Finally, the long-awaited glimpse inside Sam Winchester's head; it's a mess in there. We've seen glimpses into Dean's head several times over the seasons: What is and What Should Never Be, Dream a Little Dream of Me and a neat treat last week in The Rapture. That boy's head is a lot clearer which is shocking considering what he eats I guess all that demon blood coursing through Sam's veins is affecting his mind "˜cause he goes on quite a journey, a journey filled with pity, denial, self-justification and finally confrontation! no surprise, Sera Gamble wrote this.
There are so many layers to this episode and, if I tried to cover them all, I'd never get this done. I've watched it three times and even after the third time I found other angles I could develop but have decided to stick with what I've presented here. I'll likely be searching some other sites to get insights from other writers and I invite you to comment on those aspects that you found especially compelling. Here we go!
I'm not drinking the demon blood for kicks:
No you aren't, Sam, but your hallucinations give great insight into how you view yourself and how you justify your actions.
Stage one: Sam's a victim, he's helpless and he's out of control. I'm not surprised that, after Dean locks the door and tells Sam he's been benched, that Sam goes on a pity party. Imagining himself restrained and tortured by Alastair is his way of reminding himself that as a baby he was helpless while a demon dripped blood in his mouth and altered his future. The restraints are symbolic of how helpless a six-month-old baby is. His polite pleading with Alastair to stop shows the innocence of an infant who can't formulate the thoughts of: "Don't hurt me."
Awakening Sam quickly moves past his feelings of helplessness, feelings he hates, and enters stage two where he denies all his former idealistic dreams. The very idea of telling a 14-year-old kid to grow up is so anti-Sam but unsurprising. Sam needs to do battle with the conflicting thoughts and emotions inside of himself, how he used to see things in a positive light, how he believed there was a life after hunting, how he had fallen in love and planned a happy, normal future.
As quickly as young Sam brings those things up and challenges Sam for abandoning them older Sam crushes those thoughts by saying there was never going to be anything normal and that things just didn't "pan out” “sorry kid, grow up." If he embraces those aspects of his personality, then he has to embrace that what young Sam is telling him is true, that he put himself in this situation and that he has failed himself; he has to concede that what he's been doing is wrong and he can't do that yet, so he ends that hallucination by supporting his position, he's fated to turn evil so might as well get on with it or embrace it as a gift.
Stage three brings the balm to his weary mind. Note that he sees the pitcher of water and longs for it but never, not even when it's all over, takes a drink; why should he, 'mom' has refreshed his soul. Having gotten through his sense of being a victim and suppressed any thoughts that might lead to him questioning his choices he creates the illusion of support. His churlish passive/aggressive behavior shows just how ready for the fight he is.
Needing to shore up his badly deteriorating defenses he conjures mom on the night of her death and then has her tell him all that he has deluded himself into believing, that he's making the hard choices to get the job done, that he is cursed but strong and smart enough to turn it into a gift and use it against the demons, that he's strong and Dean is weak, that Dean is terrified and should be left behind and that Sam has to make her death meaningful but not for revenge, no, better, for justice. Nice touch.
Lies catch up to us though and Sam's catch up to him when this whirlwind tour of his fevered mind is interrupted with a dose of demon blood reality. Nothing like seeing your face lined with black veins and then writhing on the floor only to be hurled against the walls to shake you out of your delusions. The fact that stage four is a mixture of reality (the restraints) and fantasy (Dean's presence) shows that Sam's defenses are crumbling despite his best efforts. Finally Sam confronts himself!and he does it in the guise of Dean.
The fact that Sam chooses to see Dean here is telling on multiple levels, first of all, it's an admission that Dean really does know him and this is important to Sam. Sam is also desperate to not lose his brother. It's also an admission, albeit not a freely given admission but the subconscious is quirky that way telling us things we need to know not necessarily what we want to know, that what he's doing is wrong. Sam tries every weapon in his arsenal in quick succession and misses the mark with each one: Kill Lilith, get revenge, stop the apocalypse, left with nothing but the naked truth Sam finally admits that it is his need for control that has driven him to choose this path. Pride has controlled him. For all that Sam thought he was in control he now has to face the fact that pride has been controlling him. Realizing he's lied to himself he shifts gears and shows his greatest fear, rejection by Dean and losing Dean and he paints the portrait of what is to come later on.
This hallucination is the breakthrough, note after this round Sam fell asleep. His peace is short-lived though. Awakened and unexpectedly freed, even after having made a breakthrough, Sam is not out of the woods and like any junkie needing a fix, he goes in search of his dealer. The fact that he begs Bobby to kill him, however, shows that Sam is no longer lying to himself, at least not when he's alone. He's convinced he's already the monster of his last hallucination and begs for release. Knowing that won't happen he makes his escape. Adrift, alone he has nowhere to go but to the one person that, in his fragile and strung-out state of mind, can help!enter Ruby.
I'll interject some words of a song I adore. I think much of what we've seen over two seasons from Ruby with respect to Sam, especially this season, are in these words:
SLOW FADE, Casting Crowns
Be careful little eyes what you see
It's the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings
Be careful little ears what you hear
When flattery leads to compromise, the end is always near.
Be careful little lips what you say
For empty words and promises lead broken hearts astray
The journey from your mind to your hands is shorter than you're thinking
Be careful if you think you stand, you just might be sinking.
It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade; it's a slow fade.
Having just recently written in another article that Kripke is telling a complex story in masterful style and much of what is to be understood of this journey will not and cannot be fully understood until it is complete I'll take a break from my dislike of Ruby [who by the way I believe we are meant to dislike as she is evil and thus I'm simply going with the flow J] and take a little trip down memory lane of this devious little thing that is Ruby.
Magnificent Seven: Appears mysteriously and introduces herself to Sam.
The Kids Are All Right: Time to dangle a carrot or two, she tells Sam there's more to Azazel than he thought AND she says she can save Dean; Sam is more than willing to let her live.
Sin City: Further cementing her guise as helpful demon she repairs the Colt.
Malleus Maleficarum: A master stroke of manipulation. Ruby saves Dean's life and by no accident is revealed as having once been human. Playing to his love for his brother and his growing fear of hell she ensnares Dean in her web and unbalances him a bit.
Jus in Bello: A test of Sam's moral boundaries shows they're slipping and proves that Dean remains an obstacle!not to worry, his deal is coming due.
No Rest For the Wicked: Sam's desperate and Ruby is ready with the help!not really but it is time to start reeling Sam in. If only Dean hadn't been in the way, not to worry though, Dean's not long for this world courtesy of Lilith; By the way, how did Ruby get out of that devil's trap? I think Lilith released her. Ruby does slip up a bit here and that's why I think someone else released her from the trap. She's been careful all along not to show her true colors but, once Dean trapped her and made it clear he was not going to release her, she slipped her mask: "I wish I could smell the flesh sizzle off your bones" Tsk, tsk, Ruby!that's not very ladylike.
Lazarus Rising: [and pre-LR] Ruby came in all sympathetic and helpful, she even gave in when Sam rediscovered a portion of his moral boundaries!"Whose body are you riding?" Knowing this was make or break she shed one body and found another. Disarming him quickly by playing to his loss and emotions she went for the gold, revenge and hooked him. In Lazarus Rising she plays it very cool when Dean's unexpected arrival could have thrown her plans awry; she backs off and this allows her an opportunity to gauge Sam, he's not willing to stop. She's got him.
In the Beginning/Metamorphosis: Finding Sam a willing if only slightly hesitant partner she quietly resumes her manipulation of him under the guise of training and saving people; how nice, she takes the freshly demon exorcised guy to the emergency room.
I Know What You Did Last Summer/Heaven and Hell: Time to reinsert herself into the boys' lives. Sam has found a bit of his moral boundaries, unfortunately for Ruby, however, the upside is that Dean learns how Ruby "˜saved' Sam's life while Dean was in hell. This and a little torture at Alastair's hands earns her a pass, again.
Criss Angel: Ruby gets her protege back and is in business again, she's sure not to let up now and likely increases his "˜toning up' schedule.
Death Takes A Holiday/On The Head of a Pin: No doubt Ruby's efforts are paying off as Sam is now much stronger and no longer resistant, victory is at hand.
Which brings us to the present, having purposefully left Sam long enough to be weakened, feel his lack of control [something she knows he craves] she shows up at 'just the right time' and plays Sam to perfection. She comes not only with what he needs, but what he wants which is sympathy and information. She is contrite, she is informative, she's sorrowful at the break between the brothers and she's more than willing to feed his habit. She's finally got Sam right where she wants him to be. Be careful what you wish for, Ruby, should the dog decide to bite the hand that feeds him!
You're a dick these days
Kripke upends things again. We expect manipulation from demons but angels? Granted we know the angels are stringing Dean along giving him information on a need to know basis but a deal? Dean, Dean, Dean, you got played just as smoothly as Ruby played Sam in No Rest for the Wicked.
Castiel is extremely conflicted at what he did in getting Dean to swear his obedience. I also wonder at his cryptic choice of words. Kripke is known for his enigmatic wording , by the way, it's fun to play with the thesaurus on your computer, cryptic and enigmatic are synonyms, hee, but I'm wondering at that final little bit tossed in there by Cas: as swiftly and obediently as your own father's? Hmm, I'm remembering Dean's less than swift and obedient responses to dad in Dean Man's Blood and Devil's Trap, perhaps this is a little wiggle room instilled by Cas? Time will tell.
The angels are proving what Kripke said from the beginning, other than Bobby there hasn't been anyone introduced that truly has Sam and Dean's best interests at heart [anyone that lives that is or doesn't disappear like Missouri, Jo, Ellen]. The angels have wanted Dean's obedience from the outset and he's been slow to give it but, as Uriel so astutely showed in Heaven and Hell, apply the right pressure and Dean caves. Castiel never tells Dean that he can, through his obedience, save Sam from having to do whatever Sam is about to do; he simply infers it and let's Dean's love and devotion carry the day.
As for why he let Sam out, notice that happened after each brother reached a watershed moment. Sam realized he'd lost his internal battle, as I noted above in the progression of his hallucinations, and Dean found his line. Dean was not going to allow Sam out of the panic room to be turned into a monster and right after that Castiel opened the door. At the very least, by opening the door and affecting Sam's escape Castiel has forced Dean into action since he'll go after Sam. This will ensure Dean's swift obedience as nothing else would have.
I know him "“ He doesn't know me as well as he thinks:
They're both right. Dean knows Sam very well as proven by the ease with which he finds him. However, Dean doesn't know Sam as well as he thinks as shown by his choice of words [monster] and his issuance of an ultimatum. Really, Dean, you saw how well that fared eight years ago when John and Sam had this argument, what did you think was going to happen.
I find it interesting that in this scene we get throwbacks to Season 1 in two critical areas: first, Sam tries to kill Dean. He tried to do it in Asylum when he was under the influence of Dr. Ellicott, and he tries to do it here under the influence of demon blood. The difference between the two is that in Asylum Dean had unloaded his gun thus saving himself; here Sam stops himself thus saving Dean. The second throwback is in the ultimatum. We learned in Dead Man's Blood that John had issued the very same ultimatum to Sam that Dean did here, both times ended the same.
Did Dean do the right thing locking Sam up and trying to "˜dry him out'? Absolutely, resoundingly yes. Going dark, camping near the gates of evil, using demon powers for good, disguise it how you want, is never right. You cannot scoop hot coals into your lap without getting burned, sorry, Sam, but you can't. Sam's had plenty of chances to turn back, his own conscience has been eating at him and he's had examples of Jack in Metamorphosis and the tragedy of Charlie and Jay from Criss Angel as examples, he's had warnings by a ghost (After School Special), Pamela (Death Takes a Holiday), Chuck (Monster at the End of!), a ghoul (Jump the Shark) and Anna (The Rapture) and now he knows it himself. His hallucination with Dean was really his own fears coming through!when Dean in person called him a monster, Sam had nowhere else to go and he snapped.
Why did Sam try to strangle Dean, was it to scare him off? Was he just out of control due to the monster comment and then 'sobered up' at the last moment? Just like John is a pressure point for Dean so is the idea of being a freak, a monster, evil is a pressure point for Sam.
So where do we go from here? Are we going to "Carry on wayward son?" "Will there be peace when we are done?" or "Will we cry some more?" I have no idea.
I do know this much, we must all be careful what we wish for. I'm in with the rest of you in wishing eagerly for this Thursday to come (or Friday for those of you in the Space Channel world, or in whatever way people get to see these episodes out there internationally) but here's the rub, once this Thursday comes and goes, we've got about 18 to 20 weeks before any new episodes air. Hold on, I think it's going to be a long, nail biting summer with a whole lot of "Damn You, Kripke"