Supernatural S9 review

What do you mean I’m just stalling to avoid getting my remixes done?  I resent your accurate assessment of this blog young lady (or sir)!

The talented, hilarious, and very lovely Obscurus Lupa did some reviews of all 8 seasons of the show Charmed.  To give you an idea of how that turned out, her overview of the first season was 1 video, just a little over 15 min long.  Season 8, however covers 9 videos, each just over 15 min long. (yes, after season 2, which was also 1 vid long, each season had more parts than the previous ones)  If anyone wants my advice on writing (and why would you, I’ve never made a cent off mine), I actually recommend watching every analysis of all the seasons all to learn on what NOT to do.

Without hyperbole I can tell people that Supernatural‘s season 9 is another fine example of all that you SHOULDN’T do when writing.

That’s not to say this season was irredeemable.  With a modicum of effort, discipline, and a commitment to the rules by which a genre shows live and die by, this season could have easily been at least mediocre, if not great.  Instead, we have a season that is now, with no contest, the single WORST season the show has ever produced.

Not to say that there weren’t any good moments.  One thing that must be kept in mind when judging works, particularly long-form works, is that some segments must be judged as a whole consideration.  So while I still maintain that seasons 3 and 6 were the other two worst seasons, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have good episodes or even great moments.  Likewise even good or great seasons can have bad episodes or groan-worthy moments in them.  BUT AS A WHOLE, everything added up, stitched together, and assembled, seasons must be judged.  Of course, even though S3 & S6 started out weak, they got stronger and improved as the season went on.  By contrast S9 started out bad then got worse as it went along, only struggling to reach the point it SHOULD have started out by the time the halfway decent finale showed up.  It’s actually almost academic how badly everything went, so if you’re not too interested in the examination, well may want to bail out now.

Failure in stakes: As I said at the time, this started back in the S8 finale, “Sacrifice” with Dean suddenly panicking over Sam possibly dying from the trials.  A problem because death had become incredibly cheap in the show save for the actors’ ability to sell at least some emotional concern over it.  However on an intellectual level, it doesn’t work and as Chuck of SF Debris likes to point out: When thinking becomes the primary enemy of your story, you have a problem.  This isn’t to say that it had to remain that way, but to later reveal in the season (TWICE!) that the angels have retained their resurrection “spell” despite the lack of wings maintains the intellectual lack of impact.  Had they bothered to reveal that angels, now removed from heaven, could no longer save the dead, the story problem would have been resolved immediately (though you would have to rework two scenes).  As it is, we have moments like Sam looking determined over the body of Dean, without even once calling out to Castiel or any other angel they have recently made friends with.  In episode 9.01 Dean at least tried that option before even considering the King of Hell option.  Of course, had they went with that, then we would have ended the season with a poetic parallel between the brothers.  Most writers make conscious efforts to get that kind of poetry into their writings.  This season would have had it just with a dash of common sense. (this is one reason I utilize and advise people to follow certain rules in their writing, because often you’ll find that when you do, some of the things that make “great art” like echoes and parallels and such just happen to find their way into your work)  Then you have the villains with Metatron never establishing why he needed to be stopped (so he’s “kind of creepy”? I’m so glad that’s a crime worthy of death now).  Abaddon shows up, provides some potential, then barely does anything until the season arc needs a kick in the pants (oh look, she’s going to force people to become demons – wonder why no other demon tried THAT before).  Her menace and motivation was the kind only to be invoked when the writers demanded it.  After all, early in the season we see a tactician that is ready and willing to use the tools of the future at her disposal.  Riiight up until Dean comes to kill her, at which point she bothers with NOTHING that would be helpful to her, not even the hand gun she used NOT FIVE MINUTES EARLIER!  Most everyone in the audience knows that the heroes win in the end.  The question is always “how” they can (though sometimes really powerful writing can get the audience to wonder “if”).  Thrills and excitement are drawn from back and forth exchanges: the hero is winning, now the villain, etc.  Boredom is found when the audience realizes (even if they don’t consciously think about it at the moment) that the villain is pretty much forfeiting the fight to the heroes.  When anybody could be the victor (because the villain is so inept), then we’re invested in nobody.

Failure of Logic (and order): This is practically a damn joke with nearly EVERYTHING being bass-ackward from the way it should be.  For instance, why is Dean so gung-ho to kill Abaddon to the point of nearly dooming his soul (suspected, of course by the finale we’ve confirmed he did, in fact, doom himself) when it was AFTER he got the mark that she scratched up his car (had Baby been damaged first, then Dean’s later crusade would have made sense).  Why is Castiel so concerned about the value of Sam’s life, AFTER Cas has regained the power to resurrect people from the dead (or if he can’t because of the stolen grace, why not tell the audience that)?  If Cas is now so reluctant to take lives, why is he killing angels fighting him instead of just grace zapping them so they live (albeit, depowered lives)?  Why bother bringing the brothers back together only to have them separate again (even if briefly) a few episodes later?  Nothing flowed from one plot point to another in an organic fashion.  There was no sense of “Because A, B happened, which led to C, causing them to have to do D…”.  Instead we got: “A happened, then X, B occurs, J happened, somewhere was a 7, then D, followed by Z…”  Part of me almost wants to get S9 on DVD JUST to try and go back to reedit the entire thing to how it SHOULD have been, just to see if that improves the story at all.

Failure of Motivation: Similar to the above, but with a slight variation in that motivation is at least easier to fudge and explain when inconsistencies arise.  Except they don’t even bother with that this season.  So for instance we have things like the Mark encouraging Dean’s bloodlust, only for him to up and advise allying with a monster in episode 9.20 (bloodlines) even though every. other. time. after getting the Mark, he had to be talked down from going kill happy.  Sam at least acts ready and eager to kill Crowley, but when Crowley is trapped and powerless right in front of them we don’t even hear him put up a minor argument for his brother TO GO AHEAD AND KILL THE GUY!  Cas talks about not wanting to kill angels, but then makes no efforts to “disarm” those that threaten him (well, except for Metatron).  Gadreel brings Castiel back to life, then demands Dean kick him out of the bunker (rather than say… making a deal with Dean to rez Cas IF they keep him out of the bunker).  Again, none of this is unsalvageable, but we need SOME form addressing it on stage.  If your audience has to do all the work of filling in what you didn’t bother showing, then you’ve done a poor job as a writer.  On and on, we see these characters behave not as people, but as props battered hither and yon at the whim of the writers.

Failure as Story: Add all of the above up (and probably a few more things I’m forgetting) and this is what you’re left with.  A non-story.  A plot that is just as series of events with no context or emotion or meaning behind them.  Great stories always bring up and answer the question, “why”.  Why does Luke join the rebellion?  Because his family is killed and his home destroyed.  Why does he seek out Kenobi?  Because the droids he owns demand it.  Why does he learn the ways of the Force?  Because it was his father’s legacy.  Why must the One Ring be destroyed?  Because its power preserves the enemy and all will bow to him in time if not stopped.  Why must the Ring be taken to a volcano in the heart of enemy territory?  Because no other method exists to be rid of it.  Why must Frodo take it?  Because for any other to bear the burden is to risk their soul.  Why must the crew of Serenity deliver the message?  Because the crime must be declared to the public, because the lost should not be forgotten, because the truth must be shared, because you can’t stop the signal.

Why do Sam & Dean search for their father?  Because they’re family, and they will not let the deaths of their mother and Jessica go unanswered.

Why do Sam & Dean seek the children like Sam?  Because it’s Sam’s best hope for avoiding whatever evil fate may await him.

Why do Sam & Dean fight against Lilith?  Because neither wants Dean sent to Hell.

Why do Sam & Dean fight to preserve the seals?  Because they don’t want Lucifer bringing Hell upon Earth.

Why do Sam & Dean oppose Heaven and Hell?  Because the price humanity will bear for the battle isn’t worth it.

Why do Sam & Dean fight the Leviathan?  Because those things would rob us all of our humanity.

Why do Sam & Dean want to close the gates of Hell?  Because demons have cause nothing but trouble.

I left off S6 because it had a lot of “whys” in it, but those were all at least answered.  What were the “whys” in S9?  Again, it was many, and most often the answer was “Because we [the writers] say so.”

And why do I write all this?  Because the child of Kripke deserves better.  Because when you love someone, you call them out on their bullshit when necessary.  Because some things are worth fighting for, no matter how pitiful your effort might be in the grand scheme, at least you can say you gave it your all.

EDIT: The boss lady at Winchester Family Business asked us to “rank the episodes in 5 minutes”. For me, that’s easy.

Best episode: Alex Annie Alexis Ann
Worst episode: Stairway to Heaven.

The rest is just shuffling around as the differences between most of these episodes are so minor it’s mathematically pointless to differentiate them.  Instead I’m going to sort them into my perfectly accurate categories.

Episodes making Sera Gamble salute the TV: 9.04 (Slumber Party), 9.05 (Dog Dean Afternoon), 9.12 (Sharp Teeth), 9.13 (the Purge), 9.22 (Do you Believe in Miracles?)

Episodes making Ben Edlund hit his snooze button: 9.01 (I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here), 9.02 (Devil May Care),  9.06 (Heaven Can’t Wait), 9.07 (Bad Boys), 9.09 (Holy Terror), 9.11 (1st Born), 9.14 (Captives), 9.16 (Blade Runners), 9.18 (Meta Fiction), 9.21 (King of the Damned)

Episodes making Eric Kripke disown the franchise: 9.03 (I’m no Angel), 9.08 (Rock & a Hard Place), 9.10 (Road Trip), 9.15 (#THINMAN), 9.17 (Mother’s Little Helper)

What’s that?  I left an episode out?  No I didn’t, because Bloodlines isn’t an episode.  It’s an hour long joke.

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4 thoughts on “Supernatural S9 review

  1. Great read, as always Nate. It’s such a shame that the show has gotten to this point.

    “Part of me almost wants to get S9 on DVD JUST to try and go back to reedit the entire thing to how it SHOULD have been, just to see if that improves the story at all.”

    If you do that, please share. I really want to like S9, but can’t they way that they presented it.

    • (whoops, did not mean to delete your comment, was trying to hit reply)

      You know, if I wanted to do that reedit I’d have to hold a kickstarter to purchase a computer capable of it and the season on disc, and possibly to cover for a few days off work.

      Heck it would probably be such an undertaking I’d have to recruit a team to do it. Yeah it would kind of be a dream to head up such a project, but I’d just as soon concentrate on my own writing project and see if I could ever drum up enough interest to get that on film. 😉

  2. Nate, you summed up my frustrations with S9 really well: none of the plot or motivations arose organically from the characters, instead storlines just happened because the writers wanted various plot things to happen and they made no real effort to join these elements up convincingly.
    Tbh, S9 was so disjointed it made me think that the writers were lifting and dropping elements like demented toddlers.
    – They wasted Abaddon by forgetting to develop her for most of the series, then, when they did remember to do something with her, they undid the pitiful amount of character development she’s received and they made her stupid.
    – They made Sam even more inconsistent as a character: I felt that Sam repeatedly stating that he had wanted to die in ep1 was confusing and I disliked how he often treated Dean as if he wanted to emotionally torture him. And this choice for Sam’s behaviour in S9 came across as poorly to me as the choice to make him so angry with Dean in S8: the writers felt they needed tension but, because they forced it onto Sam’s character, it never came across as genuinely convincing.
    I mean, at the end of S8, Sam is ready to fight alongside Dean but in ep 1 of S9 Sam is ready to die. Those scenes aren’t far apart in the chronology of the plot and, for me, this sudden change in Sam didn’t make sense. Also, Sam spends lots of S9 punishing Dean for letting Gadreel heal him via possession (and I think this punishment seems to come from the same place in the writers’ minds as the inexplicable decision to have Sam not search for Dean after the Leviathan battle). And it’s all part of how the brothers’ relationship (since S8) hasn’t sat well with me because the Winchesters were once very protective of each other and I hate how the writers have consistently made them colder towards each other for no good reason other than they think fandom likes Winchester tension. And, irritatingly, the writers used the same trick they’d used in the S8 finale – they have Sam change his mind at the last minute and say he loves Dean again?! So, what…the viewers are supposed to believe that a last minute change of mind from Sam undoes a year’s worth of fighting?!
    – There was too much fan service from almost every character.
    – There were too many filler episodes and not enough development of any of the main plots.
    – There was too much of the damn angels: nowadays, I wish they’d never showed up in S4 because I’m fed up with internecine angelic nonsense.
    – The writers can’t seem to give the Winchesters consistent personal development – the brothers have very little in the way of convincing motivation. They move from situation to situation because the plot needs them to. Unlike the early seasons, I get very little sense of Dean and Sam as people any more.
    – They keep letting less-skilled writers to write episodes. These writers keep messing with established backstory and canon.
    Aaaargh, this comment is already too long and probable really incoherent to you (partly cos I’m typing it on my iPhone lol) but what I’m trying to say is that sloppy writing is damaging a once-great show and once-compelling characters, and it’s a great pity to see the decline in quality. The acting is still great (in spite of poor characterisation), and is the only reason I’m still watching, but I think it’s a shame that the actors aren’t getting a high calibre of stories to work with.
    So, apologies for ranting on your blog but I just wanted to let you know I appreciate your analyses of eps and to thank you for your always interesting views on SPN.

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