If not, you should be. Season 8 is a welcome return to form.
Then: What went wrong.
Supernatural took a lot of hits when Eric Kripke left after season 5. There was uncertainty amongst the ranks for while fans were happy to see the Winchester duo continue their adventures, there was a sense that with Kripke’s vision basically complete, anything afterwards would struggle to maintain the standard of prior Supernatural seasons.
The naming of Sera Gamble as the new showrunner put many minds at ease, mine among them, as she had not only been with the show from the beginning, but was one of their best writers. I would argue that Gamble was the most significant in terms of emotional resonance. Gamble had a clear understanding of the Winchester boys, and the support system they built, and could incorporate powerful revelations and lachrymose catharsis that in other hands would have been overwrought or ineptly composed. Furthermore, in a landscape where there is a dearth of female showrunners, especially in the sci-fi/supernatural/fantasy genre, it served as a progressive appointment.
How I wish I could sit down with Sera Gamble and find out what exactly happened over those two years. I would love to know what discussions were had in the writers’ room and what pushed her to make some of the choices she did over those two seasons, because the missteps were grave. While soulless Sam was not a favorite storyline for many, it did give Jared Padalecki a chance to move his character beyond the emotional loop he had become burdened with, and it provided the writers with yet another opportunity to torment Dean – his arc seemed to become some form of torture porn. Is there something we can do to make Dean even more depressed, hopeless, and isolated? Yes? Then let’s do it. The Leviathan storyline, which had so much potential, was rendered impotent until the final episodes of season 7. While stripping the Winchesters of everything that had given them a minimal sense of security – friends, a girlfriend and her child, a home base, and the beloved Impala – it was the fumbling of the Bobby narrative that felt like the most egregious miscalculation.
As I wrote at the time, while I wasn’t, as a fan, pleased with the decision to kill Bobby, I felt it was a bold move on the writers’ part. Bobby had become more integral to the mental health of the Winchester boys than any other character on the show. Killing him destabilized everything – for the boys, Bobby was the only thing left to lose besides each other. And the Gamble-penned episode, “Death’s Door,” was a gorgeous eulogy to a beloved character. Jim Beaver owned that hour and illuminated just how much Sam and Dean were his sons, even if not by blood. The episode was a tribute to the character, the actor, and the show itself, because it is a rare thing to be able to weave that much emotion into a narrative that also focuses on reapers and leviathans. It was a template for how to send-off a beloved character.
And then they brought him back. For no reason. Only to “kill” him again a few months later. Everything that happened with Bobby as a ghost was superfluous to the narrative arc. The only reason would be to show how when you don’t leave with a reaper, you begin to turn into a vengeful spirit. But we already know that. In one of the series’s best episodes, “In My Time of Dying” (2.01), Tessa the reaper explains to Dean what will happen to him if he doesn’t go with her – how he’ll remain on Earth and become the type of thing that he’s grown-up hunting. The audience doesn’t need Bobby alive to make that point. Making Bobby a ghost doesn’t bring about catharsis, but rather negates the beautiful work that Gamble had done in the winter finale of season 7. Something was going on in that writers’ room and I wish I knew what it was.
In the next piece, I’ll explain exactly what new showrunner and longtime Supernatural writer Jeremy Carver is doing so right, and how he’s infused the show with a vitality it’s been sorely lacking.