Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How Sam and Dean Approach Hunting

While the Winchester brothers have spent most of their lives either training to be hunters or doing the hunting themselves, the two often have differing approaches to hunting down evil. I'm not talking about Dean with a salt-filled gun and Sam with holy water; I'm talking about how their approaches differ as a reflection of their personalities. The lens through which they see the world colors how they view the beasties they're after and those people whose lives are affected by said beasties. And each approach is attractive, just in different ways.

Dean is an action guy, often impulsive, the more raw brawn of the duo. He knows the weaponry inside and out, and we often see him sitting in a dive motel room cleaning a gun or sharpening a knife. There’s an undeniable appeal of the action guy, one you know could protect you from all the baddies lurking in the dark. By contrast, Sam is often doing Internet searches or poring over old texts to research the lore behind the creature of the week. He’s cast as the geek boy, but the combination of good looking and smart (not to mention THOSE ARMS) is very sexy. The Winchester duo is formidable because they have both brains and brawn.

One aspect of how they approach hunting often causes friction between the brothers. Dean has often been a very black-and-white guy. Supernatural beings are evil, and therefore have to be killed. End of story. Sam isn’t so sure, especially when he finds out that there’s the possibility that he could have some dormant evil lurking inside him. He’s more willing to see shades of gray.

We see the difference in Season 1, in episodes like “Something Wicked” (1-18) when Dean wants to use Michael as bait for the shtriga while Sam wants to get the kid to safety. The different viewpoints really show up in “Bloodlust” (2-3) and “Croatoan” (2-9). During Dean’s conversation with Gordon, he identifies with Gordon’s black-and-white approach to hunting. But when Lenore shows that her group of vampires are telling the truth about not preying on humans, Dean sides with Sam against Gordon and helps the vampires get away from the hunter. He starts doubting his most basic belief that he’s carried with him his entire life.

Dean: “Think about all the hunts we went on, Sammy, our whole lives. What if we killed things that didn’t deserve killing?”

In “Croatoan” (2-9), Dean and Sam again find themselves at odds about how to deal with a supernatural threat. As residents of the town become infected with the demon virus, the brothers argue about who to kill and when. When they go to a house where a father and son are holding the mother hostage and doing her harm, Dean doesn’t hesitate to shoot the man. Sam, however, does hesitate to shoot the teenage boy because he’s a kid. Dean has the attitude that once someone gets the virus, he or she is a danger and needs to be put down like a rabid animal. That is until Sam becomes infected. Rather than kill his brother, something he will repeatedly refuse to do as the series progresses, he chooses to stay with Sam and give the Impala to the other survivors so they can flee the town. Again, he’s reminded that dealing with evil isn’t always cut and dried.

Sam is portrayed as the brother with the kinder heart, the one who offers sympathy to the victims and survivors with whom they come into contact. He also seems to have more of a conscience and feeling of guilt regarding the lies they tell and the credit card scams they use to fund their hunting. This appeals to those of us who value honesty and compassion. And sometimes the contrast in their approaches is just funny. For instance, in "Playthings" (2-11), when they've found the old woman who has apparently had a stroke:

Dean: "You know, she could be faking."
Sam: "Yeah, what you wanna do, poke her with a stick?"
Dean: Nods.
Sam: "Dude, you are not gonna poke her with a stick!"

At different times, I find myself rooting for different approaches, though it should come as no surprise that I prefer the "shades of gray" and more sympathetic approach Sam often employs. That said, sometimes you just need to open up a super-sized can of whoop-ass. :)

Which approach to you like better and why? What are you views on this topic?


Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I agree, both their approaches have their merits. It's another reason why they have a perfect partnership. One I DON'T want to see destroyed! :(

Another element about their approach to hunting comes from how they were taught. Dean, the oldest, was tasked as protector and trained to be aggressive and proactive. Sam was the protectee for many years, and his training seemed to stem more from self-defense, which, come to think of it, might be why it was easier for him to try to break away from it. Dean was taught that hunters were humanity's only defense from supernatural evil, so that adds a layer of guilt to any thoughts of leaving the business.

Nicely done, Trish!

phouse1964 said...

I too wouldn't have it any other way! I love that there are so many "oh, Dean" moments when he has to step back from his way of hunting and Sammy points out something tragic. Oh, Dean! I remember that moment in Bloodlust and it still breaks my heart every time.

I also think that since Dean has been hunting so much longer than Sam makes it harder for him to step back. John pounded hunting into him and protected Sam. Dean has never known anything else (oh, Dean!) while Sam actually got to be semi-normal for at least awhile.

Anonymous said...

>>>John pounded hunting into him and protected Sam

You and Natalie both made a good point with this--Dean wasn't really allowed the luxury of perspective (which is usually easier to gain after you've walked away for a little while).

Sadly, Dean's "time away" was in hell and I think reinforced his belief that there is no black and white. Because, he now views himself as capable of evil and just sees shades of gray as rationalization--a slippery slope to a bad place. He's still trying to protect sam, keep him from going down that slope with his powers, with Ruby, keep from becoming the evil version of himself that Dean hates himself for becoming.