Supernatural Midseason Roundtable Review: Sam, Dean, Castiel, Crowley & The Road So Farby Clarissa / January 19, 2015
This Supernatural roundtable review is a bit late this year. We usually do it right after the midseason finale, but other commitments forced us to postpone. Given the fact that Supernatural is set to return this week, it still seems like a good time to reflect back on the first half of the season and discuss the things we’re hoping to see in the second half.
These roundtables don’t always have a theme. With so many people with varying opinions participating I always tend to find that we cover a large spectrum with our opinions, especially since everyone submits their own write-ups without seeing what the others are saying. I always welcome that, in fact, because I’ve met all of the participants personally and know that we share both similar and opposing viewpoints. But, surprisingly, there was more agreement among the participants this year than any other time since these roundtables began in mid-season 7 and I find that interesting because, as I mentioned, everyone wrote their response in a vacuum and I’m the only person who reads all of the submissions when putting this together. The big theme seems to be “missed opportunities”.
You’ll see what I mean as you read through the roundtable itself, but if I had to sum up the general sentiment, everyone agreed that all of the building blocks for a great season (and various storylines) are there, we just have a situation where things didn’t stack up properly. Of course, all of this could change as the season progresses and while it wouldn’t erase our comments with the episodes up until now, we could all be singing a different tune come the end of the season.
In terms of participants, this time we have me, Danielle Turchiano from THR, Vinnie Chaffee from WinchesterBros, Dr. Lynn Zubernis from Fangasm, Alice Jester from Winchester Family Business, Tina Charles from TV Goodness and Mike Copeland from ScreenFad (sadly, three of our regulars were unable to participate due to work and personal commitments, but we’ll have them back for the finale).
As always, comments are encouraged. Please remain polite to the participants and each other throughout the discussion.
There seemed to be quite a bit agreement between the group on the biggest problems concerning Sam’s storyline for the first half of the season this year on Supernatural: not enough to do and not enough outward expression. This relates not only to characterization, but also to the outward manifestation of Sam’s struggles. Far too much of it is hidden and not explored, much like what happened to Sam in the second half of last season once Gadreel had been expelled from him.
For Lynn, the characterization aspect is one that has dogged Sam for a while. “Before Season 10 started, Sam saving Dean was all I said I wanted from this season. I am only slowly getting over how Sam was written in seasons 8 and 9, which seemed glaringly out of character to me at times. I still cannot reconcile Sam not looking for Dean and instead playing house with Amelia as part of Sam’s story – it refuses to fit into my coherent narrative of who Sam is. Season 9 compounded my problem with understanding Sam, though not as glaringly.”
“Sam saving Dean has continued to be a theme this season, and that makes me happy,” Lynn said. “I was completely frustrated throughout season 9 by Sam’s utterly blasé attitude toward his brother having the Mark of Cain, which again was completely out of character. He’s still more blasé than I think he would be, but he’s definitely showing more concern this season. I loved Dean asking Cas to take him out if he goes dark side again, because he knows that Sam won’t do it. That in itself was a much-needed (by me) indication that some of the reciprocity has been restored between the brothers. Sam has always known that Dean would do anything to save him, but Dean is now back to believing that about Sam too. From what Jensen has said at conventions this season, Sam’s story line in season 10 is all about saving Dean. I have no quibble with that, and if done well, it could lead to a lot of character development for both Sam and Dean. But if that’s one of the main character’s main storyline, we should see more of it than we have been.”
It’s this lack of “seeing” Sam’s storyline that is the biggest problem this season with his character, coupled with the fact that, like Dean’s, it went on pause (presumably, given the indication that it’s not actually over as of the midseason finale) far too soon. “I like how Sam’s journey started this season,” Alice admitted. “He was rather unhinged in his determination to find his brother and I do like unhinged Sam. And…it ended as fast as it began. Now he just stares at Dean with skeptical looks when his brother isn’t watching. Or maybe Dean is watching and he doesn’t realize. It’s not like we know for sure. It really boggles my mind that the writers are struggling so bad to come up with a plot for Sam. All they have to do is dig through the history of the show. There are so many loose threads. What happened to his demon blood? Did the trials purify him or not? What sort of scandals exist out there because he was soulless? How about his adventures with Ruby? Better yet, what happened to Sam being the guy to run with the Men of Letters legacy? Introducing the Men of Letters opened up so many story possibilities for both brothers that have yet to be explored. It is possible for both brothers to have a plot at the same time. All they have to do is look at seasons 2 through 5.”
“We definitely got a Sam that was on the hunt for his brother,” Tina admitted. “He knew Dean’s body had disappeared. He didn’t know what happened. And as we discovered, he resorted to some pretty shady things in order to find out. However, as much as I love love love this show, I feel like during the Jeremy Carver era, things don’t go far enough for me. I’m always wanting more. I always want things to go farther, more in depth. And I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface with whatever Sam experienced while his brother was MIA. I liked some of the touches we got. The looking at pictures of he and Dean; the yelling at Crowley; the going off the reservation in order to use that idiotic douchebag Lester to summon up a crossroads demon; torturing said crossroads demon. I like Sam going a bit dark without the show having to write it off to demon blood or being soulless. But did we get enough of this storyline? Not even close. Would I have loved to get even more of Sam’s perspective of what life was like without Dean or what he had to do in order to track his brother down? Yes. He’s had a story. But not enough of one.”
This lack of depth speaks directly to the allegedly “monstrous” things Sam had done in his search for Dean, the reveal of which disappointed quite a few fans. “Prior to the airing of season 10 we were told to be on the look out for a frantic Sam, Sam who was desperate to find and save his brother, no matter the consequences, but we literally didn’t see it,” Vinnie pointed out. “We were expecting ‘Mystery Spot Sam’, a more than half crazy, violent, cold, focused machine; instead we were the victims of the worst storytelling trick in the book: telling without showing. So we were told he was desperate, even tossed Cas aside due to his inability to be of proper use… and yet all we’ve seen is that he sort of pointed a misogynistic loaded gun toward target and then tortured the demonic target. I think I speak for everyone when I say, ‘big freaking deal, man.’ The Winchesters have gone to far greater lengths for far simpler reasons.”
“What is Sam’s journey this season?” Lynn asked. “I’m not sure he’s had one so far. I guess his journey this season has revolved around saving Dean, and I think coming closer to Dean’s way of thinking in that he seems determined to do just about anything to save his brother. I wish we had more insight into Sam’s head, because then I’d be more sure of that, but it seems that’s where Sam is at right now. We could have seen more of that journey if Dean had remained a demon for a longer period of time – I was hoping for episodes where Sam struggled with deciding how far he would go to save Dean, what he would do, crossing line after line as he slid down a slippery slope of ‘how much is too much’ while he tortured demons for information and did who knows what else. I wanted to see that exploration – wanted to see Sam begin to realize that Dean wasn’t the only Winchester willing to cross those lines for the other. How powerful that could have been! I think we could have had so much more of a journey for Sam in the first part of season 10, and we didn’t get nearly as much as I wanted. The warmth between the brothers has continued in season 10 [after the season 9 finale], and even a little of the playfulness and banter returned for a few episodes, and I’m not going to complain about that – it’s why I watch the show. But it would have been much more powerful if we’d followed the evolution of that attitude change, getting more than a fleeting glimpse inside Sam’s head as he changed his mind and rediscovered the importance of his bond with his brother.”
Perhaps the one silver lining regarding Sam’s actions to save Dean is, as Danielle pointed out, a bit of an unexpected side effect: “I am extremely glad that the ‘any means necessary’ approach he took to tracking down his brother didn’t turn into an argument between the brothers and/or another split for them. I thought there was potential for that when Dean learned just what his brother did in for information, and I’m glad that theme wasn’t revisited.”
Another disappointing aspect of Sam’s storyline this season revolves around him curing Dean. “The real question is DID Sam save Dean?” Vinnie asked. “And I’m asking that back in a two-fold way I suppose; if we’re talking about Dean being a demon, well he had a hand in saving Dean, but the way it was presented wasn’t really about Sam saving him, so much as a joint effort by him and Castiel and it was executed in a way that could have been done by anyone with a passing knowledge of demonology and someone with brute strength.” I don’t think she’s wrong. Let’s leave aside the fact that it all happened too soon (because we’re going to revisit that in the section on Dean), but the way in which Sam saved Dean was disappointing. Aside from the harsh words Dean spouted to Sam during the cure and the excellent chase scene throughout the bunker, so much of it didn’t feel personal. Vinnie is right in saying that if anyone had known the cure and if someone had stronger chains, then both Sam (and Cas) would have been rendered rather unnecessary during the cure.
If you contrast it to the ways in which Dean has saved Sam from “Something Big”, you’ll see the difference. No one but Dean would have been so crazy with grief as to sell their soul to save Sam from death. No one but Dean could have helped reach a Sam possessed by Lucifer and saved his brother from being the vessel of the devil while executing the Apocalypse. But Sam’s curing of Dean seemed far less personal than when he attempted to do it to Crowley (the lack of using Sam’s blood, while not wholly necessary, may have made it a bit more personal and familial). After ten years of watching Sam fail to save Dean from Hell and not even choosing to save Dean from Purgatory, it feels like the big cure was rather anticlimactic for everyone involved. Granted, it’s possible that the “Big Cure” is yet to come, but that was a big moment for the brothers that failed to be properly realized. “As far as Sam saving Dean in ‘Soul Survivor,’ I was glad it happened. But it happened too early,” Tina said. “And it happened too easily, as far as I’m concerned. I wanted to see more of Demon Dean hunting down Sam. I wanted Sam to go above and beyond in order to save his brother. I’m glad he got this win, but I wanted it to happen in more spectacular a fashion.”
Once the cure was done, we’ve had a lack of exploration regarding Sam’s reaction to the continued presence of the Mark of Cain (we’ve had this from Dean too, which we’ll deal with later). “Sam seems to be accepting of Dean’s assurances about the Mark way too easy, when it’s obvious that the latter is still fighting the urge to kill. That said, I can’t decide if Sam is just being uncharacteristically oblivious or he’s just desperate to believe Dean is better now,” Mike admitted. Alice agreed, saying “I know these brothers aren’t the type to just let loose with their feelings. But could it have hurt for Sam to have a nice, substantive conversation with Jody [about his concerns for Dean] while they were investigating things in ‘Hibbing 911?’ I don’t think so.”
When Dean used to be concerned about Sam’s spiral in season 4, his concern wasn’t only expressed by faraway looks into the distance. He had an opportunity to discuss these concerns with characters such as Bobby and Castiel (this also happened in season 6 when Sam was soulless). And in more recent seasons Dean has expressed his feelings to characters like Charlie. But Sam seemingly talks to no one. And this could be the result of the fact that most of the guest stars tend to be friends of Dean rather than Sam, but it’s Sam that Jody tends to be more forthwith with and yet that didn’t really happen. It’s now more than ever that I miss Bobby, because I feel like his presence would give Sam more of an opportunity to share his feelings about Dean and the Mark of Cain. But without him, we have a Sam who is far too silent. And even when Dean dissuades him from talking, Sam could be more forceful in insisting that they discuss the situation given how badly the whole thing turned out the first time around (spoiler alert: it ended in Dean becoming a demon). From the looks of a preview for episode 10.11, it appears that Sam does get a chance to talk to Charlie about Dean and the Mark of Cain, but we’ll have to see if that continues in the future and how deep it goes.
Perhaps the biggest problem surrounding contrived situations and characterization revolves around the mid-season finale (which, in my mind, has a few issues that we’ll revisit later), but Lynn rightly asked “Why oh why did it take Sam so long to realize Dean wasn’t with him? Why did he leave Dean in there with all the bad guys anyway? Surely it didn’t take both Sam and Cas to get Claire to the car. Director Guy Norman Bee attempted to defuse fan indignation about that scene, saying that it was only meant to be a very short time before Sam noticed Dean was missing. But if that’s true, how the hell did Dean manage to wreak all that havoc in the 10 seconds it would have taken for Sam to walk to the car? Was it parked in Idaho?”
“When Sam was slapped in the face in the mid-season finale with just how wrong things actually were — or how out of hand things had gotten — he had a moment of desperation where all he wanted was for Dean to lie to him just so he wouldn’t have to deal with what was really going on,” Danielle pointed out. “Sam’s greatest fear, it seemed, came true, and he seemed utterly ill equipped to deal with it. I can only hope that the returning episodes will see a return to the ‘how far Sam will go’ to save his brother elements of the first part of this season—even if out of that same desperation. And I’d like to see him have success.”
Maybe this time, however, we’ll see more reaction from Sam on what’s actually happening with Dean (and more of a reaction from Dean as well). If that progresses in the second half of the season I’m sure we’ll all be very happy.
Next page: Dean’s storyline…