Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Brother vs. Brother

It started in the pilot.

Sam wakes up in the middle of the night, hearing an intruder in the house. He engages him, they fight, and I'm hooked. Passion ignited.

That "fight" scene did more than grab me (and many other fans). It grounded the boys' relationship, in a way. They were pretty evenly matched in that fight. Sure, Dean was holding back because he knew it was Sam, but Sam wasn't swinging to kill, either, just subdue. One got the upper hand, then the other, and such has been their relationship ever since.

For three seasons, Dean's role as protector and leader was undisrupted. He saved Sam from possession, from death, from the Yellow-Eyed Demon, even sacrificed himself to keep Sam safe. But all along, Sam has matured (in most ways) and learned how to lead, himself. He exerted some control when he saved Dean from Gordon and later killed Gordon with his bare hands. At the end of season 3, when they were going after Lilith and trying to save Dean from Hell, Sam pushed harder and harder to influence their course of action. He learned things about himself, and was forced to go out on his own when the Trickster killed Dean "for good."

And then he was alone. Dean's influence could never disappear, but when he was in Hell, Sam made all the decisions. He made his own choices, and explored every facet of his identity, including the part manifested by the demon blood forced on him when he was six months old.

You can't go back after that, and I knew the brotherly dynamics would change. Dean had missed four months, and his time in Hell would have permanent effects. Sam wouldn't be subverted to his brother's will anymore.

In some ways, I was right. I mean, Dean does still get to choose the music in the Impala. But Sam doesn't listen to him anymore, especially when his reasons are "Because I said so!" But I hoped their partnership would grow stronger, that they could see each other more as equals. That their fight against a common enemy would be enough to help them overcome the adjustment to the changes.

But Kripke doesn't play that way.

It starts out simple, and gets more and more complex the more detail you add:

Sam works with a demon. He has demon powers, and that's bad.

Dean works with an angel. Angels work for God, so that's good.

But the demon has a good goal, ridding the earth of one of the worst demons in existence. Her motives are suspicious and likely selfish. She manipulates to get her way.

The angels have a good goal, stopping that same really bad demon from freeing Lucifer and bringing hell to earth, but they don't seem to care how many people die to stop that from happening. They, too, manipulate to get their way.

Sam's powers enable him to save people while killing demons. Dean equates "demon" with "evil" and can't seem to unbend even a little. So Sam has stopped trying to make him understand. That opens a rift between them, one that gets wider and wider the more he lies. It was worsened by Dean lying, too, about Hell, but Dean's lies were internal and didn't affect others (so far!). And he came clean. He opened up to Sam, who didn't offer any support or commiseration for the pain Dean's been suffering. Is Sam too wrapped up in his own issues, or did Dean's confession change how Sam feels about him? Or does he just feel inadequate and therefore does nothing?

The angels, and Dean, and now Pam have all told Sam that he does not have the right idea, using his powers, that he's going down an unknown path they all fear. But Sam's intentions have always been noble. Even though he has a need for personal revenge, and his own pain to exorcise (hee--get it?), his goal, getting rid of Lilith, is consistent with the rest of their lives. Saving people, hunting things. Evil things.

Until "Sex and Violence," I could envision a path where the brothers were at personal odds but still had the same goals, the same core values, the same basic way of looking at things. They could continue down the road side by side, or fighting back to back, with nothing in the world more important or more valued than each other.

But then, under the siren's spell, Sam said some horrible things, things he really seems to believe, despite his repeated assertion that he didn't mean them. He has decided his powers, his history, elevates him above others. In "Death Takes a Holiday" he said the rules don't apply to "us," not just himself, but the fact that he's including Dean in the "specialness" doesn't help. It's not that he's wrong, on the face of it. They are different. They've escaped death, and Hell, and all manner of bad things. At this point, they've probably defeated more and worse things than any hunter on earth, which would put them at the top of the game.

But Sam now seems to be equating "different" with "better." He acts superior toward
demons, angels, and Dean alike. His disillusionment with the angels and his fear of the future have brought him to a dangerous place. A Spider-Man place*, a test that I think he's going to fail, devastatingly.

Since early in season 4, many people have predicted a "brother against brother" showdown. I've fought the idea not just because I hate it, but because I didn't think the events, early on, necessarily supported it. The complexity of the influences (good demon, bad angel) didn't pit the brothers against each other, and they had, and still have, the same goal.

My position is getting harder to hold onto, now that Sam is lying to little boy ghosts as well as his brother, and he seems to care less and less about the people than about winning the battle. Now that Dean seems to be letting Sam's attitude and his words sever the ties he has knotted so tightly in the past.

In season one's episode "Scarecrow," Dean leaves Sam on the side of the road. Their needs were at odds then, but it never felt like they were truly ready to cut each other off. If something similar happened now, I don't think it would be so easy to overcome. They've damaged each other, and been damaged by outside sources, and the bond that would hold them through anything is far more tenuous.

What's coming, though? Speculation is really difficult when we don't know if this war will continue into season 5, if we avoid any spoilers or pretend we didn't hear anything about the season finale. And the external framework still makes it really hard to envision Sam and Dean truly fighting each other, as themselves and not some monster's plaything.

Still, every episode, every moment of character development, seems to be leading us to that end. I'm kind of resigned to facing it, but I cling to the belief that Kripke and Co. know--they have to know, how can they not know?--that breaking the brothers the wrong way will break his show completely, so whatever they do to them in the end, they'll fix. I am, of course, fully invested in the ride.

Your turn! What do you think of the inevitability of a brother-vs.-brother showdown, and how do you think it will manifest? (Speculation only, let's avoid spoilers!)

*With great power comes great responsibility.