In part one of my "Deeper Look at Season Ten Sam Winchester", Sam was pretty driven to save Dean, but for the most part Sam was thrown into the background.  It was right around episode 17 where stuff got real.  Let's go through episodes 18-23.    

“Book of the Damned”

Pinch me, the Sam Winchester goodness continues in a big way! 

Before everything gets started, a rare piece of Winchester honesty!  Dean shares with Sam a key piece of information he got from Rowena.  The MOC is a curse.  Couple that with Charlie coming back with the book Sam sent her to find and suddenly there’s hope again.  They might finally have an answer!  Naturally though, since we know exactly what show we’re watching, it’s going to come with a price.  It’s Dean who warns that there’s serious costs to going this route.  The MOC and the book are connected somehow and Dean knows bad crap when he feels it.  Sam can’t give this up though, not without exploring this option further.  After all, Dean was showing signs of hope by talking about going to the beach for the first time…ever.  He carries on working with Charlie to decode it. 

There’s a few key pieces of dialogue that shows exactly what’s reeling in Sam’s mind and why he can't let go:

Dean:  No, I’m not giving up.  Charlie, I don’t have a death wish.  Okay, even if I did, I can’t die, not with this thing on my arm.  What I can do is I can fight it as long as I can until…
Sam:  Until what?  Tell me.  Until what, Dean?  Until I watch you become a demon again?  Until then?  I can’t do that.  I won’t do that. 
Dean:  Well, then you’ll just have to lock me up.  Bind me to the bunker like you did the last time.
Charlie:  That doesn’t solve anything. 
Sam:  Look, just let us translate the book, okay?  If there’s a cure, we’ll do it and deal with the consequences later.  I can’t lose you. 
Dean:  Really?
Sam:  Yeah, really.
Dean:  You change your mind on that, cause it’s not what you said last time. 
Sam:  Oh, come on, man.  You know I didn’t mean that.
Dean.  This is my cross to bear, Sam.  Mine.

Sam is definitely scarred by the events since Dean lost his life to the MOC.  He will not accept this is Dean’s cross to bear, especially after all Dean’s done for him through the years.  Still, it’s kind of ironic how Sam is taking on the burden to save Dean alone, lying and sneaking around.  Ah Winchesters.  Sam in his stubbornness (he is John’s son) won’t listen when just about everyone tells him that’s a bad idea.  The choice here by the writers is obvious, they are trying to drive an eventual wedge between the brothers.  Create something that Dean will see as a betrayal.  It’s their way of raising doubt that at his true evil core, Dean can be capable of killing Sam as was prophesized by Cain.  But more on that in my deeper look at Dean Winchester. 

Then there’s his talk with Charlie too, and it’s sad.  It makes you wonder where Sam and his identity have gone.  Is Dean his whole reason to be now?  Is this what years of fighting along side his brother in the trenches has created?  This talk also suggests that Sam’s devotion is hitting some borderline psychosis (or dangerously unhealthy co-dependence).  Some may find his loyalty endearing, but I find it somewhat troubling.  What happened to that desire for a life?  Is this all there is now for Sam? 

Charlie:  What did Dean mean?  When he said you changed your mind?
Sam:  So, awhile back, we had a chance to, um, close the gates of Hell.  And in order to do that, I would’ve had to die.  And, I was okay with that, and I am okay with that, but Dean was not.  And so, he uh…
Charlie:  He saved you.
Sam:  Yeah, he saved me.
Charlie:  And let me guess, in doing so, he did something you didn’t want, and that pissed you off.  And you said something that hurt him?
Sam:  Yeah, that sounds about right.
Charlie:  You know, I haven’t been a hunter for very long, but it feels like this is the life.  Mostly ends in Sophie’s choices, death or tears.  Usually, all of the above, huh?  How did this become my life?  I mean, I was gonna own my own start-up, marry ScarJo, invent something cool.  Now I’m just...I’m just happy to be alive.
Sam:  You know, when Dean came to get me at school, I-Itold myself…one last job, you know?  One more job.  And then when – when I, um… When I lost Jess, again, told myself one more job.  There’s always one more job, you know?  And one more job , and one more job, and then I was gonna go back to law and – and to my life.
Charlie:  You were the Dread Pirate Roberts of hunting:
Sam:  Yeah.  I guess I really understand now that…this is my life.  I love it.  But I can’t do it without my brother.  I don’t want to do it without my brother. And if he’s gone, then I don’t…
Charlie:  I got it.  I-I do. 

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I don’t buy for a minute that Sam loves hunting.  He does it because he can, and because he’s good at it, plus someone has to save the world.  I think he believes it’s too late for him now.  It’s tragic, because as Charlie said (and as we know with her outcome), it’s death or tears.  For the Winchesters, it’s always tears.  Dean’s recent death must of really broken apart something in Sam that was splintered and fragile.  His new determination and motivation for saving Dean is frightening. 

Then there’s the surprise ending, the one that pushes Sam into a whole new territory of guilt and deception.  It’s not a new thing for Sam, lying to Dean for his own sake, but it’s eating him apart too.  Making a deal with Rowena is worse than making a deal with The Devil and he knows it.  That didn’t stop him though.  Anything for Dean.  He’ll deal with the fallout. 

"The Werther Project"

I tell ya I’m gonna faint.  Three in a row! 

No doubt about it, Sam’s internal guilt is eating him alive!  Literally, because he’s allowing himself to die just so he can get the codex and give it to Rowena so she can save Dean.  He’s being bitten very hard by taking on matters alone.  The fact he called Rowena for quick advice and then shunned her offer for help, not to mention her warning about getting it wrong, shows that in his desperation he’s gotten a bit reckless too.   He can’t let Dean in to what is happening though.  That’s killing him emotionally, but Dean is getting worse and won’t save himself.  Or is he? Is that Sam’s skewed perception to justify his cause?  There hasn’t been too much evidence of Dean’s huge descent (just a small one).  Yeah, he’s barely holding it together, but he’s still hanging in there and has it together.    

Sam’s very aware though that there are consequences to what he’s doing.  After all, his hallucination totally berated him for it!

Suzie:  Boo.  Survived 40 years in this house, keeping that thing on lockdown, and one visit from a putz like you…
Sam:  I’m sorry, okay?  I’m so sorry.
Suzie:  Lot of good “sorry” does me.  Look at me.  Look…at…me. (She points to her corpse).  There she is.  The first casualty of your misguided mission.  But what’s another human life to you?  Anything’s worth it, as long as you two make it out alive.  And how’s that search going?  Any closer to a cure?
Sam: This isn’t real.  You’re not real.
Suzie:  You think Dean’s the wild card, the loose cannon.  But you don’t see?  Making deals with witches, opening Pandora’s box down there?  You’re the reckless one.  You’ll do anything to keep clinging to that doomed brother of yours.  How many more will die Sammy?  You know it.  You have to be stopped.  And the only one who can stop you is you!

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Yes, Suzie’s “ghost” was trying to get Sam to kill himself, but she had a pretty damned good point.  Sam wouldn’t be hearing any of that stuff if that wasn’t what he was actually feeling.  No doubt he’s conflicted, no doubt he sees the harm he’s doing, but he won’t stop.  He can’t.  He doesn’t even think that while bleeding himself to death Dean’s blood would help open the box.  Luckily Dean arrives and figures it out in time.   Dean realizes that the universe is telling them something, they are stronger together than apart.  However, it’s because Sam truly believes that as well that he’s doing all this.  Oh Winchesters!

Kudos to Sam though for remembering the number of times he’s been double crossed!  He delivered Rowena her prize, but it comes with a price.  He’s chaining her up in the warehouse.  She isn’t going anywhere until the book is translated.   

“Angel Heart”

Was Sam in this one?  (Checks transcript).  Oh right.  He tries to teach a 18 year old how to live with an alias and commit credit card fraud.  Ah well, at least he waited until she was of age.  Glad to know his skills could be put to use like this, even if he started the series complaining about doing the same thing with Dean.   It goes to show just how much in survival mode Sam is.  There is no concept of normal anymore.   Sam does take the stance though that Claire shouldn’t go it alone.  She needs someone.  That again reinforces that in his mindset, without Dean he cannot exist.  It also reinforces that Sam can’t listen to a monologuing villain without being in “Damsel in Distress” mode.  Why did a Grigori, who is a form of angel by the way and has an angel blade, have to subdue a human with handcuffs? 

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“Dark Dynasty”

Really?  Do I have to analyze this one?  (Grumbles)  Fine, let’s put it this way.  Sam f***ed up, big time!  He risked his friends for his quest and had a big part in the tragic outcome.  Again, I wouldn’t call him solely responsible, but it’s exactly what Suzie hallucination was telling him in “The Werther Project.”  How far does the collateral damage go?  What did happen to saving people?  

Rowena needs a code breaker.  Good thing Charlie knows how to do that, huh?  So then he puts Castiel to use by being a referee to Charlie and Rowena?  What a great use of a powerful angel.  Plus, his lying to Dean is not only tiresome at this point, it’s just plain idiotic.  We get another “Dean isn’t doing any better,” even though he’s acting somewhat rationally in this one.  Even Charlie is starting to see how doing this behind Dean’s back is a bad idea.  She should…oops, too late…she’s dead.  (Might I add that reviewing the piss poor dialogue in this one was the equivalent of pulling teeth). 

“The Prisoner”

Okay, NOW Dean is getting worse.  You helped setup a pretty damned good reason too Sammy.  I still call bulls*** on using Charlie's death as the catalyst but there’s not denying now, her death and finding out about Sam’s betrayal has pushed Dean over the edge.  Everything that Sam feared is now happening.

Dean:  The Mark isn’t gonna kill me.
Sam:  Maybe not, but when it’s done with you, you won’t be you anymore.  Dean, you’re all I got, so of course I was gonna fight for you, because that’s what we do.   Listen, I had a shot.
Dean:  Yeah,  you had a shot.  Charlie’s dead, nice shot.
Sam:  You think I…you think I’m ever going to forgive myself for that?
Dean:  You wanna know what I think?  I think it should be you up there and not her.  This thing with Cass and the book ends now.  Shut it down before somebody else gets hurt, you understand me?

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Even with Dean’s hurtful words, Sam still isn’t giving up.  Charlie’s code breaking skills just before her bloody, awful death (still bitter!) gave Rowena what she needed to figure out the spell.  Sam defies Dean’s wishes and goes forward with breaking the code.  After all, they’ve come too far to turn back now.  While Dean is off the rails though, Sam has to make good on a promise and take care of Crowley. 

Line of the season goes to Crowley, during Sam’s very ill-conceived attempt to kill him.  “Thought you were the smart one, working with my mother, you insane?  You actually trust her?”  In other words, everything Sam is doing has come back to bite him in a horrible way.  He’s having a very bad day.  We only saw all of this coming a mile away. 

“Brother’s Keeper”

Showdown time!  Sam can't find an off the rails Dean and in frustration pushes Rowena to do her part.  He even agrees to let her have the Book of the Damned and the Codex when she is finished.  He won't even think of the dangers of doing that.  He’s gone from desperation into a full fledged panic now.   

A confrontation between the brothers was inevitable, and one actually pushed by Death.  The conversation turns to a classic theme for this series, evil vs. good.  The lines have often been blurred with the Winchesters and Sam is determined to believe that despite everything they’ve done, everything they have become, they are still good.  Dean is not corrupted, no matter what is on his arm or what he’s done. 

"You were also willing to summon Death to make sure you could never do any more harm.  You summoned me because you knew - I would do anything to protect you.  That's not evil, Dean.  That's not an evil man.  That's a good man crying to be heard, searching for...some other way."

It’s that same struggle Sam once faced with the demon blood running inside him.  Dean does everything he can to convince Sam how evil both of them have become because of the MOC, but Sam won’t buy it, even when Dean beats him bloody. 

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“You’ll never, ever hear me say that you – the real you – is anything but good.  But you're right.  Before you hurt...anyone else, you have to be stopped at any cost.  I understand."  (Sam starts crying, takes in a deep breath and sighs).  "Do it." 

Sam delivers the ultimate declaration, even when his brother claims he will kill him for the greater good.  He agrees to let Dean kill him.  Sam knows his brother better than anyone though and hits him where it hurts.   He still, even on his knees ready to die at the hands of his brother, refuses to believe that Dean is too far gone.  There’s only one way to get through to Dean, family. 

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“And one day, when you find your way back, let these be your guide.” 

Yeah, that did it.  Just like Dean getting through to Sam possessed by Lucifer, Sam has his weapon.  The old family photos.  Nothing is more important than family.  That is after all, the entire gospel of the Winchesters.  The weeping didn’t hurt either. 

So, in the end, with a dangerously obsessive level of devotion, Sam finally saves his brother from forever damnation.  But as we saw at the end, the cost was very high.  The Darkness was unleashed on earth.  A question that Dean strongly posed rings true as we follow Sam’s path next season.  “But who were you when you drove that man to sell his soul…or when you bullied Charlie in to getting herself killed?  And to what end?  A-a good end?  A just end?  To remove the Mark no matter what the consequences?  Sam, how is that not evil?” 

If you notice, Sam never really answered that question.  He turned the tables, defending that Dean wasn’t evil.  He never talked about himself and what he did.  So will freeing The Darkness, creating another horrible peril on earth, possibly worse that the Apocalypse (which Sam also started), take another guilty toll on Sam?  What will this do for his resolve that he cannot carry on without his brother?  Sam has pushed himself and Dean into a very dangerous path now and it does make me wonder where Sam goes from here.  Redemption, or does he just keep fighting because that’s all he knows what to do?  How does he answer those words now that this has happened?  Will he even try?  Is living with guilt and regret just a normal thing for Sam now?  It all remains to be seen with the next trial to come. 

Overall Analysis

This piece of dialogue always rings in my mind every time I do one of these pieces for Sam.  I think this has especially held true in season 10:

The Trickster:  This obsession to save Dean?  The way you two keep sacrificing yourselves for each other?  Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood and pain. Dean's your weakness. And the bad guys know it, too. It's gonna be the death of you, Sam. Sometimes you just gotta let people go.
Sam:  He's my brother.
Trickster:  Yup. And like it or not, this is what life's gonna be like without him.
Sam:  Please. Just—please.

Sam couldn’t let go then, and he can’t let go now.  Of course how could he not try to save his brother given all the grief he got for not looking him in Purgatory and starting a new life during season eight?  I’m sure that Dean’s harsh words dug deep into that fractured psyche, and this time Sam was willing to do everything.  He got plenty of warnings of what bad could happen, but he refused to believe any of it.  He was willing to take that risk and deal with the consequences later.  It’s what Dean has always done.  Any less from him would be unacceptable in his mind. 

There are two ways to look at Sam’s devotion to Dean.  One is co-dependence.  Remember this quote from “Point of No Return?”

Zachariah:  You know Sam and Dean Winchester are psychotically, irrationally, erotically codependent on each other, right?

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I think I’ll dismiss the erotically to not stir up a “subtext” can of worms, but psychotically and irrationally does seem to fit the bill.  Did Sam go too far in trying to save Dean?  I know for many the answer is no, because this time Sam actually did save Dean.  It’s something we’ve wanted to see for a very long time.  And I know that Sam cannot be blamed alone for unleashing The Darkness on the earth – Castiel, Crowley and Dean all had a hand in that too – but he refused to accept the warning of what could happen should the mark be removed.  He didn’t try to stop more evil from coming. 

However, the other theme of this show has always been family.  It comes first, last, and above all.  Dean preaches it, John preached it, and Sam, who had for many years resisted that notion, now preaches it as well.  In that context, would not saving Dean and accepting the “greater good” argument be totally against everything that motivates these two characters?  I say yes, especially after all they’ve been through.  These two have in a sense broken the world so much already and they need each other in order to save it.  So psychotically and irrationally might not be such a bad thing.  Or, we can live on the caveat that there is no right or wrong, only each other, and you’ve got to fight for those you love.  It’s a slippery slope, but it’s the one the Winchesters will never back away from.  That’s why we love this story so much. 

Coming up next, my "Deeper Look at Dean Winchester".  Was the Mark of Cain harder on him or Sam?  We’ll dig into that and other topics, like if taking on this massive burden changed his perspective any.   I certainly hope so.