Monday, October 1, 2012

Supernatural, Season 5 Review

 Yet again, this season dials up the epic yet another notch. At the end of the last season, Lucifer was released (have they ever had a season finale where they’ve actually achieved what they set out to achieve?) and the apocalypse was on. The angel’s plan is to have the Archangel Michael take down Lucifer to put an end to him once and for all and allow them to reshape Earth as they please, a plan that will probably have a whole lot of collateral damage to the human population – not that angels care.

But Archangels – including Lucifer and Michael – need a vessel, a human, to run around Earth in and Archangels can’t just take any vessel, they need ones that can take the strain. Specifically, Lucifer needs Sam and Michael needs Dean. And they both need consent from the brothers to make that a reality.

This is a season of dodging angels and demons trying to make them say yes, while at the same time trying to find a new way to stop the apocalypse even as disasters and omens mount up, the death toll gets ever higher and the angels resort to more and more extreme methods to extract that yes.

Castiel’s (Castiel fan squee!) plan to find god and have him tell everyone to cut it out was the original pl;an which is diffiucult because no-one knows where god is. Even Raphael the archangel thinks god is dead otherwise he would have intervened. But when they do get in touch, the plan fails when it becomes clear that god’s willing to let everyone get on with it with only a few tweaks here and there. Plan B is to find the Colt – the colt that kills everything which finally works out when they track it down to Crowley (who is awesome and would be my favourite character in any show that doesn’t have Castiel) get it and finally confront Lucifer – to find the colt doesn’t work. Plan C, in between lots of desperation, involves putting Lucifer back in his prison – which means finding the keys which are carried by the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse and Sam finally saying yes to Lucifer – and them both being locked away (and Michael at that)

That’s a whole lot of epic. Finding god, tracking the colt that has long been lost and sold by Bela and finally finding and defeating 3 of the 4 horsemen (and speaking carefully to Death who is not amused by all these shenanigans and who spares Chicago because he likes the pizza) as well as the showdown between Michael and Lucifer was all epic and then some. I thought the last season managed to really maintain the impact and the sheer scale of what was going on, but this season took it to the next level, and I didn’t even think there could be a next level. The theme was maintained throughout the season, the desperation, the panic, the true sense of just what was at stake was a constant presence. It made the series tense, exciting and extremely compelling. I think this was especially well done when you consider the number of times Sam and Dean die in the series and either god or the Angels or who knows what bring them back to ensure they’re available to be vessels – to maintain that tension while, at the same time, making the characters functionally immortal is pretty hard and impressive to do.

Most of the episodes stayed on message to make sure that sense of epic was maintained, we did have some fun, semi-side concepts raised to both add new aspects and to add to the epic: The Trickster, that long joking pain in everyone’s backside, turning out to be the Archangel Gabriel (and Nightrider Sam made me laugh), for example. Or Dean seeing the future and the true extent of what happens if he doesn’t say “yes” (President Palin! Ye gods what a hell on earth!). The town that succumbed to fundamentalism in a demonic ploy to pull them to hell, the tour of heaven and so many characters who have been dead for so long – there were so many golden moments here. There were a few that missed the mark – the many gods in episode 19 and the body swap in episode 12 and the half-demon in episode 6 were all low points to me. But in general the quality kept coming.

It wouldn’t be Supernatural if it didn’t have awesome emotional scenes and development with some excellently portrayed soul searching. In particular I liked Castiel (fanboy squee), him developing more humanity, his utterly awful attempts to investigate by telling everyone the truth (hello police officer, I am an angel of the lord, tell me things) and his continued issue with rebellion and fighting his brothers are all excellently well done and fun to watch. Even more dramatic is his loss of faith, when god turns them down, his feeling of rejection by his father and the hopelessness that comes with it – including drinking and entire liquor store (and future Castiel the drunken stoner – hey if it gets more drunken orgy Castiel I’m happy for the apocalypse to go ahead).

Dean and Sam also have their own excellently portrayed issues – including Dean’s lack of faith in Sam. This is really well done and necessary – after all, last season Sam continued to seek out demon blood and Ruby despite everyone – including Dean – telling him it was a bad idea. As an addict, as someone who completely ignored people who cared for him, as someone who clearly wasn’t thinking clearly and as someone who badly betrayed his family, there is every reason for Dean to be suspicious of Sam and have trouble trusting him. And plenty of reason for Sam to doubt himself, to wonder if it’s right for him to hunt, if he can trust himself leading to him taking a hiatus away from hunting. It was excellent to see this relationship damaged and rebuilt rather than glossed over.

And then there’s Dean’s burn out – his doubt and wondering if saying yes to Michael might be the best thing especially in wake of the pressure the angels put on him. His growing desire to actually have a life, which makes so much sense when we consider how long he has been hunting and the 40 years he spent in Hell, Dean is past due a burn out. On top of that we have Bobby, fighting the good fight, being utterly awesome but still making difficult decisions because of his dead wife and being in a wheelchair. Again, a lot of emotional depth, very well portrayed.

So much good here – excellent emotional drama, major themes well maintained, fascinating plot lines, many many twists and new plans, great character development and generally something I could quite happily sit down and watch again. And again. And yet again since the season has Castiel in it. Can I end there?

Alas, no. It’s more inclusion fail that I have to mention.

Firstly we have Crowley, another semi-regular straight, white, male character. Joining Sam, Dean, Bobby and Castiel in the brotherhood of Straight White Men Save the World. In a show that is so erased, the new semi-regular side characters constantly being straight, white men just adds salt to the wounds. The only new character who could come close who wasn’t a straight, white man was Bobby’s Sheriff friend, whatshername. And yes, she played such a significant role that I can’t remember her name nor feel the need to look it up.

As to other women – well Ellen and Jo are back! Yay about time, strong female characters back on the hunt. And then they died. No really, they died to remind us how big and bad the apocalypse is. These characters were dragged up from several seasons of obscurity so they could be fridged. The only reason to bring these two women back was so they could die and convince us how bad everything was and to make Sam and Dean be all sad. What an utter waste of two great characters. We also got angel Anna returning – to be a dangerous threat to the Winchesters and then die. Do we have to draw up a list now of the women who die when they get close to the brothers? Anna, Bela, Ruby, Ellen, Jo – and that’s not including myriad victims and Jess and their mother whose initial fridging was what started the whole story off.

In between the many fridged women, we also have the ongoing sexualisation and objectification of women (getting Castiel laid, for example), Dean’s Madonna/Whore complex and the Whore of Babylon who everyone gleefully took the chance to call a whore over and over again. It’s far from great. Women – they die, they’re enemies, or the men have sex with them.

Onto race and we have Raphael! Yes the Archangel who wants to kill Castiel who has a Black vessel. Which means he joins: Gordon, Agent Henrickson and Uriel (who also made a brief appearance) in the list of Black men who want to kill the Winchesters and are thorns in their side while not even being important enough to be the big bad. This pattern is getting stronger. It’d help if they made more of the POC they actually have and made them into side characters – Rufus or the Angel Joshua, rather than them being brief appearances at best.

There’s also a huge problem with episode 19. Here we see gods from various pantheons getting together to complain about the arrogance of the Judeo-Christian angels choosing the fate of the world. That? That could have been good. But ye gods how it failed. First of all, these gods kidnapped, killed and ate a hotel full of humans. Ganesh is a cannibal? Mercury, Odin? Where did that come from? Why set the gods of numerous cultures up as monsters – why even use them in this grossly disrespectful way? Then Lucifer strolls through the corridors happily murdering them – casually with a wave of his hand, and Kali only survives because Gabriel rescues her. It’s one big “my religion is the true religion” episode, added nothing to the story (Gabriel/the Trickster didn’t need to be Loki for his dramatic scene) and was deeply disrespectful to several belief systems – especially on the back of the lack of inclusion and Supernatural’s happy raiding of other cultures for spare monsters. It was a hot mess and made me cringe from start to finish.

On the GBLT front, we have another load of tee-hee gay jokes going on. And, finally, a gay couple in one episode during which they act as comic relief and, in the end, they came out so Dean could be uncomfortable. It’s pathetic that we’ve reached season 5 and the comic gay couple, the possibly-sorta-maybe gay ghost (only man who dies in the episode and then his ghost sacrifices himself) and the 5 minute appearing lesbian who can’t touch any one without killing them is the complete extent of GBLT inclusion on this show all to a background of endless damn gay jokes. And, in light of this, I can’t get behind all the slash fandom flags they like to play with. The fandom due to the books written by Chuck the prophecy, his biggest fan writing slash fanfiction – all these little nods to the slashers while barely giving the slightest nod to actual gay inclusion is damned insulting. It’s similar to the Bromance we’ve seen in Teen Wolf and it gets on my very last nerve. They want it both ways, to get this fake sense of gay inclusion which far too many in fandom are lapping up, while at the same time all but erasing actual gay characters.

On the disability front we have Bobby in a wheelchair and it is well portrayed. Because Bobby is awesome. Not just generally awesome in the support, the father figure and the generosity and kindness he shows to the idjits, not even awesome in the many wonderful ways he bounces off Crowley (those two are just perfect) but also in his ability to fight. Too often disabled characters are kept in the background and Bobby largely is, but when zombies attack and he and Dean are fending them off, he doesn’t shrink into the background, he grabs a gun and shoots them in the head. Also, as a disabled person who is newly disabled he does show part of the pain and difficulty that causes, including the poor decisions he made to try and get the use of his legs back and the blow to his sense of worth and value. And then they take all that, something they’ve done quite well, magically cure him. Because a disability is only useful so long as you have storylines about it, after which it’s better to woo-woo it away because it’ getting in the way. Ugh, and they were doing so well.

What can I say? This series gets better and better in so many ways – and that’s an amazing achievement for a 5 season show. But it has these major problems that really get in the way of my fanpoodling. Damn it, get some inclusion and lose some tropes, Supernatural, I want to fanpoodle Castiel.