Recently, Emily has watched through seasons 1-9 of Supernatural (2-9 were for the first time). In the second of several articles, Emily looks at why she ended up preferring Sam Winchester as a character over Dean Winchester and finds there’s more to it than just abs and TV ad hair.
There will be spoilers for seasons 1-9 in this article.
He just wanted to go to school
When we originally meet Sam in season one of Supernatural, Sam really, really wants to study law at university and go on and have a “normal” life. With the events that unfold in the first episode of Supernatural, it’s clear that Sam will not have a normal life, at least for now. But this idea of Sam and wanting to do something with his intelligence is a theme that keeps coming back through the series. Apart from season one and Dean’s many accusations against Sam and his desire to return to school, the season four episode “After School Special” also examines how Sam was a really bright child and from an early age, wanted to pursue a life that was very different from that of his father and older brother.
Mr. Wyatt: You know this assignment was non-fiction, right?
Sam: Yes, Mr. Wyatt.
“After School Special”
It’s this studious aspect of Sam – also reflected in how he’s always tended to be the one to hit the books/internet first for research – that allows for me to identify with his character in ways that aren’t really there with Dean. As someone who has gone through university twice and not gone into the family business and as someone who loves researching things: studious Sam makes a lot of sense to me. Sam is familiar, because I can narcissistically identify with him as a character.
Sam as “other” and addict
Over the course of the first five seasons, there is a lot of characterisation done for Sam that revolves around him being different, other, to his brother and humans in general. The actions of the demon Azazel that led to Sam eventually developing powers, from visions to being able to exorcise demons with a thought, creates an interesting arc during those first five seasons. Sam, having started off as that bookish guy, isn’t that clean cut: there’s a darkness to him, as Bobby points out in season five:
Look, Sam’s got a… darkness in him, I’m not saying he don’t. But he’s got a helluva lot of good in him too.
“Two Minutes to Midnight”
I enjoyed watching the complexity that this curse/gift adds to Sam (and it’s probably why I found Dean a bit more interesting in season nine). His worries about being a “freak” are also identifiable to anyone who has found that they don’t fit in with general expectations of who or what they should be. But perhaps more interestingly is how Sam’s otherness is tied in with addiction and the fact that he has such a huge struggle with refusing demon blood before consuming tonnes of the stuff in run-up to the final battle of season five.
If you can call Hell rehab, the returning of Sam, at the end of season five and during the first main arc of season six, without a soul – for me – served as an allegory to coming back from rehab and having to re-find his way, or forge a new one, having beaten the addiction that previously defined him as a character. And while his issues with demon blood have not been touched upon in a long time, it’s never been one hundred percent confirmed that his powers – which have been shown as able to go dormant – have completely left him. Sam, as many who have struggled with addiction know all too well, is an addict for life and just one drop could send him off the wagon.
In much of the earlier seasons of Supernatural, it is Dean who oversees the safety and well-being of both his brother and himself. But once Dean comes back from Purgatory in season eight and finds out that Sam didn’t try to get him out of there, it’s Sam that does much of the emotional dance. I like that Sam doesn’t see family relationships as purely black and white, that he doesn’t treat family as something that you accept at face value. It makes him a little unlikebale, but it also makes him a realist, as shown in this conversation from episode one of season eight:
Dean: No. You, Sam. You quit?
Sam: Yeah. Yeah, I – you were gone… Dean. Cas was gone, Bobby was dead. I mean, Crowley even shipped off Kevin and Meg to parts unknown.
Dean: So you just turned tail on the family business?
Sam: Nothing says family quite like the whole family being dead.
Dean: I wasn’t dead. In fact, I was knee-deep in God’s armpit, killing monsters. Which, I thought, is what we actually do.
Sam: Yes, Dean, and as far as I knew, what we do is the thing that got every single member of my family killed. I had no one. No one. And for the first time in my life I was completely alone, and honestly I didn’t exactly have a road map. So, yeah, I fixed up the Impala and I just drove.
Dean: After you looked for me. Did you look for me, Sam?
Dean: Good. That’s good. No, we always told each other not to look for each other. That’s smart, good for you. Of course we always ignored that because of our deep abiding love for each other. But not this time, right Sammy?
Sam: I’m still the same guy.
Dean: Well bully for you! I’m not.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin”
The relationship between Sam and Dean in season nine is where I have seen it at its most strained (keep in mind season ten hasn’t been shown in the UK yet, at time of writing). Once Sam is fully back in control of himself, he again shows that he thinks there should be a limit to the lengths that the two of them should go to, angry that Dean wouldn’t let him die. Sam’s constant challenging of what it means to be family is an aspect to his character that I find endearing.
Between being able to identify with Sam as a character and watching the complexities that have afflicted him throughout the seasons I’ve seen so far, has meant that I do prefer his character over that of Dean’s. But I don’t dislike Dean’s character or see him as less complex, it’s just that, despite him being the older character, Dean has taken a long time to grow up, where as Sam has always been grown up, his childhood non-existent. Those initial extra layers to Sam have therefore, for me, made him my favourite Winchester in Supernatural.
Episode quotes sourced through www.supernaturalwiki.com