As a long time fan, I just don’t know what to say. I’m usually open to a show re-inventing itself. I’m usually open to the idea of creative license. I’m usually open to pushing character studies over real action (at times). But I absolutely hated “The Things We Left Behind.” As in fire spewing, cursing TPTB with the power of a thousand suns hate. While I usually prefer to spare the major rants when many people saw something different than I, I have too much invested in this show not to say what’s bothering me. I’m not one that likes to ruin joy, so apologies up front to you happy fans. You might not want to read this. To you angry or perplexed fans, this review is for you. Let’s examine what about “Supernatural” is failing to connect this season, especially in this episode, and why the writing has clearly gone off the rails.
No one is guiltier in falling back on the art contrived plotting than Andrew Dabb. Not a whole lot of this story made sense. For those that may not be familiar with the trope, contrivances happen when a plot is forced to take a direction that doesn’t seem natural in order to meet a writer’s planned story theme or twist. For example, remember Dabb’s episode “Clip Show” when Sam and Dean left Abaddon alone in the warehouse so she could inexplicably escape? They would never do that! One would stay behind while the other took the call from Crowley. They aren’t that dumb. This episode had a lot of that. First, do you honestly think that Amelia, Jimmy’s wife, after all they had been through actually abandon her daughter like that? That was his big setup for Claire being in a group home? Killed by a demon would have been more plausible. Then there’s Claire herself, who we last remember was a very headstrong little girl. She was willing to take the place of her Dad as a vessel to save him! But no, she’s a troubled, angry, clueless teenager who’s obviously willing to be reckless to spite the world. Gotta create that tension between her and Castiel.
There’s the John Winchester story, which doesn’t make a lot of sense knowing what we knew about Dean so far during that time of his life. We’ve had enough flashbacks to his teen years. He didn’t exactly defy John at the time probably because he knew he’d get punished. It was Sam that was always rebelling. It doesn’t fit, despite me smiling at the idea of Dean sneaking into CBGB’s. Plus it was a cute story. It just really didn’t serve any purpose. Then you have the end, which gives me the biggest fits of all. Why in the world would Sam, knowing Dean’s state of mind (he did notice the bulging Mark of Cain earlier), leave Dean alone in that house with the bad guys and go to the car with Castiel and Claire? They didn’t need his help. No, no, no, no, no! Sam is not that ignorant. These types of lazy plotting devices completely ruin the impact for me. That’s why Dabb’s scripts have often disappointed me more than impressed.
Then there’s just the whole predictability factor. Going back to the character of Claire Novak actually wasn’t a bad idea. They finally put to rest the long fandom debate about what happened to Jimmy Novak. I’m cool with this idea of the angels trying to connect with the messes they’ve left by taking on a vessel, but it all unraveled from there. The story fell into this soapy, listless drama that made me wonder what show I had turned on by mistake. Of course Castiel was going to break her out. Of course she would run away from him. Of course she’d end up trusting some sort of scumbag. After all, she’s an out of control, confused teenager! Now if Randy ended up being some sort of monster, or better yet an old angel colleague of Castiel’s, that would have spiced things up a little. Nope, he was an average scumbag and the guys after him were faceless thugs, the kind where we didn’t give a crap if they died. Yes they were humans, but they were bad humans who had it coming. We certainly knew the one dude wasn’t going to hurt Claire because Castiel would arrive just in time. We only see it every day in all those standard cop procedurals. But it made Castiel look badass and a hero swooping the save the day, right? Yeah, right. Don’t get me wrong, I love Castiel, but there are far better ways to use your angel warrior.
Then there’s Crowley. I just can’t fathom that this fearsome King of Hell that has survived every attack against him because he’s smart and knows threats before he sees them, is hovering in a warehouse somewhere dealing with mommy issues. This is not the Crowley we know. He didn’t even have any great lines! The plot pace with Crowley is that of a snail and it’s not really going anywhere. Here it is half way through the season and he’s still licking his wounds from losing Dean as a buddy. I think. Hell, I’m really not sure of Crowley’s motivations. All I can think of is why did Mark Sheppard become a regular just for this mess? He’s capable of delivering so much more. It’s turning into a colossal waste.
Then there’s the part that gets me more mad than anything. The Mark of Cain should be dominating the storylines. Probably because it’s supposed to be the main mytharc. I do accept that Dean was pulled away from being a demon quicker than most would have liked because of the 200th episode. But that doesn’t mean that the brothers shouldn’t be spending their time tracking down leads and dealing with the complications of the Mark for a decent amount of time on a weekly basis. Remember season three when Dean was doomed for Hell? Sure, one or two filler episodes are necessary, but we’ve had more than one or two. There’s so much unknown mythology behind the MOC that could be explored! That approach would raise the stakes quite a bit. Yes, they did show Dean unraveling a bit this week. I do appreciate that. But it’s kind of cruel to offer someone who’s dying of thirst a few drops of water. There needs to be more, much more.
I also lament over how beloved moose, one of the two main leads and a driving force in the “Supernatural” story, seems to be missing his purpose. He’s supposed to be the leader of the Men of Letters! He’s the dorky connection to the legacy! What happened? They introduced the whole Men of Letter’s bunker and that opened up a world of possibilities. They aren’t taking advantage of any of that. I just think of all Sam went through with the trials and being possessed by Gadreel, and his character progression from it is nothing more than he’s learned to make really good grilled cheese sandwiches. It really breaks my heart. There are so many dangling threads with Sam’s character they could go back and address (what happened with his demon blood, did the trials purify him?). But no, we get him hanging out in the car with Castiel while Dean goes ape s***.
There’s been very little movement with the MOC, there’s been little to no movement with the brothers, there’s been no movement with Castiel or Crowley. It seems that all four guys are wandering around in their little corners, drifting and trying to figure out life. To me, that’s been as much fun as watching paint dry. There’s no mission, no direction, just random happenings that aren’t coming together. I understand that the stories are supposed to be more “personal” this year, but in order to explore deeply the personal aspects of a story, you have to have an actual story! Story drives characters. It’s writing 101.
I’m a traditionalist. I fell in love with “Supernatural” because it was different. It wasn’t like any other show I’ve seen. Remember “no chick flick” moments and just good old fashioned demon busting action? Remember when they were breaking out some daring mythology using biblical and other non-canonical texts to make their own mind-blowing canon? Remember when the stories used to drive the characters, not the other way around? Remember when everything had really high stakes and mattered? Remember when this show actually used to be about the supernatural? Now it’s evolved to a below average soap opera using melodrama and lazy plots to cover up the fact that the writers are clearly out of ideas. There are no risks being taken in the story telling because there is no story telling.
I don’t like average TV dramas. I watch serial sci-fi because that’s my thing. I chose this show because it was thrilling and wildly creative. Honestly, if I wanted to see such overwrought character dynamics on a Tuesday night I would turn the channel to “Chicago Fire.” I spent most of the hour waiting for something to happen, and nothing did until the final few seconds. Was that enough to energize me through a midseason break? Not by a long shot. Where are you Eric Kripke? Why haven’t you burst into the writers office there at Warner Brothers with a fire hose screaming, “What have you done to my show???” Okay, okay, that’s a little dramatic. But still, I smile picturing it.
Look, I don’t expect “Supernatural” to be what it was, despite my critical comparisons with old and new seasons. Shows age and take different directions. However, you really have to look seriously at your show when the creative team starts phoning it in and producing work this bad. It’s tough to swallow when it used to be so good. There is an entire second half of the season (plus a few more) for them to salvage this mess, but this show has clearly lost its way as a cutting edge sci-fi drama. Or a basic sci-fi drama. After this episode, it seems sci-fi doesn’t need to be part of it at all.
I’m giving “The Things We Left Behind” a D-. The only thing that saves it from being an F is the once again solid and brilliant direction of Guy Bee. At least there’s still excellence behind the camera. How about next time giving Guy a good script to work with Mr. Dabb?