Applause…, and the curtain falls.
We have arrived at the finale, titled Do You Believe in Miracles, and it’s a miracle we aren’t walking away outraged, considering the mess that was this season. In fact, I may dare say, I felt a bit of satisfaction after the
But I’m no fool. I know why I’m not overly disappointed with the mixed bag they delivered as the final episode. Measured with the yard sticks of good storytelling, emotional engagement, and flow, it would be considered a let-down. If this was the season finale of the Walking Dead or Game of Thrones the cries of viewers and critics alike would be heard from four corners of the Internet.
But Carver knows his audience, and he knows how to get the most positive reaction from them with the least amount of effort. Throw in a bit of Sam and Dean here, a reference to Dean and Cas there, an angst laden moment for each of the boys, a bit of action, popcultural references, slapstick humor fans could screen cap and make image macros from, and you’re done. After the bro-fans, the D/C fans, the Sam girls, Dean girls and Cas girls each get their share (not too big because you don't want to upset the other teams) you don’t have to worry about plot resolution, mythology arcs, or character development. Your fans are too busy chatting, reblogging and squeezing over their favorite parts to pay any attention to that. That’s why among all the rapid fire discussions fans had about the finale most were about where each character might end up next season, and fewer about the jumble that happened at the end of this one.
But I didn’t overlook it. I didn’t even miss the dig the ungrateful writers made at the People’s Choice Awards we won for them. And indeed, that’s what the Gripe Review is for, to keep tabs of these intentional and unintentional mishaps and hold them up for Carver to see, in hopes that he and his writers might shift their priorities from fanservice delivery to good storytelling in the future, if only just a bit so we get a better seaosn 10.
The finale wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good either, and maybe it couldn’t have been better considering the material that came before it. Strictly speaking about what could have been fixed in the episode itself might be impossible for some issues, therefore some of the gripes are in regards to season 9 as a whole.
Gripe #1: Everyone is along for the ride, but not on the same bus
I give praise where praise is due. I enjoyed how everyone was in some way involved in the final chapter, either working toward defeating Metatron, or – in Crowley’s case – for personal advantage. What peeved me though was how it was all set up in a way that kept most players apart. I don’t think Castiel and Dean spent more than a few seconds together. Sam only got to the aftermath of Dean’s battle with Metatron. He wasn’t in the right place for most of the action and unable to help either Dean or Cas in any way. Dean for his part, spent most of his screen time with the villains.
This may not seem a bad thing if the pacing is correct and logic applies (like with a show like Game of Thrones.) But Supernatural isn’t an ensemble show happening to different people all over the world, even if Carver loves to treat it that way. Team Free Will is the center of the audience’s attention and constantly splitting them apart causes that attention to scatter. The result is that at points we don’t care about one character’s progress when something more important is happening elsewhere, or are jarred out of the important stuff so that parallel plots have a chance to move forward.
An example was when Dean was dying and we suddenly switched to Metatron talking to Cas. That talk was probably the most important piece of exposition in the entire season, considering it was the only time villain-talk helped the plot. Yet it took place just after Dean received a fatal wound and was dying in Sam’s arms so I, as a viewer, was more concerned about that storyline than whatever Metatron had to say to Cas.
Similarly when the twist at the end happened we were treated to a long speech by Crowley. Gripe #2 deals with the problems of that speech and the twist that followed it. But aside from that, this is the only finale which ends with someone other than the main cast holding the microphone (and most of the camera time,) which says a lot about how the whole season was constructed.
Gripe #2: Last minute exposition anyone?
In the last review I said the trouble with not giving the mark a clear mythology is that the writers could use it at any time to explain away plot twists. This is exactly what happened. The writers even took it one step further and pulled some ‘previously untold’ material out of the hat to explain away the final twist. This last minute revelation strategy made it impossible for the viewers to predict the outcome of the season since they didn't have the needed information before this moment to make such prediction. That means everyone was technically robbed from having a baited breath ‘Aha!’ moment.
To give you an idea what this means, let’s speculate how it would have been had the information been given to the audience in an earlier episode. It could have happened in a flashback (a flash on Cain with black eyes) or a dialogue. At the time it might have been considered a throw away piece. But this is called ‘planting of a seed’. Once you reach the end of the season, and the twist is about to take place, the smart viewer remembers that flashback, or piece of dialogue. He or she would connect it to what is happening on screen, and the 'Aha' moment would occur. Crowley’s explanation (modified of course) would no longer be information dumping, but a confirmation of what the viewer has already guessed about the outcome.
I won’t say that no fans saw the twist coming. Those might be fans involved with the fandom though who listened to the interviews (Jensen’s “eye opener” comment) and read BTS spoilers. For the viewers not involved with the show beyond watching it, Dean’s transformation was like dropping a bomb because nothing we knew about either demons or the mark until that point explained it. The only thing that justified such a development was Crowley’s “by the way, forgot to mention…” speech, which was a sort of last minute cheat to keep the viewers in the dark as much as possible.
Gripe #3: Metatron and his brand of evil
I’ve ranted a lot about Metatron in the past reviews, but I can't help it. He is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s the final episode and if he had any world domination plans that needed to come to a head this was the time for them.
*Spoilers for The Originals, Arrow and The Walking Dead finales ahead*
In the last two weeks I had the pleasure of watching three season finales (four, if I count Grimm.) On the Originals, the villains slaughtered an entire community of vampires, on Arrow the villain declared war on the whole city using drugged soldiers, and on The Walking Dead the villains beat someone to near death, molested a child, and almost killed the main character, before he and his team ran into a new set of more disturbing bad guys.
What did Metatron on Supernatural do? He brought a woman back to life, made a name for himself among the masses, gained followers from the poor and the rejected, healed a sick man, and was imprisoned by his enemies in the end.
If I didn’t already know what his role was on the show I would have guessed he was the second coming of Jesus.
For me as an audience member to side with the protagonist in wanting the villain dead I need reasons, and those reasons need to be on screen and amped up by the time the final show down arrives. Metatron’s evil doings were so thin that Dean only came up with two (killing Kevin, and stealing Castiel’s grace,) while counting them, and had to use a baseball analogy for a third. That’s how much the show failed in building up its season 9 antagonist.
On Arrow, The Originals, even on Grimm, there was a sense of urgency and danger in the final episode. The good guys had to get to the villain(s) and outsmart him/them before the time ran out. Here there was no rush. The need only resided in Dean’s curse. The audience had no way of feeling it, mainly because Metatron wasn’t doing anything particularly terrible or destructive and definitely not on a countdown. Whether Dean got to him today, tomorrow or the next year wouldn’t have changed anything as far as we were concerned, except perhaps giving him time to save more people.
Gripe #4: Are these real hobos or Supernatural fans dressed as ones?
Of course for Metatron’s messiah mission to work he needed followers. Human followers that is, not sheep angels. So what did he do? He dressed up in a pathetic fashion and infiltrated a hobo camp, because no one is quicker to catch viral videos of walking dead people than a bunch of drugged out homeless folks. And just like all such hive minded clusters act (remember the angels?) they immediately fall behind him, even as one of their own starts speaking against it.
Speaking of the guy who spoke up, he accused Metatron of being an angel and expected the humans to be appalled by it. Did Carver forget that outside the world of Sam and Dean, angels are considered servants of God, and almost as revered as he is by the rest of the humans? Why should a bunch of uninformed homeless people care if the person in front of them is God or a messenger from him? Why would Metatron bother denying it? Unless these people all have watched the show and know that angels are dicks, meeting an angel is as much a miracle as meeting God himself, and their reaction to the accusation would be, “So what?”
Gripe #5: We have already seen all this.
Supernatural has had many memorable moments throughout the years. Some of these were so iconic they have been touted by the fans through image macros, videos and fanart, which have stamped them even more in the show’s legacy. Unfortunately those are also the ones the showrunners like to repeat, like an advertising clip that gets aired a lot because it works with the customers.
This episode was a showcase of such moments. From Dean being locked up in a panic room, to him being beaten to a pulp and bleeding from his face, to Sam showering him with his tears, it was all emotional scenes we’d already seen before. Even Metatron’s miracles were a throwback to God Castiel’s season 6 acts. Aside from the parts with Gadreel and the Mark of Cain, this whole episode’s script could have been put together from patches of other finales and season openers, down to the close up of Dean’s face in the last shot, which was reminiscent of the close up of him in hell we saw in the last seconds of season 3.
Gripe #6: No resolution to the brotherly rift?
I have to admit, I’m over the brotherly love, codependency, or whatever it is defined as right now. For me it went off the rails sometime in season 6 and never got back on. It’s like the new showrunners heard it was the heart of the show and decided to use it whenever they wanted to shoehorn an idea into the plot, or make emotionally half-baked scenarios work for them.
Last season it was Sam not looking for Dean in Purgatory, followed by the Amelia/Benny debacle. This season it was Gadreel, and Dean not respecting Sam’s right to choose to die.
While I might be fed up by the brother drama and would prefer a season or two without it (with them working together like the earlier seasons) I understand its merit in a show that has barely any other relationships outside its three main cast members - and God knows they do a lot of the same with the Dean-Cas relationship. What I can’t stand however is them not putting the tool back together once they have finished using it. By that I mean not giving the growing conflict between the brothers a proper closure.
Let’s look at this season. For half of it we were jerked around by the clash that started with Dean trying to save Sam and tricking him into accepting Gadreel, then dancing to Gadreel’s every whim. When the truth was revealed a fight broke out and a rift formed between Sam and Dean that was so big Sam only agreed to work with Dean if they were just colleagues. Apparently all of this was to rev up Dean’s mark fueled rage down the path of darkness as we saw happen in the second half of the season. Unfortunately once Carver was done with that he was done with the brothers entirely and conveniently reset them back to where they were before it all happened.
Call me a skeptic but I don’t think that’s how these things work in real life. You won’t just shove things under the bed because something else comes along. Carver did this last season too when he introduced the trial storyline, and he did it this season with the Mark of Cain storyline. It seems to be his preferred strategy for how to structure the show and it has major problems both story-wise and character-wise. This is one of the reasons why the emotional gravity of the series has been missing these past couple of years. Carver ‘uses’ what once had been the heart of the show to construct his mythology for each season, then magic-flips it back to its original shape ignoring all the damage he's done. A few hugs here, a few tears there, some gobbledygook talk in a church, and in his mind the brothers have “chosen each other” and are all good. That is until the next season when we’re back on the same roller coaster, heading for the same course.
Gripe #7: Cas would do anything for love, but he won’t do that.
As said in the previous gripe, the Dean and Cas relationship is another one Carve exploits. But unlike the Band-Aid hugs and dialogue he gives the brothers, his favorite go-to method with these two is exposition. His scripts are full of words such as, “We are family,” “I need you,” “You did everything to save one man,” and the occasional action when it suits him (like Dean looking for Cas in Purgatory or Cas giving up his army for Dean,) but when it comes to where the relationship stands at the end of it all, he puts the two of them on different continents, both geographically and emotionally.
In this episode Metatron told Castiel that it was obvious he did everything to save Dean, which was too bad because Dean was dead already. This got a reaction out of Castiel and I thought had he not been bound to a chair he would have raced to find Dean and cure him if possible.
But when he finally got out of that chair he didn’t even make an attempt to go after Sam and Dean. He busied himself with locking Metatron in a cell and chatted about wanting to be an angel again. What happened to the impact of that declaration on him, the evidence of which we saw in his tears? Did Castiel simply accept Metatron’s claim about Dean and worked through his five stages of grief in record time? Wouldn’t he want to see for himself if Dean was really dead? Wouldn’t he want to see if he could do something to heal him if, by any chance, some life was still left in him? Wouldn’t he at least want to comfort Sam? Anything would have been better than him acting like he was struck by a bolt of amnesia and going about his duties like nothing had happened.
Gripe #8: The distinct lack of emotional glue to hold the pieces together
This gripe is a culmination of nearly all other gripes. A lot of drama happened in this episode. And while the actors did their absolute best to give each and every one the passionate delivery it deserved, there was still something missing. The same thing that previously made the show so great.
I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the mess that’s become of the brotherly bond, or the insistence of keeping the players separate so much, maybe it’s the instantaneous flipping of characters from one mood to the next in the service of the plot, or maybe it’s simply the fact that there’s nothing new here that we haven’t already seen before. Whatever it is, as the images kept marching on the screen I sat there nodding my head, as if it was all happening in a news report to people I barely knew and certainly didn't cared about, at least not on the personal level.
Which is a far cry from how I felt at the finales of the previous seasons.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m burnt out from feeling anything for these characters since I know no matter what happens they will come back. Whatever it is I’m sad to say that nothing that happened in Do You Believe in Miracles touched me too deep. Not Dean being locked by Sam and Castiel, not him dying at Metatron’s hand, not the “I am proud of us,” line, not Sam crying over Dean, not Cas having tears in his eyes, not even the surprise twist at the end that I knew was coming as soon as Sam laid Dean on the bed. I watched the whole thing with a sort of “Hm!” reaction and once it was over I moved on to check what the fans were saying.
What I wish for in the next season:
First off no more digs at fans. The current writers and showrunner didn’t deserve that People’s Choice Award that was handed to them. It was the fans showing their appreciation for the show. The least they could do is to not belittle it.
Secondly, plan your whole season in advance. No more throwing story ideas out there and seeing what sticks. Knowing from the beginning where your story is headed will allow you to construct the individual events wisely, so they all point to a unified conclusion without plotholes or retcons such as the ones we saw this season in abundance.
Thirdly, and I’m willing to say a prayer for this, please no more separate storylines for each of the main characters. Keep Castiel with the brothers if you plan to have them all on the show, or make their stories connected at least. A parallel angel storyline while Sam and Dean go hunt for the cookie monster makes both stories redundant. The audience won’t know which one to pay attention to and hence might lose interest in both.
And finally, please have a better villain. I’ve been asking for this since the Mother of All failure of season 6. After Lucifer’s departure this show has been in desperate need of a good, solid villain, not ones who drop like flies before the season ends with a surprise villain like Castiel or Metatron. This again has to do with planning your season ahead so you won’t be stuck with a bad guy you have no story for.
There are other things I'm sure I could use next season, but I’ll stick with these for now. I will post two more Gripe Reviews in the coming weeks, one for the season 9 characters and one for its plots, which will encompass my overall impression of the season. Until then, feel free to drop a line in the comment section and let me know what you think.