Sorry for the delay with this review folks. I had a super-busy weekend and just watched these episodes last night. It was difficult to wait, but ultimately, I think I would say it was worth it. From the very first episode, this season of Supernatural has been a disjointed mess. If you go back through some of my earlier reviews of the season, you can see that I had some difficulty figuring out what the hell was going on or what the storytelling intent was. Four or five episodes in, it seemed like Sera Gamble and her team had pulled it all together. The disjointed, messiness was intentional as a way to show what the heck would happen in a world after the apocalypse has been averted, Lucifer’s back in the cage and there’s really no one left to run Heaven or Hell.
But as the season progressed, it quickly became apparent that while writing messy stories is an appealing angle to take for a series with such heavy mythology, those stories can get out from under the writers and go from intentionally messy in theme to just flat-out sloppy and disjointed. Although this season didn’t necessarily have one major arc at first, those early episodes set up so many different plotlines that could have sustained full or at least half seasons that it was extremely difficult for the series to balance them or pull them together in any substantial way for much of the season. Seriously, let’s just stop for a second and list the primary stories this season introduced:
- Dean’s return to hunting and the issues with Lisa and Ben
- Soul-less Sam and the subsequent wall in his mind (which could really be two stories if I wanted to be a dick)
- Samuel’s return and the Campbell hunting family
- The Alphas
- The deal boys’ deal with Crowley and Purgatory
- Cas’ search for all the weapons of heaven
- Cas’ battle with Raphael
- The Mother of All
- Cas’ betrayal and the reveal that he was working with Crowley
- H.P. Lovecraft!
That’s 10! Obviously, some of those ultimately tied together once the end of the season came around, but for a 22-episode season of a series that has very little budgetary wiggle room and thus not a whole lot of scope in its storytelling ability, that’s a hell of a lot of stuff to have to deal with. I still love this series and think a number of this season’s episodes are fantastic, but in attempt to step away from the structure of the last few seasons, Supernatural lost all control of its narrative and became kind of a major mess throughout most of its sixth season.
Which means although I also enjoyed both “Let It Bleed” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” it’s hard to separate these individual episodes from the issues that plagued the season as a whole. This is particularly true in terms of structure, wherein both episodes sometimes feel like the writers were breaking stories and remembering all the things they need to throw in to check off a list. Oh crap, we haven’t heard about or from Lisa and Ben in a while, let’s build an episode around that! And OH HELL, we haven’t talked about the wall in Sam’s head for even longer, let’s toss that into the finale! There we go, an episode about Dean and an episode about Sam, following our one episode about Castiel!
On top off the odd structuring issues, both of these episodes still relied on us caring about plot threads and stories that the season hadn’t fully developed. I’m not sure what the writers could have done to make the Lisa and Ben stuff “better,” but I’m fairly sure that Dean asking Cas to wipe away their memories so that are completely unaware of his existence and impact on their life is not the answer. Similarly, while the sequences inside Sam’s head were fairly well-done (albeit rushed), the fact that Sam has basically been fine for months makes it really hard to care when suddenly he’s not fine. After Sam was “cured,” there were too few problems and no sense of dread. It should have been a black cloud hanging over him and Dean, but it wasn’t, and by the time the finale circled around to it, there were so many more important (and interesting) things going on that it felt entirely tacked on.
Those same problems extended to Cas’ deal with Crowley, his issues with Dean, all of elements wrapped up in the primary narrative. “The Man Who Would Be King” was a fantastic episode and almost all of the Cas-related sequences in these episodes was similarly great. However, the whole thing still feels like it got the short-shift or worse, was thought up at the last moment when the final few episodes were being developed. I don’t think that’s the case, but the decision to keep so much off-screen for so long ultimately hurt this season more than it did last season. Budgetary reasons make an apocalypse difficult to show. They shouldn’t impact the arc of one of the series’ main characters in the same way, even if he’s an angel. Heaven could have been shown in cost-effective ways or Cas could have plotted on Earth or even appeared to be more shifty throughout the season. There were things that could have been done to give Cas more time to make himself look both better and worse.
As it stands, the climax of “Too Much” is very well done, but still somewhat unearned. I understand why Cas feels so completely justified and righteous once he’s taken all the souls of purgatory into his body so that he can rid heaven of Raph* and gain control of heaven. I understand why, but I’m not sure I buy how we got there. In “King,” Cas was still so conflicted and confused about what he was doing and why it mattered, but here, most, if not all, of that subtlety is gone. A good deal of that probably stems from all the power he has in his body, but I would have been much more hurt, shocked and moved by the season’s cliffhanger had the story that led up to it been better developed and hell, just given more time to develop.
*How disturbing is it that Raphael had to become a woman just in time to be killed? This series has some HUGE issues in the gender department.
Fortunately, I think we can all take solace in one thing: This is just part one of the story. Earlier this season, a commenter or someone on Twitter or someone in real life (I don’t know the difference anymore) pointed out that Supernatural works on a two-season story schedule. Seasons one and two are more or less a nice 44 episode story that begins with the pilot and ends in “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part Two.” Seasons four and five fill the same framework, with the story beginning at Dean’s resurrection from hell and commencing with Sam’s fall to hell. Season three is the outlier, a transitional season marred by the WGA strike but without a massive amount of narrative drive, at least compared to the other seasons. But in the multi-season pairs, the series uses the first to establish the world and the rules (in season four, there’s a new world with dozens of new rules) and uses the second to handle the biggest problems within those worlds.
In that respect, there’s a very good chance that many of the loose threads and underdeveloped stories of season six will actually play a big role into season seven. This has to be true for Sam’s issues, the introduction of the Lovecraft angle to the mythology, Purgatory and Castiel’s new-found abilities and role. There are a number of things that might just be failed false-starters such as Samuel’s return, but I have to imagine that there is some sort of plan here. Season six most certainly tested my patience and these two episodes didn’t really make up for any of that, but they’re a nice step towards something better. This season might have wanted a more chaotic feel, but perhaps it shows us that Supernatural is better with a more streamlined, but flexible arc. Only time will tell, but I am more excited for season seven than I expected to be.