Dirty Horcrux
*Not a spoiler-free zone!*

A lot of Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Murder She Wrote, Supernatural, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and even some Sherlock. Also, a whole lot of Christopher Eccleston as Nine and Nathan Page as Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.

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Watching the last 10th Doctor episode again now.  I’ll always miss the hair.

1 week ago on April 15th, 2014 | J | 12 notes

ϟ The Magic Begins Challenge: A Scene You Really Wanted To Be In The Movies, But Wasn’t

Have a biscuit, Potter.

1 week ago on April 15th, 2014 | J | 73,486 notes


Dean’s Character Quirks

Who misses season 1-3 Dean? I know I do. 

2 weeks ago on April 6th, 2014 | J | 33,413 notes

Style over Substance, or the Fall of Supernatural




As Supernatural approaches its 200th episode, many of us are still watching this show with the same devotion and loyalty with which we were watching it in 2005, back in those uncertain days when we weren’t sure if our favourite TV story was going to get a renewal. Many of us still hold that day in the week when our show airs as special; as a favourite, which we look forward to with the glee of a 7-year old awaiting Christmas, and miss like a best-friend when it’s on hiatus. For many of us, Supernatural remains the only TV passion worth having, and for many of us, it’s a passion almost a decade long. It’s a passion we feed, in those awful gaps when Supernatural isn’t on air with Bluray box sets of every available series and copies on iTunes, just in case we need to indulge when the only option is a mobile device. It’s a passion we indulge with books, and calendars, mugs and even garments – yes, the “driver picks the tunes, shotgun shuts his cakehole” T-shirt; with weekend Supernaturalthons where we gorge ourselves on episode after episode after episode, until we can probably quote each one verbatim to anyone who cares to listen.

And Supernatural isn’t just awesome entertainment; it gives us more than that. It’s a family. Through our boundless devotion to it, many of us have made lifelong friends among people we might never have had cause to know. As a fandom, the only other thing we share in common than our love for the show, is our amazing diversity: many of you are girls, some of us are guys; some of us are graduates, some of you are not; many of you are straight, some of you are gay. We’re worldwide, we’re multicultural; we cross race, gender, sexuality, and socio-economic background. The person writing this piece is one of this amazing group of people; a fan, someone who has stayed with the show since Pilot, and never missed an episode. Someone who regards the show as their only TV obsession; who has been invested in it like no other, and would – until very recently - have gladly salted & burned anyone who dared raise a voice of criticism against it.  

            But, in the paragraphs that follow, this person – this die-hard fan of Supernatural - is going to tell you about everything that’s gone wrong with the show.

2 weeks ago on April 4th, 2014 | J | 2 notes

Style over substance, or the Fall of Supernatural


PART 2: Four-colorization


Most fans who love this show, probably love it for similar reasons. Most of us are genre show junkies, and probably have been since our teens (for those of us who aren’t teens anymore). A large proportion of us are probably also shameless addicts of the eye-candy heading up the cast. Those two ingredients together, without any other, might have been sufficient to hook those of us who grew up watching almost every sci-fi show the networks chose to throw at us.

But to many of us Supernatural had something more than just hunks and creatures. It had a human story; a compelling exploration of two-blue collar guys, tied to each other by family and shared experience and the awful knowledge of the dark and horrifying world they had been dragged into by their vengeful father. Not only was this premise engaging for its comparative novelty, the tone and mood of the show helped to pull us in and keep us interested. It was gritty and authentic, it treated us like adults without losing its sense of humor; it made an effort to show us what the world would be like if the supernatural was real, and it was that reality - that authenticity - that we loved as much as the attractive stars and their characters’ engaging story. It was grown up, different, unique. Its tone echoed the X-Files without aping it; the writing was smart and sharp, and genuine. The episodes were written with its human characters at the center, and facing evil that was often frightening enough for us to want to keep the lights on. Those episodes were written with an eye for what was good character development, good storytelling, not for what looked cool; it was a show of characters that felt real, reacted in real ways, against adversaries that felt authentic. That show kept us tuning in – with genuine delight and complete focus (woe betide anyone who dared interrupt us when Supernatural was on) – for 5 years.

But, that is not the show that we are watching now. That show was a horror-story every week. The show we are watching now is a knock-off urban fantasy. It is a show of magical exploding jars, and of angels who have standard procedures and Bond-villain control rooms; it’s a show of fairies with fantastical magical powers and of gateways to Oz, of hipster-demons working the graveyard shift at Castle Storage and of magical bunker that wouldn’t look out of place in a Marvel title. It’s a show of two-tone characters, regularly killed off for no other reason than the brief, unsatisfying drama of it; a show that now lacks that reality, that authenticity that it used to have. Now it is a show trying to chase Buffy, or Grimm; a show that is more interested in what looks cool than it is in authenticity.

A show has to evolve to stay engaging, of course; everyone knows that’s the unfortunate fact of the world of fickle audiences in which we live. But Supernatural stands out for just how much it has changed. None of the long-running genre shows of the last 20 years – X-Files, Stargate, Smallville, for example – so jarringly switched genre half-way through their run as has Supernatural. Buffy didn’t suddenly switch from comic book to Walking Dead-esque survival horror, Stargate didn’t suddenly turn into Star Wars, Smallville wasn’t suddenly channelling the Watchmen. There is a degree of hyperbole here of course, but the point is to illustrate how significant the change in tone and mood in Supernatural has been. As a simple illustration, take the exchange of the Impala and the motel of the week, for the Men of Letters Bunker. The former was real and authentic, the latter is a comic book; and while there’s nothing wrong with comic books, other shows have that genre covered. Supernatural was remarkable because it wasn’t trying to imitate that urban fantasy that Buffy did so well, and subsequent shows have poorly copied. It’s this, the jarring shift in tone and mood, that is the most palpable of those things that have gone wrong with Supernatural. It is not the only issue, as we will explore, but it is a significant one, and it is the starting point of Supernatural’s fall. Its reduction to this bauble of cool-powers and cool-monsters is an act of dumbing-down: it is the sacrifice of substance for style, a sacrifice that has been made in almost every other facet of the show. Stuck between its past and its inexplicable metamorphosis into a Buffy clone – complete with ensemble cast, and monsters running bars serving communities of good creatures, and showy magical powers – Supernatural has become an incoherent jumble of genre clichés. While that works for lesser TV, the show that we fell in love with deserves better than that. 

2 weeks ago on April 4th, 2014 | J | 3 notes

Style over substance, or the Fall of Supernatural


PART 3: Cardboard Angels and Insipid Demons


Nowhere is there better evidence of Supernatural’s dumbing-down more than in its main antagonists: its angels and demons.

            To indulge a tangent here, the show’s obsession with Judaeo-Christian mythology has become a weakness and not a strength. It has trapped the show in an inevitable regurgitation of conflicts between angels, fallen angels and demons. Instead of embracing the vast corpus of world mythology, rich in characters and their stories, Supernatural insists on returning to antagonists that should probably have been written out when the Apocalypse was done. What would have made for a more engaging experience is the proper realization of the Leviathans, introduced at the end of season 6. Here were ancient, malevolent and utterly alien beings that could have effortlessly replaced the Kripke-era antagonists of the show, if only their conception and execution been handled better. Instead of a suitable replacement for the angels and demons, however, the writers inexplicably turned the Leviathans into a kind of comic relief; something like a Stephen King plot if it had been written by Joss Whedon. A missed opportunity, and one that has left Supernatural stuck in a rut of unimpressive villains, circular and unengaging storylines, and useless protagonists. 

            Since angels and demons are an indelible part of the show, however, and consequently we must accept their continuing role as antagonists-in-chief, it behoves the writers to formulate them in a way that makes them multi-layered and interesting. To write them so that they are a genuine threat to Sam and Dean; to write them in a way that makes us feel that thrill of fear and menace, whenever they are on-screen. In other words, the show needs to give us angels and demons that create some other emotional reaction than utter indifference, which is the predominant feeling for many of us who are still watching. Monsters or not, these characters should have a reality to them, they should feel genuine. Unfortunately, they are neither real nor genuine.

            Take even the most interesting villain of the current season: Abaddon. Here is a demon - a Knight of Hell – whom we are told was handpicked by Lucifer: ancient, malevolent, powerful; a dark spirit full of rage and violence who has endured for thousands of years. On paper Abaddon looks impressive; a worthy successor to Azazel, and Alistair and Lilith. Alas for the reality. What do we have? An attractive woman who seems more ill-tempered than enraged, who has super-powers but otherwise is mostly lacking in menace let alone any sense of terror; not so much dark as surly. Compare Abaddon to Meg in season 1 and 2; Meg wasn’t a flawless character, but she was never anything less than menacing. Abaddon couldn’t menace anyone if she tried. She’s too much a caricature, too two-dimensional with her leather and shouting about ruling Hell, for many of us to take her seriously. Unlike her predecessors she is not a real character, she is a cliché.

Lack of convincing menace aside, there is an additional, and perhaps even more fundamental flaw in the character. Specifically, the question of what actually ties this character to the brothers. Other than the Pretzel shaped my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend justification between Sam & Dean and Crowley, why should we care about Abaddon as an enemy of the Winchesters? She killed their grandfather, but given that fact seems to be largely forgotten by the brothers (until a special guest star appearance is needed late on in the season) we’re not persuaded to recall it, nor feel Sam & Dean’s enmity with the demon because of it. So, what else? What personal motivating factor persuades us that we should be engaged in Sam and Dean’s enmity with Abaddon? There is none, and that’s the problem. The plot ties binding Sam and Dean to this character are superficial; they’re there for show, for the thrill of the hot-mean-girl overpowering the Winchesters, and little else. Compare with the demons that have preceded her: Meg, Alistair, even Ruby; all had more character and reality to them. 

The problems of one-note antagonists aren’t confined to Abaddon, but rather embody a wider problem with demons in the show. Just as she is superficial and lacking character, so too are all the other demons we see. Take the latest iteration of demonkind, in the recent episode Captives. These beings are supposedly evil incarnate - you’ve seen the Conjuring, or the Last Exorcism, the Exorcist – they should be terrifying to us. But most of us can agree that the demon in Captives would have struggled to terrify the average kindergarten, let alone hardened Supernatural fans, let alone Sam & Dean. Hyperbole again, but when was the last time any of us found a demon on Supernatural even remotely frightening? They are the cockroaches of Supernatural, to be stamped out with a blade or a single right-hook. A fact never better illustrated than when Sam, or Dean (or Miss Tran) resolve a fight with a demon not by exorcism, but with Ruby’s knife. The end of Captives illustrates the point: the demon was tied to a chair and we’re told it is a weak, new demon; logically, then, there was no reason why Sam - who can recite the Roman Rite backwards - couldn’t have exorcised the demon and saved the guy he was possessing. The Sam & Dean of earlier seasons would have balked at murdering the innocent possessee. But instead of seeing our heroes’ compassion, the show gave us Kevin’s mom murdering the guy with Ruby’s knife, and with no other justification that it was cool and showed what a bad-ass she was. In other words, style over substance. 

If the demons of Supernatural have become cannon fodder, then the angels are even more purposeless. Setting aside Gadreel and Metatron for a moment,  the angel arc suffers from the same lack of any convincing reason for the viewer to care about them that the demons do, but even more so because there is no obvious motivation leading Sam and Dean to be involved with their machinations. This has been the case since the start of season 6. Someone, no doubt, will point to Castiel and say: there’s the connection, but we’ll get to him in a minute. Other than in the most cursory way, Dean, and especially Sam, have not been involved in, or affected by, the machinations of the angels since Swan Song. Except when they’re dragged in to help Castiel with whatever contrived problem he’s having (see season 8’s episode, Sacrifice), the angels and the Winchesters could be inhabiting entirely different worlds. The episode, Captives, which hopped between Sam & Dean and Castiel, could have been two different shows sandwiched together for no better reason than their genre.

Notwithstanding the absence of any persuasive connection between the Winchesters and the angels, it is a struggle to find any reason to be interested in the current incarnation of the heavenly host. They have always been somewhat more like corporate jerks in suits than supernatural villains, but their previous incarnations did at least have a soupcon of menace to them. The last menacing angel was Raphael. Since then we’ve been treated to a parade of carbon-copy men and women in suits, who have had no more impact on the story than would the cardboard they appear to be cut from. Instead of multifaceted, engaging antagonists for the show’s main characters, we have a group of people as forgettable as the suits they wear, who are regularly killed-off for no particular reason than that the blue-glow from their eyes and mouth looks cool. It is a struggle to care about the angels precisely because we don’t have any opportunity to get to know them. Take Bartholomew, for example: potentially interesting leader of one faction of the angels (probably no one knows or cares which one), who appears in two episodes and is killed off for no obvious purpose, except perhaps to show that Castiel can still kill his own kind and give the rest of the (faceless) host a reason to follow him. Riveting TV it is not. Beyond that, there’s no indication what Bart’s purpose in the season was, what he really wanted – beyond some vague stuff about returning to heaven and controlling all the other angels (how original) – and consequently it was difficult to care very much, or get very excited, when he died, either for him or Castiel. He had no impact on Sam and Dean’s story, no connection to them, had no measurable influence on the events of the episode and consequently no more reality to him than a cipher. He may as well have been wearing a red shirt and called Ensign Smith. He is indicative, in his blandness, of almost every angel that has appeared in the show since they killed off Zachariah.

The one caveat to the general tediousness of the angels, is Gadreel. Gadreel is by far the most interesting angel to appear in Supernatural in years. His story is engaging, his characterisation compelling, and he’s directly connected to the Winchesters. We have a reason to care about what happens to this character exactly because he seems multilayered, he seems real, we’ve been given the time to get to know him; in other words, he’s an angel who exists for a reason other than to give something for Castiel to do.

Which, neatly, brings us to Castiel. The show’s favourite angel tends to elicit the full spectrum of responses to a character, from adoration, to indifference, to loathing. For the sake of this piece, it suffices to say that the character was enjoyable enough in seasons 4 and 5, but since then consecutive show runners and their writing staff have struggled to find anything meaningful for him to do. He has variously been deus ex machina in chief, light relief and adversary, but other than the last of those, his roles seem to be mainly symptoms of frustration; Castiel has become the fifth-wheel of Supernatural. A character who seems to drift from episode to episode, doing his own thing – always something to do with the angels that no one else cares very much about – but otherwise unconnected to the brothers except when he needs their help with something that Sam and Dean have no reason to be interested in. The consequence is a show that sometimes looks likes two separate shows: Supernatural, with Sam and Dean, and its spin off: Supernatural: the Angels, with Castiel.

One can certainly appreciate the difficulty the writers face. Supernatural is inarguably Sam and Dean’s show; it’s their story and everyone else is supporting cast. For this reason, Castiel playing fifth-wheel in the Impala is unappealing: few fans, the writer of this piece included, would stomach that for long. Conversely, if Castiel’s actions are as completely disconnected from Sam and Dean as they have been since Swan Song, it becomes difficult for many who aren’t his adoring fans to care very much about him. Many of us have always watched for the brothers, and while we appreciate Castiel has his fans, we don’t accord him any more significance in the story than any of the other supporting characters. There is a good argument that really he is no more important to Sam and Dean than was Bobby, and following Castiel’s adventures would be about as appealing as following Bobby’s; which is to say, such an episode would be occasional fun – we like Bobby and Castiel plenty – but it would quickly lose our interest if it happened every other episode.

There is a counterargument to be had that Castiel is, actually, much more significant to the story of Sam & Dean, than any other supporting character. The problem is that very little that the writers have done in the last 2.5 seasons supports this argument in any meaningful way. The relationship between the brothers’ story and Castiel’s story seem cursory at best, and this gives the impression that Castiel is not retained because of any inherent value, but to appease his fans. Now, it may well make commercial sense, even if it lacks artistic integrity, to keep a popular character in place for the sole reason that he is popular. But whatever the reason Castiel is in the show, the writers need to give him something to do that actually has meaning in respect of the protagonists. That is something that consecutive show-runners have simply failed to do and that’s not good for Castiel, and it’s not good for the show. Again, it’s an example of style over substance.

2 weeks ago on April 4th, 2014 | J | 4 notes

Style over substance, or the Fall of Supernatural


PART 4: LOL!Canon, the mystery of Sam’s diminishing intellect and a 2D Dean

Canon is important. If you make the effort to craft a world, and fill it with details about its inhabitants, and the events that occur in it, then stick to those details; or if you don’t, give persuasive explanations for why you haven’t. The reason is simple: if you don’t do that, then you seem lazy or incompetent. Worse, you jar your audience out of their belief in that world. Poor continuity can, in a handful of words, undo all the work you’ve put into creating a story. It really is Writing 101.

So, for someone with the current showrunner’s experience to make so many canonical errors, or (let’s be generous) deviations from canon without explanation, is surprising to say the least. Worse than surprising, it’s annoying because it’s so easily avoided. For example, if Dean tells us in season 2 that he’s never been to the Grand Canyon, you better believe that your fans – who will have watched Croatoan a hundred times, at least – are going to remember that. When you then, in season 8, have Sam reminiscing about his and Dean’s Grand Canyon donkey-riding vacation when they were children, it is inevitably going to draw a few arched eyebrows from the aforementioned fans. Those fans are then likely going to completely ignore the following poignant piece of dialogue you’ve crafted for Sam, in favour of outrage for your continuity error.

It’s a small thing, of course, minutiae. But even the smallest error of continuity is going to have the potential to demolish that suspension of disbelief you rely upon to keep your audience engaged. If you do it too often you will either end up driving contemptuous viewers away to other, smarter shows, or you will end up with an inch-thick fan-penned book listing - in witty and toe-curling black and white - all of your crass, moronic canon mistakes. And they are moronic, because five minutes on Superwiki, or 30-seconds with a fan on twitter, would have let you avoid your crime. Ignorantia legis neminem excusat… or something like that.

If canonical slips like the Grand Canyon visit are annoying, then the other category of canonical errors – changes to lore without explanation - can be ruinous. Take, for example, the season 8 episode Taxi Driver, in which we learned that there are reapers who moonlight as metaphysical ferrymen, capable of taking humans (Sam, in this case) between the material world, Purgatory and Hell. Given Sam’s experience between season 3 and 4, and what Castiel said were the herculean efforts needed to get Dean out of Hell, you might have expected Sam to be somewhat astonished (and dismayed) that actually springing his brother out of Perdition was as simple as speaking to a reaper. Neither Sam nor Bobby, nor indeed any other hunter was aware of this useful fact, though apparently it was commonplace enough for the crossroads-demon-de-jure to be able to pull it out of the air. Many of us were somewhat surprised by the revelation. Many of us were even more surprised by the lack of any meaningful explanation for this apparent useful back-door; an explanation like, for example, the after effects of Castiel breaching Purgatory, or Death being bound by Lucifer, or something that only became possible after the Apocalypse. Unfortunately, there was no explanation along any of those lines, or indeed any explanation at all. What many of us do recall, however, is a jarring feeling that the ferryman rather cheapened Sam’s suffering in season 3 and 4, and Dean’s 40-years in hell. Style over substance, again. Fortunately, confusion and dismay were quickly overwhelmed by the realization of a Hell that looked nothing like the one Dean was so memorably skewered in, and more like a left over set from Xena. But that’s a digression.

Perhaps, though, we can explain Sam’s ignorance of the reaper trick, not as ineptitude or laziness vis canon, but as a symptom of what has been a steady decline in Sam’s intelligence and competence: in other words, the dumbing down of Sam Winchester. Fans of Supernatural ab initio, will recall that Sam was introduced to us as something of a wunderkind. He was the kid who was smart enough to get a full-ride to one of the most prestigious colleges in the country; he was the guy who was being interviewed for a place at Stanford Law after acing his LSATS; he was the guy who had been steeped in the lore of the occult and supernatural since he was six months old, and who was one of the most highly trained, skilled and deadly hunters in the world. Yes, this guy was something impressive, a genius and a badass. But, apparently, this genius and badass was also the guy who didn’t know who Metatron was; he was also the guy who couldn’t work out where Dean might have been whisked off to at the end of season 7; he was the who guy needed Kevin’s Mom to rewire a door for him; he’s the guy who seems easier to capture and tie up than Penelope Pitstop. Because, apparently this genius bad-ass hunter has never seen the movie Dogma (or else never read a single book about angels, ever); can’t make simple leaps of inductive reasoning, can hotwire a car and disable house alarms but not apparently door controls with four wires, and is also the dude-in-distress-de-jure of the Supernatural world.

One might be tempted to laugh, if all of that wasn’t symptomatic of a sustained and unexplained deformation of Sam’s character since season 6. Perhaps it’s a consequence of his Lucifer-hallucinations and resulting insanity or perhaps the stress has finally nuked his brain, and that explains his diminishing intelligence and patchy competence on the hunt. Or maybe it’s another example of appearance over substance: instead of consistent characterization, we have Sam’s character transforming, chameleon like, to serve whatever needs of the writers: We need a cheap laugh about Metatron sounding like a transformer? Let’s pretend Sam wouldn’t know who that is. We need to come up with some contrived reason why Sam wouldn’t have looked for his brother, so we can justify the soap-opera that filled the first half of season 8? We’ll pretend Sam’s too stupid to work out Dean got sucked to Purgatory. We need to show how cool and “strong” and not-clichéd Kevin’s Mom is? Let’s pretend Sam couldn’t rewire that door in about ten seconds. We need to show Dean running to the rescue of his brother again (and again, and again, and again, and again and again…)? Let’s have Sam get knocked out and captured. Even after two (or is it four?) years at Stanford, season 1 Sam was a better hunter than season 8 and 9 Sam. He must be the only major heroic character of any TV show in forever who has actually gotten less competent and skilled with time.

One might wonder why any show-runner would want to dumb-down a major character in this way. It’s a good question, and it’s difficult to imagine any other reason – save incompetence – than the one given before; that is, Sam is a kind of cipher, a device to facilitate the wow factor, the cool of the show and the other characters. Particularly Dean.

Which brings us to the elder Winchester. It is often said that Supernatural is Sam’s story, told over Dean’s shoulder; it’s a view that has merit, though sometimes that seems a lazy way of excusing a lot of the linear, cyclical writing in the show. The problem is that while Sam has become a cipher, shapechanging to facilitate whatever plot requirement or narrative conceit the writers need to exercise, Dean has gone in the other direction and become a caricature of himself.
It is accepted, of course, that the show is about the brothers – we’ve made the point previously – and that for that to work, we have to see Sam and Dean reacting to each other and that their motives have to be (largely, if not exclusively) about each other. For Dean, this means protecting the man to whom he has given his life (and soul); this is Dean’s raison d’etre, and it’s one of the things that has kept many of us tuning in for 9 years. However, accepting this core motivation of Dean’s character does not mean that this is all Dean is; this does not mean that we cannot explore facets of Dean’s personality that are not exclusively, or mostly, about his brother. But the show has, in recent years, completely failed to do this.

To make the argument, we might explore the subplot about Dean’s alcoholism, in season 7. Here was an opportunity to explore a topic that was socially relevant and would have developed Dean’s character, and – ultimately – facilitated something new about the brothers’ relationship. However, instead of a thoughtful, profound and ultimately poignant exploration of Dean’s depression or PTSD or desperation (or whatever the informing factor was), the subplot was abandoned half way through the season, without ever being addressed directly, or resolved. This is just one example of numerous missed opportunities, or abandoned pieces of characterization over the last 3 years. The result has been the devolution of Dean into a caricature: a 2-dimensional character whose only significant qualities are monster-killing, wise-cracking and saving Sammy.

Before anyone thinks that this piece is advocating swapping Sam out for Castiel as Dean’s focus, let us be quite explicit that Castiel is not, and could never be, a replacement for Sam. To recite a mantra: the show is about the brothers, not about Dean and Castiel. Dean’s characterization is not facilitated by swapping one obsession for another. Dean needs to have stories of self-discovery that do not involve being an adjunct to another character. This is something that can be achieved without mutilating his relationship with his brother, or contriving his relationship with supporting characters. He certainly deserves better than being the self-parody he has become.

2 weeks ago on April 4th, 2014 | J | 3 notes

Style over substance, or the Fall of Supernatural


PART 5: Manufactured brother angst (aka Season 9)


All of which, leads to the current season. This opinion is going to deviate for a little while from a general complaint about the post-Kripke era, and concentrate on the present season that epitomizes many of the issues already raised above.

            Let us start by exploring the difficulties with the current formulation of Sam and Dean’s annual sibling angst. Sam is, of course, entirely entitled to be angry with Dean for lying to him about Gadreel; there are few people who wouldn’t be annoyed at a trusted loved one who tricked them into getting possessed, and then lied about it for months afterwards. It’s the rest of it where the illogicality and incoherence lays. Take Sam’s constant (petulant) exclamation that he had chosen to die (Deeeaannn!), and the message implicit from that to Dean and the viewer that such a choice is perfectly rational and reasonable, and that Dean was completely obnoxious in taking that choice away. Anyone who thinks that assertion is valid is invited to spend 5-minutes talking to anyone involved in mental health care. No ethical, reputable charity or professional service would blithely agree that it was at all healthy for a physically fit, 31-year old man to assert that he wanted to die, whatever his life experience. People who assert those kind of desires, tend to end up under the care of professionals. Furthermore, anyone who has a sibling or parent or child they love, or even a best friend, is invited to engage in a small hypothetical: imagine that person is dying from some terminal illness; imagine also that some angel turns up and says: “I can save their life by entering into them and healing them from within”; further imagine that there is no other possible option for averting this loved one’s death. It is hard to accept that many of us would stand-by and gladly let our loved one die. Saving someone’s life isn’t robbing them of their agency, particularly when they’re physically healthy and otherwise have every possibility of an excellent quality of life. Unless of course you’re the kind of people who would, with indifference, let someone jump off a bridge.

            So, beyond lying to Sam afterwards, it is difficult to see why Dean is supposed to feel guilty about his actions: Sam’s argument doesn’t ring true because it’s irrational, so why should we share Dean’s apparent guilt? Indeed, what as the audience are we supposed to feel for Sam’s complaint? Sam’s insistence that he had chosen to die isn’t a reasonable argument. It’s not a valid argument. To (mis)quote Bobby: “It’s a non-argument”. That bad things flowed from Dean’s choice isn’t justification for condemning him for saving his brother, because in the circumstances, who but some unfeeling monster wouldn’t have done what Dean did? You don’t blame the victim, and Dean isn’t guilty of anything than being the victim of another’s lies. As such, the whole argument justifying Sam’s outrage, and the implicit message about the toxicity of the brothers’ relationship, hangs off a completely irrational and illogical piece of reasoning. This isn’t to indulge in a fierce defence of Dean’s choices, over Sam’s, casting Sam as the sullen ingrate (though, a sullen ingrate is exactly what the dismal characterization this season has made of the younger Winchester), but instead to point out how superficial Sam & Dean’s characterization has become.

The conflict is, supposedly, part of the wider intention stated by the show-runner to make the brothers’ relationship more mature. Let us deal with this for a moment. Notwithstanding it is a fairly breathtaking piece of presumption - particularly in light of all of us who have been tuning in for 9-years exactly for that immature relationship - it is also an assertion that proceeds from a general fallacy. The brothers’ relationship isn’t toxic, it isn’t immature; it isn’t something that – at the end of season 5, or 6 or 7 - needed fixing. You can illustrate this quite simply by reference to similar relationships that are built in extreme, life threatening situations. Talk to veterans about the camaraderie and close personal bonds they build with their fellow soldiers during war, and then tell them there is something toxic or immature about it. Or talk to real siblings who are close and ask them whether they think there was anything immature or inherently toxic in what Dean did at the start of the season.

The counter argument, the reason why Dean should feel guilty, was made in the artless echoing between Harry and Ed and Sam and Dean in the episode #Thinman, in which the melodrama of the former pair paralleled the melodrama of the latter. Unfortunately, the implicit argument is a completely specious one. Sam and Dean are not Harry and Ed; there is no genuine parallel there because the circumstances of each pair, their life experiences, are utterly different. The implied complaint that Dean somehow prevented Sam from having a normal life and that Dean only saves Sam because he’s lonely, is both unfair to Dean and wilfully ignorant of Sam’s own choices. It therefore amounts to a disingenuous piece of rhetoric to prop up what is otherwise merely a regurgitation of themes already dealt with in previous seasons.

It is that last point that is substantive. While Sam’s characterization is contrived, and incomprehensible because of it, it is also made necessary by the show-runner’s determination to generate a particular kind of conflict between the brothers. Apparently, the only valid form of drama in Supernatural is having the brothers in conflict about their relationship. Notwithstanding that is a fundamentally flawed conception, it is made even more fatuous by what appears to be a decision that the only way that conflict can be realized is by rehashing issues between the brothers that have been explored, ad nauseam, since season 1. They are issues that were resolved in Swan Song and whose resolution has been reaffirmed in every subsequent episode where Sam has stated his choice to hunt, and not seek a “normal” life. What we have, therefore, is not a nuanced exploration of the brother’s relationships and their character, but instead a manufactured redux of an argument that now lacks any kind of authenticity.

And authenticity is the problem. Sam’s character this season (much as it was last) is so deformed, so unrecognisable as the Sam we know, that many of us cannot empathize him. We also cannot feel Dean’s frustration and guilt, because those emotions are triggered by a piece of characterization we simply don’t believe. The result is that we find Sam & Dean’s conflict completely unpersuasive. Illogical, irrational, baldly: stupid. It throws us out of the story every time the argument is milled on screen, and instead of feeling the pain of the conflict, we are left to mostly roll our eyes at the ineptitude of it, and wonder when the writers are going to hurry up and fix it. Because we presume they will fix it; like season 8 we will have a last minute rapprochement, a tearful scene in a church and then someone will need saving: these, the final ingredients of the Annual Sam & Dean Angst Formula.  

This is another example of style over substance; a contrived piece of characterization hanging off a formulaic device that has become so predictable it is almost self-parody.  

2 weeks ago on April 4th, 2014 | J | 3 notes

Style over substance, or the Fall of Supernatural


PART 6: Conclusion: All that matters is the viewing figures?

If this opinion has any readers left, they must no doubt think that the author loathes the show with the heat of a thousand suns, and must be wondering why he still watches it if it causes him such pain. Maybe a stubborn sort of masochism? Seriously, though, the complaint comes out of a long and loyal passion for the show, and it is made not to ridicule, but because of a belief that something has gone profoundly wrong in a show that used to be genuinely magnificent. While criticism is a valid reaction to any art, this is not criticism from an unengaged outsider, but from a fan who will no doubt go down with the ship. And the ship isn’t yet unsalvageable; the principal actors remain among the most skilled and engaging talents in genre TV, or indeed anywhere else; and there are still well written episodes that capture the essence of what Supernatural is.

            But the point - and it is inescapable - is that Supernatural is no longer the show that it was, and that change has not been for the better. Supernatural isn’t more mature or more sophisticated than it was, it is no longer the little show that could; it has abandoned those qualities in exchange for Nielsen ratings. The change hasn’t been driven by a need to evolve the setting or the characters, but instead out of a misplaced conviction that all that matters on TV is viewing figures, and artistic value is a very distant second. What we have seen has been a gross and relentless shift away from the qualities that the show had that made it unique, towards a kind of a self-parody made of clichés and genre tropes. It may well be that it is crude network economics that inform the change; that is, that the often imitated and rarely valuable urban fairy tale is currently in vogue, and so any show that incorporates the usual elements of the same is more likely to survive the brutal ratings war. The success of that exemplar of the genre – the mawkish, socially archaic drivel that is Twilight – certainly makes a good case for that notion. But one might observe that Supernatural survived for 5-years with viewing figures that were respectable in context (network, time the show aired) and in lurching after Grimm and Once Upon a Time and Buffy, Supernatural may have pushed up its viewing figures, but its writers have lost their artistic integrity, and - much worse - the show has lost its soul.

            One might have endless arguments about whether it’s better to let a show keep its integrity and die the death of the unappreciated, or metamorphose into something that catches the lowest common denominator. But wherever one falls on that argument, one can’t help but feel that surely even a metamorphosis into gaudy bauble could have at least spared the characters. And that, above everything else – the change from horror to urban fantasy, the lackluster villains, the interminable angels, the formulaic plotting – is what is unforgiveable. Because the conclusion to this opinion can only be that what has gone most wrong with Supernatural, is its characters; is that characterization has been dumbed down, substance sacrificed for what’s cool. Since Swan Song, Supernatural has swapped real, three-dimensional, authentic characters – supporting cast, antagonists, even the protagonists – for caricatures. Even enjoyable characters, like Charlie for example, are thin, comic book personalities with exaggerated one-note qualities and not people like Bobby, or Ellen or Joe, or John. In the supporting cast this makes for superficial characters who, ultimately, we can’t care about because they are no more real than their one exaggerated quality. In the main cast, for Sam and Dean, this makes for contrived, contorted characterization that leaves one brother almost unrecognizable, and the other little more than a lens for viewing the other’s histrionics.

Perhaps this appeals to that lowest common denominator of the viewing public. Perhaps that’s all that matters. But in paying lip-service to the crowd, the show has lost the qualities that made it remarkable, and pushed it instead into the artistically beige and emotionally infantile shallow end of the genre pool. Supernatural deserves better. Those of us who have been with it since Pilot, certainly do.

2 weeks ago on April 4th, 2014 | J | 4 notes
Re: the post you've written with some points on MFMM. Phryne and Jack on the phone. *-* I love their conversations. Murder on the vine is one of my least favourite episodes but their telephone chats were delicious. Bring the show back, ABC!

I’m not fond of that episode either…it’s more that it’s just kind of hard to watch, so I’ve only seen it once.  I do agree about their phone conversations. I agree about their conversations, period. And I do, in fact, hope the show is brought back.

3 weeks ago on April 1st, 2014 | J | 1 note