Supernatural Retrospective – part 8 (S6 and Sam)

Part 7 (S6 and Castiel)

Onto the next major story plot of S6, Sam and his soul.

Let’s take a moment to discuss story logic and basic logic.

Basic logic, hopefully we don’t have to go further on that.  Story logic we might also call “gut logic”  or “emotion logic.”  Basically it is a logic stories work on that feel right to humans.  Karmic justice is probably one of the most famous examples of this.  By story logic, a villain should have his/her comeuppance and just reward, even if by pure, basic logic there’s no reason to expect that anything might happen to any particular villain.

Thus one of the measures of objective quality in a story is how well it fulfills story logic AND basic logic.  One which can fulfill neither can barely be called a story.  A story that fulfills the demands of either logic is better than it, and a story which fulfills the demands of BOTH logics is the best on this scale (and what pretty much every writer needs to strive for).  The gradient comes in when basic logic and story logic conflict with each other.

That brings us to Sam and the search for his soul in season 6.

The story is that Castiel decides to resurrect Sam, but ultimately can only bring back half of him – his body.  At first glance, this makes perfect story logic.  The Cage is not to be easily broken into or out of, else Lucifer would have done so already and all of Sam’s efforts would be worthless.  It’s very common in movies that when a rescuer storms a prison, something must be left behind otherwise the prison is seen as no threat or problem to the heroes, the audience expects this because of story logic.  If a group is involved in the rescue, the usual outcome is that some fragment of the group is left behind to die or get locked up as well, conveying that the prison will ultimately win in a battle of attrition against the rebels (or whomever is attacking).  If a single person is doing the rescuing, then either them or the rescuee will be injured in the process.  Thus since Castiel goes to rescue Sam alone, it does fit story logic that Sam might come back wrong.

But it doesn’t fit basic logic.

Based upon what we had established before, in between S3 and S4, Dean’s body was on earth, Castiel went to Hell to get his soul, and then brought Dean back to life by sticking the two halves together.  But with Sam his body is in the cage, a place that, by story logic, is supposed to be the deepest, darkest point of Hell.  Previously just to get Dean out of Hell Cas describes Heaven as “laying siege” and it took them long enough that Dean broke the seal before he was rescued.  So how could Castiel make it all the way down to the cage, by himself, and bring back Sam in approximately a week?  And how in the world can he open the cage to get Sam’s body out without letting anything else out in the first place? Sure an explanation might be found, but it’s one invented entirely whole cloth without any evidence provided by the story.

Still that might be forgivable if the story of Sam’s soul was compelling, but it doesn’t quite work on a basic or story logic level. Not that there’s any complaint against Jared as an actor, but it becomes clear that the writers didn’t have much of a plan for what “being soulless Sam” really means when we move from him “remembering what’s right” one week to beating up cops and shooting people the next. It doesn’t help that “what is the soul and what does it mean to not have one” is an ongoing debate across philosophies and religions so there’s no common culture perspective to draw on.

Then the viewer ends up feeling cheated because the first half the season is spent investigating then trying to solve Sam’s soul issue only for it to all be revealed as totally pointless (go talk to Death, he’ll fix it); the characters accomplished nothing leaving the audience feeling cheated even if they can’t figure out exactly why.

“Isn’t the Colt storyline from S5 totally pointless like this?”  No, because in S5 there were several options available to the characters and at the time, the Colt appeared to be the best one available, it wasn’t until afterwards that we learned it was a false option. With the S6 soul storyline, we’re told of nothing else the characters can do with some hints and lines that other options have already proven false.  Then once even the last option is proved false, the story reveals that there was this other option all along. Only if Dean knew Death could help, why not ask him first rather than work with Crowley? From everything we’ve seen in the show, Death is a preferable help to the King of Hell.  For the impact to work, Dean should have asked Death first, is offered terms that Dean rejects, deciding Crowley was better, and THEN has to come crawling back to Death.

We might have had Sam be more involved with solving his own problem rather than playing a game of “axe murderer” while at Bobby’s house.  Or instead of Sam transforming into a straight villain that Bobby must fight, Bobby instead “beats him with words” and convinces Soulless!Sam that getting back said soul is the right thing to do.

Instead we have a season where Sam acts upon the writers’ whim rather than out of his own character.

Part 9 (S6 and Dean)

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4 thoughts on “Supernatural Retrospective – part 8 (S6 and Sam)

  1. I think the reason they didn’t explain how Castiel was able to reach Lucifer’s cage and extract what we find out later is only Sam’s body (without his soul) is that there is no way this can happen canon-wise; that’s why they had to gloss over it. By Carver-era standards, this is a minor DEFCON 4 infraction.

    Soulless Sam was a sociopath; however, I don’t think the writers quite knew how to play this. At first, they played it as Sam the robo-hunter, methodical, efficient, take the monster down by any means necessary, collateral damage be damned. After Dean finds out, they decided to start playing it for laughs (All Dogs Go To Heaven, Clap Your Hands If You Believe, etc.) before switching back to Sam the bad-ass hunter (Caged Heat). The scenes with Bobby did make sense to me story-wise, Sam acting on base survival instinct. Of course, Sam could have just run, hit the road. I think Death could have tracked him down.

    The other major challenge is something that really became magnified in later seasons, particularly with MoC and Demon Dean. They just don’t want to paint one of the two lead characters as too unlikable or nonredeemable. They did take more chances with Sam in S4/S5/S6 (draining the nurse to amp up to take on Lilith, killing the bartender taken hostage by the demon, letting Dean be turned in to a vampire, using the sheriff as bait for the Arachne) but refused to take these chances with Dean in S9/S10. Demon Dean getting drunk, getting laid, and killing a few demons loyal to Abaddon here and there was a really bad choice. We saw what happened to Dean when he went to hell after Season 3; he enjoyed torturing others. Even the humans he killed “deserved it” (Crossroads deal guy, the house full of criminals and pedophiles, etc.). Given that, and his time in purgatory, I thought they wasted a great opportunity to explore that darker side of Dean.

  2. *checks time* Were you hovering here, just WAITING for this post? 😉 lol

    that there is no way this can happen canon-wise; that’s why they had to gloss over it.

    Quite true. The problem is that then part of the story becomes “getting [something else] out of the cage” which then means the audience’s brain has to both think about something (‘how can they get the soul out of the cage’) while also NOT trying to think about something very closely related to that same thing (‘how did the body get out of the cage’). Some can always go along with it, but it’s also a safe bet that you’re going to have a lot of the audience complaining about the bind their minds are in (even if they can’t put it into words).

    By Carver-era standards, this is a minor DEFCON 4 infraction.

    Hey we’ll get there eventually. 😉 No skipping ahead…

    The scenes with Bobby did make sense to me story-wise

    True, I should have clarified that it does fit story-logic at least. But more interesting things could at least have been done.

    but refused to take these chances with Dean in S9/S10.

    It makes you wonder: did they like Dean more or is it a case of “learning” from their earlier efforts with Sam that there’s a line one shouldn’t cross?

    Given that, and his time in purgatory, I thought they wasted a great opportunity to explore that darker side of Dean.

    Heh, forget another planet, what if Death had just stuck MoC Dean into purgatory? Wouldn’t he have then kept the Mark fed for an eternity without being a threat to anyone? Plus Sam knows he could pop in there and get Dean out if they ever figure out a solution. (what if Dean gave the MoC to Benny…)

  3. “It makes you wonder: did they like Dean more or is it a case of “learning” from their earlier efforts with Sam that there’s a line one shouldn’t cross?”

    It think it’s a matter of them becoming more risk averse when it comes to Sam and Dean in the later seasons.

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