the Gamble years – Part 3: Season 7

Well another midseason hiatus is upon us so now I get to resume this retrospective that got pushed back last hiatus for… reasons. For those that need a refresher:

Part 1 of this series.

Part 2.

I noted in part 2 that S6 really did function far better as a viewing experience binging on DVD/streaming/whatever while the original airing schedule was nigh unbearable with long stretches between episodes.  How does S7 fare between DVD and original air?  Well there’s a difference there too.  While it worked quite strongly in the air-broadcast format, it is a bit weaker on DVD viewing.  How so?  Well we’re not storming a castle so I have plenty of time to explain.

I’ve said before (and still stand by) that while S6 had episodes that were of a much higher quality than anything in S7, the latter was better and more consistent over all (it certainly had no episode as bad as some of the worst in S6).  Upon rewatch I realize now why this is: S7 is very, VERY much structured like a novel.  This is most evident in episode to episode continuity.  Even if the plots of episode A & B were unrelated, a few minutes into the opening of B was almost always devoted to acknowledging what happened in A (and I say “almost” just in case because off the top of my head I can think of no exceptions).  Thus trying to pick out a best episode is like trying to decide on your book’s favorite chapter.  Not unheard of (and we all have favorite scenes within a book) but in the general we grade & judge books as a whole.

However one of the problems with books, which no other format suffers from, is pacing.  In movies, radio, TV, you can control how fast the audience sees and reacts something.  Books… that’s at the mercy of the reader’s capabilities as a slow build may not affect the speed reader as much.  Thus with this season, some complaints I’ve heard about it I think arise more from viewing habits today vs when it aired.

Let me take the most common complaint I’ve heard: Sam’s mental problems and how “quick” it was.  Watching it all back to back in an afternoon, it’s understandable that his struggle with brain!Satan could feel too quick. It’s 3 episodes after all! (start, endurance, climax & cure)  However when the show aired, the episodes themselves were given a strong sense of “real time” – you felt like the Winchesters had really spent a week doing things between episodes while you had spent a week away from them. (This was very much helped by the episode to episode continuity I mentioned earlier.) This was then further improved by discussion on various message boards and this season not introducing something that didn’t pay off. (Say what you will about Sam’s brain problem, but it had a real beginning-middle-end this season.) Now I’m not saying you need to spend half a year spacing out your viewing of S7 to get the full experience, but a bit of time between each episode (like a day for example) might improve some viewings of it.

Now with all this in mind, watching S7 continues to fuel my doubt over how “planned” S6 was.  Because S7 very much has a “planned” vibe to it.  Everything follows organically from each other and resolves logically.  That’s not to say the season is perfect.  There are a few tweaks I would have made (some to be detailed later) like having evil Sam/Dean appear later in the season.  And at times it is clear the writers got themselves into a corner and had to invent ad hoc escapes.  Examples: Bobby presumed dead while Sam & Dean are injured and going to an infested hospital? The escape should be an entire, tense episode.  But it would be hard to write and easy to go over budget so it is somewhat understandable they escape within ten minutes.  Leviathans can just copy people and use their skills? Gee, our new Mary Sue Charlie should be dead right away! Uh… there’s a spark! They can’t copy that! A lot of these flaws don’t break the season, but one can only dream of what might have been had it all been tighter in writing and better prepared.

Finally there is one other big flaw that really drags down this season: politics. While the show could let political moments and jokes slip through, in general they occupied the point they always should in these shows: NONE! Because when dealing with hungry vampires, dealing with surly angels, or fighting Satan, the occupant of the white house or the political party of the threatened victim are not of importance.  Yet in this season they did let their politics slip through more than usual (in the guide Sera even mentions that it was started out as a political commentary) but thankfully the show runners still had enough devotion to their craft and the story that politics ended up falling aside.  I’m not always thrilled with some of their story moments, but on the whole the good outweighed the bad.

But let’s face it, there’s one big reason why S7 remains my favorite of any post-kripke: after spending a year fighting Satan, we get a season where the boys fight C’thulhu.  Not convinced?  Well consider that there are 3 main “features” of the Lovecraft style monster.

  1. Impossibly old – C’thulhu and his pals are all incredibly old, possibly older than the Earth itself.  Likewise, the leviathans in fact might be the first created thing depending on your metaphysical interpretations of God & Death.  Other than those two, there is literally NOTHING older than them in the SPN ‘verse.  In fact some clues allow that they might even be older than our universe itself.
  2. To witness is to go mad – See the true form of an elder god, and you go mad.  Likewise, if you consider it for a moment, to see and realize the truth about the leviathans is to go slowly mad yourself.  No really, seriously put yourself in that state of mind.  Literally anyone you interact with could be one of them and you’d have no way of knowing since even “questions only ‘they’ would know” can be answered since leviathans download memories.  In fact even if you KNEW, 100% that someone was human, the second they are out of sight they might not be.  Until borax was discovered, the only test was to check their blood.  So what are you going to do?  Shoot/stab every person you meet to make sure their not a leviathan?  You know what they call someone who attacks random people?  Crazy.
  3. Serving cultists – Now Lovecraft did have one problem in his plots: how do you threaten the protagonists?  You can’t just have the elder god loose already, there’s no way they could win.  And it can’t just be random luck for elder gods to be released, otherwise it strains disbelief that they haven’t been let out earlier and it also means the protagonists are worse than useless as their actions/inactions make no difference.  Hence, cultists.  Humans which can act as a threat & driving force to release the elder gods, but aren’t guaranteed to win.  They also cover a lot of other questions like how could a minion of C’thulhu ever go shopping for whatever arcane tool is needed?  In S7, we see the leviathans can take on the forms of humans, thus making themselves the human cultists that serve them.

However in relation to point 3, I will concede that I was disappointed S7 never examined or delved into the issue of actual, WILLING human servants.  Let’s be honest, there’s almost no believable reason that anybody would be a cultist for C’thulhu and still be a functional adult, certainly not enough people to become any kind of globe-spanning threat; what reason would anyone have to serve him? The leviathans, however, they could provide a tempting offer.  Yet the only collaboration we see this season is between a vampire and a human.  If I could make just one major change, I’d make Dick Roman (*ugh* ok that name is another flaw) only human, but one serving the leviathans (let misha play the lead levi or someone else), perhaps even the one who gave them the idea to “domesticate” people.  It would have not only enriched the text but also heightened the angst Dean felt over whether they should bother.  “Should we save the world” becomes a harder question to answer when the world says it doesn’t want to be.

Still all in all what also appeals to me in this season is that it was the one post-kripke most willing to take risks.  Their allies were shook up (even if I didn’t like Bobby dying, he was starting to stagnate the show if they weren’t going to do something drastic with him…. oooo, head leviathan played by Jim Beaver, THAT would have been epic), the leviathans were a monster that fought back on our terms (using brains) instead of just using raw-power to barrel over obstacles (even if they had to once in awhile).  We even got to witness a main character change into a monster instead of soulless!Sam’s post-hoc justification. Even better, while the show was pushing the envelope 6 earlier seasons had built, it always did so in a logical way that didn’t break canon.

So upon a rewatch…. I have to admit that I remain firm in my enjoyment of season 7 even if some of the flaws were more stark on the 2nd time through.  It wasn’t as good as any of the kripke 5, but it had a consistency and quality all its own.

Now if you want to see a BAD season 7, there’s season 9 but… well we’ll come back to that after I post my last part on this series.

Until then feel free to challenge me on my conclusions and anything else related to this season in the comments, I’ll defend this black sheep to the best of my ability. 😉

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