Before anybody runs me over with an Impala, let me explain…
Once upon a time, Supernatural was a great show. I can still remember my fourteen-year-old self tuning in each week, and discussing the latest episodes with my friends.
Despite airing on the CW, a network renowned for their teen soap-operas, Supernatural managed to break the high-school mold. Instead of focusing on high school and dramatized teen romances, Supernatural chose to center around the polar opposite brothers, Sam and Dean (who kill monsters instead of working 9 to 5).
There are a couple of reasons why Supernatural worked: the vague universe allowed the writers to make up all kinds of crazy monsters for the brothers to hunt down, and Sam and Dean are both flawed, lovable characters.
In order to examine where Supernatural went wrong, we need to first talk about where it went right — in the first five seasons of the show.
As I said, Supernatural was a great show. It didn’t always make me wish that someone would grab a rock and give it a mercy kill. In fact, the first five seasons are really what made so many fans fall in love with the show — and there’s a reason for that.
Before CW President, Mark Pedowitz, and Warner Bros. Television President, Peter Roth, declared that Supernatural could go on forever (or at least to season twenty), the series was originally supposed to end in season five.
The writers planned the show with this deadline in mind. From season one, every plot device, every villain is a gradual lead-up to the finale of season five. See for yourself:
Season 1: Sam and Dean discover a new type of monster, demons, and face off against the powerful Yellow-Eyed Demon, Azazel, who manages to slip through their fingers.
Season 2: The brothers go head-to-head with Azazel again, and they learn about his true motive — to open the Devils’ Gate and free an endless parade of demons (including Lilith). Sam dies at the hand of another one of Azazel’s psychic children, and Dean makes a deal with a Crossroads Demon to resurrect his brother.
Season 3: Dean’s deal with the demon only gives him a year left to live, and the brothers focus on killing the newly-released monsters and tracking down the ancient demon, Lilith — who holds Dean’s contract. They’re unsuccessful, and Dean gets dragged to hell.
Season 4: Angels are discovered. Lilith’s plan to spring Lucifer from the cage is revealed, and the brothers — including a returned Dean — try to prevent her from breaking the 66 seals. Not only would a freed Lucifer wreak havoc, but he’d also jumpstart the apocalypse. The season ends with Sam mistakenly killing Lilith, and opening Lucifer’s cage.
Season 5: With Lucifer on the loose, Dean, Sam and Castiel do their best to prevent the apocalypse. They take on the Four Horsemen, and Sam willingly becomes Lucifer’s vessel. In the finale, Sam sacrifices himself to stop the apocalypse, and Dean goes on to live a hunting-free life.
See what I mean? Each season introduces new information and builds on what the audience already knows. The villains slowly get more terrifying until the ultimate ‘big bad’ is introduced — Satan. The end of season five feels like the end of the show with Sam’s death and Dean’s choice to lead a better life.
After executing the perfect finale, the writers had no idea what to do next — and it shows.
Once it was established that Supernatural wouldn’t be ending in season five, or anytime soon, the writers were floundering. How do you make a better villain than the Devil himself? Not to mention, the first five seasons fleshed out the Supernatural universe and implied that Lucifer was the worst possible evil the brothers could face.
This is really where the show began to go downhill. Many of the later seasons feel directionless, and struggle to find their footing. Unlike the first five seasons, many of the ‘big bads’ seem to come out of left field. In season seven, Dean and Sam deal with Levianthans, a bunch of ancient monsters who can’t decide if they’re comedic or terrifying. In season eight and nine, Metatron, who’s supposedly even worse than Satan, is introduced, but not executed well. Oh, and then there is Amara in season eleven — who’s older than God. How much more can Supernatural try and up the ante?
With no plan in mind, the creators of Supernatural seem to just keep writing and writing, hoping that something they write — some villain, some plot device — works.
Unfortunately, this attitude only makes Supernatural become repetitive with unimpactful storylines.
When you have a series that runs for fourteen seasons, it’s almost impossible to generate original ideas. It’s why most TV shows, regardless of popularity, rarely make it this long. At some point, the writers have to pack it up and go, “We’ve said all we needed to say, and we’re out of ideas.”
Supernatural reached that point a long time ago but decided to soldier on away. As a result, many of the plot lines are repeated. A good example of this repetition is Soulless Sam in season six, and Demon Dean in season ten. Both brothers lose their humanity, and the other sibling is forced to function with an emotionless sibling.
Or, think about how many times Dean and Sam have died, only to be resurrected. There are no consequences in the show — anybody who dies usually gets brought back sooner or later.
In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything that could happen to Sam or Dean that would feel irreversible. Supernatural loses its credibility every time someone returns from hell or pops back into existence. Nothing is permanent and it’s impossible to feel emotionally connected to the story. Who cares if Sam and Dean have to sacrifice themselves for the greater good? It’s not as if they’ll really die.
The storylines aren’t the only things that are tired — so is the character development. Since the show continually repeats itself, the characters can’t grow or learn anything from their experiences. Each season seems to follow the same rough format:
- One brother sacrifices himself (or lies about something) and doesn’t tell the other
- One brother (usually the same one) goes through a traumatic experience but is unwilling to address his emotions or talk about it
- Dean whispers, “Sammy,” with plenty of angst
After a while, Sam and Dean don’t even feel like real characters anymore, but more like another plot device in the series.
Besides repetition, there’s also plenty of inconsistency.
What was once a fleshed-out, consistent world has become filled with plot holes. In order to up the ante or resurrect a character, the Supernatural writers are repeatedly breaking the rules of the universe they created. Storylines are introduced, abandoned and never mentioned again.
One example is in season six, episode nine. Dean is abducted by alleged aliens — later found out to be fairies. Despite returning to the real world, we’re told that Dean is forever marked, and will be hunted by the fairies for the rest of his life. He also now has the ability to see them. This should have had a pretty big impact on Dean’s life — since he’s going to be hunted forever— but it’s never mentioned again.
Angels are another huge inconsistency, and oftentimes, they’re used as a Deus Ex Machina more than anything else. (“Oh, no, Dean and Sam have backed themselves into a corner…time to bring in an angel to save them!”) Depending on the situation, angels can be all-powerful or completely unhelpful. Nobody really knows how much power angels wield, or what their limitations are.
Let’s not forget about the most famous plot hole, either — Adam. At the end of season five, Sam and Adam plummet into the pit. Sam manages to make it out, but Adam is left to perish. You’d think the Winchesters — who are all about family — would take a couple of episodes to go rescue him. Unfortunately, several seasons later, Dean and Sam have seemed to have forgotten all about him (poor Adam).
Should I even bother mentioning the little kid who turned out to be the Anti-Christ?
With the universe constantly breaking its own rules and abandoning storylines, it’s difficult for anything to make sense. It’s also much harder to earn the audience’s trust when the show can’t make good on its promises.
The solution to all of Supernatural’s issues is fairly simple: end it. Maybe it’s time for Sam and Dean to hang up their weapons, and realize that the fate of the world isn’t solely on their shoulders. They’re both in their thirties, but the monster-hunting lifestyle has left them unable to pursue normal relationships or have a family. Frankly, I wonder if Sam or Dean could even have a normal relationship, or if they’re too emotionally damaged. (Maybe the ending should just be Sam and Dean deciding to go to therapy.)
Seriously, it’s time to pull the plug on this one.