To be perfectly clear: this meta is not to Sam-bash. Rather, I want to discuss the whys and wherefores of Sam not looking for Dean while Dean was in Purgatory.
The first time I watched Season Eight, I confess I chalked this whole arc up to sloppy decision-making- like, okay, we’ve done grieving Sam, and desperate Sam, and liquored-up-to-his-eyeballs demon-stabbing Sam, we can’t do that again, so let’s just go in totally the other direction.
And yeah, it does seem out of character. It seems out of character to Dean. It seems out of character to Bobby. It seemed glaringly out of character to me- I Know What You Did Last Summer is one of my favourite episodes, after all.
But these people put thought into their character arcs. This one took up half a season and contributed hugely to the emotional whammy that was the finale, Sacrifice. They’ve probably thought this out and reasoned it to Hell- or to Purgatory- and back.
And then there’s this telling quote- ‘I lost my brother, and it felt like my whole world imploded… and came raining down on me. And I got in the car and just… drove.’
Consider everything that happened to this guy over Season Seven. His Hell wall came down. They lost Cas. Their identities were destroyed when the leviathan put them on the Most Wanted list in Slash Fiction. Bobby died. Sam had an out-and-out mental breakdown. They rediscovered Cas. All in all, exhausting.
At the end of Season Seven, with Cas and Dean vanished, Bobby dead, Sam finds himself- for the first time in his entire life- absolutely alone.
Sam is presented as the more independent of the brothers. Nearly every time they break up -because frankly I have no idea what else to call it- it’s Sam who walks away, needing privacy, needing space.
Yet Sam cannot bear to be unwillingly isolated. This is especially visible in retrospect, having seen Season Ten- after Dean walks away Sam practically kills himself trying to get him back. But it definitely comes into play here. Bobby, who was home to these boys in so many ways, is gone. Sam’s ‘stone number one’ is gone. Even Hallucifer is gone- and after nearly a year of never being alone in his own skull, it would be a huge shock to the system to suddenly have no-one to come back to, all your safety nets removed. And obviously this guy’s walking round with a couple of hundred years of Hell trauma locked into his brain- hardly a recipe for stability.
The whole ‘I just… drove’ thing seems to me like a product of shock. Of course that’s what he’d do. The Impala’s all he’s got at this stage, and driving the only familiarity he knows.
So I’d put the initial reaction down to shock. And then there’s the fact that Sam would probably at some point have realised that he had zero leads and no way of knowing how to get Dean back, so he was effectively cut off from everything he knew. Bobby had been Sam and Dean’s main source of communication with other hunters. And in fact, Dean had become associated with Sam’s Hell trauma, enmeshed into it- as demonstrated in Repo Man, when Sam let Hallucifer back in in order to save Dean- and so when Dean vanished, Sam might have come to see it as an opportunity to once and for all put Hell behind him.
(Slight tangent here- it was a private grievance of mine that after this Sam’s time in Hell was never referred to; however, then there came the wonderful Season Ten episode About A Boy, which contained the exchange:
Sam: His landlord said the guy blasted Neil Diamond 24/7 and that his bathroom was, quote, ‘like staring into the devil’s butt’.
Dean: That’s… vivid.
Sam: Yeah, and accurate. I saw it.
Dean: You saw the john, or…
Anyway, after all that it’s understandable that Sam might even feel somewhat freed from those associations. But I think that his relationship with Amelia was almost like a substitute for his relationship with Dean- possibly Sam tried to use Amelia to fill the space Dean left, latching onto her in a similar way. Note that when Amelia suggests breaking off their relationship, Sam decides he ‘isn’t ready to give it up’, yet he later seems willing to leave her on his own terms. It’s a mirror of Sam’s attachment to Dean, which has that similar element. I think with Dean there’s a parental aspect to that, as it’s a similar attachment that kids often have to their parents- willing to walk away, but not wanting their parents to leave them. This’d make sense, given that Dean seems to fall into the role of mother pretty consistently around Sam- citing the end of Season Eight especially, with Dean draping blankets over Sam and putting him in ice baths, and basically
So back on topic. I read Sam’s relationship with Amelia as a means of trying to fill the Epic Gap Of Dean with a slightly healthier relationship. In romantic relationships, participants are almost expected to be codependent, whereas it’s unexpected in sibling ones. Sam seems to have been trying to reprogram his mind to a space of greater normalcy.
And hey. It actually kind of works. His relationship with Amelia was twisted and messed up, but it was functional, kind of. Only it lacked the intoxication of his relationship with Dean, who Sam ultimately chooses over Amelia.
On another slight tangent, Dean seems to attempt a similar thing whilst in Purgatory with Benny. He also eventually chooses Sam over Benny, but not without assloads of angst.
All things considered, I don’t think the decision was a bad one- it was the idea’s execution that fell down. Without it, Sacrifice would not have packed the punch it did, nor would Sam’s role in the recent Demon Dean arc have been so cathartic, so satisfying. Sam was not really himself at that point- Hell screwed with his mind, dividing his psyche into pieces, remember. Lucifer’s a construct of Sam’s brain, and effectively his thoughts come from Sam, so he’s another split-off part of him. The leviathan in Slash Fiction deconstructed and stole Sam and Dean’s whole identities. And there’s so much I could say about The Born-Again Identity here, as if you’ve read my past meta you probably know my attachment to that episode, but basically Sam, who in the past was only ever in mental hospitals as cover to work a case, actually belongs in one now. It had to be a destabilising experience; a kind of identity loss.
And then of course, losing Dean at the end of the season- by that episode Sam and Dean basically did not know where one of them ended and the other began. Dean has been ingrained into Sam’s persona for literally his whole life. His disappearance was evidently the final straw.
So, yes, Sam not looking for Dean was out of character. Probably because at that point, Sam had no idea who the hell he was anymore.
Taken in that light, I don’t think it was the decision itself that was the issue- more the fact that what prompted it was never canonically discussed. A little delving into Sam’s headspace was much needed, and lacking.