I almost didn’t do this post. The reason why is actually one of the reasons why I stopped watching the show. I’m not sure if that’s irony or just pathetic. But it does lead me to make a tiny announcement before I begin: COMMENT MODERATION IS ON. If you’re a troll, the comment will be deleted without a second thought. If you have an actual opinion, even if it goes against my opinion, I will publish it. But the trolls shall not be fed.
Years ago, my friend, Leah, kept going on and on about this new tv series. She would say, “Suzanna, you’d love this show!” And I would make grumbling noises and change the subject.
Leah, though, has a personality reminiscent of ocean waves pounding basalt. In other words, she wore me down and I watched the pilot episode with her. I was immediately hooked. The show was Supernatural.
Skip ahead a few years and it’s the first episode of season nine. Leah and I don’t speak very often anymore but I still watched the show we used to gush over.
I’d had a lot of problems with the series after season five but I was willing to push through. Then Dean manipulates Sam into returning to life in 9×01, “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”. I threw up my hands and walked away. Since then, I’ve checked in on Supernatural from time to time, to see where the story is, but have no desire to return to it.
My sudden distaste for the show did not come about simply because of that one episode. No. It was simply the final offense to my storytelling sensibilities.
Repetition Ad Nauseam
Originally, the show was meant to last five seasons. Showrunner Eric Kripke left after season five, feeling that he had told the story he wanted to tell. He didn’t give a damn that he left things slightly less than satisfactory for fans. He told his story and, like any good storyteller, dusted his hands and walked away.
CW, on the other hand, saw a cash cow/golden goose/insert appropriate cliche here. They got a new showrunner and kept making episodes. In fact, the CW president once said the show would continue until the ratings dropped and the creative team no longer wanted to continue. In other words, CW didn’t care if the show hit season 20, as long as enough people watched it.
While that’s theoretically pretty awesome (we fans of Firefly would happily sell our souls for a second season, after all), it’s only actually awesome if the writers came up with new ideas.
Here’s the general structure of every season: Season opens with consequences from the last clusterfuck — Team Winchester tries to clean up said mess — Someone in said team makes a stupid decision that fixes the problem while creating a brand new clusterfuck — Season Finale
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
We constantly see the repetition of themes about brotherhood and duty, as if they didn’t learn anything from the last time they whinged about it. And like with Doctor Who, which oftentimes rolls out Daleks, Cybermen, or Weeping Angels whenever they want the proverbial to hit the fan, Supernatural rolls out a new breed of angel, demon, ancient baddie, or Lucifer himself whenever they need a Big Bad.
Oh, and one of the Winchester brothers will be in danger of death or damnation by the end of the season. I swear, it’s like they take turns.
Overly Complicated Plot and History
Sometimes, a show calls for complication. Doctor Who makes for a good example: I can’t explain River Song’s relationship to the Doctor without a white board and laser pointer. And that’s fine! The show, being about a time traveling mad man in a blue box, calls for such complication.
Game of Thrones is another example. I’ve never watched it but I know what it’s about: a major power struggle involving many houses. Whenever you steep yourself into politics involving a lot of people, it’s going to get complicated. And the story calls for it.
Supernatural does not call for that level of complication. When Eric Kripke was in charge, and the series had an actual expiration date, things were fairly straight forward. I could sum up the seasons in a few breaths. If I needed to go more into depth, I could do it without visual aids. Why? Because the story was a classic good vs. evil tale involving a very human pair of brothers who only had each other. There was a definite goal that tied all the seasons together and toward which the story moved. Easy and simple. A fine example of good storytelling.
Now? By the time I gave up in season nine, I didn’t have a clue what the show was supposed to be about. And there didn’t seem to be a point in the complication. There was no major power struggle over a throne, or trips through time. It was two guys and an angel going from one five alarm fire to another, creating new fires as they went, without an ultimate end goal in sight.
You know what else does that? Soap operas.
Characters Behaving Out of Character
Castiel, despite being a level-headed fellow, pairs up with a demon to take over heaven (season six).
Sam, despite being extremely loyal to his brother, leaves Dean to rot and Kevin to his own devices and hooks up with a veterinarian (season 8, episode 1).
Dean manipulates Sam into choosing life, rather than death, even though Dean felt the pain of being brought back to life unnaturally when his father sold his soul way back in season two.
These things were done in order to create tension and plot. Never mind that they go against character or in defiance of lessons that should have already been learned. This is the biggest no-no in writing and it makes me froth at the mouth whenever I see it.
Lack of Solid Female Characters
Charlie got around this because the writers probably got tired of hearing about the lack of permanent female characters. But, she couldn’t be villain and she couldn’t be a romantic interest because the boys aren’t allowed to keep a girlfriend. And since no woman in right mind would not be interested sexually in either Dean or Sam, then she has to be gay.
I wanted a smart, independent woman character who could have gotten into bed with Sam or Dean but chose not to because she simply wasn’t interested in dating a steaming pile of codependent drama.
But if a woman could have a sexual interest in either of them, well, THAT JUST WON’T DO.
In the beginning of this post, I said I almost didn’t write this because of one of the reasons why I stopped watching. That reason has to do with the fans.
The Tumblr Supernatural fandom can be a scary place. The bad elements are rabid demons about their pet ship (coughDestielcough) or pet Winchester. Heaven help you if you disagree with them. But, while that’s annoying, it’s a mere inconvenience. I can watch a show without being a part of the fanbase on Tumblr.
No, my problem started when Supernatural began doing fan service. There were many plots and episodes that were done simply because the fans wanted it. The meta musical in the 200th episode is the biggest example, a culmination of fan service moments sprinkled throughout the show from season six onwards.
Sam Winchester doing shirtless pull ups while a prostitute freshens up in his bathroom.
Dean and Sam arguing, again and again, over whether Sam is allowed to stop hunting and have his own life.
In fact, every time the brothers argue over something they had already argued over, albeit in a slightly different incarnation.
There are more but I can’t find them without doing a lot of research. And I don’t care enough.
What Does Supernatural Teach Us About Stories?
For me, there are three big rules that Supernatural teaches and it’s all by it’s bad example:
- Endings must happen. They don’t have to be fluffy and happy. If the story is gritty, then the ending must be appropriately gritty. If the show is dark, then the ending must be equally dark. But it must end. Endings are important because they set goals and encourage aspirations, which make up a huge part of our lives. If we do not have a goal or an aspiration, then life is just drudgery. It’s the same way with stories.
- Re-teaching lessons amounts to spinning your wheels in midair. In order for your characters to grow and continue to be three-dimensional, you have to let them learn their lessons and then move on. Find new lessons.
- If you can no longer be original, it’s time to move on. If you’re writing a series and every story is starting to look the same, then it’s time to walk away and tell a different story.
Though there were things about the first five seasons of Supernatural that I didn’t like, it was still a captivating story. It was a story with an overall goal. It was a story with forward movement. Ever since Sam came back without a soul, the series began searching for a purpose and I simply got tired of waiting for it to discover one.
Also published on Medium.