For there to be multiple Sams or Deans in an episode is hardly an unusual occurance; Bloody Mary, Skin, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, The End, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Slash Fiction all do this. Of course, the idea of doppelgängers is one that’s always lingered round the edges of the show, especially recently (what with Dean’s demon arc and all).
Interesting that it was Sam whose psyche we first saw split; in Bloody Mary (which scared the living shit out of me, just so you know), we first learn that he dreamt about Jessica’s death before it happened. It’s the psychic kids arc in its infancy; this episode will eventually lead to All Hell Breaks Loose.
The first we hear of Sam’s powers is his reflection coming to life, sneering at him. The first thing it says- ‘You killed her. You killed Jessica.’
Taken out of context, you’d think he literally shot her or something- but this fear of murder, fear of causing the deaths of others, is really what drives Sam throughout most of the psychic kids arc in Season Two. ‘Anyone can be a killer, under the right circumstances.’
I think Sam’s reflection in Bloody Mary is our first glimpse of what he believed in Season Two that he’d one day become- a ‘dark double’ of himself. Mirror-Sam was a killer (killing yourself counts, right?), and so would real Sam have been, had he succumbed like the other psychics at the end of Season Two.
But the psychics were just normal people, essentially- like us, like anyone. If they could be driven to kill, so can we. In a roundabout way, the reflection scene in Bloody Mary taps into the human fear of becoming killers, of losing your mind.
The next multiplechesters episode is… the one after Bloody Mary. Skin is a great episode, I think, the SPN version of a thriller, and the really significant scene comes when Shapeshifter-Dean ties Sam to a pipe and just soliloquises at him for about five minutes straight.
‘See, deep down, I’m just jealous. You got friends. You could have a life. Me? I know I’m a freak. And sooner or later, everybody’s gonna leave me.’
Obviously, ‘real’ Dean is never going to say this stuff, so they brought in Mr Shifter. But what he says has resonance all down the seasons- not only is it one of our first glimpses of Dean’s abandonment complex, but it’s one of a very few times that we get hints that Dean might, if things had been different, not have wanted to be a hunter- with all the severing of ties that it entails. That’ll come up again in Dream A Little Dream Of Me, when we discover that Dean, promiscuous, cocky Dean, secretly wants a family.
That’s been stamped out of both of the brothers by Season Ten- Sam, who’s finally accepted that ‘this is my life, and I love it’, and Dean who agrees that yeah, he loves it, but only because ‘I’m a little twisted’. But in the early seasons both of them still harbour dreams of getting out- it’s just that Dean’s seem to be tangled up in obligations and bloodlust and Sam.
What the shifter says to Sam is very similar to what Sam says to Lucifer-as-Jess in Free To Be You And Me, a personal favourite of mine. ‘Last time I wanted to be normal,’ Sam tells her, referring to his escape to Stanford. ‘This time, I know I’m a freak.’
It’s a lovely line delivery, gentle and without cynicism. Despite Season One Dean thinking that Sam could be normal, could have a life, and envying him that, we later discover that Sam never felt normal, never felt ‘clean’. ‘Even at Stanford you knew. You knew there was something dark inside you.’
And just like Dean originally believed that Sam was the normal one, Sam in Season Five- the season of the conversation with LuciJess (Jessifer? Lusica?) tell Dean that he should go live ‘a normal, apple-pie life’. Both have faith in the other’s capacity for normalcy, even though deep down they both feel tainted; it mirrors a lot of people’s secret beliefs that they are secretly freakish, that everyone else is normal.
The next such scene is in Season Three’s Dream A Little Dream Of Me, in which Dean actually seems to gain some self-worth (so it took the imminent prospect of eternal damnation to do it, but why look a gift horse in the mouth, eh?). But the part that haunted me after that episode was the fact that at the very end, we cut back to dream-Dean’s double, black eyes flicking open and saying, ‘You’re gonna die, Dean, and this- this is what you’re gonna become.’
It turned out to be some extremely long-term foreshadowing, given that Dean wasn’t actually demonised til Season Ten, but all the more effective for that- Dean may have been pulled from Hell, but he couldn’t escape his fate to become a demon. Except he could, because even as a demon, he still had Sam, who basically saved him from his own destiny in Soul Survivor. Time and time again, the Winchesters are each others’ shields from fate.
Next is The End, where Dean meets his own future self, and I’ve already covered this in my previous essay The End’s 2014 Vs. Season Nine’s 2014, so I won’t go into depth. In short, Endverse Dean is who he is destined to become, and he eventually does reach that level of coldness during the latter half of Season Nine. Destiny is fulfilled, which on SPN is never a good thing. Let’s hope that the removal of the Mark will combat that.
The final one I’m going to write about (I already discussed Slash Fiction in These Guys Are Psychopaths) is The Man Who Knew Too Much, which is my #1 favourite episode ever. (Three Sams! I’m in Heaven.) It’s the Season Six finale, and Sam has to unite the three aspects of his shattered psyche- otherwise known as Soulless Sam, Hell Sam, and Sam Sam. TMWKTM is really the start of Sam’s Hell trauma arc, which culminates with The Born-Again Identity, another of my favourites. Much of the action takes place inside Sam’s head.
In many ways, Soulless Sam- who has nothing personal against the other Sams, except for a feeling of dominance- represents the killer in Sam. He’s basically a bundle of primal instincts. He tries to pick Sam Sam off by sniper.
Except that no, wait, Sam Sam ends up killing both Soulless Sam and Hell Sam, so who’s the real murderer here?
The whole episode has a slightly schizophrenic feel to it. ‘It was night and now it’s day!’ We are aware that Sam is now, by anyone’s standards, insane- but he does not feel insane. Madness, and a fear of madness, has been a running theme of Sam’s since Bloody Mary, and it really began to be tackled here. Sam is able to piece himself back together, after a fashion, but only through killing his doubles- and many would take suicide as an act of insanity.
In Season Seven, Sam goes clinically insane- living with delusions of Lucifer- as a coping mechanism; in this episode he is on a drive to save Dean, and, once he wakes up, cannot afford to go mad even to cope, in the same way that he cannot afford to go back into a coma to cope.
It’s a sensitive issue, but it’s also handled sensitively, and wrapped up in it is the idea that for some people, insanity is a better alternative to coping with the horror of their lives- and not in a hiding-from-the-world way, but in a trying-to-survive way.
The only thing that all these doppelgänger episodes share is a fear of metamorphosis, in the same way that Season Four Sam and Season Ten Dean feared metamorphosis; the idea that the Winchesters are only a mirror’s depth away from becoming their darker selves. Bela once said that they were ‘a stone’s throw from being serial killers’, and what’s to say she was wrong?
We’ve seen Winchester serial killers in Slash Fiction; we’ve seen these selves that they fear being, and yet have been in episodes like Soul Survivor and Appointment In Samarra. And it’s a prevalent fear for many people in real life, too- the idea that we could transform into something so repugnant, the ideas in the darkest wells of our minds blossoming to consume us.