I’m guessing many of you had the same reaction to season six of Supernatural that I did: A boatload of great ideas, none of them executed particularly well. There a number of possible reasons for this. With a new showrunner always comes change and in the case of Sera Gamble’s promotion before last season, it meant less of a reliance on one arc to drive the entire season. Seasons four and five were plotted and planned out with clear end-points and in both cases, the series basically presented the biggest problems (Lucifer could rise!, Oh shit, Lucifer has risen!) and then spent 22 episodes trying to figure out how to solve those problems. However, season four was much better at this kind of storytelling than season five and with the change in leadership, I think it made a lot of sense for Gamble to mix things up and try a bunch of different things along the way. I’m disappointed in how it ultimately all turned out because there were so many compelling ideas (Soul-less Sam, Domesticated Dean, the Campbell family tree, the Alphas, Purgatory, the Mother, souls, Sam’s wall, Crowley and Cas working together and probably five other things I can’t remember) that were quickly burned through so that the story could move onto the next one to burn through. A lack of ideas was not the problem in season six, a lack of cohesion and execution was.*
*Although I do kind of like how the messiness and aimlessness of season six mirrors the story’s world. In the aftermath of Lucifer and the apocalypse, a lot of terrible, but disparate things were happening and it was difficult for the brothers to keep track of all of it — just like it was difficult for the writers to keep track of how all the stories worked together.
Moreover, last season, especially at the beginning, had an issue with the flow of information. The first five season of the series obviously kept certain tidbits from characters and from the audience, but generally presented obstacles and problems that the brothers and we both could understand and recognize: Find dad; Find Yellow Eyes and the Special kids; Keep Dean out of hell; Stop the seals from being opened; Put Lucifer back in the cage, stop the apocalypse. Sam and Dean were often shocked to learn one thing or another, but the overall goal was still there. Last season dropped that kind of storytelling in the early going, creating a weird, uneasy and unbalanced vibe. Nothing was what it seemed, but we (and Dean) weren’t sure what the hell “it” was anyway. Again, that kind of approach might have been needed to freshen things up, but it didn’t work. By the time season six got around to actually telling us what the hell was going on, there were only a few episodes left and the developments weren’t given enough time.
This is all worth saying because season seven is off to a rock-solid start and it appears that Supernatural might be back to its leaner, meaner ways. “Meet the New Boss” certainly raises questions and problems that will surely play out over the next few episodes and throughout the season, but it also makes a concerted effort to address the primary problem presented at the end of last season (Cas is the new God) and does so in a relatively entertaining, simple way. Unlike the vague, forced mystery that defined the season six premiere, this episode offers direct and overt conflicts for Dean, Sam and Bobby to tackle and wastes no time having them try to find solutions for those problems. “Boss” does exactly what a premiere should do: Provides some resolution of cliffhangers and sets the table for the next round of world-ending concerns. It’s a simple, maybe even too simple approach, but after a rocky season that started terribly, Sera Gamble approached things the correct way.
Fans have been worried about the whole Cas-as-God plot all summer, mostly because of the news that Misha Collins would not be a series regular and it was generally unlikely that the series could spin an entire season about the Winchesters fighting CasGod. Supernatural doesn’t have the budget for that kind of thing and frankly, the heart for either. I know lots of folks were upset at how Cas was used last year and even more are worried about him being portrayed as a big, bad villain, but it sure looks like Gamble and the rest of the writing staff feel the same way. “Boss” allows Cas to do some of the evil things his misguided, overly powerful God version should do and then quickly gets down to regret, redemption forgiveness. Sam of all people convinces Cas to let them send all the nasty souls back to Purgatory, Cas agrees and eventually makes his way to apologizing to Dean for everything. And then Cas is apparently killed and taken over by the Leviathan beasts who want to cause all sorts of destruction.
So basically, the writers get to have it all ways. Last season’s arc with Cas becoming more and more militant, confused and misguided is paid-off when he takes advantage of all his God abilities. But just so the audience isn’t too alienated, that only lasts for 35 minutes and Cas quickly realizes the error of his ways, saving face with all the fans. BUT THEN, the writers still get to have Misha Collins play the villain. It’s just not Cas. When you think about it, this is a pretty smart way to manage fan expectations and feelings while still telling the kind of story you want to tell. Of course, this probably could have taken place over three or four episodes or even a half-season (yay, more rushed storytelling!), but now the Winchesters have a dangerous, yet more manageable villain to take on. Sort of feels like everyone can be happier now, right?
Finally, I did like how “Boss” isn’t entirely separated from many of last season’s big elements like Purgatory, Crowley, Death and Sam’s wall. None of those things were given their just-due in season six, but I have to give the production team credit for not dropping them entirely. Purgatory continues to be a compelling space for stories and the Leviathan are curious foes because they could be connected to the Lovecraftian hints they dropped late last season. And Crowley and Death are always great to have around. But I’m most looking forward to how the series works with Sam’s broken wall and deteriorating psyche. This story was severely mishandled last season and when they did explore Sam’s issues, it felt like no one was quite sure how to visualize it. “Boss” rectifies that with a few easy lighting and editing techniques. I understand that Supernatural doesn’t have the money to match its ambition, but it is time for the series to show the audience more of hell’s pit. This episode did a fine job of that and bringing back Mark Pellegrino as Lucifer is a fantastic choice as well. I’m excited to see where this goes.
“Meet the New Boss” is not one of the best Supernatural episodes of all-time and it doesn’t even match the greatness of past premieres like “In My Time of Dying” or “Lazarus Rising.” But after a messy sixth season that started so poorly, this is a welcome indicator that the series is ready to make up for its most recent mistakes and move forward with another quality season of storytelling.
- I’m guessing some are upset that Dean didn’t have a whole lot to do in this episode and most of what he did do was sit around and pout. His reaction to Cas’ actions makes some sense, but it did ring a little false to me that he’d just roll over. I know that the cumulative impact of all the terrible things that have happened to these guys should make them want to just kill themselves, but the series has trained us to think that they’ll always push through. Dean momentarily giving up felt a bit hollow for me.
- Glad to have Death back. Julian Richings is always fantastic and I like how the series has figured out ways to keep bringing the character back without losing his mystique or it feeling too deus ex machina-like.
- Seriously, they have no budget do they? This episode bounced back and forth between two interior sets for the most part. I hope they still have some money to shoot outside locations moving forward.
- Thoughts on the new title card? I love the white.