Fridged daughters, wayward sons June 13, 2011Posted by dolorosa12 in fandom, fangirl, reviews, television.
Tags: fangirl, reviews, supernatural
I finally feel able to put down a few scattered thoughts about the latest season of Supernatural. [Naturally, these thoughts will be full of spoilers.] Before I do so, however, let’s get this out of the way: Supernatural has an appalling track record in matters of race and gender. Pretty much every female character and PoC on the show has been killed.* The treatment of Lisa in this season amounted to little more than depicting her as a vehicle for Dean’s moral development, and the way her story ended was disgraceful. Supernatural always has been the story of a bunch of straight, white men.** I recognise this, I know it’s wrong, and I wish it could be otherwise. With that said, I am now going to speak exclusively about what happened to these straight, white men in the show’s most recent season.
One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write anything about Supernatural‘s latest season is that the reactions and rhetoric among different segments of the fandom have been particularly vitriolic and I wanted to let the dust settle and my thoughts collect themselves before saying anything myself. Broadly speaking, there have been two reactions to the season finale, representing two major groups within the fandom: fans of Castiel (who may or may not be Cas/Dean shippers) and those who view Castiel as a one-season character who diverts from the show’s true purpose, the story of the two brothers (who may or may not be Wincest fans).
Their reactions can be summed up thus: Castiel had no choice but to do what he did, Dean is a terrible and ungrateful person, because everything Cas did, he did out of love for Dean (and, to a lesser extent, Sam and Bobby), which is the attitude of the Cas fans, and that Cas did something unforgivable, Dean has been betrayed and now the show can return to its roots, which is the attitude of the anti-Cas faction.
I think both sides have a point. When I was reviewing Season 5, over on Livejournal, I made the point that, at its heart, Supernatural is a show about communication, with characters who for various reasons find communication extremely difficult:
The characters in Supernatural – the Winchester brothers, and an ever-changing group of others (I hesitate to call them ‘secondary characters’) – are misfits because they struggle with emotions and connections. They cannot deal with, process or express emotions, and they cannot form meaningful relationships – or rather, they struggle to articulate how much said meaningful relationships mean to them. Everything is so repressed and bottled up insides – feelings (of fear, of self-hatred, of rage, of despair) and words are internalised, never demonstrated or spoken. On watching it, I was struck by how, for the main characters (Dean in particular, but all of them have it to a certain extent), words seemed to be forced out with great effort as a sort of desperate, last resort. Unlike the characters of a Whedon show, who use words as weapons both defensive and offensive, the Winchesters and their gang are repeatedly tricked, deceived and manipulated by words, and as such, they don’t trust them.
This emphasis on communication continues in Season 6. I was repeatedly struck by how easily all their problems would be resolved if the characters could’ve just spoken honestly to one another. Instead, they keep things from one another. They justify this by saying it’s for the other characters’ own good. And so Dean is kept in the dark about Sam’s resurrection because he has supposedly earned a picket-fence existence with Lisa as a reward for stopping the apocalypse and should be left in peace. Cas doesn’t tell the brothers about his deal with Crowley in order to spare their feelings, and he doesn’t let them have a great deal of knowledge about his conflict with Raphael, which is mostly kept off-screen. Dean tries to keep the true danger of reensoulment from Sam, and above all, no one speaks openly to one another.
Cas was backed into a corner, but not because of Dean’s ingratitude. He had spent the past two seasons enjoying a crash course in moral ambiguity at the side of the Winchesters, and yet is completely unable to comprehend why this most recent piece of moral ambiguity (making a deal with the devil, essentially) is intolerable to them. If he had given them greater access to the true horror of what he faced, he wouldn’t have fallen into this trap.
The Winchesters, and in more recent seasons, Castiel, are repeatedly shown that united they are invincible, divided they fall. I suspect that Bobby – the least damaged and only sensible main character on the show – knows this already, but, due to the whole communication problem, is unable to satisfactorily convey this to the others. Just as the Supernatural characters cannot talk, they cannot listen. They are slowly learning from their mistakes, but until the learn this one thing, I don’t see much in the way of sunshine and happiness for any of them.
* The exception is Becky, but since she’s a meta-character whose purpose is to reflect and interrogate the show’s fans, I wouldn’t read too much into this.
**And how interesting it might’ve been if Sam or Dean (or both) had been female. Instead of a show about two brothers, one dutiful, one rebellious, we could’ve had a dutiful sister, or a younger sister keen to escape the family and live out in the world. Oh well.