I consider myself a professional fangirl, meaning I can flail along with my favorite shows but also be critical of them as well. This task is slightly harder when you’re a Supernatural fan. The shows' stars are wholly tapped into the fandom, call us family, support us through charitable giving, and share their lives with us. In nine years since discovering the show, I’ve watched series stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles grow up, get married, and have children, which severely blurs the line between the professional and the fangirl. The CW's sci-fi drama feels more like an old friend that tries to rips my heart out and scares the bejeesus out of me than a television show.
However, when that friend fails to live up to its potential, you want to slap them upside the head instead of writing a stern review. And a slap just might be the jolt Supernatural needs considering it's slated to live on for another two seasons.
Despite promising beginnings with a major villain chillingly dubbed The Darkness, and creative triumphs in monster-of-the-week episodes “Baby,” “Just My Imagination” and “Red Meat,” Supernatural’s eleventh season, particularly the last quarter, was wholly disappointing and avoidably problematic.
"Alpha And Omega" finalized a lackluster season with Dean talking down the big bad, Amara; Sam getting accosted and possibly shot by a British woman who thinks she's in a Bond movie; and with Mary Winchester possibly breathing air and hopefully being freed from that blasted nightgown for the first time since her death in 1983. While I don't believe that season finales should be an hour of explosions, scenery-chewing, and soliloquies, they should show off a little and be anything but boring. Save for the last three minutes, the finale featured a lot of talking, a half-dozen sidelined characters, and bafflingly uncharacteristic behavior, which would be a fitting end for the troubled season 11.
Supernatural's biggest issue is admittedly the overarching villain unleashed at the end of season 10, and possibly the fact that the little show that could now feels like it can do no wrong. The foreboding smoke monster was actually was God’s little sister. Think about that without picturing some celestial being with pigtails breaking God’s treasured dinosaurs. The ill-conceived Amara's endgame was deleting the universe, but she took her sweet time doing it, and only munched on a few souls and creepily lusted over Dean in the interim.
Supernatural was founded on classic paranormal myths and biblical lore, and I’m pretty sure a divine sibling rivalry isn’t one of them.
Consequently, this forced the show to actually introduce God himself and resurrected tortured familial parallels that there beaten to death in season 10. Anyone’s who’s ever gotten dragged into a religious discussion at a family barbecue knows that this is a conversational minefield. Supernatural has always shrewdly walked the fine line when it came to the God question, they’ve alluded to presence and disappearance from Heaven in season 5’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” and even made fans wonder if he’d been there all along in “Swan Song,” the last episode written by creator Eric Kripke, but wisely steered away from any direct and clear references.
The best TV villains or powerful beings remain so by continuing to be shrouded in mystery. The closer viewers get to see the monster, the less formidable it becomes. It’s just a guy in a dinosaur suit or a man pretending to be the great and powerful Oz. By revealing that God has been hiding out as the fourth-wall breaking writer-turned-prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), was a painful and profound mistake. And the time dedicated to the backstory of how God’s little sister became locked away, and the reason behind God’s disappearance was revealed, it just felt like a frustrating waste of screentime that otherwise could’ve been dedicated to a forever sidelined Castiel and the unforgivably benched Sam Winchester.
And what happened with Sam? After learning that the visions plaguing him at the beginning of the season were really Lucifer luring him back to The Cage, and making an unfulfilled and forgotten promise to kill Amara when Dean couldn’t, he was left to little to do besides being disarmingly attractive wallpaper while Dean dealt with his perverted and unnecessary “attraction” to Amara and angsted about an overtaken Castiel.
Sam had been tortured by Lucifer after he thwarted the apocalypse and saved the world in Season 5. The effects of not only being possessed by the devil, but overpowering him, lasted well through season 7. So when Castiel inexplicably decided to let the devil possess him, thus freeing him from the cage in hell, Sam's emotional fallout after being forced to rescue and live with his torturer for the sake of the greater good should have been epic. Appallingly, there was not one reference of Sam’s past with Lucifer. Instead viewers were gifted with Sam and Dean trying to referee therapy sessions with God and his “favorite son,” the creator of all evil (including the variety that killed their entire family), Lucifer.
Supernatural viewers were so aggravated with the complete dismissal of Sam’s abuse and lack of storyline that they took to social media to voice their complaints using the hashtag #GiveSamAVoice.
In the finale, Sam helped rally the team after a spectacular failure to defeat Amara (played compellingly by Emily Swallow), and then spent the rest of the episode getting an ailing creator of the universe water, after letting Dean go off on a kamikaze mission to blow up Amara with nary a complaint. His silence is vastly out-of-character from the take-charge Sam that preached “This is not a bomb we’re talking about. This is my brother,” in Supernatural’s season 9 finale. Or the Sam that tortured demons and led a man to sell his soul in early season 10 all to obtain the whereabouts of his brother's body.
Even worse, in “Alpha and Omega,” Dean actually told Castiel that he was “right” to let Lucifer free. “Me and Sam wouldn’t have done that. It was our best shot, and you stepped up.” If you know anything about Dean Winchester, you know that his favorite pastime is sacrificing himself for his brother and throttling anyone who so much as gives him a so much as a stinkface. Dean may get punched in the head a lot, but it's not enough to forget that Sam "stepped up" and was possessed by Lucifer and saved the world, and had already faced his greatest fear by re-entering the cage with the actual devil on the slim change it would save humanity just months before. Even worse, all "Casifer" succeeded in doing was killing and straddling a few angels and getting handsy with Sam’s soul (another thing that was never re-visited). This kind of lazy writing and shoddy characterization had fans have been screaming at their TVs for all the wrong reasons.
It must be noted that while the move was so cringe-worthingly stupid (and probably not possible, according to the show's canon), I was actually thrilled by the notion of Lucifer walking the earth—a devil in angel’s trench coat—and subverting Sam and Dean’s dogooding efforts in malicious fashion while exercising Misha Collins' stellar acting muscles. Yet, Supernatural has seemed to forget that it’s a horror show at heart, and rarely elevated the suspense and terror of even the nastiest baddies like the devil himself or even God, who maintained his frumpy writer schtick.
A lackluster episode of Supernatural used to be better than most good episode of most television, but that doesn’t apply to the majority of season 11 as a few episodes were downright unwatchable (See “Hell’s Angel”). For a show that’s churned out an astounding 241 episodes and stands as the longest running genre show in America, hitting a creative sour patch is an inevitability. It’s how the show rebounds that’s what truly matters. Showrunner Jeremy Carver and screenwriter Robbie Thompson are leaving for new ventures, and that may leave the door open for fresh talent to bring new ideas to an aging series.
For Supernatural to recover, these things at the very least also need to happen in season 12:
Treat Sam Winchester like a main character and a hero, because he's both. Supernatural began with Sam Winchester getting pulled back into the hunting world after his girlfriend’s fiery death, and maintained a wonderful balance between Sam and Dean perspectives for many seasons. Since then, the show shifted its focus primarily to Dean so much that Sam’s perspective as well as Sam himself was completely ignored and needlessly blamed for everything. God himself blamed him for setting Lucifer free, a feat that Castiel is solely responsible for. For season 12, Sam needs his own storylines, to be engaged in the action more, and they need to acknowledge and respect all of the good that he's done, instead of continually blaming him for the bad.
Scare the pants off of us. I miss the surge or adrenaline or hiding behind a pillow as Dean would be lowered headfirst into a cave or when Sam would kill a zombie and the thing exploded messily in his face. “Red Meat” was such a triumph because it featured gruesomely realistic horrors of being injured and lost in the woods with predators circling, and heightened it with heart-pounding suspense and visceral violence. Crank up the gore factor and the fear factor.
Let villains be villains. It was fairly obvious very early in the season that Sam and Dean couldn’t defeat Amara, so talking her down by essentially reciting the lyrics of “We Are Family” made for a snooze-worthy finale. If season 12 has an overarching villain, they should make sure to maintain some secrecy and plenty of bloodthrist. Sometimes the best villains are the ones with no endgame whatsoever. Also, make good on Crowley's numerous promises to embrace his sinister roots, and stop having him help the Winchesters every Wednesday.
Show don’t tell. Sam and Dean constantly preach the wonders of family, and Padalecki and Ackles’ real life chemistry helps sell their co-dependent bond. However, it’s hard to believe that when the script dictates that one brother sings the praises of family togetherness and sacrifices himself and the other brother is nowhere to be found.
End the (White) Boys' Club. Supernatural loves pointing out how sexist the "Men Of Letters" was, and yet the show that frequently kicks down the fourth wall has yet to successfully break the glass ceiling. Save for the addition of the fabulous Lisa Berry as an HBIC reaper, the racial and gender diversity on this show is nearly non-existent. If you're talking about saving the world, you should probably remember that more than straight white men (aka Supernatural's primary cast), live in it. Bring in more women and non-white characters, and burn the cleavage-bearing dresses or at least have Sam and Dean shed a layer or three. I totally support equal opportunity objectification.
Remember that even heroes make mistakes. The true mark of bravery, heroism and humanity is rising beyond your failures and learning from your mistakes. Everyone, including Dean Winchester, makes mistakes. Showing that makes for great television.
What did you think of "Alpha and Omega" or season 11 as a whole? Sound off below!
Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.