The human heart. We invest so much of what it is to be human in this organ, this symbol. It is what keeps us alive, what defines us as living, its beats marking out our progression from birth to death. It’s where we love, where we feel, where courage resides.
In Season One, the question was "where was Sam’s heart?”. Was it still with Jess, was it in being with Dean, back with his family, with the family business or was it only in his quest for revenge? That was answered for us when Sam refused to shoot John to kill the demon, and when he stood at Dean’s bedside and whispered “we were just starting to be brothers again”.
This season the question has been “what is in Sam’s heart?” There is something that is inside him, something the Demon can use. That is Sam’s fear - will he be ruled and ruined by his dark heart?
Sam’s fear of what could be in his heart has been heightened by his encounters with the others like him - Max in Nightmare and Andy and Ansem in Simon Said, Ava in Hunted. It has been confirmed and intensified by Dean’s revelation of John’s last words. Surely no father would charge one son with killing another unless the stakes were high, unless John feared the blackness within Sam could be devastating and uncontrollable?
Sam fears that he will be unable to control himself. In some ways what Sam fears in the face of the Yellow-eyed demon – that his dark desires will be unleashed - is a metaphor for the struggle all humans face, even those of us who aren’t psychic and targeted by Demons.
Our ego is what we present to the world, the generally controlled, mostly reasonable person. The id is all our primal instincts and urges – to fuck, fight and eat. It is not reasonable; it wants what it wants now and without limits. The ego is a manifestation of our id, with the extreme parts repressed and controlled. I think Sam has always been afraid of being unable to control his id, and that is part of what drove him away from a life of hunting. (See The killer in me for a more detailed Freudian examination of Sam).
Since Hunted Sam’s fear of himself, of the killer within, has grown. He has tried to counter this by showing his good heart, by “saving as many people as possible”. But most importantly Sam feels that he can’t rely on restraining himself, so he seeks to enlist Dean in that role:
You have to watch out for me, all right? And if I ever turn into something that I'm not, you have to kill me.
But Sam suspects Dean may not be up to the task of helping Sam contain his impulses. In Houses of the Holy when Dean says he is looking out for Sam, Sam replies:
Yeah, I know you are. But you're just one person, Dean. And I needed to think that there was something else watching too, you know? Some higher power. Some greater good. And that maybe…
We get a glimpse of what Sam’s unrestrained dark side may do when he is possessed in Born Under a Bad Sign and it is all unrestrained drinking and smoking, sex and violence.
After his possession, Sam is perturbed that Dean did not act to stop him. We also see in Tall Tales, that Sam sees Dean as someone unable to control his own baser instincts – so what help can he be to Sam? The heart of the matter is - if Sam can’t control himself, can Dean do it for him?
By the events of Heart though, there has been a shift. We saw it first at the end of Roadkill when Sam says “hopes kind of the whole point”. Until then Sam has presented his ‘destiny’ as inevitable; he has been desperate and hope has been absent.
I think we see a Sam in Heart more hopeful, more confident in himself. And in this episode he chooses to do two things which a more fearful Sam couldn’t – he fucks and he kills.
Sam in the past would never have challenged Dean for the girl – he would’ve berated Dean for even thinking of sex in the middle of a hunt. But here Sam stands his ground and is not embarrassed or apologetic for his show of desire. (Of course this doesn’t help with his appalling lack of finesse in the art of seduction). Although just before the act, Sam’s fear of himself shows through when he says “I know I scare the crap out of you, alright”.
When Sam has sex with Madison, we see Sam as a sexual animal. It is no coincidence that the images echo what we saw of Sam when he was possessed. This is about the beast within – all devouring mouth, and bulging muscle and sinew. We are shown clearly the power in Sam’s body. But there is no hint that this is anything other than the passion and ardour of a young man. The key thing is that Sam, after so long, can let this side of him self free and not fear it.
Similarly he chooses to kill Madison, and while it is a terrible thing to have to do, he does not refuse it for fear it will confirm he is a killer, a dark murderer. Remember this is the Sam who hesitated to shoot the Tanner kid in Croatoan. This is where I see the hope for Sam – he is discovering his own strength in containing and controlling what’s within him.
The shadow of all this of course is represented by Madison. Sam clearly sees the parallels between them. When Dean intimates that they will have to kill her Sam responds “…because she’s evil? That’s what they say about me Dean.” But Madison can’t control her heart, her impulses and because there was no one who can contain her she has to be killed.
We know ultimately what will save Sam. It is at the heart of this show - the relationship, the love, between Sam and Dean. There is an added level of trust and love in this relationship now. It is present in all their interactions in this episode, for example at the beginning when Sam teases Dean about his excitement over hunting a werewolf. His line about Disneyland is both a classic younger brother jib, but I think in light of Dean’s recent expressions of desire to escape their life to the Grand Canyon or Amsterdam, it carries an added meaning. It speaks of Sam wanting to give Dean something for himself.
The evolution of the boys’ relationship is demonstrated with tragic beauty in the final scenes. Madison’s final words “this is how you can save me” deliberately mirror those that have weighed so heavily on the Winchesters, from father to son to brother. Sam wavers when Madison asks this of him. Dean offers to take the burden from Sam, and then passes it back to him when Sam accepts this terrible responsibility.
It is this exchange that is important. Sam knowing Dean will offer to take a burden from him, but just as importantly will let Sam do what he feels he needs to. In the face of this dreadful event, the brothers know that the other is strong and can do what is necessary.
This not to say that Dean can kill Sam or the Sam can protect himself from the Demon’s influence. It does speak though to a bond and trust and love that will save them if anything can.
So at this late stage in Season Two, we are truly startying to find out the answer to the question “what is in Sam’s heart?” There maybe something dark there, something the demon can touch. We saw in this episode the strength of the love and courage that is in there too. We can only hope that these things will count for something in the trials that lie ahead.
The thing about the heart is that we can’t see it. We know when it’s working and when it’s not. We know the quality of our own heart, or someone else’s, by how it makes us feel. I see your heart by what you do.