Supernatural Retrospective part 1 (intro & season 1)

So much of the discussion of Mass Effect focuses on the ending of the trilogy. That seems to be where a majority of the audience checked out and stopped trusting the storyteller. But while the ending is the source of the controversy, I don’t think it’s the source of the problem, and it’s not where the interesting changes take place.

With those words begins Shamus Young’s epic (no joke, it’s 50 parts) analysis of a video game series and its story.

I’ve been quite enjoying the series and decided that I would use the flimsy pretext of people complaining about the latest season’s ending (for example, Alice Jester said of the S11 finale, “As a long time reviewer of this show, I’m mortified. “) to give Supernatural a similar analysis up to the conclusion of S11 (henceforth seasons are going to be designated as S#).  After all, the show didn’t just land where it did without any warning but has had numerous signs of decay from the series’ high quality beginning.  But to get this done in time I’m going to keep things in the broader, general examination of the seasons only looking at individual episodes where notable (since doing this episode by episode would probably take 11 years).

Also, this essay will assume you’ve either watched the seasons in question or at least know about them.  So spoilers warning abound as well as lots of inside jokes based upon a knowledge of the show & stories.

At first I was going to gloss over the entire 5 years of Kripke’s run of the show but then I realized:

  1. Doing that might make people wonder why I’m doing this series at all.  So you should understand how much I loved this series.
  2. It will better demonstrate how awry the later seasons went by demonstrating how quality the early stuff was.

Supernatural first aired on TV in 2005 right as prime time television was transforming from the “random” (you can watch any episode in any order at any time) format to more and more “arc” formats (you must watch episode #2 before #3 etc).  Much like the X-files it adopted the model of having about half of its episodes be random (the “Monster of the Week” or “MotW”) and half of them being dedicated to a specific arc (roughly, you’ll notice an actual count will probably vary a bit with some seasons being more random than others).

S1 at first seems like it will be very old-fashioned, randomized storytelling.  The “arc” of it is ‘the boys are looking for their father who is hunting down the thing that killed their mom’ which is simple and vague enough the old style of television could probably get a dozen seasons out of it with random monsters each week followed by a coda of the boys finding another clue at the end.  Instead the season actually advances with the boys finding dad, dad revealing what killed mom, and then a shift in arc to acquire something that can finish that thing off.

But look past those a moment at the MotW episodes and what you do see?  Even if they weren’t building the arc at the time, most of them were building the world and the characters.  Take what is considered one of the best episodes and a real turning point in the show, 1.12 Faith.  What is the plot?  Dean is near death and finds himself saved when someone else gives up their life.  Hmmm… sound familiar?  How about episode 1.11 Scarecrow?  Sure it’s got some arc stuff in it, but we also see here that when the boys are separated, Dean nearly gets himself killed and Sam finds himself lured by the forces evil.  But how often would they ever be separated?  How does the season conclude in 1.22 Devil’s Trap?  Dean is tortured by a family member possessed by the very enemy until that family member overcomes the enemy through the power of love.  Think we’ll ever see that in the show again?

Yes, S1 is laced with worldbuilding which also becomes foreshadowing when handled by proper writers.  Without us even realizing it, we the viewers are shown aspects of the world and things that will be important later in smaller, easier to grasp formats and previews so that our brains can fully grasp the importance and meanings of such things later.  We see in a little one note episode that death cannot be cheated – only bargained with at a terrible cost.  We see “nobodies” die to give Dean life so that when somebody we know – his very father – saves Dean’s life it reverberates deeper within our minds.  In that episode we see Dean’s self-image as a hero who is willing to die, but cannot bear for anyone to give up their own life for his sake.  The impact is less at first because the characters dying are so hardly known then escalates into greater impact when his father does it for him in the next season.  Foreshadowing is training the viewers’ mind to more completely understand the world and story the author is conveying.  That’s why even if S1 may be one of the “weaker” seasons, it’s still one new viewers must watch because it is only by this weaker season that the later seasons gain their strength.  It is the opening chapter of a very rich world.

This leads all to S2’s excellent culminations and payoffs.  And us to next monday for the next installment.

Part 2 (S2, “what is” the most important episode?)

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2 thoughts on “Supernatural Retrospective part 1 (intro & season 1)

  1. Personally, I like it when shows do a mixture of both story arcs and stand-alone episodes. This is just my opinion, but shows that become too dependent on story arcs get kind of stale after a while. Fringe, Burn Notice, Alias, the X-Files and even Doctor Who (especially the Moffat years; that Silence storyline ultimately went nowhere) lost me because they introduced these huge arcs and the story kept dragging on and on without any sign of things being resolved. The X-Files’ best episodes were the Monster of the Week stories, and the writers admitted they didn’t know what was going on with the alien colonization storyline. As of the recent revival, they still don’t. They just introduced convoluted new mysteries.

    That said, I want to thank you once again for posting that Supernatural guide a month or so ago. I plan on buying the first season soon or looking for episodes on TNT (which shows reruns early in the morning). I’ll let you know what i think of the show.

    • Carl come talk to me if you want. I’m considering selling my DVDs to upgrade my SPN collection to blu-ray.

      Anyway, I think what you’re confusing is the difference between “single arc” and “multi-arc.” Burn Notice (hey nice to see another fan, you ever watch the Good Guys on netflix?) and X-files I know what you mean, they kept grafting stuff onto one mega story arc that eventually collapsed under its own weight. Supernatural (and some of the other shows nowadays – to their credit) are doing what i call multi-arc. For 1 season they have a storyline that stretches from beginning to end, then that storyline finishes or leads into the next, etc.

      Oh and shame on you for reading this and getting spoilers! 😛 😉

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