Dumbo didn't need the feather to fly, but it certainly made for a powerful tool when that sad little elephant needed to be convinced of his own awesomeness. Similarly, Supernatural's Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) also don't need a feather, aka the luck that Chuck (Rob Benedict) supposedly took away in "The Heroes' Journey" and that Fortuna (Lynda Boyd) supposedly restored in the follow-up episode, "The Gamblers" — they've proven themselves to be more than capable on their own time and again — but we're in the middle of an apocalypse here and, well, if we have to prop our heroes up until they get their mojo back, then so be it.
In "The Gamblers", Fortuna implored Dean and Sam to play their own game, not Chuck's game, and this did a lot to orient the Winchesters after the missteps in "The Heroes' Journey." It was glorious to finally see the light bulbs go off over Sam and Dean's heads. Team Free Will's victories have always come when Sam, Dean, and Castiel (Misha Collins) ditch expectations and do their own thing. A scumbag named Cal Hockley (Billy Zane) once said that a real man makes his own luck, and while there are some very problematic interpretations of that line, we've watched the Winchesters make their own luck for 15 seasons now, and I struggle with the idea that none of it mattered, that they are truly just Chuck's dolls to move from one toy box to another. I just can't buy that. But I can totally buy that Chuck would want them to think that.
Dean and Sam became completely useless when Chuck revoked their luck. It was painful to watch, and not in the glorious single-man-tear way that Dean Winchester typically expresses pain. Allegedly, giving Dean and Sam "normal" luck instead of supercharged God luck turns them into slapstick clowns — and Garth (DJ Qualls) into a mass-murdering pyromaniac?
It's true that we've seen luck factor into Dean and Sam's performance before, in Season 3's "Bad Day At Black Rock," but that was a different situation altogether. Sure, Sam became fairly useless and dangerously clumsy under the rabbit foot's curse, but that's an external influence intentionally making him ridiculous. There's a difference between having bad luck thrust upon you and believing that some kind of special God luck was taken away after a lifetime of being the only reason you accomplished anything — the only reason you managed to walk down the street without being crushed by a piano every single day (see also "Mystery Spot").
I promised myself I would not rant about how much I did not enjoy "The Heroes' Journey," especially because "The Gamblers" did a very good job of making it all better. (Thank you). But there's still something in all of this talk of luck and heroics and free will that just doesn't jive, and I've finally pinned it down to the very idea of luck — or at least luck as we've seen is commoditized in the Supernatural universe recently — that runs counter to the free will ideas that we all know and love, that the show itself has been celebrating over and over in some form since the very beginning.
Fortuna's encouragement to not play Chuck's game makes me consider that "The Heroes' Journey" was just a game. Specifically, a mind game designed not to necessarily make the Winchesters literally weaker or to accidentally kill each other with fatal clumsiness, but designed to make them doubt themselves. The Winchesters are at their weakest when they doubt themselves or each other. Coming out of Chuck's little stint as the Ghost of Christmas Future in "The Trap," Sam and Dean were primed to doubt themselves after being shown a future in which their victory over Chuck very quickly turned into a long, agonizing defeat for, well, everyone. They were hurting and they were distracted and suddenly every inconvenience was a sign of doom.
Let's hop in our time machine and go way back to Season 5's "Dark Side of the Moon" for a second. We saw a similar misstep on the part of Dean and Sam when Roy and Walt were somehow able to get the drop on them in their own motel room and dispatch them to the pearly gates. How could these two no-name hunters take our boys out? Dean and Sam are the best etc., etc. Well, Dean and Sam were having a sad, overwhelmed by the apocalypse, and hungover from what appeared to be a pretty spectacular bender. They are human. Maybe one of them forgot to lock the door. Maybe the numbing medicinal properties of cheap booze in large quantities dulled those normally freakishly sharp situational awareness skills.
Here we are again, with Sam and Dean overwhelmed, doubting themselves, stuck in an impossible situation with no clear solution and lethal high stakes. Can we blame them for stumbling? For assuming the worst? For thinking that suddenly, an (admittedly worse-than-normal) bad day is actually a curse from God?
I have to believe this explanation, because to imply that the Winchesters are completely useless and helpless otherwise is not something that I'm able to accept after 15 seasons of watching these two kick butt and take names. They were raised to be warriors, and it's quite literally in their blood. We've seen flashback episodes of a pre-teen Dean taking on a Striga and a teenage Sam fighting monsters and bullies alike. Bobby (Jim Beaver) once pointed out Sam has been running into burning buildings since he was 12 years old. They've grown into men who are whip-smart and obsessively conditioned for battle and the implication that none of it was really their own doing, that the skills are God-given instead of forged over a lifetime of living in crisis mode, is such a disservice to these characters.
There are great stories to be told (and that have been told) about Sam and Dean's adventures in normalcy and their varying degrees of success in navigating regular people problems. The downside to living in crisis mode is that when every problem is a potential disaster, someone can become conditioned to overreact to otherwise minor issues. We've seen this explored again and again whenever Sam and Dean get it in their heads to settle down and walk away from the hunting life — usually when the other is six feet under or otherwise indisposed — and I am not gonna lie, I would still LOVE to see an episode that touches on what probably had to be a very difficult adjustment when Sam first arrived at Stanford.
I want to believe that the coins Fortuna awarded her new favorite heroes at the end of "The Gamblers" were more feathers, on par with Sam Winchester's demon blood deus ex machina. Simply telling the Winchesters that they weren't actually cursed wouldn't have made an impact and potentially could have triggered a new spiral of self-doubt with the implication that of course Chuck played them — how could they have been so gullible, what with their mad skills and experience? It was much more beneficial to give them the coins, give them back their "luck," and let them run back into battle confident that they are capable heroes who found themselves facing a problem and successfully solved it.
Look at it this way: Dean and Sam weren't nearly as paralyzed by slapstick clumsiness heading into Fortuna's den as they were the week prior in the monster fight club even though, ostensibly, they were still just as cursed. Their problems had been dialed back to more reasonable levels, and they were shown to be managing them without completely melting down. But if they had truly been cursed, to the point that they couldn't do such basic things as taking a hot pan out of the oven or picking a basic lock, then how could they have bested Fortuna even a little bit — unless they had the power inside themselves all along.
Supernatural's final season returns Monday, March 16 at 8/7c on The CW.