On Sam’s Existential Crisis
Kevin’s dead, Crowley’s in the wind … we’re no closer to beating this angel thing. Please tell me, what is the upside of me being alive? – Sam, “The Purge”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Sam’s ongoing existential crisis and his belief that by saving his life, Dean has caused more damage than benefit. Gadreel killed Kevin – that much is true – but both Castiel and Charlie are alive because of him. Now, Charlie was only at the bunker because of Sam, so her death and resurrection are kind of zero-sum game when it comes to Sam being alive. Castiel, on the other hand, would likely be dead if not for Sam’s possession.
Let’s go back and consider how things might be different had Sam died in that hospital. Knowing how Dean would react to Sam’s death, Castiel would have likely stayed his course to make his way on his own. He would have met up with April and died in at the hands of the reaper – alone because Dean wouldn’t have found him without Gadreel. Dean would have lost his brother and his best friend within a matter of days. Imagine Dean’s headspace at that point.
We then have Dean with Crowley in the trunk. We know that Dean chose not to kill Crowley because he asked himself what Sam would do. If he hadn’t thought that he’d be facing Sam again, if in fact he was grieving over Sam and Castiel, it’s hard to say if he would have made the same choice or whether he would have killed Crowley. My gut feeling is that he’d have taken his angst out on Crowley and killed him.
It’s hard to say how things would have gone after that, but I think we can assume – knowing Dean as we do – that he would have been in a very dark place – grieving, drinking, and wallowing in guilt and self-recrimination. Now, it’s possible that Dean could have latched onto Kevin as a kind of life-raft in a stormy sea, much as Sam did Amelia, and continued the “good fight,” but it’s just as likely, I think, that he would have behaved in a reckless grief fueled vendetta against the angels and demons and world. I just don’t see any reason to believe that more people would be alive than dead if Sam had died.
I can’t help but see Sam’s current dilemma in light of “What Is and What Should Never Be” in which Dean got his most cherished wish that his mom had never died. While he can’t imagine himself as anything but a drunken liar who is a disappointment to his family, he’s happy because they got to live the lives he thinks they deserved. In the midst of that dream, however, he learned from news reports that had his mother lived and the Winchesters not hunted, hundreds of people would be dead. At the end of the episode, it’s Sam who tries to reassure Dean that it’s worth it:
Dean: I wanted to stay so bad. I mean, ever since Dad… all I c– all I can think about is how much this job’s cost us. … We’ve lost so much. We’ve… sacrificed so much.
Sam: But people are alive because of you. (Dean scoffs.) It’s worth it, Dean. It is. It’s not fair, and… you know, it hurts like hell, but… it’s worth it.
Sam’s dilemma now is a little different in that he believes he causes more harm than good just by existing, but he doesn’t know that is true. The horror of remembering Gadreel killing Kevin with Sam’s own hands is foremost in his mind, and he’s not considering Castiel or Charlie or the dark path Dean would have taken without him. He forgets that he does keep Dean human – even though it’s being demonstrated on every hunt lately.
In “Appointment in Samarra,” Death showed Dean the cost of defying the natural order – for every person who isn’t allowed a natural death, another dies – but I wonder if given all the people Sam saves, his score card doesn’t balance on the positive. For every time Dean saves him, someone dies, but Sam goes on to save countless others. So, when Sam asks what the upside of him being alive is, I’m not so sure that when Dean answers, “You kidding me? You and me fighting the good fight together” that he isn’t right.
Jeremy Carver has talked a lot about the boys maturing, and I think it’s possible that talk has thrown us off. We’ve gotten caught up in the idea that Sam’s fatalistic view is the maturity that Carver is talking about – and it may be – but that’s problematic from the perspective of what it is that the Winchesters do the Supernatural universe because if Sam is right then their roles as heroes ended with “Swan Song.”
I would love for Sam to get an episode like “What Is and What Should Never Be” so that he could see what the world would be like if Dean hadn’t taken that fateful choice from him. I know a lot of fans would be upset if Dean were proven right – for a number of reasons. I get that. I do. On the other hand, I would love for Sam to see that he is important not just to Dean but to the world. I want Sam to see that he does help more people than he hurts. I admit that I want Dean to be right on this one.