Don't get me wrong, I liked this episode and Sam's scenes with Sheriff Jody, but there's nothing in this episode that moves Sam's character along. He's perfectly well adjusted and back to being the super hunter that he is. Good for him. Perhaps this would make sense if prior episodes had actually dealt with those underlying problems. Given the context of this episode, exploring any problems just wouldn't have fit.
The Slice Girls
In my Dean article I referred to a wild pendulum swinging back and forth when it came to his behavior each week. Sam's pendulum as well has some very impressive air span going at this point in the season. Which Sam Winchester shows up this week? Why it's agitated, pissy, laser focused on the job, not acting very smart (which we know is OOC for Sam). He's closing his mind to possibilities about Bobby being a ghost (again, not typical Sam behavior). Eugenie Ross Leming and Brad Buckner obviously forgot to read any scripts after "Shut Up Dr. Phil" for they thought the whole Amy thing was still going on. Their tennis game must be exquisite by now.
I actually did see some signs of Sam cracking. They were subtle but dammit they were there. Was Sam right to kill Dean's daughter? Of course he was. Sam has figured out that Dean has an apathy problem and he's hesitating when it's time for the kill. Sam knows that in their line of work, there's no luxury to consider "the tables are turned" defense. If Dean thought Amy should die, then he should have easily killed Emma too. She was a monster.
That's all well and good, but Sam as well as Dean has always flirted with the gray areas. Emma really isn't the problem. It's that Sam is barely holding things together (this is using rational logic based on his supposed condition) and needs Dean to have his head in the game. Desperately needs. I think Sam truly knows that he could easily crack at any given moment. Again, I'm speculating, since THERE HAVE BEEN NO OBVIOUS SIGNS.
Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie
Just like with Dean, this doesn't fall in any character arc or follow any rational pattern. It's a standalone. While I do admit that perhaps Sam's fear of clowns was a little overplayed, I loved it. After all, this was the guy who saved the world a couple of years ago. The tough as nails hunter who can take anything dished out to him. What in the world did clowns do to him as a child that has him quivering like a jellyfish every time he spots one? Not just a clown either, but clown logos and drawings on the wall. Heck, he fell apart in the motel room just talking about clowns on the phone with Dean.
It's also fitting that Dean, the menacing older brother, would continue to exploit this fear as well for his amusement. This episode could have been a disaster in epic proportions like "Season Seven: Time For A Wedding." Luckily, it wasn't and in the end Sam was actually a better man because of his ordeal. A glitter covered man, but that made it all the more fun. Thanks to the inconsistent plotting of this show, it doesn't last and really doesn't amount to anything.
FINALLY! From a Sam Winchester perspective, this was the payoff we've been desperate for ever since Ben Edlund artfully showed us Sam's psychosis in "Hello, Cruel World." The question is, why oh why didn't ANY of the other writers follow his lead? Why tease us so cruelly for two seasons with all the statements about the ramifications of the wall falling in his head to only in season seven show it in two masterfully penned Edlund episodes? I feel like Edlund's giant teddy bear in "Wishful Thinking." Why????
After twelve episodes of ranging from doing great to perhaps Sam is having minor struggles off and on, what's really happening in Sam's head is revealed in all it's disturbing detail. It's really stunning that Sam dealt with these vivid hallucinations so well. Or at least hid if from everyone so cleverly. What's happening is very intense and so far from normal it's inconceivable that one person could hide this for so long. There should have been at least some sort of sign other than the occasional hand grab. It's quite maddening going from the over the top clown trauma in "Plucky Pennywhistle's" to this disturbing level of psychosis in "Repo Man."
I get that Sam is not an ordinary guy. He's endured nothing but horrific ordeal after mind blowing trauma and I've been raising the question for years why isn't this guy in a mental institution by now. His threshold for debilitating crap is clearly through the roof, almost making him superhuman. He certainly handles the extreme number of blows to the head he's received very well. But still, extreme psychosis like this without discussing it with Dean or seeking any kind of help (I would have bought him at least self medicating) is pushing our limits of believability.
Look how easy Lucifer was able to slip in and twist Sam's madness to new crushing heights? All Sam did was give Lucifer one "shut-up" and suddenly Lucifer has control. Sam has just assured his undoing. It's so tragic, so stunning, so real in these types of conditions. Sam was all this time a very mental sick person, teetering on a very dangerous edge. Which is why I must scream again, WHY WERE WE SUDDENLY BLINDSIDED BY THIS? If the writers thought it would be fun to conceal this from us, with little to no clues, then go "Surprise!", they made a very grievous mistake. This is a drastic disservice to the character.
None of that rant though is a reflection of this brilliant episode. I still shiver at the thought of poor Sammy sitting on the bed while Dean sleeps, the flood of memories of Hell coming back in full force. He's bathed again in Hellfire, and Lucifer's "Good Morning Vietnam" gets him cringing in total fear, and he's not allowed to sleep. Oh, Sammy, come back to us. The fact that Dean's none the wiser makes this 800 times more tragic.
Out With The Old
From Sam's perspective, I liked what was shown in this episode. His condition has taken a tragic turn, his grip on reality is slowly slipping away, and he even tells Dean about it. Who does nothing. Oh man, the brotherly bonding possibilities here are totally wasted.
This episode was clearly the transition episode in between "Repo Man" and "The Born-Again Identity" and it served Sam's story well. It shifted the POV from Sam internally back to the view of the outsider. Dean's story ended up being the total travesty, but I've already covered that.
The Born-Again Identity
I get the intention. Sam has given up. That's exactly how he should act. He's too tired, too disoriented, and after fighting what's in his head for a very long time alone he has no fight left. There are no options to fix his very human condition. It's hopeless and he's ready to die. This is what happens when a human has to share space with Lucifer. Castiel was right.
Nobody writes Sam Winchester better than Sera Gamble...until now. This was supposed to be Sam's ultimate breakdown. Seven seasons of every freaking tragedy imaginable hitting this guy and now in what is a very logical progression, there's nothing left of his sanity. Even worse, it's affecting him so bad that it's going to kill him. The setup is perfect!
So why did this fail? Easy. You can't have a main character tragedy of this magnitude in "Supernatural" and minimally show the brotherly bond. One scene. That's all we got. I mean, Dean disappears and leaves Sam alone to rot in the mental institution, waiting mercifully death the happen. He didn't even try to call. Considering every single week from "Adventures In Babysitting" to "Out With The Old" Dean checked in with Frank Deveraux, he can't check in on his own dying brother? It makes no sense. One broken cell phone is hardly a deterrent. Even in "When The Levee Breaks" when they spent most of the time apart they were still fretting over each other in a very dramatic way.
When building up to a long anticipated scenario like this, I get it, expectations are high. After all, we have been chomping at the bit for almost two seasons now waiting to see this happen to Sam. But why did this have to be coupled in the same episode with Castiel's return? Why did Sera Gamble think it would be compelling to show Dean going off to find some miracle cure and work out his Castiel abandonment issues while Sam faced death alone? Who would imagine that the same writer who so beautifully gave Bobby Singer the most poignant, emotionally crushing, sentimental hour long and well focused send off couldn't do a fraction of that for Sam Winchester?
The deeper I dig into the analysis of this episode, the more dismayed I become. So little made sense and too much was sacrificed Take the opening scene in the back alley, which is quite stomach churning to see how low Sam has sunk. It's shocking and very effective. Why was Sam alone? By the time Dean finds him at the hospital, Sam has already been treated for physical injuries, it's been determined his mental state is causing his symptoms and they've committed him. That's easily a 24 hour if not longer process. Shouldn't they have tried to find the next of kin? Dean let Sam go away that long? Why didn't we see any of that play out? Did Sam ask for Dean in the hospital, and did Dean go through a big frantic search trying to find Sam? Remember "Born Under A Bad Sign" where Dean is going out of his mind over a missing Sam? We couldn't see that here? It's perplexing since Sera usually isn't that sloppy with details like this.
What was Sam's motivation for going on? Why didn't he just follow Lucifer's advice at that point and blow his brains out? It would have spared him. He's clearly not doing this for Dean anymore. He told Dean to give it up and his brother left him. Sure he had a nice distraction and got to help Marin, but that was short and he didn't get any type of will to live from doing that. The exercise did nothing to help his character, only tells us what we've always known about Sam, he's a hero.
The ultimate insult is at the end. Sam has progressed into a catatonic state, aka the "drooling mess" that's been prophesied for a long while now. They can't show Dean giving more than one sentence of concern? Remember "When The Levee Breaks" when Sam has his terrible seizure? How terrified and shaken Dean was over just watching Sam go through that? It's those little touches that were missing in this episode and the omissions were glaring.
Then Sam is spared thanks to a quick fix from Castiel. I accept that the writers wrote themselves into a corner and had no easy way of getting out of it, but that quick fix had very little pay off other than one great scene with Sam and Castiel later. Nothing satisfying happened emotionally or character growth wise. Sam's cured and they're quickly out of there without showing him get any sort of rest or a clean bill of health from the doctors. Dean instead of grateful for having his brother back gives Sam a bunch of hard nosed crap about how they're targets and need to leave Castiel there. That's the end?
I doubt this was intentional, but as a result of this choppy and ill conceived mess, Sam Winchester turned into more of a cartoon characterization than a believable human being. He suffers horribly and the only person in his life that he lives for can barely muster concern for him. Then an angel fixes him and his suffering was for not. We have zero understanding why he's going on. I don't know if that makes Sam look stupid or aimless. I know one thing, he's not coming across as heroic or self sacrificing here. This is what happens when good characterization goes bad.
Party On, Garth
A massive missed opportunity. Sam's entire recovery was limited to one line. He's getting better, but he feels like the tape from "The Ring." The crazy has been passed on. Otherwise, it's business as usual for Sammy.
In watching this episode, I remembered "Playthings." That was one of the few times we've seen full fledged drunken Sam. He was clearly despondent back then over his "destiny" and what dark and diabolical plans the yellow-eyed demon had for him. He made Dean follow through on his promise to John to kill him if he went too far. It was a moment. Sam and Dean could have easily had the same moment here. They could have gotten drunk to see the Shojo and that's when Sam openly confesses how the entire ordeal in the institution still has him scared. Or that he's still not okay. Nope. Heavy sigh.
What else I didn't like was the rehash of Sam and Dean's conversation about Bobby from "The Slice Girls." Sam's mind hasn't changed. It can't be Bobby. Um, why not? Sam's usually far more open minded that this, even after a major crazy trauma. He's also a lot smarter with his conclusions, like perhaps the flask wasn't around when he tried to contact Bobby.
Of Grave Importance/The Girl With The Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo
Sam didn't get any kind of story here other than follow the bouncing ball of the case, ask questions to Dean about making Ghost!Bobby work, then fretting it won't. You know, because Sam's an optimist but also a realist. Just like Dean, we don't know which Sam is showing up each week either.
Reading Is Fundamental
It's very in character that Sam forgives Castiel and not because of him taking away his crazy. It goes all the way back to "Meet The New Boss." Sam understands the concept of making mistakes in the past and deserving the chance for redemption. But Sam and Castiel both share the extraordinary perspective of insanity and thankfully this was not forgotten. They talked about it, and their short conversation gave us so much in so little time. Sam is still very shaken by the entire ordeal. It was beautiful. It's also not enough, or perhaps too little too late, especially when Dean heard none of it.
There Will Be Blood
Well there's...um...then that...er...at least Sam got to chop off Edgar's head.
This episode featured the return of anxious, worried, pleading urgently for the betterment of humanity Sam. He hasn't been around since the end of season five, right? Just checking. Not that I didn't enjoy seeing this Sam again, but where did he come from out of the blue like that?
Survival of The Fittest
Sam is pretty much cured and well adjusted at this point. There's no hope of going back. If they did, then it would seem as though their rehashing ancient history. The Sam is crazy ship has officially sailed.
I'll tell you what was most interesting about this setup. Season seven's objective was the take everything away from Sam and Dean, strip them down so bare that in the end all they had was each other. The hope was together they'd be stronger, and their bond would be better than ever, but at the end they acted more like seasoned co-workers than emotionally connected brothers. They're better hunters, but not better brothers.
By the end of the season, the only thing left to be taken away was each other. It was hinted heavily that Dean would be the last man standing, especially when Sam was struggling with his mental stability and near death issues. So imagine our surprise when the last man standing turned out to be Sam. This does create some amazing possibilities, especially when we didn't see this coming. Sam certainly didn't. How does he exist as the lone hunter, taking on the monsters that still roam the earth? He doesn't have Dean, Bobby, Castiel, Rufus, Frank, or anyone to rely on other than himself. Is he up to the task? Judging by his devastation over Dean's disappearance, there might be an adjustment period.
On top of everything shared here with the individual episodes, I didn't like in season seven how Sam was in reactionary mode most of the time. This has been said many times on this site throughout the season, but the concept of story driving the characters instead of characters driving the story has done both Sam and Dean a great disservice. It was a worthwhile experiment but clearly doesn't work in this landscape.
Sam had plenty of struggles and now matter how much I point out how poorly developed and executed those story lines were, they're over and he's come out the other side. He's stronger now. Supposedly. It's fascinating the possibilities of what kind of Sam Winchester can come from this. Hell is behind him now, so is the wall. There's only one way to go now, strengthen that bond with Dean. Of course, he has to get Dean back first. How will he handle that task? Will he cross lines again?
There's a number of things I can put on the wish list, but I'd rather let the new creative team have their way. I think they know what's wrong, and know fans would like to see Sam and Dean take front and center again. Their layers need to be exposed again, and if that means slowing down the MOTW or mytharc stories so be it. I'd also like to see Sam connect with people again and not be so isolated from others. They keep saying that Sam is the human one and the more sympathetic brother. If that's true, it's about time they start showing it. The boy has suffered enough.
Coming up next, my review of season seven. Failures in characterization weren't the only the burdens.
Here are the previous "A Deeper Look at Sam Winchester" articles from other seasons: