“I want my time here to count for something” or another wtf moment in S8
Discussion over the past couple of days has gotten me thinking about a scene that had me sputtering and yelling at the TV when it aired. It’s from Heartache (8.03). Sam and Dean are in the Impala:
Dean: I don’t know about you, but this last year has given me a new perspective.
Sam: I hear you. Believe me.
Dean: I know where I’m at my best, and that is right here, driving down crazy street next to you.
Sam: Makes sense.
Dean: Yes, it does.
Sam: Or… maybe you don’t need me. I mean, maybe you’re at your best hacking and slicing your way through all the world’s crap alone, not having to explain yourself to anybody.
Dean: Yeah, that makes sense, seeing as I have so many other brothers I can talk to about this stuff.
Sam: Look, I’m not saying I’m bailing on you. I’m just saying make room for the possibility that we want different things. I mean, I want my time to count for something.
Dean: So, what we do doesn’t count?
Dean’s phone rings.
Damned phone! Because, yeah, I’m with Dean’s “what the hell?” on that one. Actually, I was thinking “who the hell is this guy?” because that’s not the Sam who jumped in the pit to save his brother and the world. I mean, does he not think that his life has counted for something? And as Dean says, does he not think that what they do counts for something? We know he had applied to colleges, so does he think becoming a lawyer “counts for something” when, oh I don’t know, saving the world doesn’t?
That’s such a glaringly problematic line, and I honestly don’t know how it was intended to be taken. Maybe it was so OOC that we were supposed to realize there was something serious wrong with Sam. If so, it was a fail because it’s too ambiguous.
But beyond that I have another problem with this scene and that’s Sam’s reaction to Dean’s statement about how he’s at his best. Sam responds in a way that lacks empathy, and that’s not Sam either. Sam’s response to his brother’s happiness is to deflate it. I mean this is important to Dean. Sam isn’t reacting with brotherly snark to Dean’s happiness over a cheeseburger here. Whether Sam understands the trauma that Dean went through in Purgatory or not, his reply to Dean being happy to be back and with him is weirdly withdrawn and cold. Sam has always shown empathy even in cases when he may not have felt for the other person – except when he was soulless. So his rejoinder here actually made me wonder if it wasn’t Sam or if he had a spell on him.
So Sam’s speech to Fred in Hunteri Heroici suggests that Sam too was in a dream world at the beginning of the season.
Sam: Look, it can be nice living in a dream world. It can be great. I know that. And you can hide, and you can pretend… [the background is now brightly colored rectangles] …all the crap out there doesn’t exist, but you can’t do it forever because… eventually, whatever it is you’re running from – it’ll find you. [Castiel appears to be taking Sam’s words to heart.] It’ll come along, and it’ll punch you in the gut. And then… then you got to wake up, because if you don’t, then trying to keep that dream alive will destroy you! It’ll destroy everything!
The suggestion is that Sam had just been hiding from the real world with Amelia. He was hiding from all of it – his “world imploding” with Dean’s death/disappearance, and Sam’s own failure to look for his brother and to help Kevin.
It’s interesting that the term “dream world” comes up three times in the episode. Dean first uses it to describe Fred. Then, Amelia’s father Stan uses it to describe how Amelia and Sam are living.
Stan: [looks over his shoulder at SAM] You can’t – you need to come home.
Sam watches them from the kitchen.
Amelia: Is that why you’re here – to drag me back? This is my life.
Stan: This – it won’t last. You are living in a dream world.
Sam turns back to the sink.
Amelia: I like it here. I like this house. I like Sam.
Stan: Sam is a mess.
Amelia: I’m a mess. But when I’m with Sam, I’m happy, Dad. And I haven’t been happy in a really long time. So please, just… let us be messes together. Give us a chance.
It’s in this scene that Sam presses his thumb into his left palm as he did when Hallucifer was riding shotgun to remind him of what is real. It is both a connection to reality and to Dean as Dean said in Hello, Cruel World (7.02): “This is real. Not a year ago, not in Hell, now.” It seems to me then that the suggestion is that Sam is doubting his own sanity even at that point. Over the course of S6-7, Sam had come to have a tenuous hold on what is real, and his admission to Fred about living in dream world makes me think that he’s beginning to realize that he’s threatening his own reality and his relationship with Dean by hanging onto that dream world with Amelia.
Unfortunately, the damage was done in the early episodes, and I’m not excusing Sam’s lack of empathy – just saying that it wasn’t like him. I’m struggling to make sense of his behavior here without just putting it down to bad writing. If the writers’ had a plan, they certainly didn’t connect the dots. There’s another hint in Heartache at Sam’s mental state while Dean was “dead.” I’m not the first one to mention it, but I think it’s meant as a parallel when Mrs. Holmes says, “You can’t imagine the burden of it all. I think even Brick was through. He could see the end of my days were at hand, and… He had lived centuries all alone, but I don’t think he could bear the thought of life without me. That’s why he drove off that bridge. You must think I’m a monster.” Sam gives a sympathetic look at that point, and I believe we’re meant to see that he felt as Brick did – perhaps even that he considered ending his life.
The thing is, the episode ends as unsatisfactorily as it began – with Sam insisting that he wants out of hunting after they “close up shop on Kevin and the tablet.”
Sam: Dean, the year that I took off, I had something I’ve never had. A normal life. I mean, I got to see what that felt like. I want that. I had that.
Dean: I think that’s just how you feel right now.
The next scene is the flashback of Sam with Riot at the park. He’s freaked out because he can’t find Amelia, but then he comes across her in this idyllic picnic scene, which is reminiscent of Dean’s dream of Lisa in Dream a Little Dream. The interesting thing about this scene and others of Kermit, Texas where Sam and Amelia lived is that it doesn’t resemble the dry desert town of reality. Sam and Amelia, if you recall, live in a cute bungalow with big trees and a lush green lawn. Pretty clearly, Sam’s memories of his time with Amelia are seen through rose colored glasses. It really was a dream world.
Sam’s decision in Torn and Frayed to stay with Dean was about accepting reality. I could go on about how Sam had already accepted his life as a hunter back in S6, but Carver’s retcon of the series is a whole other issue.