Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Adam Stovall Says Good-Bye to Bobby Singer and 'Supernatural' Season Seven...

“Today’s Review, in Two Acts…”
By Adam Stovall

    •    Requiem for a Bobby

Robert Stephen Singer was a good man. He was a fictional man, but still good. He loved his wife, he saved the world, and he was a father to two boys badly in need of one. He was a drunk, which is to be expected when you spend much of your life fighting off every Tom-Dick-and-Harry Monster you’ve ever heard of…as well as a few you haven’t.

Given that the Winchesters call the Impala home and spend their nights in an endless string of awesome hotel rooms, Bobby’s house served as Supernatural’s home base for not just them, but us as well. Think about all the time we spent there, and how much we learned of this man’s life in that time. The Panic Room. The Study. The Kitchen. It would have been easy to never leave these three rooms, as they constituted Bobby’s primary role in the series. But as time wore on, we ventured into other rooms, and saw the corners of Bobby’s life that he’d rather us not see. We saw the room where he killed his wife, and the other room where he killed her again. We saw him finally face down his father. We saw that Bobby had lived a full life, had known love and hate, had surrendered to hopelessness and fury. He had complicated relationships with those he valued most, which only made him more human. (For the record, I would love to see a spinoff: Supernatural: The Bobby & Rufus Years) But this being primarily the Winchesters’ saga, he was first and foremost a father figure to them, and by extension us. What little I’ve seen of The CW, their shows tend to rocket through plot-threads as if their very existence depends on it. Supernatural has certainly fallen into this habit from time to time, even when it comes to characters’ deaths. Rufus’ death was (perhaps too) sudden. Bella’s was a nice moment, which makes sense for a character that never got its due. Bobby’s death was perfect. We’d seen entire episodes spent following one character as they explored their psyche, but Jim Beaver is the kind of actor you can throw in a room and just watch him go. His exquisite sadness as he looked back on Bobby’s life made a truly touching an hour of television, and his final words, while perhaps not the most unpredictable, were nonetheless perfect. Bobby used every ounce of mojo he had under the hood to get back to his boys, and it was beautiful.

Then he became a ghost. Again, this was not the least predictable action they could have taken, but I was hoping they wouldn’t do it. I mean, I’m glad Jim Beaver got paid a few more checks, but you do not end something perfectly and then start it up again. (Of course, Supernatural does have a tendency to not be able to leave well-enough alone. Cough, Season Five finale. Cough.) Bringing him back so he could continue to help the boys was at best a dubious decision. Losing a parent is one of the most difficult things one can face, partially due to the fact that whatever support you relied on them for is now gone. The death of Bobby should have been the impetus for them to finally rely solely on themselves, without someone to call for an easy exposition, er, answer. Hell, even Frank is dispatched in a manner most hasty. The Winchesters have been left completely alone…for about five minutes. Again, I just don’t get the feeling that this show has enough confidence in itself to stick landings. That, and watching Bobby slowly become a vengeful spirit was not okay. Really, what purpose did this plotline serve, other than being a way to fill out some episodes and cover ground that has been covered time and time again, but could maybe feel kinda new if you just didn’t think about it?

Still, Bobby was a great character, and clearly the beating heart of this show. Even Supernatural seemed to realize the brothers were being a little too pissy with each other, and Bobby was always good to point this out in no uncertain terms. The man knew to appreciate the little things, and I lift my glass to him - which is currently full of coffee but I promise to put some whiskey in later.

    •    There, That Wasn’t So Hard

First of all, how in the hell did Meg become the character that lasted this long? And secondly, how in the hell did Rachel “Mrs. Culkin” Miner become the iteration of her that lasted this long? None of this makes sense.

Secondly, oh how I liked the Leviathan. Mostly because after the cacophony of last season’s arc – “How’s this for a Big Bad? No? How about this? No? How about…” – this showed that Supernatural still had it within itself to introduce a villain with a hell of a plan, and play it out with patience. While last season felt scatter-shot, this one felt in control. It was reaching for some of the old balance it had in the early days, when the brothers still had monsters-of-the-week and weren’t just in the Apocalypse Aversion business. Granted not all of them were enjoyable (the less said about the Amy Pond storyline the better, and not just because I tend to be a bit protective of that name), there was a real feeling that they’d gotten back to the simple pleasure of setting up an age-old horror story and letting the brothers loose in it. Plus it really is always nice to see Whedonites getting work.
While this season didn’t produce the sort of towering highs we got in the first five seasons– seriously, I doubt anything will top the S5 Finale (with obvious exception) or “On Thursdays, we’re Teddy Bear Doctors” or the many deaths of Dean Winchester in “Mystery Spot” – it also managed to avoid the kind of crushing lows that made me question the series last year. For instance, S6’s meta episode “The French Mistake” left me disappointed, as I didn’t feel it brought enough to the table to be a worthy entry in Supernatural’s exceptional track record of poking fun at itself. However, in this year’s “Slash Fiction” episode, the moments spent with the Leviathans posing as the brothers were excellent, and very in keeping with the well-established irreverence those working behind the camera seem to have for their own work.

By the way, I really didn’t hate all of Season Six, as I’m sure it sounds like I did. The X-Files episode and the Bobby episode (Ackles’ directorial debut, to boot) were both a lot of fun.

The Leviathan storyline began so simply: Eaters gonna eat, y’know. The reveal of their plan for the small town in “Out With The Old” was wonderful, as it’s perfectly feasible for our heroes’ to be conflicted by the villains wanting to cure cancer and AIDS and everything else. It’s a great momentary conflict of conscience, that also fits perfectly with the larger plan we are only beginning to glimpse. If a Leviathan can be pretty much anyone in the world, it makes sense that there would be a few billionaires and celebrities in the mix– and I love that while they mention a couple of celebrities that have been turned, they never actually trot them out. I am not a fan of stunt-casting special guest stars, especially when Paris Hilton is your show’s idea of stunt-casting.
Back when I started this show, my favorite aspect of it was the world that had been built around the brothers. There was a very real sense of community amongst Hunters, and it made for a series milieu in which I relished spending time. Then Supernatural seemed to decide that it wanted to blow that world up, over and over again. Bobby, Jo, Ellen, Rufus, Bella, pretty much everyone who has been around the brothers has had to die for it. Which brings me back to my question about Meg, as well as back to the matter of dramatic stakes. Everyone is going to die, we know this. It’s just a matter of whether they come back in a time-travel, alt-history plotline, or as a ghost, or whatever. Aside from the brothers, it would seem that death is actually quite final. You may revisit the series as something less than corporeal, but it’s only a visit. Sam and Dean have died how many times now, and yet they always get to come back and be alive again. They’re tortured, for however long the show needs them to be tortured, but they’re alive. I’m going to try not to look too far into this gift horse’s mouth, as it seems Castiel has been made an honorary Winchester in the spirit that he gets to share their penchant for surviving death and discombobulation, but it does serve to temper one’s enjoyment of very well-executed moments.

As I said, I really dug the Leviathan plotline. Bringing together the Winchesters’ world that remains somewhat intact, only then to blow it up again, was solid. While I have not been kind to Sera Gamble as showrunner, I will say this for her: She did for Jeremy Carver what Kripke certainly did not do for her, and set him up for success. Kripke’s run ended just as he had planned, but he hedged the ending so that Gamble might have a place to build from. The problem is, he left her with direction, not potential. Showing Sam in that last moment dictated a fair number of things for her as she began her run. I don’t know if they had sat down and discussed it, thought I would assume they did. I just wonder why she didn’t want the etch-a-sketch moment that comes with very nearly ending the world and then walking away from it.

Of course, you might ask how putting Dean in Purgatory is any different. Well, it goes back to the deaths of Bobby. By at long last bringing finality to that, they set up the idea that the brothers might finally be on their own. This gives you a direction, yes, but one without set-in-stone narrative beats you must hit. It goes back to another Season Six, that of Buffy, wherein the Big Bad was outselves, and growing up and becoming adults. We know, after burning the flask, that when the dust settles, the brothers are still in a Bobby-less universe. That gives you an emotional beat on which to end a season, as adrenaline will give way to some sad, cold realizations and the brothers might stare soulfully into the camera and wonder, as the cast of Buffy in that sixth season once sang, “Where do we go from here?” It’s a human moment, perhaps the most human moment. And it’s subverted by the reveal that by Dean being Dean, he’s been spirited away to Purgatory, where one would imagine he’s not the most welcomed person.

Obviously Dean will return to life. But who knows how long that will take? And in the meantime, Sam clearly has a very large task at hand, and he’s run out of family members, both blood and surrogate, with whom to partner. I suppose he could call Garth and see if he’s up for a roadtrip, but somehow methinks that ain’t gonna happen. I fully expect him to find a partner, who will probably be kept around just long enough for his inevitable death/betrayal to fully sting, but it’s all treading water until the Winchester boys are back together, traveling the Midwest in their Impala. I’m curious just how familiar Castiel is with Purgatory, as one would imagine it’d be quite the forboding mystery to angels. And once Castiel inevitably makes his way out of Purgatory, there is the small matter of rebuilding the Garrison. So why does this feel different to me? Well, because it feels different to me, in that I feel it. It sucks to be alone in this world. Even if Dean weren’t off in another dimension (or whatever the hell Purgatory is), they’d still be alone together. They’d have their brother on the other end of that front seat, but nothing familiar beyond that Impala. But now they don’t even have that. Yes, they’ve both weathered the other being dead and gone before, but knowing that Bobby can’t show up, that there isn’t a number in the world they can call where a familiar voice can soothe their fears and tell them hard truths in a way they’ll take to heart, that’s new. I know that Sheriff Jody is out there, and that she and Sam seemed to be pleasant with each other, but I don’t know if that’s enough. I guess in a cold and unforgiving world, any connection is better than no connection, but is having Bobby Singer as a shared interest enough in the Supernatural universe? This is a show that likes its easy morality (Dean’s drinking, that means things are bad! Sam’s sleeping with hookers, that means things are bad! Okay, I’ll give you that last one), but it’s put itself into a corner where hard questions would seemingly need to be asked. I’ve liked a lot of Jeremy Carver’s work in the past, and the fact that he and Ben Edlund were used in the naming of one of my absolute favorite characters on the show bodes well in my mind, so I’m very excited to see if Jeremy Carver is going to stare right back into this void and have the confidence to do what must be done, or if he’s going to blink.

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