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Supernatural – Season 10 wrap-up – The Gripe Review



Here we are at last, at the season wrap-up Gripe Review for season 10, and boy is there a lot to talk about, so much so that organizing this review felt like I was trying to pack an entire wardrobe inside a suitcase. Still organize it I did, and what I decided to go with was the theme of potential vs. execution.

If I were to describe this season in one phrase it would be, “great potential, lousy execution.” It would have won the award for that title among all seasons had it not been for the even greater disappointment that was Season 8.

This season started with a compelling premise: Dean as a demon. Despite my myriad of problems with the way it happened (starting with how it made no sense canonically,) I was excited to see what would come of it. There were countless ways the writers could spin this. Like how Dean would fare on the other side of the fence, having lived  his entire life as a demon hunter, with a demon hunter for a brother and an angel for a best friend. How about the demon community? How would they react to a predator becoming part of their pack? Which challenges would Dean face? What alliances or enemies would he make? The possibilities were endless.

The first disappointment of the season was when, instead of exploring all those possibilities, the showrunners confined Demon Dean to a karaoke bar and made him guest star in the story of Cole. Then they wrapped up his storyline in three episodes to make room for a parade of fillers.

This first mismanagement of a compelling arc set the tone for Season 10. In a way what followed was a larger version of that initially bungle, stretched across the whole season and happening on a greater scale.

The great potential of Season 10


One of the best aspects of Season 10 was its Cain storyline. When the show followed it, such as in The Executioner's Song or The Prisoner, it was brilliant. When it fell away from it, which was 85% of the time, it meandered and failed.

There were many reasons why the legacy of Cain and its application to Dean's curse were brilliant. For starters it was a return to Biblical mythology, which had been largely absent from the main plot since season 6 (I don't consider Metatron Biblical, just to be clear.) It gave all three members of Team Free Will a role to play, with Dean as the central hero and Sam and Castiel as his knights, (check out my review for The Executioner's Song for more detail on this.) And it gave us something to look forward to, and be anxious about, which is a must for good fiction.

Imagine if the season followed through with that premise. Dean going on a killing rampage, then killing Crowley and Cas, before gunning for Sam. Of course I don't wish for Crowley and Cas to die but imagine if we actually saw it happen, then found out it was a ruse devised by Sam to save Dean. Imagine the impact such a storyline would have had. They could have even included Cain as an active player instead of Rowena, and the season would have ended with Cain's defeat and the removal of the mark from Dean. What the cliffhanger would have been is up for discussion and a matter of concern for Season 11. Season 10 however would have lived up to its hype and done its cliffhanger justice.

The Execution (as in shooting the premise in the head)


Unfortunately what I just described didn't happen. Not even something close to it happened. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, only about 15% of the season was spent on the Mark of Cain. At times I even doubted it was the main arc. After all, the plot kept fluctuating. At first it seemed they were planning to do something with Cole. Then rumors came out that Sam was going darkside because he tricked a mofo into making a crossroads deal. Then Rowena began popping up everywhere and hopping from one plot to the next with none ever reaching a full conclusion. Then there was that bit with the Stynes at the end... .

Looking back at Season 10 it feels like a project who's staff and management kept changing, and with it its vision. The Mark of Cain was always hovering somewhere in the background, but I have a strong suspicion it was mostly in the backstage corridors of fandom discussion boards and social media, and in our subconscious desire to find an anchor in what was being presented to us as a season of the show but was in fact a jumble of under cooked ideas.

Here are some of those ideas in the order they appeared:


The Cole storyline (dropped story #1) - Someone on staff must have had a plan for Cole but changed their mind. Both his character and story were handled poorly and ended in an abrupt and unsatisfying way, probably for the best because Cole was essentially Dean 2.0 without Sam, and without charm.

The hunt for rogue angels storyline (dropped story #2) - This was the first mess they tangled Cas in, most likely as a way to give him something to do while keeping him away from the brothers. There were way too many problems with this story, least of which was the fact that Cas himself had spent most of his time as a rogue angel on the show and therefore should not want to hunt or kill them. The addition of Hannah and the bizarre romance between them, tagged with WTF scenes of them looking longingly at human children, made this storyline all the more terrible.



Demon Dean (dropped story #3) - I already talked about this in the intro. The behind the scenes reason I heard of why the DD storyline was so rushed was that the showrunners insisted on having a musical for the 200th episode, which happened to be episode 5 of the current season. It forced them to wrap up the DD storyline in the first three episodes.

The Musical Episode - Read my extensive review of this Godawful episode here in case you missed it. This was by far the worst episode of the entire series. To this day I can't believe anyone on staff thought this was a good idea, except perhaps the drunk guy who pitched it to Singer/Carver at a party as a joke. Unfortunately they latched on to it and apparently forced Robbie Thompson to write its script. If the interview Thompson did is to be trusted even he wasn't on board with the idea, which might explain why his script was so cringe worthy.

Giving the spotlight to guest stars - Discussed extensively in Gripe #2 here, this was my biggest pet peeve for the first half of the season. It was as if all regular characters took a backseat to new and returning guest stars, most of whom we hardly cared about. It made the season look like a random anthology, written by different authors with different visions and no coherent connection. The fact that none of these guest stars did anything to help the overall plot, and were largely heroes of their own stories, strengthened that feeling.



Rowena - Rowena has her own paragraph in the character section.  I had to include her here though to be thorough. She was that guest who showed up at every party yet no one knew who invited her or what she was supposed to do. I expected to see her play a big role in the main plot eventually, perhaps become the big bad of the season. She didn’t, at least not until the very end when it neither mattered nor made sense. All it did was to derail the season by taking it off the Cain legacy track and down a crazy tunnel that had WTF written all over it.

Charlie - (For more on my view on Charlie check out the 10x11 Gripe Review) Charlie was one of the most annoying recurring guest stars in Supernatural history, who thankfully left us this season. However, the manner she left us, and the mock fallout the writers tried to reap from it (Dean saying Sam should be on the burning pyre instead of her corpse, her death being the last straw for Dean losing his sanity,) was another blow to the season's overall quality. I will forever be in wonderment as to why a character, who at first appeared as a unique, bubbly and likable female addition to the show, was ruined so badly, then killed off so pointlessly, and ended up leaving a residue that tainted the brother's relationship by being treated as something more valuable than it.


Claire - Claire’s purpose I assume was to keep Castiel busy for a part of the season and justify his presence on the show. I have a hard time believing we were supposed to care for a random teenager because she was the daughter of the man who lent his body to Castiel. After all it was near impossible to like her considering how unpleasant she was, how cliché her story was, and how little she affected the overall plot. None of her emotional scenes with Castiel worked because none of it was backed by any sensible background connection or character development. Angry Teen was all the personality the writers deigned to give her and I guess they took that as enough substance to run a three episode arc centered on her woes.



The Stynes (Dropped story #4) - These guys only did two things: 1) they created an obstacle for finding and keeping the Book of the Damned, and 2) killed Charlie. Neither required them to be hyped as such fearsome and far reaching foes, especially considering how easily and unspectacularly they were dispatched, creating yet another item on the list of subplots that were discarded on the way to Carver's subpar finale.

The finale - Looking back at the finale, it felt like Carver didn't watch his own season before he wrote it. He asked someone to hand him cliff notes for what happened and proceeded to write a script based on the one he wrote for Season 8. That is probably why he completely did away with the Cain storyline, pulled Death like a rabbit out of a hat, and made up a whole new conflict between the brothers that centered on Sam instead of Dean. Anyone who asked themselves, "But wasn't this season about saving Dean from going berserk, not justifying saving vs. killing Sam?" while watching that episode gets a nod from me. For more on the finale check out the 10x23 Gripe Review from last week.

Characters of Season 10

Rowena


Rowena was the Jar Jar Binks of Season 10. Few cared for her, yet she trudged along week after week and applied herself to every scenario possible. She was the kind of plug-everywhere-you-need character for the writers, which meant she changed her motive and personality often. One moment she'd want to start a coven by tricking young, gullible women, the next she'd be after her old coven she was exiled from. One episode she'd be all over Crowley like a mother hen, the next she'd plot to kill him. One episode she'd appear as the most powerful witch alive, in another she was easily subdued by Sam. All of this culminated in a finale where she became the biggest baddest villainess the show had known, one who could freeze the King of Hell and mind-control an angel.

Rowena's lack of consistency and character development, plus her insistent over-the-top cartoonish behavior, was the main reason the audience could not connect with her. It didn't stop the writers to use her wherever they could, which meant they had to take screen time away from someone else. That someone else happened to be Crowley, for the most part, who became a fifth wheel this season, precisely because Rowena stole all of his scenes from him.

Crowley


Crowley was the most wasted character of the season. All he did was keep Demon Dean company and babysit Rowena. The more I think about him the more he fades from my mind, perhaps because I can't find what his motive this season was, or what character growth he went through. Was he an ally, or an enemy? Did he like Rowena, or hate her? Did he want the mark on Dean or off of him? The writers spent so little time on him that nothing about his character was defined. He didn't even have an arc. All he had was a throne – whose location I’m still confused about - and scattered scenes with different characters in which he served as backup.

Here is a fun exercise and a good discussion starter: imagine the season without Crowley and try to see if anything suffers. If you manage to find something, think if you could fill that void with Rowena. See how small an effect Crowley's presence had on the show.

Castiel


It pains me to write about Castiel. I almost don't want to because I don't know what to say without sounding bitter and dismayed. I want him off this show, not in the sense those "brothers only" purists want - those who see anyone befriending the Winchesters as a threat - but like a mother who wants her talented, hardworking child out of a team that constantly benches him. Misha has a lot of chops. Castiel has a lot of charm, and a rich character profile. He also has an army of fans who constantly and diligently support and promote the show. And Carver's answer to all of that was to frame his narrative in a way that would continually (and almost malevolently) keep him out of the main storyline.

I sometimes wonder if Carver got influenced by Singer - who is rumored to dislike Castiel's involvement with the show and particularly with Dean - or by the said brother purists who kept tweeting him all season long. Or maybe he is just a lousy writer who wants to write a multi-arc script and doesn't know how to make all the arcs interesting. Whatever the reason, keeping Castiel on the sideline and having him go from one inane plot to the next, tied to throwaway characters like Hannah, Claire and Metatron was a disservice to him and to the viewers. That's not a role a character who's been on the show since season 4 should play. It's a lame excuse to keep him in the loop and fooling his fans into thinking he's still an MVP even though he is methodically and needlessly kept out of the big games.

To understand what a waste this is you just have to think about one of the two best scenes of this season, the scene where Castiel faces MoC Dean and tries to stop him. Had Carver not barred Castiel from the Winchester plot so much we would have had more scenes like that. Instead we had him running errands for Sam and Rowena, playing fake dad to Claire, fake husband to Hannah, and in the end becoming a tool for the season cliffhanger's inexplicable plot twist.

Sam


The only character whose transformation I celebrated this season was Sam. It's the only plus I’ll give Carver despite what he did with him in the end. Poor Sam, it looks like no matter what he does he ends up fighting for his life, or sanity, at the end of every season.

Last year I wished two things for Sam. One that he stops being the wounded victim all the time and takes on the role of the caregiver. And two, that he'd get the POV. My second wish wasn't fulfilled but my first was, and for the first time after a long long time (since season 6 in fact,) Sam earned my sympathy and attention.

Some fans complain that Sam had no story this season. I admit that it's true, but that’s far from discrimination in a season where Castiel and Crowley pretty much only twirled their thumbs. In fact the only person who had the semblance of a storyline this season was Dean. At least Sam had the advantage of being at his side and in the spotlight every step of the way, a privilege no other character enjoyed as they were too busy propping their respective guest-stars-turned-main-plot-drivers.

To me it was the right choice to take the heat off of Sam for a season. He had been the center of conflict for more than half a decade. Being in that role, and constantly getting tossed around by winds and wars, robbed him of a proper character definition. We never could see his side of things. This season we got that, and it was beautiful. To be able to peek inside his soul and see that he in fact did care for Dean and was willing to color outside the lines in order to protect him was amazing. By taking Sam off his hero/villain driver's seat and putting him in a supportive role Carver brought the best out of him and out of Jared too. Hopefully it's a path that would lead to him getting the illusive POV next season.

Dean


And finally Dean, the focus of the season, who strangely got robbed of his own spotlight the one time he got it.

My disappointment in Castiel's writing is only rivalled by my disappointment in Dean's. Dean's journey this season parallels the season's potential vs. execution theme, and personifies its failure.

For the MoC story to work Dean had to go dark, real dark, so it would make sense for Sam to want to rescue him by going to the extreme and making deals with bad people. Instead the writers wrote him as an anti-hero, painting him as a Dirty Harry type character instead of a fallen idol like they did with Sam and Castiel in the earlier seasons. The problem with that choice is that, while viewers of this generation don't like slut shamers and womanizers, and while they cringe at someone willing to let innocents die in order to get the job done, none of these are particularly devastating or destructive traits in a character. In fact, most of them are staples for anti-heroes in old shows. Check out any  movies from the 50's, 60's or 70's and you'd find a dozen or so good guys with the exact traits. They smoke, curse, drink, kill, are rude to women and civilians, and see everyone around them as legitimate collateral damage. No one thinks they need saving.

As for the other thing - Dean going insane and slaughtering everyone - we saw how that turned out in the end, which is to say it didn't. I don't know if anything would have rocked the show's boat had Rowena not finished that spell and unleashed the Darkness, because at that point Dean was completely in control. He had even saved his brother by killing Death. The whole premise of the season had hence become pointless since Dean had proven that he not only wasn't losing himself to the mark, but also that he actually could use it as a source of power to get things done. All that was required was for his brother to be at his side and guide him through that power, not plotting behind his back to take it away.


The writers proved this season that they can't make Dean go dark, therefore I hope they consider making him a hero in Season 11, something like what Sam was during the trials arc but without the snot and the sickness. It's time for Dean to have a real storyline, one that makes him shine not repulse, and one that makes his brother shine next to him. Castiel too needs to be with them, as the friend who never wavers and the ally who always has their back while they have his. No more side plots. No more turning the spotlight on guest stars and pet characters. The trio needs to own their own show and Carver and his writers need to pull their act together and make Supernatural a top notch TV show once again, like it was five years ago.

It had been a pleasure writing for you this season. I hope you enjoyed these reviews and the conversations they incited. Feel free to comment below, about your opinion of this season as well as your wishes for Season 11. I’ll take a bow now, hand over the mic, and exit stage. Have a wonderful summer and see you on the other side of the hiatus.


Tessa

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