So look who went all meta!  After reading all the other great writers on this site take turns at character metas, it occured to me I hadn't done one in a while.  I've actually been working on this since the end of "Sam, Interrupted" but was inspired to finish it after Jasminka's fantastic "Dean Winchester Is Dead - Long Live Dean Winchester." What's resulted even fascinates me.  Who knew how deep Sam's issues go?  Fine, we all did.  Prepare for something a little mind numbing.  I don't think I've even scratched the surface, but it's a start.  


It’s not a stretch for me to say that Sam Winchester is a misunderstood character. He’s exactly what he joked about in “Free To Be You and Me,” a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a taco. After all, Sam is an internalizer. He shoves his issues deep and won’t deal with them unless they’re pushed out of him in a rather harsh way. So, we as viewers have to cling onto those precious times when the inner conflict is shown or even hinted. Like the recent reveal that he’s very angry inside. Why is that and what exactly is all that pent up anger doing to the poor boy? It’s a question Dean refused to explore but hey, I’ll try it. 

Understanding Rage

Anger is a primal emotion. It usually manifests into many other emotions on various spectrums, rage being one of the most extreme. According to Wikipedia (yes, this entry sounds accurate to me) “When a person experiences rage it usually lasts until a threat is removed or the person under rage is incapacitated.” Sam’s issues with rage have mostly existed in the past two seasons (one big exception being at the end of season one’s “Salvation”) and when he’s raging, it’s difficult to get him out of that mode. He’s lost and unable to control himself, the crazy eyes saying it all.  The attacks against the hunters in the bar in “Free To Be You and Me” and the doctor in “Sam, Interrupted” are good examples, but there are plenty of other cases too like when he wouldn’t stop with Lilith in all of season four until she was dead. His desire to see her head on a plate bloody in “Wishful Thinking” was a very cold and dark wish coming from something burning deep within. Sam is in an entirely different zone when he channels his anger towards something evil and it’s frightening.

How did the rage start? Again from Wikipedia, “Anger is explained by current dissatisfaction in one’s life. This amount of anger or frustration is common. Rage, however, is caused from built up anger from past traumas.” Well, that scenario fits. Let’s go through just the high level list of traumas. His mother died when we was a baby.   He was dragged cross country his entire upbringing by his dad who hunted monsters. He was trained to hunt said monsters himself even though he didn’t want to. He left that life behind and got pulled back when witnessing the love of his life charcoaled on the ceiling. He found out he had psychic abilities rooted in evil. He watched his Dad die. He had to kill the first woman he loved after Jessica. He learned he was infected with demon blood as a baby and is a major part of a diabolical demon war. He died. He watched Dean die. He gave into his resistance over using said dark powers, got hooked on demon blood and accidently started the apocalypse. While he suffered from the guilt over that and rejection by his brother, the one person in his life that matters, he found out he’s supposed to be the vessel for Lucifer himself and will be a key part of the plan to destroy the earth. You think all that qualifies as the proper catalysts for rage?

There are two types of anger, passive and aggressive. Sam suffers from both. Wiki states, “One can mask rage by appearing overly dominant, or by being depressed.” Let’s face it, most of the time Sam is depressed. He has no joy in his life. He doesn’t go after women like his brother, he doesn’t socialize for fear of people close to him dying, he doesn’t let loose in a bar or a whorehouse or even go fishing for a good time either. Heck, he even eats salads all the time. That’s pure misery right there. He mostly sits in a motel room or in the car and either reads or thinks. And broods. We haven’t even had signs since season two that he still has his pay-per-view porn habit. He doesn’t dream of a happy future anymore. He’s maintained in both “Wishful Thinking” and “Swap Meat” whatever he hoped for once isn’t his life anymore. If he isn’t depressed, then he’s certainly depressing.

Then there’s the other side of masking rage, being overly dominant. There are times when Sam is pushed to the limit and the depressed complacent state turns into a show of massive force, aka using his powers. No wonder he craves the power that his demon blood brings him. Think about it, in order to unleash the kind of wrath he did in “My Blood Valentine” he had to channel that inner rage. It’s got to be a big source of fuel for that power. Anyone think that using his abilities to exorcise five demons at once and take out a horseman was actually calming his inner rage? Heavens no. If anything, it added gallons of jet fuel to an already out of control fire. It’s only building and getting worse.

Where Did It Begin?

So where did it all begin? When did Sam start to lose control? It’s interesting in “My Bloody Valentine” when it was revealed that Dean was going through the motions. Sam is too. He doesn’t know what else to do. Unlike Dean though, his void is filled with anger. He loses himself and who he is during those moments. It usually takes a rude awakening, like a wraith pointing out how deep his issues are or a horseman getting inside his head for him to realize exactly what’s going on inside. How wrong it feels. How messed up he really is. How far from normal he is. 

That lack of normality is where it all started. All Sam has ever wanted is to be normal. That was decided not to be the case while he was an infant. After Azazel’s fateful visit, after his mother died, he never felt right inside.   He never had say on the path to follow, he didn’t have a normal family life like other kids and his father was constantly absent. He probably didn’t have much of an identity until he began rebelling against John and went off to Stanford. The frustration of being unable to live the life he wanted is the early manifestations of anger. 

Sam dealt with his anger over Jessica’s death by seeking revenge. He gave up his chance at a safe life and took on hunting life on the road with his brother. The anger kept growing when he found he wasn’t getting closer to his goal and there were awful plans for him by the yellow-eyed demon.   He gave up on his dream life completely when his father died. A guilt ridden decision maybe? Oh yes (more on that coming soon). Then he eventually finds out the hard way that revenge doesn’t satisfy that anger inside. In his case, it only manages to heighten it. When the yellow eyed demon died, when Lilith died, none of that seemed to quell the rabid monster inside. Remember Sam’s words from “Sam, Interrupted?” â€œMost of the time I can hide it, but I am angry. I’m mad at everything. I used to be mad at you and dad and then Lilith, now it’s Lucifer and I make excuses. I blame Ruby or the demon blood but it’s not their fault. It’s not them, it’s me. It’s inside me. I’m mad all the time and I don’t know why.”

So why? Having some evil demon blood pumping through his veins contributes, but one big reason is he’s also the spitting image of John Winchester, another person too consumed by revenge and anger. Sam even understands what drove John’s actions based on what he said in “The Song Remains The Same.”  John would have gone insane if he didn’t try. So what keeps Sam going through all this then, knowing what it did to his Dad? Remember in “Jump The Shark” when he told Adam it never ends? It never ends. At what point does Sam let go? What keeps him going?

Sam had an obvious turning point when Dean died. It pretty much destroyed him. It made him weak, vulnerable, and ripe for manipulation. That brings on another catalyst for rage, guilt. Here’s the definition of guilt in the Encyclopedia of Psychology. â€œAn emotional state produced by thoughts that we have not lived up to our ideal self and could have done otherwise.” It further goes onto explain “Guilt feelings may also inhibit us from falling short of our ideal again in the future.” You mean like feeling responsible for your brother’s death by not using your powers to save him so you’ll learn to use them now to save others? 

Who could blame Sam for choosing that path? Why not turn his curse into a gift? He could use it to exorcise demons, save people. He hardly put up a fight when Ruby suggested it. He didn’t care what it did to him internally. He didn’t believe he would lose control. He was too weak to save Dean, so maybe he could save others instead. Sure, Sam suffered from guilt too when Jessica died, blaming himself even though he couldn’t have known the dream was going to come true. So how did he deal with that? By throwing his ideal life away and seeking out revenge. Sure, we wouldn’t have a series if he didn’t, but Sam’s extreme reaction to guilt not only comes from the anger within but it’s managed to make it worse. The anger gets worse, the desperation gets worse, the guilt gets worse, and the whole cycle continues until he explodes in a swirling fit of rage. You know, like when he’s under a spell by Famine and uses his extreme power to stop him.  

Sam’s anger and subsequent outbursts of rage are a combination of the depression, the extreme guilt, and hopelessness inside all coming from being constantly caught in no win situations. His fears from his drunken tirade in “Playthings” still holds true today. â€œEven now everyone around me dies.” How does someone in that mess break the cycle? He can’t use revenge, like when he tried to use Pamela’s death as a reason to get mad enough to go after Lilith in “On The Head of a Pin.” He can’t run and hide either like he found out in “Free To Be You and Me.” All that’s left is to go through the motions, taking it one day at a time. Needless to say, that complacent life doesn’t help inner rage either. He keeps losing more and more control, especially when something supernatural pushes his buttons. 

Oh, but it gets even more complicated for Sam. There’s a theory I read out there that shame plays a big role in developing guilt and subsequently rage too. In her article “When Shame Becomes Rage,” Lynne Namka says this. â€œShame rears its ugly head when there is a threat and you feel helpless, humiliated and dehumanized. If you lose control when you are angry, you have learned to substitute the emotion of rage to take yourself out of the bad feelings of being a victim.” 

Sam, a victim? Heck, he’s the victim poster child. More so than Dean just because of his demon blood and dark destiny. However, Sam didn’t know about being fed the blood until he was 23 years old. So did he always feel like a victim? Yes. For one, he’s on more than one occasion said his family is cursed. That’s classic victim mentality. Notice that’s something Dean has never said. We really don’t know how long Sam has felt that way, but I’m presuming for some time, probably while waiting in those motel rooms for John to return two weeks later, not knowing if he was dead or alive. Another sign of feeling like a victim is negative self talk. You know, things like “I should have saved him/her.”  Yes, both Dean and Sam are guilty of this, but it seems to be more of a catalyst for Sam’s condition. Sam especially though is bad about negative self talk. Take for example the beginning of “Lucifer Rising” when talking with Ruby. â€œDean’s better off as far away from me as possible.” Then he goes through with the plan to drain the nurse of her blood after getting a final rejection from Dean’s voice mail. Sure, he thought he was saving the world, but he ultimately did it because he was only acting like what he really was; a monster, a freak.

Another sign of being a victim is feeling unfairly treated and trapped. Just look at Sam’s conversation with his hallucinated mother in “When The Levee Breaks.” Sam is terrified at the idea of facing Lilith, facing his destiny. As “Mary” tells him he has to kill Lilith, his real hidden fear surfaces. â€œEven if it kills me.” Sam doesn’t see any choice. He’s the only one to kill Lilith. He has to drink the demon blood, he has to die, because killing Lilith will stop the apocalypse. There’s no time to consider the fact that he’s scared out of his wit or is worthy of better. He has no choice. He’s never had a choice when it comes to things. 

This sign of being victimized though is what gets me the most; what others say. Dean means well and so loves his brother, but he doesn’t know how to help Sam. He took Sam’s actions in “Lucifer Rising” as betrayal and when Sam forced the truth out of him (as he often does) in “Sympathy For The Devil,” Dean’s harsh honesty managed to crush an already dripping with guilt and shame Sam. Enter more intense self-loathing. Then Sam had his moment of clarity at the end of “Sam, Interrupted” and Dean shut him down. He told him to bury it. I know Dean didn’t do that out of harm but that was the absolute worst thing Sam could have heard at the time. Sam had to listen to Dean though, he had no choice. He’s still trying to build Dean’s trust. He’s still trying to prove his worthiness. Through all his guilt. All his shame. All his self-loathing. Throw in talk of how he’s going to say yes to Lucifer and friends are dying brutally and his helplessness is at an all time high too. So there we have it, the perfect recipe for extreme anger and rage. 

Is There Hope?

The signs are faint, but Sam still clings on to hope. Granted lately that hope is hanging on by a thread, but it’s all he has. Even when the ghost of Jessica (aka Lucifer) tried to beat him down in “Free To Be You and Me” he told her there was reason for hope. He showed signs of letting go of that anger by making amends with John (albeit past John) in “The Song Remains The Same.” We have to wonder if he still prays daily like he revealed in “Houses of The Holy.” Does he still think that something out there will save him? Will he finally earn that redemption that has been eluding him his entire life? I think it’s possible, judging by the final scene in “My Bloody Valentine.” Sure, Sam was suffering horribly in withdrawal, but we can’t help but believe, especially when he came clean with Dean about his demon blood hunger, that Sam voluntarily put himself through withdrawal this time. He could have easily, just like in “Lucifer Rising,” decided to take the one track course to his end and gone out high on blood and power. There’s still hope for Sammy. 

The promise from Kripke himself is that season five would be where Sam finds redemption. I think Dean earned his redemption in season three when he faced his bitter end self-actualized and chose to accept the consequences of his actions. Sure, Dean has some big issues right now, but redemption is not something he needs to seek. He’s just trying to hold it all together in impossible circumstances (so not easy). Sam has yet though to have his moment of vindication. Since season two he’s been in a downward spiral that has yet to bottom out. Just when we think it can’t get worse for Sammy, it does. 

So why is Sam Winchester so angry? The answer is quite obvious. The bigger and more pressing question is how does Sam stop being so angry? How does he get redemption? That’s the trickier answer and one will have to play out the rest of this season and possibly beyond. Both brothers are deep in a dark place right now and help will have to come from other places. Being there for each other just won’t be enough. Something’s got to give soon though or the results will get very messy.  Sam said it best though, “There is reason for hope.” For your sake Sammy, we hope you are right.