A retro-meta as I finish my pinch hitter duties from Season One.
Consider Sam. Yeah, you know him pretty well but I just want you to reflect on the place Sam was in at the beginning of Scarecrow. It’s April 2006, 6 months after Jess’ death.
Sam’s had his life and his lover ripped from him, he’s dealing with grief and guilt while hunting evil and trying to find his father who may be the only way for him to take vengeance on Jess’ killer.
At the beginning of Scarecrow, which follows on directly from the events of Asylum, John Winchester calls. Sam answers Dean’s phone and, for the first time in possibly four and a half years speaks to his father. It starts with each reassuring the other that they’re okay, although Sam’s answering we’re fine indicates he is not really interested in small talk – I mean remember yesterday Sam with you and the shooting and insulting of your brother?
And, after everything, what does Sam get from John? Exactly what he always has – the opposite of what he wants. Sam wants to find John and the demon. While finding John was initially a means to finding Jess’ killer as time has gone by, and Sam has learned more about his father and importantly the love and pride John has in him, finding John has also become about Sam wanting to re-establish this important relationship. And John shuts him down – telling Sam that he shouldn’t look for him or and that he can’t help fight the demon.
Is it any wonder that a crisis is precipitated? (and of course it is poor Dean who is there to bear the brunt of it and not John). As the brothers proceed on the John-initiated mission, Sam decides enough is enough – he is going to pursue what he wants and he tries to explain his need for vengeance to Dean.
Dean: Alright, look, I know how you feel.
Sam: Do you? How old were you when Mom died? Four? Jess died six months ago. How the hell would you know how I feel?
I think we learn two things from this accusation. Firstly Sam feels neither Dean nor his father is really acknowledging his feelings. I also think this gives us an even further insight into the boys’ childhood. We know that growing up Sam had a difficult relationship with his father - he felt he couldn’t please John, and that John didn’t accept him for who he was. He also saw Dean as being the ‘perfect’ son (as he says in Bugs). I imagine he felt even more separate from John and Dean because they shared memories of Mary – they could share their grief in a way Sam never could. Interestingly we see this swing around when John and Sam unite in Dead Man’s Blood, when they acknowledge what they now have in common, grief over having lost the women they love.
I also want to mention Dean’s statement to Sam:
You’re a selfish bastard, you know that? You just do whatever you want. Don’t care what anybody thinks.
Is Sam selfish? Well he is doing what he wants, but I would challenge that this is inherently a bad thing. Acting in our own self-interest (which we all do), need not mean we don’t care for others, or that we are mean-spirited in some way. I think this statement says more about Dean. He reveals to Sam in their later conversation when he says You stand up to Dad, and you always have. Hell, I wish I…Anyway - I admire that about you. Part of Dean struggles with his obedience to his father, part of him want to follow his own desires. This conflict causes him to hate the part of Sam that is able to do what he can’t.
At this point I don’t think Sam is leaving Dean per se, his grief makes him feel powerless and he needs to act. Pursuing John (and the demon) seems like something active to do.
After leaving Dean, we have Sam encountering Meg. Remember how isolated and vulnerable Sam is at this point – having left his brother and heading towards a father who doesn’t want to be found. Her strategy with Sam is clever – firstly reject him (you could be some kind of freak) and then later bond with him over the pretence of shared family experiences. But even this is not enough to win Sam over and this is not the last time the Demon will underestimate the fierce bonds in this family.
When we next see Sam and Dean speak on the phone, we don’t know who initiated the call. Does it matter who did? We have seen both of them contemplating calling the other. I think the important point is the: one of them called and the other one answered. A significant change from what kept them apart for four years - their relationship is different now than it was then.
However Sam does not freely offer help but says “if you’re hinting you need my help, just ask.” This moment is echoed later in Shadows when it is John, not Sam, who makes the move to apologise and embrace Sam. This seems important, although I’m not exactly sure how. It says to me something about Sam seeing himself as the aggrieved party and wanting/needing his family to be the ones who make the first move to make things better.
We then have Dean giving Sam something Sam says he wants, when he lets Sam go with his blessing “You’ve got to do your own thing. You’ve got to live your own life.” and “You’ve always known what you want and you go after it. You stand up to Dad, and you always have. Hell, I wish I…Anyway - I admire that about you. I’m proud of you, Sammy.”
*sniffle* What an awesome big brother.
Sam’s reaction is telling: “I don’t even know what to say.” I don’t think he can actually take in what Dean is saying, what Dean is giving him. This is confirmed for me when Meg asks what Dean was saying and Sam sums it up as “Goodbye”.
As I have discussed in my meta on Sam in Shadows, I think Sam wants to be with his family more than he can admit to himself. When he left for Stanford, he cut of all contact because he feared any contact would lure him back.
Here, he can’t admit how much he wants to stay, Sam wants them to fight to keep him, he doesn’t want them to let him go. So while Dean gives Sam what he thinks Sam wants (You’ve got to do your own thing) what I think Sam really wants Dean to say is “don’t go Sammy” or “I’ll come with you Sammy”. And when this doesn’t occur, Sam goes to find Dean.
And after finding Dean, Sam decides to stay with him:
“I still want to find Dad. And you’re still a pain in the ass. But Jess and Mom—they’re both gone. Dad is god knows where. You and me; we’re all that’s left. So, if we’re going to see this through, we’re going to do it together.”
This episode is important in the arc of Season One. Hunting with Dean has been incidental to finding John and the demon. If Sam’s desire for vengeance was to remain a strong, motivating emotion for Sam later in the season, he needed to make a choice about how things were going to go forward. Otherwise it would be unbelievable for him to continue tagging along with Dean, with John nowhere in sight, as the season progressed.
But it also signals an important shift in familial relationships. Four years ago Sam left – he didn’t need (or thought he didn’t need) John or Dean. Now Sam is admitting to himself that he does. At least for now.