Review of Episode 8×03: Heartache
Overall: Our first stand-alone of the season – yay! I actually liked the storyline of this one—the whole organ donor/Mayan warrior/heart-eating stuff. It fit together nicely, and I like that they mentioned the professor guy who helped with the Amazon women last year (Nice subtle flicker of emotion from Dean, at the mention of the case that involved his monster-daughter). I also liked the Betsy character in this ep—her story was touching (in a weird way) and her performance was emotional. Good stuff. There was gore and humor and one Sam flashback (I need way more of these), plus the boys talked about their futures, just like the old days. Once again, it felt like a genuine episode of Supernatural, and I think it was Jensen’s best directing job so far (he’s getting better with experience). That said, however, I do have a few bones (already salted and burned, I swear) to pick with this episode, and the season thus far.
Dean: Dean is still on a warrior high from Purgatory. He is in love with the hunt, happy to be doing it, and happy to have Sam by his side. It’s nice to see Dean this way—very reminiscent of season one. (Both boys, actually, seem to have come full circle, but more on that when we get to Sam.)
What I’m not so thrilled about is the continuing hypocrisy Dean exhibits towards his little brother—I’m still not seeing how Sam choosing a normal life with Amelia is any different than Dean choosing a normal life with Ben and Lisa. There were still monsters out there, killing people and committing all sorts of atrocities, while Dean was playing house for a year in Cicero, Indiana. Why is it acceptable for Dean to take a break, but not for Sam? I kept expecting Sam to bring this up (and defend himself a little!), but then I remembered that Dean said he’d break Sam’s nose if Sam ever mentioned Ben and Lisa again. So, I guess Sam is just respecting Dean’s wishes (and trying to keep an intact face) by not bringing Dean’s “other family” into the argument. Still, Dean could have some self-awareness. Dean shouldn’t be mad that Sam settled down – Dean should be mad that Sam (apparently) settled down without even trying to find out what happened to Dean and Castiel! That’s a legitimate issue I would have no trouble backing Dean up on, and maybe that’s what the underlying issue is – he’s just expressing it as annoyance that Sam temporarily gave up hunting (and wants to do so permanently).
Sam: Lots of interesting things going on with him in this one. The progression of his character is fascinating to track. It seems as though, like his brother, Sam is returning to familiar, “season one” territory. Sam wants to have a chance at “normal.” He wants to give up hunting and go back to school, like he wanted to do for most of his life. He is willing to do this one last mission (find Kevin and banish the demons), but then he’s done. This is so much like the first season, it’s almost identical: Sam was willing to go along with Dean to find their dad (and take care of the demon that killed Mom and Jess), but after that, he planned to be done with hunting.
After John died, of course, Sam went through some changes—partly out of guilt, he re-evaluated his life and decided maybe he did want to hunt. The brothers were so wounded and grief-stricken in season two, they relied on one another more than ever, and there wasn’t much talk about separating in the future. Then Dean sold his soul, and Sam’s main focus for the next year was saving his brother. We also saw Sam begin to harden as he braced himself for Dean’s death. By this point, Sam seemed entrenched in hunting—there were no thoughts of giving it up, just of how he would continue to hunt (and survive) without his brother. And then the worst happened: Dean died, and Sam became the cold-blooded hunter we glimpsed in Mystery Spot. The sweet, sensitive Sammy we all knew and loved was gone, replaced by a demon-blood- and power-addicted hunter whose superiority (and derogatory attitude towards his brother) were hard to watch.
Redemption came in season five, when Sam showed remorse for his behavior in season four, and the brothers (after a brief separation) worked together as a team to stop the apocalypse. In this season, Sam got a taste of “normal” in the episode Swap Meat, and declared that he wanted nothing to do with it. “That kid’s life sucked,” Sam said, indicating that he would much rather be hunting than living some boring, ordinary existence. However, Sam’s version of Heaven said otherwise: As the afterlife experience revealed, Sam’s happiest moments are the snatches of normal he got in his lifetime—Thanksgiving dinner at a girlfriend’s house, and the time he ran away and adopted a dog. There is no Dean – or John – in Sam’s Heaven. So, to me this indicates that deep down he still wanted normal, but given the circumstances – the world was ending, and Sam (whose fate was tied to Lucifer’s) likely wouldn’t survive the final battle – Sam chose to bury these feelings and embrace the life he had, since it was all he would ever live to know.
But, Sam did survive, after all. His soulless self chose to hunt solo (no surprise there – soulless Sam would have no interest in a family, normal or otherwise), and then his re-souled self chose to continue hunting with Dean. Though Sam may have been longing for normalcy again at this point, there was no real indication of it—he seemed mostly focused on redeeming himself for his soulless actions, plus helping Dean deal with an ongoing monster/angel/demon crisis. Then season seven came, with a new crisis: Leviathan. That, and Sam had mental stability issues, courtesy of the devil. Both of these things likely put normal off the table for the foreseeable future.
Now, though, the Leviathan seem to be under control. Sam’s mentally stable, and normal is—quite possibly—within reach. But not for the first time–Sam keeps saying that with Amelia, he experienced something he never had before. This bothers me because he had a life at college, with Jess, that I would consider pretty close to normal. For four years, he turned his back on hunting and studied pre-law. He had a live-in girlfriend and college buddies.
If, in last night’s ep, Sam had said, “I found something I haven’t felt since Jess,” then I would have no problem with it, but it feels like the writers are kind of ignoring that part of his history. I know for Sam it’s been a very long time since college (seven years of show, plus two year-long time-jumps, plus a couple hundred Tuesdays in the Mystery Spot (and another sixth months following the Wednesday when Dean died), plus about eighteen months (or about 180 years, Hell-time) of his soul being in Lucifer’s cage)—okay a REALLY, REALLY long time…But still, I think Sam would have to have some memory of his time with Jess.
My only other issue with Sam (and his current desire to stop hunting) is that we still don’t know why he didn’t look for Dean. I need for the progression of events to be believable, in order for the emotions to ring true. I can believe that Sam drove off in a panic after Dean disappeared. However, at some point not too long after that, the Sam I know would have pulled himself together. He’s a bookworm, so he would’ve started doing research on God weapons to figure out what happened to Dean and Cass. Sam would’ve called Sheriff Mills and gotten her help checking for unconscious John Does who might’ve turned up at nearby hospitals right after the blast. Sam would have contacted angels and even demons, trying to gain information on what had happened to his brother and Castiel. Then, if and only if Sam’s research determined that Dean and Cass were either dead or irretrievable, Sam might have believably given up the search and settled down with Amelia and Riot (cute name).
So far, the show is not portraying the events this way, and it’s a disservice to Sam’s character. I still have hope that flashbacks will reveal that there’s more to the story than Sam’s told Dean so far, but the hope is starting to fray a little. I did like the flashback in this ep, with Sam’s panic at not knowing where Amelia was, and the sweet little moment with the birthday cake (though I don’t believe for a second that it’s his first cake–surely either Dean or Jess (who baked cookies to welcome him home after only two days away) would have celebrated Sam’s b-day with some form of cake–even if it was just a hostess cupcake with a match stuck in it).
In all honesty, I like the idea of show coming full circle—of Dean wanting to hunt and be with Sam, and Sam wanting to go to school. I think this could be a great arc for the final season (if that’s what this is), finishing with Dean accepting Sam’s decision and letting him go his own way, and Sam finally getting the life he always longed for. I just can’t get past the Sam-not-looking-for-Dean thing, and until they explain it in some reasonable way that’s true to Sam’s character, I can’t quite embrace where his character is now. And I want to! I really, really want to feel the show like I did in the old days, when the bad moments hurt like they were real…
I hope we can get there again. In the meantime, I’ll hold out hope for more flashbacks, more explanation, and more brother-moments (because those are the heart of the show).