It is difficult to do proper justice to “After Midnight, “a description of the hours immediately after the death of Dean Winchester in the Supernatural episode, “No Rest for the Wicked.” (NRFTW) In truth, not a lot happens. Yet, this is a one shot – more actually a vignette - whose incredible depth rests paradoxically in its silence and in the simplicity of its action.
To truly grasp the power of “After Midnight” , it is necessary to point out the flaw in the episode that inspired it. “No Rest for the Wicked” was an episode that admittedly upset a lot of Supernatural fans and kept many others on the edge of their seats, but emotionally, it was unexpectedly thin and it left the viewer without that sense of poignancy that many experienced with Sam Winchester’s death in “All Hell Breaks Loose” (AHBL).
In NRFTW, there was at the climactic scene a quick shift from Sam’s grief to the scene of Dean in hell. In and of itself, the shift to the scene of Dean in hell was a mistake. Dean’s fate should have been left to the viewer’s imagination. However, what is more relevant here is that by shifting so quickly from Sam to Dean, the viewer was deprived of not only what would undoubtedly been some powerful acting by Jared Padalecki, but was also denied the emotional connection to Sam. Torn between grief and horror, the story produced neither. The result was that a lot of air went out of the emotional bubble, and most critically that appreciation for the connection between the brothers was lost.
To some extent, this was unavoidable and one sympathizes with the difficulty that the screenwriters of NRFTW faced. To simply repeat the emotional scenes such as those that viewers saw of Dean in AHBL was a non-starter. Beyond that, the screenwriters were faced with the fact that they are writing about the only family in TV history who all died - and lived to tell about it. That’s tough to write out of, and so the result was a disconnect and separation from Sam. A separation probably amplified if not foreordained by Mr. Kripke’s oft repeated reluctance to get too “wussy” and “chick flick” with his characters
This is where “After Midnight” steps in. The author gives us back Sam and it is as powerful as any moment in Supernatural fan fiction. One almost wishes it could have been portrayed on the screen.
The characterization is perfect. This is not Dean in a Sam suit – screaming “What am I supposed to do,” and running off half cocked with a wild plan. Instead we have Sam, quiet and self-contained and in emotional turmoil.
The author brilliantly gives effect to that emotional turmoil by providing absolutely no dialogue. There are no quotes in “After Midnight.” What conversation there is, between Bobby and Sam at the opening, is brief and told in the omniscient voice. The silence is never broken and that gives to the poignancy of the vignette a depth and profundity that dialogue could never have evoked.
That is why, in no small measure, “After Midnight,” although one wishes it could have been portrayed on the screen, the truth is that it simply would not work there. The emotions are too powerful and the actions are too sublime, to be conveyed in actual images. One senses that seeing “After Midnight” on the screen, it would have seemed too awkward and too discomforting. The purity of the emotions would have been lost in the seeming superficiality of the action.
The author of “After Midnight” notes that there is no angst in the vignette, only sadness. That is almost certainly wrong. There is anguish in this small story deeper and more profound than in fan fiction twice its length.
This is unblinking bleakness and total abandonment. This is profound pain and unimaginable grief. This is the unspeakable agony of loss and desperation. This is an attempt to “make vivid that which cannot be revived,” not out of morbid self-indulgence, but out of a deep loneliness that comes when the bonds of brotherhood and friendship are irretrievably severed. Most of all, though, this is, in the written word, about love – a love pierced to the heart, yet a love that endures and transcends pain and loss. A love given expression, and therefore life amid death, in a few simple actions of tenderness and compassion.
What sets Supernatural apart from other similar “horror” shows is its focus on family, the ties of brotherhood and the love and loyalty we owe to our past. In a mere handful of words “After Midnight” brings the reader back to that bedrock foundation of the show, a foundation that, perhaps unavoidably, was lost in the last few minutes of NRFTW. The effect of “After Midnight” is both agonizingly painful and, its own way, sublime.
Most of all though, and far more importantly, it is beautiful.
James, first of all thank you for taking the time to sit and write such an in depth review to this story.
Sam had a whole year to think about this moment but having time to prepare for someone's death is I always feel worse than to lose that person suddenly. Dean reaction in AHBL was just that, a reaction, no real though to what he was doing behind it, the crossroads deal was secondary to Dean's need to have his brother with him, and in a way Sam's death was more about Dean's sense of loss than it was about Sam's death.
The writer's probably did not want to repeat that and therefore I felt that Dean's death was more about where Dean was sent rather than Sam's loss and Sam's loss was important.
Sam had a full long year (apart from the part that was torn from us with the writer's strike) to think about what his brother had done for him and time to try and find someway to stop him dying. It was his inability to find an out for Dean that made me write this. Dean wanted to stop the deal but more importantly he didn't want Sam to die so as a consequence Sam was left watching the clock tick down, unable to do anything for his brother because Dean wouldn't let him. Nobody let him. He then had to watch as Dean died.
I wanted to give Sam that chance to do something for his brother, to fufil his need to help Dean and this, the tending to his body after death was perhaps the only thing, as I saw, it that was left to Sam. I didn't want Sam to speak because the person that Sam would normally share his thoughts with was Dean and Dean was dead. I solely wanted this to be about Sam's final attempt to look after and tend to his brother.
The last line was written because I truly believed that Sam's would have been in hell, he had let the brother than had always protected him and looked after him die, and die for him to live.
Thank you again for the kind review. Mary x