Supernatural: The Good, The Bad, and The Frustrating

Sometimes, when you love someone, it can be hard to be critical of them. You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to alienate them or otherwise cause friction in your relationship. However, I’ve always believed that a part of loving someone is telling them when they’re out of line. It’s important to, from time to time, be constructively critical of those we love so that we can see them do better and be better. It is also an important part of being loved that you learn to accept the constructive criticism in the spirit of love in which it was given. I said all of that to say, I love Supernatural. The show and its characters have meant more to me than I ever thought a television show could. Over the years, it has become a big chunk of my life (and taken a bigger chunk out of my bank account) and I honestly don’t know how I’m going to handle it when Baby’s taillights roll off into the distance for the last time. That being said, it’s time for Supernatural to accept some constructive criticism in the spirit of love in which I’m about to give it.

THE GOOD

Let’s start with the good. The best thing I can say about this season thus far is the performances have, as always, been solid. Supernatural was very lucky to land Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki because they are both very talented actors. They have, on many occasions, taken material that is pretty mediocre and turned it into good television. For example, Jared Padalecki did an excellent job in the first two episodes of the season playing captured and tortured Sam. He was the brave, strong Sam Winchester I’ve come to love over the last 12 years, but at the same time he conveyed a sense of great loss because he believed his brother to be dead. Although it was never explicitly stated in the show, I feel like the real reason Sam didn’t tell Lady Toni what she wanted to know was he didn’t want to go on living without Dean. He wouldn’t off himself because he knew that Dean wouldn’t have wanted that, but he was willing to let Lady Toni kill him. I’m pretty glad things didn’t work out that way for Sam though. It’s actually one of my biggest disappointments of this season that the show didn’t allow Sam’s kidnapping and torture to have more of an impact on him and Dean. It’s not that I expected to see him spend half the season crying in the corner or anything, but his treatment at the hands of the BMoL had to have caused at least some flashbacks to The Cage. The fact that he and Dean just moved on with their lives like nothing happened is disappointing. But let me stop. This is supposed to be the good stuff. Jensen Ackles continues to give outstanding performances. His work in ‘Regarding Dean’ is some of his best. Dean has had a rough go of it this season with people he thought were on his side betraying him (more on that in a moment) and it’s been interesting to watch Dean dealing with all of that now that he’s grown up a bit emotionally. Though I still wouldn’t exactly call him emotionally healthy. He’s certainly better than he was. However, allowing himself to open up a bit has also meant that the betrayals he’s endured this season hit him harder because he’s removed some of his armor. Jensen has done a really good job conveying Dean’s frustration, hurt, resentment, fear, and anger while simultaneously keeping him vulnerable. I can’t really say I’m surprised though. Jensen has always done a good job with Dean’s non-verbal communication despite the narrative, especially this season, not giving him very much to work with.

The Bad

There are several major issues with this season. First and foremost, the show can’t seem to pick a direction causing the story to be all over the place. The powers that be can’t figure out who or what they want to make the Big Bad for the season, so it’s like they keep throwing things out there to see what will stick. The season premier made it look like the BMoL were going to be the Winchesters’ primary foe, and that would’ve been great. However, the Brits have mostly been relegated to the back burner until the last handful of episodes. Then there was Mary and her pushing the Boys out of her life. When the show got tired of her doing that, they turned Mary into a lying, deceptive, manipulative jerk who seems to care more about herself than Sam and Dean. Then there’s the Lucifer spawn. The show keeps throwing comments out to remind us that Kelly Kline and her demon seed are a threat, but much like the BMoL, we haven’t really dealt with her very much either.

All of that leads to the second major problem this season which is pacing. I know it’s kind of a technical thing and may seem boring, but pacing is important. The pace of the story helps build tension so when you get to the climax, it carries the kind of emotional punch you want. For example, season four had very few episodes that I would say were extemporaneous. That whole season was like a snowball rolling downhill collecting momentum as it rolled along. All of it building toward two things: Sam and Dean duking it out and Lucifer being released from his cage. Because practically every single episode was building to it, when Sam and Dean fought each other it carried quite a bit of emotional weight. When Sam let Lucifer out of The Cage, that mattered because that’s what we’d been working toward all season. I cannot say the same for this season. I think I’m supposed to care that the Brits are planning to come over and wipe out all the American hunters, but since I haven’t spent any time this season getting to know any of them besides Mick and Ketch, it’s really difficult for me to care about that brewing conflict. I think I’m supposed to care about Mary, but after the way the show has butchered that character, I honestly just want her gone. I think I’m supposed to care about Lucifer’s child possibly setting off another apocalypse, but right now, meh. I’m not saying all of this could’ve been fixed by fixing the pacing because it couldn’t. But if the show had picked one direction, the BMoL for example, and then worked to have the entire season build up to the confrontation between the ‘Mericans and the Brits, I probably would’ve enjoyed that quite a lot.

The Frustrating

I’m not going to spend any more time talking about how frustrated I am with what they’ve done to Mary because I wrote about that at length in my last post. The show, once again, sacrificed character for story, and I’ve said time and time again that it never works out well when you do that. The mess that has become of Mary Winchester is proof positive of it.

I will, however, talk about how frustrated I am with Castiel. I don’t know how many times the show is planning to tread the same ground of Castiel making bad decisions because he’s trying to “protect” the Winchesters, but I sincerely wish they’d stop. He betrayed the Winchesters in season six by working with Crowley and bringing down Sam’s wall because he wanted to stop Raphael and protect the world from another apocalypse. He betrayed the Boys again in season eleven by saying yes to Lucifer because he “wanted to be of service to the fight” and he felt he had already screwed up so much that it was his “chance to make things right.” Now here we are again. Once again Cas goes to work with people who do not have the best interest of the world, much less the Winchesters, at heart. Once again Cas shows up and lies to the Boys about his true intentions and screws them over. Once again Cas justifies all of this by claiming he’s doing it to protect the Winchesters and because he desperately wants to put a win on the board. I’m just wondering how long the narrative is going to give Cas a pass for his bad choices. I could maybe see it when Cas didn’t understand that the Winchesters considered him family. But twice now Dean has given Cas the ‘you’re our brother’ speech. Also, when they went up against Ramiel, the Boys once again reminded Cas that they weren’t leaving him behind because he’s family. What is it going to take for Cas to grow up? What is it going to take for Cas to stop betraying two people who clearly love him and are willing to sacrifice for him? How many times is Cas going to have to make things worse before he realizes that making decisions without discussing it with his family never works out well. Now, he’s cost the Boys the Colt and he’s playing protector to Lucifer’s spawn. Because there’s obviously no way that could end badly. Insert eyeroll here. The powers that be have struggled since the end of season five to figure out what to do with Castiel. They’ve had several opportunities to explore some interesting paths for him, but they’ve squandered the possibility every time. Thus, we’ve seen no lasting growth in Castiel since season five ended. He has literally been making the same mistake over and over again without any end in sight. By the time Cas decided to run off and play protector of Lucifer’s demon seed, I was just done. So very done. Cas either has bricks for brains or he’s actively refusing to learn from his past mistakes. Either way, it’s frustrating as all get out to watch the show continue to tread this same ground without doing more than paying lip-service to emotional maturity in the character.

Like I said earlier, I love Supernatural. I know the show is capable of so much better than it’s been doing this season. I understand that we’ve got a new showrunner and he needs to find his legs. But at the same time, the mistakes that are being made this season are rookie mistakes which could be solved by going back and refreshing your memory on past season canon. Supernatural has an extremely talented cast and crew, and it bothers me that the writing this season hasn’t done better by them. I’m hoping Dabb and Co. can pull things together better going forward, but if they don’t stop and look at the mess they’ve made thus far, I’m not holding my breath for much improvement.