Ever thought about the challenges of villainy?
Let’s imagine you’re telling a story.
Imagine it like starting a drawing with a blank sheet of paper.
You can draw anything on it. Likewise, you can create any story you wish. Whatever the audience is told is up to you.
So you get something like a crude outline of the story you’re going to tell. As a drawing, it might look like this.
Well of course that’s not very good. So you start adding more to it. Layers and shading to the characters. You give the hero depth and pathos. Of course heroes are only as good as the challenges they overcome so you really work on the villain. You don’t just make them complex, you make them mean and evil. You have the villain kick puppies, eat kittens, and steal 40 cakes (that’s terrible). Then to really add to the story, you make it the hero’s puppy, their little sister’s kitten, and the cakes the hero baked for the orphanage birthday party. You spend what seems like forever setting up the climax and final conflict between these two and getting it juuuuuuuust right.
By the time your done, the metaphor for your story now looks like this:
Of course it’s beautiful, and after all that work, it pays off. The story is hailed among the audience as great and satisfying and causing “all the feels.”
But what happens if your story keeps going?
Obviously you’ll have to create a new villain. From scratch. Which presents a whole new hoasts of challengs for the writer. In the above metaphor, it would be putting the crude stick figure against the fully fleshed out painting of Superman. This leads to the audience’s impatience with development of the new villain since you don’t also have the devlopment of the hero to balance things out. Typically writers will try and rush the new villain along. But then you have the problems of the audience comparing the new one with your classic, original. This will usually lead to either complaints that the new villain isn’t as good as the original, or is just an inferior repeat of the original. So one method of trying to head off these complaints is to have the old villain arrive to help the hero against the new villain, to show just how much worse and evil the new is compared to the old. (yes, this even happened in the comics once with Superman and Doomsday)
Obviously Supernatural had all of these problems.
Eric Kripke spent 5 years ultimately building up to Lucifer as the series principle, greater-scope villain.
Now this isn’t to say that Lucifer teaming up with the heroes to take on the Darkness(TM) is a bad thing in and of itself, but it would need to be established, “why?” Because the Darkness(TM) was turning people into pseudo-zombies? That was revealed to be Lucifer’s ultimate plan in The End. She was looking for God? So was he. She kills/eats demons? It’s Lucifer’s favorite pasttime. In almost every way, the goals and efforts of the Darkness(TM) were the same as Lucifer’s. The only difference seems to be that she wanted to destroy everything and Lucifer actually wanted to keep it – maybe (we have the usual Carver problem of explanations with motivations here). Which becomes doubly ironic since in S12 they have Lucifer become nihilistic, meaning that the sliver of difference between the characters was removed! In fact the implication from S10 was that Lucifer became evil because of the Mark of Cain’s influence. That could be an explination on the parallels between them – that Lucifer got the ideas and desires he did because they were ultimately from the Darkness(TM) – but then why would he fight against her? Why not join her side? The explinations we are given are very weak.
Even worse, all this and the shenanigans of the next season ultimately reduced the villainy and character of Lucifer.
This is why I always coached that it should have been Michael ultimately released from the cage. Given that he is an archangel too, it means the audience has some background and scope as to his power and danger. To return to our drawing metaphor, it’s a drawing of a villain with a lot of details done. The key difference is that the character and motivations of Michael were left very underdeveloped in his previous appearances. You could have him join the brothers to fight against the Darkness(TM) because he remains the “good soldier,” or you could have him turn and betray them to the Darkness(TM) because he hasn’t handled time in “jail” very well. Heck just imagine it was him giving the visions and speech to Dean in the cage instead of Lucifer to Sam. “You screwed up a lot last season, be my vessel and try to make it all up,” would have much more emotional impact on Dean than Sam. Just imagine the sting of “You rejected me, but accepted the Mark?”
Yes, a lot of enjoyment was had in S11 with watching Misha Collins playing the ultimate bad boy but beyond the childish thrill of that performance, what did it add to the story? To the character? Did our villain really improve any? Misha-Michael may not have been entertaining, but would the stories have been better? More consistent? Instead of tearing down an old favorite, could we have built up a new one?
Alas we’ll never know for sure, but it makes one wonder what could have been. And by tearing down the old foe, it didn’t build up the Darkness(TM), but made the audience resent her.