From the very first episode, demons have been central to the mythology of Supernatural.  They have played an integral role in every season of Supernatural- until now. Demons no longer appear to be terrifying, formidable adversaries for Sam and Dean. Now, each encounter with a demon seems more like a milk run for the boys; they easily overcome or dispatch almost any demon whose path they cross. So how did this unfortunate situation come to pass on Supernatural?

During the first few years of Supernatural,  Kripke and Co. slowly crafted the mythology relating to demons, layer by layer.  We, along with Sam and Dean, learned about the (mostly) black eyes, the black smoke, the use of holy water, demon traps, and exorcisms against demons, etc.  Much of the lore about demons still remains shrouded in mystery, and for good reason. The more the writers reveal about demons, the more they constrain themselves in crafting future episodes, so they dole out new lore sparingly.  The showrunners know that their well-informed, devoted fans do not take lightly any violations of canon: while minor lapses in canon generally are tolerated in the interests of good storytelling, major violations provoke a firestorm of criticism (reapers, anyone?).

During the Kripke era, the writers also portrayed the demons quite consistently in terms of their actual nature.  For one thing, demons were FUNNY! They could deliver a vicious one-liner like nobody's business.  Kripke himself said, “Nothing gives me more pleasure than writing one of the demons, because the demons can be so cruel and so funny.” But more importantly, demons were menacing.  Yellow Eyes, Alastair and Lilith, in all of their various incarnations, were cruel, evil beings without an ounce of empathy for humans, and Sam and Dean feared them with good reason.  Whenever one of those three appeared in an episode, you were guaranteed electrifying scenes of great tension, punctuated by unexpected bursts of humor. Lilith was particularly chilling and unsettling when embodied in a cute 10 year old girl. Her tone and the look on her face when she said “don't you love me anymore Grandpa?” was Emmy worthy. Even the minor demons exuded an air of pure evil. 

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This portrayal of demons did have some exceptions, however. Casey, the female demon in "Sin City", developed such a bond with Dean that she didn't want her demon lover to kill him.  Now, I'm certainly not immune to Dean's charms, but the idea that a few hours in his company was enough to melt the heart of a demon flew in the face of every prior depiction of demons.  While apparently demons can have feelings for other demons, like Yellow Eyes for his children Meg and Tom, and Casey for her lover, it seemed highly out of character that they would form attachments with humans.  Ruby explained to Dean in "Malleus Maleficarum" that demons are created when human souls are tortured in hell for centuries until all of their humanity is stripped away. This process would certainly seem to preclude any lingering warm, fuzzy feelings towards humans.

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Ruby herself seemed to deviate from the typical portrayal of demons, because of her desire to help the Winchesters.  Ultimately, her actions made sense as part of her plan to manipulate Sam into killing Lilith.  And Ruby 1, at least, acted like a classic demon. She didn't display any warmth or friendliness towards Sam and Dean, and who can forget her yelling at Dean in "No Rest For the Wicked" that she wanted to see the flesh sizzle from his bones?  

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Ruby 2 was a different story, however, because she seemed to have feelings for Sam.  This made some sense as a ploy to earn Sam's trust to the point that he would agree to drink her blood. But even after her plan came to fruition with Lilith's death and Lucifer's rising, she still seemed to care for Sam.  I thought Cortese played Ruby very inconsistently, although maybe that was the result of writer or director choices. Sometimes she seemed demony, for lack of a better word, and I enjoyed her portrayal. Often, however, she appeared too human and had little of that air of menace and evil that characterized other demons.    


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Finally, we come to the two biggest outliers among the demons- Meg and Crowley.  Meg initially fit the demon personality profile to a T.  She was devious, manipulative and pure evil.  Oh, and hilarious. I loved Nicki Aycox's performance.  Jared's version of Meg in "Born Under A Bad Sign" was also wonderfully evil.

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Rachel Miner's original portrayal of Meg had a very different tone- she seemed giddier than Aycox's Meg, and I felt lukewarm about her take on Meg. I found that I enjoyed her performance more when I stopped comparing her to Aycox. She took a typical demon delight in hurting/killing Sam and Dean and their allies, until the writers took a sharp turn with her character in Season 6 and introduced the Meg/Cas love connection.  This twist seemed inconsistent with every previous depiction of angels and demons and annoyed me no end. By Meg's final appearance in Season 8, she was essentially a Winchester ally and seemed a demon in name only: she literally died to protect the brothers. While I enjoyed parts of her alliance with the Winchesters, she seemed a very different sort of beast than other demons, and even than earlier Meg.  

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Last, but certainly not least, there's Crowley. From his first appearance on Supernatural Crowley seemed different than any other demon.  While he had the requisite callousness and lack of empathy towards humans, he didn't seem to feel the same animus towards them demonstrated by Yellow Eyes, Alastair, Lilith, and virtually every other demon.  Interestingly, his eyes have never been shown to change color.  As he himself has stated on a number of occasions, he's a businessman, and that's how he usually conducts himself.  Granted, his business consists of procuring souls for hell, but still. He is pragmatic, smart, devious and extremely funny.  His initial alliance with the Winchesters was motivated purely by self-preservation, and the only time he acted even slightly OOC in Seasons 5-8 was when he gave Bobby his legs back, unasked, seemingly out of the goodness of his heart. Arguably, Crowley's action was meant to ensure that Sam had Bobby's help in containing the Croatoan virus, but it struck me as odd and contradictory of his demon nature.  

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And now to the main point of my article: I believe Gamble made a huge error when she elevated Crowley to King of Hell. I know TPTB wanted to keep Crowley around because he is so damn entertaining and Sheppard is fantastic, but he should have been kept on the show as an occasional ally of the Winchesters, helping them whenever it suited his purposes, but also willing to work against them.  While Crowley certainly had the ambition to become King, he lacked the gravitas and the aura of menace and PURE EVIL that other powerful demons like Yellow Eyes exhibited in spades.  Crowley has simply never been truly scary. The closest he came was in Season 8 when he attempted to kill/killed the Winchesters, Kevin, Jody, and everyone the boys had saved. 

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For the most part I really liked Season 8 and I enjoyed Sheppard's deliciously vicious Crowley. But his appearance and actions didn't come close to inspiring the dread and excitement I felt during every appearance of Yellow Eyes and Alastair on the show. What's worse is that the depiction of demons has  deteriorated even further since then.  On the first 6 seasons, even run-of-the-mill demons were menacing and funny: from the very first demon in "Phantom Traveler" to the demons in "Croatoan", "Malleus Malefacarum", "Jus in Bello"- the list goes on and on.  Virtually every demon was scary to the Winchesters and to us. Now, almost all of  Crowley's underlings are portrayed as dumb, humorless sycophants.  Crowley conducts demon board meetings!  And he has even had a demon butler and a demon masseuse, for crap's sake!  Sam and Dean routinely and easily overpower “stunt demon number three” and they no longer worry much about demons.  Why worry when they're probably occupied attending meetings or seeing to the King's clothing?

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Over the past few seasons, only Abaddon could hold a candle to the demons of yore. She was a real throwback, evil and vicious to the core, and also pretty darn funny. I loved her and  Alaina Huffman's portrayal of her.

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I would have infinitely preferred if Abaddon had ascended the throne of hell as the new “big bad,” and Crowley had been kept around in the role he had in Season 5- as a manipulative, untrustworthy demon who helped the boys when their interests coincided with his.  Instead, we've been subjected to the increasingly ridiculous evolution of Crowley's character:  from “please be my friend, Sam” Crowley, to crybaby Crowley, to “please don't leave me, Dean” Crowley, to “you never loved me, mommy” Crowley.  

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This arc would have been fine if the idea had been to have a mostly human (but still snarky, callous, and hilarious) Crowley aiding the boys in their fight against Abaddon through his vast knowledge of all things supernatural. That would have made for interesting storytelling and a good use of Sheppard's talents.  Sadly, that is not the route the writers went with Crowley.

The writers have also watered down the entire concept of hell.  The current depiction of hell, or wherever it is that Crowley conducts his business now (is that hell or earth?), seems like a child's imagining. The only truly effective rendering of hell on SPN was on "No Rest For The Wicked" - that brief glimpse of Dean suspended on hooks against that eerie background was horrifying. 

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The next version of hell, in Season 6, was just silly. Sure, I chuckled at Crowley's  innovation of organizing hell into an eternal line, but that depiction completely undermined the idea that the horrors of hell are beyond imagining and will ultimately strip away a soul's humanity. Crowley's version of hell must have slowed the demon conversion time frame considerably! I hate lines as much as the next person, but choosing between eternal lines and an eternity of meat hooks and flames is a no-brainer. 

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I actually didn't think the  depiction of hell in "Taxi Driver" was THAT bad, other than Bobby's “torture” consisting of repeated visits from fake Sams and Deans-really?!!!.  What a failure of imagination by the writers. Bobby had been in hell for about 2 years, which is 240 hell years, but he didn't seem much worse for wear.  So the demon conversion rate probably was not appreciably faster than in the Season 6 hell. Bottom line, hell is supposed to be so inexpressibly horrible that even demons fear it. Since any attempt to depict such a place will almost inevitably fall short, it's better to not even try.

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Even if Crowley had been a suitably terrifying King of Hell, it would have been difficult to sustain that effect over the long haul.  One reason Alastair  made such a big impact each time he appeared onscreen is that he was used sparingly- he was only in a few episodes. The same holds true for Yellow Eyes and Lilith.  Familiarity really does breed contempt, and if any of those three had appeared in as many episodes as Crowley has, the impact on the boys and on us would have diminished over time. In fact, the most prominent emotion the boys display each time they encounter Crowley IS contempt.

Supernatural seems like a very different world now-the lack of a worthy demon adversary has created a real vacuum and partly explains why the show feels so flat and unexciting lately. Cain was the most formidable, and the only interesting, demon the boys have confronted this year, but that was only for one episode. (I'm not addressing the topic of Demon Dean, as that is a whole separate issue.) Even if the writers now have Crowley go dark, I think it's too late. The image of Crowley staring forlornly at the goofy photo of him and Dean is forever burned into my retinas, and I can never again take him seriously as the “big bad.”  I hate to say it, but it's time for Sam and Dean to kill Crowley. He has tortured or killed or tried to kill the boys and their friends on so many occasions that it has become an absurdity that they keep letting him off the hook.  How many times has one of the brothers said to Crowley words to the effect of “the next time I see you I'll kill you”? It's been more than a few times, and I don't know how the Js can utter those lines with straight faces anymore.  The writers' treatment of Crowley lately has been a travesty.  I just don't see how they can transition from pathetic, maudlin Crowley back to a demon who inspires dread in humans and demons alike- particularly when he never was all that terrifying.  It's time for a new” big bad” demon, one more reminiscent of Yellow Eyes, Alastair or Lilith.  To me, the show has been floundering for awhile, and the introduction of a new power who dethrones Crowley could jump start an interesting new direction for the show. Especially if Crowley goes out in his trademark style. Sure, I'd miss him, at least the earlier incarnations of him, but if the show can survive without Bobby, it can certainly survive without Crowley.



Editor's Note: I'd like to thank Samanddean10 for this great review of how Supernatural has presented demons throughout its ten years. Now it's time to hear from you! What have you thought of Supernatural's demons lately? Do you think the demons in general are going soft? Given Crowley's change of heart in "Inside Man", do you think he's returning to his former scary self? Do you have a "favorite" bad guy...or gal? How much do you think the demons contribute to the overall mood/feeling/atmosphere of Supernatural?


Comments  

LEAH
# LEAH 2015-04-09 16:22
Hi samandean10, nice article! I have to agree with you about the evolution of the demons since the beginning of the series. I really miss the early demons. YED, Meg 1, Ruby 1, Allister. The demons seem pretty toothless these days. And easily dispatched. The lower levels ones are pretty lame (I mentioned this in a post last week), I think I could take one on and have a pretty good chance. Crowley's recent mopiness has been frustrating. Glad he may be getting back to form. His becoming the King of Hell wasn't a great decision. He is a bureaucrat. He is fun as a frenemy of the Winchesters but he doesn't have the evil gravitas that is needed to run hell, especially now with the cure (or half cure). Hell should be a terrifying place. Demons should be evil and formidable.
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-09 18:35
Thanks Leah! It was fun writing it. And you're right. Bureaucrat is a perfect description of Crowley. Ironic that he was the one to call Naomi a bureaucrat!.
YellowEyedSam
# YellowEyedSam 2015-04-09 19:36
Phew, good read! I really enjoyed that :)

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Demons no longer appear to be terrifying, formidable adversaries for Sam and Dean. Now, each encounter with a demon seems more like a milk run for the boys; they easily overcome or dispatch almost any demon whose path they cross.
Its been in the back of my mind but now that I'm seeing it written I fully agree. Demons? Meh, stab them with the knife. Job done. Thats all they ever do. No psychic powers, no colt, no exorcism. When WAS the last time they exorcised a demon?

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This portrayal of demons did have some exceptions, however. Casey, the female demon in "Sin City", developed such a bond with Dean that she didn't want her demon lover to kill him. Ruby explained to Dean in "Malleus Maleficarum" that demons are created when human souls are tortured in hell for centuries until all of their humanity is stripped away. This process would certainly seem to preclude any lingering warm, fuzzy feelings towards humans.
Now that you put it in writing that does seem rather daft. But then maybe Casey was a rare demon that managed to keep a fraction of her humanity away? I mean it saves demons becoming one dimensional if you get the odd one or two that have warm fuzzy feelings.

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Ruby 2 was a different story, however, because she seemed to have feelings for Sam.
I don't know.. isn't that Ruby technically the third?

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Finally, we come to the two biggest outliers among the demons- Meg and Crowley. Meg initially fit the demon personality profile to a T. She was devious, manipulative and pure evil. Oh, and hilarious. I loved Nicki Aycox's performance.
Dam straight! Nicki played what a demon SHOULD be! She was evil, manipulative and badass. I remember when she appeared I thought "Oh crap". I see for instance Crowley and I go "lol.."

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And now to the main point of my article: I believe Gamble made a huge error when she elevated Crowley to King of Hell. I know TPTB wanted to keep Crowley around because he is so damn entertaining and Sheppard is fantastic, but he should have been kept on the show as an occasional ally of the Winchesters, helping them whenever it suited his purposes, but also willing to work against them. While Crowley certainly had the ambition to become King, he lacked the gravitas and the aura of menace and PURE EVIL that other powerful demons like Yellow Eyes exhibited in spades. Crowley has simply never been truly scary. The closest he came was in Season 8 when he attempted to kill/killed the Winchesters, Kevin, Jody, and everyone the boys had saved.
Actually I think making Crowley king was an alright decision. Not forever though. He should of been usurped by a more powerful demon and maybe kept as a pet by the new king, yet still able to do the things he's done so far in the show.

Crowley isn't scary. I take him as serious as a villain in a cartoon (especially S10). Azazel? Lilith? Abbadon? They were scary and were proper demons. Definatley more deserving to be king or queen of hell.

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The writers have also watered down the entire concept of hell. The current depiction of hell, or wherever it is that Crowley conducts his business now (is that hell or earth?), seems like a child's imagining. The only truly effective rendering of hell on SPN was on "No Rest For The Wicked" - that brief glimpse of Dean suspended on hooks against that eerie background was horrifying.
Oh hell, where did you go wrong? That scene at the end of S3? That was hell. The hell we have now is certainly not hell. Is that a cloudy day through the windows? Come on! It couldn't cost them that much time and money to make it black or even a dull swirling cloud of red! At least that would of made it far more appealing.

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Bottom line, hell is supposed to be so inexpressibly horrible that even demons fear it. Since any attempt to depict such a place will almost inevitably fall short, it's better to not even try.
*facepalm* What happened? Demons were supposed to fear hell. Heck when Meg/Sam described hell as bones and flames I thought "I can't wait to see this!". Instead we get a dull room with just as dull demons milling about. They don't look scared. My only excuse for this is this is Crowley's palace, floating above this fiery pit of bones and a few lucky demons were spared this pit by the king in need of servants.

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It's time for a new” big bad” demon, one more reminiscent of Yellow Eyes, Alastair or Lilith. To me, the show has been floundering for awhile, and the introduction of a new power who dethrones Crowley could jump start an interesting new direction for the show.
*grin* Plot twist. Sam becomes king of hell. That would make me stand up and applause with happy tears running down my face.

btw you mentioned demons lost their evilness. I don't know if you watched the SPN anime but demons in that WERE scary. Those were demons stripped of their humanity to become mindless bloodthirsty killers.

Reading your article gave me insight for my SPN fanfic. Its reminded me not to overuse things or they loose their impact, and confidence to go through with an idea. So thank you for that good read :)
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-09 22:14
YellowEyedSam, thanks for your nice comments. I've been troubled by the way demons have been depicted lately so it was therapeutic to write this. I've never watched the anime, in fact I'm not sure where you watch it, but I'd love to see actual scary demons again.

As far as the other Ruby, I intentionally skipped her because she was only briefly in one episode. I wasn't sure many people would even remember her, but I should've known better--nothing gets by real SPN fans!

Finally, I love how you're always hoping for evil Sam. As a Sam fan, I'm not sure I'd want him to go evil, but on the other hand I've always gotten a kick out of bad, kick-ass Sam, whether it was Sam/Meg or Soulless Sam, or Lucifer Sam. Jared plays dark really, really well.
YellowEyedSam
# YellowEyedSam 2015-04-10 05:04
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I've never watched the anime, in fact I'm not sure where you watch it, but I'd love to see actual scary demons again.
*cough* Youtube *cough*

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Finally, I love how you're always hoping for evil Sam. As a Sam fan, I'm not sure I'd want him to go evil, but on the other hand I've always gotten a kick out of bad, kick-ass Sam, whether it was Sam/Meg or Soulless Sam, or Lucifer Sam. Jared plays dark really, really well.
I think the best way I can describe why I love Evil Sam is this: If Sam was not as pure, innocent and good hearted the change to evil wouldn't be as shocking and exciting. When a character does a 360 personality change its completely new and refreshing. Then when they are cured the impact of relief is stronger, and the story impacted you more. Hope that makes sense!

It was only brief but I loved the Yellow eyed Sam in Yellow Fever (my username is a giveaway..). It was more evil than soulless, because unlike the latter Yellow eyed Sam was going to strangle Dean with a smile on his face.

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post links to the SPN anime, but try a teaser. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HtJzeCCGUY
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-10 07:18
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If Sam was not as pure, innocent and good hearted the change to evil wouldn't be as shocking and exciting. When a character does a 360 personality change its completely new and refreshing. Then when they are cured the impact of relief is stronger, and the story impacted you more.

Actually that does make sense, and it's one reason Demon Dean was so disappointing. He was more like Dean on steroids--drink ing, shacking up, viciously beating up bad guys, but to the nth degree. The only time he truly seemed like a demon is when he was chasing Sam with the hammer; the way he tracked him through the bunker, with that smile on his face, was awesome.

And thanks for the link to the anime. I shall check it out.
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-10 22:47
I enjoyed the anime! That sounded like Jensen's voice, or was it just a good imitation? Did any of the other actors voice their characters? Obviously not Bobby, and Sam didn't really say anything in that clip.
YellowEyedSam
# YellowEyedSam 2015-04-11 05:24
Jensen only did the voice of Dean for the last 2 episodes (the one I linked was All hell breaks loose part 2). Apart from Jensen Jared was the only one to voice his character which he did for all the episodes.
amyh
# amyh 2015-04-12 20:30
Thank you so much for this. Demons have been so disappointing for years. I miss demons like Meg and Azazel and Alistair. Ruby 1 came across as a bratty gossip girl. At least you knew Ruby 2 was playing a role that MIGHt have felt something for Sam. And Jared did an amazing demon as Meg. Demon Dean was simply Dean except like you said when he was chasing Sam through the bunker. The one and only time i felt he was scary. And Crolwly is now Deans sadsack buddy whom Dean doesn't seem to care who Crowly kills or tortures.

Actually I've be very cool with Sam going permantly darkside cause I know Jared would bring the scary and evil. And the writers arn't afraid to take chances with Sam unlike Dean. I think Abaddon could have been awesome if we had actually gotten to see more of the stuff the writers attributed to her. Would have loved to see Abaddon de-thrown Crowly, make him her pet and throw down against the heroes. Crowly could have worked each side against the other.
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-12 22:03
I'm glad you enjoyed the article! As a Sam fan, I'd never want him to go permanently darkside, but I agree that a Demon Sam would probably be far more exciting than Demon Dean was because the writers aren't concerned with sullying Sam's character. I would love 6 or 7 episodes of a demon Sam acting the way Meg/Sam acted. That episode was a blast! And I agree that the writers wasted all the potential of Abaddon by killing her off prematurely. She'd have made a great Queen of Hell. Can you picture her sitting around moping because her mommy never loved her? Hell no!
Dion7
# Dion7 2015-04-12 20:59
Nice article! I completely agree. One thing that bothers me about the demons is the way Sam and Dean deal with them. During the very first exorcism Bobby had to remind them that the demon was possessing an innocent person and for a while they tried to exorcise the demons instead of killing them to save the person inside. But they let go of that pretty quickly and now they just stab a demon without a second thought. It's like they don't care about saving those human lives at all anymore.

One of the things that made the demons exiting was that Sam and Dean had to try to capture them and keep them tied up long enough to do the exorcism, in which most demons would taunt them. Trying to capture a demon without killing it was much harder for them which made some interesting scenes between them and the demons. But now they just go for the kill, there's not much suspense in that.
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-12 22:13
Thanks Dion7! I really agree with what you said about how the brothers deal with demons now; in fact I said almost the same thing in a comment on another thread. Why do they never bother trying to exorcise demons anymore? In Executioners Song Cas had a demon tied up but after interrogating him he killed him. It's like the writers have forgotten that demons can be exorcised, which is ridiculous. I think partly the writers are just not that interested in demons anymore, which annoys me because they were such an exciting part of the show in earlier seasons. Other than the Leviathan year, this is the least amount of interactions we've ever seen between the brothers and demons. And I'm not counting Crowley because I don't know what he's supposed to be anymore. Maybe next year they'll have some classic funny, menacing demons. Let's hope so!