Solitary Sam: I Can't Do This Alone
For months, Hallucination!Lucifer (Hall!Luci) had been working on Sam's fragile psyche. Like water slowly eroding stone, Hall!Luci's stream of taunts, mockery and endless conversation were eroding Sam's hold on sanity. Yet, somehow, Sam continued to cling to control. But then one day, in a quiet library, Sam broke the cardinal "No Speaking" rule by hissing an irritated "Shut up!" at Hall!Luci. The water had finally carved a new channel.
But what made that moment different? Why, after pressing his thumb to his scar a million times, and months of exhibiting the stoic strength of Job, why did Sam finally let Hall!Luci in?
Simple. I think he was scared, lonely and desperately in need of company.
Let's start at the beginning, with the lyrics of Cole Porter. The musical genius put it perfectly - "Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it."
Of course, Porter was describing falling in love. But he could just as easily have been to referring to creating relationships.
Think of it. Birds, bees and fleas can all be defined by collective nouns. We have a charm of finches and a murder of crows. There's a swarm of bees and an itch of fleas. (I invented the last one. But I think it might have staying power!) Even in the supernatural world, where Sam and Dean spend so many of their working hours, you'll find a coven of witches, a flight of dragons and a nest of vampires.
Mother Nature abhors a vacuum. I think she also abhors the number ONE, as in the single unit, the solitary individual. To quote The GhostFacers:
ED: It's used to be just, you know, you and I taking on the cases -- just Harry and me.
HARRY: Two lone wolves.
ED: And two lone wolves need, uh...Other wolves.
At some point in their life cycle, almost all creatures - large and small, vertebrate and invertebrate - are part of a group. The group might be a fleeting pairing, solely for the purpose of procreation. Alternatively, they could be part of a mass gathering.
Take snakes for instance. We don't really think of them as hanging out with the other vipers at the local bar. Usually, each is doing his/her own solitary slither through the tall grasses. But in cooler weather, thousands of them come together to form a den. They congregate in a small space, like a cave, to share what little body heat these cold-blooded reptiles can generate. However with the return of warmer temperatures, it's a quick "Fangs for the memories, and I'm outta here!"
In the animal kingdom, mammals may form groups that last for generations. These warrens, herds, prides and colonies live together for many reasons. A large group can better protect its vulnerable, and its' defenseless young. It means improved mate selection, which leads to much needed genetic diversity. And a group is often more successful at finding, or hunting food. Think of how packs of small predators work together to bring down much larger prey.
We humans established tribes, clans and nations because we recognized all those benefits. But just as importantly, we continue to choose teams and families because we recognized something else. We're healthier and stronger when we form an emotional bond with other people.
There is a reason solitary confinement is a punishment, even a type of torture. We are social animals. We crave the company of others. We seek the sound of another's voice so we can hear them speak their stories, and be an audience for our own. We long to feel their flesh against our skin, be it a passionate kiss, or a compassionate embrace. We thrive in the presence of those we love, and wither in their absence.
This is the situation Sam finds himself in during "Repo Man".
We have known since the very first episode, "The Pilot" that Dean wants a partner in the hunting life, and he wants that partner to be his
DEAN: I can't do this alone.
SAM: Yes, you can.
DEAN: Yeah, well... I don't want to.
But it's also in Season One that we see Sam fight to keep Dean by his side. When the doctor tells them that Dean is likely to die from the heart trauma he suffered during the electrocution in "Faith", Sam won't give up until he finds a way to save him.
DEAN: You're not gonna let me die in peace, are you?
SAM: I'm not gonna let you die. Period.
Neither brother will let something as mundane as Death separate them. In "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2" Dean sells his soul to bring back his dead brother. When that deal comes due, and he is dragged to Hell, Sam becomes equally desperate. He too attempts to bargain, with a Crossroads Demon, for the safe return of his brother. Sadly, the Demon won't deal. But the brothers are eventually reunited. Several seasons and some episodes later in "99 Problems", Sam confesses that he too needs a partner in the hunting life.
SAM: Don't say that.
DEAN: Why not?
SAM: Cause you can't do this.
DEAN: Actually, I can.
SAM: No you can't. You can't do this to me. I got one thing, one thing, keeping me going. You think you're the only one white-knuckling it here, Dean? I can't count on anyone else. I can't do this alone.
Sam needs Dean. Dean needs Sam. That's the way they work. Yes, there have been instances when they've fought, split in a snit, and been on their own for awhile. But one of two things always happens. In the first case, one brother takes the courageous and humble step forward, offers an apology and starts mending fences. In the second alternative, one brother lands himself in a difficult situation. The other brother finds out, puts aside his anger, and saves his brother. Sometimes they discuss what lead to their separation. Sometimes they just shove those issues under the carpet to take up residence with all the other emotional-dust-bunnies hiding there! But, either way, they reunite. Like iron filings and a magnet, they're powerless against the forces pulling them together.
Yet, in some ways, Sam is always alone with his Season 7 hallucinations. After all, they are happening insidehis head. Only he can see the visions, the chains, and the hellfire. Only he can see Hall!Luci. But ever since the night in the warehouse, when his brother grabbed his hand, and dug his thumb into the still-bleeding wound on Sam's palm, Dean has been a crucial and integral part of the way Sam copes with all that internal madness.
DEAN: This is real. Not a year ago. Not in Hell. Now. I was with you when cut it, and I sewed it up. Look! ... This is different. Right? Then the crap that's tearing at your walnut. I'm different!! Right?!!
SAM: Yeah. I think so"¦
DEAN: .. I am your flesh and blood brother. I'm the only one who can legitimately kick your ass in real time. You got away. We got you out, Sammy. Believe in that! Believe in me, okay?!! You gotta believe me. You gotta make it Stone Number One, and build on it. You understand?
SAM: Yeah. Yeah. Okay.
I think when Sam walked away from Dean in "Slash Fiction" his hallucinations were less frequent, less intense. Pressing on his scar not only zapped Hall!Luci away, but actually banished him for a substantial period. That's how Sam could function by himself for over a week.
But I think that changed over time. I believe, like many medications and coping techniques, the palm press started to lose it effectiveness, most likely because the underlying problem continued to persist. It's like taking an anti-inflammatory because your knee hurts. If the pain is coming from torn cartilage, the drug will help, but can never really heal the problem.
As well, until "Repo Man" Sam always had the help of others when Dean was in danger. Until his untimely death, Sam could rely on Bobby's help, even if that help was coming over a phone line, rather than from the person sitting next to him.
In "Adventures in Babysitting", Sam was the kidnap victim, and it was Dean who tracked him down. In "Time After Time", Sam knew where Dean was "“ 1944, who the enemy was "“ Chronos, and he had help "“ Sheriff Rhodes. He wasn't alone. In "The Slice Girls", Sam knew where Dean was "“ the motel room, and who the enemy was "“ Emma. He just had to get back to him, and that was something he could manage. And of course in "Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie", it was Sam who was in peril.
But the pieces on the board changed dramatically in "Repo Man". This time, Sam didn't know where Dean was. He didn't know who the enemy was. And Bobby is dead and no longer a phone call away. (Well, maybe just a Ouija-board away if the flask is nearby, but Sam doesn't know that.) This time, Sam was utterly alone. To make matters worse, if he couldn't find or save Dean, he would be staring at a completely solitary future.
Except"¦ There's this guy who's been hanging out in his head for months. Sam doesn't trust him or like him, but he knows him. In fact, with his sarcasm, quick wit, and a similar style of dressing, he might even remind Sam a little bit of the brother he is so desperately trying to find.
I think there is something else at play as well. It's not inconceivable that Sam was suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome.
Stockholm Syndrome is sometimes described as a type of traumatic bonding. One definition states that it is characterized by "strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other."
According to one expert "In order for Stockholm syndrome to occur in any given situation, at least three traits must be present:
- A severely uneven power relationship in which the captor dictates what the prisoner can and cannot do
- The threat of death or physical injury to the prisoner at the hands of the captor
- A self-preservation instinct on the part of the prisoner
It sure sounds like nearly two centuries in The Cage doesn't it?
Viewing a lack of abuse as an act of kindness is a survival mechanism, borne of fear. If you are forced to live and interact daily with an abusive kidnapper, parent, spouse or Archangel, it is perhaps the only way to cope. It can provide hope that, one day, the abuse will end completely. In some instances, it even (often inadvertently) reminds your captor of the fact you are a Person, with rights and dignities.
In "The Born-Again Identity" Sam questions Marin about the return of her dead brother. He seems so knowledgeable about how she is feeling, what she is thinking.
SAM: So, um, your brother "“ when did he pass?
MARIN: Uh, last year.
SAM: Do you see him?
MARIN: shakes her head no
SAM: So... he just talks to you. I bet at first it wasn't so bad. You must have missed him"¦..
MARIN: Yeah. I mean, you're right. At first it's like... I knew I was crazy, but... I didn't really care. I did miss him. But then... he started saying he was lonely. And he started to get mad. And one day he started yelling, and I tried to run but the door was locked. And when I turned around, the whole room was on fire. I barely got out.
I wondered at first, if Sam was remembered how he felt when Dean died and went to Hell. But then I started thinking he could be referring to Lucifer. He spent a long, long time with Lucifer. He became a constant in Sam's world. As weird at it sounds, once he was topside, I suspect there were times he actually missed the Devil on his shoulder.
As long as he has Dean nearby, he can push those feelings and memories away. But in "Repo Man", Dean is missing.
Sam tries to stay strong. He marshals his resources and continues to ignore Hall!Luci. That is, until Hall!Luci uses his forked tongue to speak Sam's worst case scenario "“ that Dean is in mortal danger, and may already be dead.
Sam is tired and terrified. He reacts from the gut. "Shut up" he shouts back, more at himself than at Hall!Luci. Sam is really hoping to silence his own fears.
He is alone and lonely, and in need of help. But all of his allies are gone. All but one. He is a formidable foe, but also a kindly captor. And now Hall!Luci is offering Sam the information he needs to save Dean. (Personally, I think the information was always in Sam's mind. Hall!Luci just helped him connect the dots.)
So Sam does what birds, and bees and fleas have been doing for millennia. Motivated by concern for his brother's life, he reaches out and makes a connection. But it is a most dangerous liaison. It nearly costs Sam his sanity, and his life. Without the intervention of Castiel, it likely would have.
However, as we see in "Party On, Garth", the (temporary? permanent?) end of Sam's hallucinations is not the end of the problems for the Winchesters. There are still Leviathans to destroy, and Dick Roman to vanquish. And of course, they must eventually deal with the issue of Bobby's possible ghostly presence.
But now both brothers are exhausted, weakened by the external wars they've waged side-by-side, and the internal battles they fight in their own minds. More than ever before, Sam will need Dean, and Dean will need Sam, in order to restore to full strength that rarest of collectives "“ a fraternity of Winchesters, a brotherhood of love.