Supernatural Season 8: Things I hated and Things I loved
You know that famous scene in Chinatown when Faye Dunaway declares “She’s my daughter!” and Jack Nicholson slaps her, demanding the truth (clearly believing that he can handle it) and she says “She’s my sister!” slap “My daughter!” slap “my sister!” because horrifyingly, They’re both true?
That’s kind of how I feel about Season 8 of Supernatural.
If pressed to tell the truth about how I felt about it, I’d be like, “I hated it!” SLAP “I loved it!” SLAP “Hated it!” SLAP “Loved it!” SOB “I HATED IT AND I LOVED IT!”
When I love an episode of Supernatural, it’s like this:
When I hate an episode of Supernatural, it’s like this:
Aren’t you so excited by what’s coming out of the TV? Why are you crying??
Season 8 was nicknamed “season gr8” by fans, and there was a lot of stuff thrown around that after the show going “off track” for seasons 6-7, it was “back” with new showrunner Jeremy Carver.
I do not agree.
Jeremy Carver was my very favorite Supernatural writer during the “Kripke years” (Season 1-5 of the show, with showrunner Eric Kripke), and I was so very excited for him to take over in Season 8. But…early on I read some spoilers that made me go like this:
Gif from here.
And my fears were quite justified.
It took me two tries to get through the premiere because of all of the rage (the premiere was called “We Need to Talk About Kevin” after one of my favorite books, but that was its only redeeming feature).
But after struggling through the early episodes, I found myself really quite enjoying the middle stretch. Then, Season 8 slapped me around harshly once more and I decided I hated it after all and rage-quit again. Then, I forced myself through the last stretch and found a lot to love.
It was all very emotionally confusing.
But let’s face it. I’m not quitting Supernatural, even if Season 9 if full of episodes entitled “We Personally Hate You, Laura Owen, and Want You, Personally, to Stop Watching This Show”.
I’m not going to quit, much as I wish I would. So I should just accept that and move on.
The premiere of Season 9 (!) is just around the corner (Tuesday, Oct. 8), so I thought I’d try to explain how I felt about Season 8 with a list of eight things I hated and loved about Season 8.
1. Hated it! All the stuff with Sam at the beginning of the season.
Image from the wonderfully titled tumblr “all of the supernatural gifs“
Basically, at the end of Season 7, after killing a monster from Purgatory, Dean and Cas both disappeared. No bodies — just disappeared. At the same time, arch-villain Crowley abducted Kevin, a young prophet. The only person left standing is Sam.
ps. Turns out Dean and Cas were in Purgatory which I know seems REALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO GUESS.
No problem! It’s always smarted that Sam never saved Dean from Hell, so all the more reason why Sam saving Dean from Purgatory would make so much sense in the show. After all, Sam’s come a long way, and is smarter and more committed to hunting and to his brother than ever bef–
Oh, wait? Sam doesn’t save Dean from Purgatory? Or Cas? Okay, well…I don’t get it. But whatever. I’ll go with it! So what does he do?
He concludes Dean is obviously dead, gives up on him and Cas, abandons Kevin, and goes to live a “normal” life? He falls in love!
So, we’re taking Sam’s entire character arc from the past seven years and doing this with it:
Plus, there is just no way this doesn’t make Sam stupid and a terrible person. There have been plenty of times when one of them has disappeared and the other has found out where they were/rescued them. The idea that it’s just morally acceptable, in the world in which they live, to be like “No body? Obviously dead!” and abandon ship forever is RIDICULOUS.
This just felt like really sloppy storytelling. The “Sam wants a normal life” thing just doesn’t have any basis in his actual character past season ONE and…it literally doesn’t make sense with what happened in the previous season. It quite honestly felt as if Jeremy Carver simply wanted to create a rift between the brothers and found a recycled way to do it.
I could go through the previous seasons and point out 1,000,000 examples of why Sam doing what he did is inconsistent with his character. But I’ll just stick to one. It’s from the 100th episode, “Point of No Return”:
What the hell, man? This is how it ends? You just…walk out?DEAN
Yeah, I guess.SAM
How could you do that?DEAN
How could I? All you’ve ever done is run away.SAM
And I was wrong. Every single time I did.Transcript from here
And, really, there’s no point in analyzing the way that this choice didn’t make sense, because it so clearly didn’t. Sam’s love plot/normal life scenes felt airlifted in from another show…because they were: there was no organic reason for them to exist in the world of the show as it stood. It was a device to engineer conflict and create drama and it wasn’t well done.
Image from here.
No hate for the poor actor who had to play Sam’s love interest, Amelia. The actor, Liana Balaban, played a mute autistic genius on Alphas: she had more character and more interesting nuance there playing someone who didn’t speak than she did here. And she had more chemistry with her Alphas co-star, with whom she only communicated via machine, than she and Jared Padalecki did in their scenes. Honestly, they both seemed awkward and embarrassed.
Breathe! Moving on.
2. Loved it! I enjoyed Dean this season, who was back to being snarky and committed to hunting in a very enjoyable way. If Sam’s character “reset” was terrible, Dean’s actually worked. He was fun again! So did Cas’s character “reset”, to a certain extent.
3. Hated it and loved it! The new character of vampire Benny. To be honest, I found the “monsters can be good! — maybe? OR NOT? MAYBE!” thing tedious, as it’s been done on the show before. Several times. And Benny’s backstory wasn’t great (full on cliché-land). And Sam and Dean’s fully switched positions on this issue didn’t completely ring true to me. And after spending oodles of time on Benny, his exit was extremely rushed and it turned out he and the whole Purgatory storyline weren’t nearly as important as it seemed like they were going to be.
But! I liked the actor. He managed to really sell the character, and he and Dean both really sold their brothers-in-arms bond thing. Jensen Ackles could probably do a great scene with a block of wood (spawning numerous fan fictions about how Dean and Block of Wood are OBVIOUSLY IN LOVE!!!!!), but even so, I thought he clicked well with the actor-who-played-Benny. And now the tedious Sam and Benny “VAMPIRES CAN BE GOOD! OR NOT? MAYBE???” dramz is done, if they do bring Benny back, I could see it working well.
4. Loved it! In general, I thought the supporting characters were handled well this season. When the characters of Charlie and Garth were used, for example, they actually had stuff to do and changed and evolved: they weren’t merely “comic relief” (“and now a fun one as well!”). This isn’t to say that I loved all the supporting characters or supporting-character-centric episodes, but overall I thought this element of the show was handled nicely this season. A show this old needs a new and evolving roster of supporting characters more than ever. Plus, the Charlie episodes were great, and Felicia Day wants the show to have a “teflon vagina.” Right on.
Felicia: I’m very blessed to be working with these amazing men and their perfect hair… I feel this show needs a teflon vagina [a woman who won’t die because she hooked up with one of the Winchesters] … Charlie is a woman who happens to be a geek but that’s not who she is, she’s not defined by being a geek, she’s a person … Charlie is a real person who happens to love the things she loves. It’s hard to create a character like that.
Plus! Sweet lady kisses:
Image from here.
5. Loved it! Introduction of the “Men of Letters” bunker and new villain, Abbadon. Much as I carp, these were examples of How to Add New Stuff to an Aging Show and Do it Very Well.
See, I know I complain a lot, and I seem whiney and OCD about the show being consistent with previous seasons, but at the end of the day, what I’m here for is stuff that works and is entertaining. If a plot point is entertaining and opens up new possibilities for the show, then yay! Bring it on.
And so the introduction of Sam and Dean’s grandpa, along with the Men of Letters, worked with the overall world of the show: it was interesting to find out that their father actually had a “legacy”, even if he was totally unaware of it. This choice expanded the world of Supernatural, rather than contracting it by going over the same ground again and again.
Plus, it was cool to add nerdy, research-y supernatural fighters into this world: hunters aren’t just fighters, they’re scholars (“men of letters” — Charlie points out that their name is sexist, don’t worry), and I’d really love that “intellectual” component.
And we got a cool new set and a sort of “home base” for the guys that makes sense. The set is basically library porn and I love it:
Pic from here.
Plus, a new villain and the idea of the “Knights of Hell” being a new kind of demon: great. A new and different threat. And a really hot lady! Who is basically introduced as an Evil Joan from Mad Men:
6. Loved it! Hated it!: The three trials. The episode where the trials were introduced (“Trial and Error”) was entertaining; plus, we got Winchesters in glasses and Sam actually saying something nice to Dean. So right on! But as the trials continued, they devolved into: Sam is unwell and clutches his head, due to Trial-Sickness; Dean worries about him. This was Boring As Fuck.
Ahem: Seasons 1-2: Sam is unwell and clutches his head, due to Visions; Dean worries about him
Season 4: Sam in unwell and clutches his head, due to Demon Blood; Dean worries about him
Season 6: Sam is unwell and clutches his head, due to Hell-Sickness; Dean worries about him
Season 7: Sam is unwell and clutches his head, due to Hell-Sickness; Dean worries about him.
See the pattern? The last thing that interests me is Sam Unwell; Dean Worry. Can’t Dean be the one to clutch his head for once? Just for a change?
Plus, honestly, Sam spent the first part of the season being a big Douche; even if his Douchiness made no sense (see point one), it was still Douche-y. So after that, it was a bit hard to summon up a reservoir of worry for Sam Dying!!! Um, he left his brother to die, and I’m still not over that.
I will say that Sam/Jared Padalecki pulled out a surprise moment of empathy from me in the “The Great Escapist” when he gave a speech about how the trials were “purifying” him, because he’d always felt evil, due to the demon blood (Here, starting at :50). Not only did JP deliver this moment well, but it felt like actual, interesting character development that was dealing with stuff from the past that had never been fully dealt with. You know, letting Sam be a more complicated character than “I JUST WANNA NORMAL LIFE! AGAIN! FOR SOME REASON!” Ahem, ahem. I’ll get over it one day, I promise (Lies! I’ll never get over it).
[Nerd shout-out: between the “Jewish Golem” episode “Everybody Hates Hitler” and calling this comic-book influenced episode “The Great Escapist,” writer Ben Edlund is clearly a Michael Chabon fan, cause that’s all directly from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Awesome! I do love the nerdy book shout-outs on this show]
But other than that? The trials rapidly got boring and annoying. They also produced The Worst Episode Ever.
7. The worst episode the show has ever made is followed by one of the best. Doesn’t that just sum up season 8? Just as I was really enjoying the show again, due to Men of Letters and Charlie and the introduction of the trials, then there was a string of truly terrible standalone episodes: “Remember the Titans,” “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits” (YES, BESTIALITY. IT WAS ALSO RACIST BESTIALITY; YES, SOMEHOW THAT’S POSSIBLE), and “Young Teenage Hunter Episode Whose Title I Cannot Be Bothered to Look Up, Ugh”. But…you know, at the end of the day, those are standalone episodes. So what? Every season has some clunky standalones. That was a brutal stretch of them, but oh well.
If you want a blow-by-blow account of why this episode is so terrible, go here. (And by “blow by blow,” I mean “lots of jokes about blow jobs” as well as insightful analysis about why this episode sucked).
This was the opposite of “introducing new elements to the show and expanding the world”. Instead, it went over ground the show has already covered (Hell, Purgatory, Reapers, death) and more or less systematically made those elements less interesting. For years, most of the tension on the show has come from how difficult it is to get in and out of Hell and Purgatory. In this episode, characters did both. Easily. Meaning that now these things are forever less exciting.
Death officially means nothing on the show anymore, because it’s apparently pretty easy to jump dimensions, and it’s cool to come back from the dead to help out, now, or something. For years, I’ve defended the notion that a character dying did have meaning on the show, despite all the supernatural ressurections. With the way this episode dealt with Bobby, death officially has no meaning.
Yeah, Bobby was back. Oh, and Benny left for Purgatory again, which was rushed. In other words, it’s insane how much was crammed into this episode and done poorly.
And while I’m forgiving of changing elements or small wrong details if the plot is exciting, here the plot wasn’t exciting. If I were watching the show for the first time, I’d be like “This is the cheesiest version of Hell I’ve ever seen! Don’t they know better than to show stuff like that? SUGGEST the torture, don’t show it! Don’t show us the shark!”
The show, after years of smart Hell teases and funny takes on Hell and SUGGESTING Hell and making it genuinely psychologically scary, screws the pooch and gives us a cheesy, stupid version of Hell.
Plus, I’m sorry: some inconsistency is fine, but the degree to which the characters had amnesia about everything that had ever happened to them on the show was insane. Like, don’t you think these characters who had been TRAPPED IN HELL FOR CENTURIES would have SOME REACTION to finding A SUPER EASY WAY TO GET IN AND OUT OF THERE?
Dean: Everything is in here, from the racist truck to me having sex. I’m full frontal in here, dude.
But you know what comes right after this episode? Episode 20, “Pac-Man Fever,” listed by i09 as one of the “20 Science Fiction Moments That Will Make Absolutely Anyone Cry”. And it did. If “Taxi Driver” was one of the worst episodes of television I’ve ever seen, “Pac-Man Fever” was one of the best. It was smartly constructed, funny, and sad, and it made me cry. And I’m not one to cry at TV. But this got a single, perfect tear out of me.
Gif from here.
So, yeah. Talk about whiplash. I hate it! I LOVE IT!
All kudos forever to “Pac-Man Fever” writer Robbie Thompson for writing a great episode and convincing me not to give up on the show.
Of course, Charlie always helps.
8. The final conclusion in the last episode was both completely stupid and completely perfect at the same time.
Let’s face it, the ending to the last episode of the season, “Sacrifice,” was completely stupid. There’s a great response here on i09: Is Dean Winchester the worst hero ever? After a whole season spent trying to close the gates of hell, Dean is like, wait, Sam could die? STOP THE TRIAL. And they do. Thus giving up the quest of the whole season.
No matter how you slice it, spending the whole season working towards something, then going, “Wait, it requires personal sacrifice? NAH!” is anti-climactic, even if other interesting stuff happened in the finale. Plus, by season 8, “Sam could die!” just isn’t enough of a gut-wrencher: we know he’s not going to stay dead, and it just doesn’t have the necessary impact.
In the episode, after Sam discovers he could die, he says, “So?” Which is meant to be a heartbreaking indicator of how little he values his life, but it’s also my reaction: “So? He won’t stay dead, and he was a douche most of the season.”
At this point, with death so meaningless, and so much bad water enough the bridge, we need to up the stakes. Plus, like I said, I’m bored stiff with Dean saving Sam. We’ve seen that. We saw the definite version of that back in Season 2. I want Sam to save Dean, damnit.
He left him to die in Purgatory and I’m sorry I’m still not over it!
Sorry, Sam. I know you look all beat up from Trial Sickness, but I’m still mad at you. Image from here.
Let’s face it, the ending to the last episode, “Sacrifice,” was completely perfect. While logically, that decision made no sense whatsoever, on an emotional level, it was perfect. We got to hear Sam express regret and deep remorse for not being there for Dean (fiinnnnaallllllllllllly! And kudos, JP: “how many times I let you down” was done well: he pulls out the angst well sometimes). Sam finally listened to Dean (unlike a parallel church scene at the end of Season 4) and took his advice. The brothers put family ahead of everything else.
And I was thinking about it, and in the moral world of Supernatural, it’s not the possible consequences of an action that make it right or wrong. Many times we’ve seen that characters sacrificing their loved ones for the “Greater good” isn’t the way to go. In fact, characters who do that get punished.
Both Sam and Cas have fallen in the trap of thinking, “I’m doing something wrong/hurting my family/friends/innocent individual people but IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO IN THE BIG PICTURE AND WILL SAVE MORE LIVES.” And that never works on this show. What makes an action right or wrong on this show isn’t ultimately how many people you save, but what your intentions are in doing the action in the first place. It’s important to value family and friends and think about what they want, even if in the big picture that seems stupid to you. Loyalty and trust to individual people are more important values than abstract ideas of “the greater good.”
So, the ending of season 8 made sense: Sam’s “biggest sin” wasn’t anything Big Picture; it was letting his brother down. And sure, maybe in the abstract closing the gates of hell would save lives, but what’s more important is valuing family, and Dean is standing there, asking him not to do it.
Plus, after Dean had repeatedly in the past on the show begged both Sam and Cas to listen to him, to not do something because he asked, only to have them not listen to him (“I’m doing the Right Thing!”) and get themselves into a mess, he finally got to have Sam listen to him. And Sam chose him rather than Saving the World.
And that might seem weird, as isn’t this show all about doing Good and Saving the World? Don’t the Winchesters devote their lives to that? Well, sort of. But not really.
As pointed out in another strong Season 8 episode, Clip Show (reviewed well here), what the Winchesters look for is saving individual people. They find value in putting back together individual families. It’s not about some abstract Doing Good; it’s helping individual victims. In other words, they save people, small p, not the abstract idea of People, upper case. When they forget that, things tend to get dicey. It’s never a numbers game.
So, the finale perfectly encapsulates Season 8 for me: I HATE IT! I LOVE IT! I HATE IT AND I LOVE IT!
Bring it on, Season 9. I’m ready for you.