I’ve really struggled with putting together my “Deeper Look” articles this season, both for Sam and Dean. We were given 23 episodes and that is usually plenty of time to do a deep character examination. Season Eleven went a different way though, different than any other season before it. Character development was a sorry after thought. That’s been a troubling trend in the last few seasons but season eleven really dropped the ball. Turns out it is the worst season yet for characterization.
The potential for Sam and Dean’s characters to do epic things and grow as human beings was there at the beginning. TV writers often like to push their characters into spirals with the eventual goal of moving them forward (you can’t go up without going down sort of thing), so the setup was there, but nothing happened. Dean was intended to fall into a serious low this year with his attraction to Amara, but that didn’t quite happen the way it should have. Instead of a spiral, he quietly slipped into a boring holding pattern that did little to no justice for his character. But I’ll cover all that in my segment for Dean. This analysis is about Sam.
Half a season of effort went into Sam. The rest was throwing him into clichéd MOTW case mode, acting out of character, and then just outright pretending he wasn’t a relevant character. I’m not happy that Sam became waterboy for God instead of hero, but that’s not what has made me unhappy about his character overall. It was the writers not following through on what they started because the writing got lazy and disorganized as the season progressed. Once the “big reveal” about Sam’s visions happened in episode nine, which honestly wasn’t all that big a reveal since fans are smart, Sam was pushed more and more to the background until he was utterly useless in the end. That’s exactly what shouldn’t be happening to one of the two main characters.
Where did the writers go wrong? Let’s look at some key episodes.
Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire/Form and Void
When it came to Sam, there were errors from the beginning. Remember what Sam like at the end of season 10? He was vigilant, reckless, desperate, with a “save Dean at all costs even if it means ending the world” attitude that threw him into woeful low. Season 11 starts and one brief encounter with Amara’s black smoke later, suddenly Sam’s all into remembering why they do what they do, to save people. Huh? I’m very glad that Sam has come to this revelation, and it resulted in a good speech, but there’s no progression from point A to point B, or no sudden revelation where the Heavens opened up and struck him with common sense for his act.
The fact that this sudden shift happened in two consecutive episodes written by the same writer makes the missed concept even more mind-boggling. It would have made more sense for Sam to see the bigger picture after his near death experience with Billie the Reaper and his desperate act of faith by praying to God in the chapel in episode two, “Form and Void.” His actions in the opener come with no real merit or motivation at this point. It was if a writer was desperate to plug in a brotherly speech.
“Form and Void” was an ideal character examination for Sam. It was him taking stock of what he had done and facing consequences, turning to a higher power since he was alone and knew saving himself and others was beyond his capabilities. The Sam to emerge from this was stronger, more focused on his mission, with a renewed faith in the greater good. This was a renewed Sam that we could get behind.
The Bad Seed/Baby
“The Bad Seed” reduced Sam to wallpaper, which is a common problem with the characters in a Brad and Eugenie script. In “Baby” though, we got to see a rare side of Sam, someone trying to enjoy life in between the awful circumstances that plague he and Dean. He’s still hopeful that they’ll find someone to share their lives with. He still believes in companionship, whether it be the road trip with his brother or the quick one night stand with a waitress. This is Sam Winchester the dreamer, the one that we remember from earlier seasons. The one that despite all the horrors that have fallen on him hopes for better things. It explains to an audience that sees him knocked down tons and wonders why he even bothers getting back up. He isn’t superhuman after all, he’s human.
Sam’s visions also take front and center, and he talks to Dean about them for the first time. Sam is right to think they’re coming from God since they started happening when in prayed in “Form and Void.” Part of me wonders if that was the first time in a long while that Sam prayed or showed any sign of faith. It’s a renewal of the Sam that once was in earlier seasons, when life was simpler and more clear cut. The verdict is on the back burner for now, but no doubt this visions are rattling Sam to the core.
Thin Lizzie/Out of This World/Plush
Through the string of the next MOTW cases, Sam is seen both embracing his life and facing his darkest fears. He jumps on the chance to explore a case involving Lizzie Borden, thus amusing his established serial killer curiosity. He tries to continue his new found mission to save people in “Out of This World,” going out of his way to save the people possessed by demons, but he is struck with another terrifying vision, one with chilling clarity. It is of the cage in Hell. Is God telling him that Lucifer is the answer? While wrestling with what haunts him in Hell he valiantly faces another big and well established fear of his in “Plush”, the fear of clowns (we definitely don’t blame him, that was one freakishly scary clown). Sam pulling in enough strength in the elevator to take on that clown was a defining moment and a clear cut sign he was preparing himself to confront Lucifer in Hell. Now, he just needed to convince Dean.
Just My Imagination
This is a Sam Winchester gem, a rarity in a vast collection of episodes. Let’s face it, Sam hasn’t had a lot of friends or confidants through his life. He’s got Dean and to a small extent Castiel, but that’s all. Bobby has been long gone. We find out that he did have some extra help as a child, an imaginary friend who ends up being quite real, and in a fit of ideal timing that friend comes back into his life right when he’s struggling with one of the biggest decisions of his life. The whole thing is a breath of fresh air for a character that historically has never gotten a break.
I usually don’t like the “Weechester” flashbacks, but this time seeing Sam at that time in his life was a vital parallel to the struggle he faces now. When he was nine, he found out monsters were real, and he was left alone while Dean and John went hunting. That vulnerability of needing someone to help him choose a direction was seen in both past and present, the constant being Sully. Thanks to a heart to heart with Sully, Sam of present day had to confidence to go back to Dean and tell him that they were not dropping the idea of him going back to the cage. Sam of old usually ran away, doing what he wanted after being shut down by Dean. To go back to Dean and press the issue, accepting he can’t do this alone, is a huge leap for Sam’s character. It was his failure in season 10.
O’Brother Where Art Thou?
Breakthrough over. It all gets crappy from here. Did anyone see “Swan Song?” Remember that when Sam faced the idea of confronting Lucifer, the anxiousness and the stakes were massive? My insides were in knots just watching Sam go through all this. One other thing happened too, in the initial confrontation Dean was there. In this episode, Dean has to miss out because he’s running errands and Sam goes TO HELL TO CONFRONT LUCIFER WITH CROWLEY AND ROWENA INSTEAD? WTF??
The entire confrontation was filled with awkward lines and horrific dialogue. Hardly the brash “a fiddle of gold against your soul” we got with Kripke’s take in “Swan Song”. This signaled that the whole idea of Sam confronting Lucifer again was a bad idea. We went from something terrifying to something completely off, not to mention very campy considering Hell looked like a dingy basement.
But hey, plotting issues aside, what did this do for Sam’s character? The brave, strong, determined Sam Winchester that had been leading up to this point instead got duped into sharing a cage with Lucifer thanks to Rowena and ended up going into midseason shedding a tear while Lucifer made a rape joke. Congrats Brad and Eugenie, you just wiped out all of Sam’s season 11 character development in half an episode. I have found that it is best if we just eliminate this episode entirely from the analysis, because it’s the odd duck in the progression that makes no freaking sense.
The Devil in the Details
This is your life, Sam Winchester. Lucifer was obviously trying to get Sam to say yes and going back into flashbacks of Sam’s life was supposed to do the trick. Luckily, as we know too well, Sam is more stubborn than that. He shut Lucifer down cold, and did so in ideal defiant Sam fashion, like he was rejecting his father all those years ago.
Lucifer’s little trip down memory lane triggered one thing in Sam, and it identified a tipping point. The incident where it all went wrong; where he became so overcome with guilt that he was willing to sacrifice anything to save Dean, including the world. It was when he hit that f***ing dog. Oh please, really? We’re going there again? Lucifer was counting on one thing with Sam that didn’t happen, and everything that has gone into Sam’s character this season has built up to this moment. In order to defeat the Darkness, Sam had to be prepared to die and watch his loved ones die and Lucifer believed he was not willing to do that. It’s a fair assumption after what we saw in season 10. The only way to avoid all that was to say yes to Lucifer so he can defeat The Darkness. Luckily, Sam has learned his lesson.
“'Cause this is what I think, I think that whoever wins, you or the Darkness, everyone else loses. So, no. My answer is no. This isn't because of Dean, or the past, this is about me having faith in my friends, having faith in my family. We will find a way. I'm ready to die and I'm ready to watch people I love die, but I'm not ready to be your bitch.”
That’s our Sammy! His words are very consistent with his journey this season. Luckily, he also believed Dean was out there ready to save him. He was right.
Into The Mystic
Sam is suffering from the effects of Lucifer getting into his head and bringing to the surface that long standing guilt. He apologizes to Dean for not looking for him at the beginning of season eight. Dean has forgiven him for that, which we kind of thought given his speech and act of saving Sam from killing himself AT THE END OF SEASON EIGHT. But hey, the issue is resolved, and now Sam can move on.
The Rest of the Season
Well, that was pretty much it for the Sam story and his character growth. 23 episodes in the season and they gave up on him around episode 11. Not only did they give up on him, but some of his actions were wildly out of character. I’m not going to say Sam didn’t have some good story lines. He was his badass best in “Red Meat”. He was there to support Dean over his “I can’t kill Amara” hangup numerous times. He got to fetch water for a dying God (yeah, I’m never going to stop being bitter over that). All his soul searching and unwavering faith in God, wasn’t explored at all when God actually arrived and essentially dropped by episode nine. He didn’t have one single meaningful conversation with Chuck! Why was the faith arc from earlier in the season dropped right when it could have paid off handsomely and come full circle?
What’s most appalling though is Sam’s actions throughout the second half of the season. He softened to Lucifer, helping him rather remembering all the pain he caused, not to mention forgetting his own freaking speech in episode 11.10. I get that he eventually got protection from God/Chuck, but he was tortured by Lucifer for 100+ years in Hell. Its kind of hard to forget that. He went out of his way to save Lucifer in “All in the Family” and tried to play sympathetic counselor to him in “We Happy Few.” Really? He may be at peace with himself, but Sam is not a forgive and forget kind of person. He’s not that Zen. Remember his ongoing grudge with Crowley that has carried on all these years? His actions toward Lucifer at the end of the season made no sense, even if Lucifer was possessing Castiel. It’s a travesty to his character, no matter how diminished Lucifer had become.
The closing episodes lacked any emotional impact for Sam, and he thought Dean had died! Remember when Dean thought Sam had died in “Red Meat”? How crushed he was and unwilling to leave his brother behind? I feel robbed that we didn’t get a scene like that when Dean went to sacrifice himself to stop Amara. Why wasn’t Sam with him? All that guilt about not looking for Dean and he is letting his brother die alone? Dean wouldn’t let Sam die alone in “Swan Song” and countless other times. Sam was so desperate to save Dean he brought on the end of the world. So now he decides to let Dean die alone? It was all just a lame setup for a cliff hanger that made no plausible sense.
So what are we left with? Sam, who thinks Dean is dead, has been shot and will be taken to some place where he will beaten and broken while Dean gets to deal with a newly revived Mary. Just great. Instead of mourning his brother, all we got from Sam was a somber look at the sun with the others. Sure, he was internalizing, which doesn’t exactly translate well on screen, and definitely didn’t here. There’s no triumphs to celebrate, no purpose that Sam brought into this endgame except that he gets to play Samsel in Distress again. That is why I’m least excited about the end of a season for the first time in the entire series of “Supernatural.” Everything that came to be for the characters went nowhere, and I feel like my time invested was wasted.
That’s only at looking at Sam’s arc. Coming up, Dean’s turn, and as you can guess, I’ll be glossing over most of the beginning of the season. Heck, I’ll be glossing over most of the end too. If it looks like Sam’s plight didn’t go anywhere, just wait to you see Dean’s.
Here's the other "A Deeper Look at Sam Winchester" articles from seasons past.
A Deeper Look at Season Three Sam Winchester
A Deeper Look at Season Four Sam Winchester
A Deeper Look at Season Five Sam Winchester
A Deeper Look at Season Six Sam Winchester
A Deeper Look at Season Seven Sam Winchester
A Deeper Look at Season Eight Sam Winchester Part 1
A Deeper Look at Season Eight Sam Winchester Part 2
A Deeper Look at Season Nine Sam Winchester Part 1
A Deeper Look at Season Nine Sam Winchester Part 2
A Deeper Look at Season Ten Sam Winchester Part 1
A Deeper Look at Season Ten Sam Winchester Part 2