Warning: I try to keep these under 1k words. This one is going WAY over because I don’t want to split it.
Also I had a few asides that I’ve crammed in down at the bottom.
Ask me my favorite episode of SPN, I’ll probably change my answer every time. Top 5? Sure I can be pretty consistent on that.
The worst episode of SPN? One answer.
It’s not Bloodlines.
Don’t get me wrong, Bloodlines is pretty wretched. I know a lot of fans “exclude” it from worst lists because it was a spin-off so it should hardly count. Nope, I would rather watch Bloodlines a dozen times than this episode again.
Because it’s almost a fractal of stupidity. At first glance, from a distance, it seems alright, maybe pretty even, but as you look at it closer and really think on what’s happening, it becomes an hypnotic collapsing black hole of incomprehensible foolishness.
It broke the show.
On the first level, it’s just badly constructed. The set up is that Sam must enter Hell, find a soul, and bring it to Heaven. Except that’s not an episode description, that’s a 2-part saga, if not a 3-5 episode arc. For comparison, the Divine Comedy (nearly the exact same journey) is 14,233 lines long because even in 1308 writers knew you didn’t just have someone make it in and out of Hell in an afternoon!
So how will Sam get into Hell? It’s not like the boys have ever been to somewhere like a cemetery in southern Wyoming where a doorway to Hell could be opened to allow passage.
Instead they grab a crossroads demon and torture it into revealing about rogue reapers.
I’m going to repeat those two words: Rogue. Reapers. <–LOOK AT THEM
Demons… demons go “rogue” because they’re rebellious, it’s in their very nature. Any show dealing with them would have to spend more time setting up them working together than going rogue (which SPN does).
Angels? Angels we don’t expect to go rogue (excluding the backstories of demonic forces). After revealing angels to us, the show then proceeded to use 2, TWO episodes to examine how and why angels would go rogue (4.09 and 4.16).
Reapers – the grand “refs” in the game Heaven & Hell plays in the SPN world, go “rogue” in the same episode that Sam goes to Hell and back. Overstuffed is an understatement.
Why would any of them go ‘rogue’? Who/what are they rebelling against? What do they want? What’s their motivation? How could they even go rogue? Was there ever anything that showed they had free will?
And yes, more than once I’ve heard from people, “well reapers were inconsistent between Faith and In My Time…” Well, no. Because the episodes gave us a very clear reason for the inconsistency. What was inconsistent is that the reaper in 1.12 was enslaved while the reaper in 2.01 was just doing her job*. It would be common sense that any being is going to behave differently while enslaved unwillingly vs going about their lives (or whatever) normally. In episode 6.11 we even get a “day in the life of” for reapers and STILL are never shown any sign or reason that reapers would EVER rebel. Can you just imagine the potential episode examining the ramifications of this? When a reaper was just kidnapped things went screwy as a whole town became immortal, what would happen with a rebel? It would have certainly been a far more interesting episode than say… “Southern Comfort” (and you could still have Garth involved with them) or 8.15.
But no, instead we get Sam & Dean finding a taxi driver who just so happens to have been the one to take Bobby to Hell.
. . .
I am the reaper who took Bobby Singer to Hell.
But… Bobby is like the closest the show has to an on-screen saint. For him to go to Hell…
Usually, mostly. Depends on who you know, what palms get greased. If you’re on the King of Hell’s no-fly list, no way you cruise the friendly skies.
Yep! It’s time for a new drinking game everyone! Because you’re about to hear for the first time a phrase you’ll be hearing a LOT over the next few retrospective parts. IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.
All they had to do was to say Crowley cheated and never removed the contract on Bobby’s soul. Simple, elegant, in character and not a problem. Instead they had to go with what is kind of a Voodoo Shark plot hole but is more of what I’m stealing from Shamus Young and calling an ANY POINT BEFORE NOW (APBN) plot hole.
Let’s do a mental exercise to show an example. Suppose that in episode 1.20 it was revealed by the show that the Colt had been in the trunk of the Impala all along. “Not a big deal” you may think, “it would have been interesting having the motif of ‘with you all along‘ play out at the end of the season.” Sure, i even agree. Now imagine instead that it was revealed that the boys knew what it could do the entire time AND had unlimited bullets. Would you really be able to rewatch that season knowing this? Could you really watch them fighting a wendigo, scarecrow, shtriga, or any number of ghosts in that season not bothering to bring along a weapon they know would kill whatever they’re hunting?
Retcons should never try to close one angle of questioning by opening up whole new ones about APBN plots. (yes, this is also my big problem with 8.17 and the revelation that the angel tablet was in Lucifer’s Crypt all along! – because if there’s one thing we know about Lucifer, it’s that he liked to play fair /sarcasm)
If Crowley – CROWLEY – can up and declare souls to come to him then… nothing makes sense about any other season beforehand. Why did Sam & Dean go to Heaven when shot? Wouldn’t Lucifer – who is bigger than the “king” of Hell – want Sam to go to Hell instead? If there were counter-orders to send them to Heaven, why was there any “war” at all? S6 proved to us how powerful angels can be when tapping into souls. With 2 archangels on their side, shouldn’t all souls have gone to Heaven… pretty much EVER and left it with a huge power advantage over Hell? Remember how Cas got the souls of Purgatory and became god-ish? What if Michael et al had just done that? Why was there even a purgatory arc? Why didn’t Crowley & Castiel just “grease the right palms” to ensure all souls – even monsters – went to one of their domains? Why did monsters go to Purgatory at all? Even if Heaven didn’t want them, why didn’t whoever was in charge of Hell? Why did Azazel wait so long to break the First Seal when he could have just had any righteous soul sent down to him whenever? Why do demons make deals at all? How can you even “grease palms” in that world? WHAT could possibly be offered to reapers? They have no needs.
This single line basically ruins every story and plot ever put in the show – a cascade story collapse.
Anyway, the reaper can take Sam to Purgatory where he can then get into Hell.
. . . Let’s wait a second on that.
So Sam goes to Hell and checks THREE CELLS before finding Bobby. The entirety of Hell, and Bobby is in the 4 place Sam looked. (I checked the transcript) Hey let’s time the scene! (yes I jumped to this part just to do it) Sam searches for all of… 2 minutes! To find Bobby! The man Crowley demanded be brought to Hell, damn the rules, is stuck in an off-wing instead of say… close to Crowley’s throne room. Oh and NO guards or any kind of staff around there.
Wow! What an epic journey! I’m surprised the girl scouts don’t have closing the gates of Hell as a merit badge.
So while Sam’s up to that, Crowley finds the rogue reaper, Ajay and then kills him. With an angel blade. So in this episode we not only learn that Crowley had a door into Purgatory in his own domain the entire time, but ALSO that he was torturing still alive monsters (still the dumbest part of S6) for the location of Purgatory when he could have been torturing reapers, who could have told him. What’s that? He didn’t have an angel blade until episode 8.07? True. I guess he would have to do something like… make an alliance with
Castiel an angel who is also searching for Purgatory and have Castiel the angel use his blade on the reaper. But when would THAT ever happen on the show? Never mind all the other APBN instances that arise now with this revelation. Although I’m so glad that Death told the boys to go to a random alley in Missouri (I think that’s where they are) to get into Purgatory instead of causing worldwide chaos by inducing another eclipse.
Anyway, we get the episode’s one bit of competency as Dean sends Benny after his brother (again, would have been even more poetic had it been Gordon).
Wait, why does Dean have to kill Benny? Why don’t they just go to the alley door? How about he just goes asks another rogue reaper using whatever yellow pages they consulted to find Ajay? What about using his own angel blade to force a reaper to open the door and let Sam in/out? Never mind, not even the competent moment makes any damn sense. This episode really is irredeemable.
Sam finally escapes and right as Bobby is leaving Earth (again) when Crowley stops by to prevent it! But Naomi intervenes! Which makes one wonder what in the world she was doing… the rest of the season (or even how she let Bobby go to Hell in the first place). She got Castiel out of Purgatory (though the same door?) so why not go help Sam escape to prove herself an ally? She helped Bobby “escape” in the end, what was wrong with an hour (day? time is really screwed up in this episode) earlier?
Nothing, NOTHING works in this episode except the acting and set design. Nothing in the plot works within the canon of the show, story logic, story structure, OR common sense.
What makes it even worse is when you look at the episodes preceding it.
- 8.15 – Man’s Best Friend with Benefits: Utterly pointless and creepy at best, offensive at worst.
- 8.16 – Remember the Titans: Pseudo-sequel to episode 5.19 and twists canon and worldbuilding logic into a pretzel for no reason.
- 8.17 – Goodbye Stranger: Introduces APBN plot holes into S5 and sets up Naomi to go in the complete opposite direction they later want her to.
- 8.19 – Freaks and Geeks: The actually best episode of these 5.
Just imagine. Just imagine had any one of those been replaced with a story detailing a rogue reaper’s desires and goals. Just imagine any one of those had been an entire episode of Sam searching Hell for a soul to save while Dean matches wits with Crowley in a bid to keep the King distracted with Sam works. Just imagine any one of those being an entire episode of Sam trying to escape while Dean hatches an impossible scheme with Benny & Naomi to rescue him.
The episode might have been barely tolerable had canon and logic not already been dealt severe damage immediately before it.
Episode 8.20, “Taxi Driver” is the one where Supernatural jumped the shark.
But if you disagree, I’d be interested in hearing your case below.
*Side discussion: Was the reaper in Faith, Tessa? I’d like to think it was for the poetry and extra meaning it brings to some interactions in the show, but it skirts into the “collapse wave” problem I mentioned above in the main post. If Tessa is the one Sam & Dean freed, why does she never mention it to them? You could make up some reasons but they’ll be based far more on extrapolation than canon.
Now is Billie the reaper they saved back then? Possible and it could be revealed. Though they’ll have to explain her attitude towards them lacking any gratitude.
**Just for those curious, if 10 years in Hell = 1 month on Earth, let’s use round numbers and say 10 years = 30 days. 10 years is 3652 (365 * 10 + 2 leap year days). 3652/30 means that 1 day on earth is 121.733etc days in Hell. Round up to .8 so it’s roughly 1 minute on Earth is equal to 2.03 hrs in Hell. He could spend a full day in Hell and only have 12 minutes pass on Earth. Either there are WEEKS Sam endured we never got to see on screen, or after he & Bobby reach Purgatory, they had about 18-23 hrs to have a picnic waiting on Ajay.
Actually, even if you assume the writers forgot the time difference and have 1 minute = a minute everywhere, the trip to Hell & back can’t even take 24 hrs but more about 1. There’s a reason film invented the montage, you know?