This is going to have spoilers for Supernatural up until about episode 12 of the new season. So don’t read if you’re catching up.
I like Supernatural, I didn’t think I would, but I did. I kind of resisted the show for a while, put off by over zealous fans proclaiming it the best thing on TV. However two years ago, as the fourth season was airing, I got the first season boxset and diligently made my way through. It was OK, with some stand out episodes, until the final third of the first season. That’s when shit got real and I ended up buying Season 2, 3, and 4 almost immediately catching up with the 60 or so episodes I’d missed before the premiere of Season 5. Supernatural became appointment television for me and joined the ranks of shows like Community and Boardwalk Empire that I strove to watch every week. Season 5 rewarded this by being one of the most consistently entertaining runs of the show, with a great mixture of mythology episodes and comedy episodes and a genuinely great central villain. It even managed to end on a high note. If Season 5 had been the natural end of the show then I would have been satisfied.
But the show didn’t end and it sort of limped back the next year attempting to follow on from what had been a fairly natural conclusion for the show. It reunited the stars of the show, the brothers Dean and Sam Winchester, and seemed to adopt a monster of the week format that harkened back to the shows initial run. But something didn’t feel quite right about the show. There were stand out episodes (an episode devoted to Bobby, one of the few consistent supporting characters in the show, was particularly great) but the show seemed to lack the bite of the previous episodes.
A big part of that is that the overarching season doesn’t feel like it has any cohesion. New showrunner Sera Gamble wanted to return to the monster of the week episodes of the first two seasons, but still tried to tie it into an overarching mythology. The problem with this was that Season 5 almost represented a natural end point for any overarching plots, if your meta-threat in Season 5 was the devil how could you go bigger? Season 6 attempted to avert this by relying on smaller threats, the main villain duplicitous rather than all powerful. But then the show got kind of bored of that and ushered in another, all powerful, villain who was promptly forgotten about the episode after her introduction.
The previous seasons had always benefited from a clear through line which lasted all season and had a natural climax in the finale.
- Season 1 had the plot of the brothers searching for their father which segued into a hunt for the Yellow Eyed Demon and allowed a conflict between the demon and the Winchesters at the end of the season.
- Season 2 had the brothers still pursuing the Yellow Eyed Demon in an attempt to gain vengeance for their father. Along the way Sam found other children who had powers like his.
- Season 3 was largely hinged around Dean’s imminent death and attempts to break the deal. The season also introduced Lilith as a big bad.
- Season 4 was about an attempt to stop the release of Lucifer and also explored trust issues between Dean and Sam.
- Season 5 was about stopping the imminent apocalypse and the brothers mending their fractured relationship.
Season 6 thus far has had multiple story arcs. Initially Dean tried to balance his life as a hunter and his home life. But then that was dealt with. Then you had the introduction of the Campbell family of hunters, but that was sidelined almost immediately. You had Crowley as a major antagonist, but he was dealt with. You had the loss of Sam’s soul, but that was restored mid-season. You had Samuel Winchester as a potential antagonist, but then he was forgotten. Then three episodes ago they introduced the literal mother of all monsters and then haven’t mentioned her since.
It is like the Season has burnt through three seasons worth of story material in the space of a half season in an attempt to see what stuck. Whereas the other Seasons had easily identifiable external threats and internal threat threats Season Six has continually changed the dynamic between the brothers and the nature of the external threat.
In a lot of ways I should be commending the show for abandoning the archetypal format of having one big bad and having the series run up to a confrontation. But it feels like they’re being adventurous almost by accident, that they had ideas about what they wanted to do but realised they weren’t tenable after they’d already started filming. In a lot of ways the constant change of overarching threat should be throwing the viewer off kilter, getting us out of our comfort zone, but all we seem to be doing is transition from stuff we’d already experienced. Crowley as a big bad was essentially a rerun of The Yellow Eyed demon, a being with supernatural power but who was fallible and resorted to head games rather than head on conflict. The Mother of all Evil seems to be Lilith 2.0 in design and Lucifer 2.0 in intent. Even the Campbells feel like a reintroduction to the wider hunter world we saw, briefly, in Season 2. It’s like the series is trying on everything that once worked in an attempt to find something to run with and the result is that it comes across as indistinct and out of momentum.
It doesn’t help that the show feels different from its previous incarnation. The humour of the show is still there, but it feels far broader than ever before. Jensen Ackles has really grown into a fantastic comedy talent, but it feels like the show relies on his humour more than it should. Dean attempting to extricate a dragon killing sword is really funny, but it’s also over-extended and it feels like a good third, of a fairly indistinct episode, is devoted to his hilarious hijinks. More than anything it feels like someone who is writing the show based on what they feel Supernatural should be like, almost like a broad parody of a Supernatural episode. We’re only two thirds of the way into the season thus far and all these elements could intergrate in the final stretch and make me look like an idiot, but I honestly feel that we’re now in a phase of Supernatural which is designed to allow the show to run indefinitely. Whilst Seasons 3, 4 and 5 lead to a definitive end point Season 6 feels like it’s making time.
Disagree with me? Brilliant! Leave a comment! Go on, you know you want to.