Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

Abandonment and other parallels in SPN S8

Supernatural began Season 8 with Dean having been abandoned by both Sam and Castiel. The big conflict of the season was due to Sam not having looked for Dean when he disappeared from the lab a Sucracorp, and I’ll get to that.

First, let’s look at Castiel taking off and leaving Dean to fight alone in Purgatory. When they are reunited there, Castiel tells Dean that he was hunted and he didn’t want to endanger Dean by being with him, but this isn’t a satisfactory answer. In must have gotten around pretty quickly that Dean Winchester – The Dean Winchester – was in Purgatory, and he had to have been hunted with as much furor as Castiel was. Dean accepted Castiel’s answer though, and Cas went on to fight alongside Dean and Benny despite the initial antagonism between the angel and the vampire. However, Castiel doesn’t make it out of Purgatory, and Dean is left with survivor’s guilt.

When Castiel mysteriously shows up topside, Dean is happy to see him and shows remorse for letting Cas down. Cas corrects him and says that Dean didn’t fail. Cas tells Dean he chose to stay in Purgatory as penance. I think that may be the real reason he abandoned Dean in Purgatory initially. After all the mistakes he’d made, he was afraid that he’d let Dean down again in Purgatory. Going off alone, perhaps to fall victim to a monster, was his way of paying penance not only for letting the Winchesters down but for all the mistakes he’d made.

Dean reacts very differently to Sam abandoning him than he did Cas. I think that’s largely due to the fact that he knew first hand what Cas went through in Purgatory. He was there and understood the fear and stress. He could only imagine what life was like for Sam, and the moment he found out that there was a woman, he imagined that Sam had simply hooked up with her and forgotten about Dean. In his defense, Sam didn’t try very hard to disabuse him of the notion. We can speculate about the reasons why, but I’d suggest that survivor’s guilt is probably chief among them.

As Dean felt guilt for getting out of Purgatory and leaving Cas behind, Sam must have suffered similar guilt in the wake of Castiel and Dean’s disappearance at Sucracorp, and it had to have been heightened upon Dean’s return when Sam realized that his brother had not in fact been dead.  One might think that Dean would know Sam well enough to see that there was something seriously off with Sam’s behavior as he did with Castiel, but he didn’t. He accepted that Sam simply didn’t look. So while Dean’s survivor guilt caused him to reach out to Castiel, his extreme hurt over Sam abandoning him prevented him from doing so.

I’m not saying this explains everything or excuses anything necessarily. A number of parallels were set up in S8, but the lines weren’t drawn clearly enough for viewers to follow them. Jared has said, for example, that his time with Amelia was Sam’s Purgatory, and a lot fans were just, huh? I’m just setting this up for discussion.

Does this abandonment issue call into question why Cas was given a pass for abandoning Dean in Purgatory while Sam has been raked over the coals for not looking for Dean? What do you all think of the issue of survivor’s guilt? Does it help us better understand Sam’s mental and emotional state in Sacrifice?

Edit: As others have pointed out, Benny did refer to Castiel as a monster magnet. bittersweettwit wrote: “I do not think he left because he considered himself more important to their enemies than Dean. It is more to do with the fact that Castiel is easier to track. If you’ll remember to Dean he says “I’m an angel in a land of abominations” which I took as meaning that due to his angelic grace Castiel could be sensed from all over purgatory.” I’d forgotten Benny said that. Thanks, guys!

That kind of leaves us with the idea of survivor’s guilt. Did the writers just drop the ball on making the connections on that idea with Sam?

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5 responses

  1. I love Sam, but I feel I must play the devil’s advocate for a moment; because as much as Sam was most definitely suffering from ptsd and survivor’s guilt he also went out of his way to cut his ties with the hunting community 100%. Everything, with the exception of the Impala, was dropped at Rufus’s cabin. I don’t know if this happened before or after Sam met Amelia but it doesn’t matter. I hope Sam was half out of his mind with grief when he did this. I like to think he wanted to do away with the thought that his brother was dead and not just off a a prolonged hunt somewhere and thats why he stashed the phones and fake id’s. But if I where only a casual viewer and not involved in the Supernatural fandom I might have abandoned the show at this point, because for Sam to leave his responsibilities, manly Kevin Tran out there like that was just so wrong. It’s something I still can’t come to terms with character wise. My head can make up all the excuses it wants. The fact of the matter is that it was never addressed and will never be addressed. It will be forever left as a plot hole. One of many.

    As for the ‘girl thing’ I think Dean may still carry around hurt about Jess. To Dean, ‘normal’ will always be what Sam dreams of. Even if Sam barely thinks about it. It’s what Dean thinks about. What he craves deep down and he projects that onto Sam. What Sam had with Amelia was an illusion born out of grief, but Dean can’t recognize that and because they rarely talk about their ‘feelings’ it doesn’t come up.

    Dean saves the world right? But that doesn’t mean the character of Dean Winchester isn’t human. He has his faults. One is that, with the exception of Sam, he’s selfish, so why wouldn’t Sam want what his brother wants? The girl, the house, the whole nine?

    The problem with last season in general was a lack of communication between Sam and Dean. Dean didn’t talk about purgatory; mainly because, I think, of Benny and Dean’s willingness to let him live when he killed Sam’s monster friend Amy the year before and Sam didn’t talk about Amelia, except to say he hooked up with some chick and therefor left his hunting responsibilities in the dust (which is exactly how Dean would have read it), when the real reason Sam didn’t talk about his life after Dean was because, to me, he couldn’t. There where simply no words for what he went through then. Sam found the closest thing around who could even part away understand him and he stuck to it. If Sam hadn’t met Amelia I think he probably would have eaten his gun. After all, his reason for living, his ‘stone number one’ was gone. And anyone who’s a true fan knows how truly psychotic Sam gets when his brother dies.

    Only this time they had a pact. The one that promised they wouldn’t look for the other, find a way to bring them back if something… i.e. being sent to purgatory happened. For Sam, honoring this agreement was probably one of the hardest things he did, he took it as honoring his brother’s last wish. Dean took it as yet another betrayal. This is why I have a huge problem with Bobby’s character and most people’s unwavering love for him. ‘That’s a non-agrement’ that line hurt Sam. Bobby doesn’t know Sam, doesn’t love Sam, at least not the way he loves Dean, who everyone loves and thats always been okay for Sam, because the only person he needs is Dean, but it’s never been okay with me… This is a topic for another piece however…

    September 22, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    • Yeah, that’s funny, but I can rationalize Sam not looking for Dean. I don’t like it, but I can do it. But Sam abandoning Kevin is so OOC. Even when Sam was dying in the hospital, he helped that girl vanquish the vengeful spirit of her brother. That’s Sam, so to abandon Kevin, he had to have not been Sam is some essential way. There were other problems too, like his statement that he was completely alone when there was Kevin, Garth and Jody he could have turned to.

      “There where simply no words for what he went through then. Sam found the closest thing around who could even part away understand him and he stuck to it. If Sam hadn’t met Amelia I think he probably would have eaten his gun. After all, his reason for living, his ‘stone number one’ was gone. And anyone who’s a true fan knows how truly psychotic Sam gets when his brother dies.”

      Yeah, I agree. I wonder if, because he wrote Mystery Spot, Carver thought that everyone would just go there in their head. That the fans would be on the same page with him, and they weren’t. It’s been too long and too much has happened since (hell, there are ‘fans’ who have never watched the firs three seasons) and he just didn’t connect the dots. Between that and the retconning, it was a really dubious decision to have Sam not look for Dean.

      “Bobby doesn’t know Sam, doesn’t love Sam, at least not the way he loves Dean, who everyone loves and thats always been okay for Sam, because the only person he needs is Dean, but it’s never been okay with me… This is a topic for another piece however…”

      Yes, considering their personalities, I’ve always found it strange that everyone seems to love Dean more because let’s be honest, it is established canon that Dean is kind of an asshole, and everyone loves assholes. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dean, but given Sam’s empathy and all, it never made sense to me that he was loved least of the two. Three are fans who have argued that John loved Sam most, but I’ve not seen evidence of that. I’ve even wondered, had the tables been turned, if John would have sold his soul to bring Sam back, especially knowing what he did.

      September 24, 2013 at 5:46 am

  2. I’ve often wondered the same thing. If John truly thought Sam was evil, or had the potential for it (but doesn’t everyone?) I seriously doubt he would have gone to the lengths he did for Dean. He would have tried everything, but I doubt he would have even thought to do that if it were Sam dying in that hospital and not Dean. But John is a character who has always fascinated me. We seldom got to see him when he was alive, and he is rarely, if never discussed now that he’s dead. While I don’t think he’s going to win a father of the year award it doesn’t mean he was a bad dad, or even and abusive one. And the sad fact is that John was right about one thing, he had to hunt. Sam was never safe, he always had demons around him, guiding him. It’s sad to think that John, being the hunter he was, never realized this (probably because he was never home to go to parent teacher meetings). While many think he may have been, at the vey least, verbally abusive to his sons, but especially so the Dean I’m not so certain. He is a confusing character to say the least.

    It’s funny you mention that Dean is a bit of a jerk, because I was going going to mention that too. Dean… He’s not someone I would have been friends with in high school. When I meet someone who’s really attractive but then they turn out to be nasty it takes that away. They become ugly and I don’t see their pretty face, or their six pack. I think Dean would have had a similar effect should I ever meet him. Of course it’s a front, a way to hide an inner pain, but only a mind reader would know that upon first meeting someone.

    Sam is supposed to be the nice one, the empathic one. But this past season (the past couple of seasons) turned it all around. While I understand that these boy’s characters have grown and shifted with their experiences I suppose it just wasn’t shown quite enough.

    Going back to John’s character for a brief moment. I don’t know if he necessarily loved Sam more. Maybe, in retrospect, they were more similar, both stubborn, both determined to go their own way, at the expense of the other most of the time. I think, because of Dean’s unfailing loyalty towards John, they got along much better. And maybe John might have, grudgingly respected Sam’s disobedience for his iron hand ruling but I think he loved both of his sons the same.

    I’ve only ever glanced through the book “John’s Journal” but according to that; and there are canonical errors in that verses the show; but according to it John suspected something was ‘wrong’ with Sam way back before Stanford, before the boys were even teenagers John feared his youngest might ‘go dark side’. Maybe thats what drove him so hard. I would love to see a great piece on the inner workings of John Winchesters mind in relation to his son’s, but especially in relation to Sam. They butt heads so often, even in the brief moments they had together on screen we can see this, I would love to know what he thought of Sam, was he afraid? It’s an interesting thing to speculate. And this wasn’t brief was it?

    September 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    • I think John is really interesting too. He clearly wasn’t a monster. He loved both boys a great deal, and I don’t really buy the idea that he loved one more than the other that some fans have. I think like most kids they amplified every slight and every preference. In my mind, John appreciated Dean’s obedience, discipline and loyalty, but he probably admired Sam’s backbone and rebellious streak even though it frustrated the hell out of him. We know that he drank, put far too much responsibility on Dean, and left them alone at ages they shouldn’t have been. So, I’d argue that he was undoubtedly neglectful. There’s a scene where he’s angry at Sam, but instead of getting into it with Sam, he takes it out on Dean by criticizing Dean for not taking care of the Impala. It’s completely without basis (as we know, Dean loves that car), and Dean looks like his dad’s slapped him across the face. To me, that’s verbal abuse. Some fans think it went beyond that, but I don’t think there’s evidence of physical abuse accept in the way Dean punches Sam when he’s really angry or scared. On a couple occasions, Sam has struck first. If we consider it a learned behavior, then it makes sense that they learned that from their father.

      There’s been a lot of meta about Dean being the buffer between Sam and John, and I think that’s likely. Dean kind of had it all dumped on him. But the notion that somehow Sam was completely spared any of the negative consequences of his father’s behavior is naive. While Sam may not have bore the brunt of John’s anger, shit rolls downhill as they say. Dean had no other model of behavior than his father for the most part. We see then throughout the series that while Sam is the most important thing in the world to Dean that doesn’t prevent Dean from having the same unrealistic expectations of Sam that John had for him or from heaping criticism upon his younger brother. Dean may forgive Sam, but he never forgets a mistake of disappointment. He brings them up over and over and throws them in Sam’s face. Much as I love Dean, the poor guy has internalized so many of John’s negative behaviors. I wonder to what extent he even realizes he does those things and whether he puts those on his list of “letting people down.”

      Sam is certainly like John — and empathizes with him — after Jess is killed. He understood then his father’s single-minded vengeance. That’s something that ate Sam up through S1-2, and then when he found out about Dean’s deal, he was focused on that. Then it was vengeance again with Lillith. It’s that single-mindedness and — I’m not sure what it is — arrogance? That causes Sam, like John, to not consider the collateral damage or possible error of his actions. So, to me, both boys are a lot like John but in different ways.

      Like you, I’d love to see a real psychological meta on John, but I’d also like to see a meta from someone with a degree in psychology or childhood development on how Sam was affected by never having a mother or stable home environment from 6-months on. I can’t help but think that Dean had a huge advantage in having had both for the first four years of his life.

      I agree that John did have to hunt. The single greatest thing that he gave his sons were the skills to protect themselves from monsters. Without knowing how to hunt, the boys would never have been able to go up against Heaven and Hell. Of course, had he realized that demons were guiding Sam his entire life, he might not have left him alone so much with just another child to protect them both. It was a difficult balance that he had to try to maintain, and he clearly failed on occasion. For example, knowing what he did about the shtriga, why did he take the boys there in the first place? Why didn’t he leave them in another town? I don’t want to think that he intentionally used them as bait, but then I wonder.

      September 28, 2013 at 7:29 am

  3. Pingback: Supernatural Season 4: “The Monster at the End of This Book” | The Collective

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