pointed out to me by impalaforthree
While this exchange is ostensibly the feather in many a John Winchester apologist’s cap, watching this scene gave me chills. Look at Dean’s face very closely. Do you see anything there of happiness, gratitude, or even agreement? Honestly I can read nothing in Dean’s expressions or body language that doesn’t look to me like tightly repressed bitterness and rage, at best impassive coldness. While making these gifs I was flipping through each frame to check for errors and I was struck by how motionless Dean is, how unnaturally still he holds while Sam is talking - except for that expression he makes in the sixth gif, which looks a lot like disgust to me. He lowers his eyes away as Sam says “we could have had Max’s childhood”.
Max was beaten by his father. Does it truly look to anyone like Dean is saying to himself “yeah, good thing we had dad or we might have been beaten”? Or does his rigid face and dark eyes say “I did have Max’s childhood, and you would have too if I hadn’t protected you by making sure dad only hit me”? He looks back at the house - and perhaps into his past as well - and shadows ominously cover his face. “All things considered” he says without any enthusiasm, and for a moment his mask falls away as he gets in the car. As though he’s saying “maybe you turned out okay, but I didn’t”.
And is it just me or does Dean look like he’s been punched in the stomach in the second gif? People seem to think that he is happy and pleased by Sam saying “we were lucky to have dad”, but that just isn’t what his face looks like to me. Before he speaks, he looks… devastated. He doesn’t actually say that he’s glad Sam said that, only that he never thought he would, and his smile doesn’t look excited, only incredulous. Maybe part of him was always glad that Sam fought back against John when he couldn’t, that Sam knew John abused them. Maybe hearing Sam say that John did right by them, no matter how much Dean himself insists that’s true, took the air out of him.
Once we take this scene apart and look at it closely, it only convinces me further that John beat Dean when Sam wasn’t around and protected Sam not only from John, but from the knowledge that he was beaten.