Posted by Tessa Marlene at Sunday, March 02, 2014 132 Comments
Welcome to the post hiatus gripe review.
This week I feel redundant. When I started the Gripe Review it was because everyone else seemed to be praising the writers and the show and forgiving all the mistakes, so I decided to create a place where we could point out those flaws and fans who also saw them could come discuss them without the fear of being drowned out or yelled at.
But recently – particularly after this week’s episode – it seems every message board and forum I frequent is filled with gripes. Gone are the praises and the blind eyes turned toward plot holes and out of character behavior. People aren't just complaining about the slow burn dissolve of the brotherly bond. They are talking about things that are usually discussed here, like bad pacing, awful editing and storylines that go nowhere. It makes me feel superfluous when every Tom and Sally on every site is saying the same things I’m saying.
It also makes me feel validated.
When I started these reviews some people accused me of nitpicking, and the so called “fishing for flaws,” and I got to admit, there were times I worried about that too. I worried an episode would come along that would be so good I would have nothing to write about. Thankfully (sadly) I didn't need to worry. I never had to “fish” because there never was a time when the writers didn't screw up. There was always something obvious and annoying, and lately it’s become so bad even the praising fans have noticed and changed their tunes. I on the other hand now suffer from having too much to write and not enough room to fit it in.
I can’t believe this is the status quo. I can’t believe there would come a time when I would be bored of watching Castiel on screen, or dread the brothers being alone in a scene. It’s as if someone reached inside my head and found all the things I liked about the show, then systematically went on and destroyed them, along with the hope that it will ever get better. Supernatural is a new beast now and I have no idea from which angle to approach it.
I am going to simply list the gripes that are most prominent in my mind. Feel free to use the comment section to add more since I’m sure there are many I will miss. It’s because of how much the writers and showrunner have given us to talk about that it's become so easy - and hard - to write gripe reviews.
Gripe#1 – Who stole my remote and changed the channel?
One thing I don’t understand about Carver is his fondness to keep his storylines separate. He has a mythology arc going with the angels, a side story with Crowley and Abaddon, and random monster-of-the-week stories featuring Sam and Dean, and he keeps them all completely apart. Even when he lets players from one story join another – like in First Born when Crowley went with Dean and Cas stayed with Sam – the two parts of the episode are entirely seperate.
This style has a multitude of problems. Usually when TV shows do this they devise a way to bring the branches together at the end, some even use clever techniques that fill the audience with glee when suddenly , through one common parameter, everything clicks in place. Seinfeld was famous for this. Breaking Bad and Modern Family use it too at times.
Carver’s Supernatural never does it right, and the reason, I suspect, is that it takes a tremendous amount of skill to pull it off, especially in a single episode. Instead the result is a disjointed mess that looks like two completely separate episodes were edited into one, while parts of each were left on the cutting room floor. The editing and pacing is off. At times the cuts are so jarring I wonder if a ghost has gotten hold of my remote control and is flipping between two shows.
I’m baffled by this. Why would Carver branch the show into paths that never cross? Why would he make a spectacle out of the angels falling, then exclude Sam and Dean from that story? Why make Castiel a regular yet have him act in his own show that's not even a part of the Winchester world except when he is helping them solve cases? Why create an awesome character like Abaddon, then keep her off camera for so long because her story has nothing to do with anyone else but Crowley, who himself is not a part of any other plot?
Whatever it is that Carver is doing it isn't working and people are noticing. Fans who usually don’t talk about much beyond the relationship between the brothers or whether or not Cas is in an episode are speaking up. They talk about bad editing and confusing scenes which means they no longer can immerse themselves in the show because of the flaws.
Gripe #2 – Honeymoons and alien invasions
Imagine a movie whose bulk is about a couple on their honeymoon vacation. Towards the end the couple comes back home and they see a friend waiting for them at the airport. The friend tells them that, while they were away, aliens invaded the city, destroyed their home, killed their friends and loved ones, overthrew the government and are now ruling the world. The movie ends with the couple stepping onto the street to face the new world.
I don’t know about you but if I ever had the displeasure of watching that movie I would be very pissed off. I'd wonder why the director spent all that time showing the couple’s honeymoon trip when all the exciting stuff was happening back home? And if he didn't intend to show us the alien invasion, or use it for any purpose other than exposition, then why go through the trouble of telling us about it? Why not just make it a movie about a couple on honeymoon and cut the rest?
This is how I felt when I watched the bits with Castiel and Bartholomew in this episode. Beside the fact that they were severely boring, the only thing we watched in those segments was Bartholomew telling Castiel everything we missed while we were watching Charlie and Garth. If that stuff was important why not show it? If it wasn't why tell it? What's more, the things Bartholomew talked about didn't seem to affect anything in the upcoming parts of the show. At least not the way it all ended. I doubt we would ever go back and investigate who those “captives” were, or how Bartholomew – one of Castiel’s devotees in the past – became a faction leader, or who those rebel angels were whose leader seemed so precious to Castiel . Bartholomew’s long, monotone speech through the hallways of Boredom Boardroom was nothing but a giant waste of time.
Gripe #3 – So that was it?
Let's talk a little more about Bartholomew. When he was introduced in I’m no Angel, as a villain with purpose and a group of dedicated followers, it looked like a major part of the season’s mythology would depend on him. In Holy Terror we met his rival Malachi and a little more was revealed about his story. For all intents and purposes it seemed he would be a player in the war between the angel factions.
And then he spent half of an episode telling Castiel everything else that was left out of his story and was supposedly important about him,... and he died. They ended his branch of mythology before it even got the chance to get off the ground.
This reminds me of Naomi. She too had a grand story and a lot of intense scenes with Castiel, Crowley and even Dean. I’m sure a lot of us thought she would play a big role in the outcome of season 8. But the writers killed her off before anything she did could have any impact or reach any resolution.
Going back yet another season one could argue the same thing about Dick Roman. He died and with him died the entire Leviathan storyline. As if they, and everything they built or changed in the human world, never existed.
I don’t know what to call this. It’s not even Deus Ex Machina. It's something worse. At least with that you get a conclusion, even if it’s a cheap cop out. This is akin to carrying a story in the belly of the show and delivering it stillborn. If show didn't want to give Bartholomew’s character a meaningful role why even include him in the mytharc and waste time pretending he was somebody?
Gripe #4 – Where are the scares?
This week in the land of Sam and Dean – you know, our main characters who have taken a break from their own show – our heroes go on a quest to find Kevin’s mom. According to ghost Kevin and his afterlife girlfriend, Kevin's mom is held hostage in a storage facility.
This provides an excellent opportunity for a freaky episode about dark, dank and horror laden storage rooms where monsters loom in every shadowy corner and horror breathes behind locked doors. The place is overseen by a lanky, rusty man who looks more dead than alive yet his sharp, piercing eyes penetrate one's soul. It would be an infinite source of scares.
That’s not what happens. Instead we get Dumb and Dumberer as demons. They are so ridiculously absurd even Dean comments on it. Why would the managers of every storage facility look the same? Was that explained, or was it an inside joke I didn't get? What is the purpose behind this look? Is it supposed to be funny? In an episode about innocent women being held in dark storage rooms by a person who evidently abused them?
Last time I checked this was a horror show. Why the insistence on nerd culture and misplaced comedy? As fans of the genre it’s our right to ask: where are the scares?
I had this same feeling when I watched Rock and a Hard Place. That episode too featured a dark and frightening place with captive people. But instead of making use of it they only had the characters sit around tables and chat about their lives. I saw a huge opportunity to return the show to its roots go to waste. The only reason I didn't include that in the gripes for that episode was that the episode had many other, more major problems and there was little room for this issue to be discussed.
It’s sad when the episode of The Originals I watch before this episode was scarier than the episode of Supernatural, when that show isn't even categorized as horror and hence occupies the 8 o’clock time slot.
Gripe #5 – Sam and Dean and their teenage drama
Remember this image? It used to be at the end of each episode there was a scene where Sam and Dean sat in, stood around, or leaned against the Impala and had a brotherly chat. The topics ranged from reflecting on the events of the episode to the ongoing storyline of their lives.
This season they replaced it with this.
I’m not saying it’s bad (yes I’m saying it's bad, it’s really really bad,) but even as a vehicle of storytelling it doesn't do what the Impala talks used to do. What we had before advanced the brothers’ storyline, in happy or sad directions. There were confessions, reassurances, pleas and useful, well placed exposition. I would have been happy if the current brotherly banter at least did that. But it doesn't. It is stagnant.
Take this episode for example, and what happened at the end. Kevin (the ghost) tells them their fight is stupid (which I both agree and disagree with,) Dean tries to use this momentum to open a talk with Sam, and Sam just leaves. Sam is entitled to his anger, no doubt about that. But his avoidance doesn't advance the story. His storming off to his room and closing the door makes the whole scene pointless. It doesn't give us any new information about the current state of the brothers' relationship beyond “Sam is angry” which we already knew.
What I worry about is that they do with the Sam and Dean conflict the same thing they did with the Dean and Castiel conflict in seasons 6 &7. That one too was dragged for a season and a half until it was inexplicably dropped at the season finale because Dean needed Cas to defeat the villain. The writers keep promising the issues between the characters will get resolved if we have patience. But they fail to tell us if the resolution will come in a gradual, meaningful way or from one episode to the next with no build up or explanation. If the latter is true then I’m with Kevin. This whole storyline is stupid.
Highlight - Kevin
Speaking of Kevin he was the one positive spot in an otherwise disappointing episode. His reunion with his mother was well written and well acted. It was a delight to watch those two interact and find closure, and to see him move on to a somewhat better place. Let’s hope they keep him there and not bring him back for extra pointless appearances like Bobby.
More than that though, I hope neither he nor anyone else ever walks into an office with light paneled walls, just because those places suck every trace of personality out of any character who enters them. Look at Castiel. He used to be my favorite character but he has become yawn worthy because he spent too much time in Boredom Boardroom.
I sense another gripe coming so I’ll stop.
Feel free to discuss these gripes, or your owns, in the comment section. I hope as much as I feel redundant this week, you don’t think this review is, and share your opinions with me.
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