I was warned about this review by some of my SPN buddies who said it would drive me crazy trying to write everything that happened in the mishmash of arcs and singular storylines in season 9. One fan, Tikistitch, wrote an amusing summary of the season, which you should read here. It's funny, but also rather sad. Evidence of what happens when writers don't plan their season arcs ahead and just throw things on screen hoping something would stick.
The show wasn't like this in its earlier seasons. If I were to write this review for seasons 4&5 it would have been equally long but for entirely different reasons. I most likely would have ran out of space describing all the underlying themes and interconnecting elements, metaphors and mythologies that created the intricate tapestry of those seasons. Those were seasons in which writers were master craftsmen, skilled enough to know where to put each knot and color to weave a fine, cohesive picture. In comparison, this season was like a bunch of kindergarteners taking a handful of yarns and tying them whichever way they wanted until the final product emerged as a coil of tangled fiber impossible to make sense of.
In this writing I'll try to make sense of it, and as a bonus, I will offer suggestions for how I would have written each storyline had I been the writer. Again these are only my opinions and by no means claimed as right or wrong. Every discussion is valid, which is why I’d love to hear them in the comment section.
So let’s delve into the many plots of season 9 and the fixes I would suggest for them.
Angels...they are falling:
One of the most picturesque scenes in the series was the closing of Season 8, when the sky opened above a rustic church and lights rained down our heroes as they watched. As much as I despised the last leg of the 8th season, those images are forever stamped on my brain for their beauty and shock value. I still go on Youtube to watch videos people made by overlaying that scene with Adele’s Oscar winning “Skyfall.”
At the time the idea of Heaven breaking and all its celestial residents diving toward earth like blazing meteorites was fascinating. It was also promising because it paralleled Season 2’s ending with demons swarming earth. I could picture an exciting Season 9 full of rampant angels running around and causing havoc in human habitats, and Team Free Will trying to stop them.
I should have known better, at least from past experiences. Season 6 finale left me anticipating a heart pumping Season 7 with God-Castiel as the main villain. Season 7 finale made me salivate for a highly charged purgatory storyline coupled with Sam as the rescuer. Both failed to deliver.
Season 9 was no exception. Aside from a farmer angel and his buddies beating on Dean to find the location of Castiel, and Castiel hitting a few bumps on the road to find the Winchesters, and the introduction of Ezekiel/Gadreel, nothing was really done with the premise. There wasn’t Breaking News, mass hysteria, or anything else that suggested anyone besides the Winchesters, Castiel and Kevin noticed the fall. A colossal event like that becomes worthless if it has no impact on the universe of the show. Once again Supernatural ended a season with a bold move, only to squander it next year by returning to the everyday mundane.
If I had written it: I would have made it the main arc of the season. I said in a previous review that my idea of a perfect Season 9 was Sam, Dean and Castiel driving around in the Impala, season 1-3 style. Their mission would be to find and help the good angels while hunting the bad ones. Even if that wasn’t the story the show went with the writers could have at least shown some effect on the human society. That many bodies falling from the sky surely must have caused some chaos. But they played it as if everything was business as usual. It felt like Carver didn’t know where to take his story and assumed people would forget during the summer. Or perhaps he was hoping a done-to-death Sick Sam storyline would distract the audience long enough to not ask why no one in the world talked about wings burning in the sky and men and women falling on rooftops and in gardens.
Sick Sam trope fest #900:
I already said in the last review why I had problems with this storyline. Sam wasn’t supposed to be dying, on the merit that he stopped the trials last season. He being sick and dying on Dean made their decision to not close the gates of Hell pointless. Again I wonder if Carver was counting on viewers forgetting about that over the summer. Or perhaps he is so fond of this overused trope that he couldn’t have a season without it.
Speaking of overused plots, that’s exactly how I would describe any and all Sick Sam storylines on the show. There were no parts of it that hadn’t been done at least once already. From Sam lying unconscious in bed, a frantic Dean hovering over him, Sam walking through his mind scape and meeting different characters, Dean making a deal with some entity to save his life, all of it has been put on screen in all its glory multiple times before, which makes it a case of beating a horse into and beyond afterlife.
If I had written it: I would not have written it. Sam would be healthy and self-aware from the get go and would take part in whatever crisis the season introduced. He didn’t need to spend any more time on his back, in his dreams, or as someone else, not after spending most of the previous seasons doing just that. The writers resurrecting that trope yet again made me think they really didn’t know how to write Sam and kept knocking him out to avoid the responsibility of actually developing him.
Gadreel, the homewrecker:
The first part of Season 9 was yet another possession story that did considerable damage to the brotherly bond. It involved a fair share of both brothers acting stupid to serve the plot, with a dash of Dean keeping the knowledge of the possession hidden from Sam since that is always a good idea to get them into a fight.
What bothered me most about it was that it was riddled with plot holes and unanswered questions. Why was Gadreel so dead set on staying inside Sam when the seat kept getting hotter everyday? Why did Sam not notice the loss of time, the disappearing wounds, or the weird conversations he was dropped into without prior knowledge? Why didn’t Dean ask Castiel to give him information on Ezekiel he could use as a litmus test on the creature inhabiting his brother? Why did Gadreel get swayed so easily by Metatron and agreed to kill Kevin? Why didn’t he kill Dean too, on his way out, to keep him from coming after him?
If I had written it: This is another one that I would have probably stayed away from. But if I absolutely had to write a possession story involving Gadreel I would have made it a battle of wits between him and Dean. Dean was in a vice due to Gadreel holding Sam’s life over his head. It didn’t mean he had to take it lying down. I would have loved to watch Dean trying to outsmart the cocky angel and gain advantage over him. He could have traded helping him with his heavenly troubles with hastening Sam’s healing.
Sam too could have been more aware of the situation and the show could have created a good amount of tension in the risk of Sam finding out. The way it played out, neither the wit nor the tension was there. Everything was all right until it wasn’t, at the very end of the season, much like it had happened with Sam’s Lucifer hallucinations in Season 7.
Castiel the hormonal hobo human:
There had always been Castiel fans who wanted to see him become fully human. The reason they craved that storyline always came down to seeing Castiel struggle with the moral and existential quandaries of humanity including mortality, having a conscience, and being completely cut off from Heaven’s celestial core.
None of that was explored in S09 when those fans finally got their wish. Instead we were treated to embarrassing scenes of Castiel figuring out toothpaste, complaining about potty, staring at breasts and fighting with a slushy machine. Even sitcoms don’t use this type of humor anymore.
And what about his struggles? He battled with homelessness and hunger of course, but it was mixed with the bizarre idea that other angels were after him, a plot element never explained. Then he experienced sex for the first time, and even though it was really rape everyone congratulated him like it was his greatest achievement. He inexplicably found a job at a Gas-N-Sip and went after more sexual escapades because the first one ended so well. Finally, again inexplicably, he found a way to impersonate an FBI agent and ended up stealing another angel’s grace and getting re-haloed. I don’t know if any of this was what fans imagined when they hoped for a human Castiel. It certainly was nothing I had imagined, or wished for him.
If I had written it: I would have made it about Castiel’s existential crisis and his struggle with what it meant to be human: mortality, loss, loneliness, pain, hunger, abandonment, free will…everything he had already brushed against coming full force at him like a tidal wave of distress. I would have him try to function in the main plot while going through his internal battle, and examine the differences in his actions and interactions with Sam and Dean, when he not only did not have an advantage over them, but was dependent on them for simple things like food and shelter.
The angel civil war, also known as Oh-God-Please-Shoot-Me:
I doubt I have to say more about this than I've already said in my previous reviews. This took the cup as the worst storyline in Season 9 for me. Not only did the writers walk all over the angel (and reaper) mythology, they turned the previously sullen, majestic beings into jokes. Of all the characters running after the plot this season the angels were the worst, acting like brainless, purposeless lemmings that trudged in whichever direction the writers pointed them to.
The story of their civil war was also rubbish. Like the previous one fed to us in Season 6 (before Edlund came and saved it somewhat in The Man Who Would be King) it mostly happened off camera, and to characters we barely knew. In the episode Captives we were dropped in the middle of a funeral involving the leader of a rebel group, who had just lost the battle with one of the angel factions. What followed was a conversation we had no chance to follow or care about because we never saw the story happen. This was the norm with the angel storyline which became quickly irritating. Events happened, character came and went, or were killed off screen. We knew it was all heading somewhere but it was as if we were looking at it from the window of a passing train, images flashing too fast and too vague for us to understand or hang onto. It didn’t help that as soon as a morsel of information was given, we were taken to a completely different place next episode (a Monster of the Week storyline, Abaddon or Crowley) and lost any thread of connection we had with the angels and their war.
If I had written it: I would have applied the terminator-like characteristics of the season 4-6 angels: cruel, quiet and deadly. I would have chosen one seraph as the main villain and placed Sam and Dean opposite him or her. Also, if I chose to make them hunt Castiel, I would at least explain the reasons behind it. On the show, we never got why the angels were after him. In the beginning I thought his grace was supposed to be a key to their return to Heaven, seeing as it was one of the ingredients of the spell that cast them out. But that became void when Castiel got another pint of grace from a random angel he killed. Castiel’s grace was never mentioned in Season 9 and went by the same wayside that the falling angel spectacle and the brothers choosing each other went. I however would have used it to give our heroes a goal to pursue, a sort of McGuffin that explained the rivalry between the different factions of angels and how Metatron kept his supremacy over them.
The brotherly rift:
Again my stand on this one is pretty clear. I hated every bit of it. There was no redeeming aspect to it except Carver wanting to push Dean to the brink of despair. I don’t understand why he thought he had to destroy either character, or their relationship, to get there. There was plenty of misery in the word for Dean to be swept by without making him lose the only family connection he had.
Carver’s skewed view of the brotherly love didn’t start with Season 9. His first misfire was in Season 8, when he made the strange decision to have Sam pursue a romance instead of help Dean, or Kevin, or the humanity terrorized by the Leviathans. Perhaps he wanted to deviate, but he took it to its utmost extreme when he pitted Sam and Dean against each other on the subject of Benny. Like me, you may have thought this was all going somewhere and were waiting for a resolution to come, but it never did. With the launch of the Trial storyline Carver abandoned all previous buildup, and reset the brothers to their pre Season 8 status, with Sam as the heroic, suffering brother, and Dean as his nursemaid.
A similar scenario happened in Season 9. Sam and Dean were at odds over Gadreel when the Mark of Cain storyline came to sweep everything under the carpet. The season once again ended with the brothers hugging and crying and talking emotionally to each other but, in light of what happened before, it all felt so out of character it could have happened in a different season.
If I had written it: If I absolutely had to write a scenario in which the brothers fought I would have made it about their brotherly concern for each other, like how Dean worried about Sam and his demon blood addiction. There was still friction there, but it was over love and not a grudge. Grudges are valid reasons for characters to fight, but unless the point of the story is for the person holding the grudge to either take revenge or let it go, there is no real point to them. It’s not fun for me to sit and watch Sam take his time beating on Dean, no matter how justified he is in his anger. It doesn’t improve the characters and it damages their relationship, creating an overall atmosphere of bitterness and depression in the show.
Crowley the thorn in the side and Abaddon the boogie(wo)man:
I don’t have much to say about these two that I haven’t said in the previous review, except that their stories acted as additional noise to the collective clutter of this season. It wasn’t clear to me what Crowley was doing, why he didn’t hatch a plan to escape the Winchesters, or why he kept coming back to them after he was released. I assume his goal was to defeat Abaddon, but for two rivals going head to head these two had remarkably few encounters. It all felt very disjointed in the end. Especially if you question the sensibility of the Winchesters throwing themselves in the lion’s den to help a guy who, just last season, killed a handful of their old acquaintances in an attempt at blackmail. I know Abaddon was a menace to society that needed to be eliminated, but her actions were so far removed from the main storyline, and her evil was so faint, I wouldn't have been surprised if Sam and Dean used her to end Crowley instead of the other way around.
If I had written it: I would have made Crowley, or Abaddon, or both eventual allies of the main angel villain (who incidentally wouldn't be Matatron as I’ll explain in the next topic) in order to stop the Winchesters. Some effort had to be made to connect all these storylines together so that the audience wouldn’t feel they were watching a different show every week, with a different set of heroes, villains and stakes.
Metatron the @#%&*!:
I’d like someone to explain to me what Metatron’s story really was. Why did he create the spell to expel all angels from Heaven when he knew he would be left alone up there? Why did he come back to earth to collect them again? What exactly did he do with the angel tablet; what powers did it give him? Why was he writing a story? What was the story about? What was it supposed to do? Was a mythology behind the story, or some sort of spell that made it come true once he had finished it?
It’s safe to say I didn’t understand Metatron’s story at all. If he wanted to rule Heaven he could have stayed there and bribed all angels with a ticket back in exchange for their loyalty. If he wanted to rule humans and become God he should have mimicked God, not Castiel, and again stayed in Heaven. By the end of the season we should have had a clear idea of what his plan was and how he planned to execute it. I still don’t know why he played Jesus with the homeless. Did he want them to follow him? Why? Again, was that part of a spell or did he just enjoy the idea of being worshipped by humans? If so, why would anyone want to kill him? He wasn’t harming anyone, just helping the needy and collecting a flock.
If I had written it: I would have given Metatron a clear purpose, not something vague about writing and characters in a book. I also would have made him secondary to a larger, more formidable villain. One of the angels (with Raphael’s presence and clout) or even Abaddon, when she was better developed. I would have made his brand of evil slicker, slyer and wittier. Made him a true schemer behind the scenes, less flashy and more calculating to give him a chance to be actually menacing.
The Mark of Cain woop-de-doo:
The big one, the motherload, the winning shot Carver scored with fans, which caused him to either drop everything that came before it, or reform their conclusions based on this storyline.
In First Born - 11 episodes into the season - we met Cain, who gave Dean a mark and promised that using a special blade in conjunction with it would kill Abaddon. Many Dean fans became hopeful that after many years of asking, their hero had finally gotten a big story. The mark however didn’t come into play until much later in the season.
I don’t know if Carver introduced the story first to gauge fan reaction and then, seeing the positive feedback, decided to make it the main season arc, or if he planned it from the beginning. I’m leaning more toward the former based on the gap that was between when the story was first presented and when it finally took off. Also, before Cain appeared, there was no indication of a storyline focusing on Dean. Everything revolved around Sam’s angel possession, Castiel’s humanity, and occasional appearances by Crowley and Abaddon. Dean was mostly sidelined, except when he was needed to be told how high to jump by Gadreel. Maybe this was a case of fan frustration finally reaching Carver. In any case, it could have used a better buildup, a semblance of an inner journey for Dean to explain where all the rage had come from (the mark made him do it simply isn’t enough,) and a bit more support and sympathy from other characters.
If I had written it: I would have given Dean more reason to latch onto the mark and the want to kill. Dean was pushed to the brink in Season 5, yet he stayed in control and triumphed over the angels. He’s not the type of character who’d go darkside because Sam told him they were no longer friends. He is made of tougher stuff. If we consider Sam’s parallel story in season 4&5 we see the difference. Sam had come out of a terrible year of drinking, mad hunting, and trying to find ways to bring Dean back from Hell. That backstory gave him enough ground to fall into the pit of despair and addiction. He also had a devil on his shoulder whispering conspiracies into his ear. On top of it all he was consumed by insecurity (because of not saving Dean) and a need for revenge. All that worked toward landing the season’s final resolution in the right place. Kripke didn’t waste time on spas or werewolf families or kidnapped vampires. Even his one-off episodes had themes pointing toward the season’s main arc and ending.
Technically I should not include this one because it didn’t exist. There was no Demon Dean storyline this season. But I put it here because I thought there should have been one. Not the actual storyline but the buildup toward it.
Like what I said about the Mark of Cain, Demon Dean came out of nowhere to hit us in the face in the last seconds of the finale. I understand the value of shocking your audience but you can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat like that. You can't surprise viewers with something they couldn’t see coming even if they were Sherlock Holmes. I know there was a lot of speculation about this in the fandom; people speculate characters turning into demons or angels pretty much before and after every season finale. But what is said in fandom and what is done on the show are two different things. There was no premonition indicating Dean would get the infamous black eyes throughout the season itself.
Last season, with Metatron and his spell, we knew he wanted to close the gates of Heaven. The part we didn’t know was that he also wanted to expel everyone from it. Similarly, in Season 3, we knew Dean was heading for Hell. The question of whether or not he could be saved was what provided the surprise. This season we had nothing tipping us off about the mark turning the bearer into a demon. Cain’s story was that he made a deal with Lucifer and became a Knight of Hell. So is Dean a Knight of Hell now? If so what happened to his human soul? Is his body dead? Does he exist as tainted smoke like the rest of the demons? Where was his deal? What happened to the terms of the contract? How does this match with the demon mythology that came before, or the fact that a human soul had to be broken in Hell before it could turn into a demon?
If I had written it: I would have come up with an airtight mythology that explained how this happened. People would be able to connect the dots and reach the conclusion themselves. They would know why Dean became a demon because, based on the mythology I created, it would make sense. I may have involved Crowley in it too, much more than the show did, perhaps given him the role of the conspirator who hid things from Dean and twisted truths in order to facilitate his transformation.
The return of who-gives-a-f*cks:
I added this one because it was brought up in the comments in the last review and I had planned to talk about it but never got the time. It’s about the practice of bringing back secondary and even bit-characters and giving them their own episodes. It becomes particularly infuriating when the season’s own mytharc is moving at a glacial pace. Do we really care about a story on Charlie, or Garth, or the Ghostfacers when Sam and Dean are at odds and God only knows if Castiel is even alive? Couldn’t we spend the air time on more important things like making the angel storyline more coherent or showing more of the effects of the Mark of Cain?
What really annoys me about this repeated guest appearances is that they aren’t really guest appearances. The characters (especially the Sue-ish ones like Charlie and Garth) take over the episode and highjack the plot in ways that undermine the real main characters. I said this in the Garth episode, the only characters who deserve full episodes dedicated to them are long time veterans who played major roles in past mythology arcs. For someone like Charlie to show up at random - and have whole episodes devoted to her and how awesome she supposedly is - is distracting. If the writers plan to reintroduce a previous character, they could at least take the time to make them part of the Winchester story, like they usually do with Sheriff Mills. Perhaps that is why she isn’t irritating like the rest of them. Bringing a character back simply because a writer invented him/her and needed his ego stroked again is silly.
If I had written it: I would only bring back characters whose presence served a purpose on the show, meaning if they were there to do something in the main arc. An example would be Anna and Becky in Season 5, who either helped the Winchesters learn more about the ongoing events, or played an important role in those events.
Let me know what you thought of Season 9’s compendium of storylines and their resolutions. You could also tell me how you would have rewritten each of them, as well as what your overall idea for Season 9 would have been had you been in charge of writing it. Ideas about Season 10 and what you like to see coming up are welcome too.
This ends the last Gripe Review for this season. I will most likely watch the first episode of Season 10 and if I find it worth my time I will review it, much like I reviewed this season even though it wasn't worth my time (the show, not the reviews.)
Till then, thanks for reading and stay safe, SPN fans.