the Gamble Years – Part 1: Off the top of my head

After a discussion with another Supernatural fan, I decided to put up a pair of “essays” on my thoughts about seasons 6 & 7 of the show, especially in light of the latest seasons we’ve had.  This first essay will be from my memories of the seasons and watching them when they first aired.  Then I’ll spend a week rewatching both seasons and seeing if my opinions have changed about any of them.

So I have my liquor, superwiki bookmarked, and a recovery team standing by in case I disappear too far up my own ass.

I’ve long maintained that S6 & 7 were a study in contrast.  That while the best of 7 was never as good as the best of 6, its worst was never as bad as the worst of 6.  S7 at least maintained a fairly steady level of quality while S6 was almost like gambling: you’d either win big or lose your shirt.  Of course in the tradition of debates, I’ll start and end defending the two unpopular opinions, with acknowledgement of the popular views in between.

First, season 6 and why I think it maintains Supernatural’s rule of 3 (every 3rd season is going to suck).  The first and easiest explanation of why actually comes from one of my chums on the TV Tropes SPN thread.  (way back on page 16, how long ago?  as of this writing the thread is up to page 160)  Well, he was quoting someone in defense of the season:

Season 2: Azazel plotline

  • Episode 1: Azazel makes an appearance and John dies. Dean is brought back to life.
  • Episode 5: The brothers run into another psychic “child”.
  • Episode 10: The brothers run into another psychic “child”.
  • Episode 21/22: The psychic children are brought together to decide who will open the Devil’s Gate (and ultimately become Lucifer’s vessel)

Running from the police plotline:

  • Episode 7: The brothers are caught by the cops but released when they reveal one is a murderer
  • Episode 12: The brothers are cornered by the FBI in a bank while hunting a shapeshifter
  • Episode 19: The brothers are caught and thrown in jail (though eventually released)

Compared to Season 6: Sam’s soul plotline

  • Episode 1: Something is different about Sam
  • Episode 6: Veritas reveals that there’s something not-human about Sam
  • Episode 7: Castiel confirms that Sam’s soul isn’t in place and Crowley reveals that Sam’s soul is still in the cage
  • Episode 11: Sam’s soul is returned
  • Episode 13: We learn some of what Sam did without his soul, and the wall is briefly scratched

Alphas/purgatory plotline

  • Episode 2: Shapeshifter alpha is encountered
  • Episode 5: Vampire alpha is encountered
  • Episode 7: Vampire alpha is captured and questioned, and Crowley’s search for purgatory is revealed
  • Episode 8: The brothers work specifically for Crowley to find an alpha
  • Episode 10: Crowley kills some alphas and Crowley is killed, resolving his search for purgatory
  • Episode 12: The dragons kidnap virgins in order to open the door to purgatory

War in heaven/heaven’s weapons plotline

  • Episode 3: The civil war in heaven is revealed, as are heaven’s stolen weapons
  • Episode 6: The civil war is mentioned again and one of the weapons is brought up as a possibility for what’s happening
  • Episode 15: Castiel reclaims heaven’s weapons from Balthazar

Mother plotline

  • Episode 12: The door to purgatory is opened so she can make her way to Earth
  • Episode 16: The Mother creates a new monster as she goes about terrorizing and riling up existing monsters

So Season 2 had 8 out of 22 episodes that directly affected one of its main plot points, and they’re all fairly spread out. Season 6 has had 12 of its 16 episodes directly affecting one of its main plot points (unless you want to rule out the heaven’s weapons/civil war plot since it’s going on off-screen, and that still drops Season 6 to just 10 out of 16). No matter how you look at it, Season 6 has been way more focused on its long-term goals than Season 2 was. I’ll agree with Season 6 being the most poorly written season so far (but its Supernatural, so that’s not necessarily that bad at all), but as far as pacing and end-goals go, Season 6 has been just fine and better compared to some of the past seasons.

(source: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=b06mk19ggxon1p60g39ulvso&page=16#394)

While the author is correct, look at how many storylines ran through S6 (and this was before the finish) that’s at least 4, more depending on whether you want to count some things, like Samuel Campbell, as their own plotline or as part of one of the others.  What did they amount to?  Sam’s soul?  Actually had some lasting effect beyond the season.  Grandpa?  Nothing.  Alphas?  Nothing. (they didn’t even need them to get into Purgatory)  Purgatory?  Some.  War in heaven?  Some.  Stolen heaven weapons?  Nothing.  Mother?  Nothing.  Lisa & Ben?  Nothing.  In the end many of these plotlines were nothing more than multi-part monster of the week episodes dragged out over multiple parts which quickly grew tiresome as it became predictable they would have no effect the next week.

See, Supernatural underwent an evolution as it went on from stand-alone episodes that could hold your attention to arc plots that glued you to your TV.  I can still remember that first appearance by Castiel and how excited I was at the revelation of angels in that verse.  Now the show was getting downright biblical!  The only problem is, once you fight Satan, where do you go?  He is THE big bad of 3 world religions and western cultures.  S6 was in a poor position as the heaven vs hell saga would still have a lot of narrative weight from the inertia of S4 & 5 however they couldn’t do anything with it less the efforts come off as pale imitations and echoes of the original (for examples: S8 & 9).  What the show needed after Kripke left was for the powers that be (TPTB) to figure out a storyline and arc and stick to it.  What we got was them throwing plotline after plotline at the screen in the hopes of distracting us and finding something that would hold the audience.  Unfortunately, like when you try to please everyone, when you do too much you end up pleasing no one and we end up with the season of waste.

  • Why not have Lisa & Ben travel with Dean?  Samuel did the family hunting thing with his wife & child.  That could have been a bonding moment between Dean & grandpa as the former talks with the latter on learning to juggle the responsibilities.
  • Why not have Dean stay still and let things come to him?  Maybe something goes wrong at the plant he works at.  Something happens at school and Ben has to stop it.  Or maybe he’s on a field trip and Dean has to walk him through hunting over the phone.

That’s just off the top of my head from the first episode.  Looking back you can see all sorts of endless, rich narrative potential that the show just kept avoiding afraid something original would damage the brand.

Still I won’t deny that the season has some excellent moments.  “Clap Your Hands if You Believe…” still hold my spot for best post-5 episode.  Heck I’d gladly trade something like…. the antichrist episode out for that one.  “The French Mistakes” while a headache canon-wise, at least pushed boundaries and “Frontierland” showed us that a show examining hunters in other times and places could be entertaining.  And as a writer I respect “The Man Who Would be King” as an exceptional example of using writing to patch over past plot holes (yes, I can tell the season was “written as they went along” – that episode was just clever enough to make it seem otherwise).

Now S7 – yes, like I said it never had anything as exceptional as the previously mentioned S6 episodes (though “Plucky Pennywhistle’s…” is pretty entertaining and don’t forget when Dean teamed up with Eliot Ness), and with not even the really bad episodes, it’s easy to forget what a lot of the plot is of several episodes. (I’ll admit even I have to double check sometime.)  Yes I will never forgive the slaughter of subtlety they did when naming the villain “Dick Roman” nor with how poorly the general political campaigning was handled.  S7 really does have some major flaws in its execution.

HOWEVER…

They actually had a planned arc this season and it showed.  They also learned from the biggest mistake of S5 and tried to keep the season arc somewhere in the background.  This increased the show’s verisimilitude and also helped make it less predictable.  So, for example, while the reveal of Trickster=Gabriel was a bit shocking, it wasn’t that much since the episode opened with the boys actually discussing Lucifer & the end of the world.  Meaning we knew some revelation had to come since the boys never did talk about that arc during any other MotW episode, even if it would have been relevant.  S7, with them at least keeping it always in the back of your mind, the Leviathans popping up did gain a bit more shock value, like in the episode with the cursed objects.

The Leviathans were something new and pulled the show away from the heaven & hell saga, which it needed (see above).  They were the first real monster to fight the Winchesters on their own turf – craftiness and knowledge.  They threatened the world in a way not often seen (and one that people can argue over how “threatening” it is).  By season’s end their goals were very clear and we could understand and follow those goals.  S7 was the season of Winchesters vs Lovecraft with the Leviathans filling in the best role we’ll probably see for elder things with SPN putting its own twist on it: Instead of cultists, the big-mouths just take over people and infiltrate.  They drive some people mad, and consume them in a literal sense while the originals consumed in a metaphorical sense.  The truth about them is something the whole world needs to know in order to fight, but the truth cannot be told for who would believe you?  I’m sure those much more familiar with Lovecraft than I could probably come up with even more parallels.

Bobby dies.  Not that I was happy with it, as I liked the actor and the character.  However he had become a crutch for the writing staff, the go-to fill in for any plot holes that might arise.  In many ways he was increasingly backsliding the Winchesters to their S1 characters where they couldn’t do anything without Daddy’s help.  With Bobby gone, they could return to form with having to piece things together the hard way and the writers would have to put in a bit more thought (well in theory… but we’ll bring up Carver another day).  Frank, Bobby-lite, thankfully didn’t take over as the new crutch too bad, and he also expanded the characters’ spaces (even if he wasn’t long for this world).  With Dean, I found his struggle to avoid burn-out more compelling than S6 where he… did whatever the plot asked of him.  With Sam, he actually had consistency as a character and we saw him fighting the ramifications of Hell (something even Dean kind of got over too quick in S4).

Finally, rather than breaking canon and trying to handwave it (like a few times in S6), TPTB actually took existing canon and built on it.  Like… what would happen if someone actually liked being possessed?  Why not impersonate the heroes and turn the very system & people they are fighting for against them?  What if a ghost trapped other ghosts?  Again: the answers they gave fit perfectly within canon and built upon it.

In summary, at the time during S6, I would almost dread watching the show sometimes.  During S7, I started enjoying it again and looked forward to seeing where the story would go next.

At least when it aired and as I remembered.  Will my opinions hold up on a second viewing?  Both readers interested can check back next week to find out the answer.

UPDATE: For those curious, you can follow my tweeting on the rewatch on twitter. I’ll be using the hashtags #S6rewatch and #S7rewatch.

(crossposted @ http://www.thewinchesterfamilybusiness.com/)

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5 thoughts on “the Gamble Years – Part 1: Off the top of my head

  1. On the subject of Lisa, the Mother of All, Grandpa Soup, alphas, etc., you have to keep in mind that S6 was supposed to be film noir. Those were all red herrings. Whether you think it was successful as film noir is another matter. I think that Edlund’s attempt to make Castiel not be a villain in “The Man Who Would Be King” undermined that to some extent.

    I agree about “Clap Your Hands If You Believe” — brilliant.

    I agree and disagree with you on killing Bobby. While agree that the writers and therefore the Winchesters came to to rely to heavily on Bobby as they did Castiel — why oh why did they leave Bobby dead and not Cas?! — Bobby was the only one with the history and authority to straighten the boys out when one or the other or both were thinking or behaving stupidly. He could give them the figurative slap upside the head, and they’d listen. I can see a direct line between killing Bobby and the heightened (and from my POV not entertaining) conflict between Sam and Dean that we’ve gotten the past two seasons. Anyway, there were ways they might have taken Bobby out of the picture as a constant source of support and information, as they did Cas, without killing him off permanently. I think it was a mistake, but that’s my opinion given the storylines we’ve been given since.

    Looking back, I realize that I enjoyed both S6 and S7 far more than I have S8 and S9, but that’s another post. I’ll be interested to see what you think on rewatching six and seven.

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