My TV

27 July 2011

Supernatural Watching (part four)

By // TV

Despite the fact that there technically exists another season of the show, the end of season five of Supernatural certainly feels like The End. And that’s as it should be. When showrunner/creator Eric Kripke first started writing the tale of two brothers fighting the forces of darkness, he mapped out the first five seasons of the show, culminating in a climactic battle of Satan versus the Archangel Michael. In fact, Kripke left the show for its sixth season.

First, a little look at the season that led us here. Supernatural has been a show from the very beginning in which things just continually get worse. Evil is never really defeated. Just look at our previous season finales. The first year saw our heroes plus their long lost father laying immobile after a car crash. It turns out that car crash killed one of our leads, and the only way to get him back was to trade Daddy’s soul for Dean’s life. Then Season Two ends with Sammy dying, and Dean giving up HIS soul for Sam’s. Season Three has Dean being sucked into hell despite the best of heroics by Sam and Bobby. And Season Four, despite the appearance of Angels and a missing God to the mix, saw our heroes setting off the apocalypse. And Season Five, for most of its run, pretty much just showed our heroes failing to stop the apocalypse while also failing to trust each other.

In other words, this isn’t your typical fantasy show. The heroes aren’t stalwart, they aren’t right, they aren’t even particularly effective at their jobs. They bicker, and not just in an endearing way. They spend hours wringing their hands and complaining about how much their lives suck. They tell angels to “fuck off” at the same frequency with which they tell demons. And at the end of the day, they rarely do the right thing.

This makes for surprisingly intriguing television, if not always for entirely enjoyable TV, which is weird for a show that started off as a much lighter hearted romp. But in its fifth season, Supernatural began to take itself a lot more seriously. It was sort of inevitable, what with the threat to the world growing ever larger and more personal. Often in the fifth season I found myself wondering where the fun had gone. After a really strong start (straight through to the episodes I previously chronicled, “Changing Channels” and “The End”), the midseason seemed slumped at the shoulders, ready to give in, much like our normally-much-more-enjoyable protagonist Dean. As Dean slowly slid into existential despair, so did we as a viewer. I began to doubt the bigger plan of the series, and believe that a show with relatively modest ambitions (after all, this show at its greatest isn’t Buffy or Lost in terms of its scope and thematic relevance) could pull of what they were trying to do.

And yet…

The Season Five episode “Hammer of The Gods” was where it all started coalescing. After Dean attempted to turn himself over to the angels in “Point of No Return” and was rescued solely by Sam’s absolute and unwavering faith in him, the show was suddenly freed from the gloomy, aimless depression that had taken over its midseason. “Hammer of the Gods” not only served to reground the apocalypse, but it reground our core duo (and brought back The Trickster, one of my favorite recurring characters). From that point forward, they had their own sense of purpose back, and in so doing regained their spark.

More importantly, we finally got some movement on the whole Sam and Dean dynamic. Despite multiple deaths, resurrections, hurt feelings, and moving speeches, the Sam and Dean dynamic has stayed essentially the same throughout the shows run. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. After all, the chemistry between Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki keeps the show afloat even through its more aimless first season. But when so much of the battle between good and evil comes down to disagreements between the two brothers, then there has to be some development there. But at the time of “Point of No Return” things stand pretty much like how they did in the pilot: Dean doesn’t entirely trust Sam, partly because Sam has left him too often and partly because Sam will always be the little kid that Dean needs to protect. And Sam, for his part, has remained good intentioned but lacking scope and conviction, too easily swayed by others’ arguments and his respect for the people around him. Not even going to hell (for Dean) or going dark side (for Sam) has essentially changed those facts.

So the end of Season Five was all about breaking down a substantial chunk of that. Sam finally comes into his own, as a character and as a man, and his brother is forced to concede that Sam’s good intentions and good heart count for something. As the season winds down and the brothers finish up their quest to collect all the Horsemen’s Rings, they finally seem to trust and respect each other.

The last episode of the season, which could be one of the greatest episodes of the show ever, sees them tackling the zombie-ifying Croatoan virus AND Lucifer. And the way they take down Lucifer? Dean shows the same faith in Sam that Sam has already shown Dean, and allows him to sacrifice himself for the cause.

This show has never been about supernatural battles. It’s why Demons don’t come onto the show with CGI horns, and Angels only have goofy wings in death. This show doesn’t need Game of Thrones’ budget. It is intentionally nitty grity and real, at least as real as a show about the supernatural can get. The apocalypse is not fire and brimstone; it’s swine flu and hurricanes. So it’s oddly appropriate that the end of the world on this TV show comes down to nothing more than two guys standing in a field, discussing the whole idea of destiny.

And it’s even more appropriate that salvation on this show isn’t about fire and brimstone. It’s about two brothers, an awesome car, a goofy army man, and the kind of love that transcends even demonic possession. Sam’s eventual defeat of Lucifer (and Michael, for that matter) is the perfect book end to this story.

The ending montage, of Dean going “home” to Lisa and the little boy who acted so much like him, is heart breaking and beautiful and sets off the series so well. Dean was always a boy without a home, who had the vaguest of memories of a mother and father who loved him, but who spent most of his life thinking the whole damn world was on his shoulders. So he drank and he formed emotionally unavailable one-night attachments to women, and he protected Sam like he was something precious. And when he rails at Cass at the end of the episode, wondering where his happy ending is, we know what he is too stupid to know. His happy ending was in the fact that this was all ending. His happy ending was, odd as it may seem, losing Sam, and finally laying down that responsibility.

Of course, the story doesn’t actually end here. The CW picked up Supernatural for a sixth season (And now for a seventh as well). And I am most definitely going to be diving into the sixth season next week so that I can catch up in time to watch Season Seven on TV. But for me, the show I spent this summer obsessing over just ended. Even if the next season is fantastic (which I’m relatively confident it will be), I’ll always have five seasons of surprisingly unique, kick ass TV. I don’t mean to oversell it. As I already said, this show doesn’t have the grand ambitions of so many fantasy shows; it doesn’t want to tell us about life or love or anything that easily related to our own lives. But it does have an absolute knack of for storytelling and characterization, and it told a pretty awesome, rock and roll opera throughout its five years.

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