Supernatural has had an amazing run. The first five seasons of Eric Kripke’s monster-fighting show had a beautiful arc, and formidable storytelling chops, and the five post-Kripke seasons have had moments of greatness, despite an aimlessness bordering on ennui. But after season 10? I’m done.
It’s a bad sign when the season finale of a show features a character saying “None of this makes any sense,” and they’re the audience surrogate. In this case, it was Sam Winchester, commenting on a situation that felt like it was pulled out of a hat, along with some brand new cosmic exposition whose cocktail-napkin provenance was all too clear.
The Supernatural finale had to pull a brand new cosmic threat out of thin air, because an entire season had gone by without anything particularly significant happening. It’s a testament to how little momentum the show had going into this last episode that the only way to ramp up the stakes was to take a sharp left turn and unveil a whole new layer to the increasingly saggy mythos.
Basically, in a nutshell, Dean still has the Mark of Cain — which turned him into a demon at the end of season nine, a situation that was resolved way too quickly and easily — and it’s slowly making him into a murderer. But more importantly, it’s turning him into a jerk, who’s mean to a hunter named Rudy and also nearly killed Castiel. In the finale, Dean works a case involving some vampires, and gets Rudy killed through his quintessentially dickish behavior.
So Sam works on curing Dean of the Mark, with the help of Rowena, Crowley’s sitcom mother, and Castiel. But curing Dean requires some rare artifacts, which is why Castiel has to enlist Crowley’s aid, and also involves killing the only person that Rowena has ever loved, a dude named Oscar. And this somehow plays into Crowley’s mommy issues and his power struggle with his mom. Meanwhile, Dean asks Death for help, and Death proposes killing Sam (for the lolz) and taking Dean to another planet (for the John Carter of Mars action).
Oh, and it turns out that the Mark of Cain is actually a magical seal that prevents the Darkness that existed at the start of the universe from breaking through and destroying everything, and unless Dean passes the Mark on to someone else, the Darkness will escape. So in the end, Dean kills Death (uh?), and Rowena cures Dean, thus unleashing the Darkness onto the world. (And the Impala is engulfed in that Darkness.) And meanwhile, Rowena apparently turns Castiel into a beast and sics him on Crowley, meaning that both Cas and Crowley are going to be dead soon.
This all felt a bit like a retread of the ending of season eight, where Sam is prepared to sacrifice his life to close the Gates of Hell but Dean stops him, and then angels fall because Castiel was a dupe. This time, Dean kills Death (never going to get tired of typing that) instead of sacrificing Sam, and “the Darkness” gets unleashed by Castiel and Rowena at Sam’s urging. Oh, it’s also got a tinge of the one where Castiel unleashed the Leviathans.
The best thing I can say about all of this is that there’s a weird thematic arc where the Winchesters keep making bigger and bigger mistakes, in the name of putting family first. Back in seasons one and two, it was all about making deals with demons to bring Dean or Sam back from the dead, and those deals never turned out well. Then it was about unleashing world-fucking monster hordes to save Sam’s life. And now, to cure Dean of a curse he chose, they’re willing to unleash the terribly abstract Darkness. So maybe how this show ends is that they finally reach a point where they’re no longer willing to make a dumb compromise in the name of each other?
But even that sliver of a through-line doesn’t change the fact that this show’s epilogue (seasons 6-10) has now already lasted longer than the actual main story (seasons 1-5). (Due to the 2007 writers’ strike, Supernatural season three was drastically shortened, meaning that the show’s already had more post-Kripke episodes than Kripke episodes.) Few shows can boast as cogent and satisfying an arc as Supernatural’s first five years, and the fifth season finale is better than 99 percent of series finales — it’s somewhat depressing to contemplate that this show has now buried that accomplishment in years of mush.
In retrospect, the two seasons where Sera Gamble was showrunner are looking better and better. The two Gamble seasons did have a brand new mythos, building out from the angel/demon stuff, a very different dynamic between the two brothers, and some risky storytelling, with Castiel going dark. The Leviathan arc was subversive and weird — if you had to try and follow up the first five years, it was at least a credible attempt at a different direction, , even if it all ended with a whimper. (I would have said the season seven finale was the show’s weakest, until I saw last night’s episode.)
And the three post-Gamble seasons have had some interesting ideas here and there — the tablets, the quest to close the Gates of Hell, Metatron as a snarky replacement God, angels using televangelists to recruit host bodies in their civil war, etc. I liked Abaddon as a villain, and was sad that she got taken down so easily. The Men of Letters opened up a lot of interesting new territory. This show has remained pretty watchable — but the storytelling energy has just drained away, bit by bit. I don’t even think it’s current showrunner Jeremy Carver’s fault, per se. It’s just a show that’s been on for ten years, and they’ve already done everything twice. This year, the introduction of Rowena and the quick-and-easy curing of Demon Dean were two really regrettable decisions, it must be said. And the bulk of the season has felt just... bedraggled.
I’ve been sticking with Supernatural, partly out of nostalgia and partly because the cast is still terrific. And also, because I sort of wanted to recap it when time permitted. But I think I’m done. Last night’s finale ends with all of the major characters apparently dead — and in my mind, that’s what happened. They all died. The end. I feel strangely good about that.
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