I’m very behind on my Supernatural reviews; I’m not sure that anybody out there actually gives a shit - y’all would rather I review shows I don’t watch, it turns out - but I like writing about it, so I’m going to catch up on the last three episodes in one big post.
After watching the last three episodes of the show in fairly rapid succession I’ve come to the conclusion that I know who the Big Bad of season six truly is: the show’s budget. Again and again the show’s interesting ideas and concepts keep getting tripped up by low production values. Take Frontierland for instance; this episode featured a great idea - the boys had to go back in time to meet Sam Colt, the original owner of the fabled Colt gun, and kill a phoenix. The script is strong, the jokes are good and the premise works. But once again the monster is a regular guy, not the bird that we would expect from mythology. And the Western town, while cool looking, has a population of about 10 people. Then Mommy Dearest has Eve making a new hybrid sort of monster that looks like… regular people. And The Man Who Would Be King presents heaven as a garden and hell as a hallway. These depictions are cleverly explained in the show, but the cheapness shines through.
It’s important to note that I’m not criticizing any of the folks making the show for this; if anything I really respect their decision not to bow to the strictures of their budget. Every week they try to find ways to present interesting concepts on a shoestring. But every week those budgetary issues hamstring them.
It’s a testament to the show’s increasing ambition that this is a problem. In the earliest seasons the monsters were pretty cheap, and the show’s scope fit that. Even as the scope expanded, the threats tended to be people possessed by demons, and while there was a sameyness to black eyed baddies, it worked. But post-Apocalypse the show has gotten cosmological while also returning to beasts, and it seems nobody told the bean counters.
What happens is that the life slowly chokes out of the episodes. Frontierland feels desolate, and the monster experimentation of Mommy Dearest has no impact. Finally the grand cosmic tour in The Man Who Would Be King has all the sweep of a visit to a high school. And so three episodes that should have been great end up being varying degress of good to pretty good.
Frontierland is light but fun. If the budget could have given us more townsfolk it might have been interesting to see Sam and Dean interacting a bit more in the Old West. I actually wouldn’t have minded seeing the show take the Back to the Future III homage a step further by having the boys meet their great-great-great-great grandfather, who was hunting the Phoenix. This is the sort of semi-standalone episode I always liked best on the show.
I almost skipped Mommy Dearest, to be honest. From the outside it looked like yet another piece of Eve filler, so imagine my surprise when it completely wrapped up that storyline. The concept here is, again, excellent - Eve is creating new, hybrid monsters - but the execution is beyond lacking. The Eve story has felt weird since she was introduced, like the show was scrambling for a focus, and her sudden dispatch certainly didn’t change that feeling. The shocking reveal - that Crowley is still alive and is in league with Castiel - was properly shocking, but maybe not in the best way. Is this a retcon? Are the showrunners filling in the gaps in the story in an attempt to cohere season six? It comes across that way, although I’m not sure how much that should matter. What matters is how the story works.
And the story, as laid out in The Man Who Would Be King, sort of works. The show has always avoided a shades of grey mentality, which has been frustrating and interesting at the same time; one of the things I liked about Buffy was that by the time the show had hit season six half the regular cast were beings or creatures Buffy probably should killed. But the blue collar aesthetic of Sam and Dean has always meant that they just kill fuckers; they rarely care if you’re a good fucker or not, they just exist to gank you and so they do.
Now, though, Castiel is forced into a situation where he has to make some tough decisions. Ironically I had just rewatched the Battlestar Galactica miniseries the day I watched The Man Who Would Be King, and I couldn’t help but think that Adama would make exactly the same calls that Cas did. Raphaels’ threat is much bigger, and a ruled hell is always better than an anarchic one. But stupid Sam, Dean and Bobby just can’t see that, which is frustrating… but also true from a character point of view. I’m hoping that this story, along with Dean’s boast about having taken down some big fish, points to a comeuppance, that Dean and Sam learn they are simply too rigid and closeminded and cocky at this point. If there’s no plan post-Apocalypse, they have few guarantees of making it to the next day if they turn on their guardian angel.
But again, all of this happens against a backdrop that is so small and so cheap as to be distracting. Yes, the show has established that every soul makes its own heaven, but I was hoping there would be a command center of some sort, a staging area or angel city or something. Even an office would have been more fitting. Not just a garden and a tacky living room. There’s something to be said for playing your locations against the sweep of the story - I would have been okay if the meat of the episode saw Cas and Crowley arguing in a greasy spoon, for instance - but this episode opted to bring us to the cosmological hot spots and disappoint us with them.
All of this adds up to me being really nervous about season seven. As we saw in the preview, Lovecraft and Cthulu play a role in the finale, and I believe they’ll be a major part of the next year. Will we see the Old Ones walking around looking like regular people? This is big giant monster stuff, and I don’t know that I can handle Cthulu as a dude in a suit with green eyes.
Anyway, The Man Who Would Be King was interesting as a view at Castiel and why he’s been doing what he’s been doing. I like his loyalty to the boys, and I like that he’s more willing to make tough choices than we might have expected. I don’t know if he’s being set up as the bad guy for the finale or not, but if he has nobody has convinced me he deserves it. The Purgatory scheme may not be the best (although I don’t entirely understand why getting the souls from Purgatory would have ANY effect on Earth. And I’m not entirely sure what torturing Alphas does to help Crowley get closer to Purgatory), but he’s still fighting the good fight. And eventually the Winchesters have got to learn that their bullheaded, straight line thinking only works because they keep having other people pull their asses out of the fire. Sometimes literally. I wonder if they figured that out at all after Eve so easily manipulated them with the orphaned kids in Mommy Dearest. If ever there were a screamingly obvious trap…
Season six is wrapping up in interesting ways; I have to applaud Sera Gamble and the writers for finding a new direction to take the show after it reached its natural conclusion. And I don’t know that I would want them to curb their ambition in season seven, but I would love to see someone sit down with a balance sheet and figure out how to get some of the budget into creating cool creatures and a touch of scope.