I usually relish in the idea of tackling these deep character studies at the end of the season. No character to me in the history of TV is more fascinating to study than Sam Winchester. However, when looking at Sam’s character development in “Supernatural’s” season seven, I’m very disheartened. He started the season with a golden storyline. We waited a whole season, one littered with foreshadowing and dire predictions that the wall coming down in Sam’s head would lead to disastrous consequences, to see Sam's insanity play out. Instead, his story fizzled after two episodes and became a gaping footnote in lost potential. The fans may have been eagerly interested in Sam’s gloomy plight, but the writers clearly weren’t.
I accept that long time viewers tend to have big expectations and demand their favorite character’s story play out to its fullest potential. It’s hard to please fans and in the end the writers have to go with the way they see things, not with what fans want. In going through every one of the season’s episodes though, there is little evidence the writers in terms of characterization were writing with any clear vision, or even reading each others scripts. It certainly doesn’t look like there was any sort of master plan, and as a result Sam (and Dean) ended up floundering through most of the season without any real purpose or passion. This is not how the first six seasons have handled characterization and the end result in season seven is nothing short of a massive disappointment.
As I said in my “Deeper Look at Season Seven Dean Winchester” article, Dean wasn’t given any clear mission or consistency from episode to episode. He drank, he was depressed, he killed monsters with complacency and lack of desire, and he showed hardly any concern for his brother and his brother’s very serious condition. He was written as the dullest hero on earth. As for Sam, the travesty to his character happens when they gloss over his extremely serious mental illness and make it seem for most of the season that he was fine with just a simple hand grab. As a result, his character becomes one dimensional and robotic, for this guy can now take anything. When it’s time to finally address the elephant in the room, they give him a quick fix and it’s over. I realize that we didn’t need to have Sam’s deep struggles with hallucinations of Lucifer in our face every week, but the little indication that they were there from episode 3 to episode 15 asked too much from the viewers in terms of believability. It really took away the human aspect of not only Sam’s condition, but Sam himself.
In looking at Sam’s character development in each episode this season, one theme is consistent beyond the first two episodes. The writers (excluding a guy named Edlund) wrote themselves into a corner with Sam and probably didn’t have enough interest, energy, time, and/or skill to gracefully walk away from it. The result ends up becoming sacrilege to the character driven writing from the past seasons that has made this show exceptional.
As soon as Castiel disappears with his full blown and vindictive God complex, a very crucial incident for the season happens. Sam collapses after being flooded by Hell memories and severely cuts his hand. That cut hand is ends up being the glue that for most of the season holds Sam together. While that may seem improbable, it isn’t. It’s often the little things that bridge that fine line between reality and hallucination. The hand thing, even though very overplayed by the middle of the season, is very clever and a good visual cue for the audience that Sam is struggling. The problem was, it became the only thing.
Sam falls in a coma again for an undetermined time (I assume a day or two) and wakes up just fine. Well, that’s what he wants Dean and Bobby to think anyway. The collapsed wall in his mind has created a whole new problem – psychosis. His hallucinations mirror that of a trauma victim, someone who’s experienced extreme forms of torture and torment. He quietly endures these terrifying visions, not letting on they’re happening until Death tells Dean and Bobby (Those horsemen are real know it alls, aren’t they?) Dean takes the omission personally, confronting Sam about not letting him know he’s got “crazy crap climbing those walls.” Sam’s point is valid though, why bring it up? It doesn’t do any good. He has to work it out on his own, for Dean and Bobby have their plates full. This is very typical Sam behavior and as usual, it all backfires on him by the end of the episode. He suffers a severe psychotic break and visions of Lucifer are now taunting him, claiming that what he’s seeing isn’t real. He’s still in the cage. Sam, off alone, cannot snap himself back into reality.
Hello Cruel World
Sam’s broken mental state masterfully unfolds. Dean and Bobby find Sam and snap him out of his vivid hallucination of Lucifer. After a very long rest Dean wakes him, cares for his hand, and then asks for the truth. It’s not just flashbacks anymore, Sam’s not able to distinguish what’s real.
Oh, poor Sam. He wants to be honest with Dean and Bobby, he knows he has to, but at the same time he knows they won’t be able to understand. He doesn’t understand himself. During his entire conversation with Dean and Bobby he’s on the surface controlled and honest, but underneath very frazzled over the fact he’s the only one seeing Lucifer in the same room and he’s not sure what’s real. It’s not only one of the most tragic scenes we’ve ever witnessed with Sam, but this is a problem he has to face alone and won’t easily go away. This is his reality. I still get very emotional when Sam confesses the terrible truth about seeing Lucifer to Dean, who’s acting pretty angry over what’s happening.
Dean: You know that he’s not real, right?
Sam (fighting back tears): He says the same thing about you.
Sam’s predicament is devastating here. Holding on the safety bar and trying to ride it out is clearly not going to work, and Dean’s reaction isn’t helping either. However, both are reacting exactly the way they do when they’re scared. It’s a problem that both know deep down cannot be easily solved. It’s a human problem, and neither are very good at dealing with those. It’s very, very eerie to watch a big guy in a deep psychotic break constantly field strip his weapon, timing how quickly he’s getting it done. Dean and Bobby certainly watch with daunting concern. When Sam in a rattled state confronts Lucifer, asking what the end game is, the cleaning of his guns becomes the big clue. It ends when he can’t take it anymore. Creepy, creepy, creepy - especially since Sam Winchester has never had a suicidal thought in his life.
Even Bobby doesn’t know what to do. Sam tries to talk to him about it, scared that after everything he’s been through, crazy could be the thing that finally does him in (nice foreshadowing for later in the season). Bobby tries to reassure, but it really doesn’t help considering Sam sees Lucifer drive a poker through Bobby’s heart. Sam is truly isolated even though Bobby and Dean are right there. It’s fitting that when Sam does have his severe break, it’s when he’s left alone.
Oh, the warehouse scene. Sam is so lost in his hallucination he doesn’t even remember driving there. It’s even more scary that he’s totally out of his mind and has his weapon handy. It’s very interesting the conversation with Fake!Dean that Sam has in the car. Fake!Dean is talking down to him, telling him that things aren’t going to get better. Sam’s determined to fight his affliction, but Fake!Dean keeps knocking him down, throwing doubts in his mind. I’m not an expert on schizophrenia and/or psychosis, but it’s so fascinating this little war going on in Sam’s head between his self assurance and his self doubt. I do wonder if this is how he thinks the real Dean would react.
Lucky for Sam, the real Dean has been looking out for him and is able to track him down. Dean calmly, even though he’s scared out of his wits, talks Sam back into reality. He gives Sam the trigger he needs to differentiate reality from hallucination by pressing on his wounded hand. Sam buys into it, and very slowly works his way back while Dean pleads to believe him. This exchange is so gorgeous, so pure Winchester brotherly bond, it’s perfect. Dean should be the only one to pull Sam back to reality and appropriately he does it by sharing a coping mechanism he must of picked up himself after his trauma in Hell. This is where I desperately wish we had more scenes, either this season or earlier, about both brothers eluding to their times in Hell. Dean’s Hell trauma was never explored very well. It doesn’t have to be much, something simple like both sharing an experience with just one sad glance here and there.
In the car ride back, in the real Impala with the real Dean, the tone is so much different than Sam’s earlier hallucination. Dean is very scared. He’s not angry or berating. Sam assures that there’s no “white rabbits” and Dean gives an apprehensive, “Good.” From here on out, Sam tries to keep Dean convinced that he’s not going to lose it again. He probably doesn’t want to scare his brother like that anymore. Or himself. He’s determined to keep this under control.
Sadly, though, Sam finds out just how much he has his work cut out for him. After a frantic call from Bobby, they find his house (and technically their only home) burned down, Bobby is missing, and Edgar the Leviathan is waiting to attack. Edgar takes out Sam with a tire iron to the head. A very groggy Sam finds himself being rushed to the hospital with a wounded Dean, but all he can see is Lucifer. His hallucination troubles are far from over. This plunges Sam into a massive seizure. Wow, wow, wow. What’s going to happen to poor Sammy now?
Ben Edlund, you are my God.
The Girl Next Door
WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?? Ben Edlund gives Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin the GOLDEN setup to run with Sam’s new problems, especially this being a Sam centric episode, and they totally ignore the fact that Sam is teetering on the brink of insanity and is seriously wounded in a hospital???? THEY GLOSS IT OVER???? Holy crap. The script infuriated me enough with Dean. It really, really, pissed me off with Sam.
I just want to cry. Seriously. After Bobby rescues an unconscious Sam from the hospital, its three weeks later. Sam fades out of reality for about ten seconds, does a hand grab and suddenly he’s fine. For the rest of the episode. And the next one too. And well, all the way until episode 15. That’s the precedence the writers decided to follow? I’m all for creative license, but this ends up being a major disappointment in so many ways. I wasn’t expecting Sam melodramatics every single episode, but geez, grossly underplaying his trauma is not a great way to go either.
I raised the Amy issue a lot in the Dean article, and I’m not sure I want to bring it up here, but I have to since such a stink was raised about it. Sam is barely holding it together, we think anyway based on logic. Sam did what he thought was right. I’m not going to say that either Sam or Dean was right or wrong about the decision to kill or not kill Amy, but Sam really needed Dean at this point to trust him. That trust is stone number one, remember? That only happened last episode. That’s likely why Dean went behind Sam’s back after Amy, but why didn’t Dean just trust him in the first place? Especially when Sam earnestly begged Dean to? Oh, right, he’s in a self destructive tail spin because he’s having trouble trusting because of Cass. That’s the drama they chose to run with? I re-iterate the opening comment. WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?
Defending Your Life
It’s auto pilot for a while now and we’re left wondering who this beautiful machine is that’s on our TV screens each week now. Sam is just fine, back in hunter mode, working cases, focusing on his brother while Dean is all moody and depressed. There is a hand grab in the beginning though, just to remind us Sam is still seeing things. There's also a conversation at the end how Sam's seeing things but he's happy. He even smiles. No, not a red flag at all.
Shut Up Dr. Phil
Sam is now fighting off extreme mental illness through jogging. Good to know. He’s now skilled at marriage counseling too. He tries to talk to Dean twice briefly and gets nowhere. I can’t remember if there’s a hand grab in this one, but quite frankly, would it matter if it did? In just three episodes, Sam is now wallpaper in the storyline.
Considering this was an action thrill ride, Sam’s issues deserve a pass for this ep, but they actually weren’t glossed over like the prior episodes. I let out a big “meep!” during that heart breaking scene at the jail when Dean’s Leviathan counterpart tells Sam Dean killed Amy. It all plays out silently, but the devastated expressions on Sam’s face tell volumes. Anger hasn’t set in, just pure hurt. Dean has really done it to him this time. He lied to him and betrayed that trust. He pulled out that stone number one.
Sam had every right to be angry at the end and definitely needed a cooling off period. I’m glad that too many words weren’t uttered at this time. Maybe a comment about what happened to “believe me” could have been done but there was too much hurt floating at the time to have a rational conversation. That can come later. Oh wait, it doesn’t.
Another massive, gaping, complete and total waste of a golden opportunity. Did they not remember that Sam is not only dealing with betrayal issues, but he still has this psychosis thing going? Did they not remember that Sam has a valid reason to be angry? Did they not remember that perhaps he and Dean should discuss this in a realm a bit more than Sam backing down at the end and them moving on like nothing happened? Where’s the emotional arcs here? Why aren’t they following through with basics? Why is Sam perfectly okay now? Why am I still pounding my head against this wall?
Season 7: Time For A Wedding
Mark this episode right here. Dog ear it. This is the point in the season where the writers (except one named Edlund) totally gave up. They decided to wash their hands of anything remotely connected to character development because they’re too much work and get in the way. It’s time to start phoning things in, for those weekly tennis lessons aren’t going to take themselves.
Oh Sam, what did they do to you? I just can’t talk about this. Nothing good came of this episode at all. I’d prefer not to remember our precious Sam Winchester as a clueless buffoon suffering in volumes of embarrassing ways at the hands of a crazed fan that was supposed to represent at one point the good underneath the lunacy of the fandom. How can such a major character be written to suffer anything so cringeworthy like this? Was it supposed to be funny? Why am I so mortified then?
How To Win Friends and Influence Monsters
I’m trying to remember what Sam did in this ep besides amuse Dean through his turducken poisoning. He put on the FBI suit, hung out in the woods, threw borax at Leviathan, yeah, I got nothing else.
No, there was his chat with Bobby. Sam is still very concerned for Dean. It’s through that conversation we are reminded that Sam is still struggling with hallucinations. Well at least someone remembered that’s a lingering plot point. Sam, in a bout of completely twisted logic, thinks seeing Lucifer is okay. That puts all his crazy under one umbrella. Oh Sammy. That’s so misguided, so delusional. You should have been in a shrink’s office months ago. It’s so unfair someone as beautiful as you is suffering like this and no one knows it. I’m also very sad that only Bobby is hearing this and buying it all. Why aren’t Sam and Dean having these conversations?
Sam really processes grief quite differently from Dean, doesn’t he? Sam spends the entire time not far from Bobby, scared out of his wit, looking like he’s on the brink of tears, ready to embrace the harsh reality that Bobby will not survive. This is typical Sam. He’s so lost, needs to reach out to someone, but Dean is hurting so bad he can’t talk. When Sam does try, Dean gets pissed, so Sam clutches his hand. This is where I wonder, what exactly is Sam seeing at this time? Is Lucifer taunting, or trying to be sympathetic? I realize there was little time to play this out, but wouldn’t that have been fascinating to see? Just even a brief glimpse as to how something this tragic is burdening Sam’s already fragile state? I guess that’s what the hand grab was for. I feel guilty for wanting a little more since the episode is clearly Bobby’s story, but I did.
Adventures In Babysitting
I might have been forgiving about omissions in Sam’s storytelling in “Death’s Door” because of the gravity of the situation, but I’m not forgiving here at all. THIS was the golden opportunity to open up both Sam and Dean’s psyches, show the horrible struggles of both within while trying to carry on. Instead, we get a weak shout out to Twilight and a less than amusing scene of Dean in a cherry picker. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Of course what was I expecting? This was an Adam Glass script after all.
Here’s what SHOULD have happened. How about Sam’s grief overwhelming him during one scene to the point where things start seeping through those cracks in his reality? Perhaps when he was captured by the vetala in his weakened state he starts seeing things again? How about any signs that this sort of burden is not good for a man with some serious mental health issues? Another good idea, Sam and Dean actually have a conversation about their grief! Perhaps not in the beginning but definitely in the end.
Sam falling asleep after a flat “I’m not okay” is hardly the exposition that he’s having vivid hallucinations of Lucifer and on the brink of losing his grip on reality again. He acts flat, robotic, wooden, and has no signs of emotion. I know Sam is guilty of internalizing but in past seasons they’ve always come up with little ways to let his issues surface when he does that. Remember staring at his haunting reflection in “Metamorphosis?” That. I swear, at this point I’m doubting Sam has any human left in him. He’s clearly a machine now.