Page 1 of 2
"Ever since I came back, I am a better hunter than I've ever been! Nothing scares me anymore because I can't feel it. I don't know what's wrong with me. I think I need help." Soulless Sam---You Can't Handle the Truth
Soulless Sam was perhaps the most daring aspect of Season 6. To turn a main character completely around is always risky. No other element seemed to be more polarizing. He was also perhaps one of the most unpredictable and puzzling characters the show has ever had. What made Soulless Sam a success can be attributed equally to both the writing and Jared Padalecki's outstanding portrayal.
From the very start, when Sam arrives to upset Dean's apple cart, we can tell that something is wrong with him. The blank expression on his face as Dean hugs him sets off alarms. He is colder, the compassion and empathy that marks his character gone. Like Dean, we feel uncomfortable with him. Every instinct tells us that we can not trust this version of Sam.
There are many things that can be discovered by exploring the character of Soulless Sam. He exists to teach us about ourselves---and the human condition. Soulless Sam reminds us of the darker side lurking in all of us. He is the mirror we shudder to gaze upon. By examining the differences between him and the real Sam, his relationship to Dean, and how he tested the brotherly bond, insight into the question surrounding souls can be achieved.
We learn that souls are considered a power source for Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Each soul starts out human essentially. Some are destined through deed or deal to go into the pit. Others are to ascend into their own personal Heaven. And some are twisted into the souls that end up in Purgatory upon their death as a monster. We also know that both Angels and demons seem to have the ability to tap into their power source. Castiel uses 50,000 souls on loan from Crowley to blast Raphael. He later taps into Bobby's soul to retrieve Sam and Dean from the Wild West. They're referred to as a nuclear power source.
Whatever their power, there is a value that is much more significant in human terms. What does it mean to have a soul? Is it possible for someone who does not possess one such as Soulless Sam to retain any of their humanity? Veritas, in the episode "You Can't Handle the Truth," calls Soulless Sam out on his bluff. He's lying blatantly to her---something he shouldn't be able to do. Upon further inspection, she declares, "You're not human! What are you!"
The world's two major religions, Christianity and Islam, both acknowledge the existence of the human soul. For Christians and Muslims alike, it is immortal and one's life should be concerned with its fate after the mortal life has ceased. Good deeds and people will be rewarded in the afterlife with Heaven, while those who commit evil acts shall find their punishments in Hell.
But what about while one is currently living?
There is no question that there are good and bad people. Some people set out to help and are generous, while others try to harm and are selfish. Some people prefer to be humble while others boast. Each individual person on Earth has their own personality and perspective. How much of this is due to the physical body, and how much of this is the soul? Is compassion and emotion centered in our physical nature, the chemical reactions that occur in our brains or does it transcend into the spiritual? Is our ability to connect with and interact with our fellow human beings something that comes from our soul or sheer necessity to sustain our physical bodies? How much of our morality is tied up with our spiritual health or lack there of?
If there is such a thing as a soul, is it possible for a person to live and function without one?
With Soulless Sam, we see this question raised and answered.
Most of the season's dealings with souls centers around their marketability and their value. Their power is sought by everyone involved for their own reasons. Balthazar, in "The Third Man," is buying human souls by selling the pieces of the Staff of Moses, one of the many weapons he stole from the weapons room in Heaven. We learn that souls are a hot commodity, possibly the only thing left with value.
But the biggest lesson we truly learn is that from watching Soulless Sam. We learn the truth about their real value. Without his soul, Sam has been reduced to a rational being with no sense of right or wrong. He knows the difference, but simply has become amoral. He is incapable of feeling. He has no real understanding of what it is to be human.
First, let's take a look at the steps that led to Soulless Sam.
Looking back as far as Season 1, the path to Soulless Sam was largely set into place. Sam, for better or worse, has always been the monster at the heart of the show. He has always been a pawn in a cruel supernatural game. Sam was the one infected with Azazel's demon blood at six months, chosen for a destiny as Lucifer's vessel. He experiences intense visions as his powers start to emerge. It isn't until the fourth season that we see them fully utilized, used to exorcise and kill demons with thought alone.
At least two episodes stand out as stark metaphors to what Sam is and what Sam might become: "Heart," and "Metamorphosis."
In "Heart," a desperate Sam tries to save Madison, a young woman bitten by a werewolf. It isn't hard to imagine that Sam sees himself in this situation. She is a kind, gentle woman, and yet under the sway of the full moon turns into a vicious killer. Sam goes against both instinct and hope in order to try saving her. They read a myth that states that if the one who turned her is killed that it could reverse the curse. For a time it seems that it has worked. A night with the moon full comes and goes and she is perfectly human. It isn't until she's fallen asleep and woken up turned that they realize they have failed.
It's harsh foreshadowing for Sam and his own potential fate.
"Metamorphosis" tackles Sam's growing drive for power. They are hunting a rugaru, a monster that starts out human until the gene that gives them their insatiable hunger switches on. We watch as Jack Montgomery goes from happily married man to ravenously hungry. He eats everything in sight, including to our disgust a package of raw ground meat. Nothing seems to stop his hunger or his drive to acquire more food. A fellow hunter, Travis, tells both brothers that it is only matter of time before he starts to eat human flesh.
Again, Sam wants to save him.
Again, Sam fails.
This isn't too far from Sam's addiction to the demon blood that fuels his powers. The more he drinks, the more he craves. It isn't until "Lucifer Rising," that Sam learns the truth: he never needed the blood. The powers were there all along. Ruby had cruelly turned him into her pawn for her own gains. By the time Sam realizes how she had manipulated him it was too late. Much like Jack, he had an insatiable hunger that could not be fulfilled no matter how hard he tried.
Towards the end of season 5, Sam realizes that since he released Lucifer that he must be the one to put him back into the Cage. He plans on saying yes and then throwing himself into it with Lucifer trapped inside.
Against all odds, it works. It is the biggest sacrifice Sam will make.
It's also what gives rise to Soulless Sam, although he is the result of another supernatural power play---this time at the hands of Castiel.
Psychologically speaking, Soulless Sam is a sociopath. He knows what feelings are and that he should exhibit them. He knows the difference between what is appropriate and inappropriate. Soulless Sam knows what society expects. Much like other sociopaths, however, Soulless Sam just can't manage to make it seem believable. There are too many flaws, too many instances that make those around him nervous.
The only advantage Soulless Sam seems to have is the memories of the real Sam. He has a wealth of information to tap into that gives him the ability to put his facade in place. The fact that he knows he must hide what is wrong is a testament to how rational his being is. He is all thought with no heart. Without seeing someone without their soul, we might not have had the chance to understand the truth about them.
The truth is, despite the power source they provide to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, their value to humanity is far greater. In "Appointment in Samara," when Death gives Sam his soul back after Dean's failure to be the great and terrible Horseman, he tells Dean, "It's all about the souls."
In terms of what transpired at the end, Death could have meant the moves that both Castiel and Crowley were making. It's highly likely, though, that Death was teaching Dean another lesson as well. He says, before retrieving Sam's soul from the Cage, "This is hard for you, Dean. You throw away your life because you've come to assume that it'll bounce right back into your lap. The human soul is not a rubber ball. It's vulnerable, impermanent, but stronger than you know... and more valuable than you can imagine."
Let's examine how Dean ended up at this point.
As early as season two, Dean has known one thing: he must either save or kill Sam. Their father, right before his death, whispered this order to Dean. As early as "Croatoan" and "Born Under a Bad Sign," Dean is faced with this test. Each time, he chooses to save Sam. He says to a possessed Sam, testing Dean's resolve, "I would rather die."
In the episode, "Playthings," Sam begs Dean to follow their father's last order. He says, "You have to watch out for me, all right? And if I ever turn into something that I'm not, you have to kill me."
Even in the episode, "The End," when Dean sees what the world will become if he doesn't stop his brother from saying yes to Lucifer, the lesson he learns is not to kill Sam, not to say yes to Michael, but to save Sam.
In "Swan Song," Dean faces his worst nightmare: Sam has said yes to Lucifer. Instead of trying to find a way to kill the Devil, he instead reaches out to Sam. Even through a vicious beating at his brother's hands with Lucifer at the controls, Dean holds firm, telling his little brother that he is there for him. He then has no choice but to watch as Sam throws himself into the Cage upon wrestling control back from Lucifer.
This, however, will not be the final test for Dean.
- Next >>