A Supernatural Symphony (in 6 variations and 22 parts)
 
Let me tell you my story. Let me tell you everything.
 
Castiel 
  •  
 
Thus begins the brilliant and heart wrenching, "The Man Who Would Be King."  But really, so begins almost every story ever told.
 
From the instant that little Fish (for which somebody had big plans) crawled out of the primordial ooze, and learned to squeeze air past a rudimentary set of vocal chords, we humans have been sharing our stories.  We tell stories for a myriad of reasons, but mainly to entertain, to enlighten, to educate and to explain (often in a plea for understanding).  That's what Cas was doing as he spoke to God, and as he pleaded with the Brothers Winchester and Bobby, from inside a circle of fire, from inside a house covered in sigils, and from inside the dirty garage of a scrap yard.
 
We exchange these tidbits of creativity, and caution, around the dancing flames of a campfire, in a sleek black car on a lonely stretch of highway, or around the flickering light of a TV screen.
 
We tell our tales in many different ways. Most commonly, we use words.  We speak our stories aloud.  We whisper them, shout them and write them down.  But there are times when our bodies speak instead, through one facial expression.  One tug of the mouth, one rise of the eyebrow, one perfect tear on the cheek can all express a lifetime of joy or sorrow, regret or hope.  
 
Sometimes we use pictures to tell our stories.  We grab a paintbrush, a pencil or a camera to capture one special moment, or to represent 1,000 words.  
 
And of course there are times we turn to music, the universal language.  Think of all that is told in just a few notes, all that is told through "the minor fall, the major lift".
 
My paying job requires me to think a lot about storytelling, and music and the relationship between the two.  That may be why my brain "hears" every season of Supernatural as a familiar tune, telling the story of love, family, sacrifice, betrayal and ultimately redemption. Some seasons it's more a country song, full of hurtin' and pain.  Other years, it's a blues song, conjuring up images of legends and demons past.  And of course, it's also, frequently, classic rock.
 
The melody of Season 6 resembles previous chart toppers.  But this time around, I felt like I was listening to a symphony, with repeating themes and motifs.  It built to a crescendo, but ended on one solitary bass note, like a mournful church bell tolling across the months to September.
 
In the concert hall of my mind, these are the three signature notes for Season 6:
 
1. Can't or Won't
 
The phrase "Can't or won't?" is heard many, many times this year.  It jumps out at me, over and over again.  


 
From "Appointment in Samarra":
 
Tessa: He (Death) calls us.  We don't call him.
Dean: You make an exception!
Tessa: I can't.
Dean: Can't or won't?!
Tessa: Both!
 
From "Mannequin 3: The Reckoning":
 
Ben: Why won't you come home?  Can't you just say "I'm sorry" and then come   
         back?
Dean: I'm sorry. I can't.
Ben: Can't or won't?
Dean: Both.
 
And from "Mommy Dearest":
 
Bobby:  We don't have the element of surprise "“ we're still going in.
Lenore: You're crazy. I can't help you.
Sam: Can't or won't?

I'm fascinated by the recurring "Can't or won't?" question. Of course, there are the literal meanings.  If you can not do something, it suggests you lack the capacity to achieve it.  You can not because you are not able to do that task.  Won't carries a different connotation.  It suggests you are capable of taking the desired action, but chose not to.  Can't versus Won't translates into Ability versus Will.  Because of that, the question even carries hints of motivation "I could do it for you, but I won't.  Now, you figure out why that is."
 
This "Can't or won't" phrase was used so often this year, I found myself saying it before the actors did!  Usually great orators and great musicians repeat a phrase, or sentence to stress its importance to those listening.  If I had to guess, I think what is significant in this phrase is the element of choice. 
 
Free will and the ability to choose has always been a huge part of the Supernatural plot.  Of course as the brothers know, and as Castiel was learning to his shame and chagrin, having a choice doesn't always mean making the best choice, or the right choice.  
 
Interestingly, in the final 2 episodes there is no verbal chorus of "Can't or won't?"  Yet it is voiced, but in actions, not words.  
 
In both episodes, we see again that Dean can'tandwon't stop protecting those few precious individuals who he has let into his heart.  Against Crowley's demands, he races to save Ben and Lisa.  He stays close to Sam in the panic room, hoping his presence alone, because he has no other tools at his disposal, might be enough to guide his brother back.  As well, in both episodes, Sam also shows that he can't and won't stop trying to help his brother. 
 
Unfortunately, Dean and Cas also perform the "can't or won't" duet.  Neither could or would back down from his own position long enough to hear the other's solo.  Might things have been different if Dean had given Cas a chance to fully explain his plan?  Possibly.  But that would assume Cas was willing to explain it.  I'm not sure he ever was.  
 
Heading into the season finale, I had wondered if there might be a key change from "Can't or won't?" to "Can and will!!!"    And I think heard it in one of the closing stanzas.  By his actions at the end, Cas says I can and I will open the door to Purgatory.   As the new G/god he also says "I'm your new God. A better one. So you will bow down and profess your love unto me, your Lord. Or I shall destroy you."



That strikes an ominous note, a note of being able, and being willing to make others suffer.  That closing phrase lingers on, like the final beat from a tympani. 
 
2.  It's About The Souls
 
Everyone from Death to Fate/Atropos to the Mother of All herself has said "It's about the souls".  Every time a character utters it, it's like a flashing neon sign, saying "Heads up folks"¦ This is important!" 
 
The concept of the soul and its inherent value has been around since John made the deal to save Dean in "In My Time of Dying".  We got a little more insight into the importance of souls in "Crossroads Blues".  However, it's only in this season that souls have figured so prominently.  That's understandable given that Sam was soulless for half the season, and the ramifications of putting his soul back played out in the final episode.  
 
We received our most in depth analysis of the significance of the soul from Eve/Mary Winchester in "Mommy Dearest".   We got more insight from the discussion in the forest between Balthazar and Castiel in "Let It Bleed".  And then of course, another piece fell into place when Castiel absorbed all those souls in "The Man Who Knew Too Much".
 
Before these 2 episodes, I thought the composers might pluck a few of these strings:
 
- the fact Sam and Dean are soul mates 
- the fact Death himself was interested in the souls
- the fact Dean could kill the Whore of Babylon, or stab Zachariah and look directly in his face, as his grace escaped
- the notion that maybe Sam's soul was the key to the whole Cas/Crowley-find-Purgatory partnership and that's why it didn't come back when he did
- the idea that Dean's shiny-but-tarnished-in-a-few-spots soul would be important too.  After all, he sold his soul, not for personal gain, but out of love, to save his brother; he was a righteous man in Hell; and like Sam, he's a vessel for an Archangel.
  
But, as is their creative right, the arrangers chose none of those strings, and resolved the chord in their own way.  Although, I feel it went a little flat, like a note was missing.  
 
I wanted the souls to be more than just a fuel source.  I wanted them to be about love, and my belief that maybe soul-energy is what makes each of us special and unique.  Of course, Cas is now powered by monster souls.  Perhaps a God powered by the souls of ordinary people who love their families, their friends and their dogs might whistle a happier tune?


 
 
3.  The Natural Order
 
This is a third motif that's been thrown back and forth like a baseball.  In "Appointment in Samarra" Death and Tessa both educated Dean in the importance of the natural order, and what happens when you go against it.  Fate/Atropos accused Castiel of going against the natural order and wreaking havoc in "My Heart Will Go On".  And even Eve/Mary Winchester talked about the natural order in "Mommy Dearest".  From her point of view it was natural that monsters kill a few humans, and that hunters kill a few monsters.  
 
It makes me think of the natural order of the environmental world.  Mother Nature abhors a vacuum, so she does what it is required to restore balance.  For instance, you need predators to keep the prey populations healthy.  Wolves maintain the vibrancy of moose or deer populations by culling the weak and the sick.  Tamper with either side of that predator/prey equation at your peril, because both sides ultimately suffer.
 
In my musings before watching the finale, I wondered if maybe because the Michael/Lucifer match didn't happen, perhaps a Castiel/Raphael rumble would be enough to restore the natural stasis of Heaven? 
 
Then, I scrolled back through the centuries, and wondered if a sacrifice would be required to restore the natural order.  Tessa and Death both hinted to Dean that he'd thrown the natural order out of whack by being saved so many times.  Was Dean going to die one more time to solve the natural order equation, and restore the universal balance?  Was an innocent, like Lisa or Ben, going to die to even the scales?
 
After watching the finale, I was kind of surprised that the theme of the "natural order" trailed off a bit.  (Maybe the left hand got tired of playing all those sad, low notes!)  But, on reflection, there is an element of natural order there.  I just didn't see it at first, but it's the natural order known as The Family. 
 
Humans are not solitary creatures. We can not survive in isolation.  We have persisted on this planet because we form groups, usually based on kin, but not exclusively.    Those groups provide us with everything from shelter to food to companionship to someone to hear our stories. That last one is just as vital as the others, even though it's an emotional need, not a physical one.
 
Family comes up again and again in 6.21 and 6.22.  We see Dean's desperate fight to save his pseudo-family of Lisa and Ben, and his ultimate decision to swipe the slate clean and pretend that family never existed.  I think he did that to restore the natural order of their lives (and that's another article I'll write.).
 
We also saw the restoration of the natural order of Sam and Dean's relationship.  Once again, they are brothers who love, trust and are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other.  The boys are definitely back.
 
But, in Castiel we see what happens when a person, in this case an angel, is cut off from his family.  Just before he stabs his angelic brother Balthazar, in the back, he says:

"I'm doing my best in impossible circumstances. My friends, they abandon me, plot against me. It's difficult to understand."
That's the moment Castiel lets his pride and desire for power to take over.  For him, the natural order was gone.  He felt totally cut off from both his heavenly and earthly families, so he just went ahead with his plan, damn the consequences for himself and everyone else.



Like the soul chord, this one didn't end quite the way I thought it would.  And I hope maybe the more traditional idea of "the natural order" will be examined in Season 7.

Still, in my mind, these three little notes of choice, souls and order have been playing in almost every episode, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground.  And just like any chord, they are seeking resolution.  What I heard in the finale was more the sorrowful darkness of the minor fall, than the hopeful light of a major lift.
 
As I mused on the symphony of Season 6, the words of Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen, kept drifting through my mind.  Change the names and circumstances, just a bit, and it becomes beautifully, sadly, tragically appropriate.  (And someday maybe I'll have the skills to grab the right screencaps for this song.)
 
 
HALLELUJAH

I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah


Hallelujah, Hallelujah,. Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in with you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It's not a cry you can hear at night
It's not somebody who has seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah


 
Hallelujah indeed that we will have a Season 7 to hear the song again.

Comments  

Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2011-05-23 23:16
Beautiful look at motifs here. I think some motifs were set into place to be resolved this season and others for season 7.

That being said, I agree with the majority of your motif and music comparison.

This season started with a fractured Winchester Brothers and ended just as it should have: with a unified and equal Sam and Dean. And we saw that motif as much as anything else through out the season.

I, too, hope that a motif of Season 7 is the Natural Order. Cas has seriously disrupted it and it must be fixed---but by whom?
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-05-24 22:06
Hi Far Away Eyes

I totally agree. I think some motifs started in Season 6 were always meant to be resolved in Season 7. There were just a few longer-standing issues that I wished they'd addressed this year. But that's why I tune in. To see what threads get connected in the next go around!
Far Away Eyes
# Far Away Eyes 2011-05-24 22:15
As I've been gathering my own thoughts, I've kind of viewed this season as a strange blend of season 1 (Sam retrieves Dean from Lisa and Ben. Exile on Main Street parallels and pulls from the Pilot in so many beautiful ways, actually. Sam is the eager hunter, albeit screwed up and Soulless, while Dean is hesitant and unsure of his place) and season 4 (Sam is returned from Hell. Cas has sided and chosen to align himself with a demon and such) Yet, it has its own flavor and direction.

I do love to see where they go with it, so you know I'll be watching. I agree, though, that it would have been nice to see them address some of these motifs and loose ends this season.

I see season 7's motifs at this stage being:

Sam and Dean's shared experiences in Hell now that Sam has his memories back

The Natural Order

More about souls, hopefully about the quality of them rather than the quantity and power of them.

But hey, we're not even a week into hellatus and it's anyone's guess where they'll take this. I'm just here for the ride. I've really put no limits on it and so far I haven't been disappointed too much by anything they've done.
Ebony
# Ebony 2011-05-23 23:22
What a wonderful read! And such amazing and different insight into season six. Beautiful job!
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-05-24 22:07
Thanks! I'm glad my quirky brain could offer a new perspective.
Junkerin
# Junkerin 2011-05-24 08:50
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK9WXjgRzDM
I was at the Con in Mannheim last weekend and one fantastic moment was when we all sang "Hallelujah"
Thank you
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-05-24 22:11
Wow! That is so cool! I didn't know about the mass sing-along when I started writing this article, and hearing Hallelujah playing in my head. Life is full of neat coincidences. But then, Hallelujah resonates on so many levels because it's an amazing song, that's been covered by so many great singers. (If you've never heard it, check out the kd lang version. She's a Canadian singer who does an achingly beautiful version of the song.)
magichappening
# magichappening 2011-05-24 15:15
I am in awe.

Holy CRAP that was good! What an amazing way to look at this incredible show. Am intrigued as to what day job allows you to see and hear Supernatural in such a unique and fascinating way. I hope you don't mind me saying that if you don't write for a living, it is a crime!

I loved your phrasing of how certain chords were repeated throughout the symphony of Season 6. I did not even notice that they were articulating the free will argument in so many words and more than once, until you pointed it out. Cannot wait to rewatch with new eyes :)

I too am looking forward to Season 7 and your point about the value of souls is a good one. I think that it would be very welcome if they look at the quality of souls too - rather than just the quantity. Surely all souls cannot be equal can they? Perhaps that is the next horizon in this endlessly addictive Supernatural world.

Thanks so much for your article. What a great way to begin a Tuesday evening :)
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-05-24 22:26
Hi magichappening,

Thank you for the wonderful compliment. It put a huge smile on my face, and might even have made me blush!

I'm really happy that I might have given you a reason to rewatch Season 6. And, like you, I can't wait to see, and hear the notes that are played in Season 7.
biggsy
# biggsy 2011-05-24 16:43
What fun. Speaking as someone who was given a "Team Free Will" t-shirt for a birthday gift (Cafe Press, what can they NOT do?), I heartily agree. One of the great joys of SPN lies in following the the threads in the weave, the motifs in the music. When something is "off" it's like a discord....the Monster-soul-ch arged Super Evil Cas, ending has my teeth on edge, a bit, right now...I'm hoping it gets resolved darn quick in S7. I'm also hoping it involves some other bits: God/Chuck, the amulet, Kali, Adam (!), those friends AWOL from Heaven (Ellen, Jo, John, etc.), Death. I'm uncomfortable with the "souls as batteries" resolution...fo r many reasons, not just because Death would have known all about that, surely. There must be more to it.
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-05-24 22:28
What an awesome T-shirt! I'm dropping hints to my family about something similar, something Supernatural or Winchester related, but I'm not sure they're picking up on the cues. Oh well. Now I know where to get my own!

As for Season 7, I'd like to see Chuck, the amulet and more from Death. I think they're great characters.
MisterGlass
# MisterGlass 2011-05-24 20:37
Your thoughts and analogy definitely struck a chord with me. I think you did an excellent job of pointing out three of the major themes, both where they succeeded and where they fell a little flat. The "can or will" from "can't or won't" atmosphere is something I hadn't considered.

I too was struck by the absence of a resolution to the natural order, because I cannot see what has happened to Cas as restoring any kind of balance. I also wondered what the difference between absorbing the souls of every "fanged, clawed" creature and those of ordinary humans would be on an angel. For that matter, what affect did that first 50,000 damned souls have? I'm sure Crowley would know.

Thanks for a great article.
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2011-05-24 22:30
Hi Mister Glass,

I agree with you. There is something about the Natural Order theme that was introduced this year (by none other than Death himself) seems too big to just be forgotten. I'm hoping it gets some airtime next season too.

Thanks for reading!
Sylvie
# Sylvie 2011-05-26 07:57
I really enjoyed what you had to say about this season. Presenting it as a symphony is a touch of genius, your ideas are so good, I kind of wish you wrote for the show! I trust in the Powers That Be and Sera Gamble, so I'm sure they'll resolve a lot of plot points from season 6. I'll be looking forward with anticipation instead of trepidation. Keep up the good work, I love this site.