(largely expanded from some discussions on the TV Tropes SPN thread)
New year and the SPN mid-season hiatus is drawing to a close. As both of my regular readers can attest, I have not been enjoying Season 9 (S9), in fact I think a lot of this season so far is near cementing a “rule of 3” for suckage in SPN. If the season coming around is a multiple of 3, best prepare yourself.
Still it’s not completely hopeless. S3 & S6 did end up with some real gems in there and I think the last half of both seasons were much improved over the quite poor beginnings. (well… S6 less so) What are some things that SPN can do to improve this season and not cement the general failure of everything post-Kripke?
1) Respect the damn CANON! – I know what some people are going to say: “What does it matter?” Look, when it comes to genre worlds, rules are even MORE important then with other genres (this is one of my problems full on adopting Dr Who as a fan – though the older stuff isn’t bad). As John C Wright frequently likes to point out, authors of fiction are very much like magicians. Everybody participating knows that it’s not true, but they go along for the ride to be entertained. (We call this the suspension of disbelief.) Now what makes a good vs bad magician? Whether you can see the sleight of hand. When writing something, authors must take effort that the readers don’t “notice” (well it’s not so much them, as their brain, aka subconscious) the author’s “hand” in the story. In a genre story, rules hide the hand of the author. When you start breaking them, then the audience no longer enjoys the work – you’ve become a bad magician. The audience realizes (even if they can’t vocalize it) that the tension and escape from a scene are entirely at an author’s whim. Why is there “tension” in this scene? Because the author is telling us there is, they are no longer showing us the tension. How will the heroes escape? However the writers desire because the solution won’t be organic. The worst example of this would be Star Trek: Voyager as frequently pointed out by SF Debris. Eventually the show just became: “Things are tense because the writers said so. The heroes live because the writers said so.” Yes that’s technically always the case in fiction, but like the best magicians, the audience isn’t supposed to see it. A good example of this would be one of the best moments from an episode of season 4, Family Remains. The moment the girl crosses the salt line was ranked by fans as one of the scariest. Why does this scene work as one of shock and tension? Because it’s been established as a rule that ghosts don’t cross salt. Whatever the girl is, she’s not a ghost (or a demon for that matter). Canon in this show isn’t just a hindrance to storytelling, it’s an aid to show things to the audience. Yes you can have minor slip ups now and then (we’re all human after all) but the major rules must be and if you mess one of them up, then either patch it or try glossing over it in the future.
2) Make us care! – As I said back in last season’s finale, the work SPN had done on characterizing the angels meant that the impact of them falling was nonexistent. Why should we care about what they’re doing or goals are this season? Look at how the previous seasons went on pushing the arc forward and keeping the guys involved.
- Searching for their father. – Most of us can get that, I’d want to go hunting for my dad if something happened to him.
- Sam’s destiny. – Somewhat different as the boys gave an air of not wanting to get involved in the story, but factors and people kept dragging them in against their will.
- Dean’s deal. – Keeping your brother out of hell? Yeah we can get that.
- Keeping Lucifer in hell. – Preventing hell on earth? Something we can even more understand.
- Brother’s destiny. – Somewhat the weaker of the arcs as it’s a bit of a mix of S2 & 4, wanting to save the world while fighting against those wanting to save the world by way of their agenda.
- ??? – Seriously, was there ever a reason the guys got involved with stuff beyond “writing said so?” (if you can even figure out what the arc was that season)
- Keep humans from being turned into cattle. – Well sort of. This was the season where the brothers were deliberately inserting themselves into the arc, but it was understandable why. Heck it was even a question of whether they should or not which was interesting.
- Closing the gates of hell. – Pretty much the first season where its the brothers driving the arc forward as they go on a quest rather than any other forces messing with them. A S3 with less threats.
Now what’s the arc for this season? Why do the brothers keep getting involved? So far as we’ve seen, if they stopped bothering the angels, the angels would stop bothering them. Is it to save people? Well last season the brothers had a chance to save people from demons (I think) and chickened out because the writers decided death had meaning again. So the idea that the bros need to do something about the angels to “save people” feels hollow since we saw last year that if accomplishing this costs a little too much, Sam or Dean will wuss out. Why not see if they can close purgatory and just keep all monsters from bother people? Heck we haven’t even seen much that the angels are hurting that many people except when the bros & Cas kick the hornets nest! What’s Metatron up to? Becoming “god”? Except if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, there will be little difference between him and the current god of that universe. In fact if it hadn’t been for him slaying Kevin & kidnapping Sam, there would be no reason for Dean & Sam to bother with him. Is petty revenge what we’ve been reduced to? The narrative drive of this season has become a meta one. It does not come organically from the plot or characters but from we, the audience. We want to know about the angels so the brothers get involved with angels. We’re upset over Kevin’s death so Metatron has to pay.
I had more ideas to rant about but quite frankly, I’m a little tired of this season. So far S9 can be named the season of “just because”. Any question you have about the show: Why? How? Who? The answer ultimate is “just because”.
And that makes for very poor storytelling.