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[Warning: Pictures of Clowns included]
There is so much to talk about in The Winchesters episode 1.12 “The Tears of a Clown”, I don’t know where to start! The threads we’ve tracked all season were shouted at us by every character in nearly every scene!

  • Altered Reality; Parallel or Mirror Dimension √
  • Facing Trauma √
  • Shedding Your Past √
  • Anger Management Issues √
  • Finding Family Members (Dads, Sons, Brothers) who are Missing √
  • Title Thread as a clue to the Myth Arc Mystery √

If we put these all together, they suggest that what we’re seeing is a mirror dimension created to make people happy. The world may have been created by Dean, whose go-to strategy is to clown around to avoid facing his trauma.

15.14 trauma from MichaelDean Tmblr
15.14 "Last Holiday" (from Michael Dean on Tumblr)

An alternate explanation is that the world is created by the Akrida, to keep hunters complacent long enough for the invaders to capture the Earth. "The Tears of a Clown" introduced even more possibilities as well – ones that are supported by all of the threads sewn this season. I’ll talk more about those later.

The name of this alternate reality is Limbo.

1.12 0469 Limbo shattered glass john
(The direction and visuals were stunning in this episode.)

If just 1 person in this fantasy world realizes that it isn’t real, and they face the truth they’ve wanted to avoid, the world shatters and everything returns to normal.

1.12 0588 Limbo shattered glass

If the Akrida have created this fantasy from Dean’s memories, hopes and dreams, Dean is that one person who can accept the nightmare that is buried in the Winchester family history and shatter the illusion. That is why they fear him so much. If someone else created this illusion, they need a friend to help them face reality.

Give Them What They Want in a Way They Don’t Expect

I’ve updated the threads table I constructed for the last episode with a few salient details, namely the reiteration of the alternate reality thread in “The Tears of a Clown” and the type of artifact that ends the illusion.


Trapped in a Reality of Past Memories

Artifact/ Sacrifice to be Freed

1.01 Pilot

John remembers the nightmares of war

 An artifact (silver cross) had to be destroyed

1.02 Teach Your Children Well

Victims were tricked by a (tree) monster into seeing a reality of the person they dreaded most from their past, i.e. their worst memory/ nightmare.


1.03 You’re Lost Little Girl

Victims were transported by a monster (Bori Baba) into an alternate reality/dimension.

Victims had to give up/destroy their most treasured possession (hunting/hat) to be freed

1.04 Masters of War

Victims were transported by a monster (Mars Neto) into a reality of their worst memory/ nightmare

An artifact (vase) had to be destroyed to be freed

1.05 Legend of a Mind

Victims were trapped by a monster (Akrida) in a reality of their worst memory/ nightmare, locked deep within their minds.

A “key” had to be found to be freed; Assisted by a dream walker, Mary had to face her childhood memory to be freed.

1.06 Art of Dying

John is possessed, trapped by the monster’s (ghost) nightmare of his death.


1.07 Reflections

A séance enables the group to reach into the past to another dimension/ beyond the veil (to talk to Henry)

An artifact (music box) of the past enabled crossing dimensions.

1.08 Hang on to Your Life

A god/monster who can create alternate realities (Trickster), made victims’ dreams come true.

The dream had to be forsaken/ sacrificed to be freed. An artifact (mirror) trapped the monster.

1.09 Cast Your Fate to the Wind

 Monsters (vampires) want to see the future. 

An artifact (amulet) sees the future

1.10 Suspicious Minds

Roxy has nightmares of when she was possessed.

A dream walker’s magic spell makes her relive her memories to be freed of the nightmare and better understand her past.

1.11 You’ve Got a Friend

Victims are transported by a monster (shadow) into an alternate reality/dimension of their worst memory/ nightmare.

An artifact (jewelry) sees the truth. Victims need to face their memory to be freed. 

1.12 Tears of a Clown

Victims are transported by a monster (clown) into an alternate reality/dimension to avoid their worst memory/ nightmare.

An artifact (mirror) allows the monster to transform/possess the victim. Victims need to face their trauma to be freed.

Lata: According to legend, Haskins searched out a powerful occultist and asked to trade his soul for dark magic… a spell to make him forget all of his problems and freeze him like that, so he could stay happy forever.

Screenshot 1661 blurry clown

Like so many stories this season, Limbo’s victims are transported into an alternate reality. Rather than being forced to face their past, in this case, they escape into a dream to avoid some nightmare that is plaguing them. But the solution is the same: they need to face their trauma to be freed of its power over them.

Lata: Limbo's happiness is the result of a mirror that was given to him by the occultist that's enchanted by dark magic. And he can only maintain that happiness by spreading it to others. The good news is while Limbo's happiness is absolute, it's also very fragile because if anyone from his troupe were to be convinced to embrace reality again, then Limbo would be destroyed and all of his victims set free.

In the earlier monsters’ realms (e.g. tree, bag, Mars Neto), the victims could only free themselves. More recently, though, the shadow world and Limbo’s world were shattered and all its victims freed by its creator facing reality. The stakes have steadily intensified the longer the dream walker stays in the reality they created.

Title Thread – "The Tears of a Clown"

2.04 Dean crying IMG 3582

Dean: Hunting's a dishonest business. You gotta lie all the time about who you are and what you do. But the hardest lies aren't the ones you tell other people. They're the ones you tell yourself.

Is Dean admitting that he created this world to avoid facing an uncomfortable truth or to avoid letting go of something in the past, or is he sharing wisdom about behavior he recognizes in someone else? Dean has never been good at dealing with his issues face on. Like John, he much prefers the “punching” part of the hunting life. Humor and avoidance are his emotional tools. This entire dream world could easily be his.

Facing our Traumas, and Being Free of the Past

What if the clown in this story isn’t Dean, though? What if it’s John?

John: Once my mom and Betty find evidence to clear my name, uh... be able to put all this in the rearview.

Mary: Rearview? It's like you're pretending nothing ever happened.
John: Hey, look, I am sorry if you're upset that I don't feel worse about this, OK? Maybe it's the fact that we left Lawrence or that... I don't know... we get to spend a moment alone together.

Mary’s accusation hints that John is the one who’s avoiding reality. At a moment of great trauma in John’s life, say when he is faced with Mary’s death, what if he wishes an alternate reality into existence, one where time stands still and he can once again be happy with the love of his life, Mary.

Mary: Let's just say being accused of murder hasn't exactly helped John with his anger issues. He's in total denial.

Carlos: Everybody processes trauma differently.

Better yet, what if it is at the moment of his own death when he wishes for an eternity of happiness with Mary? It can’t be a mere coincidence that John’s end came exactly the same way as Limbo’s – trading their souls to cheat reality and get something they wanted (in John’s case, Dean’s life). 

Screenshot 1652 John as clown

It makes sense that John’s dream world would begin when he and Mary first met. He regrets his mistakes, and wishes he could make things work out differently. He pursues meditation to better deal with his anger. He wishes he learned about hunting and monsters earlier, so he would have been able to protect Mary from dying (following the foreshadowing of Lata’s regret that she didn’t protect her friend from being killed). The passion we saw between John and Mary in “Lebanon” clearly showed us that he would do anything he could to go back and do things differently so that Mary would live and they could be together again.

The catch is that he didn’t know about Henry’s MoL legacy, or Mary’s family legacy of hunting, or Rowena’s connection to Crowley, and so much more of what we’ve seen of the Supernatural saga in The Winchesters.

Screenshot 1658 John Mary

I’ve considered that this construct could all be from Mary’s secret, created as she burned, regretting her demon deal that separated her from the love of her life.

Limbo: Getting warmer, John. Oh hо hо, warmer. John, you're practically on fire now.

She had a lot of issues she wanted to forget.

Mary: Either that, or you're flying off the handle because it's like you're totally ignoring reality.

John: I'm ignoring reality? You're honestly gonna stand here and act like you're not avoiding your issues, too? OK, what about life after hunting or us?

Mary: Well, I applied to college, and I got in.

She escaped into a dream world, but she wanted John to be there with her.

Screenshot 1669 John in tent

Mary: You came to find me.

John: Of course. OK, look, we have to get out of here.

Mary: John, we can't… you don't understand. I wanna stay here. And I want you to stay with me too. We can be together where there aren't any problems. And we never have to fight again about my future or your anger. We can be happy in Limbo's tent forever.

John: But none of it would be real. It would all be a part of Limbo's spell. Mary, there's a world out there that we have to save.

Mary: Not if we stay. Limbo can protect us from all of that here.

Mary never wanted to be a hunter. Did she create a world where she was happy and John found peace of mind?

John: Hey, Mary, can you please just accept that I'm OK?

There were so many hints in this episode that this was Mary’s world!

Carlos: Mary, please, all right. You just need to listen. John, come back to reality. Don't do this.

Screenshot 1662 limbo distorted

But did Limbo himself tell us not to fall for the illusion? Mary said to look behind her when the real magic was in the opposite direction – right in front of them, snaring John when he least expected it.

Limbo: A bit of misdirection. I'm sorry to have to trick you, John. [note the word, “trick” for “the trickster”]

Are we being tricked into looking in the wrong direction for the illusionist? Thinking through all the visions we’ve seen, Mary wouldn’t have known about the MoL or Rowena, so the world couldn’t all be from her memories. 

Jack as god could have known about everything we’ve seen but he said he didn’t wish to interfere in humans’ lives. Castiel existed in the 1970s, but his interest in the Winchesters wouldn’t have been piqued before he pulled Dean from Hell.  Chuck could certainly have written all this as an alternate version of events, but I refuse to entertain the notion we have been subjected to another Chuck draft. Please don’t let that be the case. I simply don’t accept that Jensen or Robbie would double down on that unpopular chapter in the series’ story. Gabriel knew quite a bit of this, and maybe as an archangel knew more of the future than he let on, so “The Trickster’s” hand in all this is possible, but there are more likely theories.

One last note about John and Mary. Remember when Lata said she could erase all of Roxy’s memories so she could be free of the terror of her possession? We speculated that the same would happen to this happy band, so they wouldn’t remember any part of this misadventure. But Roxy chose to remember her experience. That’s important because Mary and John retain their memories of being clowns.

Lata: Do the two of you remember it, when you were clowns?

Mary: Yeah, all of it.

Lata: How terrifying.

Mary: Actually, it was kind of nice.

Remembering things was referenced three times in this episode, so I’m guessing the djinn magic is still relevant to the final resolution. Mary liked her memory of pure happiness, so maybe their minds won’t be erased after all.

Mary: Didn't it feel good to you, not having to worry about our problems for a second, not to have to worry about us?

John: Maybe. But it also made me realize that you were right. I have been ignoring things because it's easier than facing the truth. I'm sorry for that. I am also sorry for being so angry with you.

Mary: I guess I got kind of angry myself, you calling me a hypocrite and all. But you were right too. Thinking about the future is scary.

You’ve Got A Friend

Screenshot 1660 entering tent

The emphasis on the role friends play in bringing us back to reality keeps nagging at me. Lata reaffirmed her friendship with John…

Lata: Before we see, I wanted to check in after everything that's happened.

John: Right. Is this... you checking? Or did Mary put you up to this?

Lata: Whatever is going on between the two of you is none of my business. I'm asking because you're my friend.

… at the same time Carlos was reaffirming his friendship with Mary.

Everything's gonna be OK. All right? We're in this together.

Needing friends to help us through trauma and deal with the harsh realities of life was a thread that was important enough to warrant last week’s episode title. Friendship was mentioned again this week several times, enough to make me feel it must have a place in the myth arc. So what friends might be helping someone face their past?

It’s a mystery still at this point, but even given all those possible “misdirections”, Dean is still the most obvious source of the memories. He knew about everything we’ve seen, and always wanted to give his parents a happily ever after. He also sold his soul during his lifetime, so the reminder of the power of deal making could be a reference to when Dean, not John, sold his soul. There’s also the repeated theme of older brothers not being able to take care of their younger siblings.

Mary: So why do you care so much about Limbo? Is it about Wally, the missing kid?

Clarence: No, somebody else... My little brother Roger. Limbo took him 30 years ago.

Last week, Carlos reminded us of the kids who live next door to Mary - big brother Ford who wasn’t able to protect his younger sister from monsters. This week’s repetition of a lasting, brotherly bond strengthens the evidence that this is about Dean.

Clarence: I was 18 and Roger was 10 when our parents died in a car crash. Growing up eight years apart, we were never close, so I didn't know what to do... How to help him through his grief, you know? So instead, a day after the funeral, I took him to the carnival to try and cheer him up... They thought the little girl was seeing things and eventually stopped searching for Roger and gave up. But I didn't… If only I'd helped him through his grief instead of taking him to that damn carnival, he'd be here right now.

Grief and “the day after the funeral” remind us of the fragility of the mind at the point of our own death… or dealing with someone else’s death. That could mean John after Mary’s death, or either John or Dean when they sold their soul and were dying… or even Sam grieving Dean’s death!

Remember when Sam was obsessed with bringing Dean back in “Mystery Spot”? The Trickster put Sam through months of fake realities to try to teach him to deal with his grief of losing Dean. Is Sam imagining another scenario, years later when Dean died for real? Is Sam the dream walker, imagining Dean is off saving their parents from the end of the world rather than being dead and gone?

John: So you think Limbo's targeting his victims? Searching for people who are sad or dealing with grief and luring them into his tent?

Lata: I think he's adding to his troupe.

Carlos: Well, we're gonna find your brother.

Sam has all the same memories of their hunting days as Dean, so he is just as likely to be creating this world as Dean. Let’s indulge the idea that this all might be Sam:

  • Sam had many more interactions with the Trickster than Dean, so it would make sense that Sam would imagine a new Trickster dream world as an alternative to dealing with the overwhelming grief of Dean’s death.
  • Sam also lost his soul, so references to souls might be to his, not Dean’s or John’s.
  • Clowns are among Sam’s worst nightmares, which fits the “nightmare” thread of so many of the monsters we’ve seen this season.
  • In this world, Mary applied to college to escape hunting, just as Sam did years before. We were reminded of her acceptance again in this episode.
  • Dean is always the hero in Sam’s scenarios. Sam would surely imagine the Akrida being terrified of big brother Dean. 

Carlos: I know what it's like to lose your parents... How painful and how chilling it all is feeling like you're all alone in the world. And you just want that feeling to go away. But I promise you, you are not alone. You have a family, just like I do, that loves you and that misses you. And your brother Clarence? He's been looking for you this whole time. And he never gave up on you because... Because he loves you. And he wants to be with you again. You just have to want that, too. Roger, do you want to see your brother again?

Once the brothers were reunited, Carlos mentioned the time they had been apart:

Carlos: Must be kinda weird for both of them, right? I mean, before it was just 8 years, and now it's 38.

John: I guess it's better than never seeing him again.

How long were Dean and Sam separated before they were reunited in Heaven? Someone do the math, please. I’m guessing Sam had to wait at least 38 years to find Dean.

WHS112a 0455r

Sam also became quite close to Rowena so it would make sense that he’d interject her and her magic into the ultimate weapon against the monster.

Ada: The grimoire you say the Men of Letters stole from you.

Rowena: Ah, yes! My old grimoire.

Ada: Yes, which means it's now your turn to fulfill your end of the bargain.

Rowena once again searching for her “stolen” grimoire stood out as an oddly random ruse to get into the MoL bunker, but Sam had bargained with Rowena for a grimoire when Sam was, years before, desperate to save Dean.  

Mary: Clarence used the carnival as an escape so his brother wouldn't have to face his problems.

There’s just as much evidence to support this out-of-the-blue idea that we’re watching Sam’s fantasy world, as there is that this is all Dean's world!

But when Rowena echoed the idea of a soul being the price of dark magic,

Ada: That's supposed to kill the queen?

Rowena: There is one more ingredient that needs to be added. The good news is you don't have to go too far to get it. The bad news is once you use it, you'll never be quite the same… the ingredient is right here, dearie. It's a piece of your own soul.

…was she hinting at Sam’s newfound ability to wield dark magic, or the Akrida as the dream walkers?  The first half of the season was driven by the Akrida’s search for dark magic, gleaned from the essence of monsters, so it may have been a reference back to them.

There is enough evidence to support any of these theories! I still can’t shake that John and Mary would want to rewrite their love story, and their memories would certainly be something “we don’t expect” but right now, the wildest, most unexpected theory is my favorite. So my money is on 1)Sam 2)Dean 3)John 4)Mary 5)Akrida. Yes, I may be influenced by wishful thinking! How do you rank the probable culprits? Only one more week until we know the truth.   


The Last Word

Screenshot 1664 Limbo

The Winchesters
hit their stride with “The Tears of a Clown”. The opening scenes were terrifying, in true Supernatural fashion, and the fear and tension was maintained until the very last clown disappeared from the carnival. Limbo’s costume was inspired, as was his devil-like horn hair. John and Mary also looked adorable as killer clowns! I loved the 10 seconds of musical interlude we got with “Everybody Loves A Clown” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Many of the lyrics could be applied to Dean, if that is meant to be another clue (SOOO relieved they did not use the episode’s title song “Tears of a Clown”.) Also loved seeing Rowena again. I’ve never been her #1 fan, but I must admit, it was chilling in a know-your-frenemies type of way to hear her lovely accent and see her graceful treachery again. She and Ada made a wicked witching team.

The number of clues we were given in the dialog was thrilling, but they honestly got us no closer to knowing the truth of what’s happening. While the wait to learn what’s real and what’s not is agonizing, it’s also worthy of a true Supernatural myth arc. Next week is either going to be gasp out loud brilliant, or a complete let down. Robbie’s always said he likes the stakes to be high! For all this fledgling series’ learning curve bumps along the way, I still love analyzing this universe and its characters, and I can’t wait to see what Dean’s gotten himself into this time. Only one more week until all is revealed. 

 -  Nightsky

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Quotes courtesy of TV Show Transcripts. Images courtesy of The CW.