Friday, October 5, 2012

Guest Blog: Adam Stovall Enters 'Supernatural's' Sera Gamble Seasons...

Just because the new season of Supernatural is finally upon us doesn't mean I forgot about this summer's guest blog extravaganza!  

Adam Stovall is still making his way through the seasons that came before, so he has yet to experience the gloriousness that was the season eight premiere and Jeremy Carver taking the reigns. When he gets there, he'll be guest blogging his responses to that in real time. For now, though, let us continue on with his season reviews, where he has just gotten to the Sera Gamble years. How will they fair??


“Prolonging The Magic”
by Adam Stovall

It’s really hard work creating a TV show. You want to make something that other people will like, something that you won’t regret spending the next however many years of your life working on. It has to be immediately interesting, but also mysterious. To use fishing as an example, you must bait them, and then make them want to chew their way up the string. I’ve said before that a key element of creating a series is building a world in which people want to spend time. Of course, there’s no real way of knowing how much time that will end up being. The Simpsons has been on the air longer than the current batch of college sophomores have been on this planet. Two and a Half Men is in its 10th– TENTH– season*. But Matt Groening and Chuck Lorre, respectively, had no way of knowing things would go this long when they were developing the pilot, which brings us to that other key element: Preserving the status quo.

The creators of Lost pretty readily admit that they had no idea their show would be a hit. They thought they’d get a season or two, thanks to a niche-but-vocal audience. Then they went and created a hit show. Whoops. Suddenly the network was telling them they were on solid ground, and would they mind making this thing go for as long as it possibly could please? Even the most ardent fans of the Island That Time Tried And Failed To Forget will admit that the writers were obviously vamping for a while there, trying to find their footing in what I suppose could be termed a Mudslide of Good Fortune. They introduced new characters, which was…tricky. (You remember, “We are castaways. We are alone. We have only each other.” “Us too!”) They tried to retroactively introduce characters who had allegedly been there the entire time. (RIP Paulo and Nikki…or don’t.) As the show went on, it eventually found the story it wanted to tell, but not before it became…um…let’s call it divisive. It ended and some folks were happy and some folks were sad and some folks were angry and some folks were watching something else because seriously guys I gotta get through this life.

Supernatural has its status quo, and it is the brothers. The status quo gets to be the status quo not because everyone always loves it or because everyone always hates it, but because everyone can at least agree that it’s there. The status quo is mundane. It is average. It is rote, normal. It is everything that drama is not. Which is why I say that running a TV series is hard– you have to reconcile so many dichotomies, and you have to do it fluidly or your audience will call BS and say you’ve lost your touch.

In Season Six, Supernatural lost its touch. And it’s its own damn fault.

Seasons four and five were so rich, so ambitious, that following them had to have been daunting. The show had chased itself down a rabbit hole of biblical proportions, and when it came time to chicken out, they didn’t. They built to a perfect ending. The universe at-large was saved, but the universe of the show had been blown to hell.

To hell and back, it would seem. I hate-hate-HATE that last scene of the Season Five finale. I love Dean going off to be with Lisa and Ben, but I LOOOOOOOOOAAAAAATHE the shot of Sam watching them from the street. “But Adam, if you lose that shot, what do they have to go on when the next season starts?” They have to go on EXACTLY WHERE THE NEXT SEASON PICKS UP. (Someone did actually ask me that. I’m not just yelling at nothing. Not saying I never yell at nothing, but…moving on.) 

Season Six starts up and Dean is playing Ward Cleaver (ask your parents, or Google). For a good three minutes, we get to see what a borderline-functional Dean looks like. Yes, we’ve seen this before in the dream episode when he dated a nurse and Sam had Jess and puppies grew on rainbows, but this was real. This was the universe where his brother had just gone to Hell to save everyone, and none of them had any idea. We see him doing his best to be a suburban Dad, and while we don’t really get any glimpses of him actually enjoying it, we know Dean well enough at this point to assume that he must have his moments of bliss. Now, to be fair, we do see shots of him smiling as Lisa crawls into bed beside him, but these come later, after we’ve seen him make a paranoid sourpuss, stalk a neighbor, and get poisoned by a sumpthin. All so that Sam can give him the antidote. OMG SAM IS BACK WHAT A REVEAL!!!!!

Except that it’s not, because of that wretched final beat in Season Five. What must have possessed the writers to think they needed to put that there. Why couldn’t they have stopped at a flickering streetlamp? We’ve watched enough episodes to know that means something. And beyond that, we’ve watched enough episodes to know that Sam is obviously going to come back, because of the status quo. So Sam went to Hell. Big deal! Dean went there not long ago, he came back fine. We know that nothing too awful is going to happen as far as the Winchesters are concerned. As for separating them, the show has been doing that since Season One. I suspect as the show goes on and the new showrunner gets more comfortable, this will be explored further, with the show possibly growing enough to let the brothers spend some real time apart, maybe even giving them new partners, but in the end they will always come back to each other. Which is another reason why the ending of Season Five worked. (The real ending, not that bullshit Superman Returns thing that closed the episode.) All the forces of Heaven and Hell can be at each others’ throats, but none of that is gonna trump the love of the Winchesters.

But I’ve already talked about that.

I feel like I blew right past a key detail back there: The Changing of the Guard. Eric Kripke, the show’s creator, blew up the world and then rode off into the sunset, taking with him the status quo as we knew it. We know that Sam’s gonna come back, but what does that mean? We know that Dean is gonna start the Impala up again, but what is powerful enough to make him do that? Cas is the new sheriff in Heaven, but to what end? Bobby is…Bobby. So all’s good there. But yeah, so many questions…which aren’t really questions if that show ends at Five, and without that damn shot of Sam. But, it didn’t end at Five. And Kripke is still gone, leaving in his place one Sera Gamble, who’s been writing on this thing since the beginning. So surely we’re in good, consistent hands, right?

Well, I’ll give you “good.” The biggest problem with Season Six, far as I can tell, is that it felt beholden to a status quo it had already killed, because most of its viewers had been introduced to the show during those apocalyptic seasons. But if you’re going to play the Apocalypse card, you can really only play it once. Over on Doctor Who, the Daleks are supposed to be the most feared enemy of The Doctor, except that he keeps beating them over and over again, relegating them to something little more than a novelty. If the Winchesters are going to beat back Apocalypse after Apocalypse, at some point then aren’t they Gods? I mean, I know they’re just two brothers from Kansas, but Angels and Demons are routinely beaten by them. Even Death himself invites Dean to his table, and has him wear the ring for a day. To put too fine a point on that: Death, the thing that will outlast even God, respects Dean Winchester.

Also, while we’re on the subject of things going inexplicably unsaid, Sam went to Hell for us, thinking he would never return. In a box of apparently unfathomable torment. So Sam, when you’re thinking about how you can square things with all of us for what your body was doing while you were stuck in that Box of Badness, how about you just don’t. Seriously, kept the world from ending. We’re good.
So the year starts, and moments later Sam is back, and so is Samuel! Because sure, father figure. But Sam’s got no soul, which makes him a great hunter, but maybe he should get his soul back, but isn’t he doing okay without it, oh what the hell just put it back in sure, ouch, okay better now. I’m sorry if you liked this arc, but I’ve seen 21 Grams and it was both shorter than this and more in-depth on the subject of a soul’s weight. Then Crowley’s back, then he’s dead, then he’s back. And now there are dragons. And now Cas is bad. And now Cas is God. Who needs a drink?

Season Six could have been something. Something better. Something else. Just something. Instead, we got a hodgepodge of ideas thrown into a pot and given no time to congeal into anything resembling a plan. We got a scatter-shot season of kinda and sorta, with some new family members introduced so that we could have more betrayals and deaths to mourn. Maybe because, after that last couple of seasons being so somber, that’s what they think that status quo is now. But it isn’t. All of that went into the box with Lucifer and Michael and Sam, and this was the chance for rebirth. This was the chance for Gamble and crew to make the show their own, to figure out their own strengths, and then play to them. But rather than do that, they tried to a) give us what they thought we wanted, and b) write as someone other than themselves. Granted, Kripke created the show, and it is ultimately the showrunner’s responsibility to make sure everything has a consistent voice, but Gamble is the showrunner now. It is on her to decide that voice, just as it is on her to trust Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins and Jim Beaver to play roles they know like the back of their hands. Also, to trust the audience to follow her in whatever direction she feels the show should head. Anyone who has ever managed a staff knows the first rule of management is to speak with authority, even if you have no idea what you’re saying. Season Six didn’t just feel like a rambling mess pulling its clothes on as it ran out the door, it felt tentative, devoid of confidence.

I’m starting Season Seven soon. I am hoping for a return to the status quo.

*– I don’t mean to draw any comparisons between The Simpsons and Two and a Half Men, merely to bring up the absurd notion that a show no one seems to respect whatsoever has been on the air almost half as long as the most accomplished and influential animated sitcom of a generation.

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