the Gamble years – Part 2: Season 6

I was really hoping to have the finale remix up today after working on it all week.  UNFORTUNATELY, wordpress seems to have crapped out and won’t let me upload pics now (and I’m only using 1% of my storage capacity).  I don’t want to give a preview of it because this is one I think will really have the best impact right off.

INSTEAD! My order from Amazon for the S6 & 7 companions, coffee-table book, and Impala replica came in today.  To make sure I have a post for this week and have an article ready for WFB next, I’m continuing with part 2 of my previously begun essay.  Yes I was thinking about just doing 2 posts – a before and after watch, however given the nature of hiatus blogging, I decided to stretch this out in 4 posts total.  Notice how I’ll admit a change in my plans. 😉

Prelude:

Rewatching it I at least finally grasped why there are some divisions between fans that watched S6 as it happened and those that caught it on DVD.  Does it hurt less on DVD?  Oh very much so.  Why is that?  Well put yourself in the mind of a devilishly handsome, little-known blogger way back in the ancient year of 2010 (or you don’t have to be me, imagine yourself as any fan).  Now as established in part 1, a fellow fan pointed out on a message board that S6 had AT LEAST 4 plotlines (depending on how you count, you could get more than that).  This isn’t too bad in and of itself as many can tune in and for any number of reasons.  Don’t like the war in heaven?  Maybe this week will have Eve!  But it also has a downside.  Say for example you like the plotline… of Grandpa Campbell.  So you tune in one week – not advanced (one of the other plots you’re indifferent towards got the spotlight).  No biggie, you just look forward to the next week’s episode… which then features a plotline you really hate.  Ugh, well maybe – nope!  Time for a midseason hiatus so now you have to wait two or more weeks to see if the plotline YOU like best gets ANY screentime.  Maybe it will, or maybe you’ll never see the plotline again or see it only to have it evaporate in a lackluster conclusion.  So yes, binge watching S6 – where you can find out the fate of your favorite plot thread in a matter of hours rather than months on end – does make the pain of it a lot more bearable.  Though I admit that as I watched through it, I started having flashbacks to slogging through the season for an entire year and all the hope and pain it inflicted as it went.

Episodes:

Some quick thoughts on individual episodes which I’ll link to previous reviews so you can compare and contrast old thoughts vs new.

Two and a Half Men – The scene in the grocery store is incredibly awkward.  Watch it closely for an apt metaphor of the season in general.  The boys encountering a monster in daytime?  In public?  Interesting.  However they don’t really allow the boys or the situation to play out in new directions but try and shoehorn in the “usual methods” they have in dealing with things into a situation it doesn’t belong.  “Fish out of Water” isn’t a new trope for the show, they’ve done the “public hunting” thing as far back as S2’s superlative “Nightshifter”.  The boys know how to act in public, but this scene shows less Sam & Dean and more caricatures of them.

the Third Man – An actual foreshadowing of plot missteps here but think about it for a moment: What if the boys hadn’t freed the kid from Balthazar’s deal?  No really, what would have happened?  We’re not told that the kid has a time limit (unlike the usual demon deal of a decade) so he can live as long as he normally would, then what?  He’s not going to Hell.  There’s not even a token effort by the boys to justify their insistence on the kid being freed.  They just “know” it’s a bad deal when for all we can tell, Balthazar just wanted a buddy to hang out with him for eternity.

Live Free or Twihard – A very funny episode that just CRASHED in a massive explosion as soon as Lisa & Ben are involved.  Other than carrying the Twilight parallels too far, WHAT was the point of that scene?  Oh, to force Dean & Lisa apart because reasons.  This is the WORST non-conflict in the entire series.  If she never knew about his “previous job”, then I could understand about his reluctance to “infect” his home life with the hunting world.  But she DOES KNOW IT!  She KNOWS there’s monsters and stuff out there!  Why can’t Dean just tell her and Ben, “Hey I’m a vampire right now.  My brother’s probably going to kill me soon after I finish something.”?  Or later in the episode or next, “Turns out I was a vampire, but my grandfather had the cure for it!  Sorry about all that.”  It’s not like she wouldn’t believe him.  I’m sure some might say he’s subconsciously sabotaging it, I say it’s very poor writing trying to create false drama.

Clap Your Hands if You Believe… – STILL the best episode of this season.  You’ll notice it also has the weakest connections to any of the myriad plotlines running through the season.

Caged Heat -Still crap.  It also proved how worthless the Grandpa plot was.

the French Mistake – This one gets the award for “episode most representative of the entire season”.  It is funny and has very, VERY good moments in it (J2 acting like they’re characters bad at acting the stand out).  HOWEVER, if you look at the episode as a whole, and examine it purely on story merits, it falls apart pretty badly. (i.e. How can the blood-spell-cell-phone work in a world that doesn’t have any magic???)  The “show is a show imagined in the real world” is not a bad trope and episodes involving it can be very well done as both Buffy and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 both proved.  Of course both also took place in the minds of the main characters and there’s a reason for that: it keeps the audience focused on the RIGHT questions, not the wrong ones.  Like now that we know of the tFM world, is the writing in that world what creates the happenings of SPN or is it more recording the events of the SPN world via some means?  If I could, I would do this episode over again but make it more stand alone and the result of a djinn placing Sam & Dean in a shared delusion with the obvious question being, “which world is the delusion”.

My Heart Will Go On – Entertaining, but mostly by trying to catch all the gags the props department smuggled into the background.  The larger implications for everything revealed in this episode have thankfully been dropped.

the Man Who Would be King – This ONLY works because of Misha’s superb acting and I do give it credit for one of the best examples of “post-storyline” patching I’ve ever seen.

Conclusion:

Season 6 is when Bloodlines should have happened.  Think about it: Dean & Lisa & Ben could be living in Chicago when Sam returns, and then we find out that in the wake of the apocolypse, a bunch of monsters have decided it’s a good time to try and take over the city (yes, DITCH the “ancient control” idea – or you can have it as a point in the past, but it has to be shaken up by the events of S5).

What we got thought… Ok, just to be as fair as I could, I up and ordered the season companions for both of Sera’s years and skimmed through S6 before writing this.  Sure all the powers that be (PtB) claim everything about the season was planned from the start but… it wasn’t.  Look I write for fun (feel free to stop by and be as harsh on me as I am on anyone else – only way I’ll learn) so it’s kind of one of those things if you’ve never tried a bit of fiction, you probably won’t see it like fellow craftsmen have.  It’s not uncommon to be making stuff up as you go along, then have an idea or notice a thread and run with it in a direction you didn’t plan.  Heck I’ve done that just recently in my own writing project but I won’t admit to what exactly and will probably claim everything was always planned.  It is easy for a writer to convince themselves it was planned all along, or at least to take credit for it so we appear smarter than we are.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic.  Sera was stuck in a pretty big no-win scenario as S5 concluded a 5 year long arc fighting the Devil!  Castiel is a hugely popular and was restored to power at the finale.  If he sticks with the boys, they could solve every episode in fifteen minutes. (example, in 6.06, Castiel says he “searched everywhere” in the entire town in a second, yet didn’t bother to tell Dean “oh and there’s a room full of body parts at [such & such] address” – you might say “maybe he couldn’t see the room” but then why wouldn’t that be suspicious to the guy looking for a heavenly weapon?)  So let’s invent a “war in heaven” to keep him busy off screen.  Oh except at the end when we learn that the “war” was the reason for everything that happened! (which leads to lots of season weirdness – like we get why Cas might not involve Dean at first, but why keep not involving him when he & Sam KEEP RUNNING INTO IT? it’s practically a comedy sketch)

There’s a few conflicting statements in the companion that bolster my case, but I’ll admit a lot of it is speculation.  Once upon a time I had every issue of the SPN magazine going from issue 5 or 6 (and issue 1) up to… somewhere in the S7 range.  Had they not all been ruined by a burst water pipe (and had to be thrown out), I would have liked to examine the issues released during S6 and examine what was written during the season against the after-the-finale of the companion.  But life is about what is possible so… :S

Instead, here are some points that I think weigh heavily in consideration that this season wasn’t nearly as planned as they thought it was.

From the companion Sera says: “[Y]ou can’t compete with the size and the scope of… a monster like Lucifer …So we… had to come up with a new big bad”.  The problem is that the “big bad” in S6 was… Raphael, and what was his goal?  Restart the apocalypse.  In other words, he was ultimately a Lucifer proxy because the only reason Raphael was any kind of threat was because of the threat Lucifer posed (see also the recap to episode 6.20 which flashes back mostly to the end of S5 – again, all the threat comes from Lucifer).  Yes the companion (and many of you, probably) tries to say that Castiel was the season Big Bad, except he wasn’t any more than John Winchester was the BB of S1 (no really, run the story structures of the two arcs in your head and you’ll see they match up with John’s possession by the YED matching Cas’s possession by the purgatory souls).  The BB of a season is always the one pushing towards a goal of some kind, they are proactive.  Cas was reactive in S6, Raphael was the proactive one.  While he ultimately fell to villainy, it was all in trying to oppose (ultimately), Lucifer, a goal we can all agree is worthy, even if the measures taken were not.  Imagine if at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke ultimately fell to the dark side, would that make him the “big bad” of the Star Wars saga, DESPITE Darth Vader?  Obviously not.

From the companion story editor Brett Matthews says, “Cass is a bad guy this year.  That’s something everybody in the writers’ room heard on day one of this season.”  Maybe.  Buuuuut, can anyone tell me how episode 6.15 (French Mistake) ends WITHOUT looking it up?  You probably forgot like I did.  Cas shows up, tells Raphael that he has all the weapons of heaven now and – this is key – Raphael RUNS.  Yet what do we hear Atropos say in 6.17?  That Cas is in a war (fair enough) and “desperate”.  Desperate even though he just picked up Heaven’s stockpile of nukes (the show tries to set up a running theme of the weapons and souls both being referred to as “nukes” but it kind of falls apart) and sent the other leader running.  One kind of wonders why Castiel didn’t take that running as his requested sign from God that he needed to change his path.

Grandpa?  I barely have the energy to explain how this fails any more but consider this exchange at the end of episode 6.16:

BOBBY It was Omaha. It was my fault. And he never let it go.

DEAN Well, he should have.

BOBBY  You don’t know what I did, Dean.

DEAN Doesn’t matter.

BOBBY What do you mean, it doesn’t —

DEAN I mean at the end of the day, you two are family. Life’s short, and ours are shorter than most. We’re gonna spend it wringing our hands? Something’s gonna get us eventually, and when my guts get ripped out, just so you two know, we’re good. Blanket apology for all the crap that anybody’s done all the way around.

Think about it a moment.  Grandpa did something bad enough, Dean actually wanted to kill him.  Bobby does “something” and Dean flat out says it doesn’t matter how bad it was.  Family gets a clean slate and blanket apology except for family?  If Bobby fed Rufus’ brother to a ghoul in Omaha, would that make Dean wrong, or just a flaming hypocrite?  The companion says “[T]he concept of family has really been altered for Dean this season.  …[T]he people he aligns himself with now, including Sam, are much more of a choice and have a lot less to do with blood and genetics than they ever did before.”  The problem remains that throughout the season, we never saw Dean or Grandpa make an EFFORT at being a family.  It’s not like they tried and one rebuffed the other or it didn’t work out or anything, there was never anything there at all. (Grandpa could have been replaced by ANY hunter and you’d have to change barely any lines.)  It gives the impression that Dean is incredibly petty (I’d say Grandpa was petty too but he’d have to be a character first).  You have to wonder, had Bobby been grabbed by the Khan worm around when the boys first met him and attacked Sam, would he have been permanently on Dean’s shitlist and never allowed “into” the family (with no blanket apology forthcoming)?  Like I said, Dean “chose” not to give his real family a chance to be a part of his “choice” family for… well the only reason we really get a hint at is that he’s just jealous they got to hang out with Sammy and he didn’t for a year.  That kind of crosses the line from being a character flaw to just an asshole.

Finally (because I’m setting aside robo!Sam), Sera says in the companion: “There are many threads running through season six, and it was a bit rigorous to write the season that way, where the viewers have to really hang in there to find out that all these threads tie together.  …[I]t was a very noir structure.”  Well I don’t quite know noir that well but judging by the trope article, I’d have to call shenanigans on this.  now I could go into a long proof of this (and might if asked in the comments) but… turns out the show does it for me…

GAME TIME!  Grab your discs or get netflix ready and follow along.  The rules are simple: when the show does the end of season recap, mark down every episode QUOTED from.  Mostly because it seems that they try to put a clip from every episode of the season in there, even if it’s just a visual of Dean or Sam shooting a ghost (I haven’t been able to go frame by frame and confirm all of them).  Cool action scenes may be cool, but they aren’t plot relevant.  LINES are plot relevant, so let’s look at episodes quoted at the ends of the season. (also relevant since sometimes lines are played over scenes not matching their origins)  Note also I’ll list these in order they appear, but NOT any repeats.

  • Season 1 – Episode 1.21, which is acceptable because S1 was a very arc-lite season.  Also, judges are throwing a flag on the play because “Carry on my Wayward Son” wasn’t playing. (1)
  • Season 2 – Some lines from S1, then 2.01, 2.08, and 2.21. (4)
  • Season 3 – Some from S2, 3.01, 3.09, 3.15, 3.02, 3.12, 3., 3.10 (8)
  • Season 4 – 4.01, 4.04, 4.09, 4.21, 4.18, 4.17 (6)
  • Season 5 – 5.08, 5.01, 5.03, 5.17, 5.19, 5.18, 5.21 (7)

Now before I announce S6, what would you guess?  Remember there are a lot of threads in the season that are supposed to tie together and the noir article says loose ends are supposed to tie up.  So the recap, meant to catch up viewers that may have missed an episode, or even the entire season so they might enjoy this one, should include something from almost every episode, right?  May we have the tallies please?

  • Season 6 – S5, 6.01, 6.02, 6.07, 6.10, 6.11, 6.03, 6.19, 6.20 (9 – actually I may have missed 2 episodes so it could be 11, still that’s only half the episodes) – though there is some discussion among the judges on whether single words should count.  The plotlines referenced?  Sam.  Souls.  Purgatory.  Heavenly weapons?  Nope.  Grandpa?  Nope.  Eve?  Nope.  Alphas?  Nope.  Heck they don’t even show Bobby’s girlfriend from the previous episode who actually appears in the finale!

In fact the whole alpha thread becomes a bit of a joke in 6.21 when you realize that all Cas & Crowley really needed to do was just read up on HP Lovecraft.  Sure I can get Cas not recognizing the reference, but Crowley?  How could he NOT figure out to look at the pop culture icon?  (Also, why didn’t Cas just pop back to the past to watch the ritual done instead of investigating things the hard way?  He already sent Balthazar to go back to 1912, surely 1937 would have been easier.)

See, in a noir story when you go back and look at everything, when you tug on individual threads, it all should become a complete picture and tighten as a whole story.  Not unravel and fall apart.  If you were to try and remove segments or alter characters, the story should change completely or collapse.  Instead we find that some of the threads in this season you could cut out altogether or do a simple name swap on a few characters and nothing would change story-wise (if not improve).

So while I did gain a bit of understanding and have softened my opinion somewhat, my views of S6 remain.  Individual moments in it are very good.  However when you put it all together and judge it as a whole, the season is a failure as a complete story.

I don’t envy the task Sera had in front of her, it would probably crush a lot of us if we tried (I’ll still buy her a drink and a meal anytime).  But even though we can acknowledge a heroic effort, we can’t deny that they “f***** up” (but effort and failure are how we grow).   Though it had problems, S6 STILL hangs together better than the wretched S9.

So now onto S7, which I still say is a better complete story, yet according to a poll, some rank as actually worse than S9.  Will a rewatch change my mind?  In a few weeks we’ll see…

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3 thoughts on “the Gamble years – Part 2: Season 6

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