Expectations. Once again, the network baited the Supernatural audience with previews that raised expectations for a spectacularly intense cliffhanger. The promotional and the sneak peek trailers showed two scenes, one that teased the aftermath of a Mark of Cain bloodbath and a second of a touching heart-to-heart talk between Cas and Dean about the MoC. Both of these teasers understandably led Supernatural’s loyal and invested fans to believe that the primary theme of the mid-season finale would be the Mark of Cain.
The CW’s official primer accurately described all three plot lines that were covered:
Dean finally makes a decision about the troublesome Mark of Cain plaguing him. Elsewhere, the daughter of Castiel's vessel, Jimmy, convinces the angel to break her out of a group home -- and then she ditches Cas leaving the Winchesters to search for her. As for Crowley, the King of Hell will face his biggest challenge yet.
The order in which the story lines were listed and the “elsewhere” modifier used to downplay Cas and Crowley’s situations subliminally led me to believe that the MoC would be the primary plot line, and that Cas and Crowley’s dilemmas would have less importance, and less air time. That is not what we got though. The mid-season finale was about Castiel and Claire with a short and long-awaited punch line delivered by the Mark of Cain.
Dean's Nightmare Comes True in "The Things We Left Behind"
The episode was enjoyable; it just wasn’t what was promised. I’m left feeling like a dupe who fell for a mass marketing ploy. I wouldn’t think that purposely making your audience feel foolish is a good way to strengthen the bond between a show and its fans. I am also, though, left disappointed that I did not receive what I expected to receive. Yes, they got me to tune in to this show and they may have bolstered ratings in the short term. http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/tag/supernatural-ratings/ quoted: “Last night’s midseason finale of Supernatural was the series’ most watched episode (2.81 million) in more than four years…”, so the strategy worked brilliantly. If viewers were ultimately disappointed in what they saw, though (only because they thought they would see something else), doesn’t that whittle away at their on-going trust in the show? Was a short term boost in pre-show excitement worth the aftermath of “was that all there is”? Although manipulating an audience to lure them in is an age-old tactic used successfully for countless blockbuster movies, it is a dangerous game to play with a show that has survived ten years entirely through a bond of loyalty and devotion from long-term fans.
The MoC from "The Things We Left Behind"
I am also a bit perplexed. If the people in charge of such things understood that the fans, above all, wanted to see an emotionally intense revelation about what the Mark of Cain is doing to Dean, why isn’t that what they wrote for us? Granted the last two minutes of “The Things We Left Behind” were revealing and heart wrenching, but was that enough to make up for five episodes of monster-of-the-week focus? I have to pause here and clarify that I have enjoyed the majority of season 10’s episodes, including this last show, and I will eventually get around to analyzing its contents and judging it on its merits. I wonder about this season’s main myth arc, though. As might be obvious from my choice to write reviews which analyze the overarching “Threads” that run through the season, my enjoyment of Supernatural stems mostly from the brother’s intense bond and the larger-than-life complexities they must face together. Kate and her sister making opposite decisions about the abuse of power, Olivia’s emotional scarring from imposed isolation, Jody’s worries about Alex working her way through her teenage years after experiencing trauma, and Claire acting out because she lost both parents to Castiel’s interruption of their lives were all interesting stories by themselves and they showed me the personal fallout from the supernatural’s interference with humanity. They did not, however, greatly affect Sam and Dean, nor did they give me insights into the more important battle going on between “one of the oldest symbols known to man” created by Hell to destroy humanity that happens to be currently consuming one of the two heroes destined to fight said war between the supernatural and humanity. Each sub-story contained symbolism and subtle messages about the brothers’ situation, so from that standpoint, the main plot hasn’t been forgotten. I was just expecting the subtle subtext to come to the forefront and actually occupy the majority of the “climactic” mid-season finale.
The Doomed Sisters from "Paper Moon"
Taken together, the personal stories that have been shared with us this season were also about whether a family’s love can save someone from the supernatural, which is of course a central theme of the series. Kate tried to use the supernatural to save the life of her sister (as both Sam and Dean have done for each other) but Tasha wasn’t able to control nor channel her supernatural abilities for good, despite Kate’s constant vigilance and mentoring. Similarly, the moment her family wasn’t present to stop Olivia, she also used her supernatural powers to kill rather than honoring the gift of life her family pleaded to give her. Both stories exemplified that supernatural powers corrupted endeared family members beyond the reach of the redemption of love, no matter how intense or how vigilant it may have been. Obviously, the exact same thing could happen to Dean. Sam made the choice to constantly remain at Dean’s side, as Kate did with Tasha, watching his every move and trying to keep him from straying into evil. From what happened to Tasha, and to Dean in “The Things We Left Behind”, that doesn’t bode well for Dean’s future, though. Sam could also try to lock Dean away if and until they find a resolution to the Mark of Cain’s influence. Given what happened to Olivia, and the dreams that are plaguing Dean, the message seems to be that won’t work either and that the Mark of Cain just won’t be that patient.
Caroline's Reunion with her husband, "Girls Girls Girls"
On the other hand, Joe's unfailing love for Caroline convinced Hannah to return Caroline's humanity to her. Cole was obsessed with avenging his father’s murder, but it was thoughts of Cole’s family that pulled him back from self-destruction. Cole is and always has been human, though, and could make clear and rational choices without being influenced by a supernatural power. Alex and Claire are also human, but they both once had supernatural powers inside of them. They are struggling to find their own humanity again, even though in both cases it is hard to tell how much of their conflict is understanding what it means to be human versus the normal teen search for identity and self-control. Still, the question remains if a loving guardian’s guidance will bring them successfully through to the other side of their current darkness.
Claire and Cas in "The Things We Left Behind"
Dean also was recently rescued from the grips of a supernatural power. While he is technically human again, he is still being affected by a lesser yet ancient and prolific power. So the tragic Kate/Tasha and Bunny/Olivia stories that directly relate to how Sam is trying to save Dean don’t bode well for his chances. Tasha and Olivia were 100% supernatural "monsters", though, while Dean is only being "pushed" by the supernatural. The more optimistic stories of Caroline, Cole, Alex and Claire can also only partially be used to foreshadow Dean. While they are all human now, unlike him, they never had or have shed completely their supernatural inducements. So all these monster of the week stories have presented possible outcomes for Dean, and Sam, but we can’t reliably predict Dean’s fate because none of them are an exact match for his circumstances.
DemonDean's Capture, "Reichenbach"
So why has season 10 thus far focused so much on monster of the week stories? I actually have a theory about that. The fifth episode of this year marked the 200th episode in the series, a major milestone for any television show. Dedicating that episode to celebrating the show’s first 10 years created an artificial deadline for resolving the DemonDean issue. Obviously, Dean couldn’t be a demon if that episode was going to present a balanced view of the overall Supernatural series or of the many stories that had unfolded over 200 episodes. The writers also had to expect that it would be watched by a lot of people who were not in the loyal fanbase and who had tuned in just because they were curious about the landmark episode. So to simultaneously showcase what the show is really about for the curious, while thanking loyal fans for their long-term, intimate knowledge and investment in the brothers’ lives, the demon storyline had to end by a specific date, dictated by a calendar instead of by story dynamics.
The Musical Cast of "Fan Fiction"
There was also a great deal of marketing hoopla surrounding the 200th episode. There was a huge party for network executives, and a major public relations event for fans. Jared and Jensen had to give interviews to numerous major news outlets and film extra on-camera shorts which promoters could use to pump the episode. All this marketing put extra demands on their time. Jim Michaels (the executive producer of Supernatural) and Jared both tweeted that “The Things We Left Behind” was filmed during the week of the long anticipated 200th episode party. Jared tweeted: “Fun Fact: this episode was filmed when we had our 200th episode party in Vancouver. So, LOTS of big-wigs on set!” The last several episodes of season 10 have been noticeably light on both story and airtime from Sam and Dean. That may have been intentional to allow Jared and Jensen the time they needed to attend to the press activities that would benefit the show long term. Short term pain for long term gain!
Still, it’s hard to say why the first half of season 10 has been so different from the heavy myth-arc seasons we’ve experienced for the majority of the last several years. While many people are disappointed, others are relieved and truly enjoying the break in the emotional upheaval. They see the simpler monster hunts and the emphasis on family and personal stories as true to the core of the show. I am personally more drawn to myth arc, so I was elated with the intense first three episodes this year. I loved “Fan Fiction” and “Hibbing 911”, though, and I have to admit that I also to varying degrees enjoyed “Paper Moon”, “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “The Things We Left Behind” even if none of them reduced me to a crumbled heap of emotional wreckage on the floor.
So I don’t object to the quieter, simpler episodes. I submit that the season desperately needs more even pacing of storytelling with more consistent myth arc development. I’m still hoping for an intense second half of the season but I’ll be elated with character stories that include a pronounced use of a focused, steadily progressing myth arc. If I quit being fooled by the heartless exploitation of my expectations, I will thoroughly enjoy the simple story about families that is being told as long as the larger picture is omnipresent. It may not be the apocalyptic season 4, 5, 8 or 9 Supernatural, but it has the potential to be classic Supernatural.
Sam and Dean in "The Things We Left Behind"
P.S. Now that season 10 has found its themes and we can "leave behind" the distractions of our past success, could we please have more Sam, and more Dean, and more Sam interacting with Dean, and more Castiel interacting with Sam and Dean, and more Crowley interacting with Sam and Dean, and more Sam telling us what he's thinking, and more Dean telling us what he's thinking, and …well, you get the idea. Those will be my everlasting expectations of the show I love called Supernatural.
What are your expectations for the rest of season 10? What have you thought of the season thus far? Do you agree with my assessments of themes, pro and cons of the first third of season 10? Remember that we also have the happiness thread, the bitterness thread, and the dedicated Sam and Dean discussion areas if you want to drill down on a specific hot point!
Screencaps courtesy of www.screencapped.com.