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Supernatural – Season 10 Episode 23 – The Gripe Review

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Hello and welcome to the season 10 finale Gripe Review.

After watching this last episode of the season I could say with confidence I know what went wrong with the show. It’s Carver, a weak show runner and an even weaker writer.

Carver’s weakness in writing is different from the shortcomings of other bad writers in his team. Where Glass and Thompson put self-indulgence before story, and Buckner and Leming trample all over canon to fit their plot, Carver is lazy. He tells the same story every time.

Back when I was in grade seven I had a classmate who handed the same essay for every topic she got. She changed some parts, and reordered some paragraphs, but the gist of the essay and its structure were the same. Naturally she didn't get high marks for any of her submissions but she wasn’t bothered by it as the only thing she cared about was to pass. Once I asked her why she didn’t write an original essay for each and she said because that one essay contained all of her ideas and literary competencies and that beyond that she had nothing to offer. She didn’t realize that it was still laziness because it proved she had no drive to expand and nourish her creative resources to write something new. She was content with underperforming as long as it earned her an ok grade.

The same could be said about Carver, throughout the season and in this episode in particular. He seems to stick to a finite set of ideas which he just spins as something else, like a fast-food joint selling the same burger as different menu items by changing the order of the ingredients.

Here are some of those ingredients: Dean asking Death to permanently kill him was a rehash of Sam doing the same thing in the season 9 premier, only this time with real Death instead of an imaginary one. Sam showing Dean his childhood pictures to snap him out of his killer mode was Swan Song and a toy soldier in the Impala. And let’s not forget how, before humanity existed, God and his Archangels fought the Darkness out of the world and put a lock on it in the form of the Mark of Cain. Then, I presume, they moved on and fought the Leviathans, driving them into Purgatory and placing a lock on that door. Both were unleashed by Castiel and Crowley through a ritual that ended badly.

Let’s move on to the gripes. And since I’m on a roll here, let’s start them with a mother-of-all-gripes that shows further how Carver plagiarizes his own show, by putting Brother's Keeper next to another finale and observing the similarities. See if you can guess which one it is.

Gripe #1 - Old finale repainted and resold

A spell needs three ingredients in order to be cast. Castiel is put in charge of providing these ingredients to perform the spell. Crowley gets involved, albeit grudgingly. Sam and Dean meet in a secluded place and we find out that Sam's life is at stake. The brothers, alone and together, have to deal with the harsh reality that in order to achieve the season's goal Sam needs to die. An emotional conversation follows which ends in them choosing each other and not doing what’s best for the world. Elsewhere evil hits Castiel with a curse, and a terrifying disaster of global proportion is unleashed on earth. The brothers walk outside just in time to witness the fallout and the season ends with them looking in fear at the calamity taking over their world.

Did I just describe the season 10 finale, or season 8’s? You choose; it doesn’t make a difference. Both are the same, and were written by Carver, who like my high school classmate is redressing and reselling his old script. They even feature a similar, extremely forced, long dramatic scene between the brothers that made as little sense to me then as it did now.

Gripe #2 - Forced drama between the brothers

It’s hard to deny its similarity between the church scene in season 8 and the bar scene in this episode. The level of eye-roll and confused frustration they induced in me were also the same. I used to be a fan of emotional moments between Sam and Dean, be it their conversation near the Impala at the end of season 2 or their swan song moment at the end of season 5. When it is done right and I could make sense of it I appreciate it a lot.

This one neither made sense nor was done right. No matter how much Sam pleaded with Dean, and how much Dean reasoned with Sam - about how his death was the only thing that would save the world from Darkness - I couldn't see past the myriad of plot holes that littered the way to the emotional payoff. For me it was much ado about nothing.

Was I the only one who thought the reason they offered for why Sam had to die was absolutely absurd? He had to die so he wouldn't try to save Dean? How about you throw a dog in his path while he's driving the Impala, then have a bushy haired veterinarian fix the pooch and watch Sam fall in love with her instantly. Problem solved.

Joking aside, this is Death we're talking about. Am I to think it's impossible for him to send Dean somewhere Sam can't reach? Or that he is incapable of stopping Sam, of killing him, if he dared to try something? And what was the idea behind him handing the scythe to Dean? Even if he did it to amuse himself why wouldn't he simply snap his fingers and kill Sam when it was clear Dean was hesitating? Was he entertained by that long, nonsensical back and forth between the brothers? I lost interest the moment I saw Dean willing to end Sam's life, the same piece of canon violation and character defamation that happened last episode. I've blamed many writers for seeming out of touch with the tenets of Supernatural and its characters. I now know the biggest offender is the boss man himself.

Gripe #3 - Flip-flopping Dean

I'm not going to talk about Dean acting like an asshole in the beginning of the episode. Let's don't dwell on my beloved Winchester slut shaming a murder victim and being a dick to her grieving parents. Once again it was Carver's idea most likely to apply this bizarro element to demonstrate how far Dean has fallen, and he who imposed it on the other writers too. I'll save my thoughts on that one for the Dean section of the overall review.

What I will talk about though is my problem with Dean's instant turnarounds this episode, to the point that I felt disoriented about where he stood and what he wanted. It was hard to believe a wise, battle-hardened man like Dean would drop his conviction and change his mind simply because he saw a couple of bloody faces in a mirror, or a Photoshopped picture of his mom. It also confused the plot.

Dean starts the episode fully embracing the mark. He solves a case, which was solely added so he would cause a good guy to die and see it as evidence of his downfall. After that things get funkier still. He calls up Death and asks him to kill him, then he calls Sam and tells him it's he who has to die.

The sudden change of motive is like the narrative flipping over and over. The plot's central question keeps changing, forcing us to change our expectation and wonderment with it, like a person suffering from bipolar disorder. First the narrative question is whether Sam will be able to convince Dean the mark has to be removed, then whether Sam will be able to convince Dean not to die, then whether Sam will be able to convince Dean not to kill him. Before we even have time to deal with one question we’re thrown another, like people in a shipping container loose in a stormy sea.

The notion of ancient Darkness as the true evil, and Dean killing Death for no reason at the end only made it worse, throwing suspicion over whether or not Carver had a concrete plot in mind or was simply trying to tap into the viewers' emotional triggers to cause angst and get Tumblr and Twitter chirping. In order to put the brothers at a fabricated, illogical crossroad, so he could have them once again choose each other over the betterment of the world he made both Dean and Death party to the most convoluted, contrived plot development since Charlie’s death. And the end result wasn’t even satisfactory since, having watched Swan Song and Sacrifice, we could see it from miles coming. The WTF of it all though, was Death dying.

Gripe#4 – Bringing Death to the level of a mere monster

One of the things Carver has done during his time as a showrunner is reducing majestic Supernatural entities to ordinary villains or sidekicks. Angels were the first to fall victim to this, then the reapers (who were also converted to angels,) then God’s scribe, Knights of Hell, King of Hell, and now Death.

I’m not going to explain how ridiculous the idea of Dean killing Death is. Death, who once called him a bacteria sitting at his table, and told him he would one day reap God himself, isn’t immune to his own scythe. He is also dense enough to hand his weapon to the man wearing the mark of Cain.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Death isn’t this omnipotent being who is above everyone else. Maybe he truly is just another Supernatural creature that ranks beneath the bearer of the mark that holds back the ultimate darkness. But what I know is that Death was never scheming or petty. He had no stake in anything that happened on the show unless someone chained him to it. Last time he agreed to Dean’s request it was for his own amusement and because he wanted to show Dean the consequences of his actions.

The Death in the season 9 premier, the one who acted like a Sam fanboy and ended up being a product of his imagination, was disconcerting in his OOCness. This Death, one who monologues and acts as if he is invested in the plot, is even more so. This is Carver using an important mythology character as a plot device to resolve his season long conflict.

Still, even reducing Death to a scheming, meddling character doesn’t explain why Dean would kill him at the end, when he could have simply handed him his scythe and left the place with Sam. If your answer is Death would have stopped them because he wanted Sam dead and Dean shot into space, my question goes back to why? Why would Death care about such things as the fate of the human world? Even if every human died he would simply send his reapers after their souls and go back to sipping pina colada out of a coconut, right? Why risk his own existence (if we truly believe he is gone,) and trust Dean? Why even negotiate with Dean? Why not kill Sam the moment he entered the bar and take Dean away as soon as he turned around to say "what?"

Gripe #5 - No emotional follow up for Castiel

I'm now going to address something that has bothered me since season 6, and happened again this episode, namely the fact that the show never spends any time on the emotional fallout of Castiel's traumatic experiences, and treats him like a dirty dog who sleeps in front of its doorway.

Last week we left Castiel bloody and broken with a blade sticking next to his head, put there by Dean. A pretty traumatic scene. Yet this week, when we came back to the story, no one - including Castiel - seemed to remember it happened, let alone talk about it. We didn’t see Sam’s reaction if he was the one who found him, nor did we see how the incident affected Castiel himself, mentally or emotionally. This in a season where Dark Charlie being beaten by Dean was treated like the biggest woobie moment, with Sam hugging and carrying her bridal style and Dean looking stricken, followed by a full episode tag dedicated to Charlie's emotional recovery and *gag* her forgiving Dean . Castiel however, bounced back like a flying beach ball.

This isn't the first time this has happened to Castiel. Since season 6 he has been everyone’s punching bag and no one’s wounded pet. When he absorbed Lucifer into himself in season 7 and was torn mentally to shreds his suffering was the last thing the writers cared about, or any character bothered addressing, which is why I never bought into the idea of him and Meg being a thing. In season 8 when he had an entire tablet dug out of his gut and the boys found him in the middle of the road the same thing happened. There was such an urgency to rush the plot to the part where Dean blamed him for stealing the tablet that they didn't bother to even show how he recovered from his massive stomach wound. Forget about anyone nursing or comforting him.

It seems like the only time the writers pays attention to Castiel's horrible state is when it serves someone else’s storyline, like when he died at the hands of a reaper in season 9 and it became an excuse to demonstrate Gadreel/Sam’s resurrection powers, or this episode when they needed to flip Dean. In all other cases it's swept under the rug. It's seems to have become the norm on the show that everyone deserves sympathy but him, be it Charlie, Clair, or Rowena's where-the-F-did-he-come-from adoptive son. A damaged Impala even gets more sympathy than a damaged Castiel and she's a prop.


The conversation between Sam and Castiel

The only part of the episode I found worthwhile was this in-character conversation between Sam and Cas, which had them at last go head to head about Dean. Sam was his emotional, desperate self, arguing the need to save Dean at all cost. Castiel was the logical one who suggested the sad but necessary option of ending Dean. This was in line with their roles throughout the season and a good culmination of the dilemma each of them struggled with. Castiel of course was the one capitulating in the end because deep down he is as emotionally attached to Dean as Sam, also an in-character aspect of the story.

I wished Carver had maintained this theme instead of flipping Sam into a wet-eyed victim and Castiel into an absent spell cooker. If he had stayed true to the main arc, as his good writers did throughout the season, and Kripke did when he was in charge, we would have had a much better finale, with more defined characters and a richer emotional payoff. As I said at the beginning though, he is the worst writer in his staff and the reason the show generates more gripes than praise week after week. I wished he would find a better job and leave Supernatural in more capable hands such as Dabb's or Berens'. But wishes are fishes as they say.

Next week I will post an overall review of the season in which I’ll talk about characters and plot and the things I found right and wrong about season 10. Until then please voice your thoughts on the finale in the comment section below and let me know if there’s anything you like me to touch upon in the season overall review. If enough people ask for it and if it sparks my interest I might add it to the review.


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