Friday, October 10, 2014

Returning Shows: Supernatural (Wheezing Towards Bethlehem)

So this is a thing that happened.
Oh man. So, as some of you may remember, Supernatural really used to be my favorite show. It feels weird to type that now, but it's the truth. Way back in 2008 I watched the first three seasons in about two weeks while I pretended I was working on my summer research project (my advisor probably wasn't very convinced), and I fell in love. Sure, it was terrible at retaining female characters and characters of color. And sure, the first two seasons were pretty rough. But it had potential! The arc plot kept compounding on itself and revealing new depths to the mythos and amazing new character development for the boys every season.

It was a train that could only go up.

I watched season four in real time, along with all of my housemates. By season five I'd moved to California along with my best friend, and we watched the apocalypse arc on my couch in Sherman Oaks, biting our nails and shushing each other as Sam and Dean and Cas all sacrificed and bled and saved the world. At the end of season five, I cried like a little baby.

And then the show just kept going. Which was fine. I liked it well enough. Season six was okay, not great, but I figured I could give them a little leeway. It wasn't actively bad, and there were a lot of interesting one off episodes. Season seven was fun, if you like jokes about male genitalia and seeing your favorite characters die for realsies this time. Season eight was interesting. Season nine...well, by then watching Supernatural had stopped being something I did on purpose and become something I did because I might as well do it.

Like having dinner with a racist grandparent or eating a potato chip because it's the only one left in the bag and it might feel lonely otherwise, but it's kind of stale and you're not hungry, watching Supernatural last season didn't really do anything for me. Occasionally it annoyed me, sometimes it made me giggle, but on the whole it was just kind of there. Which is awful.

Still, we're going into the tenth season now, and we've been promised, yet again, that this is absolutely totally definitely the final season. We'll see how that goes. At this point, though, it's been over half a decade since I started really seriously watching, and I figure that giving up now would be like letting the bad guys win (even if the bad guys in this case are the show's writers). I refuse to do that. Supernatural and I will limp along together, all the way to the end.

When I say limping, I really do mean limping. The season opener, while better than what I was expecting based on last season, was still pretty crappy. Last season we left off with the angels back in Heaven, Castiel near death because of a depleted grace, and Dean officially now a demon, thanks to the Mark of Cain. Sam was disconsolate over Dean's death, all major female characters were either dead or in another realm, and the only interesting person left was Crowley. Oh Crowley.

So, this season starts six months later, with Crowley and Dean the Demon on a bender, hitting up karaoke bars, trying to win at foosball, screwing waitresses, and generally being demons at and around stuff. It's a real vacation of bros. Meanwhile, Sam is still freaking the crap out and trying to track them down. Cas would like to help, but he's got some bigger problems, what with being almost dead.

In the first episode, Sam tries to track down Dean and Crowley and gets a lead when he finds security footage of Dean viciously killing someone with the First Blade in a convenience store. Cas offers to help, but then gets his own quest: Joining Hannah to track down some renegade angels and drag them back to Heaven because we absolutely can't let angels live happily on Earth. Nope.

Dean and Crowley continue their carousing, but Crowley begins to imply that he actually helped Dean become a demon for a real purpose. So that they could return to Hell and rule over it in the way that Crowley has always wanted. After all, with Abbadon dead, and most of her supporters being murdered by Dean, there's very little to stand in their way.

Sam does not manage to catch up to Dean and Crowley, though he does meet up with a "friend" of Dean's. Said friend knocks him unconscious, ties him up in a barn, and calls Dean to taunt him about the impending death of his brother, you know, the one that Dean will do literally anything to save. Only this time, after Dean has had an entire episode to think about what it means to be a demon and who he really is, man, he decides not to save Sam. Weird. Instead, Dean weighs the option of actually helping Crowley take over Hell. I mean, he is a demon. Isn't this what he's meant for?

Also Cas and Hannah find the renegade angels, make nice with them, fight them, and then have a deep and meaningful conversation about whether or not some angels deserve freedom at the cost of having pure consensus in the host. It's interesting, but after two seasons straight of pure angelic focus, I'm about done with the Heaven storylines. And while Hannah is funny when she's around Cas, she's not a sufficiently compelling character to pull me into the plot, not like Naomi was back in season eight.

It's not that this episode wasn't funny. There were lots of great jokes. From the convenience store clerk referring to Dean as "porn guy" when interviewed by the police to Dean's horrific attempts at karaoke to Hannah getting carsick from Cas' awful driving - there was a lot of comedy going on. The problem with this episode is that it all felt, well, soulless. Like the whole cast and crew and writers were just going through the motions of making a Supernatural episode, and that they all knew it was kind of crap, but at this point, who cares?

And that's a terrible thing to accuse them of, I know, but that's the vibe this episode gives off. While last season I was incensed at the continued sexism and racism and homophobia of the show, this season I'm just pretty much over it. In general. And that really sucks.

But. I refuse to give up all hope. There are still a couple of interesting ways that this season could go, dramatically speaking. While the idea of Dean as a demon is kind of funny when you think of him just basically being his regular self but without a filter, the dramatic meat of the show would come if they decided to really delve into Dean's past. This isn't the first time he's been a demon, after all, and he was a master torturer in Hell for a decade. I want to see real demon First Knight of Hell Dean. I want to see Dean being the monster that monsters fear. And I love the idea of him being horrible and evil and gross and the most effective hunter you can imagine.

I would also love it if the show were to really explore Sam's disconnect with Dean. If his brother was the only thing keeping Sam hunting and Dean is now something that needs to be hunted, then what is Sam still doing there? Is his mission to take Dean out and then that's it for him? Or is this going to be the push Sam needs to go back and finish the ritual to seal the gates of Hell once and for all?

Furthermore, what about the gates of Heaven? It seems a bit like the show is setting up a world where all of the angels are actually back up in Heaven, and if that happens, it would make most sense for the gates to close. Thematically it also works really well, because if we remember the intense "profound bond" that Dean and Cas share, it's almost poetically depressing if they end up eternally shut away from each other.

Actually that's my ideal ending. I want the show to end with Cas shut up in Heaven, the gates forever sealed, and Dean as King of Hell, permanently sealed in as well. Then there's Sam, left alone on Earth, the world finally saved but at the cost of the only family he had left. Sam then goes on to live a normal life, and it's super freaking sad and amazing.

I'm really not kidding. That is my ideal ending at this point.

Look, I loved Supernatural a lot. I still do, at least the early seasons. I still think that those first five seasons, especially three through five, are genuinely amazing television. I just also think that there's a point at which you have to stop. Sam and Dean aren't really making any character progress anymore. They're stale, stagnant, dead in the water. 

At this point the only narrative direction to go in is, well, sad. How could these characters possibly have a happy ending? Heck, even the show they tried to backdoor pilot as a spinoff was sad and full of sad things.

I will say though that I would be down for seeing more television set in this universe. Just not like Supernatural was. What I want is a show full of diverse characters, interesting backstories that aren't just tragedy and gloom, and a really compelling world. My ideal spinoff involves Charlie and Dorothy, who are canonically adventuring together in Oz if you recall, going on a series of adventures through the realms, hunting demons and monsters and horrible things. Heck, maybe they take along some of the baby hunters we've met throughout the show, like Ben or Claire Novak or Lucas.

Or there could be a show just about the baby hunters. What if all of those special kids or boring kids or hunter kids that the boys have run into over the years found each other and started hunting. Dean's in Hell, Cas is in Heaven, and Sam is completely done, but there are still monsters to fight and people to save. What if these kids took over?

What I'm saying is that I don't think Supernatural is all bad or all done. I just really think that there's nothing left to say about the Winchester Brothers. It's been nine seasons, and we've said it all. What's left now is to wheeze our ways to the finish line, and pray that the resolution we get there was worth the trek.

This is also a thing that happened.


  1. I think SPN has been officially downgraded for me to a binge watch, sometime down the road. I'm still on the fence as to whether its even worth it to critique the latter 5 seasons on my myopic SPN-feminist-critique blog; the whole team is completely different, and the genre is one hundred percent different from its inception.

    At least everyone is still nice to look at. I guess.

    1. Okay, first of all, I love your myopic SPN-feminist-critique blog. :DDD Second of all, very valid points. The show has changed so much in its genre, attitudes, and tone, it's barely recognizable. It's so hard to remember what the early seasons were even like...

  2. At this point, though, it's been over half a decade since I started really seriously watching, and I figure that giving up now would be like letting the bad guys win (even if the bad guys in this case are the show's writers).

    There are times when I feel really luckly to have ditched this show four and a half seasons ago. (Anna's trashing and death was my final deal-breaker).

    What I want is a show full of diverse characters, interesting backstories that aren't just tragedy and gloom, and a really compelling world.

    The only season I have on DVD is the first, and that's what I'd prefer a return to: lower level monsters, the dramas of the lives they terrorise, and ease back on the threats to the world at large. This is the sort of time I always bang the Hailey and Sarah drums, but they were good characters, and they've had nine years to develop into hunters now. And Hailey as a hunter who gets into the game because her loved one was [i]saved[/i], and wants to pay that forward, would be a change from the usual revenge format.

    (Ok, I know that's just asking for season 1 but with girls instead of boys, which isn't much of a different show, but still).

    More of a difference might be to go internal where Supernatural went cosmic. Ghosts are already born from people's unresolved issues, and most of the early monsters were essentially ghosts. But making a lot of [i]other[/i] monsters thought-forms of a sort - creations of repressed tragedies and secrets, psychically lashing out at the world - monsters in the sense of portents, marking a place where Something (not just the monster) Is Wrong.

    But still with Hailey and/or Sarah. :)

  3. I'm glad I finished through season five, but since then it's been a wash. I feel like the first five seasons made a lot of sense where the conflict was an externalization of the brothers' feelings about each other and life in general. The later seasons have really been missing this. We need a strong emotional understanding of the external conflict in order for the show to have any real meaning. Without that it's all floundering. And I think that's why the later seasons just don't work.

    Also yes, a version with girls would be so rad. I was genuinely holding out hope the Jo was going to become a major character at some point, and take one of the hunting kids under her wing, and then there would be adventures and shenanigans...

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