You want to know how freaking impossible it is to critique season six Sam Winchester? I mean, how in the world to you characterize a character that wasn't a character for an entire half a season? It just blows the mind.
Nah, there's certainly something more to soulless Sam than meets the eye. After all, it's an intriguing notion. What exactly is a soulless man? Still, I hit the wall of soulless fatigue right around episode 8. Considering Dean's fatigue came much sooner, I shouldn't complain.
(Read A Deeper Look At Season Six Dean Winchester)
After getting his soul forcefully shoved back into him, the real Sam wasn't really there either. He was a guy with this wall in his head, keeping back the trauma, the pain that defines who he is. He also didn't remember that other side of him that he often doesn't like, the dark, strategic thinker that doesn't let the human element into the equation. He becomes this doughy-eyed, "I've got your back", obedient (for the most part) little brother, the part of Sam that Dean needs the most. Not that I'm complaining, for there are some really great brotherly moments that come out of it, but it wasn't until the finale, when soulless Sam and Sam merged, that the real Sam appeared. However he's got another part of himself now too, the brutally damaged Hell Sam. It's just not looking pretty.
Let's dig into this completely bi-polar season for Sam Winchester, shall we? The only pretty in it is the hair.
Exile on Main Street
I spent a good portion of this episode yelling, "WTF???" Sam is so vacant. He just pops out of nowhere to save Dean from an hallucination, gives Dean a wooden hug after proving to Dean he was alive and well in a very cavalier fashion, and then tells Dean as if there's no problem that he's been alive for a year and hunting with relatives they didn't know about previously. Then, after they thwart the bad guy, Sam with a very cold "It's really good to see you again Dean," takes off (in a Charger nonetheless!) as if he just said goodbye to a casual acquaintance?
Yeah, yeah, it all makes sense now. This is, as the term is coined later by Dean, RoboSam. He's a walking, talking, killing shell. The only spark of personality comes in his mocking of Dean's new golf skills. You did have to wonder, what was burned away in Hell? Is it really Sam? It makes for a good mystery but in the meantime, it's very uncomfortable to see Sam like this. One thing's for sure, whatever is there, this ain't Sam Winchester. At least all of him.
Two and A Half Men
RoboSam can be pretty fun. Thank heavens. Soulless or not, it's clear Sam has no clue what to do with a baby. His pleasant surprise over seeing that Dean does know mirrors our own. It's the Dr. Huxtable vibe! It's still obvious though this Sam isn't right. He vocalizes objections now, something he was very skilled at keeping to himself before. His ill tolerance of a crying baby proves that. Plus, he doesn't think twice about plugging a bad guy in a room where a baby is. He's able to convince Dean to help him though, and that's enough to get Dean back on the road with him. Sam clearly doesn't know what he's getting into.
This episode also shows Sam is a pure strategic thinker that's willing to risk anything to achieve his means as a hunter. Like an innocent baby. Dean picks up on this rather easily, but if there's one thing that Sam, soulless or not, is very skilled at, it's lying. He denies. Let the moral ambiguity begin!
The Third Man
Sam once again let's his irritation surface into a new level of jerkiness. Granted, Castiel's actions warranted such behavior, but it's another clue that this Sam isn't normal. Granted "not normal" got no objections from us when he was doing his oh so very hot morning workout shirtless with those low riding jeans (still drooling) but Sam spent the night with a hooker? Really? Oh yeah, something isn't right. Then there's the massive, hit you in the face clue. Castiel needs to hurt a young boy to get to the truth about who owns his soul. Dean objects, Sam has no problem with it. Uh oh. Red flag waving.
Sam does learn one thing. Castiel has no clue what pulled him out. He seems genuinely bothered by this. He's also bothered about the destruction of his car. So, somehow, having no soul means getting disappointed and mad can still happen. However, when it comes to Dean, he's stone cold. When asked if he's alright, if he wants to talk about Hell, Sam gives a very chilling, "It tortured you. I think it still does. But Dean, I'm okay." I really don't want to know his definition of okay.
Live Free and Twihard
Sam stood by and watched his brother get turned into a vampire on purpose, and smirked about it! Enough said. Sam ain't right.
You Can't Handle The Truth
Now this version of Sam is starting to piss me off. "Hey Sammy, your jerkiness is showing!" He's super rude to the witness they're questioning and makes her cry, he finds remnants of a dead cat and can only joke about it, and he flat out lies to Dean about the vampire thing even when he's supposed to be under a truth spell.
FINALLY though, we get some clues. What episode number is this? Sam and Dean have been captured by Veritas, the Goddess of Truth. Dean is forced to tell the truth because of her power and its heart crushing. Sam gives a line of bullshit about how the job is hard and they look out for one another. The shocked face of Veritas is the kicker. "How are you doing that? That's not possible. You're lying to me! What are you?" Exactly what we all want to know. Sam denies, but she knows better. "You're not human." No, Dean doesn't take this well.
I find it interesting that only when threatened with harm will Sam come clean. He's had a good charade going for a while now. Funny how a large knife waving in front of him jogs the memory. He admits, something's wrong with him, has been for a while. He let Dean get turned by the vamp because he wanted into the nest, knew about the cure and knew Dean could handle it. He didn't think of the consequences (aka harm to Ben or death to Dean) because he can't feel anything. "Ever since I came back, I am a better hunter than I've ever been. Nothing scares me anymore because I can't feel it. I don't know what's wrong with me. I think...I need help." He turns on the fake puppy dog eyes and tries to convince Dean he's being sincere. Dean thinks about it and that's enough for Sam to let his guard down. He never sees his vicious beating coming. I'm not entirely certain souled Sam would have missed that. Of course if it was the souled Sam puppy dog eyes, that would have been enough to calm Dean down. At least soulless Sam still feels physical pain, cause he got plenty of it.
FINALLY, an answer! Sure, Dean has to tie Sam to a chair and enlist help from his angel BFF, but that works. Sam's soul is missing. It's probably back in the cage with Lucifer? Really? That's not good. That means part of Sam, the touchy feely part, has been enduring the worst possible torture ever for a year and a half. That's like 150 Hell years (please tell me if my math is wrong). Yeah, not a lot of fairness, is there?
Soulless Sam is learning though. He tries to deceive Dean again, not telling him about how he and Samuel have been catching alphas. He gets caught in another lie after Dean sees covertly him and Samuel catch the alpha vamp. Sam wisely decides to play it Dean's way, especially when Dean can tell that Samuel is hiding something. Sam's instincts are a little off, given that he can't read human signals (although he could with that lady in "You Can't Handle The Truth" so there's some inconsistency there). It's nice that Sam wants to stay in his brother's corner, but given his unpredictable state, who knows how long that will last?
All Dogs Go To Heaven
This is the episode that I wish sniper Dean would have taken out soulless Sam. What an insufferable bastard! Sam is characterized as the biggest jerk in the world, and I still don't know why. At this point, I've had enough soullessness. We get it. At the end Sam tells Dean he's willing to get his soul back, and then immediately changes his mind the next two episodes. Whatever. I want off this ride, I'm getting ill.
Clap Your Hands If You Believe
So what is soulless Sam going to do this week? Aside from have sex with a hippie chick while Dean has been abducted by aliens? (Okay, that was funny) Being over the shock of his abduction within a half hour? (My guess it was more like two minutes). This is after telling Dean he survived on his own for a year just fine? I'm with Dean, I don't want to know his definition of "fine." I do forgive him though for jumping on fairy lady and her "wackadoo." I would have loved if while they were having tea there were cats climbing everywhere (sorry, veering off topic).
Sam is given an opportunity. Evil fairy leprechaun (that still gets me every time I say it) claims he can get Sam's soul back. They have ways of getting in back doors. Sam responds to the offer by shooting the leprechaun (not a deal breaker), pulling out the grains of salt (best way to thwart a villain ever) and eventually sends him back to the fairy world (can you imagine what this sounds like to someone who doesn't watch the show?). Dean has a right to be curious as to why Sam would do that. Sam's answer is perfect. "When has a deal ever been a good thing?" Yet his expression gives an entirely different answer. He doesn't want his soul back. Goodie, we're back to lying. Oh, and soulless Sam, HAVE A FREAKING BEER WITH YOUR BROTHER, okay?
What soulless Sam shall it be this week? Why the confident, dealing with demons, fighting leader Sam. Even Meg is spooked the whole episode because she can't quite put a finger on what's different about Sam, until she finds out his soul is missing (love her line, "I here I just thought you grew some balls Sam."). One bonus did come out of this. I sincerely doubt souled Sam would have used his own blood to make a devil's trap so creepily. Wow!
Sam hears from three different sources, Castiel, Crowley, and Meg, that getting his soul back might not be the best idea. He chooses to confront Dean at the end when Dean assures him they'll get his soul back. "You know what, when angels and demons agree on something, call me nuts, I pay attention." This is clearly Sam thinking strategically. How can he be a strong hunter when a weak and damaged soul will "smash him to bits"? He can't have that, no matter what Dean wants.
Appointment in Samarra
Oh goodie, this week we get homicidal maniac soulless Sam. Dean is risking all with Death so Bobby gets to play babysitter. Good thing Bobby is a paranoid bastard because every instinct he had about soulless Sam proves to be correct. Sam hates the wall idea. It's too risky to him. He sneaks off to summon Balthazar (I'd love to know how he figured out how to do that). He needs to know how to prevent his soul from entering his body. His act is every bit as desperate as Dean's, especially when the answer is acceptable to him. Patricide? All he needs is a father figure, not a blood dad? What a setup!
Sam and Bobby play this game of cat and mouse for half an episode. Sam tries to do the unthinkable and kill Bobby. If Dean succeeds he'll become a drooling mess and his survival is more important right now than anyone else's, including Bobby. Just by acting this way, Sam has surrendered his rights as a human being. Dean comes to Bobby's rescue and Sam's strapped down to the cot. He no longer has a say in his future. His soul is forcefully put back in by Death. It's interesting to see soulless Sam plead desperately for his life before this happens. It's out of character from what we've seen from soulless Sam, but then again his characterization hasn't exactly been even. This side of him isn't ready to give up control and as we find out later, never really goes away.
Like a Virgin
There's the brotherly hug! Sam has returned, or has he?
Sam doesn't remember anything that happened to him after "Swan Song." So, he likely doesn't remember the instructions by Death not to scratch that wall in his head, right? Sam's got some pretty keen instincts and instantly knows something isn't right. You think he's not scratching that wall? Did we ever think differently?
Despite the fact he's loose and just thrilled to be back with Dean again, it doesn't take Sam long to figure things out. He even tricks Castiel to tell him the truth. He was soulless for the last year, doing who knows what. Sam wants to make things right. "I kind of feel like I got slipped the worst mickey of all time and woke up to find out that I had burnt the whole city down. You can say it isn't me, but I'm the one with the zippo in my pocket so I'm not sure it's so cut and dried."
So here's an interesting debate. Is this Sam with his sense of redemption in overdrive after coming off of his massive sacrifice, or it this an unbalanced Sam that's missing the soulless part of himself? The part that hardens him a little, makes him more accepting of such acts. Could be both, but I'm leaning toward the latter.
Of course all of this was interrupted by the Mother of All drama, so it goes to the next episode. Boy, does it.
Wow, wow, wow. Talk about getting your lesson learned with a sledgehammer to the skull.
Sam and his aching soul needs to set things right. When a mysterious text takes him and Dean to Rhode Island, where Sam and Samuel worked a case within the last year, memories come flashing back as soon Sam reaches the city limits. He should have turned back, but a wall was itching like crazy.
Sam doesn't get much time to enjoy his freedom from Hell, for this little adventure triggers the memories of the evil sociopath know as his soulless self. The debate begins, is it really Sam? Dean doesn't think so, but Sam makes it clear without a doubt it was him. Bobby even echoed the same point in "Like A Virgin." It may not have been all Sam, but it was Sam. It's an interesting dilemma, what happens when you run amok with only a part of you in control, the part without the moral compass or regard for humanity? As Sam unfortunately finds out, some really bad things.
Each triggered memory shakes Sam harder to the core, messing with that wall. He responds like a trauma victim, and despite his good intentions, there is no redemption. It's a parallel to him taking down Lucifer. He did that and now monsters are running amok. Whether on purpose or not, what he did ruined lives and he can't fix it now. The most powerful line to come out of this, "You killed one monster, you made so many more." Good intentions are failing Sam.
Sam gets to see first hand what pure evil he's capable of and it frightens him. No, it devastates him. For remember, this isn't a complete version of Sam either. He doesn't have a lot of those hard memories of recent times, especially of Hell. This is the empathetic, feeling, caring side and he can't relate to the hardness of his counterpart. Tragedies, death, heartache, it affects him a lot worse.
Because of all this, Sam goes and scratches that wall. He learns first hand what happens with he does that - A massive seizure and a flood of memories of burning alive in Hell. Granted that seizure freaks out Dean more than Sam, but it still wasn't pleasant.
Mannequin 3: The Reckoning
No more scratching the wall. Dean's orders. Sam reluctantly agrees. So it's time to back his brother. Be supportive, help big brother straighten out some of the issues in his life. Just like old times.
The French Mistake
Just like Dean with "Frontierland," when was the last time you saw a goofy smile on Sam's face? The alternate reality may have been disturbing, but at least he had one fun night in a mansion, spending his money, and going to bed with his hot wife. Oh, Sam so needs more of these moments in his life.
And Then There Were None
Sam gets to confront Samuel, who isn't exactly won over that Sam has his soul back and can't remember what he did. Samuel still remembers and it sickens him. What's interesting is the intense remorse Sam feels when he kills Samuel, who was infected by the Khan worm. He doesn't remember anything pleasant about the man, but he was family, and can't help but wonder what his mother would think. Lucky for Sam, Dean is around to give the pep talk. Blood doesn't make you real family. Dean later gives forgiveness for all things past and present. Sam is surprised to hear Dean say that and appreciates the words. He really needed to hear this, especially with all his lingering guilt of late.
You know what got me the most about Sam though in this episode? When they were interrogating possessed Bobby. They make the decision to kill the worm by electrocuting Bobby, because that's the way he would want it. Sam is so distraught over seeing Bobby suffer, he turns away. Soulless Sam would have probably smirked in fascination. It's so wonderful to see this side of Sam, even if it was happening during a very upsetting moment. You do have to wonder though, would he have reacted so emotionally if it had been all him? He would have had some reaction, but I'm not sure if he would have turned away.
Sam plays his part while humoring big brother, but I only mention this episode for one reason. Sam on a horse.
That poor horse indeed.
Again, it's sympathetic Sammy being there for his brother. He like Dean felt the impact of the orphaned boys, and it took him back to his own losses. Like those boys, they're left with each other.
You know, at this point, I'm waiting for the shoe to drop for poor Sammy. This supportive, overly sensitive, caring side, it's the Sam of old, seasons one and two, but he's been through too much since then. His dark side has been missing. By this episode, that's very obvious, to me anyway.
My favorite bit though, I love how Sam let the others know that they were not being arrested by cops but being taken by monsters by adopting Dean's pet name. "Jefferson Starships!"
The Man Who Would Be King
Sam learns the truth. It's Castiel that pulled him from Hell, without a soul. Castiel obviously didn't do that on purpose, but the hurt and betrayal is too raw for Sam. He accuses Cass of doing that. Sure he doesn't take Castiel's lies with the same offense as Dean, but it stings nonetheless. Like he told Cass, he doesn't know what to think.
Let It Bleed
It's very hard for Sam to see Dean struggle over Ben and Lisa's disappearance. He tries to calm Dean down, but Dean is too over the edge. He goes to Castiel behind Dean's back but that doesn't help Dean much either. Sam even gets desperate and pours himself a glass of whiskey, the first time that's happened all season. But its the end, that's what hurts him the worst. He could have tried to be supportive of Dean's decision to wipe Ben and Lisa's memories, but instead it hits a sore spot. "Dean, you have pulled some shady crap before, but this has got to be the worst. Whitewashing their memories, take it from somebody who knows-" Dean cuts him off. "You ever mention Lisa and Ben to me again I'll break your nose." Another brotherly issue swept under the rug. Unfortunately for them, bigger fish are coming!
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Once again, poor, poor, Sam Winchester can't catch a break. Nothing stays good for long, does it? Neither Dean nor Castiel will back down in their battle of wills, so Castiel goes for Dean's weakness, Sam. He removes the Hell wall in Sam's mind purely to distract Dean and get him to back off. Sam instantly falls into a coma, technically breaks into pieces and has to figure everything out on his own in his head. It ain't pretty.
Talk about a character test. What do you do when three separate parts of your existence, kept apart by a barrier of well being, all fight each other in a battle of survival when it falls? There's sympathetic Sam, the current version resurrected by Death without any of his memories, there's soulless Sam, who thinks souls are weak and would rather be a predator than prey, and then Hell Sam, the broken, crushed, skinned alive piece that keeps the memories of that horror away from the pure soul out of protection.
Sam's mind has other built in protections too, including the bartender that tries to keep him away from the truth. Sam's determined though, because Dean needs him and the clues are there to what his real state is. He kills soulless Sam and takes in his memories. It's at that moment that we see the real Sam again, at least the Sam that fell into Hell. His dangerous, not so pleasant side is reunited with his sympathetic soul. The pain, the sorrow over what he's done, it's all too real, but it's not overwhelming him. "I'm so sorry," he tells Robin, the innocent bartender that soulless Sam killed. "Not as sorry as you're going to be." Foreshadowing a bit much, are we?
Sam can't wake up from his coma until the third piece, the Hell Sam, is part of him too. He has to know that pain, that unspeakable horror, in order to exist. "Humpty dumpty has to put himself back together again." Sam is terrified but he agrees, because "I'm not leaving my brother alone out there."
When Sam arrives to save Dean from Castiel, he can barely stand. Those raw memories, just as was warned earlier, are ripping Sam apart. He musters enough strength to stab Castiel, but as he, Dean and Bobby learn, Castiel is too powerful for that now. They have bigger problems.
Sam is going into season seven finally whole, but with a tainted soul now that has been "skinned alive" in Hell and the full memories and guilt of his soulless atrocities. This is worse than last year. He may have fallen into Hell, but he was on the front end of that worst nightmare after earning his long desired redemption. I'm extremely curious how Sam will pull himself together and whether Dean will be able to help. Maybe both of them can draw from their past experiences and help each other through their lingering PTSD. In the meantime, Sam's internal struggle is just beginning. I don't believe Hell Sam though. I think Sam is strong enough. Only time will tell I guess.
Read the other "Deeper Look" articles from previous seasons:
A Deeper Look at Season Five Sam Winchester
A Deeper Look at Season Four Sam Winchester
A Deeper Look at Season Three Sam Winchester