This is mainly a walk through of Sam's mindset as hinted at from the premiere and set in context with the last seven seasons of the show. But it is, of course, just speculation, so all disclaimers apply. I know Wednesday's ep is going to delve into this some, so I wanted to clear my head and get this out now before they confuse us anymore (and seriously this thing has been taking over my head for two weeks, I need room for paper writing!).
I'm also writing this, hoping to provide some solace for those fans that have been upset by the choices made so far for S8!Sam. I know whenever I'm upset about a storyline, a more generous read from someone with an alternative perspective can help soothe my worries. I can't guarantee this will help, but I hope you'll at least be encouraged to give it a try. I broke it down into sections, in hopes that it makes for a more manageable read.
aka If There's Nothing Else to Sam Not Looking for Dean--That's Okay
We've gotten a hell of a lot of questions swirling around after only two episodes of S8. Understandable, as we've been dropped in another 'year later' land (and seriously what year is it already in SPNverse? Are we on 2013 already? I’ve lost track!). But Carver and Co. have to their credit, upped up the suspense and we're all looking for answers.
For much of fandom, one of those questions is, 'What happened to Sam to make him not look for Dean?'
Here is where I'm going to go out on a limb and say, I don't need an answer for this. There might very well be one. Maybe he was under the influence of the angels or Crowley who had an interest in keeping Dean down in purg all year long. Maybe he really DID do something and he's playing it cool and hiding it from Dean. I look forward to the unraveling of Sam's flashback stories as the season progresses. But I don't feel like I need some big REASON. A "human story", as Carver has called it, will work just fine. Because a "human story" for this just makes so much sense.
I was all prepared, with the spoilers we got, to HATE this idea Sam didn't look for Dean. I mean, hell, this was supposed to be our S4 redo, right? Sam finally gets to save Dean. Watching the premiere, I was capslocking away in indignation about character assassination and "WHAT ARE YOU DOOOOINGGGG, CARVER??!" But about halfway through, something suddenly clicked, and it made a world of sense to me. Rewatching it, I could appreciate what was being done here and felt no need to repeat my capslocking rage. I'll be the first one to stand up and admit I was completely remiss in thinking anything S3/S4!Sam might have done would be appropriate in the context of S7!Sam.
So I'm going out on that limb and saying now, IF it turns out the 'Sam not looking for Dean' storyline does not have a twist or supernaturally-bent reason, IF Carver in his interviews is telling the truth about how Sam's year out of the life is "straightforward" and "what you see" and a "human story", I'm actually okay with it. I understand it. It makes sense to me (as it is presented right now, obviously). It makes sense in the context of where Sam comes from, where Sam has been, the choices he's made, the guilt and torment he underwent for those choices, what he wishes for others, and the climate Dean left him in at the end of S7.
That's eight years of the show, for you there, so my apologies in advance, this is going to get rather lengthy. I promise picspam to keep you entertained in between all the blocks of text.
TWO SETS OF FOOTPRINTS TO FOLLOW
The number one thing to remember when approaching this: Sam is not Dean.
Simple idea, right? You're saying, 'duh, of course. I've been watching this show for eight seasons. I think I know that.'
But I think you have to be aware, consciously aware, that the show mainly, since 1.22, has used Dean as a vehicle to tell the story. We get and react primarily to Dean's POV. The show knows this, and has used it alot to trick us, to play with our emotions, etc. Overwhelmingly, it's been Dean who's had the emotional story, and it's made us more sympathetic to his POV. So we have to remain aware we are always walking through the series with an unreliable POV, only half the story.
The show uses this in 8.01 to set up a trap for us.
*Did* you look for me, Sam?
This line just cut, didn’t it? Sam’s silence rung through that cabin like a death knell as we see Dean’s incredulous face, and we react to that. We're right with Dean there, sharing his reaction. Some fans think, WTF, SAM WHY DIDN”T YOU LOOK FOR YOUR BROTHER. Other fans say, FUCKIN HELL WRITERS, THAT IS NOT SAM, OF COURSE SAM WOULD HAVE LOOKED FOR HIS BROTHER! There’s only two possible answers to that question, right? We, like Dean, think it’s a fairly simple question: Yes or No. We expect an easy ‘Yes’, because, hey, we've seen this show for 8 years, Winchesters always look for each other. So when no answer comes, we take Sam’s silence as ‘No‘. And that creates some strong reactions.
However, in interviews this summer, Carver, the new showrunner, mentioned "perception" and how much of that is important in the unraveling of the season.
I think one of the things we really like about particularly the first 13 is the way we’re playing with perception because right now, Dean is piling on Sam somewhat for this, and so what happens is these brothers start to discover more about what they’ve done in their past year and might those tables turn in terms of who has to answer for what? - Jeremy Carver [Source]
He's also mentioned that one of the themes of the year is how the brothers are different people than they were ten years ago, and there are conflicts and issues to work out in dealing with that. So, to understand where the narrative might be going, it’s worth doing an extra exercise to trace the other side of the story.
NOT NORMAL. SAFE.
DEAN: What, you're just going to live some normal, apple-pie life?
SAM: No. Not normal. Safe.
- 1.01 - 'Pilot'
This line has been ringing in my ears since the premiere. I’ve seen a lot of people say, 'So Sam decided to give up the hunting life for this normal apple pie life with the girl and the dog and the white picket fence'. We forget “normal apple pie life” is Dean’s line. We forget Sam followed it up with a correction on his part, “No. Not normal. Safe.“ That’s a big distinction that goes back to the roots of the show, and has origins in each brother’s early childhood. And we forget it. Hell, they forgot it. Sam never understood how Dean didn't get that, and Dean never understood the reason for Sam's correction. Because intrinsically, they see 'being out of the life' as two separate things. It's not the same for Dean as it is for Sam. To Dean, evil came into his normal life and ruined it. His memories of that short time have turned normal into some idyllic life, but one that understands it's essentially a false sense of security (see ‘What Is‘). The other shoe will always drop. Hunting was where his family was, where family knew how to protect themselves, and save other families from enduring the same horrors. For Sam, he saw normal only from the outside, a place where children weren’t trained like warriors, who didn't get weapon training and spend time turning silver into bullets. See, to Sam, it was hunting that threatened his family.
He's the kid waiting in the backseat of the Impala, not knowing if his brother and father will make it back. He's the kid who when hearing confirmation that monsters are real, panicked because, "If they got mom, they can get dad and if they can get dad, they can get us.” He only got back into hunting when 'being out of the life' was no longer safe, when monsters came into it and killed his girlfriend.
And for the next eight (?) years, there was no option to get out. Because there was no option of safety for him or his brother or any of the people around him. There was no end in sight. He went from Point A (finding Dad and tracking down the YED) to Point B (trying to save Dean and later evenge his time in Hell) to Point C (stopping Lucifer and the apocalypse by taking on an eternity torture in Luci's cage for ~150 years). And of course it wasn’t over when he got topside, and after his wall broke he was scrambled eggs and crazy pants. But even if he was holding on by a thread, he hung on, he "managed" because his brother wasn't in much better shape. There was no question there for him, he would have Dean’s back. There was no getting out of it. Or wanting to get out. He had his place, it was by Dean's side.
DEAN: You ever think that you'd want something like that? Wife, rugrats, the whole nine?
SAM: *shakes head* No, not really my thing anymore.
- 5.13 - ‘Swap Meat’
It wasn’t an option for him. He accepted it along ago.
[/stopping myself from getting into the psych behind Dean’s whole “normal apple pie life” thing, that‘s another meta for another time]
So eight years later, suddenly, Sam’s standing in a room that’s just gone Leviathan splat and his brother, Cas and the Big Bad are nowhere to be seen.
What the hell do you do now?
You certainly have a lot on your plate right now. Looks like you are well and truly on your own.
- 7.23 - 'Survival of the Fittest'
Crowley talked of a master plan, gave Sam a hint at what to do next. If the King of Hell acts like he wants you in this position, you run like hell away, no?
THE CRIPPLING EFFECT OF CHOICES
Mostly, it's the choices, you know? So many choices.
It’s a funny feeling to be so weighed down by what choice to make when you suddenly have so many. Especially when you feel like you haven’t much controlled anything the last seven (157) years of your life. What’s to stop things from spiraling out of control again?
Let’s say he decided to look for Dean. Where would he start?
Say he went to Jody’s, looked up some of Bobby’s books, what’s he gonna find? He involves Jody in it...well, they always die, don’t they? Jody doesn’t deserve to get pulled in his mess. That’s the last thing Sam wanted.
Say he summons Crowley, or goes after him to get Kevin. That opens up an opportunity to get played, get someone else killed, or himself dead. And that sure wouldn't help Dean.
Say, summon Meg for help...but working with a demon, look how well that worked out for him last time.
The problem is, he doesn’t trust himself. Doesn’t trust himself to make a choice.
So what was he supposed to do? He was flying completely blind, and sure he had a lot of options, but honest question here: were any of them really any good?
Let's say for a second he didn't hit that dog. He does pursue one of the above, goes down that road. Two options: It's either A) All for naught. Still can't save Dean. or B) He's successful, he gets Dean back. But at what cost would it have been? This show is all about consequences, and nothing is ever free. The boys have had to learn this time and time again over the last seven years. And what would Dean have thought when he got back? Let's be real, Dean would have ripped him a new one.
WINCHESTERS & THEIR SLIPPERY SLOPE
What am I supposed to do?
Back up to four years ago. Dean goes to Hell.
Wait. Back up another year. Sam dies, Dean doesn’t know what to do, stands in front of Sam’s corpse, yells that exact above line out into the air, and then reeves up his engine. Without a roadmap, he defaults to his father’s.
You save my life over and over again. Don't you think I'd do the same for you? I don’t care what it takes, I’m gonna get you outta this
- 2.22 - 'All Hell Breaks Loose II'
And with Dean’s soul on the line, Sam defaults to his brother’s example. Sam's willing to stop at nothing, lines he used to have are erased in effort to save Dean. Only in S3, at the end of the day, Dean still calls the shots. And Dean won’t let him go all the way to work with Ruby. He doesn't WANT THAT for Sam. The only thing worse for Dean Winchester than going to Hell is knowing his brother is self-destructing topside. He tells himself Sam will be fine. He doesn't need Dean like Dean needs Sam, right? He'll go on without him.
What am I supposed to do?
Remember what I taught you. Remember what Dad taught you.
- 3.16 - 'No Rest for the Wicked'
And so where is the first place Sam goes when Dean dies? What did Dean and John teach him--the crossroads.
When no demon will deal, he picks up Winchester Playbook #2: when you can’t deal your soul for someone’s life? You evenge it. Kill who’s responsible. Make them pay.
I didn't want to be saved like this!
- 4.01 - 'Lazarus Rising'
That didn’t turn out so well, did it? Sure, Sam didn’t actually save him back then, but he sure had tried, and picked up this unfortunate demon blood addiction and some demon ganking powers in the process. Dean was none too happy about that. And Sam paid for that a hundred times over as Luci’s bunk buddy for 150+ years in Hell.
So yea, you’d be alittle gun shy, after something like that.
Your brother goes missing, you have no leads, and what do you do? Knowing you are predisposed to an obsessiveness that could lead down a similar path no good for anyone.
JUMPING BACK IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT
We've got nothing, Sam. Nothing, okay? So you know the only thing I can do? Is I can work on the car.
- 2.02 - Everybody Loves A Clown
It’s what Dean would have done, right? The car is busted up, he'd fix it. That much is safe. No one gets hurt from rebuilding a car. And it would feel good, to get in the Impala again, the only home he knows, get on the road again, and just drive. Plus, it’d give him room to think, about what his next move should be.
So he fixes up the car. And drives.
And then he hits a dog.
OUCH. The guy can't even drive without hurting something.
You're not sure, what?! This is an animal hospital! You save animals! SAVE THIS ANIMAL!
Such a telling little snapshot. This is not the Sam we see in present time who's fairly mellow, even-toned guy acting so patient with both Dean and Kevin. This is an entirely different guy. This is Sam post-Dean!disappearance, maybe a couple weeks in, yelling at the sweet vet tech when she makes even one tone indicating it might not be possible to save the dog. He doesn't want to hear it. Can't hear it. He got the dog to the damn hospital alive, it's their damn jobs to save the dog. So do their damn job! (That scene would have run SO much better if Padalecki would have been allowed to curse there.)
As the vet interrupts to get Sam out, he turns around with this sickly need to confess his guilt:
I did this.
He was just out driving. The one choice he made. And it ends like this?
Now take a second and think: THIS was the guy we're expecting to look for and save Dean? He's a mess! I wouldn't even trust him with the simplest hunt.
WHERE WE LEFT OFF:
It's worth backstepping to remember what he'd been through right before all of this: Where was Sam in S7? Holding on by a thread, basically all for Dean. Then, T minus 5 seconds from death, he was lucky enough to get a break. Cas took on Luci, and he was able to sleep again. But he still has those effects from Hell. He still remembers it. It might not be so ingrained and dangerous. But it's still there. What does a mind do when it's been through so much?
And then at Sucricorp, Sam and Dean split up. Sam goes to find Kevin. Dean and Cas go to find Dick. When Sam reaches Kevin, he's in a hurry: "Come on, let's go". He wants to meet up with Dean as soon as possible. But Kevin tells him they have to go to the lab first. When Sam rushes in the room finally, it's just as Dean stabs Dick. And watches from afar as the weird pulsating happens. Frozen in place, he does nothing. It's enough time, before the goo!burst, if he'd been thinking clear enough, he could have pulled Dean away. Or at least been by his side.
As far as I knew, what we do, is what got every single member of my family killed
It’s a funny thing when you’re the only one left. You think it’s all your fault. That you did something wrong. That you could have prevented it. It can be a terrible crippling effect. (In fact we saw it in S2, S5, and S7 to some extent with Dean). Sam not only had everyone around him suddenly gone. He’d also racked up a huge body count of innocents over the years while hunting. Something a long time ago he was very concerned about preventing (it seems like a lifetime ago, but remember Croatoan, when Sam was unwilling to shoot a civilian infected with the virus?). You know the backs of all those people lost during the apocalypse? You can be sure that's something he doesn’t forget.
And then you’re suddenly placed back in the same position where you made your first big mistake all over again. What do you do? Do you say the hell to it, Dean’s my brother, I’m still going to do whatever it takes, to hell with the consequences? To hell with lessons learned and what happened last time?
That’s not Sam. That wouldn’t be true to the last couple years of his character. He's thought alot about where he's been and what his mistakes were. He paid in the pounds of guilt and flesh and torment.
So obviously, it’s a lot to think about. “*Did* you look for me, Sam?” Suddenly not such an easy question, is it?
"THE GIRL HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT"
Did anyone notice Sam said this to Dean? Probably not, 'cause Dean disregarded it and kept asking questions about the girl. We were too preoccupied with Dean's thinly veiled jealousy (*g*). But rewatch the scene and take another listen. Look, I'm sure he had a nice relationship with Amelia. But when Sam says this:
You need to know, I didn’t just drop out, Dean. I found something. Something I’ve never had, all my life
Everyone, including Dean jumps to the idea that he's talking about the girl. They completely forget what Sam just said not 10 seconds before.
Think for a second. Why would it be about the girl? The flashback is about the dog. When he's on a case and sees a dog walk by, it reminds him of when he hit that dog. When Sam leaves to go to Bobby's cabin, he gives a goodbye to the dog.
He hit this dog. And the dog lived. And fast forward to a year later, the Impala still smells like dog, violating #2 of Dean's rules.
Sure Amelia guilt-tripped him into taking the dog. But unbeknownst to her, it's exactly what he needed. When she first mentions it, he says he "lives on the road". That was Sam defaulting. It's where he's been for the last eight years. But suddenly he's got a sick dog on his hands. And it gives him something simple to be responsible for and handle and try not to screw up. It gives him something that has nothing to do with the questions currently plaguing him. It gives him a reason to stay in one place for a while. And most importantly, a connection to the regular world and some much needed companionship.
The dog might have led to the girl. But it was the dog that found him first.
THE LIFE: IS IT STILL WORTH IT?
DEAN: "People died"
SAM: "People always die"
Ah, and here’s the crux of a great season Winchester argument. Dean takes Sam to task for ignoring hunts all year. Dean can't understand it. It's simple, you hunt, you save people. You don't, their backs are...on you? Now--wait a minute.
Both statements are technically true. The first statement has an immediacy to it. But it's also assuming you could have prevented it. That hunting makes a difference.
The second statement is a wider view you get when you pull back from that immediacy. All the death and heartache and pain of the world, they don't stop it. They can never stop it all. It still goes on. And it's not right and it's not fair. But if you count the backs of everyone you never got to as your fault, you'll drive yourself mad.
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love Sam and Dean convos where neither guy is completely right or wrong. I've been saying this since S1. But it's been a while since we've had a good one. Apparently Carver is a fan, because this one, this one got me.
Does anything that they do matter? Does the good they do outweigh the bad they cause? Is it worth what they suffer to deliver that good? Do they have the capacity to make a difference? And...really, is that even their job anymore? Haven't they paid enough?
That's alot of questions there. And not alot of easy answers.
Mostly it's the choices. Too many choices.
It's important that the premiere ends on this note. Sure, just looking at the line with respect to Benny, it's a fairly straight forward sinister line. Delivered complete with a glance at the funeral party behind him implies he is talking about all the humans he has to pick off. It leaves us off questioning how and why Dean is working with this...monster. However, it's importance even moreso in the larger context of the episode and how Dean and Sam relate to all of those choices. How some choices end with a funeral party mourning over the loss of a daughter. Do you think about that? Or do you ignore it? If you're a hunter and this is your job, which one is more dangerous? How out of touch with your humanity can you spare?
You think Mom would have wanted this for us?
- 1.01 - 'Pilot'
It's a common question to ask when someone you loved isn't with you anymore. You think, well, what would they have wanted? Sam asked Dean this way back in the pilot. They’ve learned a lot since then. They’ve learned the answer to that. She didn’t want it for them. In fact, as a hunter herself, she worked to get herself out, to keep her boys safe. There’s two ways to view that: 1) That it didn’t work, that there is no out, that her trying to get out only doomed her boys to a worse fate; 2) That her wish to get out for her family was a worthy cause, and if she had refrained from making some of the more desperate and rash mistakes that she made, she might have been successful.
See, it’s all how you look at it.
THE WINCHESTER PROMISE
You go and live some normal, apple pie life. Promise me, Dean.
- 5.22 - 'Swan Song'
Ah, the promise. Sam gets a lot of flack for this. Not many people give him the credit he deserves for seeing again and knowing what he had to do here. Sam had a couple of advantages here: 1) he knew if it worked, he’d be jumping in Luci’s cage for an eternity of torment; 2) he knew what Dean did last time he was gone; 3) he knew what it was like to not only know your brother was dead but being tortured in Hell; 4) He wanted it to be over. He couldn’t risk Dean poking it and starting World War III; 5) He wanted Dean to be safe. *Notice he uses Dean's phrase here to translate: "Normal, apple-pie life".
Every part of him, every fiber he's got, wants to die, or find a way to bring Sam back. But he isn't gonna do either. Because he made a promise.
- 5.22 - 'Swan Song'
Sam, in essence, saved Dean there. By making him make that promise, he knew he'd keep it and he'd have people to be with. He knew how hard the “what am I supposed to do” question was, how lost it made you feel, how desperate you could become without anyone by your side. He also knew his brother. He knew doing this would take away his choice and that it was the best thing he could do for him. He didn’t want Dean dead, or getting other people killed to save him. He wanted it over.
And honestly, I didn't have a roadmap
The difference is, this time Dean leaving wasn’t planned. There were no last wishes or promises or directions. So Sam went with where he’d been and what he knew. Understanding what drove Sam to ask that promise of Dean is essential to understanding Sam in S8. He simply expects Dean would want the same for him.
DEAN: It's nice to walk away from someone and feel like they could be okay.
- 7.11 - 'Adventures in Babysitting'
One can look no further than Bobby to see this is a common feeling. He wanted Dean out too, why he didn’t tell him about Sam being back. Every hunter dreams that he could be out, and every hunter that manages it is hope to others that one day, they can manage the same.
But we can go even further. Even Dean had this sentiment as early as last year. Remember the 14 year old girl with a hunter father? Dean point blank told her father: "Don't thank us. Quit."
LEE: You know, I got into this for a reason.
DEAN: I know. Your family. That's the same reason you should get out now.
Dean was an outsider, looking in, and saying, this girl is 14 years old, she just wasted a monster. If she continues as she is now, she's doomed to shorten her lifespan. But if you got out now, she could still have a regular life.
B/W OR TECHNICOLOR: THE SIMPLE VS COMPLEX
Either you're in or you're out
Ah, and there's Dean's theme of the year. Part of what has sharpened Dean is how simple purgatory was. Black and white world. Kill or be killed. You’re in or you’re out. There’s only two possible answers. It makes things boiled down to their essentials. Pure. Simple. Very few questions and very few answers. I've come to call this Dean "distilled!Dean". Because so much of what he's been all his life is a trained soldier. But he's never been placed in continuous year of combat like purgatory, away from real world comforts or reminders of home. This experience has pushed Dean to a new extreme he's never really been at before. Coming back to reality is a weird experience to adjust to after that.
Meanwhile, Sam’s been living in the bright real world full of numbers of everyday choices. Maybe even too many choices, that you can't ever do all at once, even if you plan to, or want to. What's the line, 'Life is what happens while you're busy making plans?' So when Dean asks that question: “*Did* you look for me, Sam?”, it’s two very different questions to two different people. Dean sees it as a simple question: You have my back or not? You with me or you against me? To Sam…it’s not so simple. In fact, it’s pretty complicated. And I think we’ll be seeing this more and more as his flashbacks take place.
IT ENDS BLOODY OR IT ENDS SAD. THAT'S THE LIFE
I think my favorite scene of the season so far is the porch scene of the premiere. Because ALLLLL OF THIS comes to a head here. Dean can’t jump too fast on this plan, and he can’t figure out why Sam isn’t jumping fast on the train with him.
“We have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. We take Kevin to the tablet, he tells us the spell,
we send every demon back to hell forever. Every single bastard that destroyed our lives. Killed our mother. Killed Jess. And you‘re not sure?”
Does this moment sound at all familiar to you? If 8.01 gave you some 4.01 flashback vertigo, chances are it did for Sam too. Having Dean back after months he thought he was dead, where he can’t even bask in having his brother back before getting questioned on the choices Sam made while he was gone? It’s natural he’d be thinking “well you didn’t like it so much when I did do something, Dean, do you remember that?“ So much of this Dean monologue above reminds me of one of my favorite little scenes of S4:
SAM: What if we could win?
SAM: If there was a way we could just...put an end to all of it. I just wish there was a way we could...go after the source. That's all. Cut the head off the snake.
- 4.12 - 'Criss Angel is a Douchebag'
This isn’t the first time he’s been fed this pipe dream. He’s naturally skeptical. Is it real? Is it a trick? There’s got to be more to it than that. And is it worth it? Everything has a cost. What is the cost of this? How long will it take? Who’s lives will they have to put in danger? Is it even their job anymore?
Why’s it have to be our job to save these people?
- 2.20 - 'What Is And What Should Never Be'
And Dean pitches a revenge-driven quest at that. Those never went well for any Winchester.
“That it wasn’t up to only me to stop it”
How much have these guys lost? How much more must they lose? How much more must they give? For seven/eight (?) years they were on an endless snowball mission to clean up a mess they started. This isn’t a clean up mission. Winchesters do things out of guilt. Out of defense. What does the mission look like on the offensive front? How dangerous is it?
See, to Dean, it’s rather simple: you in or you out? To Sam, it’s much more complicated.
It’s the shot right after the porch scene that I find so interesting. Of Sam walking through the doors of the church with the stainglass windows behind him to talk to Kevin. Did it remind you of anything?
I think it sends the point home how worlds away S8!Sam is from S4!Sam.
KEVIN: THE BOMBSHELL?
That brings us to Kevin. Dean makes Sam feel guilty for not helping Kevin. Says he was their responsibility. So Sam feels the need to make it right, to track him down and see if they can help. Better late then never, right?
But it turns out, Kevin did pretty well for himself. He got away. He’s okay. He’s safe. For now at least. And he’s got this new information for them. He’s pretty proud of himself, he kinda thinks it’s awesome, and can’t wait to share it.
DEAN: If this kid is right, he just set off a bombshell. Hell, he IS the bombshell….What?
SAM: That. I mean, there’s no way that Kevin’s gonna get out of this intact, is there?
Kevin seems to think this is pretty awesome now. But Sam knows what this could mean. He can see down the line. It’s not gonna be all tea and crumpets. Kevin’s okay right now. He really has no clue though, he doesn’t know any better. They however DO. Like Dean said, he’s their responsibility. So, they agree to do this? They’re as good as setting him down that road. Sam knows how that road goes. It’s never as smooth sailing as you think. Are they really willing to do that to him? To make that choice?
“I think he‘s done pretty well for himself so far“
“Yea, he got out”
“And now he’s in it. Whether he likes it or not.”
“So free will...that’s only for you”
I geeked out so hard over this exchange! THERE IS SO MUCH going on here. Maybe one day I’ll be more coherent about it. I urge you to rewatch it and just watch how Ackles and Padalecki choose to pack so much meaning in such a short exchange. But essentially, these two guys are having two very different conversations with each other. And they don’t even know it. It’s a beautiful thing to behold. In a really hurty way obviously, because we like to think these guys can communicate on the shortest of syllables and know what the other one is thinking. That’s half the problem here too. They think they know. Which is why they take each others responses so strongly. But because of where they’ve both been over the last year, those responses mean entirely different things to each Winchester here.
The biggest takeaway from this exchange for this meta is Dean assertion that Kevin is in it now. "Whether he likes it or not". Later in the episode, he repeats this straight to Kevin's face. Dean's not giving Kevin an option to back out. Not even allowing himself to consider why a kid like Kevin would. If the next episode tells us anything, probably not the smartest way to deal with him.
But it's equally important how strongly Sam chooses to respond. I believe this will be important as the season progresses.
THERE IS A WAY...
KEVIN: Ever since I’ve found out I was a prophet, it’s just hard to believe this is actually my life
SAM: Yea, it sucks right now, I know that. And it might suck for a lot longer. But trust me on this,
it gets better...if we can do this, if we can get the tablets and close the gates of hell,
there’s a world out there, that no demon is chasing you anymore.
KEVIN: I guess I just don’t see how I get from here to there.
SAM: I used to not be able to see it either. But there is a way.
This is just the capstone really. But it deserves a second of extra thought too.
Think of everything that Sam has been through over the years. And then think about how despite that, he's able to have this kind of hopefulness that can still sit and tell someone that it can get better, that there is a way out of this life one day for him too.
That kinda throws me into sputters just to think about.
However, the real jaw dropper of the premiere gets rightly accentuated with a slowmo. That's a clue that it's the big emotional focal point of the ep. And not just for Kevin, but for the whole episode. If the slowmo's not enough of a clue, take a look at the reaction shot. They purposely include BOTH Kevin and Sam's faces. Everything I've just talked about in this meta zeroes down to THIS moment.
Think about it. SAM SAW THIS COMING. He saw heartache down the road for Kevin. This was exactly why he thought he was better off not answering a phone. Why he was resistant to agreeing to this tablet thing. What did I say about how choices can be crippling? Well, look at what happened when he did act. Kinda just like the dog, no?
Look, sure, Kevin's girlfriend was already possessed. But until Sam and Dean tried to find Kevin and went to talk to her, demons had no clue where to look. Suddenly, the demon calls Crowley, tells him Dean is back, and Crowley shows up at Kevin's safe haven. Oh, and then snaps Kevin's girlfriends neck right in front of him.
So much for that 'it gets better' speech. Sam did warn you, though "it might suck for alot longer" might have been an understandment.
REMEMBERING WHY WE FIGHT
You worry about him. All he does is worry about you. Who's left to live their own life here?
- 7.09 - 'How To Win Friends & Influence Monsters'
Whether Dean knows it or not yet, he needs the Sam that went through this last year. Dean, for lack of a better word, is suffering from a bit of an empathy impairment right now. He might be above sea level again, but he's still living in the purgatory trenches. He's as far disconnected from real life and WHY they hunt, as ever before. Sam, living for a year and amongst real people, not just hunters and monsters, gives the counter perspective that Dean so desperately needs to get himself back into balance again. (REMEMBER RED&BLUE META??? Since Lisa, Dean had been more red. After purg, he's back to blue. And Sam's in more red. Maybe more to come on that later, I need a better pattern than just two eps to follow it.)
SO it turns out, not only does Sam make sense, he's also perfectly diametrically opposed to Dean. In fact, Dean post-purgatory NEEDS Sam to be this Sam, no matter how much he doesn't see it right now.
What Sam experienced in this past year on his own, THAT'S the type of stalwart partner he needs to get him back to his level, watch his back, etc.
That's not to say Sam is all ~normal, and ~fixed, and ~totally fine. And it's all Dean that's wrong. Quite the opposite. It's just that, these guys, when separated split back into their extremes and find their balance again together.
AVOIDANCE & HYPERAROUSAL: Two forms of PTSD
I think sometimes we forget these guys are not normal guys. I always have to look at these guys like, they're wounded soldiers. They're damaged. Mentally and spiritually in different ways depending on what season you are on. That means, Sam and Dean in S8, they’re not the same guys from S1 or S2 or even S3 or S4. No matter how little attention it's gotten in their character arcs, they’ve both been battling PTSD in some form for years now.
So this is where it gets really neat, because front and center this year, you’ve got the brothers diametrically opposed reactions with symptoms to the same disorder. Sam is displaying classic cluster of avoidance symptoms of PTSD.
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
- Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
- Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
While Dean is displaying the classic cluster of hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD.
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or “on edge”, typically having exaggerated responses
- Feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger
- Having trouble falling or staying asleep
Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
Both are driven by the ‘fight or flight response’. Because of who they are, where they’ve been, and where they found themselves in the last year, one was predisposed to choose flight, while the other one was predisposed to choose fight. And this season we'll be seeing the effects of that, when those two guys come back to each other and try working together again. Although, I suspect that while Dean is just starting to experience his, Sam has been dealing with his and recovering for months.
These are both played out for each brother SO WELL in the premiere. I don't believe this is an accident or coincidence. I believe this gives us a roadmap for the rest of the season. It's easy to see how conflict could arise between two guys with such diametrically opposed reactions. But also how by working with each other again over time, they could also help each other mend.
Perhaps the best moments of comparison are during the first fight back together, when Crowley and his demon come to Kevin's safe haven. The building trembles and Sam reaches for Dean. Dean gives Sam the knife, and he gives it an extra long look in his hands. Meanwhile, Dean slugs his purg weapon up like it's just another day at the office. (Note later in the fight, Dean's purg weapon doesn't work for him, and Sam has to hand him the knife to use instead. Purgatory fighting doesn't necessarily translate to real world fighting?)
Also, note how Sam makes his way over to Dean, when Crowley threatens them. And then tucks in behind Dean's right shoulder as Crowley advances. Later, as Kevin goes to "get his things", he's right by Dean's shoulder. And the moment things go wrong and they run, his hand is reaching out to Dean to make sure he's with him.
TO FIND COMMONALITIES, WE MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND OUR DIFFERENCES
I had a religion professor in college that said this. It rang in my ears for days, because it was from a lecture just after the Obama campaign season, one I was intensely involved in (swing state, ftw!). We had some of these early Obama speech clips we use to play during rallies. And one that always sat with me was "There's more that binds us together, than what drives us apart." But what my religion professor said that day, felt like the other half of that line. Sure, there is more that binds us together, than what drives us apart. But to celebrate those similarities, we must first honestly hear each other and make the attempt to understand what we disagree on, and why. The first is why would should accept each other, despite differences. The second is why we should go to further lengths to better communications, to solve roots of problems before they start.
That's the shortest way I know of explaining why so far, I really like how this season is heading. Because Sam and Dean are VERY different people. This is really nothing new, it has ALWAYS been like this. And yet for so much of the show, especially since S4, instead of confronting this, and dealing with it, it's been glossed over. I want to see them mend their relationship. Like I said last year with my Dean Carousel Ride Meta, I think S4/S5 caused hurtful wounds that have never properly been allowed to heal properly. They've scabbed over all gross and disgusting. And every now and then, salt is poured into those wounds and it causes more problems that aren't dealt with properly. Other times, the way it's worked is by having Sam fall in line. This has been unfortunate, because they're such a strong team together, when both of them are vocal about something, and Sam stands up and makes his own point. When Dean calls the shots, and Sam stands up and makes his own point from the opposing side, and they come together to find the best solution, that is when they are at their strongest. It's what's always made the show so much more interesting to watch. But when Sam steps in line behind Dean, his voice gets relegated to the sidelines, and the show unfortunately suffers from it. I want to see the show strong again. And I want to see some semblance of real mending in the brothers relationship. So, call me Pollyanna, but combined with Carvers interview comments and what we see so far, I'm hopeful that these first two eps indicate they could be working to finally do so.
CLUES THAT IT MIGHT NOT BE ALL THAT'S GOING ON -- OR IS IT A RED HERRING
We're so used to things being WRONG with Sam. Every season basically you could say the season long arc is around "What is wrong with Sam?" and Dean reacting to that. (S1=psychic!kids; S2=destined to go darkside?; S3=did he come back wrong?, boyKing!; S4=demon blood, Ruby, setting Luci free; S5=cleaning up his Luci mess; S6=soulless; S7=trauma from hell). It's been as exhausting as a fan as it is just listing it all. It's been a huge complaint of many fans, that feel like this has placed the show in a rut. Sam!girls would like Sam to for once not have something supernaturally wrong with him and just get a good character arc for once. They're sick of him being the victim, the person things are done to, without getting much of where his head is. Dean!girls, meanwhile are sick of seeing Dean react to things thrown at Sam and would like to see Dean get his own myth arc.
I think both are partially right, and alot of why S6-S7 felt at times rather tiring and repetitive. I myself longgggg for a flipping of roles on this, I've long said that it is necessary for them to break out of the outdated pattern of littlebro/bigbro and into a true equal ground partnership that they've both so incredibly needed. for an arc where Sam looks out for Dean FOR Dean. We got a tad of this in Faith and S3 and part of S7 before it was dropped, perhaps because they saw the difficulty of pulling it off at the same time as Sam was supposed to be crazy knocking with Luci in the head.
This is why I hope Carver is telling the truth on this one. The thought of there being something supernaturally driving Sam not looking honestly...exhausts me. How long must that poor boy get fucked over by supernatural beings? How long must Dean react to that? Part of why this season feels so fresh so far is because it feels as though that has flipped.
I do want to put a disclaimer on this. This is all just my own speculation given the first two episodes aired so far. My acceptance of Sam's backstory going out from here is fully continguent on how they tell the story. This one or whatever other one they might have up their sleeve. But...if Carver learned anything from Kripke, and the premiere's carefully meaningful pieces do indicate he did, these first two eps should include footprints of where this season is headed.
To make one more addendum, I'll say, I've watched Being Human this summer, and I've found it very encouraging. Carver has a distinct style and set of priorities and strengths that all point to a very purposeful, emotional, character-driven storytelling. I'm happy to say I feel these little fingerprints already in the first two episodes of this season. Not overpowering, but enough to make a show on its eigth season feel alittle fresh and rejuvenated. I hope it continues through for a strong season. </center>
I totally had a version of this that was all Mumford quotes from the new album before replacing them with show quotes. Vidders seriously need to get on that album fast before I do something stupid and try to do it myself. LALALA NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. IT'S A MIRACLE THIS META EVEN GOT OUT. Work + School this fall is PAINFUL.
ETA: Fair warning, spoilers for 8.03 are now in the comments.