From here on out we’ll be talking and discussing some terms that can be confusing for people so let’s define all them now so we can all be on the same page when yelling at each other about how wrong you are. 😉
Let’s talk about continuity!
(pictures stolen shamelessly from Wednesday)
Canon can basically be broken down into 2 categories with both functioning along a spectrum of continuity.
The first and most obvious is what I’m going to call “trivial” canon (trican). Basically canon that is not that important to the story. Something like… Dean’s bloodtype. Does it ever make a difference to say… get Dean out of his hell deal what his bloodtype is? No, in general this is nugget of info is not that important. A lot of entries here would kind of fall under this.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t worry about such things. A storyteller should always strive to keep even the tiniest details consistent to keep the world of the story feeling ‘true.’ But also with the schedule and effort that goes into making a TV show, it’s understandable that things would mess up now and then. Contradiction will bother audiences, but it doesn’t break the story.
The second category would be “vital” canon (vican), things that are required for the plots and characters to work. Sam and Dean Winchester being brothers would be probably THE ur-example. Violating vican would literally break the story and make it literally not workable.
Of course a canon fact is not always locked into one of the categories. It’s a hallmark of clever writers to take a fact you first believed was a tricon and reveal that it was actually vicon all along. But within both canon categories there is a spectrum of continuity which I will dub the two ends “nebulous” and “solid.”
Where a fact lands on the spectrum is determined by how it is conveyed to the audience. Is the fact implied or explicit? Obviously when it comes to retcons, you want to aim at canon that more towards the nebulous side than solid (yes this will come up later).
So this brings us to plot holes. Well, really there are several meanings to a failure in story function, which almost everybody calls plot holes. Accurately, plot holes arise when the plot advances without any facts from canon or the real world conveyed by the story. A contradiction arises when facts central to the plot – whether canon or real world – end up contradicting each other within the story.
Now there’s a whole gradient of plot holes. How is one to measure them? I use what I’ve currently named the “extrapolation scale” (other ideas for naming welcome). So if a plot hole happens in the film, how much extrapolating does the audience have to do to make it “work”?
Lowest example: The Winchesters walk up to a place that’s not where they were earlier. Plot hole: how did they get there? Extrapolation: They drove Baby. Easy extrapolation based upon common sense, the viewer’s knowledge of the world’s setting, and previously established scenes.
One of the worst example? Well we’ll save Supernatural’s, let’s use Jurassic Park 2: the Lost World. Scene: A ship carrying the Tyrannosaurus Rex crashes into the LA harbor. Everybody on board is dead and the TRex is locked in the cargo hold. There’s basically no way the TRex could get loose, kill everyone, and then lock himself back where he came from. There’s parts of a ship that a fatass guy like me could never go into, much a dinosaur the size of a city bus. So how did everyone die? Velociraptors got on board? How? Where are they afterwards? For every possible extrapolation, the audience has to do to fix this part of the story, more extrapolation must be added and added on until eventually we’re left with enough material to form another movie. (yes I’m saying Jason Vorehees was on board that ship and he killed everybody and locked up the TRex to stymie the competition)
And no, the extrapolation, “because the writer said so” NEVER counts – because it always counts, and that’s a hallmark of a bad story. Just like how magicians should make you believe (even for a second) that magic is real, stories should convince you that THEY are real (even for a second). A story that forces you to say “because the writer said so” is like a magician that shows you the wires.
So some quick exercises pulled from superwiki before we move on.
- John Winchester’s dog tags list his blood type as AB. However, in 10.03 Soul Survivor Sam tells Dean, “For whatever it’s worth, I got your blood type.” Sam never says Dean’s blood type, however the blood bags are labeled as type O, which is a universal blood type.
Implied contradiction but not plot critical. Extrapolation answers: Bombay Blood Group (seen on the wiki) – light extrapolation, but straining suspension of disbelief. Sam doesn’t know Dean’s type – light extrapolation, but causes strains on other parts of canon as well as against character. Sam was speaking slang, not technically – light to moderate extrapolation, no strain.
- Azazel‘s original plan stated to Sam in 2.21 All Hell Breaks Loose: Part One makes mention of other generations of Special Children, making it appear that he had other intentions for them rather than becoming the vessel for Lucifer. As evidenced by Azazel’s attempt to feed demon blood to the infant Rose Holt in 1.21 Salvation.
Semi-explicit contradiction and plot critical. Extrapolation: Azazel is lying – light extrapolation, consistent with the character. Azazel had no idea when he’d be breaking the first seal so was hedging his bets by trying to always have a kid ready to break the final seal. With John selling his soul in episode 2.01, Azazel thought the 1st would break so halted his efforts and tried to move forward with the plan – moderate extrapolation built on inference, debatable.
- In 4.02 Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester Castiel mentions six angels died trying to protect a seal. However in 4.16 On the Head of a Pin there is a mystery regarding who or what is killing angels, which ends with Uriel stating “the only thing that can kill an angel… is another angel.”
Explicit contradiction and very plot critical. Extrapolation: Castiel is misinformed – light ex and consistent with later revelations of the ones informing Castiel. Uriel is lying and/or boasting and/or using hyperbole – light ex, consistent with his character, and fits with later Winchester killing of angels. Secret clue to Heaven’s real intentions that season – seems light at first but spirals into a cascade of extrapolation as we must then answer how characters involved didn’t realize this rather obvious fact or the dissension in the ranks. So that’s actually a pretty heavy extrapolation.
Post some you think of in the comments and we’ll play along grading the contradictions and possible answers. 🙂 (but try and keep it to before S8, we don’t want to spoil what’s coming down the retrospective pipe)