Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,

[Not-the-Director's Commentary] Angels at the Door by brightly_lit

A while back, I expressed an interest in spending some extra time with a fan work, because writing out commentaries for my spn_summergen fics proved a worthy reflective exercise. brightly_lit graciously volunteered her fic, Angels at the Door. Since I didn't write it, obviously I can't offer "director's commentary," but I figured I could indeed offer my thoughts, insights, and personal headcanon for the fic!

Title: Angels at the Door
Author: brightly_lit
Rating: PG for language, minor violence, threatened violence of all kinds
Genre: gen, outsider pov
Characters: Sam, Dean, OCs
Word Count: ~10,200
Summary: 17-year-old Dorothy believed she would spend her life under the protective wing of her family and then her husband, but on her way to her private religious school one morning, she's whisked away by two terrible men who claim they're trying to protect her from a vampire stalker. She will never be the same again.

I love the first scene in this, because it sets the tone for the whole of the fic so well. Dorothy notices two guys staring at her (and then tailing her), catches the word "virgin," and instantly knows who they are. Or she thinks she does, in any case; but what Dorothy thinks is the only relevant reality to a world of her narration, naturally. There's something lovely and cinematic about the way she itemizes her own school uniform, takes it apart piece by piece in the same way that so many people must have done to her, too. And hers is not an empty paranoia; and her internal justification and silent thanks for her upbringing--sheltered, but very safe--doesn't come across as quaint, or as though it's some naive, straw man way of thinking about the world that needs to be torn down. In that sense, this fic is less about "bringing silly, ignorant Dorothy into the hard light of reality" and more about demonstrating exactly how valid, likely, and deeply ingrained Dorothy's initial mindset is. If she shifts out of it by the end of the fic, and into something else (and she does), it's not some simple process of cutting loose and abandoning everything about her old life in favor of something wild and fiercely independent, blah blah blah. It's about negotiating what of her old life and what of this new one she's been forced to experience is truest to her own, internal picture of herself--a picture that is neither the demure schoolgirl she was obligingly raised into nor whatever it is the Winchesters are.

It's not a magic transformation. It's a determined, self-reflective reorganization on her own terms.

Not that this was expecting to undertake when it all started, of course. And certainly it wasn't something Sam and Dean were expecting, even when their afternoon hunt became their MoTW (Monster of Two Weeks, :P). She's just some girl to them--and arguably remains so to the end. Obviously they care about her, and have a vested interest in making sure she's safe, cared for, and supported within their ability to do so. But they've met a lot of people, in a lot of high-stress situations, and at the end of the day, whoever they meet stands to remember them far more vividly than they will remember all these people. Both at the start and end of the fic, they're both seem to believe, to some degree, that they'll be forgotten, Dorothy can go back to her life, and that will be that. It doesn't occur to them that such short periods of time can be transformative, or that they cannot be forgotten. And I think that's telling, given the hunting/other life dichotomy they endlessly try to organize their own lives around with an all-or-nothing logic that has…never actually served them. XD Even when they acknowledge that the way they've mentally organized these things is inadequate, they still basically act as though they sort of expect that it should be that simple, and that if they try hard enough it will be.

Which I think this fic speaks to, albeit not necessarily for Sam and Dean themselves. Because Dorothy privileges similar systems of thought for the first part of this fic, and her every observation is wrapped up in a very specific vocabulary she uses in an attempt to designate parts of her experience, interpellate them into her pre-existing frameworks. Her focus on Dean's foul language; her confusion at being "toast"; her association of "vamp" with promiscuity before anything else; even what she codes as "bad men behavior"--it's all tied to Dorothy's linguistic sense of her world, and her ability to narrativize her experiences in a way that continues to be informed by that, regardless of how far afield her experiences become. And while this isn't in itself remarkable, or a trait specific to Dorothy, that's the whole point. It's a measure of Dorothy as a fully dimensional person, not just a sweet, "innocent girl" prototype. (Again, Dorothy's personal transformation grows her sense of herself, but it's more complicated than just being "seasoned by experience." She was a person before this fic; she just emerged a different one, one truer to who she realized she really wanted to be. AGAIN. KEEP THE WINCHESTERS IN MIND HERE. XD)

Something that I found particularly striking about this narration of Dorothy's, though, was that even from the get-go she's internally suspicious. She admits that "[s]he didn’t know anything about bad men and what they were capable of except rumors at school among her friends and some fundamental intuitive sense of these things," an admission which operates on multiple levels. On one hand, her sources of information are a vital part of her working narrative of what the world is. On the other, she admits that she doesn't know anything; that is, she is aware that there's a gap there. And later, after some time traveling with the Winchesters, she refers to her (personally undesirable) outfit as "slutty," which seems a world apart from the conservative--sheltered, even--vocabulary she employs otherwise. The mental ambiguity is there from the start, the willingness to modify her mental "roadmaps," as she calls them, firing on all cylinders, even if perhaps it would have been more comforting to keep everything at bay.

This is a really great scene between Dean and Dorothy, right after she says that he is "evil":
She had to know what his limits were, because she couldn’t live like this, afraid to say or do anything, so she stared into his eyes, waiting to see his expression. If she had to die, it would be better sooner than later. She expected him to be enraged, or at least insulted. His reaction wasn’t anything she could have imagined. He made a humorous, rueful face and shrugged. “Well, there ya have it,” he said, and walked back to the table, where he grabbed another bite of the burger he seemed to like so much. “Seriously, though,” he told her, mouth full, quirking up at the corners, “you should get some rest. You might actually have to do some running away or something tomorrow, something besides cowering in the car. You look beat. I’m beat.”

The success of Dean's oblique characterization here aside, what struck me most about this was that Dorothy defines his exchange in terms of finding out someone's limits. If she were truly who she'd defined herself as earlier, there'd be no need, past or present, to know someone else's limits, or to consciously seek them out. So again, it's not really about Dorothy discovering how great the world is (the crappy motels, the nights spend by the side of the road--though these are things I do personally find really great! XD) by being dragged across the country, but how expansive it is, given the space and courage to renegotiate both her own limits, as well as the narrative (and narrative strategies) that set them in the first place.

Which isn't to say her journey is entirely internal. I've read this fic now four or five times, back in September and then just now, but her relationship to Dean really stood out to me this time around (perhaps on account of my own perpetually shifting relationship to Dean?). There's plenty of canon precedence for the way she comes to locate herself with respect to the Winchesters, because she first gravitates toward Dean, who, you know, does his thing, and isn't terribly shy about letting people know what he values (or doesn't) in them. Also, he's not as tall as Sam. XP My favorite scene between them is the first night they spend just eating together in utter silence.

But ultimately, she comes to know Sam, who doesn't tend to connect with a lot of the people the Winchesters meet in canon, because these meetings tend to be pretty brief and mostly professional (Dean's speciality). Given a longer duration, though, Dorothy eventually comes to recognize her greater affinity for Sam (e.g. something Sam is demonstrably better at, re: 4x13). She never really knows Sam and Dean, and her interpretations of them, however expansively they grow, remain limited to her twelve days with them. Not that this is a failing on her part, because of course not even the Winchesters know themselves, let alone each other. XD But what I found more important than her personal reevaluations of the Winchesters were the ways these thoughts evince how much her own self-perceptions have also been reevaluated. What she allows herself to see in Sam, and reconceptualize about him, are thing that she's specifically reconceptualized about herself.

What's most convincing about Dorothy's mappings is that she doesn't ever abandon her old self; there are things about that old self that she continues to value, that she keeps with her, and that continue to deeply inform the core of her--her love for her family, her modesty, and importantly, her faith. When the Winchesters one again mention her being able to go back to her "old life," she wonders, "Would she even be able to fit back into it, now that her world had suddenly grown so large? Wouldn’t going back to the act be like lying to God?" To continue to act, and to lie to herself, would also be to lie to God; and who she becomes is not a function of transgression and rejection as much as it is a truer expression of what's important to her. Earlier in the fic she comforts herself by treating her turn with the Winchesters as a period of hardship and a test of faith--by the end that is exactly what it is in earnest, and she succeeds.

This kind of path isn't just Dorothy's, though; it remains very much in conversation with the Winchesters, in that their own twelve days were largely absent of the same. And beyond those twelve days, the way they tend to handle their own major crises is absent of this. But one day, that won't be good enough. And on that day, either they can "accept who they really are" (remain bounded), or take those limits down to studs, and let in new narratives.

Forewarning, this is pretty off-the-cuff, so it probably sounds exactly as circular and wandering (in turns) as my episode reactions do. XD
Tags: fandom: spn

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