Failed Expectations: Supernatural Season 10

Supernatural has been on for 10 years. Ten long, long years. Some of it has been fun, a bit of it incredible, and most of it grating, unfulfilling, and regressive. Season 10 wasn’t the worst thing ever created, but it was far from good. We need to have a heart-to-heart, Supernatural. Your fans, we love you, but you’re throwing away your best years on pointless distractions and meaningless philosophizing. You’re 10 years old now, you’re too old for this nonsense. If you want to stop re-enacting the past and grow up, here are 6 ways to do it.

Spoilers for season 10 ahoy…

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Dudebros and White Bread

For a show with such a huge female audience, Supernatural is disconcertingly white and male. I know Eric Kripke once thought the show would deliver an untapped male audience to The WB when it first premiered, but a decade later they still haven’t figured out how to market to their actual audience. Or, more likely, they don’t care about improving because we just keep watching anyway. Supernatural has some major hurdles to overcome when it comes to women, people of color, and LGBTQ, yet has made no attempts to do so.

New characters are great, and a new variety of characters is even better, but when they end up getting fridged or troped it saps the zest right out of them. Which is precisely what happened to Kevin Tran and Charlie Bradbury, arguably the two greatest guest characters ever created on Supernatural (Jody and Jo are close seconds). Kevin and Charlie weren’t interesting solely because they weren’t white or straight, but because the way they interacted with the world and other characters was more complex and nuanced due to their “differences.” Their non-white/non-male perspectives also helped deepen Sam and Dean’s personalities. Even without diversifying Sam or Dean, having them interact with new people with a wide range of experiences, reactions, and behaviors allows them to grow, learn, and change.

The other side of the coin here is the show’s undercurrent of misogyny. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the show sexist (or racist or homophobic, for that matter), it does fall back on sexist tropes for both men and women on a frustratingly regular basis. Women are constantly being victimized and damseled, and men are either shamed for their perceived weakness or punching machines. In other words, the patriarchy hurts us all. There’s an intriguing story to tell about Dean and Sam struggling with the shackles of hypermasculinity forced upon them by their father and hunter culture (I subscribe to the fanon theory that patriarchal repression is keeping bisexual Dean in the closet), but Supernatural is neither smart enough to explore that or introspective enough to care.

 

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Sammy, Sammy, Sammy

I should preface this section by saying I don’t give a toss about Sam. To me, he’s always been the weakest element of the show, and the only times I ever care about what happens to Sam it’s because I’m really more focused on how it affects Dean. Sam may be the star of the show, but Dean will always be the main protagonist. There’s so much boiling under Dean’s surface that isn’t there for Sam because Dean’s been through so much more (even if the writers keep forgetting that). Sam can risk Charlie’s life to read the Book of the Dead all he wants, but lurking in the subtext are the two—TWO!—times he abandoned his brother so he could live his own independent life. For Hera’s sake, he eagerly unleashed an evil so great even God needed backup to take it down, an evil that turned Lucifer and Cain into psychotic monsters, all because he missed his brother. Death’s plan was perfect, and once again Dean let himself get swayed by Sammy’s honeyed words.

I don’t mean to turn this into a “Reasons why Sam Winchester sucks” section, because the issue here is bigger than me disliking him. The problem is that neither Sam nor Dean are able to develop as characters and the reason for that tends to rest on Sam’s shoulders. Too many times Dean had to set aside his goals to deal with Sammy’s all-consuming drama, and whenever he decides to do his own thing Sam gets lonely and drags him back, often literally. Both characters are stuck in an endless, depressing cycle, and by making Sam constantly play the hero means Dean can only play the morally gray character, which means neither of them get to grow.

Dean is never more engaging than when he’s Sam-less, but Sam is just as beige with or without his brother. I’m not suggesting anyone fire Jared Padalecki, just maybe let the brothers have a bit of a break from each other. Pair them up with other characters for unpredictable adventures and unexpected conversations. (Dean and Crowley and Dean and Charlie were pretty fun together, as were Sam and Cas and Rowena.) The brothers are so codependent that the only way they’re ever going to flourish is out of each other’s reach. Sam is the root cause of their unhealthy relationship, and taking him out of the mix would instantly liven up both brothers.

 

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Angels and Demons

Speaking of awful characters, if I never see an angel or demon on Supernatural again it’ll be too soon. Fandom may be split on whether season 7 Cas was OOC, but if nothing else at least it was something slightly different. And, frankly, the writers have spent so much time depowering and rebooting him and his powers that nothing can be out of character because he has no stable character to begin with. At this point, the demons are hardly more than pathetic jokes and the angels are the most boring thing on the whole of the CW, infomercials included. The demons were defanged by Crowley’s affiliation with the brothers, and the only angels with any personality are long dead.

Metatron is ok, but he’s so overused that he’s lost all impact. And since we all know he can’t actually kill one of the Winchesters (and will doubtless never kill Cas so long as Misha Collins continues to have a huge fanbase) he remains an annoying non-threat. Crowley is entertaining only by virtue of Mark Sheppard being amazing, but nothing came of him becoming marginally more human except that he got a helluva lot more dull. Angels and demons can be done well—see “The French Mistake,” “Changing Channels,” “Mystery Spot,” “The End,” and ”My Heart Will Go On.” But the show is so mired in angelic/demonic mythology that there’s no room for anything else. Remember when the brothers used to hunt different kinds of monsters and solve the Supernatural equivalent of X-Files cases? *resigned sigh*

 

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Regulars Versus Guests

Supernatural’s character problem is bigger than just Sam being Sam and lackluster monsters of the week. Too often the wrong characters get promoted to series regulars while the one’s who deserve the bump get fridged. Rowena could have been season 10’s Abaddon, but instead she picked on her son and turned her nemesis into a hamster. She lacked a personality powerful enough to fuel an entire season, nor was she volatile enough to spark chaos between the leads. No one was afraid of her, and since her rage was often couched in scenery-chewing hysteria that the audience can’t consider her a viable threat either. Crowley’s little more than a grumpy puppy now, and even when he finally went red eyes again we all know he’s not going to kill Sam, making his return to form fall flat. Cas stagnated after season 5 and every scene he’s in lurches the action to a halt. (And if anyone genuinely believes Cas will kill Crowley, you weren’t paying attention when Dean killed Death instead of his brother.)

Charlie, however, deserved a promotion to regular. Felicia Day brought a sparkling liveliness to Charlie, and her scenes with Dean pushed Jensen Ackles to new acting heights. I loved her relationship with Dean, the way they saw each other as adopted siblings. They depended on each other without being codependent. It was Dean’s first healthy relationship since Lisa. Instead they killed her off in the worst, fridge-iest way possible. The writers always do that to every great character who gets too useful, and it’s frustrating as all hell. It smacks of them not knowing what to do with the characters or the actors. I still don’t believe Charlie would ever go along with Sam’s machinations; the writers forced that on her only because they wanted to have her killed by the Steins—another act that was anti-Charlie. She died because the writers couldn’t figure out how to use her properly. She died for the laziest reason—so Dean and Sam could have something else to argue about.

It’s time to demote some of the regulars to give the audience a chance to miss them and the characters a chance to freshen up their staid personalities. And we need to promote some guest stars, and no, I don’t mean boring-as-hell Cole or Claire. What about giving Jody Mills and Donna Hanscum more to do? Or, better yet, introduce some new blood that isn’t a cis-het white dude and let them stick around for a while.

 

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Fanfic

Fanfic is awesome. Sometimes it’s sexy, sometimes it’s heartbreaking, a lot of the time it’s mediocre to poor, and on rare occasions you find that one fic that hits you harder than anything the major publishing houses are churning out. I’ve read Sterek that left me in tears, Lauryssa that made me want to take a cold shower, and McDanno that had me on the edge of my seat. I read Harry Potter fics without having any interest in the actual books, and some MCU fics tell better-crafted tales than the movies.

And that’s why I love fanfic and fandom. It’s a chance to explore what the original content doesn’t, can’t, or won’t. This isn’t just more fannish demands to make Destiel canon—although I’d certainly be down for it. It’s just that SPN fanfic takes more risks than the television show could ever attempt. I don’t fault the show for its network shackles, but there’s a problem when even the laziest, smexiest fic is more solidly plotted than the average canon episode. There are ficlets and drabbles with better storylines than just about any episode of season 10.

The minute an episode of Supernatural ends, I log onto AO3 because I know that at least I’ll end the night with a decent SPN story. It shouldn’t be like that. It doesn’t have to be like that. I love the characters (well, I love Dean, I could take or leave everyone else…) and only want the best for them, and it sucks that right now what’s best comes from fanon rather than canon. Fandom should support and enhance the original content, not crush it like a bug.

 

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Storytime, AKA Not This Again

One of the brothers goes dark and the other one is so desperate to save him that he risks the fate of the world. It all goes wrong but while both brothers live, one goes dark, forcing the other one to risk the fate of the world to save him, except it all goes wrong…How many times have we done this dance? It was interesting the first few rounds, but 10 years later I’m about ready to scream. It’s one thing to keep drawing from the same dry well, and another to waste perfectly good potential through lazy, half-assed plotting. Demon!Dean was a thrilling complication for the Winchesters. Jensen Ackles put in his best performance in years, and Sam, Crowley, and Cas finally had something intriguing to bounce off of. And instead of running wild with possibilities, we got 3 eps of fun and 20 of the sloggiest slog to ever slog.

Look, there were a lot of ways season 10 could have played out. Rowena and Crowley could’ve gone after the brothers together, only to betray each other and spend the second half of the season, pitting Demon!Dean and Sam against each other for their own purposes. Rowena and Demon!Dean could’ve teamed up, pushing Crowley, Charlie, Cas, and Sam together to take them down. Demon!Dean could’ve taken over Hell forcing Sam and Cas to take over Heaven to do an epic battle. Or something as simple as Dean dealing with his circumstances by contemplating whether violence is truly his nature or if he’s brutal because of his father and his decades as Hell’s go-to torturer. What about the ghosts? All those souls that can’t cross into Heaven? Where’s their storyline? That’s a massive, untapped plot completely abandoned for no apparent reason.

Any storyline at all would’ve been better than what we got, which was more of the same nonsense we’ve had to deal with since the beginning. Of course, a good season arc is predicated on having characters compelling enough to carry it. No storyline is worse than one of the Winchesters moaning about being a bad person while the other betrays his brother’s trust by scheming behind his back. It seems like every season since Chuck glued Cas back together has been precisely that, and every trip down that lane gets exponentially less entertaining. It always ends the same way, which means there’s no dramatic tension or thematic meaning to anything that happens. The Darkness would be a good Big Bad for season 11 if we hadn’t already had God’s worst nightmare brought forth with Lucifer and the Leviathan. The evil things on Supernatural are only ever bad enough to kill off the guest stars. Unless season 11 is the last, The Darkness will wind up just as middling as every other villain, meaning the brothers will risk the fate of the world to save each other even though they risked the fate of the world to save each other a few months before.

A drama with no drama is a snoozefest, and characters that reset every season and never evolve are insufferable. By season 10 Supernatural shouldn’t still be in the same creative rut at Sleepy Hollow season 2. The writers should know their characters and their audience, should understand how to craft non-terrible dialogue, should be able to construct a satisfactory plot. But instead we the fans are stuck with the unholy mess that was season 10. You can do better, Supernatural. You need to do better.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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