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What was and what could have been
Dean and Samuel aren’t so different after all, their focus in life is similar, they are kin and they both hold family dear. They even love the same person. How did they end up as mortal enemies? How did it come to this?
I think the main issue here was trust. Hunters don´t trust easily. Their world is full of nasty surprises and their survival depends on their ability to know who to trust.
Family – for those that still have one - is their haven, here they are safe, here they have each other’s back. They can trust, and they are trusted. When Dean found himself unable to forgive Sam in “Sympathy for the Devil,” Sam accepted that. What crushed him, as we saw, was to hear Dean say that he no longer trusted him. This came as close to cutting him out as Dean would ever get. Love was a given, but withdrawing his trust was what really hurt.
And when the turning point in their relationship came in “Point of No Return,” it was about trust as well, Sam trusting Dean to do the right thing, and Dean needing to live up to that trust, and then trusting in return. Love may be the foundation of their relationship, but trust is the wall to keep them safe.
When Samuel was brought back to earth, he was traumatized, he had been ripped from his family, he had been robbed of his haven, he had no one to trust, and no one who trusted him. One of the first things he did, it seems was to try and make new connections, surround himself with kin, people of his own blood that may have grown into family. He desperately needed people, I think, and his desire to have them close was genuine.
Why didn’t it work out then? Because it was built on a lie. His desire for family may have been sincere, but his ultimate goal was to bring Mary back, and that took precedence over everything else, it seems. The fact that there was a demon and a man without a soul among his family members wasn’t helping either, I’m sure.
So while some of it may have been genuine, like his concern for Gwen and her acceptance of him, some of it resembled a Potemkin village. It lacked heart. There may have been affection, but there couldn’t really be trust, because they were living a lie, Samuel’s lie, and they must have sensed it.
When Dean entered the picture, he immediately picked up on it, and rejected Samuel quite vehemently, from the start – with some of the vehemence probably coming from his unease about Sam. His instincts were kicking in, he felt that Samuel could not be trusted, and he was right. Samuel wasn’t all scheming though. He was also a lonely man, still traumatized, still longing for connection, but unable to obtain it since he was still living his lie, working for Crowley. That didn’t make him long any less though. He wanted Dean to trust him, not just to get him to cooperate, I think he truly wanted to be accepted by him, and it hurt him to have Dean reject him so vehemently.
Dean was acting on his instincts, but that didn’t make the rejection any less painful for Samuel. Have you ever witnessed a liar being hurt in his feelings because no one believes them? It makes no sense that they would expect to be believed, but they are genuinely and truly hurt when they experience that rejection. I think that the same thing happened here.
Samuel knew he had no right to expect trust since he was deceiving everybody, but a part of him still wished for that trust and was hurt when it was refused.
“Why can´t you give me an inch of trust, Dean?” ("Two and A Half Men")
He made repeated attempts to win Dean over, but Dean isn’t easily convinced, especially when things are clearly not right. He’s being a hunter through and through here, no leap of faith until he knows exactly where he’ll land.
While Dean cannot be blamed for not trusting Samuel, at all, I still think that it is in part what led to Samuel becoming more antagonistic towards them. The breaking point came first in “Family Matters,” when his scheme is discovered, and Dean just barely keeps Sam from killing Samuel then and there.
If this gave Samuel hope that Dean would understand, it was crushed in “Caged Heat.” I think that part of the reason why Samuel fought so hard for Dean’s acceptance was not only the fact that he was Mary’s son, but also that if anyone could understand and maybe even share his desire to bring Mary back, it would be Dean (Sam didn’t count, for obvious reasons).
When Samuel confesses to Dean, showing him Mary’s picture, it’s clearly in the hope that Dean will understand. He is appealing to Dean here, trying to get him on his side, baring his heart to him. Dean is very sincere, very open in his reaction. This is the closest they ever get to each other, they could have made a true connection there, and they almost do.
In the end, it’s Samuel who turns away, this time it is he who refuses to trust, his desire for what could be stronger than his wish to embrace what is there. If Dean could have Sam back from the dead, why should he not have Mary?
They could have turned things around, then and there, but Samuel, it seems, couldn’t find the strength to build a new true family in this current life, to have trust in Dean. Instead, he chooses to hang onto the picture of the family that had been.
He can’t give up Mary, he can’t muster the strength, and now her sons are forcing him to choose. They are threatening to take her away forever by going after Crowley. He can’t have that, and there is only one solution that he sees. How does he justify it? The same way that Dean later did when trying to kill him, by telling himself that they may be blood but not family. If they were family, he reasons, they would care about Mary and would want to bring her back as well. I think he has really convinced himself this is the truth.
He even comes to Dean after he has betrayed them, in a last effort to make him see. Does he want forgiveness? Not really. He wants to hear that he is right, so he can go on believing it. He does not want to see how warped his sense of family has become. Dean, understandably, does not give his blessing, and cuts the last remaining connection by threatening Samuel. They are now mortal enemies, on opposite sides of the same conviction. They see the other as a traitor to true family, and a threat.
When they unexpectedly meet again in “And Then There Were None,” things quickly go from very bad to worse.
Dean is all set on killing Samuel, grandfather or not. We know how angry Dean can get, but this goes far beyond anything we have ever seen from him. Was it because, even though he couldn’t trust him – yet – he still considered Samuel potential family, so his betrayal went deeper than someone else’s would have?
Was there also some lingering anger at himself for his own choices, his own deal, now mirrored in Samuel’s actions to a certain extent, and at the same time the need to emphasize the difference between them, the things he would not have done, even to get Sam back? Was part of it fear, the need to eliminate a potential danger to himself and, more importantly, to Sam?
And would he really have killed him? Or was there still a way out? I believe things would have taken another turn if Samuel’s attitude had been different. From the start he is both belligerent and cocky.
He has not been well, I’m sure. Crowley is gone, and with him his last hope of seeing Mary again. He has betrayed his grandsons, fed Mary’s sons to ghouls – and as much as he is lying to himself, deep down he does know he did wrong. The rest of his family is dead and gone, only Gwen is left. He seems to care about her, but it’s not enough. When confronted with the brothers´ hostile attitude, he closes himself off completely, all bravado, stubborn pride and pure show. Had he appealed to them, had he been open, it might have made a difference. I think it would have. It could not have repaired things, far from it. It could still have re-established some sort of connection, not family, but a mutual understanding that they were still blood, and still had Mary, and go from there.
Had they had a little more time, maybe he would have relented, maybe they would have found a way out. Or not. We will never find out. Gwen dies, and the rest of Samuel’s life with her. Shortly afterwards he is possessed, becomes more hostile during possession and ultimately pushes his own grandson into killing him. An abrupt and shocking ending to a tragic family story.
The episode ends with Dean offering absolution to the members of his family at Rufus´ grave. He talks about how life is too short to bear grudges. His focus is on the grudge weighing a person down, tainting their own lives. With this, he touches upon a very basic aspect of forgiveness - It not only frees the offender from their guilt, just as importantly, it also relieves the injured from their resentment, thus lightening their lives.
They had just buried or were about to bury Gwen and Samuel as well. Did what Dean said refer to Samuel, too? Was he included in Dean’s absolution? I think not, not yet.
I thought I heard a hint of regret over what had happened, an admission that things should and could have gone differently. They are not ready to forgive Samuel yet, but they will be. What Dean says about forgiveness not only works for family, it applies to everybody and all offences, and they seem just one step away from understanding that.
Lingering anger taints the soul, always. Forgiving Samuel will free them, and help them grow again. I’m hoping for them, at some point, to look with compassion upon the broken shell their grandfather had become, and with love upon the man who loved Mary.