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When The Levee Breaks
 
I could devote an entire article to Sam's crumbling psyche here. As a matter of fact, I already did in my episode review. This is the episode where I feel I finally got to know what happens in Sam's mind. Let's summarize some of the inner fears that he wrestled with:
 
- Fear of torture. Who doesn't have that? It's a very real primal emotion, so why not get that one out of the way first?   That could also be Sam's mind putting into a physical form the mental torture he constantly puts himself through, but I think I'm stretching.

- Fear of failure. Basically, he abandoned all his hopes and dreams for a better life. It still tears him apart, thus getting berated by his 14 year old self. That shows that subconsciously Sam still desperately wants to be normal, even though he's choosing not to for the greater good.
 
- Fear of isolation. Sam desperately wants someone who's close to him to understand who he is and be proud. That can only come from Dean, and Dean showed the ultimate lack of faith by locking him in the panic room to begin with. So his hallucinatory mind goes to the one family member that never alienated him, his mother. She tells him everything he needs to hear. She's proud and he has to make those rough choices. "Even if it kills me?" He asks. He finally can share with someone how the evil inside is consuming him and how much what he's doing scares him. She knows, she understands, she supports and encourages him, and even strokes him in comfort, which is what a good mother does for her boy. Then it all disappears, for it isn't real. My heart was crushed over that. When Ruby tries the same thing later, he won't accept it. It's not the same.

- Fear of rejection. Sam's most intense fear comes from a confrontational Dean, who berates him for being a monster. Sam, chained to the bed, could only listen in heartbreak. As soon as he escapes and hooks up with Ruby, he is very hurt over what Dean did to him, but still wanted to make things right. Since that last horrible confrontation was a hallucination, surely he could still reason with Dean. 
 
Unfortunately, what he got is the worst thing possible. Despite Sam's heartfelt plea to Dean to trust him, Dean to his face calls him a monster, the absolute one thing he couldn't bear to hear. He would have to face his fate and die alone now. I found it really interesting that instead of angrily walking away, Sam reacts by punching Dean. The demon blood has made him unstable.
 
Naturally Dean punches back, but to see all that pent up rage take over Sam so much that he almost strangles to death his injured brother is a massive character defining moment. Sure, Sam's a little unbalanced right now, but he no longer needs big brother's approval. He'll carry on without him. Oh, the parting words though hurt, at least for a fan. "You don't know me. You never will." There's no way Sam is going to take to heart Dean's ultimatum not to leave. The damage is already done.

devastatedSam  
 
Lucifer Rising
 
Ultimately, without Dean's support, Sam resigns himself to becoming the monster he was always meant to be. He focuses on the one and most important goal, killing Lilith. Not having Dean in his corner takes its toll though, for Sam has regrets. Maybe he can't do this on his own. Maybe he isn't doing the right thing.  He questions until he gets the final blow, the tampered with voice mail in which Dean calls him a blood sucking Vampire, as well as a monster. That's all he needs. Killing Lilith is all that matters and he's ready to die. There he goes spiting himself again.
 
Of course Ruby's manipulation changes all that, and not only is Sam shattered by the result, now the world is too. That's where season five begins. Sam is in the worst possible place right now. Sam's only options at this point are redemption, insanity, or death. Guess which one I'm rooting for?


 
Coming soon, a deeper look at Dean through season four. His tale is a little more uplifting. 
 

 

Comments  

Lisa
# Lisa 2009-08-13 12:32
I for one loved the progression of Sam's character during season 4 so thank you very much for this very insightful article.
Cathy
# Cathy 2009-08-13 13:01
I agree, extremely insightful. My heart was broken at the end of When The Levee Breaks, so I was gladdened (look at me, channeling Bobby Singer!) to see Sam expressing remorse. I was dreading that it would be the opposite and that the brother relationship was done for. I'm really looking forward to Dean, in-depth...
elle2
# elle2 2009-08-13 15:16
Alice,

A great read. I love these inn-depth looks at the boys. While it is possible to see elements of this coming as the season progresses it is best to wait until it is all aired and then dive in...so much changes the focus and direction as the pieces slowly but surely fall or slide into place. Sam had a great arc this season and all along throughout the series. Season 5 is going to be fab...all the other have been so I have no doubts.

Great job.
Ash
# Ash 2009-08-13 17:54
Among all the lovely articles on your site (and there are many), your character metas are still the most awesome! You basically put everything I *think* into words... and so well too!
trina
# trina 2009-08-14 14:19
While I find Dean to be a very heroic character, I think Sam is one of the more tragic characters that I can remember seeing on TV. Just watching an early season one episode and hearing him talk about his desire to have a normal life kills me. Not only is that not possible now, it never was for him. His fate was written 10 years before he was born.

Also, I loved when Chuck brought up that the demon blood makes him feel more in control. Sam has control issues. Other people's decisions keep making his life a living hell. Of course, now his own decisions have released hell on earth, so what now?
elle2
# elle2 2009-08-14 15:20
Trina, I only hope neither brother is a 'true tragic hero' as someone once reminded me that tragic heroes die in the end -- gasp, no!!!!!!

I remember Kripke once referring to Dean as a tragic hero, this on the commentary for WIAWSNB when Dean makes the decision to 'go back' and undo the spell the Djihn had on him. I cringed then at the fear of Dean dying...I think I can let that fear go though for both brothers, at least since Kripke says he's open to another season depending on how well this one fares.

Still, both boys are heroes but you are quite correct, Sam has been forced from the very beginning into this position and that makes him not only very heroic as he struggles to overcome but also deeply sympathetic, despite Season 4 decisions, he's still extremely sympathetic to me.

8-)
Brian
# Brian 2009-08-15 06:51
I still think we were gypped out of what could have been a really awesome storyline if only they had taken the time to tell it, instead of pushing 90% of it behind a curtain. We only "finally got to know what happens in Sam's mind" in the second to last episode of the season.
Brian
# Brian 2009-08-18 01:37
Another view: http://quarterwhore.livejournal.com/66264.html
Manzanita Crow
# Manzanita Crow 2013-07-11 08:40
I know I'm horribly late to the party since I only started watching SPN this spring. But maybe that means the whole story is fresh in my mind.

I think there is a very important line that hasn't been mentioned. In Criss Angel Jay says "Charlie was like my brother. And now he's dead... because I did 'the right thing.'" I believe that drove Sam towards doing 'the wrong thing' and drinking demon blood again.

Why? Because doing 'the right thing' in the last three seasons resulted in both John and Dean dead and in Hell:
- Sam didn't kill his possessed Dad at the end of Season 1 (I'd say that was the right thing) but it resulted in John dying anyway and going to hell.
- Sam didn't kill Jake at the end of Season 2 (again the right thing) and gets killed. With the result that Dean makes a deal to go to Hell.
- In Season 3 Sam's starting to waver morally, but eventually does 'the right thing' and doesn't listen to Ruby. The result? Dean goes to Hell and Sam goes completely nuts.

Early in Season 4 Sam stops drinking the demon blood because he knows it's wrong. He tries to stop using his psychic powers too, but has to use them on Samhain to save Dean and other people. The powers simply won't go back in the box now.

When his powers aren't powerful enough to stop Alastair at first, and then the demon-killing knife doesn't work, Dean could easily have died. So when Sam hears that line from Jay, it's no wonder he cracks and does 'the wrong thing' by drinking demon blood to increase his powers. He's willing to do anything to save Dean, even go darkside. OK, it's a crazy risk, but Sam's mental health is in tatters already.

I can totally understand why he did what he did. Obviously it was a terrible idea. But it was understandable given his mental state and the Winchester credo of sacrificing yourself for others.

I was pleased when I found this meta cos it goes along the same lines:
http://dodger-winslow.livejournal.com/175739.html