galathea: (sam_lookdown)
[personal profile] galathea
Hi folks! I know it has been quiet around these parts lately, mainly because I spent most of my summer hiatus busy with non-SPN related stuff. However, these last couple of weeks, I have also been writing in fits and starts on my missing S8 reviews, and even though I am far from being finished with any of them, I still hope I get at least some of them out before S9 starts to air. Anyway, this weekend I was tinkering with my review for Sacrifice, which, as usual, finishes with a retrospect on the past season, and I kind of ended up writing a whole passage about Sam’s story – in particular about the whole 'Sam did not look for Dean' issue – that went beyond the scope of the general overview I was aiming for. I spent too much time on the paragraphs to just scrap them, but I did not want to leave them in the review either, so I decided to just post them as a standalone bit of meta.

About a year ago, when I wrote my review for the S8 opener, I was convinced that Sam’s evasiveness and vagueness regarding the year he spent without Dean was due to a secret that would be revealed later in the season. Obviously, that assumption turned out to be wrong. However, looking back at S8 as a whole, I have revised my interpretation of Sam’s demeanour in the season opener. I now think there is only one explanation for Sam's choices in the aftermath of Dean's disappearance that makes sense and is supported by S8 canon, namely that Sam thought Dean had died in the blast that killed Dick Roman. Sam's surprised comment – 'You're freakin' alive!' – when he is reunited with Dean, as well as his statement that, as far as he knew, hunting got every single member of his family killed, suggest that the possibility of Dean being alive did not even cross Sam's mind. I will admit that I failed to attach any value to these statements when I first watched the season opener, but now I think they are crucial to the understanding of Sam’s story. The impression that Sam believed Dean to be dead is further substantiated by Sam’s flashbacks in the following episodes. I mean, whenever Sam talks about Dean, his tone and choice of words convey grief over losing him. If Sam had abandoned Dean to an unknown fate because of a mental breakdown or for fear of losing himself again in the attempt to find him, I'd say his grief would have been tinged with guilt, but he never comes off like that to me. Moreover, it is obvious that Sam's situation with Dean is set up as a parallel to Amelia's situation with her husband. Amelia thought that Don had died in the war overseas; Sam thought he had lost Dean in the war against the supernatural. Sam and Amelia’s story is about two people grieving their partner and being completely thrown by the revelation that their partners had survived.

Now, Sam’s reaction to Dean's disappearance in Survival of the Fittest is often compared to his reaction to Dean’s disappearance in Time After Time. Back then, Sam immediately threw himself into finding his brother, so why would he fail to do the same just a couple of weeks later? However, I think the two situations are very different. In Time After Time Sam saw (his very much alive) brother fall into a 'time portal'. There was no reason for him to assume that Dean was dead. In Survival of the Fittest, on the other hand, he saw a supernatural explosion that disintegrated Dick Roman, so the conclusion that said explosion disintegrated Dean as well was not entirely unreasonable. Granted, as I explained in my review for We Need To Talk About Kevin, it was not the only conclusion Sam could have drawn, but I think we have to factor in Sam's state of mind here. Only weeks before, Sam was terrified at the thought of Dean dying and leaving him alone (The Slice Girls), and given the brothers’ track record, it is not difficult to imagine that, when they headed into their confrontation with Dick Roman, the possibility of Dean dying in the attack was at the forefront of Sam's mind. Taking this into consideration, it is not that surprising that Sam leapt to the worst possible conclusion, especially since Crowley’s gloating statements about the unpredictable side-effects of the anti-leviathan weapon and about Sam being on his own now could easily be read as a confirmation of Dean's death. All in all, if Sam truly thought that Dean was dead, there was simply no reason for him to even try and look for his brother. After all, Sam knows for a fact that when Dean dies, he goes to heaven (Dark Side of the Moon). All he could do was to pick up the pieces of his life and try to move on.

Unfortunately, Carver & Co refused to give us any direct insight into the first few months Sam spent without Dean, but that does not mean that the aftermath of Dean’s 'death' remains a complete mystery. I mean, the past seven seasons gave us ample opportunity to study Sam’s reaction to losing Dean. In Faith Sam refused to accept the medical reality and did not rest until he found a way to save Dean, regardless of the consequences; in In My Time of Dying he suggested to find a faith healer, again, human sacrifice be damned; in Mystery Spot Sam went completely off the deep end and, again, considered human sacrifice to bring Dean back, and after Dean’s death in No Rest for the Wicked Sam went into a drunken, suicidal rage. Sam is known to lose any and all mental and emotional stability when Dean is threatened or taken from him, so when he tells Amelia in Southern Comfort that his world imploded when he lost his brother, we do have a pretty good idea what that means. However, the knowledge of Sam’s past reactions to Dean dying is not all we can rely on in our assessment of his state of mind when Dean seemingly died in Survival of the Fittest. There are indirect references in S8 canon as well. In Heartache, for example, the writers draw a direct parallel between Sam and Brick, a depressed man who drove his car off a bridge because he could not bear the thought of living on without his wife, and in Hunteri Heroici Sam compares himself to Fred, a man who had a mental breakdown and fled into his own head because he was unable to deal with reality. All this strongly suggests that Sam was emotionally unstable, suicidal even, after he lost Dean. I daresay that meeting Amelia saved him, in every sense of the word.

Still, the guilt and self-loathing following in the wake of the realisation just how wrong he had been about what happened to Dean must have been absolutely crushing for Sam, and Dean's open hurt and disappointment must have felt like rubbing salt into an open wound. So I think Sam’s evasiveness in early S8 is owed to that overwhelming sense of guilt at having failed his brother, again. Sam explicitly tells Dean in the season opener that he thought he was dead - he even mentions it three times to Dean - but in his anger Dean dismisses his statement, and every further attempt to explain himself to Dean would probably have felt like a hollow excuse to Sam. I think guilt is also the reason why Sam is rather subdued and weary in early S8 and why he accepts Dean’s bitterness and aggressiveness without much protest. He thinks he deserves it. This interpretation of Sam’s state of mind in early S8 is retroactively supported by Sam’s desperate confession in Sacrifice that he considers letting Dean down his greatest sin of all. His sense of guilt even grinds Sam down to the point where he thinks of dying in the trials as a just punishment for said sin, and I think that, too, illustrates that Sam would never have been able to move on with his life, had he not truly believed Dean to be dead. The guilt would simply have eaten him alive. I will say, though, that the writers undermine Sam’s story in Taxi Driver by putting the same nonsensical excuse about Sam and Dean's (never before heard of) agreement not to look for each other in Sam's mouth that Dean already cites in the season opener. No matter how we look at it, the line just does not work because seven years of canon contradict it. However, I think it is possible to argue that the brothers had an unspoken understanding not to bring each other back from the dead, so I choose to re-interpret Sam and Dean's 'agreement' along those lines. Let's pretend it is just poorly phrased.

All in all, I will probably never forgive the writers for their poor treatment of Sam's story - or Dean's for that matter - and the damage they did to the character by refusing to give his perspective the weight it deserved, just so they could create conflict between the brothers, but at least the above-mentioned interpretation of Sam's story gives me some peace of mind on the matter.
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