Home, to me, is about putting aside childish things. By returning to the place where their journey began, both of the brothers are symbolically revisiting their childhood. During the episode, both separately face the same test: to face the reality of their adult lives and shoulder the burden, alone.
Dean faces his test when he calls John for help and gets no reply. John has been there for Dean all of his life: Dean's teacher and captain as well as his father. Despite John's absence throughout the season thus far, Dean still believes that John is out there, safe and well, and he'll be in touch when he's ready. When John (apparently) fails to respond to Dean's call for help, Dean has to face the reality of going on alone, not just with this job, but with his life. Dean doesn't fall apart, not even briefly. He straightens up and gets on with the job, not just the good soldier but the good leader: Dean is equal to his burden.
Sam's challenge is more subtle, and at the end of Home, Sam is still wrestling with his ultimate question. The repercussions follow Sam through the next two episodes.
"Dean, we have to check this out. Just to make sure."
As the episode begins, we see the brothers discussing their next "gig". Dean is relaxed, rattling off a list of news reports that he's found. Sam is listening, but he's distracted, drawing images from his nightmare. I wonder how often he has done the same thing, restlessly dwelling on images from his dreams, but doing nothing about them because he doesn't believe, or perhaps doesn't want to believe, that his dreams are true. Sam's capacity for denial of the supernatural around him is…well, as good as most "normal" people's: remember when he says in the pilot that "When I told dad I was scared of the thing in my closet he gave me a .45." I wonder what the chances are that, when Sam was nine, there really was something in his closet.
But things have changed now. Jess's death - exactly as Sam dreamed it - leaves him unable to completely deny the reality of his gift. This time, when he dreams about a woman in danger, he knows the nightmare is real. He's worried, drawing the tree from his dream over and again. When he realises he recognises the image, everything clicks. It immediately becomes personal for Sam. None of Dean's news stories mean anything; he knows where they have to go and he knows they have to go right away.
Sam really doesn't want to tell Dean about the dream. Perhaps it's because he knows it will freak him out, but I suspect it's also about Sam's longing for a normal, safe life. It's clear that he's never told anyone that he has this gift. Dean knows Sam has nightmares: he says "I've noticed," like "well, duh!" But no one knows this. In saying it aloud, admitting it to Dean, Sam puts that dream of normality behind him forever. He can stop hunting, he can cut himself off from his family, but he can never again be average Joe. This is the truth of his adult life.
And yet, there's a part of Sam that longs for it. Once it's out there, on the table, it's like a floodgate has opened for him. There's no uncertainty in Sam: he knows the woman is in danger, he knows she's in his old house and he's absolutely certain that this is where they need to go. Sam doesn't seem to notice, at first, that he's touched a very raw nerve for Dean.
"Dean, we have to check this out. Just to make sure."
Sam looks so very young when he says that. I see the little boy who's still inside him, begging his big brother to take his side even as Sam is doing this very adult thing.
Sam And His Father
"When I told dad I was scared of the thing in my closet he gave me a .45."
Returning to the house where, in a sense, his childhood was taken away, Sam is placed in his father's shoes almost at once. When Sari mentions something in her closet Jenny appeals to both brothers: reassure the little girl that there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark. Dean, consistent with his response in the pilot, says nothing. Sam hesitates before telling the comforting lie. But he must have remembered his dad in that moment; I wonder how badly Sam wanted to give Sari a .45. Very badly, judging from his argument with Dean as they leave the house. Already, Sam is regretting taking the conventional route: he wants to warn Jenny of the danger, get them out of the house now. Still he listens to Dean's voice of reason. They are a team: notice that Sam says "we", never "I" when talking about what they should do.
At the climax of the episode, however, the team isn't quite together. Again, Sam is the one who wants to keep an eye on the house. Dean is with him, but he's not exactly supportive: he wants to be asleep in bed. When trouble starts they enter the house together and Sam follows Dean's order to get the children. They were already separated emotionally; Dean's order splits them up physically. Here, Sam takes his second big step into adulthood.
John: Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don't look back! Now Dean, go! (Woman In White)
Sam: Sari, take your brother outside as fast as you can. Don't look back! (Home)
It is exactly what John did on the night Mary died. Sam doesn't know he's repeating John's exact words. It's only a day since he learned that Dean is the one who carried him out of the house that night. But his use of the same words underlines that, this time, Sam has acted exactly as his father would have. As John did. Earlier, though he wanted to hand Sari a metaphorical .45 to deal with the thing in her closet, he couldn't bring himself do it. But faced with imminent danger Sam becomes his father, taking on the adult role, and he sends the kids to safety while he faces the bad thing alone.
Sam And His Mother
"If it weren't for pictures I wouldn't even know what mom looks like."
Sam has a deep connection to Mary's spirit which comes across clearly in the episode, yet no one, not even Sam, exactly spells it out.
Mary's death is probably the most significant event in the lives of all the Winchester men, but Sam is the only one of the trio who has no memory of it. How could he - he was six months old. Throughout Home we see Sam dealing with that lack as he tries to puzzle out what his happening, both in the house and in his own head. Sam asks Dean what he remembers, he questions Mike Guenther quite closely, too, and later Missouri. In the meeting with Missouri Dean is almost silent; it's Sam who talks and questions.
When Missouri leads the brothers to the psychic centre of the house, Sam has to ask why that particular room is important. When Missouri tells him that they're in the place where his mother died, the look in Sam's face is absolutely heartbreaking. It's as if he feels he should have known. His eyes flick up to the ceiling, just quickly. Dean looks up there, too, and you can see he's remembering their mother up there. But Sam has nothing to remember.
Yet, Sam probably has a clearer idea of what happened than Dean. Dean was four years old, a scared child: whatever he remembers of Mary's death must be coloured by that. But Sam was an adult when he watched Jess die in the same way as his mother. So that so-brief look at the ceiling? He's thinking of their mother, but you can bet it's Jess he's seeing, and that's the sight he looks away from.
When Missouri tells them that the poltergeist isn't the demon that killed Mary and Jess, there's a moment when Sam challenges her. He wants to find the ceiling demon here. There's part of him still clinging to the idea that it can all be over and he can go back to his safe and normal life. But it's only a moment; he already knows that's gone. The next moment Sam is focussed intently on Missouri and what she's saying.
This is the first time that Sam has deliberately used whatever power it is that he has. The thing is that he doesn't truly know what his power is. He's acting on instinct, reaching out, trying to sense the same thing Missouri is interpreting so easily. He even succeeds - Missouri hints he's even more powerful than she is - but he doesn't have the experience to go with the power. He doesn't know what he's sensing. Missouri says that she "can't quite make out" the second spirit. She's focused (logically) on the evil one.
I believe that Sam has a stronger sense of his mother's spirit than he does of the poltergeist. It makes sense simply because there's a blood connection there, but it also explains why he's so uncertain about it all. Missouri's words imply that both of the spirits she senses are evil. I think Sam realises the second spirit is not: the look in his face while Missouri talks about the poltergeist is very confused. What Sam senses is in conflict with Missouri's words. Maybe, with just a little more time, he would have figured it out - after all, he's got to be familiar with the notion that someone who died a violent death may haunt the location. But Dean interrupts, bringing them back to the practicalities: they have to make sure no one else dies in the house.
Later, as they work on cleansing the house, Sam again fails to sense the poltergeist when it tries to strangle him with the lamp cord. Yet after the cleansing Sam is the one who senses that something remains in the house. He's unsure of himself, but no wonder if it's not evil Sam is sensing. He's uneasy enough to insist that he and Dean return to the house after dark.
I find it significant that Sam is alone when he realises that the burning spirit is Mary. It's this last challenge that he has to face alone which marks his final step out of childhood.
Up until then Sam has been uncertain about the spirit because everyone (including his own nightmare) has been telling him there's evil in the house. Missouri talks about a "nasty" poltergeist. Sari is terrified by the burning apparition. Dean behaves as if it's a malevolent ghost. Nothing Sam has witnessed contradicts the notion that it's evil. But when he's alone, without all that conflicting input, he can see the truth.
More than that, when Mary destroys the poltergeist, Sam knows she's gone. You can see it in his face; he's been sensing her presence, not just seeing her, so he can't help but feel that she's absent. Dean isn't certain, but Sam is.
To Carry The Burden Alone
"Now it's over."
In the first half of the episode, Sam is following a pattern that was probably programmed into him, and Dean, by their father. Identify the problem, learn about the problem, solve the problem. He and Dean make a good team, and Sam thinks of them as a team. At the beginning when they are discussing Sam's prophetic nightmare, and later when they argue about getting Jenny and her kids out of the house, Sam keeps saying "we".
At Missouri's home, Sam begins to take charge. He does most of the talking while Dean keeps his mouth shut most of the time.
But it's after the house cleansing that "we" becomes "I". As far as Dean is concerned, it's all over and he wants a good night's sleep in a bed. But Sam insists they wait outside the house. The perfect team isn't quite there. Dean cooperates, but it's clear he thinks they're wasting their time until Sam sees Jenny in the window.
In Woman In White Sam said of Mary "If it weren't for pictures I wouldn't even know what mom looks like. Even if we do find the thing that killed her, mom's gone, and she isn't coming back." How those words must haunt him after he sees her spirit in their old house. She has given him something more, far more, than just pictures. She destroyed herself to save him. Sam doesn't want to believe it; he accepts it only when Missouri explains what happened. And now he knows for sure that she's never coming back.
There's one more brief conversation at the end. Sam asks Missouri, "What's happening to me?" In a way, it's the plea of a child: he wants her to explain the inexplicable to him. I don't mean it's a childish question - it's a perfectly reasonable question under the circumstances. It's the way he says it that seems child-like to me.
Missouri basically tells him he's on his own with this one: "I know I should have all the answers, but I don't know."
Before Sam can continue the conversation, Dean calls back to him: "Sam, are you ready?"
Significantly, Sam does not answer Dean's question. He simply walks forward and gets into the Impala. The gesture places him firmly into adult territory. He's asked the question (What's happening to me?). He accepts that there will be no easy answers and he shoulders the adult burden at last. But when Dean asks if he's ready, the question, in that moment, has too many layers. Sam has no answer. Not yet.