Supernatural Retrospective – part 15 (defining terms)

Part 14 (“and the rest”)


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.

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.


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)

Part 16 (taxi crash)



7 thoughts on “Supernatural Retrospective – part 15 (defining terms)

  1. Regarding the blood “plot hole” I’ve always held out the hope that we’d get a “ret-con” or an update that Dean and Sam have the same mother but not the same father. Remember when the Angels contrived and worked to get Mary and John together? Maybe those machinations involved an A.I. to an unconscious Mary, or some implant by the Angels that Mary and John assumed was their child. But, in actuality the mysterious father donor of baby Dean was known only to the Angels. This still could be revealed… perhaps in Season 12? I understand that a mistake could have been made initially, but to make the same mistake 3 X, tells me that. something is being purposefully plotted.
    Did I use the “ret-con” term correctly? Nice pic BTW!

    • Retcon is used correct.

      Given that John was possessed by Michael in S5, it’s most likely that he is Dean’s blood father, and SAM might be the one born of another man (maybe during one of John & Mary’s troubled periods).

      Which… is something I could see them trying to pull off next season and me consequently hating.

      • Maybe the blood father of Dean is Michael, but that would make Dean a ‘Nephilim.’ And the blood father of Sam could be grandpa Samuel Campbell when possessed by Azazel. Remember that uber creepy scene with Samuel, eyes glowing yellow, kissed Mary. EWWW. That was her dad. (Bombay factor?) Maybe John is not the biological father of either of them.

  2. Personally, I’m not as worried about the perceived canon issue with Uriel saying that only angels can kill other angels. He said that as he was about to try to kill Castiel after Castiel finally started to catch on that Uriel was on Team Luci. Alistair did reinforce this notion when he mentioned that he didn’t know how to kill angels but he could send them back to heaven, then started to exorcise Castiel. In fact, I was more disappointed that they dropped this entire concept of exorcising an angel. That would have been a useful tool in later seasons; get an angel in a ring of holy fire then exorcise it.

    IMO This gets in to a question of too much exposition; if Uriel had said “Only angels can kill other angels because it takes an angel blade to kill an angel”, that gets in to clunky dialog territory, particularly because Uriel was getting ready to attack Castiel and it would have sounded out of place. It was also done for dramatic effect because Uriel already knew it wasn’t demons doing the killing.

    We know an angel blade wielded by humans or demons can kill an angel. In S4/S5 this was really wasn’t an issue because angels hadn’t walked the earth for a very long time and the angel blade to angel ratio was far closed to 1-1 than it was after the civil war and Castiel’s short reign as God part deux.

    • Personally, I’m not as worried about the perceived canon issue with Uriel saying that only angels can kill other angels. . . . IMO This gets in to a question of too much exposition

      Yeah, that moment is actually a great example of solving canon conflicts. At first glance, Uriel’s statement is explicit canon. However, that is the very episode which reveals him to be a liar. If he’s a liar, then how canon his statement can be is completely in question. Thus we are shown non-angels attacking angels and then confirmed that they did, in fact, kill said angels, so yeah, using the scale and the lying factor we can pretty well harmonize everything.

      I give you an A+ on your work, you have demonstrated comprehension of the material.

      In fact, I was more disappointed that they dropped this entire concept of exorcising an angel. That would have been a useful tool in later seasons; get an angel in a ring of holy fire then exorcise it.

      You don’t say?!?!?!?! 😉 Like when… Sam is possessed by an angel that just won’t leave? Oh yeah, I’ve complained about that many times.

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