For Sam fans, as promised, I’m taking on the common concerns many have voiced over the younger Winchester brother recently. I’ve been struggling with this analysis for a week now, unsure how to capture my views into coherent thought. Then I saw “Criss Angel Is A Douchebag” and all the pieces fell in place. Poor Sammy!
First, the ground rules. Any analysis of Sam’s character will not come at the expense of Dean. This isn’t pitting one brother against the other. Second, I won’t be blasting the writers, Kripke, directors, casting, etc. I’m going off what we’ve been given, and will avoid comments that harp on supposedly lazy writing.
This works simply: I list a common complaint in bold and then give my analysis.
Sam has been relegated to guest star in season four.
Season four is more than officially half over, and yes, the main parts of the story line have focused on Dean’s saga. Season four isn’t over yet though, so I’m holding all official judgment on that one until I see the entire package. This season hasn’t been without golden Sam moments, though. Allow me to share a few.
In “Lazarus Rising,” which was clearly a Dean-focused episode, whose jaw didn’t drop over seeing Sam use his demon-pulling powers for the first time? It was awesome and a long time coming. Remember, he didn’t use his abilities at all for the second half of season two and all of season three. We almost forgot he even had powers. That’s cool Sam character development.
The entire episode of “Metamorphosis” was a Sam fan’s delight. He was finally pushed far enough where he exploded at Dean, telling him exactly why he didn’t tell him about the demon blood and why he’d been lying all this time. We’d been waiting for that conversation for a long time. He always thought Dean saw him as a freak and that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Come the end, when Dean wanted to talk about it, Sam’s natural instinct to internalize and sweep issues under the rug kicked in. It was his burden and he wasn’t sharing. Dean wouldn’t understand.
Sam said something else during that conversation too, one that resonated clearly in “Criss Angel…” He told Dean he wasn’t going to use his abilities anymore. He wasn’t doing it for Dean or the angels. It was his choice. That’s what I think season four Sam is all about. He’s making his own choices. He’s not letting big brother protect him or take charge anymore. He’s still going to keep secrets from Dean, because Dean will try to stop him and tell him what to do. He has his own path to follow, and that may or may not include his brother.
In “It’s The Great Pumpkin Sam Winchester,” we got a great glimpse of Sam’s crisis of faith. Everything and everyone was letting him down. Angels, God, and yes, even his brother when Dean told him to not use his abilities. He was left to trust only his instincts, so he used his powers in that intense struggle with Samhain despite what he was told. He chose to do what it took to get the job done and save people, even defending this mindset to the powerful Uriel who berated him. Sam holding firm was a good thing and a great sign of his growth.
“Wishful Thinking” had one terrifying glimpse into Sam’s psyche, and for a second there we believed he was John Winchester. Sam’s chilling mention to Dean of his wish for Lilith’s bloody head on a plate hinted he’d been on a crusade for revenge against Lilith ever since Dean died, much like the one his father went on after Mary’s death. That would explain what has driven many of his actions this season, and gives hints about what’s to come.
I don’t like Ruby and how Sam’s story revolves around her.
That leads me to what I believe is the most pivotal episode of Sam’s character development, “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Many missed the points of that episode because Ruby was a distraction. As a matter of fact, anytime Ruby comes on the screen she’s a distraction.
Despite what any of us think about the character and the actresses who have played her (I think Genevieve is improving but still rough), she exists. She probably won’t be going away soon either, so instead I focus on what she’s doing to Sam. You’ve got to admit, she’s leading him down a rabbit hole and no one knows where it goes. I enjoy watching that mystery unfold each week. It’s hard to be patient though, considering network television seasons are long and drawn out, but I will be.
How would you have pictured Sam without Dean? Broken, alone, drunk, not caring whether he lived or died? That’s what I pictured and that’s what we got. Jared was outstanding when showing that aspect of Sam. Remember how Dean was the same way when Sam died? The bottom line is I don’t think either of these brothers would have been able to get out of their ruts alone. It’s also interesting how both got out of their predicaments through demons.
Ruby adds a fascinating element to the story. She’s the supposed demon gone good who comes to the rescue to save Sam from himself. Except we aren’t sure if she’s good. I love the ambiguity. Many of us are waiting for her to rip off the security blanket she’s got wrapped around Sam and reveal her dastardly plan for them both. The issue isn’t that Sam is falling for this now. The question is, will he see the light in time should she turn on him in the future? She drives plot, and plot is good.
The brotherly bond is gone and the show stopped being about two brothers after season two.
Gone, no. Changed dramatically, yes. If it was gone these two wouldn’t still be going on hunts together and living in close quarters. For years they grew up under the same premise — Dean was always there to protect Sam. In season three that all changed. The turning point was when Sam killed the crossroads demon in “Bedtime Stories.” Dean hated it, but Sam wouldn’t apologize. These are likely the same issues that had Sam going off to college. He needed to live his life.
In season four yes, they’re more divided than ever. The bond is still there though, as “Criss Angel…” showed. Sure, Sam kept something big from Dean and didn’t tell him about Ruby’s visit, but the fact that Sam sought out Dean’s advice and used what Dean said (it ends bloody or sad) to make his final choice showed how much he still needed his brother’s opinion. Sometimes I question if Sam keeps Dean in the dark not only because he doesn’t think Dean understands, but to protect him as well.
“Criss Angel…” showed some fun moments too, like when they were in the hotel room trying to figure out what to do with the magician. That’s the brothers working together, and as usual it’s small moments like that which define them. Same with “I Know What You Did Last Summer” when both were nursing their wounds. They were in it together, taking care of each other through thick and thin.
I know, it’s not like the old days. The brotherly moments seem to be fewer and farther between and they are far from being on the same page. The stakes are higher though, and each have been put in dramatically different circumstances that’s difficult to share. Seeing their loyalty tested is still enjoyable, as when Dean turned over Anna to protect Sam (that might have been a setup, but I liked it either way). The changed dynamic produces some golden scenes too, like the mausoleum scene in “It’s The Great Pumpkin…” That was the closest Dean came to understanding Sam’s burden, and it terrified him. Those are the brotherly moments I’d like to see more of.
As for the show becoming about one brother, while I agree season four so far has been Dean-heavy, season three was equally about both. Dean’s deal took too hard a toll on both of them, and while Dean emerged with more self-confidence, Sam emerged with a huge loss of self. As usual, Sam’s descent was more subtle, but the story was well told. I’d lay out my arguments here, but I already did with my articles "A Deeper Look at Season Three Dean Winchester" and "A Deeper Look at Season Three Sam Winchester". I highly suggest checking those out if there are doubts.
I don’t know if Sam came back from death different.
I can answer that. He did. Of course I don’t think Sam’s descent toward his darker side had anything to do with his resurrection. The more he’d gotten pulled into the life, the more he’d realized that hard choices needed to be made. After all, he did the right thing by not killing Jake but that got him killed and ultimately got Dean sent to Hell. The lines between right and wrong have blurred for him since then, and all he’s got left is saving people no matter what.
Sam Winchester is a hero. According to Sera Gamble, “He’s all about the results of his actions.” In season one he was the reluctant hero. In season two, he accepted his duty with resignation after his father’s death, despite his own fears over his destiny. In season three, he learned that despite all his efforts, including going against his “gentle nature,” it still wasn’t enough to save his brother. In season four, Sam’s mindset was clearly stated at the end of “Metamorphosis” when he said, “It’s my choice.” He’s following his own path and accepting the consequences of his own actions and no one else’s.
Sam’s decision to start using his abilities is in part because he felt powerless over Dean’s death and he hated that. As soon as Ruby mentioned she could help him get Lilith, Sam didn’t hesitate over the chance to use his powers. He had a huge justification for his actions, he was saving people. That felt right, and that was all that mattered to him. Sounds heroic to me, and different.
When Dean came back in “Lazarus Rising,” Sam chose to continue using his powers and kept Dean in the dark. He didn’t want Dean to get angry and start barking orders at him to quit. That’s what his Dad did and he resented it. Sure enough, when Dean found out in “Metamorphosis,” he had a fit and punched Sam. That was likely the reason why he didn’t tell Dean about his latest decision to go after Lilith. It’s not the old Sam, that’s for sure, but that’s not necessarily bad.
There was no aftermath from Sam’s misfortunes, aka John’s death, his possession, living without Dean in “Mystery Spot”, and when Dean went to Hell.
Yeah, I’ll agree with that. If you squint hard enough, at times there was evidence of lingering despair. Sam internalizes everything, but one has to wonder how he keeps doing this without having that deep mental breakdown. That happened partially during his meltdown at the end of “Heart,” and arguments could be made that having sex with Ruby was another sign of him cracking, but otherwise he’s holding onto some pretty heavy stuff that has to be eating him alive. Who knows, maybe that’s what the ending in “Criss Angel…” was all about. He doesn’t want this life anymore.
We did get to see some evidence of lingering pain over the possession in “Jus In Bello,” so that was refreshing. Also, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” was a damn good glimpse of how broken up Sam was over Dean’s death. I have a feeling more is to be revealed about Sam’s four months without Dean, so I’m putting a place marker there.
The one that bothered me the most was “Mystery Spot.” Sam went through anywhere from nine months to a year of pure hell. We saw how empty he was by the end. That’s the last we saw of it. He was very withdrawn in “Jus In Bello,” giving hints that he was still very worn from his ordeal, but considering “Jus In Bello” was filmed before “Mystery Spot,” that ended up being accidental. Then they jumped into the comedic episode “Ghostfacers” and an opportunity was lost. Sure, the writers' strike shortened the episode count, but some further mention would have been good.
Sam doesn’t know about Mary’s deal from “In The Beginning.”
Yes he does. Dean told him. We didn’t see the entire conversation, but Dean wouldn’t leave that out. There’s very good evidence that Dean has usually been revealing with his information to Sam. Take “Malleus Maleficarum,” when we found out Dean told Sam all about Casey. Now he’s telling Sam details about Hell. A lot happens in that eight hours a day in the Impala. He knows.
Okay, I’ve put myself in front of the firing squad, so go ahead and shoot! Remember all views here are just one person’s warped opinion, so feel free to show how much that’s the case.