life less believable for me.)


Wow, as I wrote this, I came up with more questions than answers. What are your feelings about John?


AuthorM said...

Great post...one of the things I thought most about John Winchester was always...how could he do that to his kids? How? That's not being a good dad.

Unless, as we've since learned, that he had reason to believe his children would be targets if he left them with family. Knowing Mary's family were hunters changes that a little bit, but it doesn't change the fact he left little boys alone in hotel rooms while he went out, knowing each time he might not come back.

Maybe he felt they were safer with him than away from him?

...ultimately, of course, we have to remember that he's not real and him leaving the boys alone so often was useful for setting up the world we now know and love as DeanandSamlandia -- so whatever motivation the writers gave him, it works.

I don't think it's necessary to like a character to love him. I don't like John Winchester. I think he was a terrible father who ruined his sons. But I love the character.


Trish Milburn said...

I think John was caught between a rock and a hard place. He couldn't leave the boys behind in Kansas because he knew they'd likely be in danger, but then when he was on the road with them and he had to go fight something nasty, he probably felt like he couldn't yet put them in the direct line of fire either. So leaving them in the hotels was perhaps the lesser of two evils.

And as for teaching them about hunting -- I think he probably figured prepared and armed was better than that "normal" life where they would be totally oblivious and unprepared for the evil forces that might find them one day.

Anonymous said...

Trish, I think you nailed it on the head.

Maureen Child said...

John HAD to teach his sons how to hunt. How to protect themselves. That makes perfect sense. He'd seen what goes bump in the night and wanted his sons to be able to fight back against attack.

But there's just no getting around the fact that John was not a good dad. The responsibilities he laid off on Dean were incredible.

Yeah, I know he's not real, but I like getting into the motivation. You can understand John's scarred soul and I do believe he didn't have much choice other than to take the kids with him when he ran.

But jeez. He couldn't even make an effort to be with them on Christmas??

MJFredrick said...

Now I wonder when he realized all of Mary's friends and family were dying.

Author M...he's not real??? LOL! It's hard to remember that, sometimes.

Trish, I think you nailed it, too, but I agree with Maureen. Christmas? Yeesh, John! They were just kids. And poor Dean, so damaged.

My least favorite John moment was when he berated Dean for not taking care of the Impala. He sounded Just Like my dad.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I think part of it was control. Leaving the kids with someone else would have completely removed control from his own hands. Even leaving them alone but nearby would have given him some illusion of being able to protect them.

I also think he was conflicted and twisted by his obsession. He hardly had a chance to learn to be a dad before he was thrust into this other, horrifying world where nothing normal could exist.

The comics delve a lot into this backstory, and yes, Sam's otherness was a huge factor. Dean being the only person he could trust was another, and why Dean wound up with so much responsibility on his head. And again with control--John's military background probably was a fallback for him, something he understood and could apply even though it wasn't properly parental.

The reason I can love John so much is because despite all the damage he did, I really believe he loved his boys and tried to do what he thought was right, given the realities they lived in. That's 99% attributable to JDM and his performance. :)

MJFredrick said...

I've read all but the last comic. Not sure if I have it.

His military background makes sense, though I think the John in "In the Beginning" diluted that a bit.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I knew you were going to say that. :) Since many years passed between "In the Beginning" and Mary's death, my theory is that he went back in. (I can't remember if they indicated he was done or just on leave.) Dean wouldn't know his platoon (apologies to the Marines out there if I'm using the wrong word) just from a short stint during the war. John had to have been long-term military.

phouse1964 said...

The more I think about it the more I think John knew about Sam and the YED thing for quite awhile. I think Mary had a journal and he found and read it. Will we ever get to see it? Probably not. But I think John had it all figured out and was just trying to make sur knew how to handle themsleves.

MJFredrick said...

Natalie, it makes sense that he might have gone back in. He wouldn't have been in too long, if he ended up owning that garage.

phouse, I love the idea that Mary had a journal. I do wish we'd get to know, but you're probably right, we won't.