For Dean, I just felt like, mmmm, this man needs some space, so I just sort of gave him the season to do his thing. Which I realize doesn't have much logic to it, because the TV character/TV watcher relationship really doesn't work like that, but it is what it is. XP That's just how I felt, so I sort of. Ignored him for a season.
But now it's been seven years and S8 Dean doesn't get space anymore; I've come, I've descended, I'm heeereeeeeee.
Anyway, there's this scene in 8x07 where Sam and Dean are shacked up in some motel in Kansas--Sam's asleep and Dean is SearchTheWeb-ing the case (sort of--Dean has the same one article Sam had pulled up previously up in a tab; there's only so much research you can do with few leads and no library). A summer storm is raging outside. Lightning strikes, and Dean's gaze is pulled to the light, and he sees a flash of Castiel standing in the window. The vision fades, but Dean ends up crossing the room and staring out the window anyway. This is enough to wake Sam up--is, in fact, enough to wake Sam up and pull him out of bed entirely, because Dean's answer to "Are you okay?" is "I don't know."
Dean thinks he's losing his mind, hallucinating Cas in random places--there doesn't seem to be any real entertainment of the possibility that he's actually seeing Cas for real, which is different from Dean's reaction to ghost Bobby, say, whereas in both instances Sam seems pretty damn sure it's part of the PTSD. (In fairness to the record, ghost Bobby was an actual thing and it turns out so is flash Cas, but I think the ultimate reality of these apparitions is less important than the fact that Sam was also right, and the fact that in 8x07 Dean also felt that Sam was right.) Which I find delightfully interesting, because from Day 1 the supernatural has always been premised on the idea that the physical manifestation of ghosts, wendigo, whatever, was beyond phantasmorgia, beyond it being "all in your head," but never apart from it. The sheer notion of a vengeful spirit presupposes a twining of the two. Pretty regular stuff, and all that means in this context is that "haha, those Cas Flashes were real" isn't meant to make anyone feel better of more like they have their shit together.
But at the same time, Sam's not necessarily super concerned about all this. Like, he'll wake up, he'll get out of bed and have a talk with Dean, but he's not in red alert mode. Not even orange. I think part of it is that this has probably been general Dean's state of being for a good few months now, so there's no acute emergency; this is just the part where, after holding together far too tightly, Dean begins to come apart. But in a away that Sam feels reasonably okay about, haha. Part of this I think has to do with Sam's recent experience with a very different kind of hallucination--hallucinations laced with supernatural force and actively commanding your destruction, re: Lucifer. Which means even if psychological experiences can't be divorced from supernatural ones, sometimes there are indeed hard lines, and they really can. Sam's midnight advice is, This isn't going to let you go. You have to be the one to walk past it, which Dean readily accepts.
Then Sam wanders into the bathroom and the scene ends. Maybe he actually needs to pee or get a drink of water or something mundane. Maybe his hope here is that he'll go into the bathroom and Dean will go back to sleep and that will be the end of it 'til morning. Maybe he needs to stand in front of the bathroom mirror with the lights out and think about how their current situation is Not Lucifer and how therefore everything is fine, who knows.
I think one of the other reasons Sam feels like he has a handle on the situation, though (in addition to the familiarity of it, and the low standard of it being Not Lucifer) is because Dean is so incredibly raw and open in this episode (and probably in the interstices between episodes, AKA my favorite home lololol). Like, SO much so. Not because he is consciously choosing to be, or is feeling together enough to want to be but because he can't help it. He doesn't have a choice. Dubiously consensual soul-baring. Which happens a lot for Dean but generally in acute and sometimes dangerous spurts. 8x07 is different in that it's all the time, relentlessly, it can't be turned off. It's like vulnerability undressed and threw its clothes straight out the window. Which is painful and unnerving and awful for Dean, but at least for Sam is somewhat advantageous because Sam knows there are other ways that Dean reacts to trauma that feel a lot more dangerous. So, uh, at least it keeps Sam’s stress down? XP
And like, I don’t hold with the camp that sees Dean as being out of touch with his emotions, or usually unemotional. But this—hoo boy, it’s a Lot. D: I can’t believe that what he has to look forward to after this is the Trials, and then S9, and then S10 (omggggg).
I think that what really just like, drove the unbearable rawness of Dean’s experience here home in this ep is that at one point he and Castiel are talking and Dean abruptly launches into this extended uncontrolled, self-disparaging, extremist diatribe that’s all the things he thinks, has been thinking, will continue at points tot think, but has never said out loud. Not like that, in any case. Sure, he’s definitely said (multiple times, actually) that he’s failed everything and everyone he’s ever loved, etc., but he’s never said it exactly the way it sounds inside his head, and that what it really felt like in that scene. Which Castiel is stunned by, because it makes no sense at all and sounds like utter lunacy out in the air like that. (Such is the nature of the intrusive thought.)
Honestly, it’s a good thing they had fuck-all to do in this ep, plot-wise, because Dean had enough to (not) handle.
I know I’ve probably said this multiple times during this rewatch, but I think what I really love about this season is how much there is to chew on, character-wise. Both Sam and Dean have so much room to be extremely, extremely messy. Contradictory, mercurial, wildly unreliable in terms of their POVs—and they have so much room to react across this broad range of emotions and situational specificities and just gah. This is the kind of stuff I just adore.