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Grotesque Rules of Engagement: The Ethics of the Hunt on Supernatural
“The growing doubt of human autonomy and reason has created a state of moral confusion where man is left without guidance of either revelation or reason.” – Erich Fromm, Man for Himself
To say Supernatural is morally confused might be an understatement. At times it’s difficult, as a viewer, to discern the moral compass of the show beyond the relational, beyond the core relationships. This confusion often comes into relief during times when the main characters, Sam and Dean, face mortal danger. At such times the questions that drive the story, whether it is free will versus destiny or family versus duty, fade into the background and what takes center stage is an almost primal impetus or urge to protect and preserve the status quo, an urge that makes explicit the fiction of an ethical hunt.  
For the sake of this essay, I’d like to focus on a few points of inquiry about the problems of hunter, hunted, and the ethics of hunting in the show. My reading of "Supernatural’s" ethics attends to three themes and is broken into three parts: the good hunt, the good brotherhood, and the good suffering and good sacrifice. I would argue that the show’s seemingly Judeo-Christian perspective is a façade that belies a commentary on contemporary ethical conundrums, especially in the latter seasons of six and seven. Furthermore, the paradigms of human/monster, brother/enemy, and sacrifice/redemption help guide the show toward ethical dilemmas that are particularly American in kind. 
Part One: The Good Hunt
The quest for an ethics in "Supernatural" must begin with a simple question: What is “good” in this world? Is the good a happiness of sorts? Is the good a common good? Is the good truth? What is “the good” in "Supernatural"?  Trying to answer this question may allow us to dissect the ethical boundaries and limitations the show has set up for itself with regards to the main activity, the activity through which the entire landscape of the series is filtered, and that is hunting. What is the “good hunt”? Can there be one? 
Over the course of the series viewers have witnessed several penetrations to the very thin membrane between hunter and hunted in "Supernatural." The show has continuously dealt with the ethical dilemmas of hunting monsters, especially when one has the capacity to be monstrous such as in the case of Sam’s demonic powers and Dean’s role as torturer in Hell. The monster, as Jeffery Jerome Cohen presents it, is “a double narrative, two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves” (Monster Theory, p. 13).  If we apply Cohen’s frame to Supernatural, we can see that the monstrous tendencies of both Sam and Dean distort their “good” natures – Sam’s faith and kindness disappears in the demonic that must exist in the presence of an angelic; Dean’s humanity and nurturing nature succumbs to the excellence of his torture. 
The monstrous, then, can be seen as not the absence of good or the presence of evil in "Supernatural," but rather the corrupted familiar.  And the corruption of the familiar works in the mythos of the show since we have been given fairly overt definitions of the demonic as the human made grotesquely human, and if the demonic, the monstrous, is the corrupted familiar, the unfamiliar made visible, then the ethics of hunting becomes even more important, as we must depend on a code of ethics, a creed, to determine what is hunt-able and what is simply hunted. 
In the early seasons of "Supernatural" it was easy to discern an ethics – whatever is other is hunted, whatever is monstrous. There was little angst or inquiry surrounding the purpose of hunting. Even in the heartbreaking second season episode “Heart,” the killing of Madison was never in doubt. Her survival depended on curing her from the werewolf “gene”, and when it was clear she was not “cured,” she had to die. Even Madison recognized such necessity, which speaks to the absolutism of the “monster is hunted” ethic that the show forwards throughout its first two seasons. It is interesting to note that this episode is juxtaposed to the previous episode, “Roadkill,” which features a woman “ghost” who must be vanquished along with the male ghost who pursues her. And the final scenes of that episode clearly romanticized the ghost figure, making her sympathetic and human, even as she disappeared into the rising sun. 
I would like to insert a side commentary here that has often plagued me when reading "Supernatural."  When the show has pushed the envelope of its own ethics, particularly in the first three seasons, it did so through gender. How so, you may ask? If we catalog the episodes that problematized the monster definition such as “Heart” and “Roadkill”, we still can turn to “Bloody Mary,” “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” and “Bedtime Stories” as plots that try to deal with the “monster” as empathetic figure. When the show does sentimentalize the monstrous, it is often a sentimentalizing of the female monster. Take for example Meg, who is incredibly malevolent, and yet she earns sympathy as a possessed body in “Devil’s Trap.” 
Even “Houses of the Holy,” which had the male priest antagonist, can be seen as a gendered reading, as the priest figure is a culturally desexualized character, a character who must be a man without the common markers of masculinity or masculine sexuality. Such a reading is interesting, as season three mutates that feminine figure from one of sympathy to one of suspicion and doubt, with the introduction of the human maleficence of Bela and the demonic treachery of Ruby. I would also point to this season as the “turning” point in the discussion of the monster, as the evolution of the monster shifts from one of episodic study, i.e. the monster of the week, toward the monstrous predispositions of the main characters. 
Reading the ethics of hunting monsters through gender is interesting, but it cannot be a total reading. The show, throughout its nearly seven year run, has always kept at the heart of its narrative the question of who deserves to be hunted, and even more subtly, the question: who deserves to be a hunter? The character of Sam Winchester acts as the foundation for this debate. Sam, who we learn at the end of season two was chosen to be demonic, gradually yields to his “nature.” It is in Sam that we can see the potential cataclysm of a relational ethics. While Dean sold his soul for Sam’s life in “All Hell Breaks Loose,” Sam’s quest to save Dean perfectly coincides with the diminishment of his virtue. 
When I invoke virtue here, I cite Aristotle’s notion of virtue as balance in Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle argued that virtue was the mean point between excess and deficiency, and that virtue is a key component to any system of ethics. Sam Winchester’s excess of emotion, so brilliantly described by the Trickster in “Mystery Spot,” puts him in mortal, as well as moral, danger. When the Trickster tells Sam, “Dean’s your weakness and the bad guys know it too. He’s gonna be the death of you…Sometimes you just gotta let people go,” he is warning Sam, making him see what he has become – a man who prioritized the kill over the hunt, the end over the means.  And that’s when any hunt goes bad in this world. This episode sets up the dissolution of Sam’s ethical center in season four. His willingness to be seduced by Ruby reveals Sam’s willful descent into demonism, and also allows us as viewers to be prepared for the ethical resolution about which I will speak of later, sacrifice. 

But we must not forget that Sam’s justification for his behavior exposes the problems of relativism and relationalism in "Supernatural."  Sam lets himself go blind to serve his fear of abandonment. It is appropriate that the demonic in this show is metaphorized through the image of the eyes. The black eyed demons, as depicted in the show, are maliciously human because they subsist on nothing but emotion. Even in the most recent “Repo Man,” the demon returns to let us know that demons are hunters too. They hunt for the cruel and wicked in us so they can make it visible, make it functional. They hunt not to kill, but to make us blind to our own moral or ethical boundaries, make us transgress against those boundaries. 
In the world of "Supernatural," the demonic is not the absence of human but the aggressively human, the human made purely pathos. And Sam’s devolution into demonism re-enacts this process. His virtue falls apart as he moves with lightning speed toward that moment where his ability to choose, which is the pinnacle moment of any ethical dilemma, falls prey to his emotion. 
The final confrontation scene with Lilith in “Lucifer Rising” punctuates the ethical fall of Sam. While one might argue that his capitulation to Ruby’s argument for killing the nurse, aka Lilith’s handmaiden, finalizes Sam’s fall, I would argue that the show demonstrates his collapse in the final scene during the slow motion sequence when Dean is calling out for Sam and Ruby steps in front of him as he turns towards the door. That scene emphasizes Sam’s complete sensory overload. His eyes go black; he experiences both blindness and deafness. His body disappears to his “heart” and that disappearance is his complete moral failure. And it is ironic since the icon of his descent was the very voice calling out to him from the dark, Dean. 
This evolution toward demonism, which to a certain degree salvages itself in the sacrifice of “Swan Song,” never quite abandons the narrative of the show. The character of Soulless Sam, who occupies the first half of season 6, nicely juxtaposes a Sam devoid of emotion to the earlier versions of an overly emotional Sam. And returning to the notion of virtue as mean, Soulless Sam demonstrates that a deficiency can also skew or totally eliminate a code of ethics.  In this case, then, I would argue that to understand the ethics of hunting in "Supernatural" we must always keep the character of Sam Winchester at the forefront of the discussion. His growth and regressions signal to viewers how to read the monster and the hunted in the world that has been constructed so far. His choices are the choices of the predator as well as the prey, and without him we cannot fathom ethical boundaries or the transgression of those boundaries. And while other characters, such as Castiel, have experienced similar descents into ethical peril, Sam is the centerpiece character for understanding the problems of forming ethical choices in a world that demands total commitment to the cause.  
Sam Winchester’s monstrosity, if we can call it that, is a particular statement about the paradigm of hunter and hunted, a paradigm that becomes dilemma. This dilemma is even more apparent in season 7, which introduces a host of problematic issues that bring to light the psychological and sociological consequences of hunting. From Dean’s killing of Amy to Sam’s gradual psychic break to Dick Roman’s slow conquest of the media spotlight, the show has subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) pressed the issue of ethical hunting. But it is the figure of Dean and his continual distancing of himself from the core brotherhood that calls us toward the question of ethics of a different hunt, the hunt for purpose.  Where Sam may allow us to see the hunt as process and problem, Dean’s own ethical boundaries and failures give us insight into what happens when virtue is not an Aristotleian mean but rather a martial art. 
In part two of this essay, then, I will turn to Dean and his soldier’s code as a way to read the ethical dilemmas inherent in the war against the demonic, especially when that demonic is part and partial of a brother in arms. 
Part Two: Brotherhood, Brother Good? 
If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me;
For after we start we never lie by again. 
- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself


# Melanie 2012-03-13 00:28
Love this article.. and others like it. I guess its the psychology of it that interests me so much (psychology being one of my studies).
# suzee51 2012-03-13 01:33
I enjoyed reading your article but found that I had a couple of differences in POV.

#1)" When the show does sentimentalize the monstrous, it is often a sentimentalizin g of the female monster."

While it is true that there are fewer examples of sentamentalizin g male monsters in the early seasons, the writers certainly made up for that in later seasons. I'm sure there are more but in just a quick perusal:

Max Miller in "Nightmare"
Andy in "Simon Said"
Trickster in "Tall Tales"
flesh eating husband in "Metamorphosis"
shapeshifter in "Monster Movie"
old magician in "Chris Angel . . ."
ghost in "Afternoon Special"
Gary in "Swap Meat"
Phoenix in "Frontierland
alpha shapeshifter in "Two and a Half Men"
Lucky in "All Dog's Go to Heaven"
Castiel in "The Man Who Would Be King"

#2) " His willingness to be seduced by Ruby reveals Sam’s willful descent into demonism"

While I agree that Sam lost sight of how his powers were being manipulated by Ruby, I believe Sam's greatest problem was actually hubris not a "willful descent into demonism".
# percysowner 2012-03-13 01:49
Also in Faith, the male Reverend was the true believer and the wife was monstrous.

I too have problems with your characterizatio n of Sam, but I will wait to read the rest of your essay before commenting extensively. However, I didn't see what Sam did as a "willful descent into demonism" in the least. Mostly I saw someone who was an addict responding to his addiction and a brother who saw Dean falling apart while the angels were pressuring him to "save the world" with no real guidance as to how while Sam tried to take the burden off of Dean.
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-13 08:09
Hi percysowner -

I will address Sam more in the third part. I will return to both Sam and Dean then, but to clarify the willfulness approach, I do think Sam's behavior can be seen as a metaphor for addiction, but I see season 3 and his incredible need to save Dean and his failure to do so, as the set up for the excuse of his behaviors in season 4. That's the reason why "Mystery Spot" is especially interesting to me, in this particular reading anyway. I think the trickster's "lesson" gave Sam a peek into the future and I'm not sure he learned the lesson, but I'm always open to changing my perspective on this angle.

Thanks and I look forward to your comments on parts two and three.
# percysowner 2012-03-13 09:40
I know I should wait, but by part three I won't remember this. I agree that in season three that may have been The Trickster's motive in Mystery Spot, to show Sam the cost of trying to save Dean. Sadly, with the writers strike, we got The Trickster being Gabriel. In Changing Channels, the alternate world that he created had one simple message "Play your parts". He was actively trying to get both Sam and Dean to take on the roles the angels wanted in the Apocalypse. That made me reevaluate Mystery Spot. I see MS as encouraging Sam in his demon blood addiction. In season four he had learned the lesson that he could not save Dean, the purported lesson of MS. He learned that being alone led him to obsessive and destructive behavior, where his focus on the mission led him to not care about people. So he takes the rope Ruby throws him. Part of the rope is the ability when high on demon blood to expel demons without killing the host. By throwing in with Ruby, Sam AVOIDS the obvious coping mechanisms he used in MS. He returns to the family business of "saving people, hunting things". This, of course, leads to addiction and destruction, but not the robotic completely obsessed man that Sam was when Dean died in MS. I'm not giving Sam a pass on using the demon blood, but since unlike heroin he had no way to know about the addictive properties, and since we were never privy to how the heck he got started drinking it, Sam conceivably went into his addiction blind. It was certainly far less willful, IMHO.

The Trickster was trying to help Sam see the errors of his ways. Gabriel is actively trying to keep the Apocalypse on track in Changing Channels and only changes his mind later in Hammer of the Gods. The Trickster turning out to be Gabriel, and Gabriel's early actions leaves me convinced that MS was intended to break Sam emotionally and move him toward finding a way to "use his curse for good", and to convince him that traditional human only methods were not only ineffective but destructive to Sam and made Sam destructive to the world. When The Trickster turned out to be another angel who was still supporting the Apocalypse plan, MS became more about pushing Sam to give up on Dean's salvation and moving him to a place where he could do good, while using what evil was in him. In MS Sam was going to any lengths to get Dean back. By season four Sam was only trying to do what John and Dean had advocated for years find the thing that killed and damned Dean (Azazel for John and Dean, Lilith for Sam) and kill it, while saving people along the way. If John and Dean weren't being willfully evil, in their quest, I can't say Sam is for following the same path.

And having written this ginormous reply, I realize I will probably comment on each part as they are published. Sorry! I will try and do a complete overview when you are done.
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-13 09:55
Hi percysowner - I think this is great and please feel free to comment on each part. It helps me as well to work out the differences.

The Trickster turning out to be Gabriel, and Gabriel's early actions leaves me convinced that MS was intended to break Sam emotionally and move him toward finding a way to "use his curse for good", and to convince him that traditional human only methods were not only ineffective but destructive to Sam and made Sam destructive to the world. When The Trickster turned out to be another angel who was still supporting the Apocalypse plan, MS became more about pushing Sam to give up on Dean's salvation and moving him to a place where he could do good, while using what evil was in him. In MS Sam was going to any lengths to get Dean back.
I think you are right in that the Gabriel/Trickster dynamic changing as soon as we understood the trickster to be an angel and hence aware of the Apocalyptic plan. You see, for me, Mystery Spot acts more as foreshadowing than anything else. I agree that the origin of Sam's demonic fall was in his good intentions; it's one of the core things I love about Sam and I think in season 5 (and somewhat this season as well) the show has done so well in moving Sam towards a introspective review of his emotional state before and during the hunt for Lilith. That's why I cited Aristotle with Sam. To me, Sam's imbalances (so beautifully acted from seasons 3-now) happen when he allows his emotions to guide him. It's the same with all the characters, actually, but in Sam it seems to be the moral lesson for his character.

I'm not giving Sam a pass on using the demon blood, but since unlike heroin he had no way to know about the addictive properties, and since we were never privy to how the heck he got started drinking it, Sam conceivably went into his addiction blind. It was certainly far less willful, IMHO.
I think Sam's addiction is a performance of his excess. The demon blood shows, in my reading, the total abandonment of control. For me, it juxtaposes nicely to Dean's daily excesses - food, women, etc. - Sam is so tightly controlled, both physically and emotionally, that his excess is excess in the extreme. And when I say willful here, I don't mean that he wanted to be evil, but at some point he made the decision to deprioritize certain values in favor of other values without forethought, and forethought and precision is so much a part of Sam's character, which is demonstrated by Mystery Spot, but also in Soulless. He's such a fascinatingly complex character.

Again that's just my reading....Than ks percysowner. I really do enjoy the different perspectives here.
# KELLY 2012-03-13 21:00
I'm probably in the wrong here, but I actually thought Gabriel motives changed from MS to Changing Channels. I always thought the he was honestly trying to stop the apocolypse during the MS by trying to show Sam the error of his ways. He had a good life and actually enjoyed being with humans. But after Lucifer was release, he decided there was no stopping it and fatalistically just wanted it over with.
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-13 21:15
I don't think you're wrong at all, Kelly. That is a legitimate reading of MS and Changing Channels. I tend to read MS much more of a lesson for Sam rather than the part that the trickster plays in the outward drama, i.e. the apocalypse. But I can see that could be very much the case for his change in character.
# percysowner 2012-03-13 21:36
I admit that I vacillate on this point. I always thought that traumatizing Sam by making him live six months with Dean dead was the LEAST helpful thing Gabriel could do if he wanted to stop Sam. Plus, it was made clear that the Gabriel had sent the skeptical professor into a black hole for eternity. He also had not released any of the other people he taught "lessons". If Gabriel really wanted to stop Sam the Apocalypse all he had to do was keep the loop going, or keep Sam in the time when Dean was dead and when Ruby was unable to contact Sam.

Gabriel was also dead set on allowing Dean to go to Hell. We later learn that one of the requirements for the start of the Apocalypse is for Dean to break in Hell, so again if Gabriel really wanted to stop the Apocalypse, he would have worked to help Sam find a way to SAVE Dean, not allow Dean into Hell.

I do think the original intent of the episode was to dissuade Sam from going too far to save Dean. But that was when the writers planned to have Sam save Dean and go Dark while doing it. Once we discover that The Trickster is really the Archangel Gabriel his insistence that Dean take the first step in becoming the "righteous man" who breaks the first seal and his psychological torture of Sam gets more ambiguous. Because of Gabriel's intervention, Ruby didn't come to a Sam who just lost his brother to Hell. She came to a Sam who had lived with his brother in Hell for six months, got him back and lost him again. She came to a Sam who knew that going it alone led him to being willing to risk killing Bobby to get Dean back. It had a far more emotionally vulnerable Sam than if he had just lost Dean once. In Mystery Spot we see Sam's OCD nature and his incredible need to take and keep control of his life. Due to Gabriel's intervention, Sam was broken and Ruby offered him a way of controlling his life that he pretty obviously didn't get or use the first time around.

I have honestly never been able to decide what Gabriel's motivation was in Mystery Spot, but I tend to land on the side of Gabriel being conflicted and hoping that Sam would learn a different lesson, but ultimately going along with keeping the prophecy intact.
# KELLY 2012-03-14 16:44
I thought Gabriel was extremely frustrated by Sam's reaction during that time. He kept pushing him further and further thinking that eventually Sam would see that he'd jumped the rails. But like Dean's reaction in The End the lesson he learned was the intended one.
As far as Dean going to hell, I thought Gabriel probably didn't know the exact plan. Because even though he was archangel he been in "witness protection" for a while. That he heard about the vessel part of the plan but maybe not that Dean was supposed to break the first seal. (Especially since it sounded like Dean was the demon's backup plan when John didn't break). In that case he may of thought Dean being in hell was a good thing, because that would mean THE vessel was dead and couldn't be used. Not expecting them to go hell and drag him out.

But I can see how your idea works too.
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-14 20:20
In response to both Kelly and percysowner, I've always been really interested in the relationship between Gabriel and Sam since Gabriel seemed to play the younger brother to Lucifer (not sure if that's technically correct, but hey, why not?). I always thought that Gabriel might have a unique empathy for Sam because of his ties to Lucifer. You could tell he loved Lucifer even when he was about to kill him.
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-13 08:03
I think you may have a point about the hubris angle, but to me, I hubristic behavior as willful to a degree. He shuts himself off from his own frailties, which perhaps is another example of blindness.

And the gendered reading is partial, but especially in the first three seasons I see it. Not so much in seasons 4 onward. In fact, I do think Season 3 is the turning point for that particular reading because Sam's storyline and fall takes centerstage.

Thanks for the comments!
# suzee51 2012-03-13 10:18
"I don't mean that he wanted to be evil, but at some point he made the decision to deprioritize certain values in favor of other values without forethought"

Thank you for this further clarification and I can appreciate how Sam's hubris contributed to his "decision to deprioritize certain values". Despite Dean's repeated admonitions, Sam's hubris could in fact be seen as contributing to his "blindness" in not being able to understand the source of Dean's concern.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2012-03-13 17:14
I have always viewed Sam as the monster at the heart of the show. It slowly built in place through season 1, and you're right, prior to his powers kicking in, the hunt focused upon the other. Either you're a human and deserve to be saved/protected or you're a supernatural being that is preying on people, therefore in need of being exterminated.

We see that shift when Sam becomes the monster figure, and I think it's fascinating that you bring Soulless Sam into the discussion here. Sam did worry more about the ends, and not the means, when it came to saving Dean or avenging Dean's death/time in Hell. I think Soulless Sam is the inner kernel of this, the essence brought to the forefront and stripped of any morals.

It seems in the landscape of Supernatural, in reflection to a war zone or desperate situation, the adage of "Kill or be killed" rings true, and we see it time and time again in the exploration of the hunt. At the end of a good hunt, the victims attacked are saved and the enemy vanquished, and yet the question remains if that should be the way things are.

Eve told Dean that she was alright with the set up, that her children would kill/turn a few humans and the humans would then become hunters and kill her children in return in a circle. It is a balance and an order to things, and I think Supernatural has always, ironically against its own title, tried to balance the unnatural and the natural.
# percysowner 2012-03-13 18:18
Obviously mileage varies. I totally disagree that Sam is a monster and I am deeply offended by the opinion. In the end every monster that has been shown has turned into something that must be destroyed. Even Lenore was unsalvagaeble in the end. I saw Sam as a flawed human being who made human mistakes. Soulless Sam was close to a monster, but he was not a full Sam. He had the truly human part removed. In fact Soulless Sam seemed to be totally unaffected by any desire for demon blood. If truth be told EVERYONE has the kernel that can allow them to make pragmatic decisions that can result in the deaths of innocents. This is human, not monstrous.

I will also point out that initially Sam was the one who questioned if all supernatural creatures were evil. He attempted to get the Rugaru to not give in to his desires and resist his curse. As far as ends vs. means, Dean selling his soul, knowing the crushing guilt and grief that would cause Sam is certainly a huge example of using extremely bad means to achieve an incredibly dubious end. Both boys have been guilty of the same behavior, yet you only want to blame Sam.

I can not and never will lump Sam into the group of creatures that deserve to be destroyed. I also will not concede that Sam is a character that deserves to be dismissed as a monster . I will always see Sam as a human who is living with an condition that was introduced when he was six months old. With the exception of his time of grief and guilt he resisted using his powers with all his will. The only exception was when it was necessary in order to save the world. The price of that was his life, and his sanity, not the actions of a monster. Sam did not choose to come back soulless, so branding him a monster for doing so is unfair, IMHO.

We obviously view Sam differently. I doubt we can have a meeting of the minds here. But I refuse to let the accusation that Sam is a monster stand unchallenged.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2012-03-13 18:47
I seem to have stepped on some toes.

By "monster,"I should be more defined here in terms of the show itself. A lot of the monsters were metaphors for Sam and what could become of him if he were to give into the demonic blood that was thrust upon him by Azazel. Madison is a metaphor for Sam. Jack, who becomes the Rugaru, is also a metaphor for Sam---not for what he is or will become, but what he FEARS he COULD become. In that regard, I see Sam's character telling a version of the monster story that is laced throughout the series. It is human and touching because of that humanity, not because he is to become the monster in need of destruction or evil---but because time and time again Sam will overcome it. For all the foreboding metaphor that connects monsters to Sam in their various forms, it is the hope encapsulated in Sam's character that shows his humanity will always overcome that taint placed upon him as an innocent infant.

I love Sam. I think he's a very heroic human being who has sacrificed himself time and time again for victims, for his brother, and for the world at large. He is a beautiful human being that has endured so much, and my heart breaks for him every time I see him sacrifice yet another thing, be it his life or sanity or his chance at a normal life. He is soft spoken, quick to comfort, and gentle with the victims in his care. His heart is almost bigger than he himself is.

I don't blame Sam one moment for what happened to him in season 4, even though it can be argued that he has a share of responsibility. He made the decisions he made with the information he had---all the while those that professed wanting to stop Lilith and the Apocalypse were setting him up to do what he ultimately did in Lucifer Rising. Both Ruby and the Angels KNEW that Lilith was the final seal and that if Sam killed her he would release the Devil---and they did everything in their combined powers to more or less make that happen. In the aftermath, Sam redeemed himself by word and deed, and part of me thinks he really didn't have to. It wasn't his fault that they had twisted him that way and led him to the precipice.

That being said, Sam, in order to save Dean or avenge his time in Hell, gave in partly to the very thing he had feared in seasons 2 and part of 3. He embraced, to a point, the monstrous side placed within him against his consent---all because he loves so deeply and cares so much. He couldn't imagine leaving Dean in Hell, and when Dean returned he had already been so tangled into the Angels and Ruby's game without any chance to truly extract himself. Sam's very human grief had by then turned against him, allowing him to be manipulated and used in a manner he deep down feared as much as ever.

As for Soulless Sam, absolutely, he is that kernel that resides in all human beings. We all have that, and that is why his character is fascinating and gripping. He is Sam, but not Sam. He has the logic, the skill, and the training---all without Sam's greatest asset: his heart and compassion. Soulless Sam stands in as a human monster, and yet he is a mirror to the human condition---the darker side of it, much as Sam whole is the reflection of the best of the human condition.
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-13 19:05
I think both Sam and Dean are reflected in many of the "monsters" throughout the series. It's a trope within the show, because without the ambiguity of the monster/hunter dynamic, we couldn't have the level of conflict the show needs to progress.

In the case of Sam, he has the core of humanity that many of the hunted monsters lack, but sometimes, in rare occasions such as with Madison, Amy, Andy, and even Cas, the humanity of the villain represents a moment in the series where we (and Sam and Dean) have to question what it means to hunt and kill a creature that may very well resemble either of them in some fundamental way. I think here especially of Amy, a character the show drew distinct comparisons to Sam with in "The Girl Next Door." I don't think Sam and Dean are monsters, but they do display monstrous qualities and on the mirror side, sometimes the monsters they hunt are very human.
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2012-03-13 19:32
Absolutely. Dean's revelation to being a master torturer in Hell proves this. He took on some of the same fear Sam had about becoming a monster. It is about finding a balance.

And yes, so many monsters have reflected very human tendencies that make Sam and Dean pause and question what they do as hunters. It is one of the most important messages in this show: question. Always question. Why do you do this? Why that?

Considering the few times that they've encountered a human monster (Benders, Family Remains, Repo Man), it makes the line blur even further. Not all monsters are necessarily supernatural creatures, after all. And yet, I find that both brothers manage to overcome and grow through these experiences, rising to the greater qualities of humanity again and gain.
# Natalie 2012-03-14 18:09
Elitist psudo-interlect ual crap. Just write IN PLAIN ENGLISH. I mean "Aristotle's notion of virtue as balance in Nicomachean Ethics" REALLY?
Its all greek to me! See what i did there? Its called not taking yourself too seriously.

Thank you so much for ripping away the thin vale of "green eyed, gargling, long haired, shallowness of supernatural, and opening my eyes to the wonderful and deep mythological experience of what was once just a frivolous enjoyment. The scales have fallen from my eyes! Perseus has been revealed! Thank you.
# Naturalgirl 2012-03-14 18:20
(Edited by Alice)

Comments of objection are okay. You didn't say anything offense or wrong. However, I've combined this comment with the previous one, since you are obviously the same person using different login names to voice criticisms from the same IP address. We can tell these things you know!
# natalie 2012-03-14 19:33
My point is that I visited the site because I love supernatural. I didn't expect to need a degree in ancient history to enjoy it. I think half the people who read this didnt understand it but just liked the big words and thought it must be good. The writer just seems to want to prove to us how clever they are and hsve entirely lost sight of the show.
# Alice 2012-03-14 20:16
Natalie, it's okay, I hope I didn't give the impression that your opinion wasn't welcome. Honest, what you said was fine. I just combined your posts because they were two different posts using two different names from the same IP address. That does give the impression that you're trying to spam with negative comments. Sorry, we've had some bad history with that.

I do admit, sometimes these academic metas aren't for everyone and not everything we publish here are for the masses. I allow them because some people enjoy them and like having debates. It certainly kills a Hellatus! However, you are entitled to find a piece total crap and say so. We don't mind! Just as long as your language is fair, and it was.

I hope I haven't turned you off the commenting here. Your comments are most welcome.
# zakkorama 2012-03-14 23:56
This is interesting. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the article. "Pseudo" means "false," and none of the claims here are patently false. Open to discussion, of course. I am curious as to how "anti-intellect ual crap" is better than "intellectual crap?"

The great thing about a show like Supernatural is that we can all read it in a variety of ways. Some people want to delve into the deep meanings. Kripke himself said that the show was built upon Joseph Campbell's Monomyth. Campbell was a highly influential scholar, a Ph.D., and assuredly an "intellectual." Obviously, Kripke's inspiration came in some part from this realm, therefore, intellectual analysis should be welcome.

I know people who watch the show simply for PRETTY, and indeed our boys are that. What puzzles me is that you felt the need to try and slam the door shut on any commentary style other than your own. Is there a reason that only your "interpretation " is valid? What motivated you to post, then post again under a sock puppet instead of simply hit the "back" button on your browser? I have little doubt these questions will be read as an attack, but I ask because I am genuinely curious.

I assure you, if this were an attack, no doubt about its intent would remain.
# KELLY 2012-03-15 02:07
You summed up my thoughts nicely, so I can't really add anything other then to say I enjoyed the article and enjoy discussing the minut details, ethical dilemmias and characters analysis. So thanks for posting this.
# natalie 2012-03-15 14:54
At no point did I say no one else was allowed an opinion. I also have no problem with anyone enjoying a deeper or mythological meaning to the show. I certainly do not just watch it for "the pretty". Your post seems to suggest that not enjoying the above article suggests thats all we must see. I just think that the way that certain articles are written mean they are peppered with needless refrences which alienate most people. And why? For the sake of big words.
# zakkorama 2012-03-15 16:45
Every word of both of your comments indicate this type of article is unwelcome and unwanted. You referred to "Elitist psudo-interlect ual crap [sic]." The language is combative and insulting. Is there another way to read this than "What you have written is crap?" Is there another interpretation beyond "This crap is unwelcome on this site?" Though these exact sentences were not in your post, they are the elided major and minor premises of your enthymeme. (Also Aristotle; the guy gets around.)

If you use someone else's ideas, and don't give them credit, its considered unethical. If the author borrowed Aristotle's ideas of ethics from Nicomachean Ethics, she is required to attribute that to him. "Nichomachean" has five syllables. "Supernatural" has five syllables. As you take the stance that "big words" are bad, do we have cut off at four? Does the show need a new title as the name is too big of a word?

"Pretty" is but one type of enjoyment of the show, and I used it because it is the least engaged in the text and still acceptable. That you would take all of this personally brings us back to the questions I asked that went unanswered.

Given my prediction that my questions would go unanswered proved quite correct, I will list the conclusions we are left to assume: Anti-intellectu alism is a lashing out at those who are deemed "smarter" than the subject individual, by that individual. The individual seeks to diminish the value of the other's perceived advantage, and by doing, prop up the subject's sense of worth and value.

The second alternative, the replies were designed to start conflict.

I'm open to a third suggestion that doesn't fit these two, but that can only come by answered questions.
# natalie 2012-03-15 17:39
Sigh. Really I think everyone needs to just get out more. Even your post back to me hardly make sense so I hold up my hands and realise that I will not win. To read between the lines of your message you clearly feel I haven't got the brains to argue back. You say i havent answered your questions but i have no idea what they are. This no doubt proves your point so I will retire and leave you all to your silly articles about what is a SHOW on t.v. I had no idea that the site celebrating a great show would be so full of cliques and so in-welcoming in both CONTENT and comments.
# zakkorama 2012-03-15 17:48
We love this show. Just as much as you do. One thing we love about it is it allows us to just watch it for enjoyment, then come back and look at it from a completely different perspective. That's what this post was about.

This site celebrates a great show, and Alice welcomes people with all different perspectives here. You are welcome to comment on this post. BUT, when you come in with insults, calling this article, the hard work of another human being, "crap" because it doesn't appeal to you or you don't understand it, who is being unwelcoming?

If I went into to an article that you enjoyed and commented that it was "stupid garbage that only a third grader could enjoy" how would that have made you feel? More importantly, how would that have made the author feel?

Why couldn't you have said "I don't really understand everything in this article, but I'm glad the Supernatural family has so many different types of people interested in it!"? Why did it have to be an attack? Why did it have to be insulting? Why did it have to be unwelcoming?

These are the big questions I'm asking. I don't have anything whatsoever against you. I am trying to make a point. We are all fans of an amazing show that we all love. And our love for show is unique to every one of us, because we are unique. Why can't everyone be welcomed?
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-15 18:25

I'm only responding to one thing in the list of accusations that you have lobbed at me. That one comment is this: If you don't like this kind of article, then don't read it. This type of article represents a very small portion of the site and to represent this article as the entire site and its readers is not only incorrect but a blatant attempt to start a fight, not an argument.

No, you will not win an argument based on a false premise. But I have to say I don't think you wanted to win. You wanted to prove a point either about my writing, this type of analysis in general, the site, or whatever, but I think that you had already decided that your point of view is true and everyone's else is false before you posted your first comment. So you've made your point. You were welcome to make your point, but in making your point do not expect for others not to disagree.

I wish you much joy in watching the show whatever way you want to watch it and I would ask you kindly to respect the fact that there are those of us here who may enjoy watching it a different way. There are many other types of articles on this site; different articles are posted almost every day. I'm sure among those you will find something you enjoy. I hope you find that.

Thank you,
# natalie 2012-03-15 17:41
By the way the last comment was ment to say UN welcome.
# Brynhild 2012-03-15 21:16
Thank you for the insightful article, Linda! The ethics of the show (or better put, the ethic questions and dilemmas of the show) were one of the several reasons why I find Supernatural being a lot above the average tv serial product. Even when it's made clear that "monsters" have to be killed, it often shows how this affects the lead characters psychologically and ethically. Because even when killing is a necessity (as in war) and/or becomes a job or is part of a job (like for soldiers and policemen), it nver fails to weigh on your soul, in a way or another.

About Sam as a "monster": I think the word should not be seen as a moral judgment. In fact, "monster" comes from the latin word "monstrum", that is "thing that has to be indicated, extraordinary or curious or out of common". In fact, it is more close to the meanig of the word "freak". Sam as a monster is in fact the core of the Supernatural world: a world of freaks, the monsters as well as the hunters, the hunt for the "otherness" being yourself an "other" as opposed to the "normal people" (i.e. the ones who happily ignore the supernatural's existence).

About your observation of Sam's ethical falls as due to "unbalance", it dawned on me that like Sam was (in the early seasons) the "moral compass" for Dean, so maybe Dean was the "balance" that helped Sam to not give in to his "excesses"? Oh, and speaking of excesses: I was always fascinated by the way Sam was capable of shutting out all his emotions and feelings when he was feeling too much, like he did in Mistery Spot after the fateful wednesday, and like he did all along season 3 because of his fear for Dean, allwing himself to compromise on his ethics in order to save him. He really is a very complex, very tragic character!
# Linda-bookdal 2012-03-15 21:30
Thank you, Brynhild! I'm glad you liked it. You know it's interesting that you talk about Dean balancing out Sam. I think you're right. As I've been working on the next part, I've been turning back to the idea of justice in Supernatural, and the scales of balance are symbolic of justice.

And thank you for mentioning the latin origin of monster. I had not picked up on that, but you're right. If monster is more other than creature, then the whole Sam plot revolves around the monster storyline and Sam as other.

I do think they (Sam and Dean) balance each other out, so when one is gone (mentally or physically), the other is lost in some fundamental way.

Thanks again Brynhild!
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2012-03-15 21:42
I love, love, love your brining in the Latin reference.

It is important to remember that words change in meaning and use over time, and what we think in modern terms of "monsters" is a bit different than monsters in earlier times or countries.

I think, in many ways, that is exactly how Sam (and later Dean when he returns from Hell especially) is presented in the text of the show, and as such, he is both human and a fine example of the best qualities of humanity, but he is also "other" or "monstrum." He has no other choice, given his background with demon blood, Soullessness for a period, vessel for Lucifer, and the like. It doesn't make his character evil or in need of destruction, it is a way of telling about the human condition through the fantastical and how one can overcome the darker tendencies to bring out our best.

I also agree with you assessment that both brothers balance each other out. They are Yin and Yang, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and one is less without the other. I think it is another reason it is impossible to take the AND out between their names. Sam AND Dean, not Sam and Dean or Sam, Dean. They are two sides of the same coin, and yet they reflect so much of each other.

Dean said it best in "The End." "We keep each other human."
Alison M
# Alison M 2012-03-16 14:38
I recently discovered this site on the recommendation of a fellow SPN fan. I have spent some time investigating the archive of articles from the last few months.

I discovered a surfeit of reviews some of which were quite negative in their content and comments. I looked at the chat room function and found a lot of negativity there as well, this seems very strange to me for a site which is supposed to be in celebration the show.

As I usually enjoy Meta articles I found this article and the comments arising from it of particular interest. I did understand it, so please do not try to demean me by insinuating I am not clever enough to do so, but it does read rather like a clinical thesis.

I will not be visiting here again. I love the show, despite the monsters and gore I feel it has, at its core, compassion, warmth and love, virtues which I did not find here. I shall just leave it to the writers and some of the commentators to remain here, congratulating each other on their own intelligence.
Tim the Enchanter
# Tim the Enchanter 2012-03-16 15:40
Welcome to a world of differing opinions; some positive, some negative. As I believe the boss once said ‘No one here drinks the cool-aid’. Alison M, a site that will only allow happy, positive thoughts to be written, and will not allow a bad word said about the show is not a site that ‘celebrates†™ the show, it’s blind fanaticism. (And you’ll be looking long and hard to find one of those sites). To be able to celebrate something you have to be able to acknowledge there is bad as well as good, that will allow you to love it more because it will be real. A strong show can withstand criticism and questioning, as this show has done.

In relation to the chat room function, why didn’t you join in or leave a post?? Admittedly we are pretty negative. Discussions about shoes, clothes, swollen feet (not mine), 8 hour lessons teaching some dumbass called Tim the Enchanter how to make motivational posters and, our usual topic of conversation, how to lose weight fast are pretty depressing. We do occasionally talk about the show but to be honest, not often. We (and there are only about four of us....) have been talking about Castiel a bit lately because we (or rather I) are sceptical about his return. That is usually tempered by posting pictures of John though. Most things are tempered by posting pictures of John.

I did understand it, so please do not try to demean me by insinuating I am not clever enough to do so,
Where on earth did anyone here do that? You understand what was written? Awesome. You don’t understand what was written? Awesome. You don’t understand it but want to understand it? Awesome. Google is your friend. You don’t understand it and you don’t want to understand it? Awesome, just hit the ‘Home’ button and off you go, another couple of hundred articles there waiting for you (and if you can’t find one of those that is to your liking then I give up!)

it does read rather like a clinical thesis
And if it does, what of it? This is the way Linda-Bookdal writes. What of it? Doesn’t it show the huge variety, style and quality of writers on here?

I love the show, despite the monsters and gore I feel it has, at its core, compassion, warmth and love, virtues which I did not find here.
Guess what, Alison M, everyone here loves the show. If they didn’t they wouldn’t bother posting here. Every contributor to this site, whether they be article writer, poster, lurker or c-boxers loves the show. They wouldn’t be wasting their time, energy, ideas and putting what they think out there for analysis and/or criticism if they didn’t.

That’s why I admire the writers here so much. It’s so damn easy to criticise them but there aren’t that many of us that would have the balls to actually do what they do. You feel the site is too negative Alison M, I’m sure Alice would love an article from you. Or how about contribute positively to a thread?

I will not be visiting here again.
Ah well. Bye then.

I shall just leave it to the writers and some of the commentators to remain here, congratulating each other on their own intelligence.
I wouldn’t know about intelligence. I had to look up ‘surfeit’. Godsend.
# buffsgirl 2012-03-16 19:55
Thanks for this article and your exploration of the philosophical and theological themes that run throughout the show.

I must admit that at times I feel that the show creators aren't altogether sure of the ethics they are trying to convey and have occasionally created ethical dilemmas for the characters that they (the creators) cannot reconcile. Having someone write articles like the one you have written help me reconcile some of those inconsistencies (for myself). However, I also feel that it is exactly those inconsistencies that help lend credibility and breathe more "real-life" into the characters. Who among us hasn't done / thought /acted other than we thought we might in a given circumstance. As a viewer I tend to assign certain traits to Sam and Dean but they are both equally capable of being the hero and the villian, the monster and the angel, the hunter and the thing that needs hunting. They both have the capacity for great love and great violence. And, in the end, they truly do "keep each other human." To try to assign one role to Sam and another to Dean would not only diminish the characters but also the thematic elements of the story.

I'm sure I have more to say but...... you have given me a lot to ponder. I am very much looking forward to the continuation of your thesis.
sharon pence
# sharon pence 2013-01-13 23:48
I am a 70 year old in love with entertainment ,which to me can be a good book or a terrific tv show or movie. I was barely able to graduate high school but was able to have a great career in a fantastic job that also gave me the time to explore the world and the people's who inhabit this world.
I would say that I personally am very street smart,outgoing but also wary. My vocabulary is limited but I can get my point across. I do not feel less intelligent because of it because I am more a Dean person the one who might get you out of trouble, if the need would arise.
Boy I need to get to the point here I love to read and have read all of Joseph Campbells' books and loved them , if I didn't understand something I reread it or asked for help. I have read all the game of thrones books and now those are sometimes hard to follow .
To come to this site and find people who write passionately about this show whether in prose , long essays worthy of a grad school thesis or simply state I Love this show or I LOVE the pretty is an amazing thing. That a simple Tv show (I mean that in a loving way) can garner such emotion and discussion is a wonderful thing I believe that this show as we watch it makes us better people as we examine ourselves and those around us.
I love the analysis that people write big words or little .
Please keep it up.
The only thing that makes me sad is that more people are not aware of this amazing show and it's talented actors and it does not get the credit it deserves.
As Dean says AWESOME. Sorry to be so long winded I am new to this thread and don't post a lot I guess I am queen of the lurkers and sometimes embarrased at being such a fan girl at this age but as the saying goes when an old person looks in a mirror there is a young person saying what the hell happened.
I love this site and if a disagree with something I find someone else will come along who feels like me and states my case better than I can as I don't know all the big words.
# Leah 2013-01-14 00:59
chrisgranny- I ran across this just before going to bed but I just had to say what a lovely comment this is. I am more of the "simply state" "little words" kind of person.

I completely agree with you about how sad it is that this amazing show does not get the credit it deserves. Thank heavens for the great fans who never let an opportunity pass to express love for the show and all the people who work so hard on it.

Hoping to see you post again. There are many unabashed "older" fans of Supernatural. We know quality when we see it.