Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My (only) beef with Supernatural

I’ve been watching Supernatural with my friends. I have very few complaints with the show: the dialogue is natural and believable for the most part, the acting is great, and the plots are fully fleshed out with a minimum of hand-waving. I admired the show in the early seasons because they bravely killed off characters for permanents. at this point, in the 6th season, they6th Season Spoilers! Click at your own risk! can’t seem tat I’m complaining; Cas and Bobby are way cooler than Sam and Dean. It feels like the writers know it, too...) But I do have one major problem with the show, and I honestly don’t know if it’s bad writing or if it’s just portraying an outlook I can’t sympathize with.

At the beginning of the show, Sam is an idealistic kid: sort of a “modern man” who is in touch with his feelings, capable in the execution of his comparatively normal life, and lets people in. Through a series of events, Sam comes (back) to the realization that the world is an ugly, cruel place and it will hurt you whenever it can. He loses the bright shininess that characterized him at first, hardening him, making him cautious in his trust and affections. This is all understandable, and is not the problem I have. Sam’s arc is one I can get behind.

The problem I have is that Dean basically hasn’t changed in any measurable way since the beginning of the show. He has every reason to: he has had horrific things happen to him. But he’ll spend an incidental episode here or there coming to terms with them, or “acknowledging” the effects they’ve had on him, but when it’s not directly in the forefront of the episode’s plot, it doesn’t seem to impact his character development.

He internalizes his character development, which is theoretically fine, but thus far, it’s development in name only. It doesn’t affect the way he deals with the problems that arise, it doesn’t change his biases or ingrained (mis)conceptions. He’ll spend a few episodes drinking in every scene, and Sam will make a comment, and then something will make him decide it’s a bad idea, so he’ll stop. But that’s just back to baseline Dean. It has undone one of the only ways in which his character has actually developed in the course of the story.

I realize that many of my feels here are unverifiable and unquantifiable, but the one way in which I feel the writing falls far short of its potential is this: each brother goes through his personal conflicts, and refuses to share his struggles with the other. He won’t talk about it. When asked, he’s always “fine.” Every. Goddamn. Time. They’ll spend time talking about how they need to talk about what they’re going through, how that’s what they’re there for, how they can’t make it alone. Then, the next episode, they’re both “fine” again. It’s infuriating.

I could understand it if they tried talking and it was a terrible idea. I could get why they would shy away from sharing. But the fact of the matter is, when they manage to drag words out of each other, it always ends up better for it. Why on earth do they need to be convinced and re-convinced and re-convinced every time they have something they’re going through?

My theory is that the writers are thinking to themselves, “Sam and Dean are Man’s Men. They don’t have ‘feelings,’ them’s for Ladies. They can handle it themselves.” But it keeps recurring as a “thing”: they can’t handle it themselves, everyone around them thinks they shouldn’t try to handle it themselves, and handling it collaboratively is always better. They’re not computers; they can learn—and in a well-written story, they would learn. They both know better.

I’ve learned from this, though. It’s important to remember that characters change and grow, in their habits, words, conceptions, etc; they don’t just experience things. Eliminating one inter-personal problem doesn’t eliminate all problems: if Sam and Dean talked about their feelings more, maybe they would spend some time being too involved in each other’s personal lives, and have to deal with that. Having the same problems over and over again... it just isn’t interesting. (It’s also the definition of madness.) The longer it goes on, the less sympathetic they seem to the audience. The more the audience gets interested in the secondary characters. The more the audience rolls their eyes whenever the characters are having a problem—any problem, not just interpersonal, because we know how the solving process will go. It develops from frustrating to irritating to cliché and boring. And “boring” is definitely the sort of thing that writers and shows want to avoid.

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