Supernatural Retrospective – part 12 (S8, it’s not about the dog)

Part 11 (S7 and forward)

We’ll probably look back at S7 a bit more, but for now, let’s move on to S8.


If you’ve been reading this series for awhile, you know that early on I talked about foreshadowing and how important it was in the first seasons of Supernatural in order to establish the impact and plots of the later seasons.  So how do the creators’ runs generally start?

  • Season 1 – The beginning of Kripke’s era.  Sam is living a normal life with a pretty gal when Dean shows up to drag him back on to the hunter’s path.
  • Season 6 – The beginning of Gamble’s era.  Dean is living a normal life with a pretty gal when Sam shows up to drag him back on to the hunter’s path.
  • Season 8 – The beginning of Carver’s era.  Sam is living a normal life with a pretty gal when Dean shows up to drag him back on to the hunter’s path.

The above is not foreshadowing, it’s more of traditions and echoes.  It can be very useful to a story, and yet this very decision to repeat the story structure of the classic beginnings is what doomed Carver’s run.

Like many things, foreshadowing can be an advantage to a story yet it can turn into a disadvantage.  Once you have foreshadowed something, betraying it is a betrayal of the story’s structure and its promise to the audience and collapses the narrative on an instinctual level for the audience.  Note: betraying the foreshadowing.  You can foreshadow something and then ignore it.  Failure to follow up is annoying to the audience, but it doesn’t break the story as a whole.  No what I mean is that you foreshadow X, and then reveal Y later on when the audience is expecting X.

Thus the title of this part.  Many fans blame the dog in this season for its fault, to the point that Lucifer himself commented on it in S11. (“After the Leviathans, when your brother was trapped in Purgatory, you were here… with a girl and a dog. You didn’t even bother trying to find him.”)  But they are wrong (though on the right track).  The problem fundamentally comes down to that in S3, Mystery Spot, we are shown exactly who Sam would become if he lost Dean.  Then now, 5 years later when that has happened, the show proceeds to show us a Sam that is the same as he was in the opening of S1, regardless of his journeys and growth in the time since then.

The worst is that the foreshadowing in S3 was a case not where Dean was somewhere else, but just dead, and Sam had no hope of ever seeing him again.  Yet he became focused and driven to the point of psychotic intensity.  A dog for Sam could have worked in this situation.  The previous seasons had shown Sam to be a bit of a dog person and to have had some in the past.

What S8 should have started out with was fulfilling the foreshadowing promise of S3.  We should have seen a Sam Winchester driven and focused on getting to Purgatory.  No there wasn’t an immediate narrative reason for him to believe Dean was there (and we must be careful about allowing audience knowledge to mix with character knowledge) but neither was there much evidence after half a year of searching that the Trickster could do much for Dean.  A line or two in the opening can cover this (he found no human residue in the explosion aftermath, he checked in Heaven and couldn’t find Dean, etc) or even show it to the audience to convey his search.  Anyway, Sam also knows of at least one way to open a door to purgatory so we would watch him as he hunted down Leviathans, took their blood, and counted down to when the next eclipse would be and where in the world it would occur.  During all this the dog would actually work here – especially if Sam named the dog, “Dean.”  The audience would then see that in his drive to save his brother, Sam would feel the need to save something of his brother in any small way he could by transferring some emotion to the pet.  It would be his one tether to humanity as he hunted things down one by one on his quest.  The dog could even become a reoccurring character in its own right the audience would grow attached to (I could see Scruffy!Dean and Fluffy!Dean on twitter right now) that the writers could then kill off when they need their annual feels fuel.

Plus, this would serve to foreshadow and set up later on in the season with the trials.  When Sam needs to get into Hell, he could reveal his investigations into Purgatory and the afterlives as an impetus for him knowing how to get in and out*.  They could have even revealed that Sam’s drive to close Hell was a larger desire to close off all the afterlives so Dean would never be lost to him again.  Instead Sam comes off not as a brother who was lost or confused or misled or whatever, but just lazy.

Instead, this is the beginning of the Writer’s Fiat era of Supernatural, where things happen just because the writer’s said so.  It would only grow worse.

And not because of the dog, but because of what the dog failed to be.

Part 13 (gateway to half answers)

*As it is the later reveal in Taxi Driver that reapers are around which can take you into Purgatory for an afternoon jaunt makes the betrayal of Sam’s character even more pronounced.


11 thoughts on “Supernatural Retrospective – part 12 (S8, it’s not about the dog)

  1. This is a most excellent take on the “dog controversy.” You have clearly drawn links to other episodes. I always worked on the assumption that Sam tried everything he could and failed and then he “ran away” which is very much a part of his character. He ran away with a dog before, when he was young and considered it to be a truly “heavenly” moment. (Episode?) I was completely unsurprised by Sam’s drifter, escapist actions. Love this article. Why o why is it not on WFB?

    • Well sometimes my stuff can be a bit over-negative for some folks (just wait for S9) and the atmosphere of WFB so I just post this stuff here.

      The episode you’re thinking of is Dark Side of the Moon, but part of the issue is that Sam’s character growth from S1 to S5 is changing from the boy who runs away to the man who stands and fights. Had Mystery Spot never foreshadowed Sam’s reaction to Dean’s death (which was also backed up again in the flashbacks to between S3 & S4 in I Know What You Did Last Summer) then his S8 reaction would have probably been more tolerated by the audience.

      I still think it would have been awesome to see a “hunting dog” character on the show, an adopted brother (but then sometimes I think Adam should have been a half-sister lol).

  2. Nate – the most significant difference between S1 and S8 Sam was context. In Season 1, we understood why Sam wanted out of the hunting life. We were clued in over the course of the season, between his contentious relationship with his father, his desire for “safe” and “normal”. Even in S8’s Great Escapist, we find out Sam has also felt unclean, unpure as a child so this makes a lot of sense why Sam would want to get as far away as possible from the world of the supernatural.

    Fast forward to Season 8, with Dean fighting for his life in purgatory (fyi… based on Sam’s purgatory experience in Taxi Driver, I think Dean was being a bit of a drama queen – Sam’s visit to purgatory and hell was not much more complicated than a beer run to the Gas N Sip 🙂 ). In Season 8, not a clue was given as to Sam’s thinking. “I thought you were dead”. When has that ever stopped one of the brothers before? The most unforgivable thing Sam did was hang Kevin out to dry. And there were plenty of ways they could have addressed this. Even after the magic Castiel fix, Sam was still damaged from the events of Season 7, so he could have suffered a mental breakdown. Or he could have imagined the whole Amelia and Riot thing as a coping mechanism. Or, like you mentioned, we could have had Sam go all Mystery Spot. But no, we ended up with Carver saying hey, wouldn’t it be neato to mix things up, not have Sam look for Dean, and not explain to the viewers what the hell is going on. In other words, Sam becomes a plot device, a recurring theme for the the Carver era. And bringing this back up in 11×11 Into The Mystic, with Same apologizing for not looking for Dean, definitely did not help matters.

    • Oh some of this stuff will be coming… 😉

      the most significant difference between S1 and S8 Sam was context.

      Or as I put it above, “character growth.” 😉 After 8 years, Sam would not be the same man he was at Stanford. Given that the “purifying” line was written by one Edland (who also wrote 8.05 Blood Brother and 8.13 Everybody Hates Hitler – episodes which actually examined some characters) should tell us a lot. Namely that he knew how to use interesting plots to get fascinating insights out of the characters.

      (fyi… based on Sam’s purgatory experience in Taxi Driver, I think Dean was being a bit of a drama queen – Sam’s visit to purgatory and hell was not much more complicated than a beer run to the Gas N Sip🙂 ).

      Oh this is definitely coming up…

      The most unforgivable thing Sam did was hang Kevin out to dry.

      That’s very true. Though given what we saw of Bobby’s reaction in the bad future of Mystery Spot, it would have been in character for Sam, HAD he acted like the show foreshadowed he would have. Heck it might have been forgivable had we seen Sam adopt Kevin as a new brother/replacement Dean.

      But yes, Amelia being a mental figment might have been something interesting, it would at least have answered questions about why Sam didn’t turn out this time like he did the last.

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