It's Sam's turn! As I'm sure many of you have picked up from my previous articles, I'm rather intrigued by the character of Sam Winchester. He's dark and mysterious, and I really need to look hard to even get a small grasp of what's he's all about. Dean's more open and since he's already hit rock bottom, there was nowhere to go but up, thus making his story far more inspiring. Sam is descending downward at a slow, uneasy pace, and it's my hunch the worst for Sam is yet to come in season four. In the meantime, season three gives us a compelling look at a character who's losing his grasp.
One thing that's obvious, the boy has issues. He always has, but in season three Sam wasn't likeable or empathetic like he had been in previous two seasons. He grew distant, especially with Dean, even though his only goal was to get him out of the deal. That obsession practically destroyed him. With each episode his frustration and desperation grew. Unlike Dean in "Dream A Little Dream Of Me", Sam's ordeal with the Trickster in "Mystery Spot" didn't inspire him to turn a corner and go forward. Instead, he turned irrational, and lost what little identity he had left.
The Road So Far
The big question coming from last season's finale is did Sam come back right? Hell, no. Not that he came back with more magical dark powers or a greater sense of evil. He came back in fear. No doubt the events in Cold Oak blew his confidence, and he learned a hard lesson that by acting on his better judgment, by not giving in and killing Jake, he got killed and now Dean is condemned to Hell. He doesn't know what's right anymore.
In season one Sam is the reluctant hero, dragged back into the life he didn't want. Season two wrecks him emotionally, with his dad's death, his fear over his dark destiny, and of course the events in the finale. Season three pushes Sam an interesting direction, for we learn that his greatest fear is losing Dean. For sixteen episodes we see through his gloomy eyes and withdrawn behavior that the mere thought of life without Dean is ripping his psyche to shreds.
Everything is crashing down on Sam, heightening his sense of doom and panic. He can't be left alone, for Dean is the only one that can guide him, protect him, and keep his teetering sanity in check. Throw the threat of Dean's death on top of becoming a soldier in an unwinnable demon war and being the sole survivor of the psychic kids thus making him a target, we get a proverbial mess. There are several key episodes that carefully chronicle the slow, downward spiral.
The Magnificent Seven
Sam's frustration and anger is in high gear from the word go. He humors Dean and his dying wishes, just because he doesn't know how to say what's eating him. By the end though he's had enough, calling Dean selfish, letting him know how much the deal bothers him, but it falls on deaf ears. Dean won't listen, because it could get Sam killed. This is where Sam begins to withdraw, dealing with his struggles privately, taking matters into his own hands. His frustration doesn't end either, and there are several arguments in the Impala coming up to prove it.
The colt is back, and Sam isn't going to make the same mistakes again. He won't hesitate, and he's following his big brother by "getting them before they get us." Ruby, a demon who knows how to manipulate human weakness, lets Sam know that what he did is right, unlike Dean, who worried about Sam's behavior only in front of Bobby. "You're gonna have to do things that go against that gentle nature of yours. There'll be collateral damage, but it has to be done." Sam bought it, every bit of it. He's vulnerable and can't rely on Dean because of Dean's death wish, so such advice makes sense to him. He's too confused to know if it's good advice or not.
There are two episodes that heavily focus on Sam coming apart, and this is one of them. His desperation escalates, as their job this week hits a little too close to home. He talks to a man who tragically lost his two brothers. He watches the doctor let go of the one person that he had left in this world. Instead of learning to let go though, he clings on tighter, caving in to the fear of loss inside. Even when Dean suggests that he let him go, Sam defiantly refuses. Then it all hits a boiling point when he blows away the Crossroads Demon in a snap decision. Sure, there was probably some premeditated logic behind killing her, but the last second choice to go through with it was fueled by nothing but frustration and anger.
Red Sky At Morning
Sam says something that rings true for the rest of the season. "I shouldn't have done it? You're my brother, Dean. And no matter what you do, I'm gonna try and save you. And I'm sure as hell not gonna apologize for it, all right?" This is Sam's obsession clearly stated, an idea he'll never let go of, and it plays a big part in his decline, especially in "Mystery Spot".
The small cracks at the edges become larger crevices. Sam's tired, defeated, and can't take Dean's reckless ways anymore. This time though, he manages to get through and can mend fences with his brother again. However, Dean's gesture to be his big brother again doesn't take away Sam's anxiety over the looming deal, it doesn't change that he still has to go against who he is instinctively. By now though, especially the way he took out Gordon, he's accepting a cold blooded nature, making him more dangerous.
A Very Supernatural Christmas
At least he and Dean are back to being themselves, having fun with each other the way they used to. Somehow though, this doesn't help Sam. Sure, he comes through for Dean at the end by giving him the Christmas he wants, but it still stings, the thought of next Christmas without his brother. That reality didn't go away with the egg nog.
The other episode featuring Sam's decline in a big way, and what's left is a shattered and broken man. What pushed Sam into the paramilitary mode that all but erased his humanity? What snapped inside?
Sam can't deal with the pain of loss anymore, especially when Dean really dies. He reacts by shutting out all emotion and going on a death wish, relentlessly pursuing evil with no concern for himself. It's the only way he knows how to cope with the anger, with that deep hole inside. Instead of learning from Dean, he ends up following the path of John Winchester. This is an intriguing, yet very frightening character turn.
When given the chance to get Dean back, his spirit truly gets broken. He's warned that this obsession will be the death of him, but Sam can't listen. The pain is too deep and he wants it to end. He gets his reprieve, but knows sadly in the end it's only temporary. The thought of going through life again without Dean now crushes him. His obsession becomes more urgent than ever, and he'll do anything.
Jus In Bello
Add another fear to the list, fear of incarceration, further overwhelming his already fragile mindset. Sam is the polar opposite of Dean in this one. He's distant, withdrawn, depressed, confused, and scared out of his wits. He makes decisions based on logic as opposed to gut instinct and a moral compass, for he doesn't trust himself anymore. In the end he follows Dean's lead, but the bad outcome has him questioning his brother now more than ever.
Time Is On My Side
The change in Sam's relationship with Dean is shown vividly. Dean wants to pursue Bela to get back the colt, giving them a weapon to fight with, while Sam wants to pursue a solution of immortality. When they split up, Sam points out they both want the same thing, but refuses to follow Dean this time. In his single-minded pursuit of keeping Dean alive, Sam forgets they are dealing with a dangerous killer who needs to be punished. He doesn't draw that line between right and wrong. Dean sets him straight, but the end result doesn't sit well with Sam at all. It only manages to fuel his internal despair.
No Rest For The Wicked
It's crunch time, and Sam and Dean aren't close to being on the same page. Again they both want to achieve the same thing, but aren't unified in that goal. While Dean's approach is more resigned, choosing to go out fighting, Sam will do anything, no matter what the costs. He's willing to give up himself and use the dark powers inside of him that he's avoided thus far, but Dean won't have it.
First Sam doesn't listen to Dean by summoning Ruby, but once they have the knife, he chooses to follow Dean's plan. When the plan goes wrong and Lilith escapes, Sam has had enough of Dean's way and is ready to give into his dark side. It's too late though and their confrontation spirals out of control, and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam does. No doubt that if Sam ever sees Dean again, he's going to have some big trust issues.
Sam does everything in his power to remain calm for Dean's sake, but we see how unstable he is. His behavior is all over the map. He listens to Ruby privately, but fights against her in front of Dean, even calling her a "bitch". His steely-eyed glare while wiping the blood from the knife on his sleeve shows how overcome with hatred he is, and how dangerous. Then there's the ending, where Sam goes from vengeful killer one moment to heartbroken, grieving brother in a flash. Sam is not alright, and now he must fight his inner demons alone.
I read in many interviews season three was supposed to show a role reversal, with Dean becoming more like Sam and vice versa. If that was the goal, it failed, but I like the end results better. Sam thought he was becoming more like Dean, but fell short by a mile. Dean on the other hand, became a man with a clear purpose and identity, a place Sam has never been comfortable in. All in all, the character development put into season three gives us a perfect setup for season four. How many more days until September 18?
Next week, prepare for a full-on Dean Winchester lovefest. "Jus In Bello" comes up for only the second time, and I've been dying to do this review since February. In the meantime, tell me your theories about Sam. How badly damaged is he?