Oh Supernatural, how you make things hard for me.
Just as I think I have an easy review for the week – a harmless one-off episode everyone would enjoy and barely remember after – you shoot a torpedo in the last scene and flip the ocean liner upside down.
By now every reviewer and his/her Rottweiler must have chewed and spat out those last three minutes several times. People have discussed it more than they have discussed the theory of evolution. I’ve seen a few of those reviews and discussions and it’s like the rest of the episode doesn’t even exist.
Not in this sandbox. There was an entire episode attached to that last bit and, as God is my witness, I’m going to talk about it, because this is The Gripe Review and no writer is getting away with subpar delivery just because they blew up the cargo at the end. I’m going to talk about the tag too, but only after I listed the gripes related to the episode, even though I have the temptation to do what many have done and go straight to minute 39:00.
My thoughts on that are at the end of the article in case you like to skip.
Gripe #1 – Amnesia pill until the case of over
Call it professionalism; call it putting reality on hold. There’s still something not quite right about being so much at odds yet putting it all in a corner to hunt a monster in a spa. I’m not saying the brothers should sit around and bicker all day. But when something big happens between two people you expect to see shades of it in all their interactions, even if they are putting a normal front for the public.
In this episode, during the monster of the week segment, we see nothing that remotely indicates Sam and Dean are at odds, despite the last episode ending with a heated spat, and this one heading for a big one at the end. It’s as if they reverted to the Sam and Dean of the previous seasons. Sam even panics and searches for Dean after he receives a roofied phone call from him. He turns every stone in the place to find and save him. Then at the end he says he would never do it, which makes me wonder if I’m watching two different shows.
Gripe #2 – Are we still Hunteri Heroicing?
As I was watching the episode I was reminded of something that bothered me a lot in the recent seasons: the bit characters and their stupid antics. For some inexplicable reason some of the supporting cast acts cartoonish without being possessed, and it happens quite frequently. This episode it was the husband of the Pishtaco. In the scene where he sits down with the boys his looney toons behavior is quite distracting. Even Sam and Dean were taken off guard by his sudden toon-outs. But then they keep going like nothing happened and I realize we’re supposed to do the same.
One thing I like about shows such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones is that even though some of their side characters have a level of wackiness in them, it is never presented as slapstick. The goofiness is part of the character’s personality and is observed, and at times addressed, by other characters. This makes characters real and prevents their actions to jolt the viewer out of their immersion in the show.
What Supernatural does however is like sitcom or anime. A character acts wacky and the only one who is supposed to notice is the audience, who is also expected to laugh. But since Supernatural isn’t a sitcom people don’t watch it with that mindset and scenes like this, or others that we’ve seen throughout the show, feel out of place.
Gripe #3 – Dean’s inconsistent monster prejudice
When Dean killed Amy in season 7 there were debates about his opinion on monsters. People wondered if he believed monsters should be killed even if they didn’t kill humans or were reformed into not killing humans. Since then the inconsistencies in regards to Dean’s view on the subject have been mounting, and the debate goes on.
Dean wouldn’t let Amy live but allowed the werewolf girl in Bitten to take off. That made people assume that his red line was killing people. Then he let the witches in Shut Up Doctor Phil live even though they had killed people, and fans assumed it was because they were simply too powerful. Then we had Garth and his family last episode and again, Dean only killed those of them who had spilled blood. That was when I made the conclusion that Dean only killed monsters who strayed from the straight and narrow path and spared the rest.
The last scene at the spa in this episode debunked that yet again. Maritza – the female Pishtaco – had not harmed any humans. She had even helped a few by giving them a knife-free liposuction. Why did Dean insist on killing her? And why was it Sam who talked him out of it, Sam who himself took such a strict stand against the vampire Benny?
If Dean still believed that no living monster was a good monster shouldn’t they have this conversation last episode? Shouldn’t there have been some kind of dispute over Garth? And shouldn’t Sam see the hypocrisy in his opinion with regards to Benny? Or are we dealing with writers who refuse to even remember what happened one episode ago?
The Great Sam and Dean Clusterf*ck of Season 9
Those who have read my reviews know that I’m not particularly attached to a pairing or character. I like Sam, Dean and Castiel, and I like the various interactions between them. It’s these relationships that make the show strong. They have been the building blocks of the show for nine seasons.
I don’t consider breakups a bad thing. It doesn’t always mean the writers/creator are doing something wrong. I was a fan of Dean and Sam’s dispute is seasons 4 & 5, and Dean and Castiel’s fall out in season 6 before it was spoiled in season 7. Done well, break ups are the spice of relationships and have the potential to create riveting stories.
That is not what Carver is doing here, even though the responses I read from his writers on twitter indicate they think so. They reassure the fans that the drama they have created between Sam and Dean will pay off in the end if they just remain patient. Sadly they fail to see what a piss poor job they are doing at creating said drama and how, in the process, they are destroying not only the relationship between the brothers – one of the mainstays of the show- but the characters themselves.
I will try to approach this topic as objectively as I can, to show that the reason I have a gripe with it isn’t because I am hung up on the brotherly bond, but because I consider this bad storytelling on many fronts, and because it is something that can’t be fixed with a hug and make up scene at the end regardless of what the creators think. The writers may count on fans coming back when they finally reunite the brothers (if that is indeed what they plan to do.) But they are blowing such huge, irreparable holes in the ship that chances are, when they scramble to fix things up in the end, the vessel is at the bottom of the ocean where no fan could reach it.
Here are the reasons why I think this storyline will sink the USS Samn’Dean:
Lack of character consistency
Listening to Sam’s speeches this season has been like solving riddles. As I said many times in the past it has been hard to understand what exactly he is saying. After every encounter he had with Dean, a multitude of theories sprang up from fans, which ranged from Sam being angry at Dean to Sam being angry at himself for his failures.
This episode finally set things straight. Now we know what Sam says in clear, concise language. We know he doesn’t want the brotherly bond the way it is. We know he thinks Dean’s actions are selfish and aimed at keeping Dean safe from loneliness and pain, and that he, Sam, wouldn’t lift a finger to save Dean if it came to it.
I will resist the urge to debate why all these assertions are damaging to Sam’s character. I don’t want to turn this review into a Sam is right vs. Sam is wrong argument. The Gripe Review doesn’t gripe about characters but focuses on story and writing mistakes. If the story demands Sam to take that stand and say those words, yet upholds its quality and form nonetheless, I have no problem with it, no matter what the dialogue or action says about the character or what it means to the relationship. We all watched Castiel’s downfall before and that was a good story up until the time it was dropped.
Sam’s story doesn't seem like a good one so far, mainly because his actions and words don’t match what we've known and experienced of him. Sam tells Dean that if he ever got into trouble Sam would not come to his rescue. He doesn't say it in a heated way which could imply he doesn't mean it and is caught in the moment. He says it in a cold, rational tone, like speaking a fact. That fact however clashes with evidence we have seen in past episodes:
-In Bloody Mary Sam tells Dean, “Look, you're my brother, and I'd die for you.”
-In Faith he takes Dean to a shady priest and even when he knows something unethical is going on he doesn’t pull out.
-In All Hell Breaks Loose Part II he says to Dean, “You saved my life over and over, when you sacrificed everything for me. Don’t you think I’d do the same for you? You’re my big brother. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you."
-In I Know What You Did Last Summer he summons a crossroads demon to trade his soul for Dean.
-In Mystery Spot he almost turns into a psychopath to bring Dean back.
-In Time is on my Side he contemplates making a deal with Doc Benton to get the secrets or immortality and use them to keep Dean alive, even as a Frankenstein monster.
-In No Rest for the Wicked he fights to keep Dean from going to hell and when Dean resigns to his fate he yells, "I'm not letting you go to hell."
Does that sound like a guy who would refuse to interfere if his brother was in mortal danger? Sam is either lying or the writers have reinvented his character.
I know those were all from the earlier seasons and Sam could have changed his attitude in the interim. But there’s the episode Trial and Error, as recent as last season, in which Sam, after being chosen to perform the trials (a task which Dean insisted on taking) says, “I see light at the end of this tunnel. And I'm sorry you don't -- I am. But it's there. And if you come with me, I can take you to it.” Meaning Sam wants to save Dean not only from the trials but from his own darkness.
Where is his sudden cold attitude toward Dean coming from? Just the act of Dean letting Gadreel possess Sam isn’t enough to make the character do a 180. It didn’t happen to Dean when Sam conspired with Ruby and jump started the apocalypse. Their relationship is too strong in foundation for this to be plausible.
Lack of continuity
Let’s go back to Sam’s speech at the end of Trial and Error, because if the writers hadn’t forgotten it, they’d know that the latest development is in complete incongruence with it.
“I'm closing the gates. It's a suicide mission for you. I want to slam hell shut, too. But I want to survive it. I want to live, and so should you.”When Sam started the trials he wanted to live. He even told Dean so. The only time he was willing to die was in the church when he was close to finishing them. Dean talked him out of it. Even though I had a hard time understanding the arguments (due to Sam’s cryptic dialogue) I understood that it was a mutual decision. This was later confirmed by the showrunner in various interviews, and recently in script by Castiel, in which they both said “Sam and Dean chose each other.”
If that’s the case then why are we hearing this from Sam now: “I was ready to die. I was ready. I should have died, but you... You didn't want to be alone, and that's what all this boils down to.” How does this work based on what we heard from him before?
I said many times that Sam has the right to be mad at Dean for tricking him into an angel possession. But’s that’s as far as Dean’s guilt in this situation goes. The rest of Sam’s accusations are groundless. Dean didn’t stop him from shutting the gates of hell. That was Sam’s own choice when Dean said he put him before everyone and everything. Dean also had no clue Sam wanted to die. That happened in Sam’s head when he was coma dreaming. How is Dean supposed to know what Sam said to imaginary Death and about his demand to die permanently?
Writers can and should let characters argue and be mad at each other for legitimate reasons. It’s when they throw in everything including the kitchen sink just to add more drama, while logic and continuity flies out the window, that the story falls apart.
Lack of an external story
Of course this is not the first time the brothers have argued. Season 4 had Sam slowly turning into a demon blood junky and Dean trying to stop him. In season 5 Sam was trying to keep Dean from saying yes to Michael and sacrificing himself. In both cases however the arguments were part of a larger storyline, one outside the brothers' relationship. The story was there to move things along while the boys struggled with their roles in it as well as their bond.
This season the bickering IS the story since all the other plots (Gadreel, the angel war, the Hell rivalry) are either already over or happening to someone else. It makes for an incredibly monotone adventure for Sam and Dean that has no stakes for the world and no sense of urgency. Why should the world care if the brothers are together or separated when all they do is go from one random case to the next? And what’s the point of watching them fight when nothing they do means anything? It’s as entertaining as watching a couple you’re friends with fight, and not being able to leave the room.
Lack of heart
Both in the Season 4 and Season 5 the fall out in the brotherly relationship had an element of compassion to it, one which made it less unpleasant to watch. When Dean was arguing against Ruby with Sam in Season 4 it wasn’t because Ruby was hurting Dean, but because her actions would eventually hurt Sam. Dean’s anger was for Sam, not against him. Same thing applied to Sam’s argument with Dean over his suicidal ideation in Season 5. Sam wasn’t hurt then. The reason he fought with Dean was because he didn’t want Dean to sacrifice himself by saying yes to an archangel.
Selflessness is a great way to endear a character to the audience. When characters fight, the smart strategy is to make it about them caring about each other instead of caring about themselves. It lessens the nastiness and keeps the viewers sympathetic to both sides. It turns a potentially ugly fight into a heartbreaking one.
Here the fight is just ugly. Sam is mad at Dean because Dean hurt him. Even if he has a right to it it’s a storyline the writers chose to give him. They could have made their fight about something else. Sam could have been mad that Dean once again put his own wellbeing on the line to save him, or that Dean was somehow in danger and acting reckless, and Sam wanted to protect him. Or even - do I dare - something original that was never done before. That kind of fight would have pulled at our heartstrings much stronger and kept us firmly invested in both characters. In contrast this fight is dry and hurtful and has a ton of logical and emotional problems.
When Sam tells Dean, “You are willing to do the sacrificing as long as you're not the one being hurt” it’s both untrue (he did get hurt when he went to hell,) and unnecessarily cruel. There is no point to an argument like this. No one wins and the only result is exhaustion and bitterness in the minds of the viewers.
I know I said I wanted the show to address the issue of the unhealthy codependency but this wasn’t what I had in mind. I wasn’t counting on the showrunner and the writers being incompetent in developing a story for it. If indeed that’s what they are trying to do they are doing a terrible job and should stop, just like anyone who attempts to create something artistic and ends up making a mess should.
This review is late and I don’t know if there’s anything left that the readers haven’t already talked about in other reviews or on various message boards and social media outlets. However if there is something here you want to discuss, acknowledge or dispute the comment section is open for you. It’s also there if you simply want to vent.