Episodes Reviewed – Advanced Thanatology & Tombstone

I… I think I’m starting to feel again.

Please send help.

Advanced Thanatology

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If I had to sum up this episode it would be: “Dear audience, we are so sorry about the previous seasons.  Here, let us try and make it all better.”

First let me just say that in general, I’m thrilled with how this show is getting back on track with the little things.  Like remembering that ghosts can be scary.  That civilians are still people who’s lives are affected by these monsters – one of the reasons the boys need to do what they do.  During Carver’s tenure, so much of that became routine.  “Oh there’s a ghost.”  “Some people are dying.”  It felt almost like having news headlines read to you.  Whereas in a real world, ghosts would be scary, and people’s deaths would have impacts on those around them.  Essentially the show let the perspective of the Winchesters and the audience infect the setting – which it is not supposed to.  The boys are supposed to feel just a little bit out of sync with the world, the alienation from others a part of the price they pay to do what must be done.  So a big, big kudos to the show runners this episode for bringing that sensation back.  My heart broke when the mom found her son and it should. I can’t recall the last time a guest character hit me in the gut like since Gamble’s years.

Then it all pays off with the boys finding Castiel at the end of the episode, a moment that has more emotional impact because I’ve been emotionally invested during previous run time.  Compare this with previous seasons which would often have those payoff moments falling flat because the preceding story had kept the audience disinterested and detached from the characters.  This is what I’m always on about: every little thing matters and ties together.  Get me to care about the side characters, to feel their loss, and I will feel what Dean feels about needing a win.  So that moment when Castiel appears – the hope they feel is the hope I feel.

But let’s talk about canon a second.  I’m on plenty of record with complaints about what Carver did with canon – to the point that if they revealed seasons 8-11 were all dream of Sam’s or some other hooky twist, I wouldn’t complain.  But to be fair and honest, there is a problem with just hitting a bit reset button not the least of which is destroying canon while trying to restore it is like trying to rebuild an old house by burning it down.  You’re going to sabotage your own effort in the minds of the audience.

So yes, I would have loved Death just appearing and revealing, “I’ve been faking this whole time, bitches!”  However the reveal that it is a kind of “title” which is passed down by the paradox of a Reaper dying is the stronger storytelling choice.  It calls some questions to mind about older stuff (like was Death THE original Death, or a promoted reaper and that’s why he couldn’t quite remember full details?) WITHOUT opening thornier canon questions and breaking earlier stories.  It certainly at least explains why people on Earth have continued to die without Death around.  AGAIN a near perfect canon patch.

Also I REALLY liked Death’s office.  Another complaint I have about Carver’s run is how “ordinary” he was making the other-worlds of Supernatural look.  Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, etc never gave the sense of wonder to the audience that such places should probably inspire.  If you’ve ever been in a remote field on a cloudless night, you know what I mean just by looking up at the night sky – the sense of being a drop in an ocean.  The afterlives and realms of primordial beings should AT LEAST inspire something similar. The audience should never feel like they can see the boundaries of what lies beyond.  Often during Carver’s run, you started to feel like you could see where Heaven and Hell ended.  This episode?  With Death’s office they did an excellent job of conveying that there is more to that place beyond what I can see – just like the Empty from the previous episode.  So more kudos to the show runners on putting the supernatural back into Supernatural.

Also the other reaper was pretty cute – I always support more redheads on the show.

All in all I give this:

And applaud them adopting a MotW A-plot with arc B-plot structure.

Tombstone

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Now let me point out something which was also done in the previous episode but I’m going to talk about more here.

The little things are important.

The problem is that the little things are very easy to do wrong.  Because as a storyteller you can get so focused on getting a specific moment in a story and just right it ends up working against itself.  So there is some irony because you can’t always say what a “little thing” in a story is because context has an effect on them.

For example: if you’re doing a romance, objectively speaking, Lover 1 squeezing the hand of Lover 2 is a “little thing.”  However if by the end of the story that is the ONLY thing that ever happens between 1 & 2, then it’s not a little thing any more – it’s a “big thing,” because it’s the only thing.  You’ll need more – kisses and hugs and whispered words all to give the broader context.

The other deal with context is that you need to make sure the little things arise organically from the story because otherwise they’ll stick out by their obviousness.

(Yes I know this may seem weird with some of my other posts on being an efficient storyteller – to sum up: it’s like spices in cooking – you want enough to bring out the flavor, not too much to overwhelm it.)

This story did a lot to bring back the “little things” about the brothers.  Dean with his morning coffee or having fun getting into character.  (True, a lot of it is mostly Dean right now but the current show runners have earned enough good will I am patient to see if they do something with Sam.)  When was the last time we had a sense of what the boys like to do outside of the plot?  Often times during Carver’s run we’d get maybe one line during an episode, which stuck out via its solitude.  Here it’s much better incorporated into the milieu of the story, bringing everything to greater life.

I also liked that Jack made a mistake that was very understandable and didn’t feel artificial – you could see why the guard ran out when he did even if it was the worst possible moment.  I liked even more how hard Jack took it and his questions about the guard’s life, reminding us that yes, the innocents that get caught in the crossfire are still lives unnecessarily taken.  The show and characters had grown a little too callous with people’s deaths and Jack was a welcome reminder that – “Oh yeah, ‘SAVING PEOPLE’ is part of the family business.”

Am I thrilled that he is just taking off as all guest stars do around the 6th episode mark? No, that bit of predictability does bug me. (No really – the end of episode 6 LAST SEASON was when Mary departed from the boys.)

I was also annoyed by this line: “Big city folk like us”  I mean, Dean YOU’RE FROM KANSAS – how does that make you “big city folk”?  *checks google*  Well Lawrence Kansas is a bit larger than Dodge City where this episode takes place I think so that could be something of a regional Kansas joke (which I can understand) – just wish that was better conveyed.  It felt more like the writers interjecting themselves through Dean than any sense of him coming back home(ish).

I give this another:

They maintain the streak of doing a MotW A-plot with some arc B-plot.  Which I continue to endorse.

That’s 3, strong 4 shell episodes in a row.  Way to go, show!  (I’m not sure if they’ve had that kind of streak since the Kripke years.)

UPDATE: Ok, there was one canon hiccup that bugged me in this episode.  Castiel’s line about Chuck not having power in the Empty makes little sense given that Chuck has resurrected Castiel TWICE.  So the line probably has to be read as Castile being wrong in some random theorizing.

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