Ironically, Sam’s great strength works against him. In a nice call back to Sam’s demon-blood drinking days, his doctor cannot believe Sam is able to withstand the cocktail of powerful sedatives he’s being given. He’s never seen anything like it. Lucifer is the most obvious reason Sam cannot fall asleep. But I think there is more: Sam is also not quite like any other human. He’s the result of thousands of years of careful breeding, topped off with huge amounts of demon blood that changed him forever. In “Swan Song,” that strength allowed Sam to win his mental battle with Lucifer. Here, the same strength is his downfall, as he is able to withstand the sedatives meant to help him sleep.
Jared Padalecki is simply marvelous in translating Sam’s agony and eventual acceptance of his own death. He conveys the weariness, the rawness of his nervous system, the lack of resources to shut the Lucifer voice down. At the same time, we see the essential Sam still there at his core, trying to help a fellow patient whose brother has anything but her well being at heart.
I understand why the writers put the ghost-hunting story in: it reminds us Winchesters truly are heroes because they will help people despite their own pain and hopelessness. Marin’s story also resonates with a recurring theme in Supernatural: family ties. Marin and her brother loved each other, but that love has turned destructive as the brother cannot let go. His solution is to bring his sister to him, no matter the cost to her.
At what point loves becomes destructive is a theme Sam and Dean have struggled with over the years. Both brothers have refused to accept the loss of the other and the resulting demon deals and alliances carried a terrible cost. Yet that same refusal has fuelled the boys’ ability to triumph over demons and angels alike. In this episode, Sam tries to get his brother to accept Sam is dying, to save Dean the pain of fruitlessly trying to save him. Dean, just like Sam in season three, will not give up. Brotherly love is the Winchesters’ greatest power and Achilles’ heel.
Despite seeing the resonances of Marin’s story with the overall arc, I still question whether the episode has the room to include her story. The actual ghost hunting was by the book and not especially memorable or scary. I think the time would have been better spent in other places in this complex episode.