Vivisecting Supernatural- ‘You Should Have Looked For Me While I Was In Purgatory’

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.’

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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.

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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.

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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…
Sam: Don’t.)
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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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9 thoughts on “Vivisecting Supernatural- ‘You Should Have Looked For Me While I Was In Purgatory’

  1. Excellent meta. QFT!

    The only Quibble I have with this, is that I don’t believe it was out of character. I feel it was completely “in character ” to behave the way he did, in not looking for Dean and I agreed wholeheartedly with his decision, because I understood why.

    I think he thought Dean had gone to Heaven. The first thing he said to him when he saw him again was he thought Dean was dead. He may have had no idea where Dean had gone actually. I don’t think it occurred to him that Dean had gone to Purgatory, too. He often spoke his feelings, about what happened, but Sam is so matter of fact and quiet when he does it that we, the fans, often overlook when he’s telling us what he’s thinking and feeling.

    I think those fans who engage so much in Sam bashing don’t really listen to him when he speaks and when they do, hear and remember only the stuff they dislike or confirms their opinion of him. So it’s impossible
    to change those peoples minds.

    Granted, absolutely no one else on the show agreed with Sam not looking, including Dean, but that’s the story that was written. I accept that the writers had a point to make and yes, it made Sacrifice an extremely effective episode to watch. It wouldn’t have been that way if Sam hadn’t been so torn up about not looking for Dean.

    Also, not looking for Dean may have been an opportunity for Sam to get off that hamster wheel of resurrection they all seem to run on. I’ve noticed that every time they make such decisions, someone else loses their life, almost as a kind of payment, which may have been what Sam meant about Kevin in season nine.

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    • Obviously this is just my take on it- because I have to justify everything up the wazoo. I like yours as well, and that certainly could be it- Sam has tried to get ‘out’ several times. Yeah, the Kevin thing was awful- that whole season just trampled everything about them into the dust.

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    • I always get very irritated by all the character-bashing that goes on- and similarly irritated when people try to justify things that are meant to be unjustifiable. So I’m trying to have a more open look at stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Plus it gives me an excuse to endlessly screencap JP. Which, you know. Good times.

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  2. One of the things that is always missed about Sam not looking for Dean is the fact that Dean took a year off too. He thought Sam was gone and he tried to have a normal life. I don’t understand why people bash or even Dean getting mad at Sam for not looking for him when he did the same thing. Sam was just trying to have a normal life after all he went through.

    Also I agree with you about Sam’s mental capacity during that time too. Though Sam is less attached to Dean, and Dean is more codependent (he doesn’t want to be alone). I’m not sure Sam’s actions were out of character. Though either way I think he made the best decision he could at the time for him, and that isn’t wrong or bad.

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    • While Sam was in the pit Dean did try everything to get him out, as he said to Sam when he got back. I was kind of shocked at discovering that Sam hadn’t looked for Dean, but honestly, I can’t hate on him for it. Look what the guy went through.
      And I agree about him making the best decision he could at the time- if he had tried he’d probably have half-killed himself, รก la Black, Reichenbach and Soul Survivor. I think it was just seen as bad through the crooked lens of the messed-up characters and similarly bonkers fandom.

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        • Definitely, or the show wouldn’t work. But I’m not sure how far I believe that in regard to Sam- I think he’d like to think that. Seeing the Demon Dean episodes, and how far he went to save Dean- the whole ‘I will save my brother or die trying’ thing- felt very revealing. And I can never forget I Know What You Did Last Summer in S4- that scene where he tried to trade places with Dean in Hell.

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