“This ends one way for us Dean. It ends Bloody…It ends bad.”
Huh, go figure. While I was engrossed with the whole hour of “Breakdown” and happy that I got a watchable episode of “Supernatural” (first in a few months anyway), it’s that closing scene that still rings in my mind. I just can’t those words get out of my head. Sure, Sam’s sudden depression seems like it’s out of left field, but this is the Sam we should have gotten years ago. This is the Sam that’s been lurking in the shadows, dying to come out. Why? Just look at everything this guy has been through. It’s been a wonder why he isn’t depressed.
I’m taking a different approach to the review this week. It’s going to be a little review, a lot of Sam Winchester meta analysis. After all, we have a whole history of Sam and Dean and their “mood swings” but Sam’s latest turn is a little more significant than you think. it’s been a long time coming and come next week, it might not stick, so I want to savor this moment for as long as I can.
No doubt, this was a dark and scary story. The way it all unfolded though was captivating and kept my interest the entire time. I loved seeing this side of Donna Hanscum and what happens when things get personal. Her character was given some layers and depth instead of the cartoonish plucky sheriff with the Minnesota verbal quirks. It was long deserved. Brianna Buckmaster proved she had the chops to handle such a change in role and suddenly, if this new spinoff puts her more front and center, it just may have a chance of succeeding. But I’m not here to debate that today.
I loved the consistent, creepy tone of the entire episode. Tonal shifts have often derailed “Supernatural” episodes in the later seasons, so the fact they kept to solid pacing with a creepy tone impressed me greatly. I loved that the story wasn’t predictable either, to a point. We knew Dean would save Sam in the knick of time but the journey getting there was worthwhile. My favorite part of the story though was setting up Donna for her reason to move to Sioux Falls, the breakup of her relationship with Doug, which was established in last season eleven’s “Plush.” His reasons were realistic and fair, not everyone is cut out for the monster game. Not everyone can take that sort of news that monsters are real.
Then we have Sam, who literally won’t get out of bed. He's that depressed. He does for Donna though and they’re off the Minnesota. I’m not sure why Sam getting up at 10:30 in the morning one morning causes alarm for Dean, but Sam’s blue moods are nothing new. He gets down about things here and there. He has a right to. What makes this time different? I’m not sure, but I’m wishing it’ll be different. Why? Well, there’s a long history of character neglect to consider…
The History of Sam Winchester…Condensed
(Disclaimer, this is an exploration of Sam. This doesn’t mean that Dean’s life has been a cake walk. His story is equally as tragic and there have been plenty of missed opportunities in the writing for him. But Dean’s story will be explored at another time, probably during his next mope.)
I think it’s an understatement when I say that Sam Winchester has had very tragic life. We know the whole origin story…fed demon blood as a baby just before his mother burned to death, raised on the road with a hunter father and brother, always feeling out of place in this world, etc. Then he finally broke away from it all. He went to college, he fell in love, and he was ready to start law school and then bam, it all caught up with him. Jessica died exactly the way Mary did and he’s on the road with Dean hunting monsters. That’s where the consistency in his story gets fuzzy.
Granted, life in general is messy and not picture perfect, but creatively there has been some real head scratchers where Sam has been concerned. In season two, he didn’t do much grieving over his father’s death. No, he was more concerned about becoming evil. Even then though, he didn’t go into full on hopeless mode. He kept fighting, determined to do as much good as he could until the circumstances went beyond his control, which they did, eventually.
Seasons three and four were the most realistic (and fascinating) years for Sam’s character development. His fears turned to Dean’s demon deal and his failure to save Dean at the end of the season three pushed him into a very dark path. It broke him. This is the only time I recall Sam being truly broken. The fix came at the very careful manipulation of a demon who taught him how to use his powers for good, or so he thought. It gave him a sense of purpose that he has always craved even though deep inside he felt the evil that came with those powers. As things happen with good drama, the situation spiraled and he fell right into the trap. Eventually, he started the apocalypse by setting Lucifer free. Season five was spent mostly trying to lay low and get back into Dean’s good graces and then his opportunity came to save the world. That opportunity came at a great cost, he had to sacrifice himself. He did it though because in his eyes, he created the mess.
From season six on, Sam’s behavior has been pretty out of whack thanks to very inconsistent writing. He came back soulless, then later in the season with a “wall” in his head to keep all that trauma from his time in the cage with Lucifer from flooding him. At the end of season six the wall did break and Sam had to fight alone to pull himself together. In doing so he had a new problem, a psychotic break. Instead of deeply exploring Sam’s trauma and the nature of his psychosis, we got a weekly palm grab. Then he went to a mental institution but again, instead of exploring the deep rooted cause of the trauma, he went on a ghost hunt. Then it was all swept under the rug by Castiel and his magical fix, only to be mentioned in passing once or twice after that.
Sam had an opportunity to have a normal life again between seasons seven and eight, but Dean came back from purgatory and Sam spent the entire year being berated by Dean for “hitting that f***ing dog,” aka not looking for him and choosing to life his life. Due to a twist of fate, Sam was the one that had to go through the trials, something that was a huge detriment to his health. He kept on with his mission though despite all that it was doing to him because of the greater good, and he didn’t want to let Dean down. Season nine kicked off with a dying Sam and instead of exploring all those the loose plot threads with everything horrible thing that has happened since season six, we got an angel possession! After all, angels fix everything. When Sam was freed from angel possession he was emotionally raw after that, and if anyone had an excuse to be depressed and lie in bed after all that, it was Sam. The golden opportunity was there! Nope, like a robot, he just kept on fighting. He was mad at Dean while doing it, but he kept on fighting. Dean took on the Mark of Cain, he died at the end of season nine and then Sam had a new mission, free Dean from being a demon. He did everything in his power to remove the Mark of Cain from Dean, even though there are warnings out there that it would end the world. Nope, Sam wouldn’t let Dean down this time, consequences be damned. Yes, I think the sound of my head pounding on the desk was pretty universal by that point. That was me in every single week of season ten.
Season eleven brought the return of robot Sam, fighting for no good reason other than what else did have have to do, ditto for season twelve. In season twelve, Sam was captured and brutally tortured by the British Men of Letters for no reason, and then he let it go. Decided to work with them anyway. It still sickens me to this day that the producers thought a little explosion here or there in the end would fix all that. Also, Mary came back from the dead. The one black hole in Sam’s life, the relationship he never had. Where was the exploration of Sam and Mary and finally being reunited? Where was their talk? Let’s not forget also that all this time everyone close to the Winchesters kept dying and Sam kept on fighting anyway. That brings us into season thirteen, and more of the same, until now.
What’s Your Point Alice?
So why is this history lesson important? It was needed as a illustration. Think about it, for every single horrible circumstance or tragedy that has been bestowed Sam, and there have been many, he has been written as a guy that just shrugs it off and moves on. I’ve always thought of Sam as the “teflon Winchester” because nothing bad or good sticks on him. Everything slides off. He doesn’t drink like Dean to combat his bad feelings, he just quietly withdraws into books and keeps on fighting because that’s what he’s supposed to do. Those choices to not explore the deep trauma and dig into what truly makes him tick has been a total disservice to his character for years. I mean, the way he’s been portrayed, he’s not human. Okay, we know technically he’s not a normal human thanks to the demon blood, but that has no relevance. He bleeds just like every other human bleeds but he’s not supposed to act like every other human acts? He’s not supposed to be horrified beyond belief and break from the weight of the world on his shoulders? He’s become a caricature through the years rather than a fully realized being. He suffers, he possibly mopes for an episode or two, and then he goes on like nothing has happened.
Despite those moments being few and far between, Sam has had some glimmers of hope. Remember this from season eight's “Everybody Hates Hitler?”
I still squeal in delight when I remember the first time Sam set eyes on the Men of Letters library. What an amazing moment. If you remember, Sam had recently let Amelia go, someone he truly loved, because he felt he and Dean were needed to save the world. That was a year of happiness for him and he gave it up for the greater good. While I’m sure he had no regrets, it makes me wonder, what sort of hope does a lifetime of hunting bring when you have to give up that kind of happiness? That’s what has been missing in the Winchester story for some time, hope. I keep thinking back to this moment where Sam was absorbed by a whole new world, something his grandfather was proud to be a part of and now he could be as well. Something good and positive in all this horror. This was a new lease on life for Sam, and one that got me very excited that finally he could have a unique voice, one that showed his true talents as a leader rather than him just jumping from one horrific thing to the next. And it was ignored after this and blown apart completely in season 12 by the ill-conceived British Men of Letters.
There was also in the same season the brilliant “The Great Escapist,” where Sam was found a big hope in his bad situation. He was being purified by the trials. That was a stunning and inspirational revelation! Finally, Sam was going to be released from his biggest burden, the demon blood. I was so energized about that revelation until…it was never to be spoken of again. Instead, he was pushed back into automatic mode, doing the trials no matter what it did to him. By the end of the season, he was ready to die, just because he didn’t feel like he was a worthy enough person to be around Dean. Any glimmer of hope that was shown for Sam before crumbled and never returned.
How about season eleven's "Don't Call Me Shurley" when it was revealed with no words that Sam had Dean's amulet in his pocket this whole time? Dean threw it out in season five! Did he hold onto it for luck, for protection, for hope? We'll never know because that story too was glossed over and never brought up again.
Not convinced? How about I approach the idea of hopelessness from another angle?
Dean: Man...hope I die before I get old. Whole thing seems brutal, don't it?
Sam: You think we will?
Sam: Die before we get old.
Dean: Haven't we both already?
Sam: You know what I mean, Dean. I mean, do you think we'll still be chasing demons when we're 60?
Dean: No, I think we'll be dead...for good. What? You want to end up like -- Like travis? Huh?Or Gordon, maybe?
Sam: There's Bobby.
Dean: Oh, yeah, there's a poster child for growing old gracefully.
Sam: Maybe we'll be different, Dean.
Dean: What kind of Kool-Aid you drinking, man? Sammy, it ends bloody or sad. That's just the life.
Sam: What if we could win?
Sam: If there was a way we could just...put an end to all of it.
Dean: Is there something going on you're not telling me?
Sam: No. Look, I'm just saying...I just wish there was a way we could...go after the source. That's all. Cut the head off the snake.
Dean: Well, the problem with the snake is that it has a thousand heads. Evil bitches just keep piling out of the Volkswagen.
Sam: Yeah. Guess you're right.
- “Criss Angel is a Douchebag,” Season Four
Sam: Did you know people tell stories about us?
Dean: Yeah. Apparently we’re a little bit legendary.
Sam: Yeah, but, I mean, so was Asa. Then a hunt went bad, and he ended up hanging from a tree, alone in the woods.
Dean: He died on the job. No better way to go.
Sam: You really believe that?
Dean: Yeah. What, you don’t? I mean, come on, Sam, it's not like we're in the “live till you're 90, die in your sleep” business. This? [Dean points at Asa’s hunting wall] This only ends one way.
- “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox,” Season Twelve
Eight seasons between these conversations and the context hasn’t changed much, has it? Both those conversations mirror exactly what Sam said at the end of “Breakdown.” Knowing that is their fate, why do Sam and Dean even try? Because they’re heroes and that’s what heroes do? Sam and Dean exist in a world that just wants to keep breaking itself. They save the world from the apocalypse and it just keeps getting worse. Any glimmer of hope or goodness they have in their lives just disappears. They’ve gotten to know God himself and they know he isn’t going to help. The monster in this week’s episode further pushed the futility of it all. Despite the efforts of the British Men of Letters, despite all of Sam and Dean’s efforts, there are still plenty of monsters. It looks like angels will go extinct before monsters do. Angels that arrived as saviors and turned out to be hapless dicks BTW. Demons are still around too and even taking down Lucifer hasn’t stopped the evil there. No matter what they try, those closest to them, and even those that just choose to help, end up getting killed. They’re saving people but the costs have for some time outweighed the benefits.
The Winchester story is mired in circular nonsense of bad situation after bad situation. With no hope, then why exactly is the story being told again? To depress us and then realize that the Sam and Dean story in the end really didn’t matter? That’s Sam’s place this week, and honestly, he feels exactly like I do. Saving people, hunting things, the family business after all this time seems like a cheap cliche rather than a mission statement. Let’s look at one more scene from the past:
Chuck: How else do you explain it? I write things and then they come to life. Yeah, no, I'm definitely a god. A cruel, cruel, capricious god. The things I put you through – The physical beatings alone.
Dean: Yeah, we're still in one piece.
Chuck: I killed your father. I burned your mother alive. And then you had to go through the whole horrific deal again with Jessica.
Chuck: All for what? All for the sake of literary symmetry. I toyed with your lives, your emotions, for... entertainment.
- The Monster at the End of This Book - Season Four
This was a hysterically funny scene, but at the same time, a terribly accurate one. Sam and Dean’s fate, behavior, legacy, just about anything sits at the whim of the writers, and the revolving door of writers through the years shows they are a whimsical bunch. So few compare notes when pulling scripts together, so few try to weave in proper character dynamics into their “amazing” monster stories every week. They try to come up with “How can we possibly make things worse for the Winchesters?” without exploring the true ramifications to the HUMAN characters. Remember how I talked about “Supernatural” failing in the later seasons to be grounded in reality in last week’s review? How Sam and Dean aren’t believable characters when the circumstances surrounding their lives become more absurd? How is Dean not on edge this week as well? Just two episodes ago he was frazzled beyond belief and pulled a gun on a teenage girl to force her to help them. Now he’s okay and Sam isn’t? They both should be falling apart.
I wish I could tell Sam to cheer up, but honestly, I’m really depressed too. I had to wait until season thirteen for an honest to goodness break in Sam to happen and I’m totally convinced it’ll all be swept under the rug next week. If that happens, then we’re back to the negligent writing that got the Winchesters in this mess to begin with and Davy Perez’s awesome script doesn’t matter. That would be the true bad in this scenario. All I can do right now is commend Davy Perez for FINALLY doing what the other writers have refused to do, admit Sam has a breaking point. Well done sir. Please do it again.
Overall grade of “Breakdown”, an A-.