In my recent letter to Jared about his outstanding performance in "Sacrifice", I reminisced about how well Jared has been building the character of Sam over the past eight years. Jared offered a similar observation at the New Jersey convention when asked about Season 8 Sam. He observed, "Season 8 Sam is not season one Sam, he's just season one Sam, plus season two Sam, plus season three Sam, season four Sam, yeah, that's a lot of seasons of Sam." (as reported by Alice in her New Jersey convention report). We are all the sum of our experiences. Every thought, emotion and reaction we have is defined by what we have cumulatively learned through all our yesterdays. Jared's portrayal of Sam is enriched by Jared's constantly evolving experience as an actor. Every guest star with whom he interacts and every script he interprets all combine into his ability to make Sam more complex and more compelling to the audience. Equally, Sam's character has evolved as he has grown up.
So who was Season 1 Sam, Season 2 Sam, etc.? Several fans commented that they never really understood Sam until the last few episodes of Season 8. So knowing all that we now know about Sam, I thought it would be interesting to take a photographic journey through Sam's crucible experiences. While it might be visually gratifying (and a great deal of fun) to look at dozens of pictures of Sam throughout the years (believe me, I am tempted!), as with all of us, specific moments more or less defined who he is today. Those events forged his values, altered his beliefs and self-image, built or weakened his confidence, and shaped his personality. Together they dictated how he reacted to all of Season 8's trials. The most revealing way to examine his character's growth is to experience his life's crucial moments in exactly the way he did, in chronological order. As we move forward through time, notice not only Sam's transformation, but also the sophistication and complexity of how Jared portrays Sam. Every single nuance built into the masterpiece that was the final shot we had of Sam... his shattering emotional confession to his brother.
Season 1 Sam
The archangel Michael argued that the events of Sam's life were predestined by fate long before he was born. Sam's personality, self-image and view of the world, though, were undeniably shaped by all of the traumatic events that surrounded him. His first defining moment happened when he innocently lay in his crib at six months old (While irrelevant to Jared, how could we even think of starting a photo essay of Sam's life without his adorable baby pic!). Azazel returned to Mary's family to collect on their deal, and Sam's struggle with the demon blood within began. In season 8's "The Great Escapist", we learned that Sam sensed his impurity even as a child. He felt unclean and unworthy, probably contributing to him feeling like a "freak" his whole life.
Young, Rebellious, Hopeful, Innocent Sam, in love with a girl and a dream
When we were first introduced to Sam as a young adult, he knew about monsters and evil. He grew up without a mother, largely living on the road with a volatile, obsessed father who was gone most of the time. Once close to his brother, he pushed Dean away in an attempt to build a "normal" life. Then tragedy struck again, and Sam was transformed:
Guilt and Revenge Driven Sam, Heartbroken and Determined
Just at the moment when he believed he had escaped the hunter's life for good and could enter law school, Jessica was killed and Sam's world changed forever. He became determined to find his dad and Jessica's killer. The rest of season 1 showcased Sam's single-mindedness. He would not allow anything or anyone to deter him from these missions. We see that focused resolve several times in his life, but especially throughout the Season 8 trials. Jessica's death also convinced him that he was "cursed" and that "death follows [him] around" (1.19 Provenance). His astonishment at his "perfect" relationship with Amelia reflected this doomed expectation.
Powerful Sam (Emerging)
Azazel's demon powers within his children began to awaken in Sam when he turned 22. His visions of the future scared him because he was being forced to acknowledge his emerging power and the reality that he could no longer delude himself into believing he would ever be "normal". His understanding and eventual mastery of the "evil within" was possibly the most significant step forward in his knowledge and acceptance of himself.
There were many times in the first two years in which Sam put himself in danger to save Dean's life during a fight, but "Croatoan" was one of the first moments when Sam offered up his own life for the greater good. Dean could have walked away unscathed without Sam, so this was not a choice of trading Sam's life for Dean's. This was Sam making a choice to end his own life to save strangers' lives. This self-sacrificing courage climaxed in "Swan Song" but it was also the core strength needed to continue with the three trials once it was clear that they were destroying Sam from within. Jared added many layers to Sam's motivations and character in Season 2.
("Born Under a Bad Sign" 2.14)
Season 2 was also the first time we witnessed the intimate role demons had in Sam's life. While complete possession only happened once (thanks to Devils' Trap tattoos), it foreshadowed a long line of events when demons overtly or covertly manipulated Sam. We later learned in "Swan Song" that demons had been grooming Sam since childhood. No one could have more reason to want to close the Gates of Hell.
In this unforgettable scene from Jared, we saw Sam's ideal world broken once again. We cried with Sam as he was forced to concede that not everyone could be saved. He couldn't save Max, he couldn't save Madison, and a year later he would be forced to face the reality that no matter what he did or how obsessed he became, no matter what price he was willing to pay, he couldn't save Dean. All this history built to the ultimate realization in the season 8 finale that he had to "let go" of his mission because he couldn't (or shouldn't) save the world from demons.
("All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1" 2.21)
Only about Supernatural could I write the following sentence: Dying and being dead became a recurring theme is Sam's life. His untimely deaths and ultimate resurrections happened so many times that death became a hollow threat. So when Dean told him he would die if he completed the third trial, Sam's pitiful reply of "So?" could have had a double meaning. Clearly, its emotional impact came from his confession of not believing his life was worth saving, but what if the writer's were also foreshadowing or at least acknowledging that dying had never before been permanent so why should it now stop the brothers from completing their quest?
Little Brother Sammy
("Bad Day at Black Rock" 3.03)
[personal note: I have looked at hundreds of pictures to create this photographic journal through Sam's life, yet I laugh every time I look at this picture! He lost his shoe! Aww, poor Sammy.]
Sammy needs Dean. It doesn't happen very often, but there are times that Sam feels his vulnerability and only his big brother understands and can come to his rescue. Several episodes at the end of Season 8 showed Sam weak and exposed, with Dean taking the role of protector and care-taker. In the end, when Sam was too fragile, sick and confused to make sense out of what was happening to him, Sam simply listened to his big brother and did what Dean asked him to do: he stopped the trials.
Vindictive, Scary, Vengeful, Deadly Sam
("Fresh Blood" 3.07)
Was this the first time we saw just how dangerous Sam could be when pushed too far? As Sam's hunting experience deepened and his rage intensified, there could be no doubt of the fierce dominance he could command. The stark contrast between this warrior (shown again in several situations throughout the years) and the wracked shell of a man created by the trials made Sam's condition in the Season 8 finale breathtakingly shocking.
Obsessed Sam (Driven Sam fully realized)
("Mystery Spot" 3.11)
Although we had already learned that Sam would blindly devote himself to a mission, Season 3 Sam intensified his reaction to isolation and duty by developing an obsessive compulsion to succeed in his quests. His responses to everything were becoming more extreme. Jared was showing Sam without any trace of innocence, hope or youth, motivated solely by rage and drive.
Powerful Sam (Fully Realized)
("Lucifer Rising" 4.22)
So much of Season 4 was about a Sam filled with hate, anger, passion...and power. Gone was the youthful Sammy. He was blindly rebellious again, convinced that he alone was right. He was put into several situations where either he legitimately had to save Dean (e.g. "Yellow Fever" and "On the Head of a Pin") or where he perceived himself as the only player powerful enough to save people. His blind embrace of this power ended in the disastrous final scene of "Lucifer Rising". This direct foreshadowing replayed itself at the end of Season 8, when Sam alone had the power to stop demons from walking the earth (openly as in an apocalypse or subtly as they had for centuries) and Dean trying to stop him from the ultimate conclusion. Clearly, Sam learned from his past, and four years later he listened to his brother.
("Sympathy for the Devil" 5.01)
Our most significant steps forward in self-realization often come from learning from our mistakes. While he would always have the potential for great power, throughout Season 5 Sam learned the price paid for wielding that power. He learned humility, and that it is often more important to know when to not use great power. At the end of Season 8, Sam had the power to close the Gates of Hell literally in his blood, but once before he had used the power in his blood to try to save the world. Faced again with this exact choice, he backed away from the precipice and left the world's fate unchanged by his hand.
Lucifer Sam(fully realized Demon Sam converges with Self-Sacrificing Sam)
("The End" 5.04)
In a chilling recharacterization of Sam, Jared portrays a composed, confident Lucifer. While not technically"possessed" (Sam gave his permission), Sam was brutally affected by his time as, and with, Lucifer (in the cage). It would be nearly a year before we would begin to see the mental insanity that Lucifer and Hell imposed on Sam.
("Exile on Main St." 6.01)
I'm not sure it was intentional, but what a brilliant way to give Sam (and Jared!) a few months rest from the emotional turmoil that had been Sam's life for the past several years! Jared has frequently cited Soulless Sam as his favorite character because it was a challenge and a treat to play someone different for a while! The audience got a great mystery for half a season and the writers got to explore several "what if" scenarios with Sam.
Hallucifer Sam (i.e. Lucifer-on-my-Mind Sam)
("Hello, Cruel World" 7.02)
("The Born-Again Identity" 7.17)
Then it all caught up with Sam. Demon blood leading to Lucifer leading to Hell. We can't escape our yesterdays and this was Sam's time of reckoning. It was a great way to pull together all that had happened up to this point, but with Castiel's solution to take on Sam's pain, the writers pushed the "reset" button for Sam. Physically and mentally fit again, with seven years of hard-learned lessons behind him, Sam was ready for season 8.
("Everybody Hates Hitler" 8.13)
This year further developed aspects of Sam that we knew existed but hadn't been extensively explored previously. I would now add to the list "Smart Sam" or "Academic Sam". His intelligence was quickly established in the Pilot with his LSAT score and his "full ride" to Stanford, but the first seven seasons largely took Sam's intellect for granted. Thankfully, several episodes this year highlighted his independent intelligence, culminating in "Everybody Hates Hitler" when Sam used the Men of Letters' bunker for the first time.
"LARP and the Real Girl" also thankfully (for Sam and Jared) resurrected the lighter sides of Sam's character that had long ago been beaten down. The "Fun Sam" that loved practical jokes was rekindled when he allowed himself to role play. Riot and Portia-as-a-dog also reminded us of "Animal Lover Sam", who had shared several adorable scenes with dogs (remember Season 5's Bones?). Best of all, we were treated to scenes of "Loving Sam", shirtless and in bed with beautiful women (For fear of being totally side-tracked from my character study, I didn't pull out the scene from Season 4's "I Know What You Did Last Summer" or some of those great soulless mornings-after scenes from Season 6. Feel free to indulge in your own photographic research!).
I detect a few new aspects of Sam's character are also being introduced in Season 8. I personally never picked up on a "Jealous/Insecure Sam", but these were clearly the motivations in some of the scenes in "Blood Brother" and "Southern Comfort".
Mostly, though, Season 8 invoked almost every Sam that had been developed in the prior 7 years. Repentant (e.g. "We Need to Talk about Kevin" and "Sacrifice"), Rebellious and Hopeful (Amelia), Driven (the trials), Powerful and Deadly (e.g. "Trial and Error"), Self-Sacrificing (Amelia and the trials), Hallucinating, Defeated, Little Brother and Dying Sams were all used in the many, many epic shots of Sam in Season 8:
("Blood Brother" 8.05)
Powerful and Deadly
So in eight years, Sam lost his innocence but gained the wisdom that comes from age; he learned to control or judiciously choose to not use his supernatural powers; he lost hope then found a way to regain his optimism. He became a legendary hunter, but is also embracing his intellectual prowess. And might I say, he lost his boyish charm and became a fiercely handsome man (or is that Jared??). I leave you with that thought.