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Will the Devil get his due on “Reaper”?

April 30, 2009

Ray WiseWarning: SPOILERS

Lately I’ve been beginning to wonder if the Devil (played by the gleefully malicious Ray Wise) might actually be succeeding (if slowly) in turning Sam (Bret Harrison) to the dark side on Reaper. Not through any obvious, direct means like repeatedly encouraging him to do bad things, or trying to wear him down with a cynical world view, or pitting him against his half-brother last week in a soul-catching contest. Rather, it’s the result of a subtle manipulation of circumstances that makes it seem as though Sam is doing it all on his own.

In season 1, Sam operated on a fairly straight-forward basis: he didn’t like the contract that bound him to the Prince of Darkness, he wanted out of it, he kept Andi in the dark, but he did his job. Sure he whined about what the Devil put him through, but that was the extent of it.

Season 2 has been a whole different ball game. He’s making decisions and taking actions that are, to varying degrees, bad. Despite having told Andi about his contract, he held back other important details, like his being the son of the Devil (or so we’ve been led to believe – especially by the Devil himself, a master of lies – to this point) and his having a half-brother. Several episodes ago he was, despite his moral opposition, Sam was prepared to stab a baby to send it to hell because the Devil had told him it was evil. Sure Sam initially refused, and Tony the demon came in and put a stop to it when it looked like Sam had changed his mind and was going to do the deed, and yeah, in the end Sam refused to condemn the child. But there was that one moment in Tony’s apartment when Sam was poised over the baby and preparing to strike. Whether he would have actually done it is debatable, but the Sam from season 1 wouldn’t have gone that far. Then last week he kidnapped and tortured (via the trip to the racetrack) an escaped soul to try to obtain the secret of how to get out of a contract with the Devil. And in this week’s episode he attempted to seduce, then blackmail another escaped soul (and one of the Devil’s on-again-off-again flings) for information to use against the Devil. This most recent episode also saw Sam explode in rage and vow to take down his sinister employer – a first for the normally mild-tempered store clerk.

Sure you might say we’re just seeing other sides to Sam’s personality that we haven’t seen before. You might also say he’s under a lot of strain. And you might also point out that he’s done all of these things ostensibly for the right reasons (to protect Andi from the terrible truth and maintain the relationship Sam’s always wanted; to prevent a soul from wreaking havoc; to get the secrets to ending his contract so he can live a normal life – and, by the way, not bring about the end of the world).

But what about the old saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Isn’t it the case that with each of these bad things he’s doing, Sam’s losing himself a little more? Little by little, isn’t he becoming the thing he hates the most?

The question is whether Sam’s truly making this transition through his own choices (even if he doesn’t see the ultimate consequence), or if he’s being manipulated. Have all of the incidents that have pushed Sam into these decisions, actions and feelings merely been the result of circumstances deliberately manipulated by the Devil as part of some elaborate scheme precisely to provoke these reactions that will draw Sam closer to his side? I have a hunch this is the case. None of Sam’s attempted tricks seem to phase him – and I don’t think he’s smiling simply because he’s been outmanoeuvring Sam on a tactical situation-by-situation basis (like landing the deal-breaking soul in Vegas to tempt him into sin for a quick kill and recovery, or showing up to nail the teacher soul after preventing Sam from capturing her). Rather, he’s got that grin because things are going exactly as planned.

We know the Devil has set up elaborate plots before to get Sam to set up the board to his advantage. Giving Sam the vessel this week to take out the teacher soul was just a means to provoke a fight so that the Devil could jump in and save the woman-in-desperate-need-of-a-manicure and get laid. Over the past several episodes with the deal-breaker soul it seems pretty clear he was using Sam to not only flush the soul out of hiding, but to create a situation where the soul would be off of holy ground and at the mercy of temptation without any support. And let’s not forget the end of season 1, where Sam was used as a pawn to get as many of the rebel demons as possible into one place so the Devil could destroy them.

Clearly the Devil’s looking at long-term strategy and moving his pieces appropriately to get his win. Finessing circumstances to aggravate same more and drive him, through desperation and anger, to increasingly more extreme actions and attitudes, is most certainly part of a scheme to have Sam, seemingly through his own choices, become evil. Now it’s a matter of seeing whether he’ll win, or, more likely, whether Sam, with the help of his friends, can stay true to himself.

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