Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall! Yes, that is from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, which I strangely chanted after poor Sam Winchester was left screaming his fool head off in the mid-season cliffhanger. Kind of cruel of me I suppose, since much like that rock opera the crumbling of the wall means insanity for the main character, but I couldn’t help it. Since when does Sam never scratch an itch?
I can honestly say, only two episodes this season have left me completely breathless at the end; “You Can’t Handle The Truth” and now “Appointment In Samarra.” It’s strange too, since both endings are very disturbing. However, they both expose (in an extreme way) main character frailties. “You Can’t Handle The Truth” showed Dean’s meltdown and now we finally get one from Sam, something long over due.
But wouldn’t you completely lose it if you were tied down and had something forced into you that throws you on a delicate edge forever? That essentially kills who you are? By Death nonetheless? Sure, this isn’t the real Sam, but wow, it’s still tough. Robo-Sam either had this option though or death. His primitive self-preservation instincts were too dangerous. So the question remains for now, is Sam’s extreme agony worth the price of Dean not having to act on a horrible decision to kill his brother? I say yes.
But hey, I’m jumping into the analytical part too fast. Let me just say I LOVED this episode. My favorite of the season. This entire review is going to gush over all presented and the deep character predicaments, not to mention the sheer awesomeness that is Bobby Singer. It’ll give us plenty food for thought for the next seven weeks (now that part is what crushes me!).
That’s it? A Kansas song?
Once again, this is a story that has both brothers at the brink. Desperate times indeed. Throwing caution to the wind has never been a deterrent for Dean and there’s only one way to get hold of Death, by dying. I’d love to know how he managed to put together this plan, but it’s brilliant. You’ve got to admit, if any being on earth has a unique rapport with the almighty reaper of souls it’s Dean. One small nitpick of this episode happens right way, for another brilliant guest casting move is sorely underutilized. Robert Englund makes the perfect illegal back room doctor, especially when he got to boast about his excellent “almost 75 percent” success rate with the risky procedure Dean came for. His snarly assistant obviously didn’t notice the angst of the pretty boy on the table either, adding a funny quality to this entire scene. I hope to see these two back for more at another time.
I adore how early in the episode the picture is painted of how far apart the brothers are. Dean’s farewell letter ends up going to Ben (who lives in Battle Creek, Michigan now?). Even the doctor asks why he doesn’t have a message for Sam. “If I don’t make it back, nothing I say is going to mean a damn thing to him.” No wonder Dean is taking this great risk. Without Sam, he doesn’t have anyone left. He certainly knows by now death isn’t the worst thing that could happen to him.
Speaking of brilliant casting, Lindsey McKeon (Tessa) and Julian Richings (Death) return in better than ever form, especially the latter. Death made a huge impression in “Two Minutes to Midnight” and his expanded screen time here manages to make his grim character even more fascinating in the same unsettling sort of way. I’m not sure why Dean got so lucky to earn Death’s favor, especially since Death constantly reminds him who is of greater power. Their rapport again takes a new and expanded turn, setting up some great future possibilities.
Why was Dean chosen to be Death for a day? Why didn’t Death just honor Dean’s request to get Sam’s soul out of the cage? Because even Death doesn’t pass up golden opportunities. Who better to put to the test than the guy who has spent the last several years thumbing his nose at fate? Messing up the “natural order.” Dean certainly hasn’t won a fan in Tessa the Reaper with his tampering. “So, all the times you messed with life and death, they just worked out for you. It was just a beach party every time.” Oh yeah, both these reapers knew this lesson was long overdue.
Of course Dean was going to fail in Death’s wager for him. A man that has done nothing but tempt fate his entire life was going to play by the rules? This long and coming lesson for Dean plays out brilliantly, aka, all actions have consequences. He can’t mess with the universe and expect to come out unscathed. It certainly isn’t a Kansas song either. “Wrecking the natural order is not so much fun when you have to mop up the mess, is it?” Message loud and clear Death, loud and clear.
Dean comes out of this with a new understanding that has escaped him until now, that there is such a thing as fate. It’s not all free will. Just as the free will of man has separated man from God, free will has consequences all around. Like when Sam and Dean averted the apocalypse. Now monsters are rising and Heaven and Hell are in civil war. On a more personal scale, Sam is a sociopath now. Dean certainly shows some amazing personal growth when he chooses to kill the little girl, even though the chain of events were already set in motion. He knows from experience. I’m sure Tessa’s words rang true. “She’s disrupting the natural order by being alive. You of all people know what that means. Chaos and sadness will follow her the rest of her life.” Sounds a lot like the lives of the Winchesters don’t you think?
It isn’t just consequences of actions though. Death gives Dean a few lessons about the resilience of the human soul. After all, he does come to Death asking him not to only return Sam’s soul, but fix it from the damage that’s been inflicted. “What do you think the soul is, some pie you can slice? The soul can be bludgeoned, tortured, but never broken, not even by me.” Later Death tells Dean, “You throw away your life because you’ve come to assume that’ll bounce right back into your lap. The human soul is not a rubber ball. It’s vulnerable, impermanent but stronger than you know. And more valuable than you can imagine.”
Is that possibly a declaration of hope for Sam? That despite the damage, he’s stronger than Dean thinks? Or is it simply a statement that souls cannot be spared from the cruelest of fates, no matter how much we want them to be. Probably both. Either way a battle over souls is waging.
Don’t Say “Herrreee’s Johnny!”
On the other side is Sam’s story. A soulless man really is nothing more than a wild animal fighting for self preservation. Sam’s not doing much for the natural order either. Dean does at least inform Sam of the plan, who reluctantly agrees with Dean, but he doesn’t really mean it. He just know he can’t stop Dean from fetching his soul so it’s up to him to find a way to stop him. This now becomes a battle for survival, to exist in his current form.
Enter Balthazar, or yet another great performance from Sebastian Roche. This scheming angel on the run helps Sam only because he finds Sam could be useful working for him. Just like Crowley. What is it about Soulless Sam that intrigues these beings? Is it the fact that with no soul he’s more dangerous than anything imaginable? As the alpha vamp said, he’s the perfect animal. Sam’s certainly doesn’t hesitate in going with the brutal solution to keep his soul out of his body by scarring it. By committing patricide. It doesn’t have to be his blood father, a figurative one will do. Oh yes, we see where this is going.
Enter Bobby, who is tasked with the duty of keeping an eye on Sam while Dean is gone. Instead he becomes an unwilling participant in the game of prey vs. predator. It’s primitive and oh so wrong in human context. But then again, Robo-Sam’s existence is wrong. Lucky for us, Bobby has a few tricks up his sleeve, which are enough to buy him the time needed for Dean to come to the rescue. A trap door by the closet? He obviously installed that after being stuck in there a couple of times with no escape, like in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” The ingenious things this man thinks of on his weekends off.
Sam doesn’t even think twice about what he’s doing. He stalks and tries to kill Bobby without regret or mercy. He does take a moment though to be honest with Bobby after being trapped in the basement. Dean doesn’t care about him, he just wants his “Sammy” back. This isn’t the first time Sam has referred to his souled self as another person. It’s just another clever reminder to viewers that this isn’t really Sam.
Dean may have lost the wager with Death by taking the ring off, but his timing couldn’t have been more perfect in that he gets back just in time to save Bobby from Sam’s strike of the knife. Another interesting twist of fate for Dean. He may have the ring off, but Dean isn’t done playing Death. He now has to decide Sam’s fate, especially since he failed to retrieve his soul. Knowing what he knows now about natural order, his agonized expression says it all. This version of Sam cannot live.
Once again, as often happens in this series, both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki speak volumes with just nonverbal expressions. Not only is Dean’s struggle obvious, but enter one of the most bone chilling sequences ever done on this show. Dean peers through the panic room door at his handcuffed yet unconscious brother. Sam comes to and quickly spots Dean’s cold and hard stare. Sam doesn’t flinch, giving a chilling stare of his own that is clear. He isn’t Dean’s Sam, nor will he ever be. He won’t hesitate to kill anyone, even Dean, if it means he survives. Dean doesn’t back off either, letting Sam know he won’t let this continue. Oh yes, the brotherly relationship has clearly hit rock bottom.
Oh, but time for another twist of fate. Dean goes upstairs to take a breather, let it all sink in. Imagine his surprise to find Death there with some bacon dogs and beer. Honest, what has Dean done to get Death to like him so much? Sure Dean learns gets the whole “moral of the story” but Death goes and gets Sam’s soul anyway. Turns out the Winchesters are needed after all. “You and your brother keep coming back. You’re an affront to the balance of the universe and you cause disruption on a global scale. But you have use. Right now you’re digging at something. Intrepid detective. I want you to keep digging Dean.” So was Dean essentially rewarded for making another hard but correct choice regarding Sam? Who knows, but its fun to imagine. Also fun, how the odds again are at 75 percent.
I have always admired this show’s ability to push certain boundaries, and again they didn’t flinch in pushing another moral dilemma. I’ve read plenty of good debates since this episode aired on Robo-Sam’s right to exist. Were his rights violated? Didn’t he have a right to make the decision to take his soul? Having it forced upon his did seem very cruel, but one does have to keep in mind that Robo-Sam is a sociopath. How are most sociopaths treated in society? They are locked up. Dean and Bobby knew one thing about this Sam, they couldn’t lock him up. He’s too smart, too skilled in survival, and will surely escape one day. There’s no telling what he would do. That’s what Dean resigned himself to accept when Sam was locked in the panic room. He would have to kill Robo-Sam, there were no other options. Dean felt the huge failure on his part though, for death for Robo-Sam meant Sam’s soul still condemned to Hell, suffering. Kind of ironic, Sam being saved by Death. Then again, it really wasn’t saving. It was preserving the natural order.
Sure, forcing Sam’s soul upon him is a violation. It’s horrible, cruel, and as many have said borderline rape. It had to be done though. Robo-Sam, right or wrong, was not meant to be. Of course neither is real Sam, but that’s another debate for another time. Sure Dean wanted his brother back but there’s a bigger picture there too, he had to protect society. Making a decision to kill Sam or soul Sam was not unlike killing the little girl. If he didn’t, the dominos would continue to fall and innocents would be harmed.
Kudos to Sera Gamble and Robert Singer, writers of this episode, for bringing up the fan concerns about Adam. Dean asks for his soul too, but Death only allows one to happen, probably knowing full well that Dean would pick Sam. I’m assuming this to mean that Adam in the cage is part of the natural order, while Sam being separated from his soul is not. Plus, Adam wouldn’t be very useful in the “intrepid detective” part.
Bobby got in some great quotes when being hunted by Sam. “I was born at night, but not last night,” and “Ain’t nobody killing me in my house but me.” The best though is what he said after Sam broke through the closet door with an axe and a wild eyed look. “Don’t say, Herrreee’s Johnny!”
My favorite parts tough are Dean’s fish out of water behavior as Death, quoting “Dust in The Wind” line to a guy who’s just died and wants to know what it means. “That’s it? A Kansas song?” I do wonder if that’s an inside joke since “Carry On Wayward Son” is an anthem for this show. Also, I love when Dean tries to anticipate the hard questions he’s about to receive from the deceased. “What, like how did Betty White outlast me?” Or how about the robber killed in the convenience store shooting. “Enjoy the ride down pal. Trust me, the sauna gets hot.” Dean should know!
I keep bouncing between a grade of A or A+ on this one, but I’ll go for an A for now. A+ to me is instant classic, and while this episode will have an impact, that impact remains to be seen. I for one am very excited about the possibilities, for the brothers have a more defined purpose and mission now. Before they both seemed to be wandering, going where need be without any clear reason. Plus the emotional angst will be back. Maybe. See you all January 28th to find out!