Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

“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the trauma that Dean went through in Purgatory or not, his reply to Dean being happy to be back and with him is weirdly withdrawn and cold.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.

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5 responses

  1. Nicole

    It’s funny that you mention the rose colored glasses, because when Sam returns to Kermit, and he and Amelia have one more night together the colors are dark, there’s no light to the scenes, none of the slightly burred edges that were seen during the flashbacks. Sam isn’t romanticising his time with Amelia here. He’s seeing it for what it was, what it is; something that never should have happened. Sam had a break down last season. It’s like his whole character just shut down and you can see, once the writers received the outrage from the fans that they kind of just pulled the plug on the apathetic to his brother, wanting to go live in ‘normal’ Sam.

    Dean’s time in purgatory too, was a little burred at the edges, at least for me. His whole relationship with Benny had this weird ulterior motive thing going on the whole time it was happening.

    The really bizarre thing about this story line, for me anyway, was that Sam hasn’t wanted normal, not for a really long time, not since Dean sold his soul. Season 4’s ‘The Monster at the End of the Book’ Sam states, quiet clearly, that if he could have one thing, it was be ‘Lilith’s head on a plate… bloody’ and I always thought this, Sam’s whole kill Lilith thing wasn’t just about stopping the apocalypse, but rather, it was more about killing the thing that sent his brother to hell. I always read that as Sam’s driving force. More than anything else. Dean even asks Sam in TMATEOTB if he wouldn’t want to go back to Stanford, when everything is said and done. Sam’s reply is clear. “That’s not who I am anymore”. It will always piss me off that the writers conveniently forgot Sam’s story arc of the past 7 seasons but I like to remember whats good and forget whats bad.

    September 20, 2013 at 8:03 am

    • “It will always piss me off that the writers conveniently forgot Sam’s story arc of the past 7 seasons but I like to remember whats good and forget whats bad.”

      Yep, I felt the same way — like they just waved a wand and erased everything that Sam had been through. It was frustrating and unpleasant to watch. It was kind of like watching Soulless!Sam, I knew there was something not right with him and kept waiting for get the big reveal. The finale didn’t really give me that.

      I agree that Purgatory was kind of a dream world for Dean. That seemed to be the big theme of the season — dream worlds. They both had difficulty adjusting to their “real world” again. Maybe the initial ideas were good, but they weren’t executed well.

      Uh, the first part of that motel scene with Amelia was just painful — the way she kept cutting him off and putting words in his mouth, and Sam was so passive. It really shined a light on what his time with her must have been like. The next morning he was just so sad. He realized what a mistake he’d made. It still surprises me that fans say that Sam has “always” wanted normal when that clearly isn’t the case as you say.

      September 20, 2013 at 9:16 am

  2. arc

    I never gave it a huge amount of thought, but when I watched the beginning of season 8 I mostly got depressed vibes from Sam. I didn’t feel like he was really happy to have Dean back- not that he wasn’t glad to, but. It just didn’t make him better. That conversation felt like a ‘tell’ to me. He was exhausted, being with Dean mostly hurt, and he felt guilty about that hurt, but he also believed that he was a burden and a disappointment to Dean anyway, because he ran away and he can’t explain why. I remember thinking it often seemed like he would be there only as long as Dean wanted him there, otherwise he’d just sort of fade, because he had lost his own motivation. He just seemed so drained for most of the season.
    And then he really did turn out to be suicidal, so. Maybe I’m right?

    September 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    • Sam really seemed like a shadow of himself, right? I definitely got the sense of his exhaustion too. It was almost as though he knew the inevitability of losing Dean again, and he knew he wouldn’t survive going through that. Every time they were involved in a fight, he was hyper-aware of Dean’s proximity and well-being, and he was fearful. That all came to a head the night that Dean went off on his mysterious “personal business” that turned into a nest of vampires. Sam’s utter panic when he stole that car and raced to help Dean was so telling. Finding Dean safe and with a vampire “friend” was clearly shocking to Sam. I think that the effect of that moment has been lost on a lot of fans, but it had to have had a lot to do with Sam’s feelings about Benny.

      September 27, 2013 at 6:48 am

      • arc

        YES
        There’s another thing, actually- Sam’s anger seems to have gone. The biggest example being how the other times Dean died he became very driven, vengeful. This time he went to pieces and just sort of gave up. You’d think letting go of his anger would be a good thing, but instead it seems like a symptom of how …drained he is, generally.
        Now that I think about it, even the way he barely engages with other characters over the course of the season would fit that pattern, too. He’s too withdrawn. It’s not like when he lost his soul since he still cares as much, he just seems disengaged and lacking mental energy. Going through the motions and all that.
        Basically I’m probably just over-associating his behaviour with depression. I realise diagnosing characters from a show like supernatural is pretty silly. But from a narrative point of view, his soul is still very damaged, Castiel said himself he couldn’t really fix him?

        I’m thinking that for a long-running show with multiple writers who probably don’t always agree, it’s hard to tell what is neglectful writing and what is just heavy on the show and low on the tell. I feel somewhat vindicated by the finale because a lot of the emotional issues that had been given what I felt were band-aid resolutions earlier on finally did get dragged into the open. Like maybe the writer’s are actually putting thought into Sam’s character arc, just some of it is understated. which could almost be a theme. …this is why I try not to over-analyse. argh.
        well, time will tell.

        September 27, 2013 at 12:16 pm

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