In the past few seasons when the time has come to write my “Deeper Look” analysis for Sam, the first thing that comes to mind is how poorly his overall lack of characterization has been. After all, Sam is one of those enigmas who internalizes so much that what he's thinking and feeling isn't drawn out by a majority of the writing team due to, hell, I really don't know why. It's work. I don’t have that to say about season 10 though. I’m not saying Sam's overall development was ideal, especially in the first 16 episodes of the season, but he did some things that really draw attention to his mindset and fractured psyche. Sam was pushed in a very dark direction and the results were both fascinating and rather disturbing. In the end I'm very worried about what direction he's headed and where he goes from here, but he’s not beyond redemption either.
In going through episode by episode this season, Sam’s focus was pretty single minded, but it was anything but easy. The choices got tougher, the guilt plaguing him became greater, the burden he took upon himself was overwhelming a lot of the time, but he stayed steady in his quest. Dean was all that mattered. Nothing was going to stop him from his mission this time, consequences be damned. He didn’t waver in his devotion to his brother and judging by the end result, it’s again out of the frying pan and into the fire. That single minded focus at times left Sam with little to do other than flash worried looks every time Dean went off on a tangent (and when he didn’t) and left a fan often wondering, “What's Sam’s purpose again?” But we eventually found out.
Yes, we got a healthy reminder come episode 17 of Sam’s true character, but it took a while to get to that point. His path wasn’t an even one for sure - all of that falling on the lack of consistency in the writing team - but more attention and care was given to Sam’s motivations than we’ve seen in season’s past. As has been the theme since Carver came on as showrunner, there were ramifications because of his actions, ones that will no doubt play out in season 11. By looking at Sam’s total journey, I’m pleasantly surprised by how it all mapped out in the end.
Before I dig into the analysis, I should remind that the purpose of these "Deeper Look" articles ever since I started them in season three is to follow the path of the characters through the season episode by episode and then determine if it all adds up in the end. It is a “call it as I see it approach” and is not condemning or judging a character’s actions. If anything, I question the creative choice of the writers. But don’t think that some of my observations are knocking or glorifying a character. It’s just analyzing what’s presented and nothing more.
With that in mind, let's take a deeper look at season ten Sam Winchester.
This first episode might refer to the color of Dean’s eyes, but it also represents Sam’s state of mind as well. From the very first frame we saw how driven Sam was. He wasn’t letting down his brother this time. Finding Dean was all that mattered. Sam was willing to go to whatever lengths it took and when that vigilant side of Sam is shown, he can get pretty scary at times. He’s definitely unhinged, down, but not out. Heck, even his shoulder is wrecked but he’s going on. He’s digging deep, including brutally torturing a demon (in that rather unhinged way), keeping in touch with whatever hunters are left that will talk to him, monitoring the police scanner, checking weather patterns, aka using any resource he can to get a lead on Dean. He can’t assume the worst, which is Dean is a demon and too far gone. He won’t listen to Castiel’s words of warning. He’s assuming that whatever Dean is doing, it’s because he’s not himself and has no choice. Circumstances are making this happen. He refuses to believe this is Dean at his core.
Sam’s behavior fits based on how devastated and angry he was in “Do You Believe in Miracles?” when he summoned Crowley. It also fits his past behavior when he's driven by something important. He becomes obsessed and laser focused. He does whatever it takes and rationalizes his actions. All in all, Sam is a man that doesn’t have a lot of faith left. There’s only one constant in this world which he can rely, his big brother, and he’s not letting him down. He’ll bring him back, no matter what Dean says or does. He wasn't letting go this time.
Sam won’t let his quest to save Dean waiver, even when Dean decides to let Sam die in the hands of the vengeful Cole. At worst he left Sam behind to suffer some very painful torture! (Ouch, pressing the broken shoulder dude?) Sam won’t give his brother up though. As soon as he got the chance, beaten and nearly broken, he still went after Dean. Yes, it was a ploy by Cole to have Sam lead him to Dean but Sam didn’t care at the time. He only had one goal. Even when Dean at the end called the Impala “just a car” and threatened Sam, he took him back to the MOL bunker anyway for a cure. He wasn’t going to believe that this was really his brother.
Sam isn’t worrying about the Mark of Cain. That’s the problem for later. Now that he has Dean, getting the demon out of him is the only option. Dean tries in every possible way to emotionally cripple his brother. He gets really mean. But Sam won’t stop.
DEAN: In fact, your uh… guilt-ridden, weight-of-the-world bro has been M.I.A. for quite some time now. But I’m loving the new model: Lean, mean, Dean.
DEAN: You notice I tried to get as far away from you as possible? Away from your whining, your complaining. I chose the King of Hell over you! Maybe I was just … tired of babysitting you. Or always having to yank your lame ass out of the fire since … [laughs]… Forever. Or maybe … Maybe it was the fact that my mother would still be alive if it wasn’t for you. That your very existence sucked the life out of my life!
SAM: This isn’t my brother talking.
DEAN: You never had a brother! Just an excuse for not manning up. But guess what: I quit.
SAM: No. No, you don’t. You don’t get to quit. We don’t get to quit in this family! This family is all we have ever had!
DEAN: Well, then, we got nothin’.
SAM: Would you say that to Dad?
DEAN: Dad? Oh, there’s a prize. There’s a man who brainwashed us into wasting our lives fighting his losing battle!
[Sam turns away and prepares the next syringe.]
DEAN: Oh. Ooh. Is this you manning up?
SAM: This is me yanking your lame ass out of the fire. [Sam jabs the needle into Dean’s arm, filling his veins with the purified blood.] You’re welcome.
Dean even messes with Sam’s psyche by mentioning what happens if this doesn’t work. “If this doesn’t work, we both know what you got to do to me, right? You got the stomach for that, Sam?!”
No, he doesn’t. He couldn’t do it any more than Dean couldn’t in “Brother’s Keeper.” He got very worried over the treatment killing Dean and had to be talked down by Cas. Then when Dean stalks him with the hammer, and Sam can only defend himself with the demon knife to Dean’s throat, he still can’t do it. (I still call foul that Castiel was right behind Dean though). If Castiel wasn’t right behind Dean, would Sam have killed his brother? The panic in his eyes said it all, absolutely not. He’d rather die and probably would have if left alone with his crazed brother. That's all water under the bridge though, he got Dean back and that’s all that matters. The next crisis is tomorrow.
It’s technically the day after or perhaps a week. It doesn’t matter, things are weird. Sam and Dean may be sitting in lawn chairs by the water with the green cooler full of beer, but neither are really relaxing. They're too busy avoiding the elephant in the room. Sam is now fearful of Dean jumping in too soon. He’s fearful that hunting again will trigger that Mark. Sam also has to face the inevitability, Dean is not about to give up hunting. He will have to deal with the MOC another way.
There were a couple of brotherly conversations and Dean is digging at Sam's sore spot. He’s as unsettled with Sam’s behavior as his own (or perhaps that's a deflection?). He does raise some legitimate questions. Just how far was Sam willing to go to rescue Dean? Was it worth the cost? Lester may have been the jerk that sold his soul, but Sam opened up that door. Dean isn’t seeing the upside of them fighting for each other, but Sam tries to get Dean to see if from his perspective. He was the one that had to carry Dean’s body home. He was the one that had to watch Dean leave him and carry on as a demon. It was more than he could take. He can't go through that again. Dean understands.
Can Sam live with himself over what he’s done despite saving Dean? Oh yes he can and this will be tested for the remainder of the season. It’s interesting, and it really hit home with Dean allowing Sam to be possessed by Gadreel in season nine, but somewhere along the line this all became about each other's survival, no matter what the costs. The collateral damage is becoming less and less important. Is it because these brothers have lost so much that more losses don’t sting anymore? Or sting far less? There are no lines being drawn anymore. One thing is for sure in this messy ethical dilemma, they need to keep working. It's the only way to make things right.
Sam did have one big take away from this, or at least it was a reinforcement of his resolve to stick by his brother no matter what. “The two of us against the world.” Sam didn’t have to say much to get through to Dean. “What she said.”
Again, there was just one little sign, but it added consistency to his mission.
Dash: Well Sam, I'll let you in on a little secret. We don't really like each other... But then what family does?
Sam: Mine does. For the most part, it's just my brother and me.
It’s the end though that triggers the alert for Sam, or anything confirms some fears. Dean has his first kill, and it’s a brutal one. Dean won’t even explain it to him, cutting Sam off and turning up the radio. Sam decides not to push. He knows that when dealing with Dean, it’s going to take a lot of patience and handling it on his own. Enjoy the Seger tune Sam, it’s a great one.
“Girls, Girls, Girls”
Was Sam even in this one? (looks at transcript). Huh, I guess so.
Oh wait, I found something. Dean’s speech at the end to Cole. Despite Dean’s claim that he said those words to Cole because he was “telling a guy what he needed to hear,” Sam believed otherwise. He knew there was still heart and sympathy in his brother behind the Mark. He still clings onto that belief with dear life.
Supportive baby brother strikes again! Yeah, that’s all I got.
“The Things We Left Behind”
Yes, I know, Sam and Dean were essentially guest stars in their own show until the end, and we know this one rubs me the wrong way on so many levels. Why would Sam, who’s been ultra cautious about Dean all season, just casually leave him behind, or even think Dean was behind him and not notice until he was in the car? Sam is not this flaky and it was a contrived setup for Sam to come up and tell a bloodied and dazed Dean, “Tell me you had to do this…Tell me it was them or you!”
Still, it was a turning point. From this point forward, Sam got more desperate. He was now more determined than ever to find a solution to get the MOC off his brother, no matter what.
“The Hunter Games”
Ugh, not another atrocious Brad and Eugenie script. Sam gives the “you have the Mark of Cain, so why not make the most of it” speech. That so…didn’t last. It also didn't match Sam's angst about the situation at all. Did this stop him from trying to find the cure? Not by a long shot.
Whatever Sam did in this episode doesn’t count, because anything these two autonomous islands to the rest of the SPN reality write about Sam (or Dean, or Castiel or anyone) is so grossly out of character it doesn’t line up with anything. I’ve just learned to hand wave anything they put to paper. Let’s save some time and hand wave “Paint It Black” as well. There, I feel better.
“There’s No Place Like Home,” “About A Boy,” “Halt and Catch Fire”
Three more episodes of playing cheerleader, tap dancing around the core issue, giving at the end the “we’ll find a way” or “we’ll keep fighting” speeches. Very cliché and they didn’t do much to expand Sam beyond a one dimensional character. It was at this point that the frustration level got pretty bad, even if the episodes themselves weren’t all bad (okay, “Halt and Catch Fire” was pretty atrocious). Will the real Sam Winchester please show up? It goes to show that once again, when one character has the main mytharc, the other turns into a hand wringing tinderbox. It happened to Dean in season eight and the first half of season nine. It’s contributed greatly to the weakness of the show’s stories in the last few seasons, not to mention make us wonder exactly why are these characters even hunting? Going bowling looks more fun. Luckily, my main man Robert Berens breaks the stalemate.
“The Executioner’s Song”
Finally! Character movement! This was a big test for both brothers. It was the confrontation that Sam feared, because he knew the impact would change Dean forever. “Win or lose, you may never come back from that fight.” The whole encounter with Cain amped-up his desperation tenfold.
What I love Sam’s story in this episode we FiNALLY get confirmation of what he was really feeling. Up until now there were vague clues, the kind writers justify because Sam "internalizes." We didn't know the depth of Sam’s internal struggle until this episode when he uttered those final words on the brink of tears, “Dean’s in trouble.” Just about every episode since “Soul Survivor,” Sam has been looking at Dean with worried trepidation and raising a comment here or there either showing optimism that he can beat this or making sure that he’s “okay” (which he is not and he knows it). He did that this hour too, following Dean’s lead, being the supportive brother to talk to, yada yada, but the end solidified for us that Sam is putting up one very good front for Dean. The truth is that underneath it all, he’s freaking out about the MOC and is VERY worried. He’s starting to crumble. The fact that he verbalized this to Castiel AFTER giving Dean a pep talk and AFTER Dean left the room shows that Sam is reaching a breaking point and about to do something desperate. Well, in episode 17 anyway. We have some filler to get through first.
“The Things That They Carried”
Ugh, the anvilicious parallel. Sam couldn’t save the innocent victim, so maybe he can’t save Dean. He’s sad. I’m not happy by the back tracking from last week’s reveal. Get on with it! Oh right, “Paint It Black.” I’ve erased it from my memory.
Sammy’s getting desperate…
This is how Sam can be given a storyline! From this point forward it’s Sam’s struggle that comes front and center, perhaps more prominently than Dean’s. Shit gets real. He’s ready to go as reckless as he must. First he’s blatantly lying to Dean, but Dean knows and has decided this time he doesn’t care. With little options left, Sam decides it's time to get the truth out of Metatron and find out what he knows about the Mark of Cain. Castiel has used up all his favors in Heaven, so it’s time for another plan.
This is action hero Sammy, which is freaking cool! He had great lines! He got to have fun with a wacko psychic and go all Dirty Harry on Metatron! But Sam was also a man who needed to hear a friendly voice. Desperately needed to hear. There were huge risks by contacting Bobby in Heaven, but I suspect Sam needed more than just an ally. He needed a father figure, a chance to talk to someone who would know and understand Dean and what he’s trying to do to save him. If anything, he needed that voice of reason, that justification he's doing right and someone he cares deeply about would back his play. He probably wasn’t counting on getting some fatherly advice as well, because what he’s attempting shows how much he’s at his wits end. It also raised the question too, who was Sam willing to see get hurt in this quest, since Bobby suffered a punishment at the end for his actions. Sure Bobby accepted the consequences, but again it was a situation that Sam made possible.
Metatron was a dead end (Good thing they balked on that “The river ends at the source,” crap). But Sam takes time to read the message that Bobby sent through Castiel. It’s a warning that what he’s doing will come at a price, but he also tells Sam how proud he is. “I ain’t there on the ground, and whatever you do, I know you’ll make the right choice. You’re good man Sam Winchester…one of the best.” Heck, I was weepy, let alone Sam by the end of that. The tear was touching, but symbolized his deep isolation as well. Sam has some big decisions to make and will have to choose just how far he’s willing to go to save Dean. It’s some pretty wicked foreshadowing.
As you can tell, I made it all the way until episode 17 before finding a dividing half way point! In other years, that came in episodes 9 or 10. Coming up in part two, the real meat of Sam's season ten saga. Yes, they actually waited until episode 18 to broaden his story line in a big way! It does get good.