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Supernatural – Season 10 Episode 20 – The Gripe Review

Hello friends and welcome to the regularly scheduled gripe review.

Last week was a departure from my usual eyeroll and head shake review because last week was Berens' commendable contribution to the show, and it was awesome. This week we’re back on track with Robbie Thompson and another Claire Novak storyline.

Looking at the episode objectively, there may not be that much difference between it and a typical Monster of the Week episode. It is possible to ignore Claire’s history and see her as a one-off character headlining a case. Had they not chosen Claire for the role we would have been served another teenager, most likely with the same attitude and command over the main cast, and a similar mission to save her and her innocent, civilian mom.

What sucks in this case however is Castiel's disposition toward the Novaks and how Claire being Claire makes things irritating from his side of the fence.

Something I have observed about Thompson’s writing is that when he wants to make a point he doesn’t just make it. He takes a mallet and pounds it into the ground, then hauls in a drilling rig and drills it further below the surface. Let’s say his goal is to show a) Claire is miserable because both her parents left her, and b) Castiel feels guilty about the part he played in it. In order to show these things Thompson doesn’t just hint at them in dialogue or through silent character interactions such as body language and eye contact. He goes full throttle by making them drop everything they usually say and do, and stuffs their scenes to the brim with action/speech that support those plotlines.

Hence we get a Claire who constantly harps about how her mother left her, her father left her, and Castiel was the cause of it all…on and on and on to the point that she stops being a character and turns into a pull-string doll. Worse than that, Castiel also becomes a one note player who is all about his self-reproach over the role he played in sacrificing the Novak family for the greater good. He stops being anything else and only emotes guilt ridden absent stepfather lines.

When Dean turned to Claire in one scene and said the one thing that had occupied my mind since she appeared on my screen, it felt more like lampshade hanging than a character talking to another. The fact that Castiel’s engagement with the Novaks helped stop the apocalypse was so obvious, yet so overlooked by all parties surrounding the whiny teenager, that when Dean finally voiced it I exhaled. It was as if he pointed at an elephant sitting snugly against the two of them and said, “Hey, there’s an elephant taking up space here, and Castiel saved the world.” Not that it changed anything since the plot had to follow its intended direction (the Claire-matters-most direction,) and characters had to tail it at all cost, but at least it was spoken.

Now to the gripes:

#1- Why can’t teenagers be fully developed characters?

I already answered this question in the intro. I know Claire's role in this episode was to parrot the mission objective to the Big Three (and us by extension,) so we'd understand how much it matters. Maybe Thompson himself felt the triviality of the case and was trying, through Claire's snide remarks and Castiel's constant tripping over his guilt, to convince us this was more than just a MotW.

That still doesn't explain why Claire can't show any emotion other than mockery and resentment. Is it because she's a teenager? Is that why she responds to everything (Dean's age, his preference in movies, his credit card scamming, Sam's idea to pin down her mom, his praise for her efforts to find her, and his revelation about his own mom,) with animosity and scorn? I saw the same thing in Krissy both times she appeared on the show and it made me wonder if - as I said before - this is the teen stereotype the writers think they should apply to any human being of that particular age.

Like any stereotype though, doing this to a character makes them plastic, unconvincing and annoying. You'd see a teenager on screen and know they will go on the rage-against-everything train. It makes characters seem manufactured by the same assembly line. Instead of engaging us in a story their mission becomes making the appropriate noise so the promos could present them as lol!menace to the main players.

#2 - When did Clair become obsessed with finding her mom?

This might be just my brain going blank over Claire's history because of how much I don't care about her, but did we ever see her create that map of her mother's movements in the previous episodes? The tapestry of newspaper clips, map sections, and photographs she had pinned to her wall looked more than just a week's work. She herself said she started it when she received her mother's diary while in one of the foster homes. This means long before she and Castiel parted ways last episode, so we should have gotten at least some hints about her search in the previous episodes.

#3 - How did Claire become family?

Throughout the episode we have Castiel lamenting his role in the Novak family's situation as well as doubting his attachment to Claire. It's as if he's voicing my thoughts on the matter that shouldn't matter. At one point, when he's asking if what he does makes sense Sam tells him of course, because Claire is family.

Not to be frugal but that was one of the most eyeroll worthy moments of this season for me. It strikes at the heart of my problem with this season. Family is the core of Supernatural. It's a running theme throughout all the seasons that connects all storylines and gives them emotional weight. And while it was implied that family doesn't end with blood, it was always something precious and important to the Winchesters, a high honour of sorts they only bestowed upon the closest and the kindest around them.

What has Claire done to earn it? Just because she shares the blood of the man who lent his body to Castiel isn't enough for me to accept her as a member of the Supernatural family. That undermines the entire premise of the mythology, makes a mockery of the show's past, and spits in the faces of John Winchester, Marry, Bobby, Castiel and Kevin.

#4 - Why is everyone playing the Miserable Life Olympics with Sam?

Again this episode we had Sam open up to an outsider about his past. As much as I love seeing Sam get at least some of his trauma off his chest, and show his honest, vulnerable side, the reactions he keeps getting make me want to scratch the wall with bare fingernails. Two weeks ago he told Charlie how he felt trapped in a hunters life, and she replied by claiming she understood him through first hand experience. This week he told Claire about his mother - how he had never gotten to meet her as a living person and only experienced encounters with her ghost - and her response was, "Well, my mom left me."

What does that supposed to mean? Is this another attempt at making the Winchester experience inclusive, portraying these bit characters as parallels to them? I wouldn't have minded if they were at least interesting, or likable, but thus far Claire has done nothing but whine and bitch about how the world owes her a hefty payment for the life she has lived, and thrown the blame at Castiel and Dean for the heck of it. She even devised a plan to kill Dean, and now belittled Sam's loss of his mother. If the writers wanted to endear us to her and make her a part of the show's circle of love, they should have done a better job. Just having them claim they share the pain doesn't make us believe it's so.

#5 – Isn’t Castiel’s guilt an insult to the show’s epic mythology of the past seasons?

The Rapture was one of my favorite episodes of all time. It was the episode that brought to my attention what a fascinating character Castiel was. A character with no body, but with an authentic personality completely opposite from the human he possessed. The sideways look he gave Claire when he told her he wasn't her father, and the way his goals misaligned with Jimmy's, greatly underlined the difference between what mattered to an ordinary person as opposed to what was important to an angel of the Lord. It proved the Winchester mythology to be truly epic, a quest so colossal, so fundamentally important to the human race, that the sacrifice of one family wasn't something the participants could afford to sweat over.

The trivial Claire storyline this season stomped all over that legacy and undermined not just Jimmy's selfless act, but the entire feat of stopping of the apocalypse and the Winchesters' biggest accomplishment. Carver and his writers, in their attempt to come up with relevant storylines for the late stages of the show, have become bulls in the china shop who swing their bodies around and break not just trinkets of established canon, but whole backstory values and character foundations.

#6 - How is Dean slamming a guy's head against the table a sign of him ‘snapping?’

Like in every episode this season we were reminded of how urgent Dean's condition is, and how close to losing it he has come..., because he frightened a suspect into confession. Sam and Castiel even benched him to keep him from falling off the deep end, much to Dean's protest and chagrin.

Don't know about anyone else but I was with Dean on this one. He didn't do anything outside his usual methods as a hunter and former Hell torturer. How is this any different from the way he behaved after he came back from Hell, or Purgatory? It's like they have one trick for Dean and use it for every story they give him because they don't want to mess with him too much. Apparently the writers don't understand that messing with him is exactly what would make him interesting and in urgent need of intervention. If he recovers from his demon curse after three episodes only, and the worst he suffers from the mark is terrorizing a crook a little too roughly, how are we supposed to take Sam and Castiel's worries over him seriously? How could we get on board with their decree that something immediate needs to be done to save Dean from imminent downfall?

#7 - General Robbie Thompson-ness

Of course as soon as I heard who wrote the episode I prepared myself for the usual, and I wasn't disappointed. The clunky dialogue, the long expositions, the villain posturing, the telling instead of showing, the Sam-knocked-out-and-tied-to-a-chair trope, were all there. After Dean frightened the bad guy at the bar the guy didn't just confess, he spilled everything with a cherry on top, even adding detail he wasn't asked about as if he was waiting for an opportunity to vent. This is so fake for a terrorized, shady person, and so obvious an attempt to pass on information to the audience as opposed to the characters on the show, I wondered why they didn't just have him look into the camera and recite it.

In another scene we have the gang in a motel room chatting about the case when a call comes in about a homicide. Dean, Cas and Claire go to investigate while Sam stays behind. There is absolutely no significance to this arrangement since all the three of them do is to go look at the body, get the necessary exposition from the officer in charge, and come back to the room with Sam in the same position doing the same thing, as if no time has passed. There's no action, no tension, and no story development other than characters finding out something we already knew. I could describe a dozen better ways this could have been written but not why Thompson chose the most blatant point A -> point B -> point A scenario.

Leave me a comment below if you feel like it. Sorry I have been less active in the comment section as off late. I read all your posts. However because of the Saturday vs. Sunday posting change, I have less time to spend on the post-review activities in my busy weekend schedule. I'm glad you guys still keep the conversation going. It's the whole point of these reviews and what gives me joy in writing them.



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