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[TW: rape, child abuse]
This meta isn’t very kind to Dean, but I don’t think my accusations against him are baseless, and I don’t think he needs his fictional feelings protecting.
I’m going to lay out a few things about Bela and Dean’s treatment of Bela that I haven’t really seen anyone delve into before. (That doesn’t mean people haven’t explored them, of course, and I have seen similar Bela-meta before, but this is just my take on her character).
First off, there’s a moment in Time Is On My Side that’s quite quick. I know I didn’t really pay attention to it the first time, but the second time I watched, I had to actually pause the episode and cry.
Because Dean has broken into Bela’s hotel room: iirc, he’s waiting for her, and he has a gun. He approaches her in a space that should be private to her, but he’s violated it. He yanks her closer to him, and she says: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”, because he is violating her space and touching her without her consent. And then Dean says: “Don’t flatter yourself.”
Don’t flatter yourself. Bela, the audience finds out a little later, is a survivor of child abuse that was almost certainly sexual in nature. But even without that knowledge - and yes, I know Dean doesn’t have that knowledge - what Dean says to her is vile. It says that Bela is so low in his eyes, so subhuman, that if he were to rape her, she should take it as a compliment.
This scene is overflowing with Dean’s privilege; he violates her personal space and then tells her not to flatter herself by imagining that he might be there to rape her. He then goes on to tell her that she makes him sick, to which she replies: “Likewise”. This is an important moment for Bela, because I think it’s the moment when she begins to think that Dean is exactly like all the rest - he’s proved himself willing to physically and sexually intimidate her with barely even a thought about what memories it might trigger for her, how much it might hurt her. I think it’s also a moment where she conflates herself with Dean and wonders if she’s become too much like him.
And what a kick in the teeth it is for Bela, who dies in the same episode without Sam and Dean’s help, that No Rest For The Wicked begins with Sam and Bobby working tirelessly on a way to save Dean from the fate that he left Bela to face alone.
Most of the audience realises that Bela was a scared, abused child (was she thirteen? fourteen?) when she met Lilith. Bela had no siblings to rely on, no parents who could protect her because they were the very people who were hurting her. Yes, her deal led to their deaths, but she didn’t ask for that. Lilith told her she could help, and Bela needed that help too much to question the details.
But I think what is easy to forget is that whilst Dean doesn’t know the exact circumstances of Bela’s deal, he does know that it was made ten years ago. Surely this is worth his consideration, given that he made his deal knowing EXACTLY what would happen as a result. He was an adult making an informed - if grief-driven and ill-advised - decision to trade his soul.
But of course, Dean inadvertently deems himself the only one able to make important decisions about life and death. This is shown again and again as a key aspect of Dean’s character; when Bobby’s wife comes back from the dead, Dean wants her dead because of the “natural order”. And Bobby rightly calls him out on his hypocrisy. But where in Bela’s narrative does Dean get his call-out for acting so cruelly and hypocritically? When the witnesses are raised in season 4, where is Bela? Where is Dean’s compassion when it comes to Bela?
He calls her heartless and says she makes him sick, but I think perhaps he is projecting his own insecurities onto a woman who reminds him a little too strongly of himself. And that is not fair on Bela as a person, who never wanted anything more than to survive and protect herself. Dean treats her like she owes him kindness just for existing, and yet does very little in Time Is On My Side to show respect for her dignity and autonomy.
In the end, Bela is punished for crossing paths with the Winchesters; her death is the only possible conclusion to the narrative because she is a woman who dared to live on her own terms and not give in to the thrall of the Winchesters. She subverts Dean’s precious “natural order”, and joins the ranks of all the other women on Supernatural who died because they dared to be at cross-purposes with the Winchester brothers.