*Warning: Potential Spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the midseason finale*
How long can a once-great show last when the writing has become subpar and the story is a shadow of its former self? Well, according to CW’s show Supernatural, which first aired in 2005, the answer is six seasons. The midpoint of season 11 has come and gone and it is still unclear whether or not the show can return to its glory days (in my opinion, between seasons 1 and 5). It’s not that the show is bad- it’s just that they’ve proven in the past that they can be so much better.
The story is centered around two brothers, Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) Winchester, who travel the country fighting supernatural monsters like werewolves, vampires, ghosts and demons. When they were children their mother was killed by a demon, spurring them onto the path of what is referred to as ‘hunting’, and the show follows them as they try to catch the monster behind their mother’s death and are sucked into a world of darkness as a result. Throughout the years, they’ve faced angels, demons, Leviathans, and pretty much any and every type of being you could dream up (except aliens, that’s where the show draws the line).
The storyline behind the show has always been a bit on the fantastical (and occasionally overdramatic) side, with angels fighting demons and the apocalypse and trying to close the Gates of Hell (and none of this is exaggeration, those are legitimate plot lines to specific seasons). The reason the story worked when the show first began was the build up- Sam and Dean just started with episodes with the barest amount of continuity, almost Scooby-Doo style where each episode was a new case and a different problem to solve. Sure, you knew that there was an overarching plot that would tie itself up in the end, but there was plenty of developing the brothers and every other character in between. It also kept viewers waiting for the end of the season to know how the story would play out, but they were never bored waiting for it.
This continual build-up lasted until season 5, and ever since then the show has seemed to be trying to every season by itself as dramatic and fantastical as they did in season five, rather than trying to build back up to that sort of spectacle again with character development and a more relaxed storyline. This is an easy trap to fall into (some might say it’s the trap that Marvel fell into, but that’s another discussion for another time), and Season 11 seems to be headed the same way with the dramatically rushed storyline, fighting an older-than-God enemy called “The Darkness” (which even the characters can’t help but ridicule for its overdramatic name) and recycling villains from season 10 that were half-baked even then (Rowena, I’m looking at you).
The reason the show still works is because of Ackles and Padalecki- the two actors have matured in their intensity and emotional range since season 1 and their ability to act off and with each other is something that some more mature actors have a hard time matching. Though the show has gotten darker and the story lines deeper (not always well), both Padalecki and Ackles manage to keep the audience laughing as well as sobbing as the two brothers struggle their way through self-loathing and their continual attempts to fix whatever mess they just made. Other characters and actors do provide entertainment- angel Castiel (Misha Collins) is adorably confused and lost (this season he’s just been introduced to Netflix, the poor dear), and King of Hell Crowley (Mark Sheppard) is delightfully sarcastic and unpredictable as he attempts to control the age-old Darkness. However, between less than stellar writing and the determination of the show to kill off characters that are fun to watch (and often for no other reason, it seems, than to get a reaction from the audience), the show has lost some of its original appeal.
One of the most recent episodes of the show, titled Baby, was a bittersweet reminder of what used to make the show fun to watch, rather than just something to watch and see if the show is anything like it used to be. It was shot entirely from the inside of the Winchester’s Impala, both limiting the actors to what you could see from the seats and confining the story to something a little more simple, giving the audience a sense of the intimacy that has been missed- it’s not about the big story, though there are hints and references to it. It’s just about two brothers hunting monsters and overcoming their personal demons together.
This is not to say that I’m unhappy about everything this season has presented. Though I am less than impressed with The Darkness and the “sister of God” storyline (I mean, what?), I am very happy to see Mark Pellegrino back as the snarky and sinister Lucifer, and I do think that the show still has a chance to get back to where it was five years ago. With the introduction of the Sister of God (still can’t say that without rolling my eyes a little) though, I think the only way for the show to really redeem itself is to finally do what they’ve only danced around since season four- the introduction of God. With that, though, it calls into question how many more big figures can the show use, after last year’s Cain, Death the food-loving Horseman, and Lucifer being a pretty central mainstay since season four. If Supernatural plans on leading up to something that big, it should probably be as a way to gracefully end the show, which shouldn’t be a bad thing. Though it hasn’t really measured up to expectations since season five (even with an episode devoted to its fan base), most fans have never truly hated an entire season, and an 11 season run isn’t a bad one at all. It just seems that after the last few years, leading up to something really big could be the best way for use to say goodbye to the Winchesters.
I’ll still tune in to the rest of the season and hope for the best, but if it’s time for Sam and Dean to move on, I feel we can let them go with grace (but not Castiel’s, he just got his back for I think the third time…see what is happening here?).