May 27

Sam in Season 8: Progression, Not Regression

Originally published April 16 2013 on Tumblr.

Sam deciding that he wants out of the hunting life, that he wants to finish college an essentially return to what he was doing when Dean came to get him at Stanford all those years ago, is absolutely not character regression. It’s not pushing a reset button. It is, in fact, character progression which is hopefully setting Sam up for the end of the series. Season 8 Sam who wants a “normal” life is not season 1 Sam who wants a “normal” life. When we first meet Sam, he’s very clear about his priorities. He doesn’t want the hunting life. He wants to finish college and go to law school, and we can assume end up as a lawyer. He intends to help Dean out with this one thing—finding their father—and then go back to the life he wants. As we all know, a lot of other things happen and Sam isn’t able to go back to that life. He goes back to hunting. It’s been his life, and he’s very good at it. But then something happens at the end of Season 7. Everyone is gone. There’s no one and nothing keeping him in the life now. I think there are a lot of perfectly in character reasons why Sam didn’t look for Dean, but in the end, he didn’t. He had a year out of the life. And in that time, he discovered that, despite everything that’s happened in between, that was still the life he wanted.

And the fact that what Sam is vocal about wanting now is what he wanted in Season 1? That isn’t regressive. That’s not ignoring Sam’s character development. Personally, when I graduated high school, I wanted to study biology. For a lot of reasons, some complicated and some not-so-complicated, I started college as a prospective literature major, quickly dropped out (not because of the major), worked as a graphic designer (among other things) for many years. Then, when I was 32, I decided that what I wanted when I was 17was, in fact, what I wanted for my life. So I went back to school to study biology. This doesn’t mean I “regressed” to 17 (thank God) or that everything I experienced in the intervening 15 years was erased or didn’t count. I grew up. I experienced life. I figured out what I wanted. And it happened to be what I wanted when I was young. Sometimes what you want when you’re young turns out to be what you want in life; it can just take time and experience to figure that out.

Sam’s awareness of what kind of life he wants—and that it isn’t the life of a hunter—is character progression, not regression. It’s him becoming aware of what is necessary for him to be happy and fulfilled. That it’s what he wanted as a kid doesn’t matter; his awareness now is a sign of maturity. In the end, of course, Sam can’t choose anything but the hunting life—with some MOL life mixed in—anytime soon. Sam and Dean must be hunters together (in some form) for narrative reasons, because Supernatural is centrally (but not exclusively) their story. But Sam’s maturing and figuring out exactly what he wants, and doesn’t want, his life to be can, and should, lead ultimately to his being able to seek that normal life at the end of the series; or at least be on the path to such a life. Right now, Sam’s just at the beginning of that path. He’s realized what he really wants. He doesn’t know yet how to get there, or more importantly how to get there without hurting Dean—though MOL is a step. It may be the last step–maybe that’s something that can ultimately work for Sam even if he thinks it doesn’t—or it may be just the first step. Finishing the trials is another step towards that life, as it is a literal closing of the gates on the recent years of his life. Presuming he finishes the trials safely, he can then move on and start genuinely developing a new chapter in his life.

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