Sorry for the delay. I meant to have this out before the year’s end but holiday complications (and a fan fic for someone) has created delays.
Also, talking about S10 is like trying to mold water. No matter how hard you concentrate, it always seems to be slipping through your fingers.
If we were to take the core 5 years of Supernatural, would it be possible to adapt them into a 2-3 hour movie? Technically – sure. There’s a lot you would have to boil away, a few things you might have to change, but at the end of the day, you could tell the story of two estranged brothers ultimately coming together to save the world in such a format.
Would the ending be emotionally powerful?
Sure. If we get some effective actors and a great music composer it would be an emotional ending. John Williams could weave music that pulls tears out of stone. But would that moment of Sam throwing himself into the pit, would that moment hit the audience with the same impact and power as “Swan Song” did? No. Why? Because of a factor that is frustrating to all storytellers in that it cannot be substituted: Time*.
Time affects emotion. The more time spent with people the more their actions and lives impact us. The funeral of someone we’ve known for 5 minutes just doesn’t hurt like the one for someone we’ve known for years. Likewise with characters in the the case of stories. The more time spent with a character, the more audience is impacted by things happening to them (whether good or bad, hero or villain). Sam & Dean’s sacrifice would just mean less to us if we’d only spent 2 hours with them compared to the 104 hours we actually invested over 5 seasons. Heck even between fans there is an emotional impact division between new & old this way. New fans had to invest only those 104 hours catching up to that moment, while old fans had to invest 5 years getting to that moment in real time.
Ultimately, this is where the finale of S10 failed. Right at the end of the season, with nearly half of the episode past, Death shows up and gives the audience everything we had lacked: reasons & motivations. Reasons & motivations that we didn’t get earlier in the season, allowing us time to process and deal with them. Instead of an entire season for our brains and our hearts to work out the implications and meanings of what Death reveals, we’re given no time at all. So the audience ends up having its focus split between what’s on screen, and the questions raised: Why does Dean have to kill Sam? Why not share the MoC with Sam and then let both brothers go hang out on a lonely planet together? If someone has to have the MoC, why not go dig up Doc Benton (Remember him? the first Styne back in S3?), give him the Mark since he’s already immortal, and then chain him back up in a fridge and bury him in concrete or the ocean? Why does Death threaten to kill Sam? If Dean doesn’t accept the terms of the deal, why can’t Death just go home and leave the brothers be?
Well, we know some answers. Dean has to kill Sam because midway through the season Cain said that he would. In a bit aiming to be foreshadowing we heard:
Cain: First, first you’d kill Crowley — there’d be some strange mixed feelings on that one, but you’d have your reason, get it done, no remorse. And then you’d kill the angel Castiel, now that one, that I suspect would hurt something awful. And then! Then would come the murder you’d never survive, the one that would finally turn you into as a much of a savage as it did me…
Cain: Your brother, Sam.
Thus we saw earlier in the season Dean trying to kill Crowley under Rowena’s orders. . . . Except that was Sam. In the same episode Dean, does nearly kill Castiel but he doesn’t. And his killing attempt on Cas is not like the one with Gadreel in S9 where Dean is really trying to murder someone and is being held back. Rather Dean just decides he’s not going to kill Cas, in complete contradiction of Cain’s words. This then undercuts the tension of him threatening Sam because we’ve already seen Dean go against Cain’s warning. It is more predictable that he would avoid killing Sam given past performance than that he would. Proving (once again) that either Carver doesn’t grasp foreshadowing, or he is really bad at it. Had Dean been successful at killing Crowley and/or Castiel (or at least very nearly successful and it was only luck that saved them), then there would be legitimate tension and wonder in the audience minds about whether he really would kill Sam. Again, compare it to “Swan Song.” In that Sam, possessed by Lucifer, executes Bobby and Castiel both without hesitation. When he starts beating up his brother, there’s a moment of despair for the audience because we really don’t know if Sam can do anything about it.
Had Cain’s words proved true; had the information been spread out over the season; had we seen the boys considering different avenues of solution over the year, and watch those fail one by one; had the contrast between the needs of the world against the needs of the Winchesters been highlighted; had it all been brought to a head at the end, THEN the full emotion of this finale scene would have hit the audience like a tidal wave.
It didn’t. The writers tried to cheat and cram the emotion of 22 hours into the final one.
At the end Dean kills Death for ultimately no reason except writers’ convenience since the curse ends up being removed immediately afterwards anyway. (Just imagine the scene had he waited 3 more seconds.)
During S5, we watched the characters entire journey culminate into finding a solution amongst many very, very bad ones. Now in S10 when the boys confront bad choices, we don’t see them struggle or spend the time to find or forge a better option. Instead they just pick one, transforming what used to be an interesting, 3-dimensional compelling show into a flat, pointless one in one of the most wasted seasons they ever made.
I might do a “How it could be” of S10, but for now, let’s move on to 11.
*This is why there’s always a frustrating disconnect between authors & audience/critics. Because as an author, you’ll have spent a lot more time on the story than those processing it will have. That one scene will emotionally impact you because you spent months getting it just right, while to the audience it’s just there in the story. It sucks, but such is life. The one exception would be a superfan who reads/watches the story over and over until the point their time investment has nearly equaled yours.