I'm sure we're all happy to see Sam get his soul back. Fun as Sam-less was, Supernatural just isn't the same without Jared Padalecki doing that soppy, orphan puppy dog thing the ladies seem to love so much. More importantly, an ensouled Sam gives us a couple new plot threads to follow up on. There's the ever present danger that Sam will break through the wall in his head and remember all the awful stuff that Lucifer did to him back in Hell; the show has been so effective at setting this one up that it didn't really occur to me until tonight that Sam will have to remember what happened to him at some point. It wouldn't be good drama, otherwise. (The reason the gun we see in act one has to go off in act two is because otherwise, why is there a gun in act one? And if Sam isn't going to have to deal with what really happened to him at some point, why make such a big deal out of it?) And yet part of me fully believes that if and when this happens, it will break Sam's mind permanently. That's always been one of my favorite aspects of Supernatural. While the threats may not be as epic as they should be, the show has always been very good at convincing you that the Winchesters are almost certainly doomed.
The other potential plot thread is one we spent most of "Unforgiven" dealing with, and while the set-up wasn't bad, the results were less than spectacular. Sam was Sam-less for over a year, which means there's a whole mess of bad news he could've gotten tangled up in before he found his happy place again. Sam being Sam, he now feels responsible for all the carnage his soul-less self caused, and he's determined to set everything to rights because, well, he's kind of an idiot. Oh sure, he's a good man, and it's heroic and noble and so forth, but it's not like he spent the last year-and-a-half pleasure-cruising around the world while his substitute kicked up the dickens. Sam was literally in Hell while he was away, and he went there to save the entire world. The idea that he owes anybody anything is, well, ridiculous. And the idea that he can fix whatever Sam-less broke is just as foolish.
Which doesn't stop him from dragging Dean to Bristol, Rhode Island, in response to an anonymous text message. Women are disappearing (seriously, how are there any left at this point?), which is SOP for the Winchesters, but Sam also immediately starts flashing on the last time he and Samuel were in town. Bad things happening back then. Sam also apparently had sex with every girl around, and then there was some gun-play, and then he beat the crap out of a local cop. While Dean tries to put together what's currently going down, Sam tries to make up for whatever bad deeds his other self did. Only, there are sins you can't really make up for, no matter how many times you do that, "I'm sorry" with the pouty lip thing. (I swear, watching this show is turning me into a 15-year-old girl.)
This isn't a bad set-up for an episode, and I liked the idea of Sam-with-a-soul being just as much a pain in the ass as Sam-less was, albeit in a different direction. Sam was never a huge one for logic, and his overwhelming sense of responsibility has been one of the driving factors in his and Dean's work for a few years now. It makes sense that he'd feel like he needed to do something to make up for the past. Problem is, "Unforgiven" wastes this set-up in it's second half with a lot of overly obvious dialog and some disappointingly weak plotting. The monster of the week is an arachne, which is a neat concept that never really goes anywhere beyond lumpy faces and lots of fake webbing; actually, it's a little like the dragons from last week, in that we're almost supposed to get as much out of the name as we are out of the actual creature design. At the end of the episode, there's half-a-dozen women who've been turned into monsters scattered around the area, and neither Sam nor Dean show much interest in tracking them down. Whatever happened to the "hunt" part of "hunters"?
My biggest problem here is Sam's memories of his and Samuel's time in Bristol. What starts off as a potentially fascinating story-device, as Sam keeps stumbling across pieces of information in his brain without being able to put them in to helpful context, turns into a lot of tedious, overly obvious restatements of obvious themes. Oh look, Sam-less didn't believe in the magical power of family! Oh look, Samuel was horrified by Sam-less' actions. (Really? He seemed pretty hardcore the last time we saw him. And wasn't he trying to capture monsters before?) I can believe that Sam-less would've used Sheriff Roy as bait. I just don't understand what prompted him and Samuel to tell Roy and his wife they were hunters or why they felt the need to sit around having a chat that would make Sam-less' betrayal all the more keen. And Sam-less' decision to shoot all the previous arachne's poisoned victims without bothering to see if they could be saved was just weirdly random. I get it; he was a bastard. But he was a logical bastard, and this last twist seems designed less out of logic than out of a desire to create some kind of moral dilemma. Whatever the reason, it didn't work.
The twist that did work was that none of the men Sam-less shot actually died; the arachne had been in town to "mate" and had been transforming her victims into creatures like her. As the Spider-Sheriff helpfully points out for us at the end, this means that Sam-less basically wound up creating more monsters than he actually killed. Except, wait, he didn't actually create any of these monsters; Samuel had wanted to get Sheriff Roy to the hospital, which wouldn't have made him any more dead than getting shot in the head did. I like the idea that Sam-less was actually less successful as a hunter than Sam was in some ways because of his casual disregard for consequences, but this episode didn't make a compelling argument for that. The best part came at the end, when Sam finally got a small taste of what's hiding in the back part of his soul. Everything else had potential, but never quite managed to come together properly.
- So Spider-Roy was targeting women Sam-less had slept with. How would he know who they were? Especially considering that at least one of them was married.
- Roark and Wynand, the cover names Sam-less and Samuel used in Bristol, are from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. See, that's a good joke