After watching the last episode of "Supernatural" for the season, I can tell you one thing - the "Check Engine" light is on, and it's definitely flashing.
Make no mistake, I've been a fan of "Supernatural" from the very first episode. My library look a lot like Bobby Singer's - filled with books on folklore and legend - and my music selection looks a lot like Dean Winchester's - peppered with classic rock tunes - so it's actually painful for me to write this. Even though there's been more down's than up's, the 6th season had been maintaining a successful (though troubled) balance. The season finale was the last straw - and here are we are, with five reasons the show might be surfing closer and closer to the proverbial shark ramp.
(SPOILERS for anyone who hasn't seen either the finale or the season below).
5. Too Many Bumpy Plot Pot Holes. Now, plot pot holes are not the same thing as regular plot holes. A regular plot hole is pretty sizable - and generally big enough to derail an entire movie. By comparison, plot pot holes are about as noticeable as a speed bump - a bit jarring, but nothing to worry about. Too many of them, however, can certainly rub your plot line the wrong way though.
For example, much of the later episodes are predicated on the Winchesters hunting for the demon Crowley, who has cheated death with the assistance of their ally Castiel, who is like him determined to find Purgatory, the big Monster Mash in the Sky. Now, I can understand why the Winchesters aren't too happy to hear Crowley is alive, considering he's tried to screw them over on multiple occasions. But I can't understand why they spend so much energy trying to hunt Crowley. "To prevent him from reaching Purgatory!" It worked when Purgatory was a threat - but the Winchesters had already aced Eve, the Big Bad from Purgatory. So it seems the only remaining threat is Raphael, Castiel's rival intent on bringing about Armageddon . . . but the boys instead remain totally focused on Crowley and Cass for the whole season.
This bad case of tunnel vision really drags on the character motivation. It's not overtly noticeable, but it's a blemish on the season never the less.
4. Running Out of Mythology. From the beginning, one of the compelling parts of "Supernatural" was the treatment of folklore and legends as standard operating procedure. In six years, the series has covered significant ground, running from gods and monsters to angels and demons to Death and the Fates. The problem is the series has shown definite signs of running out. It doesn't help that in the middle of season five, a whole slew of gods - including Odin, Hermes and quite a few others - were summarily killed by Lucifer. To make matters worse, much of season six's Purgatory storyline, complete with Alphas and Eve, went nowhere.
The one exception, of course, is a doozey - Cthulhu himself. The second-to-last episode opened with the death of H.P. Lovecraft himself, and maintains that Lovecraft and some of his amateur occultists opened a gateway to Purgatory briefly in the 1930's. Though what came through the gateway was (far too quickly) resolved, what killed Lovecraft remains a dangling thread the series could explore in season seven. After seeing how deftly the show handled angels and monsters, the producers should have no trouble handling Lovecraft's unique brand of weirdness - which just might be the one trump card the show has the mythos department.
3. Too Many Character Deaths Too Soon. This one ties into the last point, and it's a problem that has plagued the show from the beginning. From Ash to Hendricksen, the show has historically dispatched its supporting cast with a ruthlessness that makes the last episode of "Angel" look like "Highway to Heaven". The problem is not the show kills off too many characters, but that it does it too soon.
In nowhere else do we see this more than Season Six. For years, fans have clamored over the return of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum Amber Benson, who played the benevolent vampire Lenore. Fans get their wish in this season - only to see the character torched by Cass five minutes later (admittedly by her own wishes). The thing which slinked out of the Lovecraft Portal? It's Bobby's one-time-flame Dr. Ellie Visyak. But this character - yet another benevolent monster-type - is promptly killed (by Crowley, with an assist for Cass). We didn't know even know what exactly she was, and considering her character was neck-deep in the Cthulu mythos, this is a major disappointment.
The death of a character can bring equal parts suspense and sadness to any story. The death of mother-daughter hunters Ellen and Jo last season was particularly tragic, but it was only heart-wrenching because we were able to see these characters develop over multiple episodes, and ideally, multiple seasons. The writers and producers of "Supernatural" may think quickly killing off characters is making show edgy and unpredictable, but what they are really doing is shooting themselves in the foot . . . over and over again.
2. Too Much Subplot, Not Enough Resolution. For the past five seasons, "Supernatural" has moved full throttle to resolve one major plot per season, whether it's Season One: "Where is John Winchester?" or Season Five: "How Do You Stop the End of the World?" Sadly, Season Six reads something like this: "Can Dean Live with Lisa and Ben/How Did Sam Return?/Can Sam Get His Soul Back?/Can Sam Live with the Wall?/Where is Purgatory?/Who Will Win the War in Heaven?/What's Castiel and Crowley Up To?/What or Who is Eve?/What's With the Souls?/What's with HP Lovecraft?/What's Grandpa Doing Here?
Even worse, only a handful of the above subplots get a satisfactory resolution by the last season. Sure, it's good to leave a subplot or two unresolved in the cliffhanger, but some subplots - like Sam's spiritual state after hell and resurrection - are barely touched upon in the finale, even though the final episode spends considerable time dealing with the issue.
The season started to move better during the latter part of the year, when a process of elimination resolved (or at least marginalized) some of the above subplots, but with resolution in such short supply this season, we're left looking like deer in the headlights at the season's Bizzaro-World Ending, which not-coincidentally happens to be my Numero Uno beef with the show . . .
1. Castiel's God Complex. When a friend told me he couldn't wait to see angels in "Supernatural", I told him I didn't think they'd do it. I didn't see how the winged messengers of divine could fit into the gritty blue-collar back-roads of "Supernatural".
Castiel proved me wrong, and for the two years, Mischa Collins' "looks like Columbo, talks like Rain Man" angel has been a fascinating character to watch. Though he starts out only as Dean's angelic handler, he is ultimately an unlikely ally to the Winchesters - one of the only angels loyal to God and his Creation, standing against Heaven's mutually destructive war of attrition against Hell.
All of this makes Castiel's dark arc in the sixth season initially fascinating. Castiel is stuck between the ultimate rock and hard place - tasked with leading his fellow angels to embrace freedom while contending against Raphael, a powerful archangel who wants to bring about Apocalypse all over again. Realizing both are a losing proposition, Castiel strikes up a deal with Crowley to split the souls of Purgatory to gain enough power to overthrow Raphael, straining his ties with the Winchesters possibly beyond repair. At the season finale, Castiel delivers a coup de grace, cutting Crowley out of the deal, taking the souls for himself and exploding Raphael on sight.
Then he promptly declares himself the new God and demand the Winchesters worship him.
Ignoring the thorny theological issue that the old God is still around, the move is totally out of character, considering we've seen Castiel praying to God for answers during one episode. Sure, you can argue that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but it doesn't corrupt instantly - which seems to have happened. It's possible Cass just got too much monster juice (having apparently drank Purgatory out of a jar) and is likely possessed by all the souls inside him, but that's not explicitly laid out for the viewers to know.
I like the idea of changing up the dynamic between Castiel and the Winchesters. For all his enjoyable characterization, he' something of a walking Deus ex Machina, and leaving their relationship strained or estranged may remedy that. But changing his character to fit this seems like a major mistake - one which the show seems to be making right now.
Plus, I really don't want an entire season of "Bizzaro-Cass". It's like watching Michael Rosenbaum try to act possessed by General Zod in "Smallville" - it undermines what makes the character great in the first place.
I'd like to say this is the part where I wave my fanboy banner and say if things don't get better, I'm not watching anymore! But the truth is, I like "Supernatural" too much to just up and stop watching. On the other hand, though, I've seen my interest in the show certainly take a dive as of late.
In the past, the show suffered very occasional oil leaks - where plot and character development didn't run as smoothly. Now, make no mistake, the show is leaking gasoline. If this leak isn't patched up, there are only two possible outcomes - that the storyline runs out of momentum or that the whole vehicle bursts into flame.
Either way, it's cause of concern and a sign my favorite definitely needs an engine check immediately.
(That's it for this week's rant. Check out a new installment of Blue Yonder next week!)