Shadow: the darkened shape of something in light; hint of something; ominous gloom; threat or blight; somebody following another
Welcome to Episode 16 of Season One Shadow, an episode about shadows. Okay, anvils of obvious you may think, but bear with me (or not). Shadows abound here: there are real shadows, shadows in the shape of the daevas and The Demon who is not actually present but casts its shadow over everything. The most significant shadow is the one the falls over the Winchesters, in terms of both their quest and their relationship as a family.
The episode takes place two thirds of the way through the season, at a point equivalent to the end of the Second Act in a play or movie. During the later part of the second act there are two significant lot points– the hero gets very close to achieving his goal, but by the end of the second act his plans are in tatters and he seems further from his goal than ever. This summarizes Sam’s journey in this episode. Sam’s quest has been to find his fathering order to hunt down The Demon. In this episode he finds his father, only to be separated from him again, and he comes close to destroying The Demon, only to be defeated. We end the episode with a shadow over the quest, the family unit, and specifically Dean and Sam’s relationship.
In the beginning of the episode, we find the boys as close as they have been since they reunited. This episode obviously references back to Scarecrow, where we first met Meg, and at which point Sam and Dean had parted ways. Since the resolution at the end of that episode, their relationship has grown closer and become more harmonious as they have gone about the family business. There are points in this episode which point out their closeness, how they are become more of a
couple unit: they start the episode dressed in the same uniform (accompanied by the reminiscence of a shared childhood memory), and several times speak in unison (you’re not going to believe this, yes sir). We even see how their roles in the relationship are becoming interchangeable – Sam being the mistrustful one, taking the Impala on a stakeout while Dean does the research. Of course there’s a reason for all this – so it can be ripped down.
At the same time we are being reminded of the boys’ closeness, there is another story being told to remind us that they are here for different reasons. Hunting has a very different meaning for both of them and this is part of the tension about to surface. For Dean hunting - the family business - is his life, while for Sam it’s something he has to do so he can get on with his life. This episode remains us of this through how the boys’ sexuality is played out (whoa there Nelly, not like that!)
Sam’s sexuality is explicitly foregrounded in this episode – particularly through the upstairs/downstairs brain analogy - Sam thinks with his upstairs brain while Dean thinks with his downstairs brain. Sam is not distracted or deceived by Meg’s use of her sexual wiles, although we keep having other people (Dean, random woman in street, Meg) assume that he will be. At this point in the season, the sexual side of Sam is still in shadow. It is linked both to his grief over Jess, and to the fact that his focus is on the hunt for The Demon.
I think sexuality is a marker of an important point of difference between Sam and Dean. Grief aside, Sam views what he is doing now as separate from his life. Normal things, like desire, are put on hold while this hunt is on. For Dean, in contrast, this is his life of which sex and relationships are, as you’d expect, a normal part. This was explored in Route 666 (places ring of rocksalt around Cassie). Of course Dean told Cassie what his ‘real’ job was – it’s who he is. At the end of the episode Sam says You meet someone like her, ever make you wonder if it’s worth it? Putting everything else on hold, doing what we do? Dean doesn’t respond, partly I think because he doesn’t see that he has put his life on hold. This difference between them remains, even in Provenance, when Sam admits to grief or loyalty to Jess no longer being a barrier to desire.
Why this is particularly important in this episode is because it is another clue of how differently Sam and Dean view where they are in their lives, and how they don’t recognize that is different for the other one.
So onto The Conversation. The boys are preparing to confront The Demon (pause to re-watch gun!porn) when they confront another demon – life after this hunt. As discussed, Sam is doing this so he can get on with his life. I have no doubt that he sees this life as including Dean and his Dad. Not in the living in the Impala, hunting things days of his teens, but as you’d expect a 22 year old to continue to include his family in his life. See, despite the 4 year break, I don’t think Sam ever stopped feeling part of the family. Sam is securely attached psychologically to his family. He doesn’t expect them to abandon him nor is he insecure in their absence. (Dean however… smacks self as this is not a Dean meta). Sam didn’t experience the loss of his mother in the same way Dean did, and he had both John and Dean to raise him. Back in the Pilot episode, he still refers to his family in the present tense (they are not the Bradys) and has a photo of his parents in his bedroom.
So when Dean says he wants them to be a family, Sam doesn’t understand. He states what he understands to be true we are a family. Of course Dean (ok I can’t help myself), who expects to be abandoned and is insecure, is facing what must be terrifying for him – being alone as he is faces the prospect of Sam leaving him, and having no idea (at this point) where John is.
Next Sam states unequivocally that this is not the life he wants. More precisely that he doesn’t want to return to the past (It can never be like it used to be. It could be. I don’t want it to). Not an unreasonable statement, but what hurts here is that it is a point of separation which is necessary but painful. It is normal for children to separate from their families, usually in their late teens/early adulthood. This is often accompanied by anger, and hurt and grief as the parent/dependent child relationship is left behind for the one of adult/parent and adult child. In Sam’s case, because of the extremely close and insular nature of his family, the initial attempt at separation was extremely painful and wrenching (on both sides). He makes this strong statement here because he doesn’t want to go back to being that child.
This leads us to his statement Dean, when this is over you’re going to have to let me go and me back to the theme of shadows. I think this is a manifestation of Sam’s shadow self. The shadow self is a Jungian concept: It represents those things we don’t wish to acknowledge about ourselves. We are usually unaware of this shadow, and will project it on to others where we may identify it as a thing that repels us (or draws us to) the other person. Interestingly, the shadow self is often referred to as the dark brother or evil twin (I’m just saying).
The major aspect of Sam’s shadow that we see here is his desire to stay with John and Dean. Sam reacts strongly when Dean expresses his need for Sam because Sam is so uncomfortable with that need for family in himself. Sam sees himself as different from his family, independent, yet on some level he wants to fit in, to be like them and with them, and it is this part of himself he hates.
Sam says to Dean you have to let me go which is a strange thing to say given the evidence that his family is more than willing to do this. Dean and John let Sam go to College, at the end of the Pilot Dean was willing to let Sam go, as he was again in Scarecrow. Sam himself has agreed with this earlier in this episode when Dean asks Sam whether he feels that Dean is dragging him around the countryside. No he says of course not.
It is Sam who really doesn’t want to go. Sam has chosen to stay with Dean and try to find John. If it was only about The Demon, he could have gone off on his own.
By the end of the episode, the shadow over Sam’s relationship with John is lifted, however it is interesting that at their reunion it is John who makes the first move. Shadow self again: Sam cannot admit his need. The underlying irony of the Sam’s journey this season has been that, on one level, he was the one to break-up the family unit, yet it is now Sam who seeks to reunite them. And it is finally in this episode that Sam gets the chance to say to both Dean and John, and admit to himself perhaps, that he wants them to be together.