Finding Kevin, closing the gates of Hell — Who can focus on all that when there's a much bigger issue at hand: that of Sam Winchester's (Jared Padalecki) very questionable year off? The biggest problem many Supernatural viewers (myself, included) have had with Jeremy Carver's debut season as showrunner is how Sam moved on after Dean's disappearance without an apparent second thought.
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While it's easy to get angry at Sam (just look at Dean) or write off his behavior as the symptom of a spell, brainwashing or some other supernatural hex (usually theorized to be caused by Sam's former girlfriend Amelia), maybe it's time we start accepting what might be a hard truth to swallow: that Sam took a year off because that's what he wanted — and needed — to do. And you know what? Maybe that's not so bad.
At first, Sam's actions seem out of character for the devoted brother, but after years of constant loss and sacrifice, it's possible Sammy just couldn't face everything alone. Our beloved Moose has always teetered precariously on the edge of a complete mental break (it was only last season that he was locked up in the loony bin). So while disappointing, it's not unheard of that Sam broke down and gave up for a while because honestly, who wouldn't?
Sam has been to Hell and back literally and even played host to the devil himself, but he always kept going until now. Cut the guy some slack.
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Running away from his problems doesn't necessarily make him a bad person or a bad brother. It makes him human, a fact that's easy to forget in the midst of all the supernatural mumbo jumbo the Winchesters marinate in. Plus, it became pretty clear in "Hunteri Heroici" that Sam didn't simply forget Dean (Jensen Ackles) and live happily ever after. "I lost him, and I ran," Sam confessed, exposing the wounded baby bird that he's become.
But Dean doesn't seem to notice his brother's pain. He's far too busy with his own inner turmoil and guilt to recognize anyone else's. Saint Dean has always had a hard time accepting the good in life, preferring to assume the worst and dwell on the bad, and now it seems his inability to do so might be stopping Sammy's ability to find happiness, as well.
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Hunting was never a life Sam wanted. As soon as he could get away from John and the family business, Sam did the unthinkable for a Winchester: he settled down and was (gasp) happy! When Dean crashed back into his life in the pilot, Sam's entire life was diverted to accommodate the needs of his brother, his father and the millions of people whose lives he saved. Sam changed everything for others, including his very person (oh Soulless Sam, how I don't miss you — except when you do shirtless pull-ups. I do miss that a bit).
When Sam told Dean in "Heartache" that he was done with hunting, it was only the most recent in a string of pleas for retirement. In one of most memorable, from Season 1's "Shadow," Sam told his brother: "I'm not going to live this life forever. Dean, when this is all over, you're going to have to let me go my own way."
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Of course, Dean didn't let him go. But Dean never lets anything go. Be it a grudge, Sammy or the ghost of Bobby — the broodiest brother is an emotional hoarder. Dean never seems to get it through that thick, but beautiful, skull of his that though the demons might always be there, other things can change, sometimes even for the better.
But Dean was never one to listen to authority, so maybe that's why he seems to have learned nothing from Bobby's final lesson: "When it's your time, go." How many times has the brothers' inability to accept death caused them nothing but trouble? Vengeful Bobby, Dean's trip to Hell, Sam's flayed soul and shattered mind — the list goes on.
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And Bobby wasn't the first person to attempt to teach the Winchesters this crucial lesson. The Trickster also tried to drop some knowledge on the boys in Season 3: "The way you two keep sacrificing yourselves for each other? Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood and pain... Sometimes, you just gotta let people go."
Back then, Sam didn't listen. He spent an entire year trying to rescue Dean from Hell and nearly went crazy in the process. (He even considered Dean living on like a runway-ready Frankenstein!) Maybe Sam finally realized the Trickster had it right: that it was time to start letting go and live his own life.
Unfortunately, Dean didn't get the memo: "I don't know about you, but this last year's given me a new perspective. I know where I'm at my best, which is right here, driving down crazy street next to you."
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Oh, Dean. Don't you see? What's best for you and what's best for your brother might not be the same thing! Sam wants to educate himself, get out of the drifter life and create a home of his own — a home Dean once had.
Yes, I haven't forgotten that Sam isn't the only one to take a year off hunting to play house. While Soulless Sam was off hunting with the Campbells, Dean was set up nice and cozy with Lisa and Ben. And when Sam did come back into his life, Dean tried to balance the two worlds, a luxury he doesn't seem to offer Sammy. "You took a year off to do yoga and play the lute, whatever," Dean told his brother (at a farmer's market, no less). "But I'm back. We're back. Which means that we walk and kill monsters at the same time."
What? If they can walk and kill monsters, why can't they can't shop organically and kill monsters at the same time, too? Maybe if the brother's just communicated they'd be able to understand where each other are coming from and find a compromise. Though, that might just be wishful thinking on my part.
Do you think Sam had the right to take a year off while Dean was in Purgatory? Or should he have continued to search for his brother?
Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
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