Oh, Sam what happened? What did those writers do to you?
No doubt about it, Sam Winchester is suffering from an identity crisis. Actually, he doesn’t seem to have an identity. This show has always been guilty of failing to show Sam’s emotional side since he internalizes, but it often felt like season nine didn’t even try. I think they kind of forgot Sam was there. One has to wonder where it all went wrong. Where did he lose his voice, his emotional capacity, his sympathy? Where did he end up becoming a secondary player in a show where he’s listed as a lead? Why can’t character development happen simultaneously for both brothers, not one or the other?
The last time I was real frustrated with Sam’s character development was back in season seven. I’m one of the ones that thought his season 8 role was a great push forward, even with the whole Amelia thing. He had a new lease on life and was determined to live it. Then the writers forgot all that and went their own way, decimating any progress he had made from seasons 7 to 8, and likely earlier. He gets possessed and goes from a normally intuitive and hard to fool Sam to someone who was oblivious to what was happening. Then he finds out what Dean did and behaves like a total unsympathetic jerk, and then he goes back to thinking everything is okay without truly resolving his issues from earlier in the season. He was removed from the story, serving as Castiel’s wing man in the Angel standoff and damsel in distress the rest of the time. The whole thing was very, very tough to watch.
In prior seasons, writers have taken stories to bring that withdrawn side of Sam out, to give us an idea of what’s going on in his head. In season nine, only Jeremy Carver in the two episodes he wrote decided that Sam’s POV was worthwhile. As a result, we weren’t able to connect with Sam in season nine or know what his motivations and pains truly were. There weren’t a lot of hints either and the wasted potential of what could have been with that setup is a travesty.
In going through the episodes this season, you’re going to see a lot of “could have” or “should have” from me. Just going through the basic plots you have to wonder where the writers lost total interest in grabbing those opportunities for character defining moments. Where shout-outs, cavalcade of bad guest character returns, and fan service all took priority over a main character who’s development has a vital 50% stake in this series. But that’s a moot point. We’re here for a deeper look at Sam Winchester, and deep we shall get. Warning, you may see a lot of tears and outright frustration here folks. And some primal screaming. Definitely some primal screaming.
As I go through each episode, just to keep things fun, every time Sam is unconscious, look for the special “DING” and photo. Collect them all and you’ll get angelic protection for life from ever having a head injury, because it looks like that’s what Sam got. That’s the only reasonable explanation as to why he’s not a drooling mess in a wheelchair by now.
“I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here”
I find Sam’s inner argument interesting, considering this is a complete 180 from “Trial and Error.” Sam was facing the front end of the trials and is determined to do the trials and live. He saw that having a real life was possible, and that outlook only changed because of how worn and broken he was from the grueling effects of the trials. It was obvious during his internal debate that he didn’t want to die, but he was waiting for Dean to give him a good reason to go on. I’m not sure I understand this, since he chose to have a normal life after Dean went to Purgatory. Is it because of the commitment to Dean made in the church? Without Dean it was time to die? Is it possible this was the personal decision he made when he went into that church with Crowley (the unaired outtake in the church between Sam and Crowley hints this was his decision, as well as his ‘So?” reaction).
I adore Sam standing up to “Dean” and telling him that dying was his choice. This was what he wanted. It’s understandable, he’s worn and tired from the trials and doesn’t have a lot of fight left, but it kind of invalidates Sam’s true persona too. While I applaud his declaration of independence and taking destiny into his own hands, I was waiting for Dean to throw back in his brother’s face (even if it wasn’t the real Dean), “What about seeing that light at the end of the tunnel?” We’re half way into the first episode of season nine and I’m already deliberating continuity. Later Sam tells Death that if he accepts dying, he doesn’t ever want to be brought back. Really? This disappointed me greatly to see that Sam’s new resolve of having a life in season eight just completely dropped and forgotten. It set any progress he made as a human being backward, as if season eight never happened. That short term recollection of character continuity ends up being a huge problem in season nine.
When the season kicks off with such a perplexing take on Sam, then no wonder the whole rest of it was just a hodge podge of whatever Sam felt like that day. It just keeps getting worse.
On a side note (and will be explored further in my overall Season Nine review), I’m disappointed that the season nine didn’t slow down to explore more stories of consequences of messing with the natural order. I wish Sam and Dean really got to see what the ramifications were for not closing the gates of Hell, mostly that it was probably a good thing they didn’t. They would have learned that bad souls destined for Hell would have been trapped with the souls that were bound for Heaven, and that would have caused catastrophic chaos in the world. You know, something cosmic and fun. As Metatron said last season, they were “pulling one of the great levers.” It was another big case of wasted potential.
“Devil May Care”
The beginning of the whole being possessed by Ezekiel (later revealed to be Gadreel) stuff. While I give huge props to Jared for flipping between characters on a dime like that, and his super bad ass decimating of the demons attacking Sam was cool, this one didn’t really do much for Sam the character. He was in the dark and didn’t have a clue what was happening.
There was an attempt to explore through Tracy Sam having to live up to his past. Her family was murdered by demons, who she said were celebrating the fact that “some dumb kid let Lucifer out of his cage.” The issue is, those demons would have probably killed Tracy’s parents even if they weren’t celebrating, so her hatred is kind of flimsy. Also, if something like that is going to be brought into a story, there needs to be some type of emotional connection between the characters and the circumstances. Would some puppy dog eyes have hurt? No relevant time was taken for any serious soul searching in Sam or any pangs of regret. It was almost like he scoffed at her and said “that was so season five” (he didn’t, but you get my point). He moved on , and so should she. Could it be that was Andrew Dabb’s message to the fans, get over it?
It’s all better though when they have that awkward exchange at the end (“You okay?” “Yeah, you?” “More or less, yeah,” “Good.”) and I had to make sure I was watching this show called “Supernatural.” That’s emotional writing? That means everything is okay? It ended up being pointless filler that could have gone toward the rest of the plot. Sure, Sam told Dean Tracy was right in the end, but then he said that he felt good, best in a long time. So was this Sam saying he’s put his past mistakes behind him? Was it a setup to show how overprotective Dean was of his brother when he told Tracy to go after the real monsters? It was almost like Dabb was working the Writing 101 checklist and thought this whole thing would satisfy the “character parallel” item.
On another side note – I’m just not sure what happened to Andrew Dabb this season. It’s almost like his writing mojo was sucked completely dry. Half hearted and disorganized plots, disregard to anything written in prior recent episodes (okay, he’s always been guilty of that), hare brained ideas (and I’m not even talking about Bloodlines), and the general quality in his writing took a massive nosedive. Almost all of his episodes (excepting “Road Trip”) made my season’s worst list. Could it be “Supernatural” is getting too stale for him? TBD.
“I’m No Angel”
Sam feels great. And he’s still utterly clueless as to what’s going on, even though he’s catching Dean in a few lies. He’s just not doing anything about it! Maybe because he keeps falling unconscious.
I loved the “Hanging out with Sam and Dean on movie night at the MOL Bunker” feel. First, Sam isn’t accepting the MOL bunker as home. His room isn’t unpacked and it’s missing the warm touches of home (although the flat panel TV looked like settling in to me!) His issue is very understandable. He even spells out it to Dorothy for those of us that forgot, he hasn’t had too much luck with homes. One “This is close to home as we’re ever gonna get,” from Dean later and Sam comes around. He’s writing his own story now, not living in the past (get the theme here?).
In the annoyance factor, Sam again has a “Zeke slip” and again accepts Dean’s lame story that he was knocked out by the witch. He remembers Dean saying “Zeke” though. He dismisses. Sam in prior years would be beating the truth out of Dean by now. This is getting very annoying, and it’s only episode 4. Enough dragging out character arcs for entire half seasons! That should have been on my season ten list of demands. Just get on with it.
“Dog Dean Afternoon”
Sorry, I’m primal screaming now. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the episode, and I loved that Sam was blackmailed into giving a Yorkie a belly rub plus the bitch face he gave while doing that (that’s some real acting, you know Jared was loving it!) Let’s just get to the encounter with the Chef Leo. I both loved and hated this scene. It was so brilliant, the way it was shot. The acting was extraordinary and the tension was high, the way everything went down was so well done. That’s when I get to the hated it part. NOTHING came from that setup. Nothing!! What the Hell? It was brushed under the rug and never spoken of again! We finally get an arc break through scene like that and no one runs with it??? That’s why season nine struggled big time. That’s why I lost a lot of faith in this season by episode five.
But still, for those few glorious minutes. Sam finds Chef Leo, but is surprised by suddenly having his throat slashed. The way Sam is gasping for breath, he’s a goner. He’s clutching onto blood oozing from his neck and fading fast. Then Zeke takes over. He heals Sam, falls unconscious since all this healing is zapping his strength, and a perplexed, shell shocked Sam is left with a bloody neck and a healed wound, wondering what the heck just happened. Chef Leo is utterly stunned. “How the Hell did you do that?” “I want to know what you are.” Sam has no answer, so Charmelo and Snyder rip something from the every day “Supernatural” playbook. Sam is unconscious. Go figure.
Sam does wake up eventually, in an interesting parallel to the opening of “Mannequin 3” (same writers), and HE HAS NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT’S HAPPENING??? He doesn’t even ask how a fatal slashing of the throat healed itself??????? He just wonders what Chef Leo meant by “I want to know what you are”?????? GAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! Primal screaming!!!! Nope, Sam drops it. It never comes up again. Just kill me.
“Heaven Can’t Wait”
I don’t know, Sam was in it. That’s all that I pretty much remember. I still wonder why he doesn’t remember his throat was slashed. I’m still wondering why he doesn’t realize an angel is in him. I still wonder why he hasn’t strung Dean up by his thumbs and demanded the truth. I still wonder why all these writers still have jobs.
Sam didn’t know Dean was in a boy’s home? I’m not going there. Not going there. *Rumbles under breath, wonders why they got the age difference wrong** Not going there. On a plus side, Sam’s thank you for always being there and having his back is sweet, classic brotherly bonding, and gets totally erased a few episodes later. Oh, and Sam STILL doesn’t know an angel is inside of him. At least he got to remain conscious the entire episode.
“Rock and a Hard Place”
All fun aside (“Well, I guess because every woman I’ve…ever… had relations with, uh…it…hasn’t ended well.”) , the relevant scene is the ending one. The very relevant scene. Finally, some movement! Oh, and Sam is unconscious again.
Yes, he eventually wakes up (with remarkably all his brain cells in tact), and one touch from the monster should give Sam enough evidence that something is VERY VERY wrong. She pulls a similar stunt to Chef Leo, telling Sam his liver is no good and he’s being held together with “duct tape and safety pins” inside (one of my favorite expressions is duct tape and chicken wire). Sure he has to stop wondering what’s happening to save Jody, but that leads to his heartbreaking talk with Dean. Sam is growing to except that something’s wrong with him, AGAIN, and maybe he’s never going to be okay. Or, if we ran with the theme of this show, he’ll never be normal. This is enough guilt for Dean to come clean, but Zeke won’t let him. He gives Sam another lie, and Sam leaves dejected.
Poor Sam. He’s had two supernatural creatures tell him he isn’t right and he’s asking questions like “maybe it’s just me?” This is where I wonder, has Sam really been pondering all this time what could be wrong with him and we just haven’t been seeing it come out in the episodes? It this just a case of lazy writing glossing this stuff over and letting the fan believe this is happening? He’s suffering from all sort of time lapses and he knows Dean is lying. Too bad that by the time his concerns get serious, it’s too late.
“Holy Terror” and “Road Trip”
DING! Fine, I know it’s really Gadreel, but it still counts!
These two episodes are essentially a two part saga, and both have Sam being under full control of Gadreel. “Holy Terror” starts things off exactly right. Sam is still questioning what the Vesta said to him, and he now realizes something is really wrong when he has another Zeke slip that lasts 50 miles! Dean should have known better. All I can say is it’s about freaking time. He is more confrontational with Dean, but Dean gives him an inexplicable “Would I lie?” line. The answer, YES! If that conversation had been allowed to go on, Sam’s answer would have been “Yes.” But that’s the trouble with a lot of these brotherly conversions, especially with Sam. They trail off into nothing…then it’s too late. Or it’s interrupted by a phone call. I would have loved a scene like in “Metamorphosis” where Sam demands Dean pull over and they hash it out by the side of the road. Of course “Zeke” would have prevented that, but that’s what fan fiction is for I guess.
Since Gadreel takes over shortly after this, Sam is gone and literally left in the dark until Crowley weirdly (and awesomely) takes possession of Sam in “Road Trip.” It’s Crowley that gets through to Sam, convinces him that he’s being possessed. When Crowley tells him to remember, his first thought goes to Gadreel killing Kevin. “Did I kill Kevin?” Sam asks, and that’s the fuel for all of Sam’s anger and feelings of betrayal for the rest of the season. Crowley sets Sam straight in time to deal with Gadreel and cast him out, which ends up being a rare moment of total Sam awesomeness ( Gee, why don’t we get a lot of these anymore?)
The most significant part of all this though is the ending scene between Dean and Sam, with Castiel close by with watchful eye since Sam is still physically weak. As I’ll cover in “A Deeper Look at Dean Winchester”, Dean’s guilt in this episode is pretty much through the roof. By the time he gets to talk to Sam on the dock, his self hatred scale is burning at a 100. Sam knows it, but he’s woozy, tired, and the realization that he was the one that killed Kevin is burning in his brain. He wasn’t ready to deal with Dean’s self loathing and vow to go it alone. He was barely dealing with what happened to him. His lashing out at Dean was rather reserved, but it still got a steely point across. “You lied to me. Again.” That was enough for him to let his brother go and not stop him.
Sam’s last words to Dean are, “But don’t go thinking that’s the problem, ‘cause it’s not.” Looking at the conversation, it’s addressing Dean’s claim that he’s poison. So if Dean isn’t poison, what does he mean? In the simplest form (and probably the right one), it was Dean’s deception that was the problem. That’s why they’re in this mess. That’s why people get killed. Again, Sam’s frame of reference is Kevin, but that’s likely what Sam was addressing. All this kind of goes back to “Appointment in Samarra,” where Dean causes the death of an innocent nurse to save a little girl. Here, he essentially traded Sam’s life for Kevin’s.
Would he have knowing the outcome? Of course not. But every time Dean messes with the natural order, there are consequences. Sam in his funk the rest of the season is dealing with one core issue, the choice was taken away from him. Because of that, someone close to him died. It’s a repeating pattern in his life, starting in the very beginning with the nursery fire that claimed his mother Mary. Something horrible happened to him because of another person’s choice. He made the choice to die. Did Dean strip that away from him? Yes and no. Sam ultimately made the choice to go with Dean, so he does shoulder some of the blame for not sticking to his resolve to die. But it was done under false pretenses. Sam took a blind leap of faith for Dean and was burned by it. What he’s not truly absorbing at this moment is its burning Dean too. Could it be that Sam sees what Dean did was a violation of their brotherly declaration at the church in “Sacrifice?” Is this Sam disapproving of Dean essentially “figuring something out” because it led to others dying? Or is Sam just being an unreasonable, selfish ass? (I think the answer is no, but some think that way).
That brings us into the second half of the season, where Sam has to wrestle with all these questions and his inner demons. Sadly, if he does, we never get to see it. We only got to see where he came out from it on the other end without really knowing the process in between. There are some clues, but some of them require real detective work and stretching of the imagination, but if you squint hard enough they’re there. I’ll do what I can to show Sam’s path from here to “Do You Believe in Miracles?” but if it looks like I’m stretching, that’s because I probably am.