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.