What a fascinating episode this was-- I'm still thinking about it, into this week.
I liked the whole djinn backmyth on this one, the way people are put into a dream-world stasis where something they want is granted inside their head, spinning out like reality in what seems like a lifetime over a matter of days or weeks. This is very much like a real dream, which apparently takes only seconds-minutes to start and end even though it seems much longer. maygra posited the idea that the djinn feeds in some way off those happy ideas and not just the blood itself, otherwise why not just tie them up and bleed them all the same? Or it could be something simpler, i.e., that fear-adrenaline-infused blood doesn't taste good.
Dean's fantasy world-- his childlike wonder at it-- was so bittersweet. Funny, sad, sweet all at once.
It's sad that his version of himself was the kind of guy who still steals credit cards and bangs Sam's prom date. Though, given that Dean doesn't appear (deep down, that is-- not his mouthy surface) to think much of himself, that doesn't surprise me. Sam, on the other hand, was a raging success in Dean's mind.
Dean's apple-pie dream is heartbreaking because, as destina said, he really wants all of that too, in his own way. It's just that in his real state, he knows it's not an option-- he doesn't get to choose that life, except at the cost to other people. But if he could... it's the life he was promised as a child, back before his mother was killed.
I also liked Carmen, as his more "realistic" view of his kind of woman. She's funny, she gets him, she's easygoing. Not a knockout-- attractive and real instead.
And Mary... she looked realistically older in Dean's "at home" scenes (odd, because you'd think she'd be frozen in his memory as she looked in photographs and such), though in the white-nightgown-of-doom reappearances, she was younger again. Her touching his face-- loving him explicitly, the way no-one seems to have done in forever-- was worth this episode by itself.
One of the things I found interesting is that in gaining this "alternate" life, Dean loses the things he had in his real life. John is still gone from that point forward, so he can't be reclaimed. And Sam... is not Dean's friend/support/partner-in-crime anymore.
Making the choice to return at the end was, I think, more for Sam than anything. Dean would avoid all of the potential unhappiness that awaits him back in the real world, and enjoy the life he never got had he stayed. But he would have left Sam alone to take up the hunt he'd tried so hard to escape (which hardly seems fair), and moreover, there's no longer anyone to watch Sam's back. *sigh*
Does anyone else think that if John HAD been there in Dean's alternate world, back with Mary and happy again, Dean might have had a harder time choosing to look behind that curtain at what was really going on?
Closing with some shallow notes:
1) Though I hated Sam's tracksuit, and I've missed his forehead-covering bangs, he's been awfully cute these last couple of episodes. He's smiling and he's charming, and he's getting to be more like Jared than Sam.
2) The more I see of Jess, the less pretty she gets. I think she's maybe a little heavier than she was in the Pilot, and though still pretty... I dunno. Big, rough features. She looks less like Mary, if that makes sense. F-list, don't hurt me!
3) Editors: I noticed the gnome the first time, thank you. Put the sledgehammer down!
4) John is SO much better looking with stubble. Mary got gipped...
5) Jensen's RL photos and photo-shopped-in pics were kind of eerie. I think I've seen them too many times in their original context.