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Supernatural – Episode 9.15 – The Gripe Review

Death to Bromance, the battle cry of Supernatural season 9.

Hello and welcome to the Gripe Review for episode 15, an episode that once again surprised me by being more than just a light hearted Monster of the Week story and was instead steeped in mythology.

I say mythology because what goes on between the brothers, and all the references and parallels to it, seems to make up the mythology of this season. Since it is the only thing Sam and Dean are currently concerned with we might as well consider it season nine's Winchester arc. No longer are the brothers hunting demons to take revenge on the one who killed their family, or trying to stop Lilith from releasing Lucifer from the cage, or stopping Lucifer from starting the apocalypse. Their only concern is who did what and how that made the other feel. Soap opera writers should take notes.

The premise of the season however, as I suggested in the first line, is far more troubling than that. It seems to celebrate not the brotherly bond, but the destruction of it. And not just between Sam and Dean, but between Dean and Cas, and now Ed and Harry.

Notice that I said “celebrate” and not “study.” The bias of the story is strong enough to go beyond studying. It’s hammering home the idea that being close to someone like a brother, and trusting them with your life, is a bad idea that leads to emotional and physical damage.

Some people may like this premise. Carver and his writers certainly do. We should have foreseen it from the start of season 8 when Sam he didn't look for Dean.I guess those of us who liked the brotherly bond didn't want to accept it.

In last week’s review, some commenters said they approved of Carver’s direction because they were tired of Dean sacrificing everyone and everything just to be with Sam. I agreed, yet added that in my opinion that was not the only thing Carver was disassembling. To me the Sam and Dean relationship always had two sides, the good one which was the brotherly love, and the bad one which was the toxic codependency.

Good was A Very Supernatural Christmas. It was Sam and Dean watching each other’s back and working in tandem like a single unit to dispatch ghosts and demons. It was the bitch/jerk moments, the toy soldier moment, and that wink Dean gave Sam in Point of No Return.

In turn the bad was when Dean would step on his morals just to keep Sam around and happy, like when he cut his ties with Benny and later sacrificed him. Or when he kicked Castiel out of the bunker because of what he feared Gadreel might do, or when he let Gadreel possess Sam without the proper background checks. Dean acting like an obsessed moron in order to be with Sam is one of the ugliest things on the show, no doubt about it, and at first I was happy when it seemed like Carver wanted to dispose of it.

But now it’s clear that he isn't just after Dean’s one sided codependency, but the brotherly love – the whole idea of bromance - as well. He’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and it may have started before we even noticed.

Look at this season for example: Sam and Dean are at odds. Dean and Castiel barely interact on or off camera (Dean no longer prays to Cas.) Kevin, who was declared the forth Winchester by Dean, is dead. Even the side stories emphasize that bromance is doomed, that one should not trust one’s best friend or brother to have their back, neither should one have their brother’s back if circumstances dictate not to. And they are going out of their way to create those circumstances that tear the characters apart so they could pound this message deeper into our skulls that being brothers, blood or otherwise, is bound to lead to toxic codependency and there’s no way to separate the two.

Personally I don’t think that’s true. There were hints in the earlier seasons of Supernatural that made me believe this wasn't what the show intended to suggest. The codependency was Dean’s hang up, instilled in him by John as a safeguard for his youngest son. I always imagined Sam would eventually free Dean from it through his wisdom and sense of independence. I could see Dean shedding his fear of losing Sam like old skin, accepting the fact that Sam was now an adult that could live on his own, and that the only thing he needed from Dean was his companionship and love. That would have been the surgery that would remove the hang up from the love, the codependency from the bro-bond, and leave both brothers stronger and happier for it.

But now we have the opposite. The brotherly bond is at its weakest while the codependency is thriving, and both Sam and Dean appear wounded and miserable.

Carver and the writers may not think this is a problem. But viewers and fans are  noticing and the ratings might reflect that (this week was the first time the show’s index was below 1.0.) I am not implying that casual viewers notice and analyze things as keenly as we do, but they know what is entertaining and what is irritating and they may not stick around if something that entertained them for 9 seasons becomes irritating. Unlike us, they won’t hang around message boards and chat rooms, reading metas and reviews and giving the show the benefit of the doubt. When they don't feel entertained they tune into a different channel.

Gripe #1: The Ghostfacers are back. Why?

I don’t like the Ghostfacers for a very basic reason. They aren't so much characters as they are gimmicks. In their earlier appearances the only thing they brought to the show was how much they wanted to cash in on their supernatural hi-jinks to get rich and famous. Cliché comments about going to Hollywood and getting all the girls seemed to be the only vocabulary they possessed.

That gimmick got old fast and the Ghostfacers never developed beyond it. It’s true that this time around they gave them a backstory, but it was not to expand their personality or role on the show. I said this about Garth and I say it here again. If you are going to bring back a character it better be for a good reason, like playing an important role in the plot. Bringing them back just because they exist and people know them is a disservice to the show’s ongoing storylines.

I hear some readers shouting: “But they brought them back because their backstory paralleled Sam and Dean’s,” to which I say, proceed to gripe #2.

Gripe #2: These two stories are NOT parallel

Everyone and their scary Yorkshire Terrier knows the purpose of the Ghostfacers' backstory was to draw a comparison with the current Sam and Dean drama. My question is on what grounds are these two stories related? Ed tricked Harry out of a life with the woman he loved, and a steady job with a nice paycheck. Dean saved Sam from certain death. How they did it and what emotional consequences it brought on doesn't change the fact that the acts and motivations are completely different. It’s like comparing a father who beats his child to a father who takes his child to get vaccinated, and saying they are the same because they both end in the child getting hurt.

If Sam had died he wouldn't have achieved anything. The trials were over and Heaven was in disarray. Sam's soul would have remained in the veil and haunted the bunker until Dean found a way to bring him back or fix Heaven. How is that similar to a man marrying the love of his life and living in prosperity?

You may say both their so called brothers took their choices away. I say no. Both Sam and Harry made those choices themselves. How they were led to them is another difference in the stories, but it won’t add to Ed or Dean’s guilt. Especially in Harry’s case since all Ed did was dangle a carrot in front of him. At least Sam could say he was tricked into being possessed. Still in the end, it was their decision to do what they did. In fact, as I recall, Sam and Dean choosing each other instead of closing the gates of Hell was touted by the showrunner and actors as the highlight of the season 8 finale. We were led to believe this was a good thing, the heartfelt, brotherly thing the show was famous for. Now we’re told it was Dean taking Sam’s choice away.

Gripe #3: would you like a sledgehammer with those metaphors you're shoving in my face?

We get it. Ed is Dean and Harry is Sam. You don’t have to remind us every time Ed and Harry say something about their backstory. Those loaded, minute-long glances between Sam and Dean became cringe worthy after the fourth or fifth time. Subtlety is a trademark of good story telling but the show’s current writers favor ringing alarms and flashing lights. It’s even worse when, as stated in gripe #2, the similarities are flimsy at best.

Gripe #4: How many pop culture references could we fit into one dialogue?

“Facebook,” “Twitter,” “Meme,” “Feels,” “It’s complicated.”

This is another reason I don’t like the Ghostfacers. Their dialogue almost never sounds real. It’s a copy-paste of phrases that only appear on Internet forums. I know the show has an obsession with staying current – even though if math serves us right it should be two years in the future. Still there is a limit to how many references you could stuff in a dialogue before it becomes absurd.

What you reference is important too. Ed’s story about how he started the Thinman legend on an online forum was clever, because that's how the actual Slenderman legend started, which this episode borrows from. But when you become too on-the-nose and obsessive with your pop culture you date your show. Imagine people watching this episode ten years from now, on Blue-ray or whatever the technology will be at that time, and smiling at comments about Facebook and Twitter much like we would if we watched something that kept referencing Myspace or ICQ.

Gripe #4: Sam and Dean and the Days of Their Lives

I have grown tired of the drama between Sam and Dean. I resent it because it makes me think things about my favorite characters that lessen my fondness of them.

In the beginning of this episode, when Dean was going off solo, Sam’s insistence to go with him sounded too much like emotional manipulation. He had made it clear he doesn't want to talk to Dean. Yet he also doesn't approve of Dean wanting to be on his own. It’s like Sam is trapping Dean in situations where he can’t win. If he had come to Sam to tell him about the case Sam could have shut him down and walked away, like he did last episode. Now that he didn't Sam still objects.

Some fans claim it’s because they had an agreement to work together without being brothers. Based on that Dean is obligated to take Sam with him on jobs. I don’t recall this agreement. I remember Sam saying “If you want to work, let’s work. But if you want to be brothers--,” and leaving it at that. Dean didn't give a response. They both walked away, like they usually do this season. We don’t know whether or not Dean had a responsibility to tell Sam about the new case or if he had a right to go on his own, because as usual the writer left it open to interpretation. We couldn't decide who was in the right in that particular argument and, once again, it resulted in speculations and squabbles across fandom forums.

My problem with the idea of working together while being the way they are is that I don’t think it’s possible. When two people, even two coworkers, reach an impasse in their relationship they have two options: they could sit down – preferably with a counselor – and work through their issues until they move past them, or they could go their separate ways, even if only for a while. Sam’s demand to work together while being at odds - if that's truly what he wants - sounds too much like wanting to both have his cake and eat it. He doesn't talk to Dean yet wants him to work with him side by side. Beside the fact that that makes for a very uncomfortable working environment, it confuses Dean – and us – as to what Sam’s intent really is. Is it to punish Dean for what he’s done? Or to break the family ties without missing out on the family business? Or to control their relationship until he’s sure Dean won’t step out of line? Or to prove to himself he could work with Dean without needing Dean to save him?

The writers started this feud and they stuck with it until now, yet each and every update they make to it – whilst dragging it to infinity – makes it harder to accept. The fact that it is the only storyline they are giving the brothers makes it even worse. I and a lot of other fans dislike the constant resentment. But the way they have advanced the story they either have to stretch it to the end of the season, to give it a proper conclusion, or drop it abruptly and without a clear resolution. Neither prospect feels appealing to me.

As always, the comment section is open for you to rant on the gripes, add your own, or discuss the show in general. You could also throw darts at me, Carver, the writers or the Ghostfacers if you wish so.



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