Friday, October 5, 2012

Supernatural Season 7 Review

 I think this series started shakily. The first episode was interesting – with Castiel as the new super-powerful, but highly confused and rigid god (hey, killing hate groups and hypocritical politicians? Totally Team Castiel here) who demanded everyone kneel and love him (oh Castiel, I’m already there) who quickly succumbed to the power within him and sends all that power back to Purgatory. I was confused, they seemed to have just thrown away the entire set up of last season’s dramatic finale.

Then the Leviathan were introduced as the season’s big bad. Ancient monsters imprisoned in Purgatory to stop them taking over and eating everything. And Castiel appeared to be killed off. I won’t lie, there may have been a moment of hyperventilating panic there.
Thankfully I had reserve pictures to desperately cling to while I waited for his return
After this not only did we have a large number of episodes without Castiel (the horror! The horror!) but we also seemed to wander for a while without doing a whole lot about the Leviathan at all. In some ways this is similar to previous seasons – the meta hangs around in the background, being developed through research, 3rd parties or as they learn truly what it’s all about and find a solution – and in the meantime  they get on with killing the monster du jour

But it felt odd to me that there was so little effort to go after the Leviathans after their weakness to Borax was exposed. Does it kill them? No, but spraying them, cutting off their heads and separating them (burying them separately in concrete perhaps) would take them out of the picture for a long long time, which is a tactic they’ve used before on big-bads they couldn’t kill. Frankly, the Leviathan’s powers seem to be limited to shapeshifting, strength and near-invulnerability – they don’t even have the nifty telekinesis or pyrokinesis powers that demons have. Their invulnerability was the only thing about them that made them such a big, bad enemy compared to some of the things the Winchesters have fought and, really, spraying them with soapy water and then decapitating them while helpless makes them easier to disable than… well, just about everything they’ve ever fought ever. C’mon, that’s how you kill vampires – only they can’t be disabled by easily available household cleaning products! You’ve gone after monsters that required PHOENIX ASH before now, or Samuel Colt’s gun or even for Sam to OD on demon blood – but charging in with borax is too challenging? Get some hoses, spike the sprinkler system, grab a super-soaker, they’re a super powerful enemy that can be defeated with SOAP, get to it already!

In light of this, once the weakness was discovered, I found it odd that there was no assault, no attempt to whittle down Leviathan numbers, no real attack against the Leviathan. For many episodes they’d stumble across the Leviathan and/or Frank (their awesomely good computer expert who is extremely paranoid and an amusing character) would give them an update on the Leviathan’s plans while Sam and Dean got on with other matters. In fact, their ultimate weapon against the Leviathan wasn’t something they sought, it fell into their laps by sheer chance and coincidence which felt awfully clumsy as well.

It would have worked for me if the Leviathans weren’t so easily defeated – because Sam and Dean would have been facing other matters simply because they couldn’t be taken down. It would also have worked if the Leviathans weren’t such a global threat – and the threat was clever and crafty, turning humanity into cattle through food additives? Culling humanity of traits they don’t want, making humans docile and then organising slaughterhouses –effectively turning human civilisation into a farm and slaughterhouse was excellent, diabolical and a truly clever and fascinatingly evil scheme. Not least of which for how it worked to make the threat more human, more close to our societies rather than being an epic outside force like previous seasons.

I liked the threat, but I would have been happy with a season without a major, pressing threat or even without a big bad. After all we’ve now had, what, four seasons where the world was in the balance? Taking a season of down time to explore everyone’s issues and maybe resolve a few of them wouldn’t have been bad.

And there were lots of issues – and they are, again, wonderfully well acted with really powerful emotional content. I love them, I praise them and their portrayal. But some of them are stalled. In particular Dean’s whole “there’s no point, I’ve lost everything and I’m burned out” thing. He’s been doing this for three seasons now and he’s basically been told to “suck it up and deal” which is what he’s done. Now that fits the characters, but every season we have one or two moments where people notice Dean is on the rocks emotionally. And he should be –he’s lost his brother repeatedly, he’s had to deal with his brother becoming evil and dangerous repeatedly. He lost his dad (who he was closer to than his brother), his mum (who he remembers), Castiel (with whom he shared a more profound bond), Bobby, Lisa, Ellen, Jo AND he remembers 40 years of Hell torture. Can someone actually help Dean deal with his issues rather than expecting him to suck it up, yet again, while they all rally round Sam’s weekly evilness?

The one emotional issue that was resolved was Sam’s guilt over his evil – but even then I’m not fond of that. He now feels no guilt because he went to Hell; yeah I’m kind of side-eyeing him suddenly deciding he doesn’t need to feel guilty for nearly ending the world several times. And doubly for Sam deciding he can’t even look at Dean for killing Amy, the brain-munching Kitsune and then being all pouty and unable to forgive – uh-huh, after the shit Dean’s forgiven Sam for?

Still there were some powerful emotional scenes – Bobby dying, becoming a ghost and being brought back, Dean’s guilt before Osiris, the conflict between desire to reconcile with Castiel but, at the same time, being reluctant to forgive him for what he did.

Sam and then Castiel’s insanity were powerful, emotional scenes and Sam dealt with a lot of coping mechanisms and ways though – but at the same time there was shaming of mental health issues and more of the “dangerous crazy person” meme going on there. And, yet again, Sam was a dark dangerous threat. I’ll wait to see where Castiel goes – everyone calls him mentally ill but he says he just senses everything – I love the character and the actor but aren’t comfortable with mental illness as comedy.

Crowley remains awesome. That is all.

I am normally pretty averse to killing of characters then bringing them back (though I think Supernatural did a very good job of this in season 5). This season, though, I was sat here glaring at the screen demanding the dead come back – Castiel! Bobby! They cannot cannot cannot CANNOT be gone. Which says a lot for how utterly attached to these characters I am and how wonderful they are. I think the two of them are actually my favourite characters in the story (especially Castiel, as may have been guessed)

I think there was an opportunity missed in not making Charlie, the lesbian computer expert (and the very first GBLT person this show has had who wasn’t comic relief or dead 10 seconds after appearing. For those counting, that’s, possibly, 4) who is also geeky and awesome into a recurring character and I hope they change this in the future. Her and Sherriff Jody (who, I am shocked to say) is not dead, both could use their roles expanding. It’s nice to see some decent female characters who aren’t killed or sex objects or a demon (don’t get me wrong, I like Meg, she’s crafty, clever, ruthless and capable – but having the only recurring female character a dangerous demon who the protagonists can’t trust is dubious, especially in light of the other untrustworthy, dangerous women they’ve had before).  Though these were moving forward, overall I think there was less women on the screen than usual, or rather, they got less screen time – this season felt more erased that before. We also had the usual packet of women used only for emotional impact on the menfolk – Jo and Annie in particular.

There were a few POC in this series but, if anything, it felt like there were even less than before and most of the POC there were were in the Leviathan’s camp or otherwise evil (like the Alpha Vampire). We did get the new Prophet as an Asian man, but he was a combined victim and tool and little else – and very heavily stereotyped. We had an episode of Rufus back – but as a tool for Bobby, not as a character in his own right.

And though I am glad Bobby became a ghost (and I dearly hope he becomes unburned next season somehow – c’mon Supernatural you know you can) and ecstatic that Castiel came back (CASTIEL LOVE!) but at the same time it’s pretty glaring that the straight, white men can die over and over and over and over again and it doesn’t stick, but the women and POC (there aren’t any GBLT people in a significant role) only get to reappear in visions/dreams/memories to further the emotional development of the core cast.

To me, this season didn’t quite hold up what we’d seem in the past 3. It was good, it was fun and I enjoyed every minute of it, but it didn’t reach the awesome heights that the last seasons managed. And it still hasn’t improved on inclusivity – if anything, there was even less meaningful marginalised screen time than there was before.