alright, once you've had most of a post for over a year, it's time.

Jul 30, 2013 21:58

I have, possibly surprisingly, not been as bothered as many by the lack of on-screen interactions between Sam and Cas, being as I am so attached to both characters for a lot of the same reasons. While I certainly won't complain if/when things shift around to give us a little more time with both characters, I've found the last three seasons to provide some fascinating parallels between the two of them, in how both characters are used to explore themes of identity and autonomy.

This post is mostly about S6, though I do have some stuff to say about S8 as well. There's spec for S9, but it was projected way before spoilers started coming out, so no worries.

The pattern of interactions between Sam and Cas (or lack thereof) in S6 is often held up as evidence of a lack of interest on the part of the show in developing the relationship between the two characters. I believe quite the reverse is true: Sam and Cas have a short few scenes together through the seasons which bring all this to the surface, but largely the Sassy end of S6 is in the spaces between notes. Sam and Cas are avoiding each other, because they are avoiding themselves.

The dropoff in interactions between Sam and Cas is somewhat of a change from S5, where we saw enough Cas POV to see him stand up to Anna and frigging Lucifer for Sam's sake. I don't think you can get from THAT to "total radio silence" without a reasonable explanation - and come The Man Who Would Be King, we get a doozy. Cas was avoiding Sam out of major inner turmoil - and for someone who's spent centuries and centuries having the knowledge that he could even have inner turmoil drilled out of him, that's a pretty massive existential crisis in and of itself. Castiel's comment about having a "more profound bond" with Dean was, while certainly having a grain of truth, was by and large a calculatedly dismissive remark, to get Sam to leave him alone so he wouldn't have to face what Sam represented - guilt, maybe; regret; shame at having fucked up the one thing he did on his own; indeed, the affection FOR SAM that motivated Cas to try to spring Sam from the joint.

Because LOOK WHAT THE FUCK HE DID FOR SAM. LOOK WHAT HE RISKED. He went INTO the CAGE with a pissed-off Michael and Lucifer! Yeah, he brought Sam back soulless - certainly not on purpose, but hey, at least some of Sam got out. So, you know, I’m an immoral kitty-stomping consequentialist and all, so my takeaway from that sentence is still “he brought Sam back. Out of THE CAGE. Where he was going to be stuck for, oh, EVER.” Sam coming back soulless was an accident, and probably an inevitable one, if the Cage was so strong even Death thought it would be a struggle to get just the soul out. It was an ad hoc, imperfect measure, one that was too fractured to last, but still a necessary ameliorative measure. Sam’s imperfect resurrection is a reflection of Castiel’s takeover of heaven.

I'd also argue that the soullessness itself saved Sam for a while there, in Sam's transition from Hell to the world. Sam went through an incredible amount of trauma in Swan Song and exponentially worse in the Cage. He should, by rights, be the non-functioning bundle of trauma Cas warns he may become. In fact, this one has a pretty neat analogy to real-world trauma psychiatry. Emergency care workers may offer people who have recently suffered a traumatic assault a course of an anxiolytic. This doesn't erase the memory from the person's mind, but it does allow the person to recall and process the memory without reinforcing the neurological processes that can contribute to PTSD. Other similar therapies include the administration of MDMC to PTSD sufferers, which allows them to remember a traumatic event without reliving that traumatic event. That year and a half where Sam could remember events without feeling them was a necessary readjustment process. In a very real way, Castiel's failure to drag Sam out all in one piece was a necessary part of his being able to "get out of the cage" in his own mind. (I am of the opinion that Cas attempted something similar when he pulled Dean out of hell in S4 - it appeared to me that Dean legitimately didn't remember everything at first, but the memories leaked back in over the intervening weeks until YF shook it all loose.)

Cas is protective of Soulless, more so than he ever seemed to be of Sam before. Mostly, he’s psychologically distancing himself from his failure to save Sam as completely as he saved Dean. He knows he bit off more than he can chew, with both Sam and with Heaven. He’s running from the things that will come back to bite him, as surely as anyone would dodge Crowley’s hellhounds. It’s a little bit covering his ass - maybe Soulless doesn’t know what got him out, but adding in Sam’s soul would shake the memory loose. And, of course, Cas really doesn’t want Sam to suffer or die. There is that. Being the only one in the picture with full information means he’s the only one who knows what the fallout is likely to be. But this, too, is a reflection of Castiel's uncertainty that he is up to the task of fighting Raphael - he can't afford to look at Sam and be reminded that he couldn't pull off that particular impossible task.

Both characters undergo serious identity fractures throughout S6. Sam, of course, is split apart when Cas pulls him out of the Cage. Castiel, I believe, is experiencing a similar schism of self as the Heavenly Host breaks apart. Angels don't experience identity in quite the way humans do; Cas and his brothers and sisters have, until very recently, always been unified in purpose (at least, as far as they know) - indeed, in Castiel's very first scene, he does not introduce himself by his name, but as "an angel of the Lord," indicating the angels' view of themselves as interchangeable. This leads to a lot of internal angst, in a creature who has never thought of himself as having an individuated identity (cf Sam's first experience living without internal guilt and fear), which he ultimately dumps back into Sam's brain in the season finale.

Throughout S6, Cas and Sam are identified with each other. Sam’s new hardness aligns with Castiel’s steeling himself against heaven. I’ve talked a lot about how Soulless is the logical extension of the hunter ethos Sam tried to ignore. Castiel, too, becomes a supersoldier this season. Caged Heat is a pivotal episode, where Cas starts acknowledging himself as a sexual being and where Sam acknowledges that he finds his soulless existence worthwhile.

I would also argue that both ruptures were not necessarily played as being straightforwardly bad. It’s important to note that even with the nasty fallout of the S7 finale, the Winchesters individually and the world at large are still better off than they would have been if Cas had done nothing, by an order of incalculable magnitudes. If he’d bailed on Heaven, Raphael would’ve sprung Lucifer and Michael from the joint. Sam is on Earth, breathing, and IMO as sane as he’s ever been. Castiel's fall comes from his attempt to apply all-or-nothing angel thinking in a situation where Earth logic applies.

But just because something isn't all bad doesn't mean it can't have a ton of fallout. In those first couple of episodes of S7, Sam’s wall deteriorates as Godstiel’s vessel falls apart. Sam’s internal divisions have come tumbling down because his is a story of identity and self-understanding. (They'll switch sides along this mind/body division in S8, when Sam is sick but mentally sharp and Cas is stronger than ever but almost completely operating as Naomi's puppet. ibid) Castiel is searching for a place in the universe, and so he is the gate to Purgatory, in the way Lilith and Sam were the keys to Lucifer’s cage. Narratively, Cas is the one who has to go looking for it because it’s an infamously in-between place - he is as much between two worlds as Sam has always been.

After the (glorious) confusion of the last two seasons, Sam and Cas are divided again, but this time by a metaphorical mind/body Catresian split. Sam's arc is all about ownership of the body; Castiel's is all about the horrors of the mind. It's about their lives catching up with them and becoming known to the audience.

Sam's issues become physical illness, rather than "mere" debilitating psychological suffering - they are visible to Dean and to the audience and so his issues are acknowledged in a way they haven't for a very long time. This is one of the threads of the season I've found rewarding the whole way through. Much is made over Sam's brains, over his raging inner passions, over his special destiny and blah blah. And yet all of these issues come inexorably back around to the fact that, due to the cosmic consensus that he is Lucifer's true vessel, Sam's physical body is useful to someone other than himself. The rest of him, not so much. Sam taking on the trials is interesting in light of his vessel status because it functions as an act of personal ownership, like a piercing or a tattoo. As far as the angels and demons who've fucked him around for so long are concerned, Sam has no right to go putting his precious meatsuit into any danger they haven't sanctioned themselves. For Sam to turn around and use the vessel-object against the demons, in order to make his own world a better place, is SO great.

With Castiel, we're finally allowed a peek at the woman behind the curtain. We don't know all the Heaven backstory (yet! *crosses fingers*) but we do know now that all the time we've been expecting Cas to STAND UP FOR FREE WILL, he was LITERALLY having this crap DRILLED INTO HIS HEAD. Angels have always seemed so powerful, always been privy to this world that was in the corner of our eyes; now we the audience know more about the inner workings of Castiel's mind than he does (he doesn't consciously know who Naomi is until late in the season, when he turns the corner on his mental disintegration precisely as Sam starts to collapse physically). Sam's body is being ravaged by the trials, by the destructive Winchester push forward; Castiel's mind is invaded and exploited in Heaven's attempt to wipe clean the past.

Castiel and Sam play out similar emotional dynamics with their respective families, Cas in the first half of the season and Sam in the second. They are both trying to ~repent for questioning their respective families' doctrines - or, rather, for taking the stated doctrines too literally, Cas in terms of the "God loves humans" schtick and Sam for his ability to survive without Dean. Castiel's attempt at reconciliation with Heaven takes enough of a toll on him that he admits to suicidal ideation; Sam takes on the trials when they look like certain death and genuinely considers going through with it when he finds out what the final trial is. It's ultimately Metatron jerking all of their chains, the scribe behind the trials, insisting that they bleed themselves dry of everything that they are.

So anyway, all of this is very interesting in context of S9. Because I feel like there's a fairly solid way to extrapolate how human!Cas will relate to both Winchesters. I think Cas is going to get all those muddled, harsh projections from both brothers. Dean has seen how badly his externalizing of his (perfectly legitimate) frustration with the world and (seriously unfairly) projecting it all onto his brother has worked out. And so I think he'll lay off Sam for the first few weeks next season. But I don't think we've seen him learn his lesson! No, he just swings it all right onto Cas when he sees the angels fall. (Did he sound worried, with that cry to Cas? Or aggravated, as if Cas MUST have CAUSED THIS thing that actually happened because Cas was intimately, shockingly violated?) So Cas is going to be playing the role of Sam for Dean.

He's also going to be playing the role of Sam for Sam, IMO. I think we'll see Sam try just about anything to avoid revisiting the problems he finally let slip in the church. Fortunately, he's come to the turning point where he might be able to shed the belief that he deserves all of Dean's displaced rage at the universe, but I think he's going to have a tough time actually confronting Dean and holding him to that promise to change. I rather expect him to see what's likely to be happening with Cas and Dean, and start to overidentify with Cas and white knight his way on in there like CAN'T YOU TELL HE'S IN BAD SHAPE DEAN YOU'RE BEING REALLY UNFAIR DEAN HE MIGHT HAVE MADE SOME MISTAKES BUT THEY WERE USING HIM OKAY HE'S REALLY TRYING ALRIGHT DEAN??!? Which is a more humane response than the one I've come to expect from Dean, certainly, more compassionate than aggressive, but is still pretty messed-up. So, you know. I'm really looking forward to it.

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spn: cas you so fly, spn: sammay!, supernatural

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