The title of this meta is based on the slogan of the „Tyrell Corporation“ in the film “Blade Runner” from 1982. In the movie the company with said name develops androids/replicants. Artificial beings modeled after humans. And like the slogan suggests: so good that it’s hard to distinguish between “real” humans and “fake” humans. That is why in the universe of „Blade Runner“ there exist so called Blade Runners, who makes out those androids/replicants, who sometimes start to go wild and kill, test them and then kill them (they call the killing part retiring) based on how their tests turn out.
The central theme of the whole movie is identity. It heavily deals with the question of what makes humans human and what happens if the „fake“ humans start to be more human than the „real“ humans.
This is one of the biggest themes on SPN this season as well: identity, the loss of identity, the violation of identity and the change of identity. It also deals heavily with the notion of what/who is a monster and if maybe sometimes the biggest monsters are human.
As we all know, the next episode is titled „Blade Runners“ (I briefly talked about the movie before in relation to angel society and Cas’ arc – see HERE for that) and while SPN mostly uses the episode titles as „word plays“ or as shoutouts to one particular thing/scene in the episode (like the rogue reaper in „Taxi Driver“ driving a taxi, which btw still is a shame, that they didn’t do more with it, because the whole topic of the movie fit so well to Dean’s problems of re-adjustment to life on earth after spending one year in purgatory - see HERE for that). This time however I feel like the title is actually carefully chosen, because of the parallels to the „Blade Runner“ film (thematically) as well as what we know will happen in the episode after.
Of course the title plays up to Dean getting his hands on the first blade, therefore making him a „blade runner“ as in he is „running the blade“ – killing with it. It however might also allude to others being on the run from him as in „running from the blade“ - running from certain death.
When looking at the theme of the movie again though, I guess it is undeniable that this time there (hopefully) is more to it than simple word play – or let’s say – I am pretty certain it is, because there are so many small detials that are too fitting (between SPN and Blade Runner) to be accidental.
As I said above, „Blade Runner“ deals with „fake“ and „real“ humans and with the notion of the „real“ humans turning out to be much less human and sometimes in fact much more monstrous than the androids/replicants. I guess you all know by now what I am playing at here. But yes, this is something we witnessed being the case for quite a while now on SPN: Monsters being much less monstrous and fairly often even far more human than the humans.
The most prominent examples that come to mind are Benny and now Garth (and arguably maybe even Crowley). There are many more though, but I won’t mention all of them here since I am pretty sure everybody knows, who and what I am talking about/referring to. The most important thing to take away from all of those instances is, that it all relates back to what has been going on with Dean (and what has been heightened in particular after he took on the mark of Cain).
„How can something be both real and fake at the same time“
Dean asked this question in just the last episode 9x15 „Thinman“. And that line actually picks up quite perfectly how sometimes it’s hard to decide what is fake and what is real, just as it is getting harder for Dean to decide what is wrong and what is right („What’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is more wrong“ 9x12 „Sharp Teeth“ / „Up is down and down is sideways“ 9x15 „Thinman“). Dean has played and adopted so many different identities over the years (big brother, FBI agent, the one who broke in hell, etc.) that he seemingly has become unable to differentiate, between who he really is underneath all of the fake layers and so he struggles to integrate all these different parts of himself into one, into who he really is and who he wants to be. It’s hard for him because his true/real identity has been buried under protective layers and layers of fake identites.
This season in particular has added another problem to the mix, because Dean is not only lacking his center, his core, his heart (he’s the tin man after all) as well as his saftey net (Sam and Cas), but there is also a darkness within him that came much more to the forefront than it has in a long time. That was particularly highlighted ever since he took on the mark of Cain, which might turn him into something far from human.
So Dean’s struggle for identity derives from and relates not only to his relationship with Sam, but also to a fight that is bubbling within him underneath the surface. A struggle that was kept at bay, because he had a safety net. A fight between good and bad, darkness and light, monster and human. And especially in regards to this I find it extremely interesting that despite him being shown all those mirrors, all of the warning signs, that he continuously chooses not to see, not to hear, not to talk (more on that HERE).
And while we see Dean fall ever further with seemingly no rock bottom in sight, we have his descent „mirrored“/”contrasted” by Crowley seemingly becoming more and more human, shooting up human blood to feel… loved? Fill the hole in the pit of hos stomach? The gnawing ache in the spot, where his heart used to be before he became a demon?
Anyway… All that being said. The discourse of identity and the question of what makes humans human and how we can recognize or categorize and decide what is human and what is not, the movie „Blade Runner“ introduced a test to clear that up. Though over the course of the movie it starts to become apparent that maybe this test isn’t useful at all (more on that in a bit).
The paranoia and fear in „Blade Runner“ arises from people being unable to distinguish between androids and real humans, which is something this season has featured tons of times as well: there are the angels, who are looking just like humans, but are anything like them. And we had Gadreel play Sam so convincingly that Dean thought it was Sam – so not only can’t Dean rely on his own identity, his perception of others is also screwed to all hell and back. Though that is really nothing new. That being said, there is also another interesting aspect in „Blade Runner“ that relates to important recurring themes of the season: mistrust, control and – this is really really interesting because this has been the MAJOR theme of S8 with how Dean remembered what happened when he escaped purgatory – perception and the difference between real and fake memories.
In hindsight I really have to say that S8 was a pretty postmodern philosophy heavy season, because you see, in postmodern philosophy people thought that truth came down to perspective. Though it at the same time might have been constructed before already.
All that being said, now I will finally come to the topic of the test with which in „Blade Runner“ the Blade Runners try to decide whether or not someone is an android/replicant or a real human being.
The test is called the „Voight-Kampff-Test“. In this test the person, who is thought of being an android/replicant has to answer questions and while they answer their emotional reactions and particularly their eye movements are being judged. The whole thing reminds of the turing test (see HERE for that).
The whole test is designed to show that the androids/replicants seemingly lack something that humans inherently have and which is something you cannot artifically re-create: Empathy.
Over the course of the movie however – as I mentioned earlier – it gets ever more questionable whether empathy really is as good a criteria to help distinguish between real and fake as the humans make it out to be, because it’s the humans, who appear to be isolated and deadhearted, while the androids/replicants show various emotions such as fear, anger or grief.
The androids/replicants are introduced as uncaring killers in the beginning of the movie, but over the course of the film the audience starts to identify more and more with them. The whole topic kind of culminates when the question arises whether maybe the Blade Runner Rick Deckard (who is played by Harrison Ford btw) himself is a replicant, when he is uncaringly shown to slowly murder an android/replicant. Which all gets amazingly contrasted with Roy Batty, an android, who by default is thought of to be unable to feel emotions and a killer, who decides when Deckard is about to die, to save him instead of killing him, which is making him all the more human (watch HERE).
I don’t think I really have to spell all of this out again, because it is pretty clear how it relates to SPN and what is going on with Dean in particular (and what might lie ahead for him still) imo, but in short:
All the monsters, who in the early seasons have always been the bad guys just cause and perceived as unable to feel empathy can be seen as the androids/replicants. Dean of course is the real human, who has become increasingly isolated this season and seemingly much more blood thirsty (look HERE for more meta Dean’s descent in relation to his choice of superheroes). Therefore he is truly quite more monstrous than any true monster. And of course the scene of Dean slowly stabbing the guy, who played Thinman reminds a lot of Deckard here.
Keeping all of these things in mind, now let’s take a look at the official description for 9x17 „Mothers Little Helper“ and have some spec:
Dean (Jensen Ackles) struggles with the after effects of the Mark of Cain. Meanwhile, Sam (Jared Padalecki) hears about a case where straight-laced people are turning into violent murderers. Sam suspects possession and suggests to Dean that they investigate, but Dean tells him to go without him. While interviewing the local townsfolk, Sam meets an elderly woman named Julia (guest star Jenny O’Hara), who tells him the Men of Letters came to town in 1958. Josie tells Sam the story of a young man named Henry Winchester (guest star Gil McKinney) and his female companion, Josie Sands (guest star Alaina Huffman). While Sam is away, Crowley (Mark Sheppard) tests Dean.”
As I realized, we actually only need to take a good hard look at that last sentence. I had various ideas, how Crowley might test Dean (see HERE), but after talking about all the testing in „Blade Runner“ here, I am quite appealed by the thought that maybe Crowley won’t splash Dean with holy water, or get him in a devil’s trap, but sit him down and ask questions and just like the Blade Runner Deckhard did taking in Dean’s emotional reactions and maybe particularly his eyes that might give him away with tiny specks of black in his iris that might start becoming bigger and bigger…
[Sorry btw that this got so long, if you got through this whole thing I applaud and bow to you ;)]
Reblogging myself, because listening to Jensen’s podcast makes me so much more excited (though I have no idea how it is even possible for me to get even more excited as I already am, but apparently it’s possible), because I feel like this whole “Blade Runner” theme is going to be refrenced SO heavily. And frankly, in terms of monster/human and identity, I couldn’t possibly be any happier about it.