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SPN 6: Both good and original....

... but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.
– Samuel Johnson (attributed)

Hooookay. Season 6.

Lemme say a few things upfront: I didn't hate it. And as far as hand-over wobbles go, both story-arc- and management-wise, it could have been worse. A lot worse. It's still Show, individual episodes were still brilliant, the finales were strong and they did a good job of tying a lot of stuff up, and I'm (cautiously) hopeful for next season.

Between graduating grad school (sort of – I still have a class to finish off, which is weird to me, but hey I walked across the stage in the silly gown and cap and stringy things and everything, so whatevs), moving, painting, and all the rest of the craziness, I haven't been saying much about this season as it unfolded, apart from some inelegant ranting on bitterlimetwist's journal. Also, it became pretty damn clear to me early on that I had about zero handle on what the story and the season was trying to be, so commenting on it either way became little more than reactionary floundering, and that doesn't help anyone. Plus, I wanted to give Show and all those involved the benefit of the doubt, and that doesn't really happen when I'm just ranting about the lumps and bumps I didn't like on its way to re-establishing its story footing; that process tends to be rough and ready and not particularly dignified, and it's not fair to criticise until you see the finished product.

So, okay, reaction and thinky and some quite ranty stuff:

I like what they did with Cas, ultimately. Or at least I accept it. Yes, someone's been cribbing from Buffy S6 – and yes, the "family" shtick got a little too spackle-happy toward the end, and instead of the relationship between Dean (and Sam and Bobby, but apparently who cares about them?) and Cas being strained and twisted and then (ideally, story-wise) shattered being compelling and nuanced and thoughtfully played out, it was all you're like my brother and the dying for one another Thing is a Meaningful Thing, right? – but it's a serviceable set-up for the next Big Bad. Not, you know, inspired, but serviceable. I just really, really hope this isn't going to turn into another Save Him Or Kill Him Quest for Dean, because Enough Already.

Speaking of enough already, the story/character retreads. Guys. Stop it. Please. Unless you genuinely have no new stories to tell, or something – in which case, ask us. We have lots of ideas. Sure, the what-might-have-been question is an interesting one every now and then, but to build a season on it is ... unfortunate. To say the least. It sends a very strong message that you don't know what else to do.

To recap: a deal is made by Someone Else and Sammy is supernaturally dicked over. Sammy actually comes back wrong, instead of just the suggestion of it. Dean has to Save Sammy. That out of the way shelved for now, Cas is speeding along the ends-justifies-means track, and for some reason is Like A Brother, and so now Dean has to Stop Or Save him. And be betrayed by him, because that's Deanyweany's lot in life. Oh, but in case Cas-as-Sam is too straight-up, Cas-is-also-Dean, trying to find Deadbeat Dad and then trying to find his disillusioned way and fight the fight without him. I mean, honestly, why even have SamnDean at all? Cas can be the whole story. Hurrah. Except, of course, we've. Already. Done. This. For FIVE FREAKING SEASONS. With brothers who I actually care about. Who actually grew up and past this. I'm ready for a new story nao. – I'm ready for their story nao. Not the same one, the next one.

Yes. "Family is Hell" is the vision statement for Show. But, here's a hint, guys: not every main-character relationship depicted onscreen HAS to be a familial one for that vision to hold and be expressed. In fact, it's more interesting when there's some variety in these relationships beyond father-son and brotherly. Friends and allies of the boys are both significant and INTERESTING relationships – just look at Balthazar. Just look at Gabriel. They can, repeat, CAN sustain betrayal and redemption plotlines. If you're going to have a Brotherly relationship emerge, then let it emerge – if it's not there (which it wasn't), don't force it just because you semi-accidentally put the real Brother relationship on ice for half a season because you have no idea what to do with it when there's no Conflict and Angst and Woe, nor any idea what to do without a Brother storyline.

Also, family-is-Hell relationships do not all have to follow the same trajectory. The Lisa and Ben thread, for example, was perfect in this regard. Actually new and interesting, and forcing Dean to deal with a new and interesting dilema ... dropped within three episodes.

I'm not even touching the Mommy Issues/Daddy Issues do-si-do. At this point, that just feels tacky.

... So, anyhow, Dean managed to emerge relatively intact, where WhatIf!Cas went super-powered darkside. Good. Fine. Whatever. Just make the redemption arc (and, sue me, I'm assuming that's what this will be – although I'm also really, really hoping it WON'T be – if this does turn out to be the same old Sammy!Cas thing, I want Dean to kill the dude DED. Mostly because I'm having to sit through it again, and that gets my hate-on going) something different. Somehow.

And as far as "different" goes, I also don't care how much jazz hands mythology clues you give us. IDEAS ≠ STORY. Stop shaking your ass hands at me and hoping I won't notice.

Oh, and, hey, remember when the journey, fight, and consequences for BOTH brothers were important? Remember when Sam was an actual character? Who had some kind of self determination – who did things and had drives and made decisions and suffered the consequences? Who had an entire character arc and earned IMMENSE character growth and story capital by the time we got to the end? I know he's been incapacitated and out of commission for the entire season (and that in itself should be a major bells-and-whistles neon warning sign), but I WANT HIM BACK. Please stop pissing away all the incredible story potential you built up over five years. Or, if you won't, at least let him deal with the consequences of his Dissociative Identity integration front-and-centre. For me, the single most off-putting thing they could do at this point is not incorporate that substantially – and I mean substantially – into the beginning of S7.

Look, I'm granting that none of this is easy. Sera Gamble inherited a fairly tough gig, one which I personally don't think she was suited to, through no real fault of her own. And by "tough gig" I mean there was no pre-planned storyline to provide structure and momentum, and there was the shake-up of the balance of creative input and final say, which is two huge changes at once. By "don't think she was suited to", I mean that whatever her story instincts are (and I don't have that much hope in that department, but Kripke was also weak there, so it's not an insoluble problem), her perspective on Show is a disadvantage.

This is just me and the sense I get, nothing especially concrete I can point to, and I want to say right off that clearly I don't know everything that's gone on and I'm speaking from a largely speculative position, but to me she has always given off a very proprietary vibe with Show. I mean, initially it was Sam – remember when Sam "belonged" to Sera and Dean "belonged" to Ben, somewhere around S3 or 4? – but that appears to have transferred to Show, along with the apparent perception that Show is actually about Dean. (It's not.) She comes off as ... well, as a super-empowered fangirl. Which is fine, even very valuable, to have on staff, but not running the thing.

Arguably, Kripke's greatest strength was that he never took Show too seriously. He could detach enough to make a good call from what was being pitched to him, and not be threatened at the idea of taking risks with it. In fact, you got the sense that a lot of the fun for him was taking risks with this weird little freak-story-that-could, taking it places just to see what would happen, and not going back to old ground unless it was justified and called-for by the story. Whereas Sera is way too invested in the whole thing, on too many personal and professional levels, to easily take real risks with it. I mean, I can't say for sure, but I'd point to that as being one of the main reasons this season was just a reheat (with some extra seasoning) of everything we've already seen. That, and I also get the sense she's somewhat dissatisfied with what Kripke did with it the first time around, and wanted to do it HER way this time. And while The French Mistake was funny as hell, well ... I'll bet this shiny nickle that those jokes about the new showrunner were a lot closer to home than, er, not. I don't really blame her, as such. I suspect that she's doing the best she can ... the problem is, that's not an entirely comforting thought.

That's the condensed version of my thoughts as I watched the season unfold. I'm really, really, really hoping that a lot of the kinks have worked themselves out from the hand-over and the balance is returning. Maybe they're all getting the hang of things, or maybe needed voices are asserting themselves more. That can't be seen for sure until a good way into next season at the earliest, although the bumped-up re-ensouling was a promising sign. I mean, the initial decision to desoul Sam was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one, but having done it, I applaud the recognition that it didn't work and the quick fix, and I understand the severe slip-and-slide delamination of plotline speeds that happened as a consequence. I'm less understanding of Dean's brother-buttons being transferred to Cas to push, in part because Sam wasn't doing anything – here's an idea, everyone, let's not have Dean in brother-related agony for half a season or so, hm? Or is that just too risky? – but anyhow.

Bottom line: S6 was something of a less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts non-event for me, but as I said, I'm willing to give them a burn season to find their feet again. This was it. If they don't start making their way forward next season, I don't think they're going to. I'll still watch, because the individual brilliance of the parts still shines brighter than anything else I've seen on tv. It'll still be Show; it'll just be Show in the fading glory of its twilight (no pun intended) years. And you know what? I've had five exceptional seasons, which I had no reason to expect. I can live with that. And be damn grateful to have seen and known what I had. And I got all you guys out of the deal, which I can be damn grateful to know what I have. So, yeah. Bring on S7. And meantime, I'm not going anywhere.


Jun. 2nd, 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)
"I even enjoyed Red Sky, and have never quite managed to pinpoint what everyone found so awful about it."

I don't hate Red Sky, but I'm pretty sure what everyone hated (and it's what I find least enjoyable about the ep.) is the old lady hitting on Sam. It kind of smacks of laughing at women once they're of a certain age. Although I wouldn't have found it funny if it had been an old man groping Bella, so there you go. Mileage and all that.

"Because everything WAS off, along with Sam and especially Dean, and I felt like the season tonally reflected that really well."

This is exactly why I came around to it; thematically it's very strong.

"And that's what I liked about it. :)"

Interesting! I'm going to keep all this in mind if I ever get the urge to rewatch.
Jun. 3rd, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. Spn's version of the "cougar". I didn't find that as funny as the writers obviously did, and I can see why some people would be outraged by it, but I didn't mind it much myself. I don't expect everyone to see it my way, but for me, it wasn't a problem.

On the lesser issue, the whole if-it-had-been-Bela reversal, I didn't find it objectionable because Sam was not being victimized by anyone (except Dean). He was perfectly capable of extricating himself from the situation if he needed to – which is why if it were reversed, and it were Bela and an old lech, and she was as capable as Sam (which I think she is), then I wouldn't find it a problem at all. Also potentially funny, depending on how it was played. It's the imbalance of power and victim thing that makes that not funny – and the imbalance of power was between Dean and Sam, as it's always been until S5. And, let's face it, that is played for laughs at least as much as it's a source of drama.

As for the indignity of laughing at old women, Gert (it was Gert, wasn't it?) is not the only example of elderly women in Show, and there's a range and there ARE old women like that. She's not representative of old women as a group, she's a character, and thus I don't think Show was making fun of old women. In particular, she's a character who was a mark of Bela's. Bela chooses her marks well; given the option, of course she's going to go for marks who are led by their impulses and desires, because they're the easiest to manipulate.

And on a more meta level, I liked that Gert was just old enough and uninhibited enough to do what we'd all do if we thought we could get away with it. For some people, being old is all about getting away with doing whatever they feel like. So why not cop a feel of the gorgeous young guy who's too polite to stop you? Not admirable, perhaps, but certainly showing that Gert was a distinct character and not just a demographic puppet. Old male characters are allowed to be complex and flawed and sometimes ridiculous, so why not old female characters? I am totally okay with that.
Jun. 5th, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
All this talk about Red Sky meant that I had to go watch it, and I was surprised by how little there actually was of Gert groping Sam. It's one of those tricks of the mind, where the part you liked the least is the part you remember the best. And when she grabbed his ass, and told him he was firm all over? I laughed. So I'm full of shit. Also, I really like this -

"So why not cop a feel of the gorgeous young guy who's too polite to stop you? Not admirable, perhaps, but certainly showing that Gert was a distinct character and not just a demographic puppet."

This is what happens when you talk about an episode you haven't seen in a while. Now that I've seen it, I can say that I really liked it (and the Sam and Dean stuff - oh kill me now, it was so good). Rewatching it reminded me why I love S3: It's S4 minus the angels. It's ALL there - Sam willing to do anything to achieve the goal; Sam going behind Dean's back; Sam trusting Ruby; Sam acting like Dean; Sam and Dean fighting. Because of the strike they obviously only had time to tie up Dean's deal, but not enough time to show us Sam choosing to use his powers, so the whole thing got carried over to S4. Only in S4 Sam ends up with less audience sympathy because he isn't selling his soul to save Dean, he's selling his soul partly for revenge; and he isn't just working with Ruby, but having sex with her and drinking her blood. I mean, they really made his choices so much worse - but I like that. And omigosh I will shut up now.
Jun. 17th, 2011 04:26 am (UTC)
Hey, sorry, got distracted by this last class thing. Blech.

Yay for redeeming episodes! That's one of the best things about meta, is that both your own and others', is how it brings out things you never saw before and can make you appreciate genuinely good-quality things much more.

I mean, they really made his choices so much worse - but I like that.

Oh, me too, and I love what you point out about the shift in timing (and thus motive) for his selling his soul. I hadn't really thought about that before. I mean, ALL the most sympathetic aspects of that occurred inter-season – and we had to learn about them all all at once when he told Dean, rather than take each agonizing step with him. Gah! *hugs Sammy*
Jun. 19th, 2011 01:05 am (UTC)
"That's one of the best things about meta, is that both your own and others', is how it brings out things you never saw before and can make you appreciate genuinely good-quality things much more."

That's why I'm obsessed with meta. But in a totally healthy way, of course. *shifty eyes*

"the shift in timing (and thus motive) for his selling his soul."

We lost episodes because of the strike, but gained a more complex and interesting story. Win, I'd say.

"ALL the most sympathetic aspects of that occurred inter-season – and we had to learn about them all all at once when he told Dean, rather than take each agonizing step with him."

I never had a problem with that, although I've just recently come across a fair number who do. So much of S4 was Sam struggling to decide what he should do, so that was inherently sympathetic to me. 4.09, for me, was about showing his devastation after Dean's death, and how Ruby got him to trust her.

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