I’ve been in a bit of a quandary about the show as of late. In fact, after spending so much time during the first half of the season defending show decisions and offering a “just wait and see” attitude, I’ve come around to the criticisms of many viewers who feel that the show has lost its way. If anything, the past four or five episodes have simply brought that point home rather depressingly.
And I’ve been thinking, perhaps my own high expectations for the show have caused this disconnect. At a fundamental level, Friday nights with the Winchester boys are still an enjoyable experience. It’s not that the show has suddenly become something that panders to the masses. Yet, and I’m obviously speaking for myself here, there was the potential to do something transformative with the season and it simply hasn’t been capitalized on.
The Leviathan threat has not carried the power or menace of a yellow-eyed demon, a Lucifer, Heaven’s power-hungry angels, or even a soulless Sam. The potential was there, as the Leviathans have taken everything from the Winchesters, but these monsters have been on the back burner for so long that they are a muted threat. Unfortunately, by saving the true impact and menace of the Leviathans for the final episodes of the season, what has come before has felt adrift. There has been a loss of momentum, and in the same way that the stand-alone episodes during season five felt dissociated from the arc of the apocalypse threat, the independent episodes of season seven, while entertaining, add to the confusing narrative digression.
As I wrote in December, killing Bobby was a brave move. After the loss of Castiel and the Impala, it was the final step in breaking Dean (and of course, to a lesser degree, Sam). It seemed as if the show was really taking a relatively nihilistic approach to the Winchesters’ life and future. More than that, it demonstrated a show willing to anger their fans for the innovative evolution of the show’s traditional narrative.
But it turns out that’s not the case. Both Bobby and Castiel are back – although not in their original fighting form. The fan in me is glad, especially with last week’s return of Bobby. It felt right and natural to have him there helping the boys, even if it was in ghost form.
In some ways, I feel that Dean is a mirror for potential audience reaction. Dean has mixed feelings about Castiel’s return. While Castiel is alive, he has yet to be a substantive presence (though I imagine he is back to help with the Leviathan threat). Castiel gets to return for another deus ex machina save, allowing his mind to take the place of Sam’s broken brain, allowing Winchester healing to happen.
Then there is Bobby. Dean’s declaration that Bobby’s return is just not natural was most likely intended to provide narrative and emotional tension. Yet it also highlights a narrative problem. “Death’s Door” was a beautiful episode. It was a glorious goodbye to a character much beloved by the audience, and clearly the writers. It was a Sera Gamble masterpiece of sentiment that demonstrated how Supernatural transcends the limiting appellation of genre show and could reach towards the moments of brilliance found in our most acclaimed television. But it turns out it’s not a goodbye. It is an episode that will lose some of its power on a rewatch.
Bobby’s return is wonderful, but simply serves as a reminder that Supernatural is escapist fun, not Mad Men or Fringe, and that maybe trying to analyze it as such does the show a disservice.
Having said all of that, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Leviathan threat plays out, since it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen, as we have almost no information about them. But. . .there’s the promise of Felicia Day.
My other thought is that the return of Bobby potentially gives us an arc for season eight – a season that, while not yet greenlighted, is said to be an assured thing. Trying to prevent Bobby from becoming the decaying, mentally traumatized ghosts seen in “Of Grave Importance” provides the series with a more immediate purpose. Rather than focus on a threat to the world, the Winchesters can focus on saving someone closer to home. The seasons with a more localized threat tend to be tighter and more emotionally resonant.