Saturday, September 29, 2012

Supernatural Season 4 Review

 Castiel! Castiel! I’ll be over here happy dancing and celebrating. Castiel! Castiel! What? I’ve got to actually write a review and not just fanpoodle Castiel? Ah well, the sooner I get it done, the sooner I can return to Castiel love.

This season was a major boost on what was already a really good show. Angels and Demons and the 66 seals – it took they already epic feel of Supernatural and ratcheted it up to all knew levels. This wasn’t just lives on the balance, fighting to save themselves and save as many innocents in the process. This is a fight between Heaven and Hell to try and keep Lucifer himself imprisoned. Lillith, the big bad demon from last season, is battling to free Lucifer by breaking the 66 seals on his prison. On the other side we have the angels fighting to keep Lucifer boxed up. Sam and Dean are naturally on the side of the angels, especially since Castiel is the one who pulled Dean out of Hell.

But it’s not so simplistic as that. Not least of which because the angels are pretty unpleasant (except Castiel, who is awesome), rigidly following orders of the command without any consideration of nuance or shades of grey. Through Anna, the fallen angel, we see that doubt is considered a great crime, that disobedience is punishable by death and that the angels don’t even commune with god and have no idea what he truly wants. Sam and Dean clash with the rigid structure and the draconian orders, and certainly with their wiliness to sacrifice innocent people “for the greater good.”

From there it becomes even murkier, with angels endorsing torture, angels fighting angels and Uriel killing angels who don’t support him in pushing for the apocalypse. It looks like a fringe group of angels and quickly becomes clear that the most powerful angels are completely behind breaking the seals and setting the apocalypse going. They want the war because they’re sure they will win – which leads to Castiel’s considerable character development in a very short time.

And, of course, the ending has a twist beyond the angels being on the pro-apocalypse team. Ruby, who had spent all of last season finally and completely convincing me she was a good demon – and I was cynical all through that season and most of this one, but I was convinced. Turns out she was playing the long game all along, corrupting Sam, getting him on side to kill Lillith – and in doing so freeing Lucifer. It was one of those moments where you stare at the screen in brief shock – extremely well done. And Dean stabbing her afterwards.

Because of all of this epic, the seasons seemed to be more focused than the previous seasons. After all, when one is fighting to prevent Lucifer being released, deviations from that seem like distractions. Despite that there are several episodes that deviate though some still fit – such as Dean travelling back in time to fill in some of the history behind his family and revealing yet more of Azazel’s devilish plotting. But others seem to be more gimmicky without much meta purpose – like the Oktoberfest horror film shapeshifter. That’s the only episode I didn’t enjoy though and others either added backstory to the Winchesters (such as the ghost bully at Sam’s old school), had other lessons (like Sam and Dean suddenly living corporate lives to be taught a lesson by Angel Zacharia) or were just great fun (like Dean with the demonic fear virus). And, again, like in previous seasons even when we have these deviations from the main plot there are still threads of character growth even if not the meta plot. I’m still torn as to whether Chuck and his books about Supernatural are a fun little gimmick or a step too far in the shattering of the 4th wall.

If I have one complaint about the characterisation it’s that with Ruby’s nifty knife, they now have a method of reliably killing demons pretty easily, especially since most the demons they meet seem to be not overly more dangerous than humans (lower lever demons, presumably – because we also have demons like Alistair that are mighty as ever) they seem to have forgotten how to exorcise them and try to save their hosts.

And there is more emotional conflict and development that Supernatural does so well – balancing necessary emotional impact while not derailing the plot into pits of wailing and angst. Everyone – from Sam to Dean to the angels – is concerned with Sam’s demonic powers and drinking demon blood, especially as it leads to his addiction. But at the same time they’re conflicted by how it may be their only way to defeat Lillith and stop Lucifer being released – there’s a lot of question on the subject of “ends justifying the means”. Of course, this conflict also puts a rift between Sam and Dean that’s interesting to see played out since it’s really well done – especially with Bobby putting in his input (I love Bobby).

But the star of the emotional impact has to go to Dean and his experiences in Hell. After 30 years of constant torture, he broke and agreed to torture others. The portrayal of both the suffering he endured and the guilt he now suffers from is extremely well done and developed over the course of the series. It also adds an extra layer to the horror of the angels asking Dean to torture Alistair for them. Well acted, well maintained, well developed and really well portrayed.

And with all that wonderful praise I now have to return to my old complaint about the inclusion on this programme.

On race – we have a semi-regular POC with Uriel – a Black man. And like every other Black man on this show except Rufus, he takes an instant dislike to the Winchesters and is a thorn in their side. Just like Gordon the hunter, just like Henrickson the FBI agent. And just like both of them he ends up dead as well. C’mon there’s a really blatant pattern forming here. Other than that it’s largely victims and tokens (Black Maid and Chinese restaurant owner, for example). And we’ve had monsters refer to prejudice against them as “racist” which was ridiculously unnecessary – especially from a demon and a ghoul

On women - we have Pamela, the psychic. Who is sassy, cool and fun – and the first time we see her she gets blinded seeing Castiel’s true form. She repeatedly says she doesn’t want to get involved but they drag her back in and she ends up stabbed to death. And we have Ruby. Now I do like the Ruby storyline, I was impressed. But following on Bela from last season and the continued disappearance of Ellen and Jo, it leaves the regular female characters either sacrificial victims or cunning manipulators who can’t be trusted. And they all die anyway.

On sexuality – gay jokes, gay jokes, gay jokes. That’s about it – and can I say how tired I am of erased shows still using homophobia for humour? And I know everyone is kind of excited by the slash fan nod in episode with the Supernatural book series written by Chuck, but to me it feels a bit like the Bromance in Teen Wolf. Writers are throwing bones to slash fandom but failing to include actual GBLT people – and that’s a problem, especially with people in fandom calling Supernatural a pro-gay show on the strength of it.

And there’s another problem with regular characters. As may have been guessed, I love Castiel. Castiel is awesome, he’s a brilliant character and brings a lot ot the show, a definite up tick on an already great series. And Bobby – Bobby is just perfect in so many ways, as a father figure, as a mentor, as the cranky old wise man and with a lot of humanity and realness to him. Both regular characters add a lot to the show and definitely improve things.

But in a show already completely and overwhelmingly dominated by straight, white, male characters they add 2 more regular straight white male characters. I love them, I really do, but it highlights the completely lack of inclusion that the cast of this show is so homogenous.

I love this show I really do – I can happily sit and watch episodes back to back, I’m even tempted to re-watch some (especially ones with Castiel in them). It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s epic, it’s dramatic, it has a deeply engaging storyline, lots of conflict, some wonderfully endearing characters and some truly excellent acting. But why oh why does it have to fail so at inclusion?

Now, I'm off to fanpoodle Castiel some more.