Is season 10 all that you hoped it would be? Is it all that is was promised to be? How does it compare to season 9 in terms of fan reactions, ratings and storyline? Is season 10 a strong addition to the Supernatural series, or is it something less?
To examine the relative merits of Supernatural’s 200th episode year, let’s first look at what has happened so far in season 10:
The Winchester Family’s Business
Demon!Dean went on a long bender,
...but Sam wouldn’t give up the hunt for his brother.
Sam captured Dean,
then Castiel recaptured Dean,
so Sam could finally cure Dean,
then, together, the brothers convinced Cole to give up the fight.
"Girls Girls Girls"
Now Dean’s battle is with the Mark of Cain. It wants his soul again, so it is pushing him to kill.
"The Things We Left Behind"
Castiel got a booster shot of borrowed grace,
and Hannah went home,
"Girls Girls Girls"
leaving Castiel to try to salvage what is left of Jimmy’s family.
"The Things We Left Behind"
Crowley lost his drinking buddy,
but gained mommy dearest.
"Girls Girls Girls"
The overarching plotline of the season was, and continues to be, the fallout from the Mark of Cain (MoC). This is a smaller and more personal battle than the apocalyptic threats of seasons 4 through 9. Castiel himself stated that “Heaven and Hell are relatively quiet”, leaving Team Free Will time for self-reflection and much-needed relationship repair. For the first half of the season, we worried about Dean' s health and the Winchester family; Castiel's health and his redemption of the Novak family; and Crowley's newly found family. Through stories about both our heroes and their foes, the season has thus far explored whether a family’s love can save someone from the damning temptations and horrors brought on by the superntural, or whether the supernatural wins out over everyone and everything.
I examined the opening themes and dynamics of this year’s plot lines extensively in my article on fan’s expectations of season 10. For several reasons that I discuss in that article, season 10 is employing the simpler monster-of-the-week (MotW) formula that was used so successfully in seasons 1 and 2. Of the nine episodes that have been shown thus far, half have been standalone monster stories, versus heavy myth arc tales. In contrast to earlier seasons, though, season 10 is taking the time to examine the weekly monsters’ motivations, history and ethics. Previously, monsters were usually present simply as objects to be killed, antagonists that provided obstacles for our heroes to overcome. While season 10 continued to explore Dean and Sam’s personal journeys to self-acceptance and brotherly accord, many of this year’s episodes have also been character studies of the bad guys. The following chart shows how the season has more evenly distributed its focus between the plot lines and characters:
The episodes that have aired thus far are closely following the patterns promised by Jeremy Carver in pre-season interviews, such as this one by Inside TV:
“We’ll come out with a small handful of mythology episodes to start the season, then we start to get into some of the standalones, but they always involve issues that are still lingering, especially with the boys. The season-long mythology sort of unfolds in a much more personal and a bit more slow-moving way this year, but I think because it’s so personal, it’s going to pack something more of a punch.” [italics added for emphasis]
In a roundtable interview at SanDiego’s Comic Con, Alice captured Jeremy’s reiteration of a slow mythology build-up and more broadly distributed personal stories this year:
“this season, the overall mythology doesn’t totally hit you in the face in episode one... People are going to be forced to make much more stark choices this year based on ‘Who I am?’ It’s not going to be only [the main characters] making the decisions. It’s going to be very personal this year.”
He repeated the same themes of the myth arc gaining momentum very slowly and the more personal story arcs in a TV Line interview:
"We’ll be introducing, over the course of the season, characters that are very, very, very personal to our main characters, and that’s all going to start to snowball into, “You are who you are,” … Of course, there’ll be Bigger Bads that emerge, but the central focus of the season is really on these personal arcs."
(Thank you to Sugarhi15 for researching some of the interviews for me!)
While the “personal look” at monsters varied the season’s stories, it shifted the focus of at least half the episodes to characters other than Sam and Dean. This, and the fact that Sam’s storyline was again mostly implied versus overt, frustrated many fans. So what was the overall reaction to the first part of the season? If we ignore the 5th episode, which was the very special 200th “Fan Fiction” show, the WFB’s polls reveal that fewer fans gave season 10’s episodes high ratings as compared to season 9:
The number of people keenly disappointed in this season's episodes remained fairly stable, though. The exception was the season 10 mid-season finale, which was disappointing to a whopping 41% of the people who responded to the poll.
Since fewer fans were elated with season 10's episodes, but the number who rated them poorly remained stable, the obvious conclusion is that the season so far is acceptable to most fans, i.e. not great but not horrible. The big winners and losers?
Enjoyed the Most: Episode 5 "Fan Fiction" - 85% of poll takers gave it the top 3 ratings
"It Was Just OK": Episode 7 "Girls Girls Girls" - 67% of poll takers gave it the middle ratings of 5, 6 or7
Most Disappointed: Episode 9 "The Things We Left Behind" - 41% of poll takers gave it the bottom 4 ratings
[It must be noted that the sample size of these polls is very small, ranging from only 185 people for episode 8 to a maximum of nearly 500 fans, so the polls may or may not be representative of the fandom as a whole. Still, these people felt strongly enough about the episodes to vote in the poll!]
It is safe to say that many fans are still hoping for that big punch that Jeremy promised! To validate the conclusions implied by these episode related polls, The Winchester Family Business has posted a new poll, specifically asking readers what they think of the season as a whole so far. The poll can be found on the Poll Page and at the bottom of this article. Take a quick minute to register your opinion and we'll see together what the readership thinks of the season!
Regardless of their assessment of the overall season's quality, season 10 total viewership was relatively the same as season 9, dipping down by less than 1% (as measured by Nielsen ratings). Surprisingly, the 200th episode did not deliver an increase in ratings despite its broad promotion. Ironically, it was watched by 2.17 million viewers, while the 5th episode of season 9 was watched by 2.15 million viewers, an almost inconsequential difference. It’s worth noting that both seasons were up nearly 10% from season 8, though, and more than 27% from season 7. There is no doubt that the show's following is increasing over earlier years! Whether it has hit its maximum potential or whether season 10 just failed to deliver additional viewers is yet to be seen. [Source: Nielsen ratings reported on the WFB Ratings Page]
Independent of ratings or polls, the anecdotal response to the season has been more positive than last year (as judged from the comments shared on the WFB and social media), though. That may be because fans perceive the slow myth arc build up to be a return to the early years of Supernatural. Perhaps the newer audience members (2nd generation and binge watchers) find it easier to grasp simpler plot lines, not having had the years of indoctrination enjoyed by long-time fans. In contrast, the criticisms of the season are generally the same as several prior years – Sam’s thoughts and feelings are not explicitly explored, Dean is misunderstood, and Castiel is misused. This year has spawned a new criticism – that Crowley is being underutilized! That’s a new one – we can’t get enough of a demon!
By all measures, though, season 10 has been successful and is doing what it promised to do. It is giving us a very slow build-up of mythology and personal stories. It is delivering solid ratings and consistent fan loyalties. I, for one, fervently hope that it continues to deliver on at least one more promise: to “pack something more of a punch” by the end of the year. Wouldn’t it be nice if Sam and Dean talked more about the looming condemnation facing Dean? I’d love for Castiel to continue sharing wisdom versus mutely accepting accusations and criticisms. I don’t even know what to wish for Crowley!
At this point, it is very hard to predict what will happen in the series. The more personal myth arc could purposely be smaller so that the show finally brings understanding and harmony to the brothers’ troubled relationship, wraps up the turmoil in heaven and hell and closes-out the series in the next year or two. Conversely, the slow build up could be copying seasons 1 and 2 and be just the beginning of a larger, deeper, longer storyline. The most likely scenario is probably somewhere between these two extremes. Either way, so far if feels like we have been served only the appetizer and maybe soup or salad courses and are still awaiting the main attraction of the meal. Solid and a good start, but not yet fulfilling. That’s fair. With 14 episodes left in season 10, 60% of the season is still ahead of us. Here’s hoping they leave us breathless and continually surprised by the little show that could.
So what have you thought of Season 10? Did the episode polls surprise you? Are the ratings what you expected? With season 11 announced, what do you think the show has to do to keep up its momentum?