It’s been a while since I’ve written about Supernatural (all here, actually.), but as my viewing has brought me pretty much up to date, I thought I’d talk about the evolution the show seems to have undergone. When last I wrote, I had just started watching season 2. At that point, the show was still very much in the ‘monster of the week’ vein and only superficially attended to issues of global or theological import. The focus was very much on the Winchester family and the things that affect them personally. We were only just beginning to see the wider hunter world.
At the end of season 6, currently the last completed season, we have seen demons by the dozen with a variety of powers and motivations. We’ve also seen angels, gods both pagan and modern, vampires, werewolves, dragons, ghosts, ghouls, the Devil, the Christian god, and even the four horsemen. For forty-something episodes now, the fate of the world has been in the balance. Some angels want Armageddon, while others just want humans to be their playthings. Meanwhile, demons are knocking around causing their usual mischief.
As with many long-running sci-fi/fantasy shows, Supernatural has been overtaken by the prospect of bigger and bigger arc-plots. We begin with the Winchesters, then the Winchesters as part of a plan that grows and grows, ultimately passing through the Apocalypse and Heavenly civil war. The stakes go from familial to trans-dimensional almost as soon as John is dead, gone and never coming back. With the new status of a regular character changing, I can only see the stakes being even higher in season 7.
So the question remains: is this a good thing? Well, I do recall a point in the first couple of seasons when everyone had sold their soul at least once, and had had revelations about members of their family at least half a dozen times. I could feel interest and creativity waning in the family angst of the main characters, since they had thoroughly discussed their issues on a near-weekly basis. The further expansion of the world and crises was not only inevitable, but also necessary for the continuation of the series. Had the show ended when Dean went to hell, or when John died, then to limit it to the family would have been enough. As it is, though, they had to begin to deal with the larger world outside of the ‘monster of the week’ episodes.
The battle against Lilith and her literal demons and Sam with his metaphorical ones were the beginning of the long, Judeo-Christian Journey we’re on now. It has introduced the Biblical mysteries and the amorality of the wrath of god. Every time Castiel appears, I feel like something interesting is going to happen. The family angst is still their, but it is something to be dealt with while bigger issues are at hand. Sam and Dean are now world players, and their actions affect millions of people, rather than a few families.
One thing that has almost disappeared from the show, however, are the episodes that deal only in the moment. Every recent episode has had some impact on the wider plot. There are no pesky ghosts or vampires that do not directly correspond to what’s going on in the wider universe. I think this is a bit of a shame, as the travelling and meeting new people was a core part of what the show was about. I simply think it would be nice to step away from the Abrahamic mythology to see some random, non-Western monster causing havok. Arc-plots are important to keep people watching, but it’s important not to move too far away from what people originally tuned in for. A light, non-arc hunt could really lighten the tone of the universal threats that are near-constant in the Supernatural Universe at the moment.
One of the main criticisms of Russell T. Davies’ run on Doctor Who is that the stakes were always at a global level. Every week, a monster would threaten to destroy the planet, solar system, galaxy or solar system. It got old. Even those episodes which gave us a break from that tended to be comedic in contrast to the dark, threatening monsters of other weeks.
I’d like it to be clear that I absolutely love Supernatural. It is my favourite show at the moment, and I wouldn’t want to appear to be completely down on it in this review. I only want to continue to see variation in its episodes and menagerie; perhaps a return to a point where I don’t know what will happen in this week’s episode. In Season 6, I knew that demons would be tortured and/or killed, Castiel would say something cryptic and the hunters would debate the evilness of the plan they’d been trying to defuse for weeks.
Sometimes, you just want to see a Wendigo eat some hikers.