With it now officially being Summer Hellatus, per tradition I have started rewatching the show over. I am struck by how much Padalecki and Ackles have grown into Sam and Dean's shoes through the seasons---and astonished by how quickly they grasped these two characters from the very start. I was particularly impressed with Padalecki's performance in "Bloody Mary," as Sam is confronted with the spirit wearing his face. It made me think of his other dual role performances---and reminded me just how much I love those scenes. They are often some of my all-time favorite in the whole of the series.
Dual roles are difficult to pull off---especially when those characters share a scene together. It can come off as clunky and awkward. It can feel completely unnatural, and toss the viewer from the story in the process. Done well, however, and they can mesmerize. Although played by the same person, we can believe that they are actually two (or more) distinct individuals. It can make for an incredibly powerful scene packed with emotion.
If anyone should teach a class on performing dual roles, it's Jared Padalecki. He has an uncanny talent in performing them on screen and making them gripping, powerful, and separate from one another. Just by looking at a character we can tell which one it is. He makes it look artful. Throughout Supernatural, we've had the privilege of seeing Jared Padalecki perform dual roles---and each time is just a bit better than the last. Let's look at a few of these roles and examine what made them so amazing.
"Bloody Mary" Season 1:
This is only the fifth episode of Supernatural, but here we are treated with Padalecki playing two versions of Sam. In this episode, we can sense that Padalecki is really starting to grasp just who Sam Winchester is---and then to have the ability to give us another version, albeit one twisted by a spirit in a mirror, is extraordinary. Each Sam---the one in the mirror and the one afflicted by the Bloody Mary curse---are their own characters. It is clear just in how Padalecki carries himself in each performance.
The one in the mirror is vengeful, angry, and cruel. There is almost a sinister beauty in Padalecki's performance, illustrated with a subtle vicious smile and his eyes narrowed in accusation. There is a glee for the spirit as it catches Sam, and a righteousness ripe in its voice as it whispers, "It's your fault. You killed her. You killed Jessica." As the scene progresses, we see Padalecki make use of his large frame, making this version, even inside a mirror, seem much larger than the Sam outside. He makes the spirit's voice sharp as it berates Sam for doing nothing about Jessica's death. Padalecki almost snarls this bit of dialogue, driving it home to the real Sam suffering, "You never told her the truth---who you really were. But it's more than that, isn't it? Those nightmares you've been having of Jessica dying, screaming, burning---You had them for days before she died. Didn't you!?! You were so desperate to ignore them, to believe they were just dreams. How could you ignore them like that? How could you leave her alone to die!?! You dreamt it would happen!!!"
And at the same time, we watch as Padalecki makes the real Sam's suffering more than just bleeding from the eyes and struggling against the effects of the mirror. We can see in his face all the anguish about Jessica's death. There is guilt there, too. He shows us that Sam is a wreck, consumed with his grief. It is a subtle performance---but Padalecki has to convey this without saying a word, which makes it all the more remarkable. From his prostrate position on the floor, he also makes his frame seem small and exposed----as Sam's secret is being laid bare before us. It is the story manifesting itself within his body language. Padalecki has Sam fold in on himself, his hand clenched tight over his heart as another gesture speaking to the emotional pain. It is a tense scene as written, but watching Padalecki perform both parts with such skill makes it that much more powerful emotionally. It's because of his performance that we are invested. Although it is a short scene, it lingers long after viewing.
"Swan Song" Season 5:
Fast forward five seasons. Sam Winchester VS. Lucifer himself. Sam has said "Yes" and Lucifer is in control here---but he is willing to "take the gag off" and chat with his chosen vessel. Like "Bloody Mary," this takes place with one character standing in front of a mirror while another is trapped inside---but this time it's the reverse. Sam is locked in that mirror. What Padalecki manages to pull off in this scene is all the potential seen in that short season one scene come to full flower.
Padalecki channels Mark Pellegrino, the principle actor for Lucifer, and brings in enough of his tendencies to make the performance seamless. We see a stunning glimpse of this in the garden scene in "The End." Padalecki plays a frightening Lucifer, not because he is triumphant here, but because he makes us sympathize with the Devil. Padalecki also is just as calm, making Lucifer almost seem rational and right. We want to believe him, to agree, to switch sides---and yet we are also horrified by him all at once. He mimics enough of Pellegrino's facial expressions and vocal tones to sell this character, especially on the line, "I win. So I win." It's a remarkable performance that grips on its own---but lays the ground work for what is to come in "Swan Song."
Padalecki makes full use of his long frame in the entrance shot to make sure we see just how pleased Lucifer is with his true vessel. The smirk on his face as he stretches says it all. He states with the utmost patience, "Sam. Come on. I can feel you... scratching away in there." Satisfaction drips from his words, his triumph complete. There is a confidence in his stances, and we can almost sense he's becoming taller as the scene progresses.
He tells Sam, "You got me all wrong, kiddo. I'm not the bad guy here," and it sends chills through us because it comes off almost vulnerable in its sincerity. Lucifer believes this statement thoroughly---and we buy into it because Padalecki sells us on it in his performance. But it is when Lucifer takes the "gag" off that it becomes its most powerful. This scene mirrors almost exactly the scene from "Free to Be You and Me," where Lucifer first reveals himself to Sam. They have a similar conversation that is replayed in the mirror after Sam has finally said "Yes." Sam, in the mirror, appears angry and vulnerable, nearly defeated. Padalecki makes Sam's face look anguished. And yet, he shows us Sam's steely resolve when he snarls the line, "I'm gonna rip you apart from the inside out. Do you understand me?"
Lucifer easily turns this on Sam, and questions him. He asks it in a rational way, appealing to logic. It turns one of Sam's strengths into a major weakness. He asks, "Who are you really angry with? Me? Or that face in the mirror?" Padalecki makes the Devil speak slowly, calmly. He also adds in a chilling sincerity to his words. We almost want to believe Lucifer when Padalecki delivers the lines, "I'm inside your grapefruit, Sam. You can't lie to me. I see it all -- how odd you always felt, how... out of place in that... family of yours. And why shouldn't you have? They were foster care -- at best. I'm your real family," and "It is. And I know you know it. All those times you ran away, you weren't running from them. You were running towards me. This doesn't have to be a bad thing, you know. I let Dean live, didn't I? I want him to live. I'll bring your folks back, too. I want you to be happy, Sam."
As Lucifer continues to taunt Sam, Padalecki puts all the emphasis into Sam's denials of the Devil's claims, and yet when he says the line, "No, that's not true," we can hear a hint of doubt---that Sam isn't sure himself anymore of what is the truth and what is Lucifer's lies. He refuses to back down, however, and tells the Devil, "I don't want anything from you." As Lucifer points to the demons standing behind him, however, we see Sam break. Padalecki crumbles his expression and his voice wavers when he points out, "That's Mr. Bensman... One of my grade-school teachers." In that moment, we can sense that Lucifer has won this round---and as Padalecki delivers the line, "So, what do you say you and I blow off a little steam?" that Lucifer believes he has triumphed completely. Trapped in the mirror, Sam's expression is crushed and helpless. We can see that he finally realizes how set up his life has been for this very moment---and Padalecki makes us feel every wound in that awful realization.
"The Man Who Knew Too Much" Season 6:
Season 6 brought us the dark character of Soulless Sam. Alone, he is chilling, cold, aloof, and without conscience. Padalecki plays him effortlessly, showing us an off putting version of Sam Winchester that makes us shiver. We follow him in the first half of the season, alarmed from the outset by his emotionless responses to Dean and to the victims of the monsters they hunt. We are frightened by Soulless Sam's ruthlessness. There is a dangerous element hovering around Soulless Sam, tangible in how he carries himself alone. We really don't get to fully appreciate this, however, until we see him face off with the real Sam.
Sam has fractured after Castiel breaks the Wall Death built inside his head. He wanders without memories of who he is---and is viciously stalked by the Soulless portion of himself. When they finally cross paths, Padalecki shows us just how different these two characters really are. Sam is emotional. Whatever he feels---be fear or confusion or resolve---flickers across his face for all to read. Padalecki makes Sam seem smaller as he crouches and stumbles away from his ruthless doppelganger. There is a vulnerability in his performance as he scrambles to figure things out. Our hearts break as Sam utters, "I---I don't remember anything." He is clearly at a disadvantage facing this adversary that knows exactly what is going on. And yet, as Sam crouches down by a tree, a cold resolve settles over his face and his intelligence wins the day.
On the other side of the equation, Padalecki shows us one last performance as the cold Soulless Sam. He is calm, collected, and unreadable as he's been since his introduction. This isn't emotionally personal for this character---but being that he is a "piece" of Sam, he knows just what buttons to push. There is almost a vicious amusement in this dialogue. Padalecki delivers chilling lines that hit hard such as, "And someone just won a copy of the home game. We're inside your grapefruit, Sam. Son, you've been juiced," and "Well, your BFF Cas brought the Hell-wall tumbling down and you, pathetic infant that you are, shattered into pieces." and "I was sharp, strong. That is, 'til they crammed your soul back in. Now look at you. Same misty-eyed milksop you always were. That's because souls are weak. They're a liability. Now, nothing personal, but run the numbers. Someone's got to take charge around here, before it's too late." Sure, he is taunting Sam here, but Soulless Sam has always been about his own survival, and that is no different here. We can see it in how Padalecki makes Soulless Sam's frame stand tall with his back straight and his stance confident. Soulless Sam knows he has the upper hand, and as he stalks Sam through the woods, he is slow and deliberate.
He continues to taunt, the hint of triumph and amusement filling his cold voice. Padalecki makes this last appearance memorable, putting all he has into this character. And as he takes a bullet in the chest, we see him look down in quiet disbelief, subtly showing his shock at being defeated. Before he is reabsorbed into Sam, however, Soulless Sam leaves one last taunt hanging, delivered dead on by Padalecki, "You think I'm bad? Wait 'til you meet the other one."
The other one. Not only does Padalecki show us his talent in playing these two characters off one another, he gets to show us yet another Sam---the one that remembers Hell. What's impressive here is just how different this Sam is from the other two. What makes it even more remarkable is that really Padalecki is playing two new versions of Sam here---first the Sam that remembers his Soulless year and Sam that remembers the time in the Cage. In this scene, we see these two characters weave a powerful story together all through Padalecki's performances alone. As Hell Sam he is broken and defeated. It is written all over his face and in his raw voice. His shoulders sag and he totters on his feet. Unlike facing Soulless Sam, this version has no fight left, only pleadings and harsh warnings. It's heartbreaking to hear Padalecki deliver the lines, "Humpty Dumpty has to put himself back together again, before he can wake up. And I'm the last piece," and "Sam, you can't imagine. Stay here, go back, find that bartender, go find Jess, but don't do this. I know you. You're not strong enough." On the other side, Sam, now 2/3rds of the way back together, has all the steely resolve that Soulless Sam had plus the emotional depth he lacked. He is steadfast facing down his Hell version, firm and determined, and nothing says that better than the line, "You know me. You know why. I'm not leaving my brother alone out there."
What's so memorable about all of these scenes is the fact that it is Padalecki that brings all the characters to life. Through his skill, he makes each character involved their very own, and we are transported into the story. We aren't distracted by the fact that only one actor is involved---instead we are awed. Padalecki shows us that dual roles---or in the case of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" with multiple roles---are a worthy story telling tool. They can enhance the story, plunging us into deeper emotional depths. When we examine the mechanics, we are further awed by just how adept Padalecki is at pulling these various roles off---and against one another no less.