After reading your response to what I wrote, it made me think. I believe you're on to something about Sam's character. And I think my assumption might have to do with their arcs. But it made me think about Sam during the trials and that thing he says in the hallway about the knight. He treats others with more grace than his brother but I think you're right in saying that not everything is good with him. Anyhow, if you care to share, I'd be curious about your thoughts on Sam.
Hey, good to hear from you. :)
I have to say - I’ve had a very wild ride with Sam, and I’m nowhere near an expert about his character and I fully expect people to disagree with most of what I think because I think confusing things about him.
But here goes.
In the beginning Sam made perfect sense to me, because I was him - or, he was the person I would surely have been destined to become if only I’d had a fucked up family and a quest and not nice, middle class parents and a cat.
Honestly, the first time I saw Supernatural, as I explained here, I kind of disliked Dean - the douchey, sleazy, untrustworthy Casanova - and identified with Sam - a lot. His academic curiosity, his sense of justice and his determination to be himself at any cost really spoke to me. I remember siding with him whenever he fought with Dean, especially when they fought about John, or with John. His whole arc - that of a child destined to rule Hell who managed to refuse Lucifer himself - was incredibly beautiful and it just worked and when Sam fell back inside the abyss, I stopped watching Supernatural because I assumed that was the proper ending to the story. I remember being mildly outraged at the fact there even was a season 6, and even now I sometimes wonder what they will make of it all - on the whole, it’s been a very enjoyable ride, and some episodes have been true masterpieces, but I think it’s hard to deny that sort of cohesive narrative we’ve seen in the earlier seasons is no longer there.
Anyway. When I came back to the story, years later, I got distracted by the very obvious UST between Dean and Cas - watched a couple of seasons thinking I must be the only one foolish enough to notice that, then Googled the thing, found all the Destiel and Dean is bi masterposts, realized I was, indeed, an idiot, and went back to watch the whole thing from the beginning. And this time, I saw Sam in a very different light. This time, I was focused on Dean, and Sam was - sort of mean. Because, well, Sam is a lot of things, and I think he’s more scared of intimacy than even Dean is, which is why he finds it pretty easy to be wise and just and noble when it’s about other people and can be downright weird around his brother. Also, what I noticed was that, more and more, Sam was retreating into himself. It probably has something to do with real world dynamics, but my headcanon is that Sam got burned really bad by Ruby, and all that business with Lucifer just about finished the job. Because, well (please don’t hate me) - what Dean was made to become in Hell, that’s someone he never truly was (sure, in the earlier seasons he boasts about loving the job because he gets to kill things, but we’ve seen clearly since then - and, most notably, through what the Mark did to him and what hallucination!Benny said to him, that Dean doesn’t want to be that thing); but what Lucifer wanted with Sam, and how he set out to get it - he played on who Sam actually was. That, I think was the most cruel thing and the crucial difference between Michael and Lucifer. Michael used brute force, which, sure, wasn’t nice but wasn’t devious, either - and also gave Dean something to push against; but Lucifer, first through Ruby and then simply by being himself, operated a very careful seduction tailored on Sam’s personality. That whole thing with Ruby only worked because Sam was prideful and arrogant and always saw himself more clever than Dean - probably resented the fact, growing up - I assume that Dean, because he was older and more obedient, was given more important tasks by John - we know Sam felt lonely, isolated, even, as a kid - and to be excluded when you can see you’re better than your deadbeat relatives - surely there were no shortages of teachers who praised Sam and encouraged him all the way to his Stanford application - well. And also, this is something we know, isn’t it? As @welkinalauda has pointed out in this post, and others have discussed at length, all Sam wanted was not to stop hunting, but to move up the social ladder. He already knew he was better than his father and his brother, but he needed society to recognize it. He’d seen well enough that you can be as clever as you want, but if you show up in the wrong clothes, you’re going to be dismissed and belittled anyway.
Now, this is a very real struggle many people from a modest background face - your parents want you to do better than they did, and you want that for yourself, but the sense of shame about the implication - that what your loving parents gave you, probably working two jobs to stay afloat, wasn’t good enough - never fully goes away.
Except that Sam didn’t have that - at least, not in the beginning - because of his abusive upbringing. He knew he deserved better, and fuck them. Dean’s love for him, Dean’s protection from John, and what it had meant for him growing up, is the only thing not fitting into the equation, which is why, I think, Sam never contacted Dean once he left for Stanford: not because he didn’t care about Dean, but because he cared too much. He was afraid that if he were really forced to think about it - how he’d left his brother to go after demons and vampires when the only person covering his back was their asshole father (who was not only unpredictable, but often drunk) - Sam would have gone back. No question about it. Look how readily he accepted to help Dean when Dean showed up out of nowhere, visibly troubled and lonely. Sam would do anything for Dean.
But then, inevitably, he resented Dean for dragging him back in, and for everything else. Their fights felt very real, and were vicious. And Sam never really let go of his sense of superiority until that whole Lucifer business. After that, he was soulless, and God knows what he thought about that period - it was never shown, was it? And after that, there was that time of hallucinations and weird stuff - and then Cas sacrificed himself to drag him out. And I know - I know - it was Cas’ fault in the first place, all of it -
(Although, was it? If Dean had taken Cas seriously, Cas would have gone about things a different way, right?)
- but to Sam, king of the logical reasoning, sacrificing the knight that was Cas didn’t give them a queen: it gave them a broken, ruined thing which couldn’t help Dean in any way. Sam had to watch as Dean left his best friend behind - and the best and most powerful ally they’d ever gotten - and chose him instead - the boy who’d never done as he was told, the one Dean had gone to Hell for (the one who’d killed mom - even though, of course, we now know about Mary’s deal, and let’s see what they’ll make of it this coming season). By this time, Sam feels he’s a liability. His head choice versus heart choice thing isn’t a new development. The problem is, he wishes he were strong enough to make the heart choice, but he’s not. We often talk about Dean’s codependency towards his brother, but the opposite is true as well, and perhaps even more so. All Sam had to build his sense of self were precisely those things Lucifer stripped away from him: his trust in his own choices and sound judgement and cleverness and fundamental goodness. Without them, Sam is nothing. I certainly don’t know who Sam is. He’s been more or less an empty shell since season 6.
No, Sam doesn’t trust himself to act alone any longer (that’s why, I think, he never answered Kevin’s calls), and things go seriously awry when he realizes Dean is on a very different path: while Sam had been unraveling, leaving behind the - relatively sane - person he was at 22, Dean has been painstakingly finding himself and building a whole new person, brick by brick. Because his brother is with him, because he gives Dean that love and support Dean so sorely lacked as a kid, Dean is able to sort of let go of Sam. For the first time in his life, he actually makes friends. If you think about it, all the secondary characters who’ve been important in Supernatural - from Charlie to Jody to Garth - have bonded with Dean, not Sam; and this is a complete reversal of the people Dean and Sam were in the first seasons (Sam, the likeably young puppy; and Dean, the no chick flick moments outsider).
And, again, this is something Sam knows he shouldn’t resent (just like he shouldn’t have resented his painful upbringing) but can’t help but fear. Dean getting close to other people means, quite possibly, Dean walking away, and Sam is afraid to be on his own. That desperate speech at the end of season 8 was completely unfair and heartbreaking for both characters. Sam realized he wasn’t perhaps, as ready to make the head choice and therefore die, as he’d assumed, and this crushed his second-to-last piece of identity (the very last one, his agency, was taken from him when Gadreel moved in). As for Dean - he was forced to give up everything for his brother. He was made to feel that the normal, adjusted person he was slowly becoming (someone who could care for more than one person at once) was somehow wrong. So he gave it up. Season 9 was their childhood, all over again, with Dean obeying an authority figure despite the fact Sam would obviously disagree, and at the same time keeping secrets from friends and loved ones, thus sying away from meaningful attachments. A complete disaster.
As for season 10 - there were a lot of things that went wrong with season 10, imo. Just to keep this answer shorter than 100K, I’ll point out that what Dean was doing with the Mark, Sam was doing without. The reversal of character and personality had sort of gone full circle. Remember Sam in the earlier seasons, trying to make Dean see shades of grey? Well, now Dean sees so fucking many of them he became BFF with a vampire and is karaoking around the country with the literal King of Hell. And Sam, the sensible, sweet student who was so keen on not hurting anyone, has now turned into Jack Bauer. Sam was already willing to sell his soul for Dean’s at the end of season 9 (we saw him calling Crowley, after all; but, of course, Crowley was already there), but in season 10, he gives it up completely. And, as a result, he gets what he feels he deserves: Dean rejecting him, fully and unequivocally (”It should have been you up there.”). Up until then, Dean’s whole life had been about saving Sam and protecting Sam. Even when they’d fought, things had never gotten this far (which is significant: how many times, during vicious arguments, you find yourself saying, I wish you were dead? and yet Dean never went there). It is during this season, I think, that Sam starts to think about healing and redemption. He must have realized, if nothing else, that they both have a right to a proper life - with other people. He says as much in season 11, and we know (though Sam doesn’t) that Dean is on the same page because of his church confession in season 10.
But, again, Sam is thwarted. He thought he would be redempted by dying - by fulfilling his destiny, in fact, because Dean being forced to kill Sam had been on the cards since the very beginning - but this doesn’t come to pass. So Sam tries to work on his redemption in other ways - most notably, through his Christ-like curing of the sick at the beginning of the season - and this is where his character arc gets muddy, because there’s a bit in the middle which is simply missing: his conversation with God and his musings about Lucifer. We know these scenes were scripted and/or filmed, and I hope they’ll be included in the extra, because they are fundamental to understanding Sam’s frame of mind. What we know so far? That by the end, Sam’s idea of penance, perhaps suggested by God, is the bearing of the Mark - and hence, complete solitude, forever. Which, in a way, suits Sam perfectly, because a) there won’t be anyone around him who can be hurt by his bad judgement, and b) Dean will be free to lead a life away from him.
We know that doesn’t work out, though. What happens is the mirror opposite: Dean erased from the face of the Earth leaving behind days and love and words unspent, and Sam responsible for the whole of humanity.
(I know there are other hunters, but somehow it always comes down to the Winchesters, right? So they don’t count.)
In a way, Sam got his wish, but in the most upside down and twisted way ever. He is a Christ figure, with his demon friend and his angel friend, but his brother is the one who was crucified - who died in his place - and now nothing matters anymore. I think Dean saw this perfectly - when he told Cas he was afraid Sam would kill himself, he didn’t mean Sam would kill himself because of grief (Sam has lived without Dean before, though how healthy his relationship with Amelia was is up for debate - personally, I loved that almost fitting headcanon that said Amelia had never existed at all), but that Sam would decide he couldn’t be trusted to do the job on his own. Cas had proved way too obedient once before (by following Sam’s desperate, insane orders in season 10), and Crowley won’t intervene in any way to keep Sam in check (it’s Dean he cared about, after all), so, yes - Sam may very well have decided his life amounted to nothing and the world was safer without him if Toni hadn’t intervened.
And I guess the next step of character development would be putting these guys back together - Dean should finally allow himself to have a relationship (and, again, this Destiel thing - make it canon or make it disappear, because it’s downright insulting by now and has been for some time) and Sam should do something awesome on his own and regain some self-confidence and have a long talk with his brother and possibly tell us a bit more about himself - for starters, what kind of music he likes and what the hell he studied in Stanford.
In this context, I see Mary’s return as a good thing. Sam must have felt guilty his whole life for her death (who wouldn’t?), so that thing being cleared from the board spells Very Good Things for him. And also: the knowledge (which I hope will trickle through) that Sam wasn’t to blame at all - that Mary, GoodMom™ , was the one who lied to her husband for years and endangered her whole family and basically sold her son to a demon - well, I can’t wait to see that discussion go down.
In conclusion, I don’t really know how I feel about Sam.
I think he’s someone who’s desperate to fix his mistakes without actually understanding why he’s made them in the first place, because that’s a place inside himself he’s scared to go in. I think he’s mostly selfless and good and he honestly cares about other people, but I can’t shake the feeling he also does these things (at least in part) because that’s how he thinks one should behave. I think his relationship with Dean needs to change, because it’s been a parent/child relationship for most of their lives and that’s not healthy. I think that he’s clever enough to know better, and that he should trust his brother more - that fearful admission that he thought Dean would abandon them to create a shiny new world of taupe nail polish and ravens with Amara was completely uncalled for, especially after the many times Dean had said how much he hated the idea, and how he’d die before he’d let it happen. I think Lucifer was right, and Sam still feels guilty about a lot of things he should feel guilty for - not looking for Dean, implicating Charlie in his desperate schemes, endangering Kevin and then killing him (although, yeah) - and I think he should give himself permission to feel all these ugly things and break down so he can start to heal. And I think that won’t happen as long as Lucifer is around, because Sam will never allow himself to be weak in front of Lucifer ever again.
And sometimes I think I don’t know Sam at all.
But I still hope he will get all the hugs, because he deserves them - and he fucking needs them.