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Supernatural - Season 10 Episode 17 - The Gripe Review

Happy Easter Supernatural fans and welcome to another pre-hiatus Gripe Review for the show we all love like a sweet drug we can't quit but probably should.

This week's episode had all the makings of a solid story: A Dean focused plot, a mythology based setting, and every major character currently on the show doing something, plus Bobby as bonus. Yet it was strangely unsatisfactory, like a nicely decorated dish that tasted bland. I've been trying to figure out why this was the case since I watched it the first time.

Of course there's the gripes listed below. But I can't help to think something more is wrong, something foundational that surpasses the worn awnings of the porch, or the squeaky hinges of the door. For the first time I'm having suspicions that the fault isn't just with the writers, but the cast as well.

I always assumed it was the writers who forced J2 to perform in subpar scripts. But this week the thought occurred to me that it might be the other way around. We've all heard about them asking for time off to be with their families. That time off had never been as obvious as in this episode. Sure the whole cast was there, but it felt like they were each performing on their own separate stages. Dean and Castiel never talked; heck, Dean didn't even know Castiel was in the episode, or Bobby for that matter. Bobby only interacted with Castiel and Metatron. His communication with Sam was limited to a letter and a radio transmission, hinting that perhaps he and J2 were on non-overlapping schedules.

Sam and Dean themselves didn't have that much interaction. In a highly emotional episode with a lot of heavy plot, the sum total of their shared dialogue was those bits in the beginning and the end. And what's more, you could have entirely eliminated Dean from the episode and not lost a thing, if we considered Crowley intelligent enough to skip the pep talk and get rid of his mother on his own.

I won't judge without evidence. But if what is said is true, if the reason there is so little overlap between characters and storylines on the show is because the main actors want to take extra time off, then I would be highly disappointed. Writers I could blame with no discontent. Most of them are new people who probably don't care as deeply about the show as fans do. But Jared and Jensen are Sam and Dean. They are veterans. My understanding always was that they cared about the show and its fans on a much deeper level.Understandably not as much as their families, but enough to not want to sabotage its senior years. This can't be just a job to them, not after they spent ten years on it and practically grew old with it. I would be very sad to think all they thought of at this stage was to pocket a check and get through the lackluster scripts. This used to be a great show, one of the best of its kind. It would be a shame if it went out with a whimper because its main cast gave up on it.

Gripe #1 – Where is Dean's suffering?

Remember when Sam came back from hell? Remember how he had Lucifer in his head and went through a meat grinder before he ended up in a mental hospital? How about when he was doing the trials and visibly deteriorated to the point of resembling a walking corpse? I swear that season the make up department had a bigger task to do on him than on any of the monsters the Winchesters hunted.

This week we heard from Sam and Castiel several times how badly Dean was doing, yet the only evidence we saw was him having a nightmare, which mustn't have been too bad since it didn't even wake him up. I've had nap dreams that woke me up faster than that moan and scream fest Dean had that night. Besides, nightmares had been with Dean since season 3. Unless Sam had been truly oblivious to his brother's troubles until this season, what we saw at the beginning of this episode was nothing new or alarming.

The rest of the Dean side of the episode was more of the same. Instead of actually showing us how Dean was deteriorating - to back up Sam's insistence that things had reached red alert zone - we see him hustle pool with a bunch of college kids, whom he despises for no apparent reason. Then he chats with Rowena with no meaningful outcome. She threatens to kill the kids if Dean doesn't do what she says, but I'm not quite sure what exactly it is she wants other than for Dean to die,which he obviously disagrees with. Then we see Dean hanging out with his old pal Crowley, during which time he dispenses pearls of wisdom from his three decades of  human experience to a centuries old demon.

Maybe I'm not looking hard enough but I didn't see this terrible misery his family was talking about, at least not compared to what the same thing meant for Sam when he was inflicted with plot whumpage. It's as if the writers care as little about the effects of the mark as Dean himself does . If his condition was truly that critical why was the only expression of it a nightmare and a few flashbacks of killing demons and bad guys in the past, which are no more traumatic than anything he'd been through his whole life?

Gripe #2 - What the hell is the deal with Heaven?

A lot of people have pointed out the inconsistencies in the latest episodes in which human souls that should be trapped in the veil still moved on. I didn't put it in my gripes because, in all honesty, I myself don't understand the mythology of the ghosts after Heaven's closure, and the idea behind the veil, and I believe neither do the writers.

Many of the writers seem to be unclear about what's going on in Heaven in general. Since it burst open like a water balloon at the end of season 8 no one has given us any precise information on its state, or the state of the souls that are supposed to go there. The angels appear to have moved back in, save for Castiel for unknown reasons. But there is no indication who or what is in charge. This episode seemed to imply Hannah was running the joint (again for undisclosed reasons.) Old souls still occupied their imaginary, perfect worlds, but were treated like prisoners rather than rewarded guests. The only thing the writers seem to agree on is that its portal opens in a playground, so that innocent children could accidentally have a taste of the afterlife I guess.

Speaking of afterlife, Hell's mythology is no less of a mess, with Rowena walking in and out of it like a bar around the corner, and employees using Windows 8 to track its supernatural activities. Remind me to tell Microsoft to add "compatibility with blood bowl seances" to the list of features available on Surface.

Gripe #3 - Why are Bobby's escapes so boring?

Poor Bobby. No matter where he goes, Heaven or Hell, he ends up in a corridor with doors on either side. How much imagination can be sucked out of a script in such a setting? This is the same show that had episodes such as "Dark Side of the Moon" where, with the same budget and same cast, we experienced a Heaven as trippy as a weed induced dream. And let's not forget the brilliant "The Man Who Would be King," in which, through Edlund's magic, we not only got a genuinely inventive history and mythology for the place, but an atmosphere that matched the story he was telling.

What did we get in this episode? A white, featureless corridor. True, the idea of every door having the same name plate was somewhat unique and amusing. But it was still a corridor with a bunch of doors, and people who couldn't wait to get out of their perfect, imaginary lives fashioned by their own wishes. It became harder to watch as we saw that when they did, they found themselves face to face in a bunch of angels who looked more like Heaven's strata council than the Holy Host. Allow me to mourn the Heaven that was ruled by Zachariah, Michael, Raphael, and Joshua, where you would be struck by lightning if they found you trespassing.

Gripe #4 - Where is Rowena's story going?

It wasn’t enough that she ruined Crowley this season, Rowena had to pull Dean into her asinine storyline too. It ended in a great speech about family for sure, but even the speech was wasted when you thought about who and what it was referring to.

Speaking of Dean’s speech, I wonder what it does in an episode that has Dean pretty much ignore his own family due to plot necessities. How can he say family doesn’t end with blood when he never calls Castiel even once, or when he falls so easily for Sam’s ruse about going to a French movie instead of reading him like a book? We’ve seen Dean have a heart to heart with Crowley more than anyone in the family he claims he cares so much about.

But back to Rowena, this episode finally saw her leave Crowley's lair and good riddance for that too since I still can’t tell what her purpose was there to begin with. More importantly, why did Crowley tolerate her presence when all she did was belittle him in front of his staff and whine constantly about everything? Of course, we heard Crowley say he felt for her because she was family, but that's majorly out of character for Crowley. He has always been shown as a man demon who only cared about personal gains and advantages. I’m still struggling to understand where his sudden affection, for a mother who resembled a Disney villain came from.

I have no illusions that this is the last we saw of Rowena, just as I have none about Charlie, Clair, or Cole. Unlike the older seasons, the secondary characters this season are like cold sores, or warts. No matter how you got rid of them they keep coming back. I just hope Rowena's story doesn’t drag beyond this season and into the next. Eventually we need to see her messy, bloody death, preferably before the finale showdown.

Gripe #5 - Where's the heart?

Going back to Dean’s speech about family I realized why I wasn’t being moved by anything this episode, even though it involved characters worrying about and trying to save Dean, which is something I wished for since season 6. It was because Dean himself didn’t seem to care for any of them. In fact Dean doesn’t seem to care about anything other than solving cases these days. He was pestering Sam about it at the beginning and looked quite disappointed when he found out this wasn’t going to be another MotW. I know we're supposed to believe he's suffering from the mark and that is why he’s so blah all the time. But as I said in gripe #1, I don’t see it, and there is no reason the mark should make him forget his attachments to his family in the first place.

Since those early days of season one Supernatural’s biggest charm had been the care its characters showed to each other. It had been its winning ticket for ten years straight, and arguably the main reason viewers came back to watch it again and again. Sadly I’m sensing that the heart of this quality is beginning to fade. Even though characters say they care for each other they are having a hard time showing it.

Another example of this is Castiel. He claims he's worried about Dean. He even risks the wrath of Heaven to help save him. Yet when the mission is over and he drops Sam off he doesn't even come in to say hi to Dean, and to see how he’s doing. It's probably a plot necessity again, part of the silly notion of not telling Dean they are trying to save him, which in turn come from the silly notion of Dean not wanting to be saved. But it makes no sense for Castiel to go along with it when he knows Dean is in trouble. He would never just drop Sam off and go on his merry way to God knows where if he was written in character.

Of course Misha and Jensen aren’t allowed to share any scenes together, either because it makes Destiel grow extra spindly legs, or simply because their schedules don’t match. But that doesn’t make it any less of a plothole .

The only person showing a semblance of affection at this stretch of the road is Sam. His face when he looks at Dean, or thinks about him, is the only thing making me buy into this story arc. Jared still puts his all into every scene and tries to convey things that should be in the script, but aren't, with his face and body language. It’s at least something considering how Jensen looks disinterested most of the time (perhaps because he’s given up on the writing,) and Misha looks lost half the time, seeming to wonder why he is on a show that does nothing with his iconic character other than use him as either filler or plot device.

When a mythology driven, plot-heavy episode ties the lowest ratings for the season and appears to be on a downward trend, it is time to worry about the show. We need to ask ourselves what is the cause of this: the refusal to let beloved characters interact with each other due to the actors' real life schedules, or the refusal to let them show they care for each other due to a grudge against Tumblr. Or is it something deeper and more damaging like lack of creativity, consistency or coherence. I let you be the judge of that and discuss it in the comment section.

Since we're entering a mini hiatus you have two weeks to post whatever you like in the comments . Talk about the show, my gripes, or what you think is dragging this season down (or lifting it up, depending on your opinion.) You could even come up with suggestions on how to kill Rowena to make up for all the grief she's given us this season, so go for it.