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After a discussion with another Supernatural fan, I decided to put up a pair of "essays" on my thoughts about seasons 6 & 7 of the show, especially in light of the latest seasons we've had. This first essay will be from my memories of the seasons and watching them when they first aired. Then I'll spend a week rewatching both seasons and seeing if my opinions have changed about any of them.

So I have my liquor, superwiki bookmarked, and a recovery team standing by in case I disappear too far up my own ass.

I've long maintained that S6 & 7 were a study in contrast. That while the best of 7 was never as good as the best of 6, its worst was never as bad as the worst of 6. S7 at least maintained a fairly steady level of quality while S6 was almost like gambling: you'd either win big or lose your shirt. Of course in the tradition of debates, I'll start and end defending the two unpopular opinions, with acknowledgement of the popular views in between.

First, season 6 and why I think it maintains Supernatural's rule of 3 (every 3rd season is going to suck). The first and easiest explanation of why actually comes from one of my chums on the TV Tropes SPN thread. (way back on page 16, how long ago? as of this writing the thread is up to page 160) Well, he was quoting someone in defense of the season:

Season 2: Azazel plotline

  • Episode 1: Azazel makes an appearance and John dies. Dean is brought back to life.
  • Episode 5: The brothers run into another psychic "child".
  • Episode 10: The brothers run into another psychic "child".
  • Episode 21/22: The psychic children are brought together to decide who will open the Devil's Gate (and ultimately become Lucifer's vessel)
Running from the police plotline:

  • Episode 7: The brothers are caught by the cops but released when they reveal one is a murderer
  • Episode 12: The brothers are cornered by the FBI in a bank while hunting a shapeshifter
  • Episode 19: The brothers are caught and thrown in jail (though eventually released)
Compared to Season 6: Sam's soul plotline

  • Episode 1: Something is different about Sam
  • Episode 6: Veritas reveals that there's something not-human about Sam
  • Episode 7: Castiel confirms that Sam's soul isn't in place and Crowley reveals that Sam's soul is still in the cage
  • Episode 11: Sam's soul is returned
  • Episode 13: We learn some of what Sam did without his soul, and the wall is briefly scratched
Alphas/purgatory plotline

  • Episode 2: Shapeshifter alpha is encountered
  • Episode 5: Vampire alpha is encountered
  • Episode 7: Vampire alpha is captured and questioned, and Crowley's search for purgatory is revealed
  • Episode 8: The brothers work specifically for Crowley to find an alpha
  • Episode 10: Crowley kills some alphas and Crowley is killed, resolving his search for purgatory
  • Episode 12: The dragons kidnap virgins in order to open the door to purgatory
War in heaven/heaven's weapons plotline

  • Episode 3: The civil war in heaven is revealed, as are heaven's stolen weapons
  • Episode 6: The civil war is mentioned again and one of the weapons is brought up as a possibility for what's happening
  • Episode 15: Castiel reclaims heaven's weapons from Balthazar
Mother plotline

  • Episode 12: The door to purgatory is opened so she can make her way to Earth
  • Episode 16: The Mother creates a new monster as she goes about terrorizing and riling up existing monsters

So Season 2 had 8 out of 22 episodes that directly affected one of its main plot points, and they're all fairly spread out. Season 6 has had 12 of its 16 episodes directly affecting one of its main plot points (unless you want to rule out the heaven's weapons/civil war plot since it's going on off-screen, and that still drops Season 6 to just 10 out of 16). No matter how you look at it, Season 6 has been way more focused on its long-term goals than Season 2 was. I'll agree with Season 6 being the most poorly written season so far (but its Supernatural, so that's not necessarily that bad at all), but as far as pacing and end-goals go, Season 6 has been just fine and better compared to some of the past seasons.
(source: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=b06mk19ggxon1p60g39ulvso&page=16#394)

While the author is correct, look at how many storylines ran through S6 (and this was before the finish) that's at least 4, more depending on whether you want to count some things, like Samuel Campbell, as their own plotline or as part of one of the others. What did they amount to? Sam's soul? Actually had some lasting effect beyond the season. Grandpa? Nothing. Alphas? Nothing. (they didn't even need them to get into Purgatory) Purgatory? Some. War in heaven? Some. Stolen heaven weapons? Nothing. Mother? Nothing. Lisa & Ben? Nothing. In the end many of these plotlines were nothing more than multi-part monster of the week episodes dragged out over multiple parts which quickly grew tiresome as it became predictable they would have no effect the next week.

See, Supernatural underwent an evolution as it went on from stand-alone episodes that could hold your attention to arc plots that glued you to your TV. I can still remember that first appearance by Castiel and how excited I was at the revelation of angels in that verse. Now the show was getting downright biblical! The only problem is, once you fight Satan, where do you go? He is THE big bad of 3 world religions and western cultures. S6 was in a poor position as the heaven vs hell saga would still have a lot of narrative weight from the inertia of S4 & 5 however they couldn't do anything with it less the efforts come off as pale imitations and echoes of the original (for examples: S8 & 9). What the show needed after Kripke left was for the powers that be (TPTB) to figure out a storyline and arc and stick to it. What we got was them throwing plotline after plotline at the screen in the hopes of distracting us and finding something that would hold the audience. Unfortunately, like when you try to please everyone, when you do too much you end up pleasing no one and we end up with the season of waste.

  • Why not have Lisa & Ben travel with Dean? Samuel did the family hunting thing with his wife & child. That could have been a bonding moment between Dean & grandpa as the former talks with the latter on learning to juggle the responsibilities.
  • Why not have Dean stay still and let things come to him? Maybe something goes wrong at the plant he works at. Something happens at school and Ben has to stop it. Or maybe he's on a field trip and Dean has to walk him through hunting over the phone.

That's just off the top of my head from the first episode. Looking back you can see all sorts of endless, rich narrative potential that the show just kept avoiding afraid something original would damage the brand.

Still I won't deny that the season has some excellent moments. "Clap Your Hands if You Believe..." still hold my spot for best post-5 episode. Heck I'd gladly trade something like.... the antichrist episode out for that one. "The French Mistake" while a headache canon-wise, at least pushed boundaries and "Frontierland" showed us that a show examining hunters in other times and places could be entertaining. And as a writer I respect "The Man Who Would be King" as an exceptional example of using writing to patch over past plot holes (yes, I can tell the season was "written as they went along" - that episode was just clever enough to make it seem otherwise).

Now S7 - yes, like I said it never had anything as exceptional as the previously mentioned S6 episodes (though "Plucky Pennywhistle's..." is pretty entertaining and don't forget when Dean teamed up with Eliot Ness), and with not even the really bad episodes, it's easy to forget what a lot of the plot is of several episodes. (I'll admit even I have to double check sometime.) Yes I will never forgive the slaughter of subtlety they did when naming the villain "Dick Roman" nor with how poorly the general political campaigning was handled. S7 really does have some major flaws in its execution.

HOWEVER...

They actually had a planned arc this season and it showed. They also learned from the biggest mistake of S5 and tried to keep the season arc somewhere in the background. This increased the show's verisimilitude and also helped make it less predictable. So, for example, while the reveal of Trickster=Gabriel was a bit shocking, it wasn't that much since the episode opened with the boys actually discussing Lucifer & the end of the world. Meaning we knew some revelation had to come since the boys never did talk about that arc during any other MotW episode, even if it would have been relevant. S7, with them at least keeping it always in the back of your mind, the Leviathans popping up did gain a bit more shock value, like in the episode with the cursed objects.

The Leviathans were something new and pulled the show away from the heaven & hell saga, which it needed (see above). They were the first real monster to fight the Winchesters on their own turf - craftiness and knowledge. They threatened the world in a way not often seen (and one that people can argue over how "threatening" it is). By season's end their goals were very clear and we could understand and follow those goals. S7 was the season of Winchesters vs Lovecraft with the Leviathans filling in the best role we'll probably see for elder things with SPN putting its own twist on it: Instead of cultists, the big-mouths just take over people and infiltrate. They drive some people mad, and consume them in a literal sense while the originals consumed in a metaphorical sense. The truth about them is something the whole world needs to know in order to fight, but the truth cannot be told for who would believe you? I'm sure those much more familiar with Lovecraft than I could probably come up with even more parallels.

Bobby dies. Not that I was happy with it, as I liked the actor and the character. However he had become a crutch for the writing staff, the go-to fill in for any plot holes that might arise. In many ways he was increasingly backsliding the Winchesters to their S1 characters where they couldn't do anything without Daddy's help. With Bobby gone, they could return to form with having to piece things together the hard way and the writers would have to put in a bit more thought (well in theory... but we'll bring up Carver another day). Frank, Bobby-lite, thankfully didn't take over as the new crutch too bad, and he also expanded the characters' spaces (even if he wasn't long for this world). With Dean, I found his struggle to avoid burn-out more compelling than S6 where he... did whatever the plot asked of him. With Sam, he actually had consistency as a character and we saw him fighting the ramifications of Hell (something even Dean kind of got over too quick in S4).

Finally, rather than breaking canon and trying to handwave it (like a few times in S6), TPTB actually took existing canon and built on it. Like... what would happen if someone actually liked being possessed? Why not impersonate the heroes and turn the very system & people they are fighting for against them? What if a ghost trapped other ghosts? Again: the answers they gave fit perfectly within canon and built upon it.

In summary, at the time during S6, I would almost dread watching the show sometimes. During S7, I started enjoying it again and looked forward to seeing where the story would go next.

At least when it aired and as I remembered. Will my opinions hold up on a second viewing? Both readers interested can check back next week to find out the answer.

(crossposted @ http://natewinchester.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/the-gamble-years-part-1-off-the-top-of-my-head/)

Comments  

E
# E 2014-04-08 10:16
Very interesting Nate. I'd be curious about your take on how season's 8 and 9 fit/or don't fit in. I haven't re-watched either 6 or 7 all the way through (other than catching a stray episode on TNT now and then) since they originally aired. I understand your points, and I think that you are correct that season 7's overall structure was more cohesive and consistent. But there was something lackluster about that season, a tired feeling from the actors or production staff maybe, that seemed to drag that season down for me. I much preferred season 6; I adored soulless Sam. He was hysterical, badass, vicious and unpredictable in a way that I found thrilling; you could never be sure what he was going to do and was therefore exciting and able to turn the plot on a dime, like letting Dean get turned into a vamp, without the plot twists seeming to be forced or unnatural. I REALLY wish the PTB had had the cajones to let soulless go on for most of the season, but alas, they did not. Season 7 never had that level of excitement for me. The Leviathan had all the earmarks of great villain hood, but they just never ended up doing it for me somehow. The entire Mother plot just fell totally flat as well. I am not sure if it was the actress or the total lack of any real buildup surrounding her that undermined the storyline, but she didn't' work at all for me. I didn't' care about what she was doing, I didn't find her threatening in the slightest and basically wished she'd just go away. Even the stunning and effective Samantha Smith couldn't save it. The only thing that was cool about it was how Dean ended up killing her. Clever. With the awesome premise of Leviathan and Lovecraft, season 7 should have worked out better than it did.
cheryl42
# cheryl42 2014-04-08 12:39
Since S6 was the first season I watched live all the way through. I thought it was great. It was the season that got me hooked on the show. When I do a rewatch of all the seasons there are very few S6 episodes (Mannequins) that I will skip. I too loved Souless Sam he was everything E said. The second half didn't fit as well other than it was about the souls. What I find interesting is that that storyline is now a part of S9. S7 on the other hand had some great episodes and some really puzzling ones. My problem with S7 was the disconnect between the brothers. To me the relationship was more like business partners than what is supposed to be going on in S9. S7 is what got my sister and her family hooked on the show. I think that Jared was right in his recent interview. Supernatural is a show for many different types of fans. You can find elements that appeal to a wide variety of viewers. I think fans who have watched from the beginning might be more critical than those of us who used to have a life until Dean Winchester broke into our house and said "Dad's on a hunting trip and he hasn't been home in a few days". I'm in till the end. I hope that is a long ways away.
Grace232
# Grace232 2014-04-08 17:43
Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. I agree with a lot of your conclusions, and am intrigued by several ideas I had not considered. Lots to mull over here, but I do have a couple things that I see differently.

I disagree with the idea that the best episodes of season 7 are not as good as the best of season 6. Clap Your Hands if You Believe and The French Mistake were fabulous, creative episodes. Season 7 also had clever, intricately woven, emotionally wrenching episodes. They were great for different reasons than the 2 season 6 episodes, but just as good. Meet the New Boss, Hello Cruel World, Slash Fiction, Death's Door, the Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo, and Reading is Fundamental. I am a freak among fans, because I actually liked seasons 6 and 7 - but do agree they are not as good as seasons 1 through 5.

You also mentioned the every third season rule? I think season 3 is a really good season - especially considering it was cut short, and it had some amazing episodes - A Very Supernatural Christmas, Fresh Blood, Mystery Spot, No Rest for the Wicked. All 4 episodes make my top 20 for the series. So, I just cannot agree with that every third season rule.

That being said, love reading your analysis. It made me think about the seasons a bit differently, and I look forward to your next installment.
Ginger
# Ginger 2015-01-04 20:39
I will just pop in and say that there is not one episode in S3 that I do not like. I always waver between S2 and S3 being my favorite seasons.
Nate Winchester
# Nate Winchester 2014-04-08 20:29
Oh I should add: For those curious, you can follow my tweeting on the rewatch on twitter. I’ll be using the hashtags #S6rewatch and #S7rewatch.
percysowner
# percysowner 2014-04-11 18:11
I admit I like season six more that season seven. Like E and cheryl I loved Soulless!Sam. When I rewatched season six I was pleasantly surprised to see that once I knew where they were going, the episodes really did hang together pretty well. The mystery and noir aspect that had much of the plot playing in the background hurt season six on my first viewing but on the second view things made sense. It may not have been a good idea to have the season only make sense in hindsight or you may not view it the way I did. I will be interested to see how a second viewing will strike you.

I do think that the season had some real issues due to the change in plans. I have heard that the writers wanted Ben and Lisa to be a larger part of season six, but Nicolas Elia decided he didn't want to commit to doing the number of episodes that would have allowed that story to be fully examined. I personally would have preferred that they bit the bullet and recast with another young actor who could be a young Dean and then gone on with and had Lisa and Ben be more a part of the story. Fans would have noticed, but I think trying to work around Ben not being there really affected the part Lisa and Ben played.

I also think that truncating the Soulless!Sam storyline hurt the season as a whole. Grandpa Campbell was tied to Soulless!Sam, not Sam with his memory wiped so he couldn't remember Samuel. At the time I admit I was out of patience with what seemed like yet another "what is wrong with Sam now?" storyline. I grew to like Soulless!Sam and I think that sticking to the original idea that SS would be around for the entire season had some merit. There was a good potential conflict about whether SS should be destroyed by putting Sam's soul back in his body. If SS had existed for the entire season and if Dean had managed to get him to ACT as if he had a soul, the entire re-souling of Sam would have had more impact. Perhaps we would have had the suggestion that Sam's soul could go to heaven to rest instead of simply labeling SS as wrong and dangerous and needing to be "killed". But the negative reaction to SS was pretty strong and the writers decided to cut their losses.

Season seven is one I had massive issues with. I understand your reasons for liking it. There were some very good episodes, but as a whole, the flaws overwhelmed the good parts for me.

I will be very interested to see your reactions to both theses seasons