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Soulless Sam - The Real S6 Enigma, Part Two
First Appeared at The Winchester Family Business June 23, 2011

In "You Can't Handle the Truth," Dean is in full panic mode concerning Sam. He discusses the situation with Bobby, considering either walking away from Sam or shooting him. He is uncomfortable, anxious, and agitated. Sam is not and has not behaved like his brother since he came back into Dean's life. He watched Sam stand idly by as Castiel tortured the young boy, Aaron, to discover that Balthazar had purchased his soul. Sam hadn't simply not raised a fuss, he had stared in open fascination. It was one major red flag for Dean that something was more than wrong with Sam.

Bobby gets Dean to hold off handling the situation permanently by saying "He's your case."

This gave Dean a purpose. If there was a chance to save Sam, Dean would take it.

Once Dean discovers what is wrong with Soulless Sam, he switches effortlessly into saving him. He might not like Soulless Sam, and this version of his brother might be all monster in his eyes, but Dean knows that it is not Sam's fault. Once he takes his aggression out on Soulless Sam at the end of "You Can't Handle the Truth," Dean patiently puts up with what ever Soulless Sam dishes.
He might be upset or exasperated by Soulless Sam's lack of care or concern in "Clap Your Hands If You Believe," but he doesn't throw in the towel. Dean has three options on the table that he could have taken at any time prior to his deal with Death in "Appointment at Samara." He could have killed Soulless Sam, he could have left him and returned to Lisa and Ben or gone hunting solo, or he could have done whatever it took to save Sam. In this case, that was returning Sam's soul from the cage.

With Dean being who he is, there really was one option all along. At this stage, it is too far ingrained in Dean not to do everything in his power to save his little brother---rather that little brother wants it or not.

What about the year Soulless Sam was away from Dean? We only learn about it through dialogue and flashbacks. It's fairly early in the season when we realize that Samuel might not quite know what to do with Soulless Sam. He is resurrected nearly forty years after his death at Azazel's hands, and thus is a fish out of water. He's trying to run the Campbell hunting family with new technology, new family members, new everything. Between 1973 and 2011 everything has changed essentially. Samuel Campbell has been taken out of the natural flow of time and inserted more or less where he does not belong.
If that wasn't difficult enough, Samuel has to contend with one of his grandsons---and not the one he met. Not only did Samuel not know this grandson before his resurrection, he is dealing with a version that is unpredictable. He does not have the insider information on what Sam Winchester was like before reemerging from Hell. All he knows is this cold, ruthless, hard man that makes him feel uneasy more than once.

As early as "Two and a Half Man," as Samuel gets frustrated about the murdering of parents and abductions of the infants, he expresses just how off he finds Soulless Sam. He senses that Soulless Sam seems not to care about the case on an emotional level. He says, his tone extremely frustrated, "You've got me wondering sometimes, Sam."

It's also the first time we see Soulless Sam question what might be wrong, too.

Samuel has a lot on his plate. He's keeping a lot of secrets. He's struggling to exist in a world without his beloved daughter.  He's trying to find the Alpha monsters for Crowley, a task that must make him feel sick, but he's a desperate man. As confident as Samuel seems to those in his family, he's very insecure and quite a bit lost.

While Mary's son is in his midst, it just doesn't seem to be enough. Samuel's worked hard to put his new family around him. He has built up his compound, filling it with as many Campbells as he can get to join him. Even though he's working for a demon, it helps ground him and give him purpose. However, Soulless Sam happens to be amongst them, and it isn't hard to think Samuel suspects that he's let a monster into his home.

It isn't until "Live Free Twi Hard" that we really get to see how disturbed Samuel is by Soulless Sam's actions. He confronts him about what led to Dean being turned. Samuel knows that Soulless Sam was in on the conversation about the cure. To have him lie about it confirms the truth: Soulless Sam allowed his own brother to be turned, all without telling him there might be a cure. While he's here to deal with one grandson turned monster, he's standing in the same room with one that is much more frightening. Soulless Sam can't simply be cured by any simple long lost Campbell recipe.

Even so, Samuel tries to be the guiding force for his family. He has taken Soulless Sam under his wing in many ways, and it would seem despite his cold exterior that he's managed to somewhat gain Soulless Sam's trust. When he has an issue with a case, he calls his grandfather for advice. When he's stuck with the baby in "Two and a Half Men," despite Dean's objections, his first thought is to take it to Samuel.

Soulless Sam simply states, "Samuel. He'll know what to do."

Soulless Sam has no connections to family or others. He is incapable of forging any such bonds. Yet, he seems to gravitate towards the Campbells mysteriously. When Samuel tells Soulless Sam to hunt something, he does it. When Samuel mentions there is a big hunt coming up, it's Soulless Sam that raises his hand first. He seems to listen to his grandfather for inexplicable reasons.


It is a dichotomy that is later repeated once Soulless Sam and Dean are reunited as partners.

We don't realize just how much Samuel struggled with Soulless Sam until we see the flashback episode "Unforgiven." Samuel is struck dumb by Soulless Sam's brutality. He freezes at a moment when he should have taken action. It's probably not the first time he's felt fear being in his grandson's presence, but it might have been the first time he saw just how ruthless he could be.

As they are leaving town after a case, a local cop stops them. He is angry and confronts them about their status as federal agents. He demands that they get back into town with him and answer some questions. At first, Samuel and Soulless Sam try to talk their way out of it, but quickly the tables turn. Soulless Sam's patience runs out and he sets out to murder the cop with his bare hands. It's the most vicious thing we see Soulless Sam do, and it's probably the spark for Samuel to find a way to incorporate Dean into his hunting family.
Clearly Samuel needs help to leash this "human" monster.

We know he knew about Dean because he had met him before his death. Samuel is also smart. He might not know the real Sam by any means, but he does know how to get answers from the hunter grapevine. It wouldn't be hard for him to figure out that Dean is the key to fixing his troubles with Soulless Sam. If he can somehow bring Dean into the fold, he can turn Soulless Sam into his care rather than struggling to do it himself.

The djinn attack on Dean had to seem like a gift for Samuel. Up until now, he's had strict orders to keep Dean retired. When he saw an opportunity to reel Dean in, he took it. Samuel just didn't count on Dean's instincts or mistrust. Regardless, Samuel got what he wanted out of the deal.

Once Dean rejoins Soulless Sam in "The Third Man," Samuel is no longer the one keeping an eye on him. He no longer has to look over his shoulder with his grandson in the room. Soulless Sam has more or less left his family to rejoin his brother. Dean has effectively removed the problem for him. He only has to deal with Soulless Sam as an outsider.

Seeing what Soulless Sam does to Dean has to be confirmation of all the fears Samuel had about him. Soulless Sam wasn't just a driven hunter. He wasn't simply hardened by growing up in the life. He was a monster and part of Samuel had to feel like he had dodged a bullet in the year Soulless Sam resided and hunted with the Cambells.

There is no question that Soulless Sam had a twisted view of what it meant to be a hunter. This is partially from his lack of empathy and possibly from the mentoring he had when with the Campbells. Soulless Sam says to Dean in "The Third Man, " "Yeah. I mean... I've been hunting non-stop for the past year, kind of... kind of in the wild, you know? So, yeah, I suppose I'm a little rough around the edges."
It's so much more than that.

Hunting is a rough job with no pay and little thanks. It's not a stretch to imagine that it hardens anyone who pursues it. Each hunter that the show has introduced has had some hard edge. John Winchester was a driven and obsessed man. He was the epitome of the hardened soldier. Gordon Walker allowed his hatred of vampires to transfer to Sam, turning him into a ruthless man. Others, like Rufus, become tired and weary before their time.

Sam and Dean are no different. Each one must fight their own demons---literally and figuratively. They have both experienced so much and seen so much. Sam has spent much of his life trying to leave the hunter's life behind---only to discover that there is no escape. Dean, as early as season two, exhibits his own fatigue. Both hide behind their respective masks, their edges rougher than any civilian they will help.

Even so, they both excel at it. They have their share of a failures, yes, but the wins far out weigh their losses. What makes them so successful is their compassion and drive to save as many as they can. Sometimes it leads them to make impulsive decisions that do not pan out. A last ditch effort leaves the person they intended to save dead. It's hard to say if they hadn't tried the outcome wold have been different, but that's not what matters. It matters that Sam and Dean at least tried.

In "Exile on Mainstreet," Dean rushes in to his neighbor Sid's home in an attempt to save him. He has no thought for his own safety---only the guilt that this is happening because he lived in the house next door. Dean Winchester does not know the word quit when another's life is at stake. Unfortunately, Dean is too late. He finds himself caught up in the djinn's attack a second time, until Samuel and the rest of the Campbells rush to help both Soulless Sam and Dean.

After the encounter, Soulless Sam admits that he wants Dean with him because of what he just did. It was reckless and unsuccessful, but that's not why. Soulless Sam says, "You just went. You didn't hesitate. Because you care, and that's who you are. Me? I wouldn't even think to try. "

Soulless Sam, unlike Sam, does not have the drive to do whatever it takes to save others, even at great risk to himself. He has one drive and one drive only: survive. He claims in "You Can't Handle the Truth," "Ever since I came back, I am a better hunter than I've ever been! Nothing scares me anymore because I can't feel it."

In some ways he's right, but mostly he's wrong. Soulless Sam might be able to hunt longer, more frequently, moving from one case to the next. Not having the need to sleep gives him this advantage. He's also capable of going into a situation with a level head and with a clear strategy. There is no fear in him, so he never has to worry about being frightened about his life or his family. Soulless Sam also never has to worry about anyone truly having leverage over him.

But it's those things that are a determent to Soulless Sam as well. He misses the whole point of hunting. Dean say in the first season episode, "Wendigo," "Saving people, hunting things, family business." It's more or less the Winchester motto---and it is meaningless to Soulless Sam. He misses this crucial point. Soulless Sam doesn't hunt to save anyone. He doesn't hunt out of some need to redeem himself, nor because it will help others. Soulless Sam hunts for two reasons: because it is all he knows and because he enjoys it.

We see how twisted his view on hunting really was in the episode "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Sam's protective Wall after Death had returned his soul has been destroyed by Castiel. He is trapped inside his own mind, where he meets a nice woman in a bar. Her name is Robin, and it isn't until he learns who she really is that he understands just how his Soulless self operated. In a flash of memory, Sam sees Soulless Sam face off with a demon that is holding Robin hostage as leverage. The real Sam would have done whatever it took to get her out alive, even if it meant being taken or killed instead. Soulless Sam commits his ugliest act here.

He shoots her point blank, and coldly says, "There goes your leverage."

This is not "saving people, hunting things, family business." This is murder.

Soulless Sam's other major mistake occurs in "Unforgiven."Here, they are hunting a monster not seen in America ever before. They do not know the lore as well as they might another creature, so Soulless Sam and his partner at the time, Samuel, have little choice but to fly by the seat of their pants. It is Soulless Sam who convinces the sheriff of the town to be the bait for this creature. He then lies to his face. He promises the sheriff that nothing bad will happen and that they'll be right there if something should. Before they can do anything, the monster has grabbed the bait and Soulless Sam shrugs it off. After all, they'll simply follow the GPS back to its lair.

Upon arriving, they find the sheriff and the other missing victims entombed in spider silk. Both Samuel and Soulless Sam make the mistake of thinking that these individuals will be food. The sheriff is still alive and Samuel suggests that they try to save him. Soulless Sam nixes the idea, deadpanning, "They're just dead men walking. "

His solution is cold. He simply goes to each one and puts a bullet between their eyes.
The real Sam would have been trying to save the sheriff---even if Soulless Sam's pronouncement that they couldn't be saved either from death or being turned is correct. His compassion would not have allowed it. It's the same compassion that lead to his last ditch efforts to save Madison back in season two.

Soulless Sam simply does not have this drive. It's why he's not the better hunter. All the rationality and skill does not make for a great hunter. It is a balance between the know how and the heart to pursue it that makes a hunter great.

There is other insight into the real Sam that is gleaned watching Soulless Sam in action. He is a ruthless, harsh individual, and yet we've seen distinct flashes of this personality lodged in the real Sam all along. In "All Hell Breaks Loose II," Sam coldly shoots Jake at point blank range, a fierce and vicious expression on his face. Even when it is obvious that Jake is mortally wounded, Sam shoots him three more times. Everyone is stunned, staring at Sam as he calmly wipes the blood from his face. It can be argued that he had a justified reason, considering the fact that Jake was opening the Devil's Gate---and yet it leaves us feeling cold.

We see this ruthlessness emerge again when he faces Gordon Walker for the final time. He ends up killing Walker by cutting his head off with wire and his bare hands. Gordon's death is not shocking. What is shocking is the manner in which he dies. It's gruesome and vicious. Yet, we can't help but sense that it was inevitable. He had given Sam no choice but to do it or die. It is the drive to survive taking over and giving Sam the strength. In Soulless Sam, it is the only drive that remains.

In "Mystery Spot," after the Trickster has killed Dean for a six month period, we see Sam become a ruthless and driven hunter with a single minded purpose overtaking his life. He withdraws from everyone, including Bobby. Sam hunts constantly, and the room he rents is decorated with images and leads to his hunt of the Trickster. It is a grim picture of a future he will endure while Dean is in Hell.

We see it reach fruition when Dean is sent to Hell and learn how dark Sam's path had become during that period during the episode "I Know What You Did Last Summer."
A lot of these colder and harsher traits lie within Sam---as they do in all of us. What makes Soulless Sam unsettling for us as a viewer is the fact that this is the only side that remains. It frightens us to think that we could have the potential to become like him. Certainly we wouldn't be going to Hell and being revived, but we also know that such darkness lurks underneath our surfaces, in the darkest and most remote portions of our hearts and souls.

Not every insight that Soulless Sam reveals about the real Sam is dark or grim, however.

While Soulless Sam seems as far away from the real Sam as one can get, there's times when it seems like we're getting a glimpse of Sam we might not have otherwise. We all know the routine: Dean does or says something that pushes Sam's buttons and causes Sam to unleash his patent bitch face followed quickly by saying Dean's name in a chiding, drawn out manner. In "Two and a Half Man," we see such an exchange---and yet it is different.

It seems forced, mostly because it is.

Sam and Dean are at the limits of their patience, waiting to check out while the baby in their care wails. A friendly woman comes to their aid, realizing quickly that these two are in way over their heads. At first, the brothers are grateful, as they can't figure out why the child is in distress. As Dean looks over to a security camera, however, he realizes this is not just a sympathetic fellow customer. She's a shapeshifter. Dean promptly issues a threat and Sam admonishes him.

The indignation that Sam exhibits rings false, his expression not nearly as potent as we've seen it in the past. We can tell here that Soulless Sam is more or less trying to give Dean what he expects. He has all of the memories leading up to the swan dive into the Cage, so he knows the routine. Soulless Sam knows what to say, when to say it, how to say it---and yet he can't execute it properly. It's a facade and it crumbles all too easily.

It isn't until much later, after Soulless Sam knows what is wrong, that we see the insight into the real Sam that he provides. In "All Dogs Go to Heaven," the Winchesters encounter a skinwalker. This one has taken the form of a dog, and Dean holds up a choke collar, giving the options of doing this the easy way or the hard way. At this, Soulless Sam laughs. It's shocking because Sam does not laugh when Dean says such things. It totally breaks routine.

Dean looks at him, an incredulous expression crossing his face. Soulless Sam replies, "What? Soul or no soul, that's funny."

The real Sam knows that the majority of Dean's one liners are inappropriate, and thus he reacts to them with disdain. Soulless Sam, on the other hand, has no such filter. He does not differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate. To him, if he finds something amusing, he'll express it.

Is it possible that Sam has thought that Dean was funny all these years and laughed at his jokes in secret?

Sam's real sense of humor has a dry, subtle flavor. It sometimes cuts deeper than Dean's in your face flippancy. There's a sardonic edge to Sam's humor that is often missed. As early back as the first season episode, "Phantom Traveler," we see evidence of this biting wit. Sam and Dean have to dress in suits, causing Dean to balk. He whines, "Man, I look like one of the Blues Brothers." Sam's retort sounds at first like he's placating Dean, but its subtle bite is sharp: "No, you don't. You look more like a seventh grader at his first dance."

Most of Dean's wise cracks are used as a defensive mechanism. He's trying to cover something that he feels is a vulnerability. No line encapsulates that more than when he says in “Bloodlust,” "Whoa, whoa. Kamikaze? I'm more like a ninja." Dean hides behind most of his one liners. They're meant to deflect the attention away from his emotional state at any given time and turn it onto whatever inappropriate remark he's made.

Sam, on the other hand, prefers to quietly jab. There is a much more backhanded tone to Sam's sarcasm. In the episode, “Heart,” Dean is exuberant about hunting a werewolf. It's Sam's turn to tease Dean:

Sam: "Dean, could you be a bigger geek about this?"
Dean: "I'm sorry, man, but what about a human-by-day, freak-animal-killing-machine-by- moonlight don't you understand? I mean werewolves are badass. We haven't seen one since we were kids."
Sam: "Okay, Sparky, and you know what, after we kill it, we can go to Disneyland."

Sam's retort is sharp and wielded expertly. With this one line, he has expressed his feelings about this particular hunt. It cuts quick and to the point. In "Changing Channels," Sam delivers perhaps his most biting remark. He asks Gabriel/the Trickster which angel he is rather sardonically, "So which one are you? Grumpy, Sneezy or Douchey?"

This subtle, backhanded humor gets twisted and turned upside down by Soulless Sam. Not only has he the witty barbs that reside in the real Sam's arsenal, but he has decided to push them further. Soulless Sam also finds amusement in Dean's wise cracks and inappropriate remarks, so in turn lets loose a few of his own. What makes Dean's remarks amusing is missing. Instead, Soulless Sam's remarks are rude and scathing. It's all of Sam's sharp bite without the tact. The cleverness that marks the real Sam's humor is set aside and replaced by crudeness. He says in "All Dogs Go to Heaven," "We're specialists. And they call us in to answer the questions of mouth-breathing dick monkeys."

Even Dean is stunned by Soulless Sam's biting remark.

It's almost certain that the real Sam has probably thought something like this when dealing with the authorities in the past. It's natural for him to be frustrated when dealing with people who don't know what is really going on and may make things harder. The difference here is that Soulless Sam doesn't care that saying something like this is not going to win any prizes. Soulless Sam lacks a word filter entirely. He most certainly understands the concept that just because you think something doesn't mean that you should say it, but he just doesn't care.

That is most evident by his behavior in the episode "Clap Your Hands If You Believe." Here, he's not just insulting a couple of cops. He's insulting a witness. He says to the woman that thinks they are dealing with fairies, "What, flying saucers not insane enough for you? If you want to add glitter to that glue you're sniffing, that's fine. But don't dump your wackadoo all over us, we'd rather not step in it. The only thing you're missing is a couple dozen cats, sister."

It seems that Soulless Sam is only warming up and if Dean hadn't dragged him away that he would have certainly continued.

Not only does he behave this way towards witnesses, he also turns this on Dean. While Dean is being chased down by what he thinks might be aliens, he's on the phone with Sam. Instead of showing the empathy we know the real Sam would exhibit, Soulless Sam remarks,"Close encounter? What kind? First, second? Third kind already? You'd better run, man, I think the fourth kind is a butt thing."

It's as if Soulless Sam has found great joy in amusing himself. The more outrageous he is, the better the reactions he receives. It's through these interactions that we discover secrets about the real Sam. While this is a twisted version of his sense of humor, we still learn that it is much more wittier and biting than we might have been led to believe in the past. We also learn, that despite Sam's admonishments of Dean, he's really laughing on the inside.

More than anything, Soulless Sam is the greatest and perhaps the last test of the brotherly bond between Sam and Dean. He has the potential to do the one thing so many others have tried and failed to do, even Ruby: divide and conquer the Brothers Winchester. Despite his unusual compulsions to follow Dean, there was always the risk that it could have ended bloody. Dean could have given in and killed Sam, or Soulless Sam in an effort to survive could have killed Dean.

Instead, what happens is the renewal, the rebirth from the ashes of this brotherly bond. It had been fractured and strained since season 4. Now it was reaching the pinnacle of its breaking point. After Sam has his soul restored, we see the brothers move towards unity, becoming a solid and singular unit. Not only are they returning to the trust and love that is the foundation of their relationship, it is becoming  stronger. Soulless Sam and the havoc he wreaked could have caused a permanent rift between Sam and Dean---even after Sam has his soul returned. In Dean's head, Soulless Sam and Sam are two separate beings.
Soulless Sam, as we learn in "The Man Who Knew Too Much," is a crucial and important piece of the real Sam. Having him separated from the real Sam for a time taught both brothers valuable lessons about themselves and their relationship with one another. It is because they experienced and endured Soulless Sam that they have emerged in a much stronger position as a unit.

Oddly, despite Dean's adamant pleas with Sam not to scratch the wall, an equality has emerged between them. We see it in a singular moment---one we might not have seen in seasons 4 and 5: Sam is on the cot, fighting to make his way back to reality and Dean. Dean is left with a choice to either stay by Sam or face Castiel. Bobby convinces Dean that Sam would want him to face Castiel. He places next to Sam a note with his gun holding it down as a paperweight. He says, "This is where we're gonna be, Sam. You get your lazy ass outta bed and come meet us. Sammy, please."
This is not only trust that Sam will wake up and return to him, it is trust in Sam's ability to fight his own battles.

Sam reciprocates Dean's love by stating to his Hell version: "You know me. You know why--I'm not leaving my brother alone out there."
It encapsulates the brotherly relationship for all six seasons---including the portion with Sam sans soul.

We won't know the full effects of Soulless Sam upon the brotherly bond until season 7's storylines start to emerge.  We do know that they are no longer at odds. We know that Sam and Dean have found their way back to each other. The divergent path they walked for nearly three seasons was dark and grim, wrought with angst and grief. Incidentally, it starts to converge with the emergence of Soulless Sam. In the end, it is a bright spot of hope that we are left with as the brothers reforge their bond.

Soulless Sam forces us to take a hard look at the darkness lurking within. He reflects the most distasteful elements of our human nature. He is not evil, but he can and does commit evil acts. We shy away from him because we shy away from this side of ourselves. Yet, despite his unsettling nature, he is crucial to understanding ourselves as our compassion and mercy. It is our drive to survive as both species and individual that keeps us in existence.

It is also the very thing that makes our souls as strong as they are. We wouldn't know how truly and irrevocably valuable our souls are without seeing someone without one. There wouldn't be a reason to fight back those who purchase our most valuable asset. It is a concept both simple and complex---and it often confounds us as to what our soul is and means. Soulless Sam makes us contemplate what it not only means to have a soul, but what it means to be human.

For that, Soulless Sam succeeds in spades.