A Supernatural Community
Tuesday on The CW
A few weeks ago, TV.com's Tim Surette included Supernatural on his list of "5 TV Shows That Need End Dates". His reasoning is solid, and his estimation of the seasons following the almost universally lauded Season 5 finale is more or less accurate. Season 6 suffered from Soulless Sam, whose semi-resurrection also somewhat trivialized the harrowing conclusion to Season 5. Season 7 wandered through the Leviathan fiasco. But Seasons 8 and 9 have started to coalesce a thematic idea that could, if handled carefully, give the series added longevity. The problem is the show has only periodically capitalized on it.

If Season 1-5 were an apocalyptic epic—a conspiracy of prophecy, Biblical and mythological archetypes, propelled by the zealous high-powered bureaucrats in both Heaven and Hell beholden to these predestined narratives, a conspiracy which was ultimately undone by familial love and free will—then what follows is the chaotic aftermath of a shattered sense of cosmic order in every realm.

Sam, Dean and their allies were successful. They saved the world. But the clarity of purpose, if not of action, that they previously held evaporated, and they haven't yet recovered it. Having been groomed their entire lives to play roles that no longer fit them, the Winchesters (and us along with them) have been aimlessly clinging to their earlier habits, hunting mostly and occasionally chasing white rabbits when the opportunities present themselves.

The Winchesters need a vision of the future.

In theory, though not much in its execution, the wars in Heaven and Hell resulting from the power vacuums left by the Season 5 non-apocalypse are the appropriate direction for the show. Heaven and Hell were given over to a series of opportunists—Crowley, Abaddon, Raphael, Metatron, Bartholomew, and even Castiel—both struggling to produce a vision for the future after the failure to end and/or restore the world. And Sam and Dean (with their occasional allies) have been patching up the fallout with band-aids. Having saved the world, they feel responsible for it, but they need to be imagining a world that can sustain itself without them.

They also need a vision for their personal futures. In the (always temporary) death of the other, each of the brothers has had a brief respite of normal life: Dean after Sam's sacrifice in the Season 5 finale and Sam after Dean's disappearance into Purgatory at the end of Season 7. While the momentum of events seems always to steal away that life, they need some prospect of contentment, whether or not they leave behind hunting entirely.

The most important aspect of this vision: Sam and Dean must resolve themselves to their place in the universe. This doesn’t demand that they be satisfied with the world as it is so much as recognize the necessary cosmic architecture. There can never be, for instance, a "good" ruler of Hell. Whatever the reason for Sam's reluctance to tolerate Crowley this season—and I suspect it currently has as much more to do with jealousy over Dean, though Sam would never admit that, than anything inherent about Crowley—he is a far more palatable King of Hell than Abaddon or any of the warmongering demons who would supplant her. Despite Sam and Dean’s displeasure with it, it seems both Heaven and Hell are necessary. If Metatron’s successful scheme to close Heaven resulted in the expulsion of the angels and a reservoir of human souls trapped in limbo, would the Winchesters’ aborted attempt to seal Hell have been any different? Instead of trapping the demons in Hell as they had hoped, would they simply have unleashed them all on Earth and dammed up the condemned souls as well?

Remember details that have been largely forgotten.

Supernatural has been meticulous about the causal sequencing of events. The story has momentum that carries through even if its logic sometimes wavers. However, outside Seasons 1-5, whose clear narrative trajectory made it more intricately integrated than those subsequent, Supernatural hasn’t often returned to distant events in any meaningful ways. And in not doing so, it loses much of its cohesion. Sam and Dean have a lot of open wounds, and one way to begin resolving their deepening ennui would be to return to them and allow them some semblance of redress.

1. Dean in Hell. One of Season 4’s greatest achievements was the gradual disclosure of Dean’s experience in Hell and how it fundamentally re-shaped how Dean thought about himself. He slowly transformed from torture victim, to torturer, to willing and enthusiastic torturer, even perhaps a promising acolyte of Crowley. My most persistent and, I believe, best idea for a new Supernatural character derives from this experience: a victim of Dean’s from Hell—his favorite perhaps—whom Dean accidentally rescued during his own escape by clinging to his work, dragging the racked soul back to Earth with him, as Jacob clinging to the heel of Esau, if we want to continue our Biblical parallels. Like Dean, who arrived with Castiel’s handprint seared into his shoulder, this soul would bear the scars of her (and I’d prefer the soul to be female) rescue. A long, jagged disembowelment, perhaps. Or a through-and-through from a scythe. It’s a character who could allow Dean to confront his actions in Hell from another, now equally human, perspective, from the point of view of the woman he both relished torturing and ultimately saved from damnation.

2. Adam in the cage with Lucifer and Michael. Sam may have been rescued—body and soul separately—from the prison with the two fearsome angels, but I cannot recall Adam, the Winchesters’ half-brother, getting any such resolution. And he has been for nearly four seasons entirely forgotten. While any rescue is likely to fail, and his soul is by now certainly in tatters, some attempt by Supernatural to give him some peace…even some mention that his half-brothers haven’t entirely forgotten him…would be welcome. It's a show about family, not just the loving but dysfunctional codependency of Sam and Dean.

3. Chuck and the Supernatural books. Although I’m a little unclear about the details of the mythology, I think it plausible to imagine Chuck and the other gospel prophets in a different category than the rest of the prophets, like Kevin Tran. So, though there is only supposed to be one prophet at a time, Chuck need not be dead. Even, perhaps, after his completion of the “Winchester Gospels”—plausibly at the end of Season 5, when we last heard from him—he could have been de-activated. A future story with Chuck and his books would provide the brothers an opportunity to see themselves more clearly, if metacritically, and from a meaningful distance.

4. Jesse the Anti-Christ. In a particularly hopeful episode in Season 5, "I Believe the Children Are Our Future," we meet young Jesse, a half-demon child whom the legions of Hell planned on raising as a weapon against Heaven. But, by force of free will and human hope, Jesse vanishes himself. Though it is implied he transported himself to an Australian beach, far away from the uniquely American apocalypse, an older Jesse would be a fearsome and beautiful person to meet.

Follow this Show