Supernatural’s seventh season is now well underway, and it’s provoked different reactions amongst its fans. AOL’s TV critic, Mo Ryan, wrote an essay of her concerns with the writing of this season. I have a very different feel for this season and what the show has offered me over the years. So, I decided to add to the conversation about the current quality of Supernatural’s writing.
As my review of “The Girl Next Door” and “Defending Your Life” showed, I’m enjoying the heck out of season seven. Not only do I not think Dean’s decision to kill the monster Amy or his drinking problem are out of character or poorly supported, I think Dean’s actions are the inevitable result of the last six seasons, particularly last season.
Dean’s character has always had difficulty handling grief and loss. He couldn’t talk about losing his father, he couldn’t talk about his guilt about hell and now he can’t talk about losing Castiel or his fear that he might lose Sam because he can’t help Sam fight his soul damage. He’s not talking about losing Lisa and Ben, either, and all this not talking is pushing him to the edge of his ability to cope. One of the most striking pieces of characterization I noticed in “Defending Your Life” is how exhausted Dean is. To my eyes, far from the Winchesters feeling simplistic, Ackles is conveying volumes about Dean’s state of mind.
The man is tired to his bones, existentially tired, and he’s losing the willingness to fight the pull of the bottle, something he’s always turned to, as his dad did before him. I think Dean’s condition has been building for seasons and this kind of story development is what I love about Supernatural. Everything that happens in the story matters.
It matters that Dean had no childhood because he was almost simultaneously made into both Sam’s caretaker and a hunter when he was very young. He’s always had less willingness to negotiate the grey areas than Sam, but then he’s always been afraid of disappointing his father in the two very different responsibilities he was given. Gray areas to Dean feel like failure, rather than offering hope the way they always have to Sam. The difference in the brothers’ attitudes has been there since season one and is important again this season.
Does that make Supernatural repetitive? Not to me. I think it points to character integrity and continuity. I would find it a cop out if the writers never dealt with Dean’s use of alcohol. I would find it lazy writing if he and Sam had exactly the same attitude toward killing monsters. I think it would be a waste of dramatic potential to never switch Dean and Sam’s usual roles, so that Sam worries about Dean’s psyche. I don’t think the switch means that Sam will have no repercussions from the broken wall in his mind. I do like he unexpectedly gained some strength from what didn’t kill him, despite all the warnings in season six.
One point I agree on with Ryan is that I watch for hope. I want the boys to find their way to a place they can find some happiness. They’ve gone through such despair and pain, they’ve earned it. But it has to be the end game for the series. They can’t find it too early. The journey is still underway and has always centered on what they need from each other to keep going. Solving that tension would take away much of what has successfully driven the show. Last season had some problems with diluting that focus.
Season six was controversial in many ways, and I had some issues with the structure. I think Sam and Dean and Castiel had separate story lines for too much of the time, and I had little interest in spending so much time with the Campbells. I would have much rather had Castiel’s story more grounded in Sam and Dean’s. Sam, Dean Castiel and Bobby are the characters I care most about, the ones I want to know more about.
I still think season six offered up a lot of goodies, particularly in what can now be set up for the boys. I think Sam had to finally face his worst fear of himself, because that plot bunny has had so much exploration over the seasons. I think Dean needed to take a chance on a different kind of life, so he could face he’ll never have a typical family, that his life with Ben and Lisa was doomed before Sam ever set foot back on earth. He’s been forged in a different fire and there’s no going back.
Season six brought some issues into the open so the boys can face some hard facts. There are some things they will never have. Being a Winchester is not something either brother can put down. However, I don’t take that to mean there is no hope for any happiness. I just think the happiness will look very different from what Sam and Dean have held onto as their ideals and the first step to recognizing that was to try for and lose the ideals.
This season, I am invested in Dean finding a way through his depression. I am invested in Sam finding a way through his inevitable anger to offering his brother help. And I’m invested in both of them getting the Leviathans back into purgatory. I don’t see a lack of stakes in defeating the Leviathans, though I do agree it is time to get another sense of their danger.
I’m also invested in Castiel. I adore the character, both as an individual and for what he brings to the brothers. I want to see how Dean handles not forgiving Cas when he asked at the end of season six. I want to see how Cas and Sam deal with each other now that they have such a history. And I just love the way Misha Collins brings this otherworldly character to life.
So, I have sympathy for anyone who is missing him this season. But I can see why the writers wanted to get him off the playing board for a while. The angel story line needed to end. It had come to a satisfying conclusion and the show has to to get back to a better mix of mythology and self-contained monster hunting episodes. Cas is too powerful simply to continue his role in the brothers’ lives, post-nonApocalypse.
Sam and Dean cannot have an angel on call whenever they need help. Cas would take the tension out of his episodes, because without the war in heaven, he has no obstacles to fight. He also needs to be temporarily out of the way so Sam and Dean can reforge their partnership after the schisms of season six. Their bond is the core of the show. I miss Cas, but I know why he’s gone.
That doesn’t mean he needs to stay gone. I have had little issue with the many deaths over the years. Supernatural’s world is a dark but rich one. No one is safe—we knew that when John died. Sad as those casualties have been, I would for example never take back the impact of Ellen and Jo’s deaths. Nor would I take away the knowledge that Cas’s version of an involved God was a vengeful Old Testament God, even though Balthazar was a victim of Cas’ hubris. The exploration of an absent God was an interesting story element for several seasons. But I do want Cas to return from the dead.
Unlike characters like Lucifer and Crowley, both of whom are excellent, I care about Castiel when he’s absent. I want to know he is safe. I want him to resolve his problems with Dean. I think it would be a mistake to permanently write out a character who resonates with so much of the audience. But I can wait for the writers to find a good way to re-introduce him, so he works with the angel-free story line and can play off both Sam and Dean.
My acceptance of Castiel’s absence may be one reason I am appreciating the current season. I’m not resenting the story going on without him overtly being mentioned. Dean’s nightmares and drinking show me Cas has not been forgotten. I think this show’s history is to follow up on important elements, so I’m willing to sit back and trust the writers are going somewhere worthwhile. With scenes like the one between Dean and Jo in “Defending Your Life,” I think Supernatural still delivers the goods.