The penultimate episode of Supernatural Season 9 shook up fandom – that part is nothing new. Just about every season, the last few episodes destroy most of us emotionally, in one way or another. We’re used to it. We prepare for it, stocking up on tissues and some good wine and making sure we have our support systems at the ready. This week’s episode, however, shook up fandom in a different way, splitting it down the middle and sending fans scrambling to make their feelings known to TPTB — and in some cases, turning on fellow fans.
It’s not that fandom wank isn’t an integral part of fandom – two of our books (Fandom at the Crossroads and Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls) have chapters that analyze the reasons for fannish infighting. But I never seem to be expecting it when it happens, caught up in my customary bubble of “Supernatural is my happy place”. Being yanked out of that with all the gentleness of an attack dog getting its teeth in my throat was….well, painful. By the time the West coast airing had finished, some fans were breaking up with Show and leaving the fandom. Yes, this happens from time to time – people flounce, people rant, people come back. Or they don’t, and they find another Show to love and another fandom. But this was a lot of people. Insightful, analytical people who had been fans from the beginning, whose opinions I respected and whose reviews I enjoyed. These were journalists and bloggers and fans I knew from all corners of online fandom – Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal. They weren’t flouncing off with drama; they were angry. Or devastated. And that’s a problem.
At the same time, there were other fans on cloud nine, who had loved the episode and were bouncing with anticipation of next week’s finale. Honestly? That’s where I usually am. That’s where I wanted to be! I love this Show with a fiery passion, and I’m not ready to give up on it by any means – but ouch. This episode, and especially its aftermath, hurt.
Let’s start with the stuff I liked.
OF THE GOOD
No. 1 – I watched the Show with my daughter, and both of us thought the episode itself was well written – the dialogue was excellent, with lots of fabulous zingers that weren’t over the top or out of character. Emily especially appreciated that the story flowed from start to finish, instead of jumping back and forth between different story lines. We had whiplash watching some of the recent episodes, they were so fragmented. “Look over here!” “No wait, over there!” “Okay, back to here!” It was a relief to have a story line play out without too much back and forth.
No. 2 – That first scene in the ice cream shoppe. Thanks for that, Andrew Dabb. It was perfection.
No. 3 – I know some fans are, at this point, asking WTF, why is everyone saying that? But I like the repetition of the line, ‘I did what I had to do’ throughout this season. I noted it in the season premiere, and have expected it to be a theme of the season – and it has. It’s everyone’s explanation for all kinds of bad decisions and worse behavior. If it doesn’t play into the finale, I’ll be disappointed.
No. 4 — There were some great lines and pop culture references this week, which I enjoy as long as they aren’t overused. Loved the shout-out to Curtis Armstrong’s Booger in Revenge of the Nerds.
Bowling alley angel to Metatron: “It’d still be you. A nerd. Trying to be one of the popular kids.”
And Metatron trying on Castiel’s trenchcoat? I laughed out loud.
No. 5 — The Sam and Castiel interactions were also a high point for me.
Sam tries to pick the lock of the warehouse, but fails.
Castiel: “Step aside, I’ve got this.”
(Throws himself ineffectually against the door, which doesn’t budge)
Castiel: “I don’t got this.”
Also loved Sam solving the riddle that opens the warehouse door (seven eight nine) and then looking so disbelieving that it worked. My daughter yelled out “Indiana Jones!” at the “Only the penitent man shall pass”, which greatly amused me – since it’s usually me yelling at the television during Supernatural.
And when Sam and Cas finally went through the portal, the looks on both their faces at what they found were priceless. Fandom, as always, captured the moment best:
Whiskeyandoldspice: Castiel’s own personal heaven: taking Sam to prom
No. 6 — There was also a lot of hotness in this episode (yes, the shallow does play a part in my enjoyment of the Show, what can I say?)
The beginning scene with Sam being rudely awakened by Dean was delicious. Just Sam sprawled out on the bed was a moment of hotness, but the way he sprang up, gun at the ready, was extra yummy. Also I laughed out loud when Sam threw his shoes right back onto the floor, bitchface in place. Living with Dean as he is right now would be enough to make anyone perfect the bitchface.
Also, as Dean himself noted: Good reflexes. Better hair.
Cas looked fetching in this episode too, especially when he’s being all earnest and turning those baby blues pleadingly on a Winchester or two.
And then there’s Dean. I continue to love Ackles’ portrayal of Dean going darkside, and holy hell, is it ever hot. I think Osric Chau said it best:
@OsricChau: Oh my Dean, you’re so strong and forceful… #Supernatural
While I wish the Flagstaff angel hadn’t been in a female vessel, that scene also worked. The angel gave voice to Dean’s negative views of himself as just a killer, Daddy’s blunt little instrument, which are being reinforced by the Mark: “You think you help people. It’s amusing. … You believe every problem in the world can be solved with a gun. You think you’re a hero, but under the hype, you’re a killer with oceans of blood on his hands. I hate men like you.”
And then Dean flipped the table and took her down with the angel blade at her throat and I literally leapt out of my comfy seat on the couch and screamed! (My daughter did not appreciate this reaction).
Holy crap, Dean! Ackles sold that on-the-edge-of-out-of-control violence perfectly, while making the next thing he said hotter than hell.
Dean: Oh honey, there ain’t no other men like me.
I’ll say. Dayum.
The look on Dean’s face after Tessa forces herself onto the Blade, as he savors the rush of the kill, all flushed and breathless, was also pretty damn hot. Took my brain off in all sorts of interesting directions…
I also have some shallow love for Sam and Castiel returning to find Dean tied to a chair and gagged with duct tape. Sam should probably have left the duct tape on, considering the pronouncements that followed.
So, all that was of the good. There were other parts of this episode that really didn’t work for me, however, so much so that I was thrown out of the narrative. Never a good thing.
OF THE BAD:
a) The Predictable
Did anyone not know that Dean was lying to Sam when he promised not to take the First Blade with him?
Cas and Sam driving off to go exploring and leaving Dean alone. Really, guys? When you’re all so worried about the MoC and how it’s impacting him?
Hannah forcing Castiel’s hand to find out if he’s loyal to angels or…humanity? If anyone thought Cas was going to “punish” Dean, you’ve been reading too much fanfic. (Which, go for it, really there’s no such thing as too much fanfic, but in the episode? Not a lot of tension in that scene).
b) The Characters-Are-Not-Too-Bright
Sam’s argument for why they shouldn’t bring the First Blade. Really, Sam? Wait until one of the Big Bads announces to you ahead of time that there will be an opportunity to kill them, and then bring the Blade? Surely you could have come up with a better rationale than that! (How about Dean, you’re an out of control unpredictable violent dick when you have the Blade in your hand?)
Cas taking a Skype call from Metatron (is this how ineffectual the angels have become??) without having a clue that it’s a bad idea to converse with a master manipulator while your troops are all listening in. Oops. Shouldn’t have stolen that grace, Cas.
c) The Annoying
Tessa coming back and not seeming like Tessa at all. Also, since when are Reapers angels? I was thoroughly confused. And why could everyone see her? I thought you could only see them when you were about to die? Reapers never took vessels, they could manifest as whatever they wanted you to see. So confused! Is this LOL!Canon or something else?? (ETA: Yes, I know this wasn’t the episode that started the…ummm….evolution of reaper lore, so I’m not blaming you Andrew Dabb! I think it just stung more because this was Tessa, who we know so well.) I was confused enough that it threw me out of the narrative momentarily, which is never a good thing. So reapers are angels now.
Tumblr: Reapers will be zombies next, or maybe vampires.
OF THE IN BETWEEN
Much of the episode fell somewhere between the Good and the Bad for me.
No. 1 – Meta mistakes. I was at first expecting more of the meta that the Show isn’t getting quite right recently.
Metatron on the mystery of the ‘cult of Castiel’: “Sure, he’s cute…”
Me: Oh no, not again. Please can we not go there, Show?
Luckily, it didn’t go too far and wasn’t too heavy handed.
No. 2 – Castiel.
I enjoy Castiel’s continuing awkwardness – even though he now has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, he can’t apply it. Nuance and metaphor escape him. I think one of the reasons for the character’s popularity is that many of us have felt awkward or “weird” at some point in our lives too. That Sam and Dean still accept him and respect him is a powerful thing, something that many fans find inspiring and hopeful. So I enjoyed all those cute and awkward moments, and thought they were both well written and well acted. Jared and Misha can be hysterical together (though I always wonder if one is pranking the other unmercifully every time the camera is on the other…)
Sam (incredulous): Spears and Aguilera?
Cas: I noticed your aliases are usually the names of popular musicians.
Dean (eye rolling): Wow.
I’ve also liked seeing some evolution in Cas as a character, but this week I felt like we were looking at him from the outside. The exception was his clear distress when he thought the Winchesters didn’t trust him. He’s still feeling guilty for getting caught up in pride himself and lying to Dean and Sam, and has desperately wanted to prove himself to them. Dean’s harsh words to him – while they were true and probably needed to be said – stung.
“Cas, I know you try to be a good guy, okay, I do. You try. But what you’ve got here, this is a freaking cult. The last time you had this kind of juice, you did kill humans. AND angels. And you did nothing but lie to me and Sam about it the whole damn time.”
And it gave me a moment of heartclench when Cas plaintively asked Sam in the car whether Sam believed him. Awww, Cas.
Other than that, though, I found myself unconvinced that Castiel was anywhere near heartbroken when he lost his army. He was a reluctant leader from the start, and while I believe he wants to help his fellow angels, I think he’s happy enough to do that with the “humanity” that he cares about – Sam and Dean.
No. 3 — Metatron. I liked him as a villain at first – he was unique, frightening because he was so creepy and so deluded, a talented manipulator. Now I’m not so sure – he’s set himself up as the hero, and seems convinced he’ll win, but when is that kind of pride not the source of downfall on Supernatural? When Metatron had Gadreel kill Kevin, he became someone on my “go ahead and kill him” list. I realize I’m not supposed to like him, but I really really don’t.
No. 4 – The angel war. I’ve been mostly bored by the angel war story line for quite a while now, but I did like the idea running through this episode that the angels are much like humanity – when they’re lost and hurting like Tessa was, they just want someone to tell them what to do. It’s a relief to follow someone, to take orders, to have them give you a purpose for existing. And that’s also tragic. The idea of suicide bombers is not abstract, it’s real – so that hit home in a way that left my stomach in knots. I may not care much about the angels, but it packed an emotional hit anyway because I do care about real life tragedies. Like Sam said, people have been doing crazy things in the name of faith and the name of God since forever. That’s real. And tragic.
No. 5 — Also of the in between: Gadreel.
Gadreel is straddling my good and bad categories (much like the character himself). I can’t help but snicker every time he makes the epic bitchface that he obviously learned from sharing space with Sam Winchester.
I like that he hasn’t been a one-dimensional character, that we haven’t been sure of his motivations. I was hoping Gadreel would be part of some surprising twist – I expected the character to be a bit smarter than he turned out.
Although I tend to believe Gadreel was sincere when he returned to the bunker, I was startled when Dean reached out to shake his hand. I was screaming again (with subsequent apologies to family) when the handshake happened, because NO WAY would Dean forgive the angel who possessed his brother and killed Kevin. My screams got even louder when the handshake turned into a First Blade attack.
YES! That scene totally worked for me, in a way that last week’s Dean and Abbadon showdown didn’t. It was quick, unexpected, dramatic but not overplayed. And Sam and Cas jumping in to hold Dean back was perfect. Good lord, did anyone else find Dean growling and grimacing like a wild animal both terrifying and ridiculously hot??
No. 6 — And that brings me to my biggest ‘in between’ – most of it is of the good, but it’s not the kind of good that you want to roll around in happily forever: The Mark of Cain storyline
I’ve written before about how much I’m liking the Mark of Cain story. What it’s doing to Dean makes sense to me, especially in light of what I heard Ackles say in the recent DCCon meet and greet. He’s playing Dean’s need for the Blade as an addiction, as something that’s filling the “gaping wound” left by Sam’s declaration earlier this season that they weren’t brothers, just partners. (Let me reiterate, I understand Sam’s motivation and am frustrated that we haven’t gotten to explore more of his feelings about being lied to and once again possessed). Jensen said that Dean’s feelings of hurt are a part of why he so recklessly took on the Mark, and why the rush of holding the Blade is so addictive to him, the only thing bringing him “calm” and easing the pain he’s still feeling. No wonder he’s surrendering to it so completely – and no wonder he’s using his newfound numbness and violent urges to wound poor Sam even more. He really is “daddy’s blunt little instrument” – and he can say all the hurtful things to Sam that he used to be afraid to voice, the way two people who care about each other do when they’re hurting.
It’s no coincidence that Dean emphasized the “we’re not partners” when he told Sam “how it was gonna be”. It must be a heady sense of relief for Dean to be freed from needing people, and from working so hard for their approval. To not care. It makes him a friggen’ frightening character!
I also think that the issue which consumed fandom for much of the early part of the season – Dean allowing Sam to be possessed without his consent – hasn’t been swept under the rug and ignored completely. I think that’s part of why Dean was so eager to take on the Mark, and so uncaring of what would happen from then on. He’s described himself as “poison” more than once, and specifically cited that decision and its outcome as part of the reason why. When the Flagstaff angel calls him a murderer, he doesn’t disagree. He took on the Mark in part because he hates himself for that, and for what he did to Sam, and for what Gadreel did to Kevin. Do I wish we’d get more of this onscreen and actually have it articulated? Yes. So much yes. But I do think it’s there, in the narrative.
No. 7 — Most of the Sam and Dean interaction in this episode falls in this in between category too. I, like much of the fandom, long for a glimpse of the brothers’ love for each other – the reason I fell for this Show in the first place. I hate that we’ve had so little of it all season, and I’m still wondering where the Jeremy Carver who wrote “A Very Supernatural Christmas” has gone to and who the hell has taken his place. That said, I didn’t hate the scenes that Sam and Dean did have this week, even though they were tremendously painful to watch.
Sam: “So, Dean, uh . . . we going to talk about this or what?”
Dean: “About what? Yeah, I lied. But you were being an infant.”
Sam: “Wow. Even for you, that apology sucked.”
Dean: “Oh, I’m not apologizing. I’m telling you how it’s gonna be.”
Sam: “Dean — ”
Dean: “That blade’s the only thing that can kill Metatron, and I am the only one who can use it. So from here on out, I’m calling the shots, capische? Until I jam that blade into that douchebag’s heart, we are not a team. This is a dictatorship. And you don’t have to like it, but that’s how it’s gonna be.”
OMG, Sam’s FACE! I nearly knocked my daughter off the couch with my gasp of horror. Ouch!
That scene, painful though it was, was well done. But then Sam just walked away! I agree with everyone who felt cheated that we didn’t get any reaction time with Sam. Why cut away, and have him storm off? Why not give us a glimpse of what’s going on in Sam’s head right now? Yeah, we know he’s worried, and I believe he’s sticking around because he does love his brother and knows that Dean needs him, no matter how big a jerk he’s being right now. But can’t you show me that??
Someone described Sam in recent episodes as “like a ghost moving in and out of the background of the story” and honestly, it does seem that way at times. I’m a Dean girl, and I really really miss Sam!
Once Sam leaves, presumably quite hurt, Dean calmly assures Castiel that he has proven himself by choosing Dean over his angel army. The smile that accompanies Dean’s insistence that the three of them will be enough made the whole scene feel off.
“We always have been,” Dean says, but I find that I don’t quite believe him. After all, if it’s going to come down to Team Free Will, it doesn’t make much sense that Dean just announced to Sam that they are not a team. I wonder if Cas was as skeptical as I was. (After all, it’s not just Sam who Dean treats harshly in this episode – he also is brusque with Cas, mistrusts him, and takes him to task in front of his own angel army).
As painful as the results of Dean’s addiction are to watch (especially when it comes to Sam), that part of it, to me, is good storytelling. As long as we don’t stay there too long. In any good story, there’s the build up of tension, the angst, the OMG moment, and then there’s a satisfying resolution. That resolution has to include the brothers getting back to being brothers and both loving and liking each other, or my reason to love the Show is gone. GONE.
Like I said, I do understand why some fans are bowing out.
Okay, and now for…
OF THE WORST
For some fans, that reason to love the Show is gone already. It’s been a long time since the brothers have had fun together, or teased each other affectionately, or, you know, died for each other. This episode seemed to be the last straw for many.
“It broke my heart… I severed my deeply rooted attachment to the Show…”
“I’ve been told I’m not welcome in their story world anymore”
“At one point last night during a scene I cannot recall I remember wondering if Sam & Dean had any feelings at all for each other anymore.”
I understand those reactions; I feel some of that too. It’s indescribably painful to love something and then have it change, and to desperately want it to return to what made you love it in the first place. Change is, of course, inevitable. But when it takes away something that was emotionally important to you, that hurts. The same sort of hurt has happened to other segments of fandom over the past few years, when what they desperately wanted to have in the Show and what was emotionally important, also seemed to be changing. Sometimes it’s Dean fans hurting, sometimes Sam fans, sometimes Cas fans. Sometimes it’s ‘brothers’ fans or ‘Wincest’ fans or ‘Destiel’ fans. But every time, the hurt is real.
And every time, some fans turn on each other. Because this is the age of reciprocal interaction and social media, fans on every ‘side’ bombard the writers and producers with pleas to make the Show the way they passionately want it. Then some fans, out of fear and hurt and desperation, lash out at fans who want something different – they perceive those other fans as a threat, possibly someone who might influence canon to ‘go the other way’. Or if they’re on the currently ‘winning’ side, they taunt others with ‘haha, I told you so.’
Last night I watched fans be bullied by other fans. It’s not just one particular side. I’ve seen the same thing happen when the tables are turned, whenever one side is rejoicing over an episode that went their way and wants to rub it in someone else’s face. Whenever one side attacks another who might have a different opinion. Last night, I watched real people be hurt by other real people, behind the veil of anonymity the internet provides. .
[Name redacted]: What’s that? It’s raining [insert whatever your ‘side’ is] hater tears?
Tears, no matter who in fandom is crying them, are hurtful. We wrote “Fangasm” to celebrate fandom for the awesome, supportive, giving community that it can be. I might have to go back and read my own book to remember.
I’m not giving up on fandom – or on Show. But I am hoping that SPN will show us more of what seems missing. Show us more of Sam’s perspective! The Sam and Cas friendship that’s developing seems like it could be a way to ease the fandom divide – the two work together well, and they’re united in their concern for Dean right now.
Fanart says it best: (credit kelisab)
Show us more of that! Let the angel war finally end, and let Cas be organically part of the Winchesters’ ongoing story. And for godsakes, show me the Winchesters again! Show me the Sam and Dean who would do anything for each other, who fought and disagreed and were cruel to each other sometimes, but who were always, at the end of the day or the end of the world, brothers.
That’s the Show I love.
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