I so remember this time last year. I was still reeling from Sam's horrible descent into total darkness, all capped off by his inadvertent kicking off of the apocalypse.  These were my exact words at the end of my season four analysis on Sam.  â€œSam's only options at this point are redemption, insanity or death. Guess which one I'm rooting for?" We actually managed to see all three of those options in season five and as I had so wished for, the good one won out at the end. Sure it happened in a bittersweet and tragic way, but this show has taught us by now that no outcome is ever pretty for the Winchesters. There is always a price.

Seeing the heart wrenching, stomach turning agony that Sam had to go through to get that long deserved redemption was an ordeal for any fan, but it played out Sam's tragic story in full circle. He died a hero. He died a martyr. He doomed himself and his soul for all eternity so humanity and more importantly his brother could go on. Well, there was that surprise return at the end, but to me that's where season six begins, not where season five ends.
Season five for Sam was clearly about doing whatever it took to earn that long awaited redemption. He had to right a wrong, clean up his cosmic mess from season four. Revenge was no longer the goal. That path to redemption required a ton of soul searching and taking a page from the Dean Winchester manual of being a hero. He did it all by enduring the absolute worst physical and psychological torture a man could get. He also had his chance to step out of his brother's shadow the right way and strengthen their relationship in the process. That renewed brotherly bond only ended up saving the world. 
It's funny how the option of death was removed from the equation for Sam (Dean too). With Lucifer loose, Sam was not allowed to die. He died three or four times (depending on your interpretation) this season and was brought back every single time. So, that Winchester tendency for self sacrifice took on a whole new meaning.  His doom wouldn't end at death. No, he knew he was screwing himself for a whole eternity and did it anyway. In going through this season's episodes, Sam went through a lot to just get to that frightful end.

Sympathy For The Devil
Sam took about every lump imaginable. The only saving grace was when God saved Sam from Lucifer's lair he cleaned his demon blood hampered system right up. No painful withdrawal this time, which was good since he had to endure too many other bad things. He wanted to apologize to Dean, to make things right, but big brother wouldn't let him in. Then "Bobby" berated him as self righteous and reckless and cut off their ties, really hurting Sam in the process. He took it like a man though, accepting he had to take the consequences for his mistake. Then Meg beat on him. Then Zachariah broke his legs and took away his capacity for breathing. He carried on. No, he didn't buckle until the very end when Dean admitted he didn't think he could ever trust him again. Yeah, that shattered what little was left of his self confidence and shook him hard for the next several episodes.

Good God Y'all
Oh Sammy. The demon blood addiction may have been physically cleared from his system, but the psychological triggers were still there big time. Combine that overwhelming desire for the power the demon blood brought with Dean's intense mistrust and Sam couldn't make sense of things anymore. He realized he was a mess. Of course a lot of that realization came from War, for Horsemen are especially skilled at opening internal wounds and pouring tons of salt and acid into them. Sam's already injured psyche didn't stand a chance. 

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So, when Dean let him go without a fight was Sam relieved or hurt? Both. Sam was in a huge world of hurt. He was confused, lost and needed to step back and re-evaluate his priorities. He also needed someone to understand how he felt and what he was going through. When that person ended up being a Horseman that wanted to end all days and not the person that mattered to him the most, Sam had every right to want to hide his head in the sand and run away from it all. He concluded Dean didn't want him around and he was too much of a liability to stay. His sadness as he left was overwhelming. He wished things could be different but didn't know what else to do.   Whatever he had to figure out, Dean's answer made it clear he'd have to do it alone. 
Free To Be You And Me

In this episode, I had to wonder what in the world did Sam Winchester do to piss off the cosmos so bad? Did he kick God's dog in another life? This guy can never ever catch a break. It's like he's getting punished for being born.
Sam's intentions were good. There were demonic omens nearby. He just couldn't do nothing but he couldn't step in either. He was too unstable. Naturally, calling in other hunters to go after a swarm of demons proved disastrous. A hunter was killed, the truth about Sam was found out and the remaining hunters went after him. So Sam responded by letting that inner rage fly. That part of him that scared himself so bad he ran. If it wasn't for a horrified Lindsay staring at him like he was some kind of monster, he would have coldly killed those hunters. So, in another cruel twist, he lets them go and revenge minded hunters gun him down 13 episodes later. Nope, can't win. 

Still, despite the bad events that followed him like a dark cloud, Sam maintained some hope. He found a friend in Lindsay who may have been perplexed by the veil of mystery but still saw the good person underneath it all. She figured out he did some damage because of an addiction and was the first person ever to tell him there was nothing he could have done that was so bad that it couldn't be redeemed. Even Dean couldn't do that for him.
What's remarkable was Sam believed this, which was strange considering the intense amount of self loathing he had going ("Am I going to hate myself any less?"). Sadly, Lucifer knew how vulnerable Sam was and tried hard to crush that hope by playing the dead girlfriend spreading guilt card. He delivered the blow that Sam was his true vessel and he would say yes. Sam couldn't even kill himself because Lucifer would bring him back. Somehow that ended up strengthening Sam's resolve. I don't know how he managed that. He was a lot stronger than he thought.

The End
Sam had a new determination to fight, to get that redemption. He naturally went to Dean for he was smart enough to know he couldn't do this alone. He was pretty crushed when Dean first turned him away, but humble and grateful when Dean took him back. He was determined not to let Dean down and get his trust back. He also knew about Dean's stubborn streak and that earning that trust would take some time.

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Fallen Idols
This was a really healthy episode for Sam, despite being attacked by Gandhi and Paris Hilton. He finally came clean with Dean. He explained his actions in all of season four in one great sentence. He went with Ruby to get away from Dean. He needed to break out on his own, fulfill his destiny and step out of big brother's shadow. He wanted to be treated like an equal. He also had a new plan, the only thing they could do now was go out swinging. Dean evenutally agrees, for he too sees how the other way hasn't been working for them.  See Sam, imagine what would have happened if you said that to Dean at the beginning of season four? We would have missed out on some amazing drama, that's what.

I Believe The Children Are Our Future
The idea here was to reinforce that Sam's guilt was still burning in full force and he had to believe that someone out there would do the right thing because he didn't. Anvilicious? Sure. It kind of felt like Touched By A Winchester. But you had to admire the fact that he still had that kind of optimism, especially after all he'd been through. Plus he got to play with Action Figure Castiel. Bonus!

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The Curious Case of Dean Winchester
Sam proved he had the patience of a saint. The young guy in the grumpy old men scenario. Both Bobby and Dean didn't believe Sam could win at cards and tried to protect him. Sam certainly struggled with believing in himself all season but this was an example of how he wasn't afraid to try.   He tried to tell Dean he knew how to bluff and could win fair and square but older brother (much older) instead tried to devise a plan. After Sam emerged victorious thanks to some brilliant bluffing and saved Dean from an aging related death, he passed it off as getting lucky. Talk about selling yourself short. Maybe there were some things about himself he wanted to remain a secret. Sam was indeed proving his worth.  
Abandon All Hope

So how did Sam take Ellen and Jo's death? By handling their losses the way he has with all the others, channeling it into rage. This wasn't our first sign of Sam's raging behavior, "Free To Be You and Me" was pretty vivid, but it's the first time we learn of Lucifer's desire for that rage inside. It makes him stronger. No wonder hot headed Sammy was destined to be Luci's vessel. Lucifer easily set off that fire inside Sam during their confrontation and we were left to worry about this major vulnerability in him. After all, angels, demons, it doesn't matter, they prey on weakness and Sam had plenty.    


Sam, Interrupted
This Sam Winchester mind bender wasn't even close to the deep examination from "When The Levee Breaks." It instead was the catalyst to expand on that rage problem that had slowly been growing out of control. The crazy spell kicked up the intensity about 800 notches and Sam finally saw what that rage was doing to him. Of course once he realized he needed help, he went to Dean who shut him down. Ouch, ouch, ouch. He'd either have to figure that out on his own or Lucifer would have his fire. The boy can't win.

The Song Remains The Same

This is one of my all time favorite Sam episodes. For one, he FINALLY gets to do the time travel thing. He saw his parents for essentially the first time. For someone who grew up without a mother and alienated from his father, this glimpse affected him in a way that Dean could never understand. He was emotional, sentimental, in complete awe, and rather endearing. He got his chance to make peace with John even if it was John before he was even born. That was exactly what he needed. He was even willing to devise a plan where John and Mary could save themselves by splitting apart thus assuring he and Dean would never be born. He was okay with that. Ending the family curse was what mattered most. 

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There was a reason for the time travel though and again Sam was the target. When he heard of the plan for Anna to kill him, he actually considered the merit of it. He would have let her if it would have prevented Lucifer from using him as a vessel. This episode proved how much Castiel cared about Sam because Cas wouldn't allow that option to be considered. Of course Anna does kill him while he was protecting Mary, but this cosmically screwed Winchester got a redo from the almighty archangel Michael. He realized after all this why he or Dean might say yes, to protect family. I'm sure this experience factored in his decision at the end of the season.     

My Bloody Valentine
Holy moley, the ultimate Sam Winchester meltdown. Maybe this was why we didn't want to see him raging. Sam was affected from the word go and fought the spell hard just because he didn't want to let Dean down. He feared Dean's disappointment the most and was reluctant to let Dean know something was wrong. When he finally confessed to Dean that he wasn't alright, he begged him to lock him down. He couldn't give into the spell because he knew how dangerous he was. Dean couldn't see him that way. Sadly, Famine got the upper hand and delivered two demons right to an out of his mind Sam. 

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Remember, the gist behind Famine's spell was he took someone's hunger for something and made them rabid for it. While Sam was craving the demon blood in a huge way and unable to resist the maddening urge within, the blood was not his true craving. It was the power that came with the blood. When Sam unleashed all that fury, exorcising five demons at once rather than drink their blood and then taking out Famine, he actually enjoyed it. He had more power than ever, an immense and very dark power fueled by instability and rage. It felt good. Unfortunately, that was exactly what Lucifer wanted. 

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Sam may have saved the day but it came with a great personal cost. Dean saw it all. Dean did exactly what Sam feared but maybe worse. This time he didn't just look at Sam like he was a freak. He was purely shaken to the core by seeing him use his full power. Remember Dean never saw Sam kill Alastair or Lilith. It's one thing to know how powerful Sam was but to see it first hand for the first time? Terrifying. Sam was able to move on past this, even having to go through another painful detox to get there, but Dean wasn't.
Dark Side of The Moon
Poor Sam, once again he's a victim of circumstances beyond his control. First he's coldly blown away and then is stunned to find he's in Heaven. He couldn't comprehend why he was there. He told Dean, "You I get, sure, but me? Maybe you haven't noticed but I've done a few things?" Dean defended that logic, making light that Sam thought he was doing the right things. "Last I checked it wasn't the road to Heaven paved with good intentions." Oh Sam, you really think that lowly of yourself? Yeah, he did.

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Dean's spiral had already started, the memories of the encounter with Famine too fresh. Sam couldn't control his happy memories and Dean saw they were from the times he ran away from his family. On top of that, Sam was stunned to see Dean's early memories of having a loving relationship with Mary and holding the family together at such a young age. He had no idea. He tried to rationally defend himself to Dean. "Man, I never got the crusts cut off my PB & J. I just don't look at family the way you do." It's an understandable argument, but Dean's declining state of mind couldn't see past the hurt. 
All poor Sam could do at this point was stick by his brother, no matter how bad Dean felt about him. He also wasn't about to back down from God's rejection. He was determined to find another way, even when Castiel and Dean had given up hope. Sam was finding he might have to take the lead on this fight.
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99 Problems

"I got one thing, one thing keeping me going. You think you're the only one white knuckling it here Dean? I can't count on anyone else. I can't do this alone."
The difference between Sam and Dean here was Sam held onto hope that he and Dean together could save the worldwhile Dean had lost all hope because it was only he and Sam. So why the difference? For one, Sam had already learned the hard way what happens when he went off on his own. Sam's single minded focus at this point was to clean up the mess he started. As we have learned, once Sam gets focused on something, he won't stop until he reaches that goal. He needed his brother though to keep him in check, to make sure he didn't stray or go too far. He was still having issues trusting himself.  
Sam's priority though had to shift to keep Dean's head in the game. He didn't fully grasp what was troubling his big brother. He gotDean was tired and feeling a little hopeless but he didn't realize how bad it was. Not until Dean was able to kill the Whore of Babylon which only could be done by a true servant of God. He wisely took that as a sign that Dean was going to say yes to Michael. All priorities shifted when Dean took off. Getting his brother back in the game became Sam's main purpose.

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Point of No Return
A Sam fan's dream episode. Our boy grows up big time! If one episode could be picked as THE Sam Winchester character definer, this is it.


Sam was able to find Dean before it was too late, for little brother too knew big brother's patterns and guessed right that he would go see Lisa. When Samfound Dean in the motel room, he was so hurt and betrayed. He didn't give up though and made it clear he was there to stop him. Dean was in a bad placeand eluded to "When The Levee Breaks" when Sam bested him while hopped up on demon blood. Sam had already thought of that and came prepared. Enter one pissed off fallen angel who now was following Sam's lead instead of Dean's.
Oh yes, this episode was all about role reversal. Sam proved he too could take charge and be level headed in a deep crisis. Adam was resurrected and Sam had to control both defiant brothers who were ready to say yes to Michael. Adam gaveSam plenty of crap but Dean knew how to really hurt hard. He told Sam bluntly he had no faith in him. Lucifer would find a way to turn him and "when" they turned him Dean had to be the one to stop him.  Yep, that brought Sam to tears. 


A shaken Sam absorbed that blow and still held things together with Dean out of action. Then both Dean and Adam fled. Luckily Castiel found Dean in time but now Sam alone had decide the next move. Enter his coming of age.  Sam went against Castiel's and Bobby's wishes and puts his full faith in Dean. He decided to take Dean with him and Castiel to rescue Adam. He made that choice despite Dean's promises that he'd say yes.  He believed Dean would do the right thing when the time happened. Dean even coldly told Sam if the tables were turned he'd let him rot in the panic room. Heck, he did once. Sure that comment stung but Sam didn't let that change his mind. "Well, I guess I'm not that smart." Dean had to know why he was doing this. "Because, you're still my big brother."


This was the ultimate test of faith. Sam had already learned, sometimes under tragic circumstances, that no matter what Dean was the one that he could always count on. All those times he ran away before, he was wrong and Dean stayed by him. So when everything, like the fate of the world, rode on Sam's decision he chose Dean. He didn't do it out of desperation. He did it out of faith.
Naturally, the sneak attack went wrong and Sam was wounded. He helplessly on the ground watched Dean say yes, the ultimate punch in the gut. His shattered look said it all, everything he believed in was lost. Oh, but that look of crushing disappointment was what finally got through. Big brother couldn't let little brother down. That was the ultimate family test and reinforced the core theme of this show. Family above all.


Sam's smile at the end when Dean told him why he changed his mind and they'll fight their way said it all. Dean was back and Sam couldn't be more relieved. Together he could finally get that redemption. What a beautiful moment.


Hammer of The Gods
Several episodes of fantastic character redemption and growth was completely ignored here. Sam went back to being a petulant worry wart who was on edge, not sleeping, and losing his rationality. I'm just pretending for both brothers sake that this episode didn't exist. There are a couple of cool Sam faces in this one though.

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The Devil You Know
Sam had a new plan thanks to Gabriel's tip about getting Lucifer back in the box. He knew Lucifer wouldn't go willingly so what if he said yes, took control for a minute and jumped in. Bobby instantly hated the plan and it was likely for the unspoken reason, Sam would be lost forever. Sam wouldn't do it without consensus but in the meantime he had inner demons to tame. Like that anger issue. If he was going to take on Lucifer, he had to be better prepared.

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Sam couldn't have asked for a more perfect anger management test than finding out his best friend in college was a demon. The one who introduced him to Jessica. The one that killed her. It took everything he had not to kill Brady until they got the info they needed about Pestilence. He did learn to control that inner fire and what emerged was someone way more frightening. "Revenge is a dish served cold" was the new mantra and yikes! He in a sense became Lucifer. He was well on his way to fulfilling his heroic/tragic destiny.
Two Minutes To Midnight
I found this one very interesting. Even this long into the fight, Sam's self confidence and feelings of self worth were at an alltime low. In his argument to convince Dean to let him say yes to Lucifer, he even said between Dean, Bobby, and Castiel, "I'm the lesser of all you guys." He wasn't totally convinced he could do it, but this is John Winchester's son. He would go crazy if he didn't do something. He did manage through his acts of heroism on the raid at Niveus to convince Bobby he was strong enough to take on Lucifer. Considering Bobby had never noticed this side of Sam before, the kid stepping out of Dean's shadow and becoming his own man, it was a pretty big vote of confidence.  Castiel instantly saw merit in the plan since his angel nature used logic more than emotion. All that was left was Dean.  


Swan Song
Let's not sugarcoat this. Sam miserably suffered through every single bit of his risky plan. My heart sinks into my stomach when I think about Sam in this one. He got Dean's blessing but was not told to do it. He was told it was his decision because he's a grown (well overgrown) man. The answer was easy for Sam.  "I let him out, I gotta put him back in." 


Even though Sam carried out his plan without hesitation, underneath that façade he was terrified. Those telling glances slipped like after killing the demons for their blood and when it was time to say goodbye to Bobby and Castiel. He didn't let his fear stop him though. He even had his dying wish for Dean. Go have that apple pie life with Lisa. He wouldn't take no for an answer. 


Even though Dean was by his side until Sam said yes, Sam carried his burden alone. He couldn't let Dean watch him drink the demon blood and he didn't listen to Dean's pleas to not say yes once Lucifer told them he knew about the rings. He said yes anyway and the real Hell began. Sam stayed defiant even when Lucifer's chilling control shook him hard. Hebarely held it together, especially after killing demons he found out had been following him his entire life. Lucifer was too strong and knew how to trigger Sam's violent impulses.


Oh, but the power of love. Sam couldn't fight Lucifer. He couldn't stop Lucifer from killing Castiel and Bobby and hurting Dean badly. Sam took control because to quote an overused cliche, loves conquers all. The flood of memories with Dean through the years trigged by the army man in the Impala ashtray was all it took. So poetic! 


Sam however was the most terrified when he opened the door to Lucifer's cage and waited to take the plunge downward. Despite that overwhelming fear, that knowledge that this was it for him, he took those last few seconds to assure Dean everything would be okay. He didn't let Michael stop him either and pulled him down with him. The legacy of Sam Winchester was now cemented. A reluctant hero that in the end sacrified himself for the greater good, and for his big brother, the only one that really mattered. Yep, still weeping.


Now this next part is really a commentary on season six, but HE'S BACK??? Holy shit! I'm chomping at the bit to hear Sam's story now. What happened in Hell?  Did he suffer, or did the demon blood make him powerful enough to take on the cruelty?  How damaged or determined is this redeemed hero going to be? What about his bond with Dean? Gah! The possibilities are driving me crazy. Where Sam goes from here is anyone's guess.


So were you happy with season five Sam? Coming up next, my overall analysis of season five. Paris Hilton, bad body swaps, and cannibalistic Gods aside, it rocked.