Soulless Sam is an enigma, and never more so than when he’s doing the right thing.
On the one hand, the character is cool, collected, amoral. He doesn’t have the capacity to love. Crowley reckons he’d sell Dean for a dollar ‘if he really needed a soda’. He comes after Bobby with an axe to prevent his soul getting back in his body.
On the other hand, he throws Dean a knife to escape Veritas despite Dean making noises about killing him in his sleep. The entire season begins because Sam came back to rescue Dean from the djinn. When Dean beat the crap out of him at the end of You Can’t Handle The Truth, he didn’t even try to defend himself. Oh, and let’s not forget the time he bit into his own wrist, drew a devil’s trap on the ceiling in blood, and ripped a pipe off the wall to bash two ghouls’ heads in because they were trying to eat Dean. (Not that that was an entirely unreasonable thing to attempt. I know plenty of people who would be happy to eat Dean.)
But why would Soulless Sam defend Dean? He’s got no empathic connection to Dean. He can’t love him. Can’t even care about him.
Perhaps you could say he wanted someone watching his back on hunts, wanted the extra muscle, but let’s be real here. Dean had been out of hunting for a year. He was out of practice, and often obstructed Sam’s tactics with all his Jiminy Cricketing, plus Sam was a better hunter at that point than ever before.
So maybe Sam knew, intellectually if not emotionally, that he was out of line, and that he needed Dean to help him figure out how to get back to his former self. Before Cas’s soulectomy he probably just put down his emotionlessness to Hell trauma, but it would have grown on him that his new state wasn’t going away overnight. By the time he went back for Dean, no wonder he thought ‘things are just better when you’re around’. But this begs the question- what exactly is a soul? What did Sam leave behind in the Cage?
He’d left behind all emotional instinct, so it wouldn’t have been a matter of him gravitating instinctively towards Dean. Obviously, the soulmates explanation is a no-go, since, you know, you can’t be soulmates when one of you doesn’t have a soul. Life’s tricky like that.
And it’s over-sentimental, and would defeat the entire point of the arc, to theorise that their soul-bond transcends Hell. (Though I guess it does, or else Sam would still be in there.)
So maybe doing these things was Sam’s effort to feel love again. He said there were things he missed about being human, and who’s to say that his bond with Dean wasn’t one of them? And after all, it was Pinnochio’s moral struggle that allowed him to become a real boy in the end.
Yet if Soulless Sam was trying to be moral, doesn’t that make him a good person, at least in that respect? After all, it’s no huge effort for the average person with a soul to not go round killing people at random, et cetera- but for someone with no instinctive sense of right and wrong, and a past life of already muddled morals, with a dash of Hell inbetween- well. Remember the soulless townspeople in Mother’s Little Helper? They were practically feral, violent at will. By comparison, Sam’s actions when soulless suggest a huge effort to step back into his old skin, even with no starting place.
But of course that’s not quite true. His starting place is always Dean.
There’s a message here, one of hope for mankind in general. (I feel like I should work in the word ‘degenerate’.) If it’s possible to be a good person even without a soul- and I’m not saying Sam was, only that he showed hints of trying- then anyone can change for the better.
Author’s Note: I’ve just realised that I’ve shamefully neglected to include the famous shirtless scene in my assessment. Oh, well, maybe next time.