Oh season 3. You had so much working against you from the start it’s probably a miracle and a testament to talent that you did not turn out worst than you should have been.
For those who may not know, S3 was plagued both by a writers’ strike in Hollywood (leading this season to have only 16 episodes instead of 20+) as well as some mandates from executives. Whatever the exact reasons (and you can find a lot of talk on that in wikipedia and tvtropes), 3 major missteps happened this season with the stories.
1) Both new girl characters were introduced as total-swaggering-show-up-the-boys-badasses which made them both kind of feel redundant. While it could kind of work for Bela who seemed designed to be a catwoman-esque figure to the boys’ Batmen-esque style, with Ruby it came off as logically incoherent. Ultimately in S4 we learned that Ruby was planning from the beginning to join the boys as an ally and get Sam to ultimately release Lucifer. While that idea is fine, it’s hard to see how many of her actions work towards that goal. In her very first appearance she saves Sam… and then doesn’t bother to stand around and make introductions. Just compare her to S1’s Meg who was never planned to be a deep cover agent but still demonstrated better how to join a group. Namely, she acted normal and talked to Sam and used charm. During this season Ruby mostly smarts off to the boys, acts smug and off-putting, and in general more like a creepy stalker than possible ally. Yes Bela did a lot of those things too, but the key difference is that she wasn’t trying to infiltrate the brothers. I’m still trying to find any fan who honestly didn’t see the betrayal coming (if you’re out there, please let me know in the comments, I promise not to shame you) and a lot of that can be laid at the feet of her introduction where the writers didn’t even try to have her sway the audience. I know some might say, “but she killed fellow demons in her first appearance” to which I’ll remind you that in S1 we saw Meg shoot her own “brother” with the fake Colt as a test of its realness so it’s not like the show ever established that there was much of a bond or inter-demon loyalty.
2) The Colt & the Knife – oh boy… See, part of the show’s strength was that it had a very flexible formula for plots and tension sources that could be expanded or complicated as need be:
- Figure out what & where it is – Classic whodunit style where problems can arise from deceptive discoveries to just being very hard to narrow down the suspect from clues.
- Learn how to kill it – The extra wrinkle where once we know what we’re hunting, we have to know how to kill it. Problems here can arise from the item itself being hard to get and a challenge itself.
- Kill it – And after all that, you still have the problems that can arise from trying to take out something with specific kill requirements (like losing the only bit of silver you brought).
The problem with the Colt & Knife is that they pretty much eliminate the second and third avenue of plot embellishments and tension. Now all they needed to do was to figure out who was “guilty” and then point and shoot/stab the culprit (admittedly with the knife it was only applicable to demons). What’s worse is that previously the Colt ‘worked’ because the boys had to earn the weapon and even once they did it was very limited in its use which maintained tension & drama with at least debates about using up a bullet. Then to compound the error of the boys earning “get out of drama free” tools is the fact that both are ‘just given’ to them – both by Ruby (she brings the Knife and shows Bobby the secret to getting the Colt working). There is never a sense of them ‘earning’ either tool. Which is a shame because “we need to find (or make) a demon-killing knife” would have been a pretty interesting back-up season arc to Dean’s ticking clock as well as given them a reason to work with Bela.
3) But what was probably the worst offense (if only because it seemed to set a precedent) was the use of a threat in the opening episode which could be used for multiple episodes, being only used for one. The “7 deadly sins” arise, demonstrate greater than average demon powers, and are beaten before the credits when at least half the season could have been devoted to stopping them and established a foreshadowing on the later hunting of the 4 horsemen in S5.
Oh well, the season still had some great episodes like the Christmas one and Mystery Spot (the latter of which establishing how Sam will handle losing his brother). The show also continues to try and close out plotlines completely with at least an attempt at satisfaction while adding some complexity to the exiting characters, such as the FBI one ending in Jus in Bello and Bela’s in Time is on My Side.