Despair. I think it’s the emotion hardest for cialis online an audience to embrace — especially if that emotion extends over many episodes or, to the audience’s chagrin, an entire season. It’s this word, this feeling, this thought, that is driving season seven of Supernatural. It is what I believe to be the concept most frustrating for the discontented in the audience.
I’ve been thinking about this after reading Mo Ryan’s article on aoltv.com about what Supernatural needs to do to rescue its stumbling season. Now I find Ryan to be a refreshing and incisive critic, who can be a passionate advocate for television shows, yet I read this article, paused, and wondered if I was watching a different show than everyone else. Then I thought I must be giving Supernatural some kind of pass simply because I feel like, after seven years, that the Winchesters are part of my weekly life — in a weird way they are like TV family (exactly how I felt about LOST). You spend so much time watching and re-watching that their story becomes interwoven into the fibers of your very being. Then I wondered if it was even possible to be critical of something that you love — in the same way that I refuse to listen to any negative comments about William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, was I simply incapable of applying rational thought to a show that I love?
No, that wasn’t the answer. There are instances in this website where I have critiqued the show or negatively reviewed an episode. It’s not that I can’t find flaws with Supernatural — don’t get me started on their problems with female characters — but clearly something is happening. If you look at responses to reviews, the audience seems overwhelmingly unhappy. Some of you were generous enough to give me your thoughts, which demonstrated that there are satisfied viewers who probably aren’t speaking up in blog comments. Yet there were also a few responses that pointed to issues that I’ve seen elsewhere. These concerns tend to revolve around Castiel and the season’s seeming lack of purpose, as, for many, the Leviathan arc seems too amorphous to create an invested audience.
This is why I circled back to the concept of despair. Ryan asserted that by taking everything away from the boys, they have nothing to fight for, no reason to go on (I’m badly paraphrasing). I would argue that that’s exactly the point. We’ve seen them with purpose, with a specific goal that they’re fighting towards (killing Azazel, saving Dean from Hell, stopping the apocalypse, restoring Sam’s soul), and Gamble could have easily followed that template. Instead, as KimberlyFDR pointed out, Gamble started her tenure as showrunner by adopting a darker tone. This shouldn’t be surprising. Gamble has historically written the episodes that delve deeply into the emotional fragility of the boys. She consistently pushes past Dean’s bravado to explore what makes him a depressed, martyred, fan of the drink. As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, her episode “What Is and What Should Never Be” provided the first, tragic look at what drives Dean — and it was horrifically sad. So the tone of the new seasons shouldn’t be a surprise at all.
I would argue that last season was the setup for Sam and Dean hitting rock bottom this season — the setup for complete despair. Ideally, this season, the boys would be left with no one. And if this was a novel, Bobby would also have been a fatality, perhaps the Leviathan would have ensured his end. However, I don’t think the show can kill off Bobby — not without a complete fan revolt — or at the very least not until near the series finale. We’re at a point, after seven years, that following the traditional Supernatural template is not the best option. Exploring despair, exploring what happens to our Winchesters when they have nothing but each other to fight for — now that’s meaty. The vague threat of the Leviathans? I would bundle that up with the concept of despair. The boys barely understand what they’re fighting, only knowing, once again, that it’s a threat that could destroy the world. Yet as a result of their despair — and really, it’s Dean’s despair — the day-to-day is rote. Rote in a way that highlights how much they have lost and how far they have fallen. How do you survive when you have nothing?
One of the darkest periods of the show was when John Winchester died. It’s the event that brought Dean the closest to this despair — his character now is a reflection of his character then. Brooding, excessively drinking, refusing to see beyond the black and white of the situation, seeking some kind of solace through the destruction of monsters. It was all there. But the quest for vengeance — for killing Azazel — is what brought him back, after just a few episodes, from the abyss. In the present, that vengeance is missing. The enemy is scattered, can spread easily, and is almost impossible to kill. Not only that, the Leviathans are smart, strong hunters. There is no respite from running because they consistently and quickly track the boys down. Or, in an even worse case scenario, make life almost impossible for them by shifting into their forms.
Can’t you just feel it? When you think about what they’re currently going through? No home, no place of safety, no Castiel to act as a deus ex machina, no easy way to identify or kill their foes — it’s despair. It’s their darkest moment. And it’s incredibly difficult to watch.
Yet none of this means there’s something wrong with the show — it just means it’s progressing in a way that makes the audience uncomfortable.
During this past season of Breaking Bad, another fantastic critic, Tim Goodman, whose thoughts I appreciate and often disagree with, wrote about his concern with how deconstructing every episode prevented critics/viewers from just sitting back and enjoying the ride. That because we don’t let the arc happen without trying to anticipate or second-guess the writers, we can’t fully appreciate what the show is trying to do.
I think it’s an interesting point. And while I’m not comparing Supernatural to Breaking Bad, I do think that we take such ownership of a show, that it’s oftentimes difficult to let the arc happen without feeling like we’re being betrayed in some way. Isn’t part of the magic letting a show take us somewhere that we haven’t anticipated? Isn’t it the responsibility of art to force us to examine and explore emotions and situations that might make us feel uncomfortable or distressed?
This is the darkest place the Winchesters have ever been. They have no one. They have nothing to hold on to but their skill as hunters. Their entire world is destabilized — so much so that they don’t even have control over their own bodies, their own stories. The Leviathans can inscribe a reality for them by assuming their own shapes and personas. It’s taxing to experience this with them, but it’s a fascinating journey.