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Think back to Dead Man's Blood and Sam's reactions to John's decisions and handling of the hunt, this is a much different Sam in PONR, calm, confident and a leader.
There is only one point in the entire episode that Sam loses his calm confidence and that is after Dean has disappeared after having blown Castiel to 'Oz', Sam returns from trying to locate Dean only to find out that Adam is gone that's three major blows within a span of perhaps an hour or two, no wonder Sam loses his cool a bit and gets a "watch your tone, boy" from Bobby. Up until then Bobby had followed Sam's lead without question or correction.
Bobby allows Sam the lead in reasoning with Dean as well as with trying to break through with Adam; Bobby maintains a similar role he has held for Dean many times, support when needed. 
Castiel similarly follows Sam's lead, even when he clearly does not agree with Sam's plan he follows putting his full trust in Sam's judgment; a far cry from Castiel's denouncement of Sam's plan in I Believe the Children Are Our Future when Sam wanted to tell Jesse everything believing information would guide Jesse in making the right choice. Castiel's disdainful, "You didn't" was painfully true then but here Castiel follows Sam to the point of being willing to sacrifice his very self to see Sam's plan through.
Sam does something that Dean had never done with him before, he trusts, fully trusts Dean to do the right thing. We saw Dean follow Sam's lead all the way back in Nightmare when Sam wanted to talk to Max Miller but there were limits as Dean grabbed his gun from the glove compartment, which Max caught a glimpse of and ultimately killed himself with. Dean also questioned Sam's intentions more recently in Metamorphosis regarding if Sam would...when push came to shove...make the right decision regarding Rugaru/Jack. In Point of No Return Sam turns the tables on Dean by stating categorically that he believed that "when push shoves, [he'll] make the right decision." 
For Dean this episode was where he hit absolute rock bottom and did what we all hoped he would, rebounded. Dean did everything he could in this episode to isolate himself from those he loved, insulted Cas, disavowed Bobby and told the absolute unvarnished truth to Sam - he did not trust him. For all that he was met with unflinching support, true at first Castiel's support was in the form of a beating but forgiveness did ensue once Castiel saw the complete brokenness of Dean; he got absolute truth and an awesome chick/flick moment from Bobby and he got Sam's complete trust which in the end worked.
"We're working on the power of love." And as Supernatural has always been about the love of these two brothers, here is the pivot point of Season 5, Sam loved Dean enough to trust him despite all of Dean's actions. Dean loved Sam enough that he couldn't disappoint him. When push shoved, both brothers came through.
The brothers find a new balance, finally. Dean stated back in The End that they needed to be together because they kept each other human, but he didn't see Sam as an equal. Sam stated in Fallen Idols that the way things were in the past didn't work and that was part of the reason he went off with Ruby, to get away from Dean. Going forward though not much had changed, Dean still questioned Sam and Sam questioned Sam; at the end of The Song Remains the Same Sam is questioning whether he'll be strong enough, remembering that he'd weakened before.
In Sam, Interrupted Dean carries the burden on his shoulders of saving all 6 billion people on the planet; he makes no reference to Sam being beside him in carrying that burden, in fact, he questions if Sam is really with him in this fight. Granted Dean 'trusts' Sam to save the entire town from the zombie invasion while he stays behind to protect and/or help Bobby but Dean's focus here is his devotion to Bobby; he's blinded to all else.
Dean explains what changed his mind at the end, it was Sam. Sam did what he did here because of things he learned in Dark Side of the Moon and going forward Sam took the lead and because Dean finally learned that he truly had to act as if Sam was his equal and not just say Sam was his equal Sam and Dean together caged Lucifer and brought down the curtain on the five-year arc.
For those reasons Point of No Return makes the grade for me as 'the' pivotal episode of Season 5.
There it is, folks, my five-part series on each season's pivotal episode is complete. We're now one week out from the beginning of Season 6's shooting schedule and before we know it, Season 6 will arrive.
Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting and I'll get to work on the rest of the articles I have planned for Hellatus"¦next up, my recitation of Season 5's highs and lows and whatever else I can think of to toss in that article.




# Holmes 2010-06-24 09:15
I totally agree with you in your election. Point of no return truly is a privotal episode, it really was a point of no return, and obviosly, the boys made the right choice, they chose family, and with that they saved the world. As you said, dean saying as a joke that as a plan they were working on the power of love, at the end was totally true, that was their only plan, and on Swan Song it finally worked and saved humanity.
Thanks for this articles, they are great.
# Karen 2010-06-24 09:21
Hi Elle2
Thank you so much for this series, I enjoyed it immensely.
I have to admit Season 5 had me stumped. There were so many episodes this season that had pivotal moments, I couldn’t begin to pin it down to one. However your breakdown and insight of how you came to your decision of Point of no Return has sold me 100%. Thanks again.
# Jasminka 2010-06-24 15:12
Thank you, Elle2!... how did you manage to pick this one? For me pretty much the whole fifth season, as you so astutely mentioned with other words than I do, was a pivotal thing - in the lives of the Winchester brothers.

This season got under my skin in more ways than one, and so has the episode you picked. Whenever I watch it, and I don't do that often, I feel the goosebumps and clenches at my heart with immense force...

And don't we love show for this, we masochistic lot?

Cheers, best ever, Jas
# elle2 2010-06-24 15:58
Hi, Holmes, Karen, Cassi and Jasminka,

Thank you so much for your comments.

Holmes, you are welcome for the articles, glad you've been enjoying them. The power of love is what worked, in PONR and Swan Song and as so often is the case, there is truth in the joke. :-)

Karen, in one respect PONR was the easy pick for me because as I mentioned at the beginning of the article this is the one that got me thinking of the series and picking each one. That said, Season 5 had so many pivot points that the statement could be said that much of the season was a pivot point...

Cassi, Dark Side of the Moon amazes me so much...and to think Loflin and Dabb wrote it, shows what their genius really is when they strip away the less mature aspects of writing this series and focus intently on the emotions. This is simply my point of view and as has been the case many times when I've picked or ranked one season or episode over another, ask me on a different day and you'll get a different answer. I could easily come down on the side of DSOTM for the points you make, w/o Sam 'seeing' truly seeing Dean's perspective he wouldn't make the moves he makes in PONR.

For me I chose to edge PONR simply because both brothers pivot here and that, as I said, 'wins the day.' As others have said, mileage may vary. :-)

Jas, I'm working on my Road So Far (to be completed later this hellatus) and it's on version number four or five at this point simply because while Season 5 had some bumps along the way and perhaps bit off more than could be comfortably gnawed upon when you look at the whole it really is an excellent season and when you break down and take each episode individually [again, with the exception of the thus far unnamed four] they have some extraordinary moments that cannot go unnoticed.

I truly loved Sam (and I've always loved him) in PONR, he was so calm and assured with Dean. Never judged him, never pushed him, never got in his face, simply gave Dean room to breathe and make up his own was simply beautiful to watch.

Much has been said (on another fansite) that Jared has made a comment at the recent Rising Con in Barcelona that he hopes Sam changes in Season 6...I think (based on the comments that I read attributed to him) that what Jared means is that Sam continues along the course of being more assured, more in charge. He'll always be Dean's little brother chronologically but that does not mean that he doesn't have just as much to offer in the partnership and if PONR is any indication of Sam's leadership (as last glimsped in AHBLI) then I say go Jared, on Sam's change...more Sam like seen in PONR is great with me.

Then again, drunk Sam is fun, drugged Sam is fun, evil Sam is fun, happy Sam is long as there's Sam, I'm good.

Thanks for all the comments!
# Jasminka 2010-06-24 16:42
Can't wait to read your Road So Far, Elle2... it's going to be fun, no doubt...
As for this SamGirl here - I would love to see Sam growing even more, if it's true what has been told. Well, we are going to have to wait some more - but we're doing well, writing, reading, killling Hellatus time. Love Jas
# Evelyn 2010-06-26 14:49
I loved this episode and loved your analysis elle2. Given your reasonings I would have to concur about this being the pivotal episode.

During this episode, Sam was finally able to break through this unseen barrier that surrounded him and emerge as the strong, capable leader that he is. I loved him in this episode. As you pointed out, his patience and calm demeanor were real signs of growth and maturity that we hadn't seen in him recently. And this growth stayed with him through the rest of the season.

I found it interesting where you pointed out how Sam gave Dean physical space. I noticed it, but didn't really give it any thought. But now that you point it out, given the frame of mind that Dean was in, that was a very smart move on Sam's part. (Speaking from personal experience, when you are as low as Dean was, the last thing you want or need is someone in your personal space or wanting to give you hugs or something like that. Those kind of actions just give you a negative reaction and make you want to scream and run away. It's because you don't feel you deserve any love from a hug, or kindness, which is what usually comes when someone invades your space. That is why Dean so willingly allowed Castiel to beat him up, he felt that that is truly what he deserved.)

These four are truly family, because when Dean tried to push Castiel, Bobby and Sam away, anyone not family would have left, but family is family and they continued to support Dean no matter what he said or did. And Dean really said some caustic, hurtful things to Sam. Sam didn't deserve it, but they were said nonetheless and they were truthful, nonetheless, but Sam didn't deserve it. Sam had every reason to turn his back on Dean, but Sam's actions really showed that maturity as well as the deep, abiding love that he has for his brother.

It would have been interesting to see if Sam would have been able to have the confidence within himself to emerge as this strong leader had Dean not been in such emotional turmoil. I think that Dean being in the emotional decline that he was, not strong or domineering, was the doorway that allowed Sam to emerge. I believe Sam had it in him all the time but Dean consistently would not allow that door to open. Sam would try to open it, would talk about it, but in some way, Dean would always slam it shut, would not allow Sam to walk through. But, with Dean slip-sliding down that abyss of depression, that gave Sam the opportunity to finally break down that door and show Dean that he is his equal, in every way. And he proved it, boy did he ever prove it.

Lastly, I loved how both brothers finally came to terms separately and together with their faults and mistakes, realizing and understanding the pain that exists in the other and finally come to that point of working as equals. It was definitely a beautiful sight to see. Wow! I'm going to have to go watch this episode tonight. Such a great episode and great pick for pivotal episode of Season 5. Thanks.
# Elle2 2010-06-26 22:17

You captured and expanded upon thoughts I had, thank you so much.

I agree with your analysis of the why and how of Dean being so hurtful. I too know that feeling that there are points where you just don't want kindness or a hug or understanding because you don't believe you deserve it. I love how Sam worked so hard to give Dean what he needed here.

Also, I think you've nailed it when you say that Dean's slip-slide into the abyss is what allowed Sam to emerge. Dean has always been the 'driver' so to speak and Sam was not able to really be at the front and strong because Dean constantly shut him down. But here, with Dean disabled as it were from his own depression Sam was able to take the reins and assume the leadership role simply because there was no one to get in his way.

Sam wasn't pushy or domineering, he simply lead because it was needed and he was/is capable.

I'm dying to watch DSOTM and 99 Problems and PONR in a row because they make a great mini-arc in this season.

You're welcome and thank you
# Evelyn 2010-06-27 19:27
Elle2, I watched those 3 episodes last night. What a combination and I reconfirmed for myself that PONR is a most awesome episode and definitely the major turning point for the season. I noticed this time that as Sam was taking the leadership role, Dean was allowing him and following him. During their scenes in the Panic Room, I realized that Dean was asking Sam questions about what "he" was going to do and when they were upstairs talking to Adam, Sam was taking the lead in all this and everyone, including Dean was following his lead. In the past it has always been Dean leading and everyone else following, but with this episode their roles were reversed. I noticed that this change all started in DSOTM and fully realized itself in PONR. What a truly great trio of episodes for Season 5. And those two scenes of Dean and Sam in the panic room, shear masterpieces.