You Can Never Go Home Again: Supernatural, Season 10

Supernatural does create great ambiguous villains!
Somewhere around season five or six, many series start to go off the rails (some earlier, some later). This is especially true of my preferred viewing: seasons comprised of single-story episodes (mostly murder mystery shows). As Agatha Christie admits through her self-portrait, Mrs. Oliver, there are only so many ways to kill a character. Eventually, a writer runs of ideas.

When writers run out of ideas, they retreat to (1) the rubbish bin; (2) the soap opera approach.

Arthur Conan Doyle went to the rubbish bin when the public more or less forced him to continue producing Sherlock Holmes stories. Later Holmes stores are not nearly as well-written--or plotted--as earlier ones. In one of his last, he relies on the body-hidden-beneath-another-in-a-coffin device, a chestnut so established that The Mentalist parodies it in Season 3. (Speaking of parodies . . .)

I don't hold the "rubbish bin" against writers. They must continue to produce! The difficulty of maintaining a high standard (while continually producing usable plots) is one reason I admire Star Trek: The Next Generation so much. As with many shows, the last three seasons' episodes do not demonstrate the same caliber as earlier seasons', and there are a few rubbishy episodes, but the standard never falls too far: the episodes continue to deliver single stories with decent narrative arcs, and the finale is magnificent.

All in all, I prefer the struggle to maintain a high writing standard over solution 2: the collapse into soap opera material. I get immensely tired of shows forcing PROBLEMS, ANGST, LOVE TRIANGLES onto their characters simply so the writers will have something to write about.

There is a third solution.

The third solution is to say, "Who cares if we repeat ourselves? Earlier viewers won't care. And later viewers haven't necessarily seen our earlier episodes. We can do whatever we want."

I admire this third solution--to a point. For one, it keeps the show focused on what the viewers came to love about it in the first place. For another, it enables the writers to stick to one-story-per-episode. For a third, it prevents an excess of soap opera-ness. So it works.

Right until it doesn't.

Buckmaster and Rhodes
Supernatural, Season 10, is a great example of the problem of repeating prior material. The season is, in many ways, a return to classic Supernatural. The brothers are back on the road handling demons and whatnot while one brother decides to lie and sacrifice for the sake of another. We get the army/werewolf/vampire episode with newcomer Cole; we get the parody episode with the musical students (great ending scene: see above); we get the Agatha Christie episode with the possibly murderous butler; we get the Thelma and Louise episode with very funny Briana Buckmaster; we get a fairy tale episode (with young Dean); we get to see Timothy Omundson again, which is always a treat. Hey, we even get to see Bobby!

Generally speaking, the season is classic and lovely--with a fantastic surprise cameo in "Fan Fiction"--so what's the prob?

Well, there isn't one, really, except for all the places where there is.

For (albeit hot) men in their mid-thirties (and nearing forty), the same plot of sacrifice-while-lying begins to pale. It is not that thirty-three and thirty-eight-year-old men don't do this. And it isn't that families don't repeat the same patterns. But television isn't reality. And Supernatural is supposed to be a story. And at some point in a story--a classic one at least--people should learn from the past.

Sam and Dean's mistakes in Seasons 1-5 make sense taking into account the brothers' knowledge, age, and experience at that time. Unfortunately, after awhile, Dean's initial complaint--made, I believe, in Season 3--that his family needs to stop making the same stupid bargains with bad guys . . . turns into the viewers' complaint. Yes, yes, guys, that would be nice.

The Supernatural writers seem aware of this problem, which may explain the Castiel and Crowley story-lines in Season 10. They are, luckily, interesting and well-written. Regarding Crowley, not since Faith in Buffy have I seen a bad guy's downward spiral based so tightly and realistically on feeling "left out" of the gang.

Yet these storylines are filler. The Dean/Sam arc isn't substantial enough to excuse much more writing than it gets. Sam is going to find a solution NO MATTER WHAT! Dean will be DISAPPOINTED when he finds out that Sam WENT BEHIND HIS BACK. Dean will argue his LACK OF WORTH! Sam will ARGUE BACK. Dean will CHOOSE HIS BROTHER OVER DEATH (quite literally). And . . . we've been here before.

To be fair, it's still better than soap opera. To be doubly fair, Sam's end-of-the-season argument with Dean is substantially more interesting than saying, "Well, you're my brother--so of course, I will save you." He actually gets caught up--to a minor degree--in the argument of what constitutes "goodness." Dean is good because of how Dean reacts to things, because of Dean's intentions. It's a middle ground position between Dean's argument (we are good because of what we do) and some of the seasons' earlier arguments (you should be saved not because you are good but because you are my brother).

But there isn't enough there (that hasn't been said before--and better). Since the new big bad appears interesting--I haven't yet seen Season 11--I would personally have timed its arrival for somewhere around episode 18 in Season 10. This would have solved the lack of an arc, cutting down on the far too familiar sight of Sam and/or Dean angstifying about the other's welfare.

Their mutual worries remain endearing but the truth is, one can never go home again--not completely. Repeating the earlier seasons isn't a bad idea. But something sometime somewhere has to change.

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