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On the other side, we have an equally riveting take by Alice:

Alice’s Review on Unforgiven

(Originally Published February 13, 2011)

SAMMY!  GAH!  NO!  Weren’t you told growing up how bad it is to scratch itches? Scratching opens up old wounds and create whole new ones.    

 I’m as stunned as many of you are, for I certainly didn’t expect a crack in Sam’s wall that soon.  If you recall back when “You Can’t Handle The Truth”aired, I campaigned for a well deserved Sam Winchester beating at the hands of his brother.  Once that scene happened though, “be careful what you wish for” rang so very true.  No one was laughing after that brutal scene.  Lately, my mantra has been “tear down the wall.” Yikes, I need to shut up now before I kill the boy.    

Oh dear, once again Sam can’t catch a break.  One of the many things I love about “Supernatural” is their ability to take something typical and make it atypical.  Take something ordinary and make it extraordinary.  For example, look the flashback episode concept.  It’s nothing new and often overdone.  There have been very few flashback episodes that I have deemed classics.  The best one that comes to mind is the season two opener of The West Wing, “In The Shadow of Two Gunmen.”Other than that they’re cliche and a cheap way to build backstory without enhancing the present story.
In “Unforgiven” though none of that is true.  This is flashback done perfect.  Sam’s vivid memories of ill acts done by his “RoboSam” counterpart are in black and white and jarring.  Scenes are jagged and sometimes come in quick flashes, other times longer periods, but they aren’t fluid by any means.  We are seeing them as Sam remembers them and no wonder Sam’s reaction every time is disconcerting and fearful.  It isn’t just Sam’s traumatic memory of the monster he’d become.  It’s his unstable mind accessing memories that were meant to be hidden.  The pain is far worse than someone going through typical  “Day of Our Lives” amnesia. 

So what was superior about this episode?  Storytelling for one.  This is how to unfold a MOTW story.  It’s even, kept me interested the entire hour, is deeply emotional and full of angst, and keeps me guessing right up to the shocking and unexpected end. This is the best paced episode of the season, just ahead of another Dabb and Loflin script, “Weekend at Bobby’s.”  The guest acting again is excellent and their characters come with real depth, especially Roy and Brenna.  They carry wounds almost as deep as that wall inside Sam’s head.   

This episode was shot by first time Supernatural director David Barrett, and man did he bring something to this material.  He has quite a pedigree though, including being the Executive Producer for “Moonlight” and has shot episodes for several genre shows like “The Vampire Diaries,” “Nikita,” “Life on Mars,” and “Smallville.”  He delivers a gem with this complex script, using the camera wisely to wrangle in the most emotional impact out of this layered tale.  The reactions had to be timed perfect, especially Sam’s frantic behavior after each troubling flashback.  The tone of the entire episode matched Sam’s edginess which believe me can be tricky when an gripping yet complicated MOTW story revolves around it.

Jared Padalecki, as he has done all season long, took an acting challenge and delivered with brilliance.  Sure he got to play RoboSam again, a character he had to invent from scratch at the beginning of this season, but this time he had to constantly switch between the two characters.  Ask Nina Dobrev of “The Vampire Diaries”, who’s had to do a dual role constantly this season, it’s work.  On top of that the regular Sam was on pins and needles the entire episode, each memory eating away at his already fragile psyche.  The gradual decline from unaware hunter “catching up” on the latest Mel Gibson gossip to the “drooling mess” seizing on the floor unfolded with gut wrenching precision and timing.  And the ending shot of Sam burning alive in Hell, I haven’t felt prickly spine shivers like that since Dean was chained up in Hell screaming for his brother in “No Rest For The Wicked.”  Yikes, these guys know how to press buttons. 

“You’re afraid I’ll stroll down memory lane and I’ll kick this wall in my head so hard Hell comes flooding through, right?  And then all of a sudden I’m some drooling mess on the floor.”  

Dean was right, for once those words of Sam’s EXACTLY happened, it was no joke. Despite the fascinating story and a Monster of The Week that is surprising and unpredictable (a rarity this season), “Unforgiven” is a character based drama.  It’s main purpose is to prove under no uncertain terms that newly restored Sam Winchester has some stability issues.  Point definitely taken.
No doubt about it, even in this latest development, Sam Winchester remains universally screwed.  Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.  What makes Sam one of the unforgiven?  One of those lost souls that pays for his past and becomes a slave to the future?  That’s been Sam’s story his whole life.  He tried to run, wanted a life with Jessica, and he ends up getting her killed.  No, he didn’t do the killing but that’s the problem, he was involved.  He caused it by association.  That starts his quest for revenge that got him in deeper and deeper, a quest for good that ended up with more collateral damage than anything.  The most stinging line of this entire episode, and one reflective of Sam’s entire life, comes from the monster he created in Roy.  ”You killed one monster and you made so many more.”  Lilith comes to mind. He killed the beast and started the apocalypse.  How many more died?  He defeated Lucifer and came back soulless, damaging lives wherever he went.  Now he has to pay for that with an unrelenting wall.  He can’t win. 

Dean tries to help Sam by telling him it wasn’t him.  Sam insists otherwise.  Why?  I suspect Sam realizes he’s lost a major battle to that monster that’s always been inside him.  The one he’s fought hard his entire life to control.  RoboSam is himself at his worst, the Sam that lusts, the Sam that wants to conquer without humanity interfering with the equation, the Sam that doesn’t want to care about family.  That one line, “Family just slows you down,” reveals why Sam didn’t look up Dean for a year.  It wasn’t so Dean could have a life.  It’s so Dean wouldn’t stop him from becoming the best hunter he could be.  RoboSam had already figured out by this time that Samuel wouldn’t stop him, no matter what his feelings are about him. That’s likely why they maintained the working relationship for so long.  It’s interesting how the focus while RoboSam was coldly shooting the arachne victims was on Samuel and his disgust over the violent and merciless act.  He didn’t like it, but no one was stopping RoboSam from doing his job. 

I caught those two lines in the script, the two lines that blurred the line between RoboSam and Sam.  When Sam is talking to Brenna in her house about Roy, he tells her “I’m sure he died a hero.”  It’s no happy accident that RoboSam ends up telling Roy before shooting him, “You’re a hero.”  They both used the same line for the same purpose, false comfort.  No wonder Sam thinks RoboSam was him.  

“I’ve got a freaking soul now and it won’t let me just walk away.”

Is it possible out of this no win scenario, Sam saw death as the better option?  He at least goes out with a clear conscience?  Doing nothing will only continue to eat him up inside, stir up that long growing guilt that has hampered him throughout the years. Making things right is good for the soul, right?  Um, this is Sam Winchester we’re talking about, the man that constantly lives in the no win scenario.  In being universally screwed, making things right means scratching at the wall.  Sam’s life has been so filled with unfair cruelties like this, how should this circumstance be different?  

He tries because that’s who he is.  He’s got to make things better, or much like his Dad who sacrificed all for the cause, he’ll go insane.  The trouble is, he will go insane doing what’s right.  As he finds out the hard way, there’s no easy way to fix what’s already been damaged.  He saves Brenna this time, but she can’t forgive the actions of the past.  Sam ends up feeling worse in the end and accepts Dean was right.  They shouldn’t have come there.  That’s likely what weakened his defenses, allowing the wall to crack.  I think we’ve found Sam’s character struggle for the rest of this season, trying to balance between that rock and that hard place.  What’s going to get him first, overwhelming guilt or the memories of Hell?  

Dean’s role here becomes essential, despite the fact he didn’t have a lot of screen time in this episode.  Poor Dean, his uphill battle fell back on him and everything he exactly feared came true.  He couldn’t stop Sam from scratching that wall, digging where he shouldn’t. Isn’t that often the case with the younger Winchester, though?  He does things his own way only to find out the hard way big brother is right?  I get it though, holding back your memories, denying who you are, is a bitter pill to swallow.  

Dean did at least agree to help Sam remember in the end rather than fight his attempts, but it didn’t matter, the same result happened anyway.  Sam couldn’t fight back the memories from Hell.  Will Dean come to accept there’s no fighting the tide?  I can’t wait for next week to get here, hoping we get some hint of what went through Dean’s head as he watched his brother seize on the floor.  How will he address his fears of what he might have to do when/if the whole wall comes crashing down?  Has Dean been working on Plan B?  I wouldn’t mind seeing the process of him working that through.  The way I see it, Dean is the only one that can save Sam from himself.  

Speaking of souls, how about this favorable portrayal of Samuel?  He’s starting to make more sense to me.  “It’s not the way I’m used to doing things.” He does have morals and his little talk about Mary reinforced how she is his entire world.  “My God son you’re about as cold as they come, you know that?” A great line, but what clicked when he saw it meant nothing to Sam?  I wonder if this was the case that turned Samuel against Sam, made him decide his grandsons weren’t worthy of Mary’s memory.  Probably because they were raised by Mary’s husband who he didn’t trust. My question is has Samuel always backed away from morally sticky situations or is he this way because he’s still out of sorts over being brought back?  


It’s fascinating to see something addressed that I’ve often wondered, what happens if Sam and Dean had to go back to a town after a hunt?  Dean is right, there are always messes.  They really do leave scars that cannot be healed so easily.  

Bristol, Rhode Island.  ”Where Memories Are Made.” Ha!  Good one!  Add that town to the list of places that’ll make the brothers cringe upon mention.  

“I’m going to go hit the poop deck.” Yes, I’ve been in plenty tacky places like that, but I’ve never see that used before!  I still think another writer’s challenge is going on, much like last year’s who could outgross the other.  They’re finding creative ways to work in “poop.”  

“Sex rehab.  You’ve heard of plushies, right?”  Still to this day, “Plushies and Furries” is the most disturbing CSI episode I’ve ever seen.

One small question was answered, although it wasn’t a surprising answer.  This confirms that RoboSam definitely used victims as bait.  He did it with the baby in “Two and a Half Men.” No doubt now when going back and watching that episode. 

They found the arachne in the same place that the showdown scene in “Born Under A Bad Sign” took place, when possessed Sam shoots Dean.  It is perfect for a sea side town.   

Anyone notice that portions of the creepy score was the same one used a few times in the early part of season one?  For some reason, it didn’t feel dated.  It was better!

“Unforgiven” clearly gets an A from me easily.  It was a complete 40 minutes of breath taking television and ties "Weekend At Bobby's" as my favorite episode of the season.  It’s easily the most emotional episode we’ve had in season six, something that has been sorely missing.  Most of all, it blended all the right things perfectly. Now, all I need to figure out is what the hell next week is all about.  Impala possession has me interested!

So there we have it, two very different takes on one heck of a split episode to begin with it. Here is some food for thought before we go: where did you fall in the Unforgiven debate after the episode? Still feel the same today after everything has played out? How do you feel about the beginnings of Sam and Samuel's relationship? How do you feel about victim-baiting? Can you see it now going back? Any final thoughts on this episode to offer up? Discuss below!

For a visual perspective on Unforgiven, analyzing the incredible imagery and sights offered throughout the episode, be sure and look at this >>> Visual Review on Unforgivenby Ardeospina – originally published February 21, 2011 <<<

And as always, for more pictures from the episode, check out our >>>Unforgiven Photo Gallery <<<.


# Bevie 2015-03-12 16:10
Hi Elle2 - Your review hit my reaction right on the head. Honestly, I can count on the fingers of one hand how many episodes leave me with a distaste in my mouth and an ache in my gut, and this is one of those. That's a great plus in my opinion considering it's almost now been ten years of episodes!

Soulless Sam was absolutely an awful and unsympathetic creature in this one, as he was in "Live Free or Die Hard". Scarey and cold as RoboSam, and
scarey and stubborn as our Sam. Not much redeemable in either and not pleasant to witness.

Leaving us with no more insight into Samuel or why or how they came together as partners. We never did find out, did we?

Anyway, these kinds of episodes were thankfully so few and so far between that they could be forgotten in the whole of the saga.

Just an unpleasant episode.:p:(
# Bevie 2015-03-12 16:28
Yes, I still feel the same today as I did when it first aired. In my round robin viewing I'm always arguing with myself whether I should just skip this one or
suffer through it in order to complete the season. ("And Then There Were None" is another of the same ilk in this season as well Another real downer!)

One thing I shouldn't forget. Jared did a magnificent job of acting in this episode, and Jensen too as Dean tried his best to warn his brother of what
could happen if he continued his stubborn ways in order to atone for his soulless self.
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-03-12 17:06
I agree much more with Alice's review. For many of the reason's in Alice's review I thought it was a riveting episode, and I think there were reasons to have one last look at Soulless Sam. I think it set up the final episode of the season in which Sam had to confront what SS had done and make his peace with it. This was the first really extended look at just how bad SS had been. But unlike Alice, I don't think SS was indicative of the inner darkness Sam has been fighting his whole life, but rather the opposite- his inherent goodness. Even without his soul, which is the very essence of a person's humanity, SS never did evil things for the sheer joy of it (maybe this is with the benefit of hindsight from having seen Mother's Little Helper). He was still hunting and fighting evil, and he would cold-bloodedly sacrifice an innocent as collateral damage, but he wasn't running amuck and unleashing violent rage on anyone in his path. When Dean asked in MLH why SS had not behaved as the soulless victims in that episode, Sam said that maybe everyone reacted differently. So maybe SS did not suffer from the lack of control and extremes of violence of the other victims because on the most fundamental level that is simply not Sam. Well, that's the explanation I like, anyway. Bottom line, I loved the episode.
# Alice 2015-03-12 23:34
Thanks samanddean10. I'll agree with you about the hindsight! The Man Who Knew Too Much did change my opinion of Soulless Sam quite a bit. I don't agree with the soulless issue raised in Mother's Little Helper though. I think they got it wrong in that one!
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-03-13 07:11
Hi Alice. If you have the time and inclination to respond, I'm curious to hear how you thought they got it wrong in MLH.
# cheryl42 2015-03-12 23:08
I really loved this episode. It was probably one of my favorites of the season. I was really surprised that it got such mixed reactions back then. I thought that this was some important development considering how the season ended up with the wall coming down. Plus it was so in character for Sam to want to put things right. That has been his MO for the whole series. Trying to right all the wrongs that happened (starting form Jessica and his mothers death) because of him. Regardless of the personal cost. And of course Dean trying to protect him every step of the way. I wasn't into reading spoilers or interviews at the time so I wasn't aware that story lines had been teased that never happened. I had no expectations other than watching the next chapter of the story (ah my innocent days). So I loved it.
I love the picture of Sam and Dean in the abandoned? house. Dean's bed is a disaster and Sam's is neat as a pin. Very funny.
# njspnfan 2015-03-13 07:57
I liked this episode a lot; thought the flashbacks were very well done and we got to see Sam's struggle/guilt in dealing with the time he was soulless. However, I do agree with Elle that the entire Samuel Campbell part of the story was never sufficiently developed/flesh ed out to make a lot of sense.
# ThisOldBag 2015-03-13 11:50
This (IMO) was the worst episode of season 6. I did love the brother interactions but the story was blah. The monster was meant to show how bad Sam was, but it failed to deliver. There was some hint that Samuel was "bad" in prior (and upcoming episodes) but this did not deliver, it only made Samuel out to be weak. However, there were some great scenes and dialog and I actually enjoy watching it now during the season rewatches.

I have to agree, MLH did not define Soullessness, at least not Sam's, and it was odd how he associated it without connecting the dots for us (how did he get to that conclusion). But I also have always thought that soulless Sam was not too awful because he carried real Sam's memories. He knew right from wrong and tried to Stay within those boundaries. Not because it was the right thing or the easy thing to do, but it was what was expected of him and in order to survive he needed to at least try to control it.

This is what I had hoped an episode like this would give me. That moment when Sam is first topside, angry at Dean for walking away, no sympathy, empathy, what did he do before he regained control and was able to work with grandpa? That would have been an interesting "unforgiven". These Spidermen were a disappointment.