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Supernatural - Season 11 Episode 01 - The Gripe Review

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Welcome to the season 11 premier Gripe Review. After unforeseen troubles such as getting home late on Wednesday, failing to set my DVR, and lots of hoops and obstacles to jump through, which made me thing the universe doesn't not want me to watch this episode, I am here to offer you my thoughts, in the maximum critical style these reviews are known for.

I don't know if it is due to Carver's lazy writing or me getting too old and acquainted with the show, but as I watched the episode two thoughts kept running through my head: 1) Carver is the writer, even though I hadn’t looked it up, 2) every single move in the script is predictable to a ridiculous degree. I could even guess what was likely to happen in future episodes.

Let's start with the start, which was similar to the start of every other Carver helmed season: something catastrophic happened that terrifies the boys and also completely baffles them even though they are the ones who caused it. One of them is impacted more than the other. Castiel is on his own and no one remembers him until he calls Dean or Sam to see if they are ok. Crowley is struggling to keep his status as the King of Hell while loosely getting involved in the season’s main threat, either helping the Winchesters or working against them depending on what serves the plot best.

This time the threat is Darkness. I couldn't help but to imagine Dean standing in the middle of that storm holding a keyblade (Kingdom Hearts fans get that reference.)

I liked the first glimpse we got of this villainess, with her back turned to Dean and her body flickering ghost like. It's an effective horror movie technique that taps into our fear of the unknown. I wished they had kept it up and made her an image that flickered around Dean and spoke to him in an echoing voice in his head and without moving her mouth. It would have worked well with the terrifying sense of loss and weightlessness the smoky setting evoked.

But alas, she turns and talks and from that point on all I can see is her low low neckline and ample breasts. The dread disappears and suddenly I couldn't call her anything but ‘Boobness.’

Boobness would have been an interesting enemy had we not seen copies of her twice before. In season six it was Mother of All who infected humans with her Khan worms and turned them into "Jefferson Starships." In season nine it was Abaddon pickling human souls in jars and creating demonic armies. I'm still unclear as to what Boobness’ deal is. What is the nature of these infected humans with varicose veins branching over their necks? Why do they have a short shelf life? Is their purpose to infect all of human race and wipe them off the planet?

After the first few minutes I truly believed this season is going to be a "The Walking Dead" copycat, especially as the highway scene unfolds and reminisces countless similar scenes from that show. Except on that show, people who crawled out of a wreckage looked like real people, not flawless Megan Fox wax dolls.

Let's pause to talk a little about the good deputy they meet on the highway and why she hits all the wrong buttons the moment she shows up. Not only does she look like she just came out of a spa, her acting also leaves so much to be desired. If you want me to believe a person is bleeding from a gaping wound the size of a pocket, you better hire an actor who can convey that level of pain. I didn't know she was wounded until Sam pointed it out.

Back to my zombie apocalypse prediction, it turns that wasn't the case. This is by no means a worldwide epidemic, a fact which gives birth to a tsunami of questions about how far the Darkness's impact goes. How can it only affect a single town when they made such a big deal about its ancientness and depth of power? Why is the government not involved? Why is no military personnel deployed? Why are people going about their lives elsewhere like nothing happened when only 40 miles away bloody corpses are strewn across the road? If this situation resolves itself through Sam and Dean by the third or fourth episode - which is what I predict – the government of the United States of Supernatural is the luckiest, laziest fictional government in the entire world of television.

The B plots

A.K.A Crowley and Castiel. As before you could eliminate both of them and the Winchester plot would suffer nothing. I'm still curious if they are on the show for any other reason than to give Jensen and Jared more time off.

Crowley of course didn't die, a twist that was spoiled months ago even for a fan like me who was far away from the Supernatural media sphere. He spends some time in a woman's body, participates in an orgy which, unless it was meant to prove the King of Hell is in fact bisexual, serves no plot purpose, then conveniently regains his throne and his former body through some highly incompetent-looking competent goons. The only interesting tidbit that comes out of his segment is the information about Michael and Lucifer rattling their cage in the pit. I wonder if it is just a throwaway line to strum our nostalgia strings or there is more to it.

Castiel is a little more relevant as he has one phone conversation with Dean, a trope that serves as a substitute for their once deeply layered, iconic relationship. I wonder why they won't have them text each other instead, or tweet, or Snapchat. The plan after all is to minimize their interaction to the narrowest channel possible without severing it completely.

Other than passing information to Dean, he does the same thing he does in every season premier since the time he opened purgatory: wander aimlessly. He interacts with some extras, trying to hide from them while suffering his ailment. Gets captured by nasty angels who, as always, proceed to use him as an experiment sample for the Academy of Torture and Interrogative Arts. Next episode we will watch him get hurt gratuitously while no one gives a damn, then watch him bounce back to perfect health while the Winchesters either never hear about it or think nothing of it.

And around and around we go

The resolution of the episode is textbook Carver. Sam, who didn’t play his customary martyr role for a whole season last year, decides to sacrifice himself for the greater good. The way this comes to be is yet another Divergent Stratagem ala Charlie’s death last season, meaning the plot bends logic and character in order to get to a specific point with a specific outcome. In this case the outcome is Sam catching the infection that turns people to Darkness zombies.

There are so many plot holes leading to this it's a wonder no one fell into one of them. First, there is a huge delay between when the black veined zombies arrive in a van to storm the hospital, and when they actually do it. What were they doing in all that time? Banging their heads against the side of the door because they couldn’t find it? Having a smoke away from the building’s entrance? In the time it takes them to walk inside Cas calls Dean, Sam and Dean have a heated chat about what needs to be done, and we almost forget there was a threat heading toward the hospital.

Speaking of Sam and Dean's chat, I really want someone to explain to me what it was all about. From where I stood Sam was telling Dean they shouldn’t continue with their current practice of “Killing People, Hunting Things” and instead, should try to save as many people as they could. I agree with him, except for the fact that his idea of saving people was to lock himself inside a storage room and look around, in the dark. What was he expecting to find in there? A bottle that said, “Anti-Darkness Potion”? And why would a seasoned hunter like Sam Winchester not check a room first before entering it and locking the door?

In the end what happens is both highly unlikely and very predictable. Sam diverts the attention of three (only three, even though I could swear there were at least half a dozen guys walking from that van,) while Dean and the good deputy escape with the baby. The trio of good guys bumps into the baby’s infected father, who lets them pass because all he cares about is they don’t call his daughter Apple or North or some other celebrity made-up name. The trio of bad guys meanwhile have Sam under siege but are too late as he gets attacked by a Darkness zombie inside the storage room. In the end Sam kills all the sick humans, even though his position was to save them. The only thing he gets out of this is to infect himself, making him useless to Dean and the rest of humanity, and set us up for yet another season of puking, snuffling, sick Sam.

So there you have it. The first episode of season 11 launching everything to go exactly to all the common places Carver wants his stories to go. We are served a sick Sam storyline, a hero who is in that condition because he chose to sacrifice himself via the silliest, most unnecessary act possible. We're also heading for a lost and tortured Castiel who will likely follow a plot that has the least possible interaction with the Winchesters. And there's Crowley who will try to hold on to his position as the king of Hell while oscillating between working for or against the brothers. My prediction is that by the time we reach episode four, the whole zombie mini-apocalypse is resolved and we’ll enter a stretch in which the brothers go from one weekly case to the next while throwing a line or two about Darkness and doing occasional research on her. The next time she shows up will be the mid-season finale where another cliffhanger is introduced in time for the Christmas break. The announcement below will tell you why I won’t be around to gripe about that.


And now the important news. Depending on how you feel about these reviews this may either make you sad, or happy, or simply make you shake your head and say, “About time!”

The news is this is the last Gripe Review I am going to post on this site. I have been writing these reviews since 2013 when my passion for the show was still high. Knowing how much I loved the show, and how much I knew about it, provided me with some sort of badge to write highly controversial articles on it.

Unfortunately I am not in that place anymore. As the seasons wore on I found myself moving farther and farther from the show. Instead of finding positive things to say about it, I found my reviews filling up with harsher gripes week after week, to the point they sounded bitter to my own ears. I kept it up because I still felt driven to watch and care about the characters, a passion that now I can’t even find a trace of to reignite the fire in me. Because of this, I find myself unqualified to review the show.

To borrow a phrase from John Steward, who left his show this year for similar reasons, I don’t want to be a turd miner. I don’t want to be the person who watches the show just to catch flaws and post them online. I want to crave watching it, feel excited about analyzing it – as disapproving and nit-picky as the analysis would be  – and chat with fans about what I have written. I don’t feel that, and to avoid being the grouch that rains on everyone’s season 11 parade I take a bow and exit stage now. I may still comment on the show on my Tumblr and Twitter – links to both are at the bottom of this page – and if something significant happens on the show I might post something longer on those accounts. But as far as the Gripe Review goes, this is the last one. I thought about not posting anything at all this week, but I didn’t want my dedicated readers to come here and wonder what happened. Perhaps someday, when the show improves through some miracle, you’d find me coming back and writing again. The future is unknown to all of us after all, save for Chuck of course.

Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting. You are the only reason I feel sad about leaving and why it was so hard to make this decision. Reading your amazing comments every week was the highlight of this work. I encourage you to continue doing that on the other Supernatural reviews on this site.

 Adieu, and please keep up the criticism, the sarcasm, and the fun.


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