Two sides of the same coin. It may be an overused cliché but is a most accurate representation of ‘Supernatural’s two protagonists. Sam and Dean, two brothers whose differences belie their ironclad connection, epitomize that coin. Scratched and dinged, even when one side bent and misshapen, that second side will always be there, contouring to the other side’s need.
From the first time we met Dean, his larger than life personality was impossible to ignore. His charisma was a
tangible force that enveloped any and all within its purview. Though Dean is not stupid by any stretch of the imagination, he knows his primary asset and is comfortably using it to his advantage. Women and authority figures alike have all fallen to prey to his charm and despite it being a strength of his, he relies on it to the point that one has to wonder if it’s also a mask for his own insecurities. In that regard he would be quite similar to Spike from ‘Buffy’ fame; smarter than those around him give him credit for, he is in tune to the physical, the pleasurable. Yes, Dean follows his blood which, like Spike “doesn’t always lead in the direction of [his] brain.” But like all of Kripke’s creations, there is nothing one-dimensional about Dean Winchester. He’s always taken the hunting seriously, displaying a seriousness to getting the job done with unwavering conviction.
While his convictions have been shaken at times, they have remained strong. What has not, has been Dean’s faith in himself. The one-time rock star, while maintaining many of those qualities, has had good portions of himself slowly buried under an avalanche of guilt, pain, and loss. It started when his father John offered his soul to a crossroads demon to save Dean’s life. From there it continued to fester as death continued to be a daily part of his life. The tipping point in his steady decline, though started after his forty year stint in hell. He maintained that self-assuredness but beneath the surface was a bubbling sea of torment and guilt. Not only had he suffered greatly but we later find that Alistair, the demon in charge of Dean’s torture broke him.
For thirty years Dean was tortured daily in the most unspeakable ways until relenting, and following Alistair off the rack to torture other helpless souls. This led into season five which was probably the most difficult for him. As depicted in this season’s “Defending Your Life” Dean harbored deep-seated guilt, blaming himself for Jo becoming so enamored with the hunting lifestyle that led to her (and her mother’s) death. Compounding it was losing Sam to Lucifer and, ultimately, hell, an event that could never have occurred if he hadn’t been broken by Alistair. The knife twisted even more when he, Bobby and Cas realize that Sam’s soul has been trapped in the pit for the duration. Dean firsthand knowledge of hell and the battering his own soul took exacerbated his failure; Sam’s spirit has been locked away for twice as long with the two most powerful angels in existence as its only playmates. He has gotten to the point that, no matter the people he saves, no matter the good that he does, it will never be enough.
Whereas Dean’s bliss has always been on the physical aspects of life, Sam’s personality has been one of a thinker, the dreamer. His desire for a life outside of hunting was what originally led to the estrangement between him and his father from season one. In no way is Dean heartless, but Sam has a gentler, more calming soul. He is the officer that doesn’t follow orders just because they’re given. Instead he will question things, and while not always in the right, it’s who he is. Trusting Ruby over Dean in season four was a major catalyst in Lucifer’s rising. While that was not one of his finer moments, there are times where his compassion is warranted. A perfect example of is is how, in “The Girl Next Door” he
allows Amy, the kitsune from his past, go despite her killing several humans (drug dealers sure, but still human). While his actions are justifiable, the black and white Dean sees them as human and Amy as the monster. Sam has always been able to make the distinction between humans and human monsters better than his sibling. So it’s quite ironic that the Sam that comes back from hell in season six mostly resembles a more out of control, by any means necessary Dean. The first half of season six was a Sam that didn’t care, that couldn’t care and it was so diametrically opposite of his character that ‘Supernatural’ itself suffered. It was missing its soul, so to speak, and didn’t hit its stride until—coincidentally—Sam was re-souled. It returned the moral compass back to the show and simultaneously provided a potential plot point with the wall holding back Sam’s torment – an important aspect of the future. It was only a matter of time before the levy broke and the flood gates of hell graced Sam with the exquisite memories of a time best left forgotten.
Season six, for various reasons, was a disappointment and part of that was the unresolved issues the memories of hell would have on Sam. These repercussions were touched on this season. Though trying his best to hold things together, Sam’s mind is a jumbled mess. Unable to distinguish reality from the images of Lucifer appearing to him, he’s maintained his own counsel. This behavior causes a rift between him and Dean as the latter has a difficult time trusting his unstable kin. But like brothers, they remain there for one another. Dean becomes Sam’s anchor to reality, pulling him from the brink of losing it all. And though he is far from healed, Sam has learned to deal with his affliction.
But there is one positive Sam had gleaned from his suffering. Going back to ‘Defending Your Life’, the seminal episode of the first part of season seven, Sam admits to Dean that he no longer feels guilty. “I just finally feel like…my past is my past, and I can move on with my life.” The evolution of Sam from the beginning of the series that touched on the darker aspects of his character, to one that has literally gone to hell and back, have been a thrilling exposition on how one can change. Were it not for the thunder and lightning of hell still spattering in his head, Sam would be the best we’ve ever seen him. He’s come to terms with his past mistakes and “kind of feel[s] good.”
One of the most difficult aspects of a television show is to demonstrate continual growth of its characters. As with life, people are always growing. Sure, ‘Supernatural’s premise of two brothers battling ghosts, goblins, vampires, demons and all sorts of unsavory creatures may be too far-fetched for some, but those are the ones that don’t realize that at its core, ‘Supernatural’ is about family; it’s about two brothers who would, despite their differences, charge through walls, would go to the depths of hell itself (quite literally), would stare down Death, for one another. This season more than ever will require Sam and Dean to rely on one another to live, to grow, to survive.
Sounds an awful lot like reality, doesn’t it? What are your thoughts of the brothers?
You can catch ‘Supernatural’ on the CW, Friday nights 9/8c