To really understand a season in this kind of sequential arc show, you have to look forward as well as back. For example, consider the Stynes introduced at the tail end of the 10th season. Here is a “secret family” which is supposed to be a world-moving power – which we have never heard of before and makes little sense in the show’s larger structure. This new threat is supposed to be an antagonist and main driving force against the heroes for reasons that are nebulously defined. And Dean is the only one who interacts or does much with this foe.
Given that everything I just wrote describes the DarknessTM just as well, it really adds a layer of understanding and frustration with the final years of Carver’s tenure. We should have realized that S11 was going to entail the final chapter of S10 writ large.
What is the difference between a revelation and a retcon? Both are moments that come late in a story which change or alter the meaning of events, actions, and characters that were earlier in that story. The difference is the author. A revelation is an idea the author had in mind before the the story began and always intended for the reader to learn (i.e. The plot twist in the movie The Sixth Sense.) A retcon is something which the author did not come up with until after the story began and had never intended it. (i.e. Comic books – any of them.) One is planned, the other is improvised.
The thing is, retcons ultimately strive to interpreted as revelations. Indeed the scale for grading how well a retcon was executed is to see how much of the audience believes it to be a revelation.
Take for example in Supernatural the moment where we learn the Trickster was really the archangel Gabriel all along. Although it’s never stated outright, going by several behind-the-scenes tidbits and interviews it’s pretty clear that this was NEVER the writers’ intent when the Trickster was first introduced in S2. Yet I have seen multiple times within the fandom, people who believe that it was planned from that first introduction. That’s how good the retcon was executed and how well it fit within the story.
I don’t know if I would rank the DarknessTM of S11 as the worst retcon the show ever had, but it is a top contender.
For example, we’re told leviathans are older than angels and God locked them away in Purgatory. We’re also told that the DarknessTM destroyed whatever God made so he and the archangels had to lock her up. So why didn’t she destroy the leviathans and purgatory? Why did God bother locking them up if his sis would just destroy them if he waited? See, none of this is explained at all in the show’s lore. We have – in fact – two pieces of lore contradicting each other. In order to make them fit, the audience has to extrapolate fairly elaborate explanations which are the show’s job to explain.
Just imagine that at some point in S11, a line was tossed out that the leviathan were creations of the DarknessTM (yes this would obviously mean removing the line that the DarknessTM cannot create something). When she destroyed God’s works, they were what she used. It not only fixes the contradiction, but it now adds new layers and parallels between this season and S7. The leviathans become foreshadowing of their mistress with both obsessed with consuming souls, having a “true form” of swirling blackness, and how outclassed angels are against the foes.
What about Death’s lines about his age? Is he some kind of 3rd brother to God and the DarknessTM? Again, the show provides no answer. So just imagine if they revealed that the four horsemen were the DarknessTM’s version of archangels? That Death was the first just like Michael (yes, I know this season tried to say Lucifer was the first and I side with Kripke’s lore over Carver’s). Now imagine the meaning this adds to S5. Lucifer isn’t just using the horsemen, he’s siding with the first enemies him and his brother’s fought. War, Famine, and Pestilence may be ok with that, but now we know why it chafes Death so much – he’s forced to serve one who previously beat him. Heck had the team come up with this soon enough, you could have even set up S10 as a long plot by Death to release his mistress. Yes I know that would be a bit too much like the original arc with Lucifer but it would at least give SOME substance to the previous season which is preferable to the nothing we got.
That was ultimately the worst part about S11. Previously I mentioned that S10’s problem was that it never advanced anything for the audience, while with S11 almost every time we had any advancement, it was at the cost of cohesive storytelling. Why have Hands of God never been used before? Why didn’t Azazel try the easier method of releasing Lucifer? (reminder: if he needed a witch, Ruby was one) How can God even die if Death & his scythe isn’t around? Did anybody believe the deal between Amara and Dean?
One thing that you can say when you go and watch Kripke’s era is that while mistakes were made, the creators learned from them. They learned about how important arcs were and how to accomplish a lot with a little. Carver had almost the same amount of years Kripke did and was supposedly around during those years, yet he kept seeming to make the same mistakes over and over with little sign of having learned from any of them. There was every possibility that S11 could have been a great season, but given the seasons that had come before, little reason to hope. We shall see what the future will hold.