If you've noticed, I've been pretty silent about Supernatural so far this season. It's not that I haven't been enjoying season eight, I have, it's just nothing has been blowing me away. It's early in the season, and the name of the game is patience. I need to give the story a chance to unfold and give the writers a chance to express their creative vision. There just hasn't been a lot to say.
However, after watching last night's "Supernatural" episode, now I have a heartache. A massive one.
From a technical aspect, there's nothing wrong with "Heartache." If anything, it's a real directorial triumph for Jensen Ackles. The level of sophistication in the framing and shots were very impressive and I'm stunned that this came from an actor on the show. I've paid attention to a lot of actors who have directed for their shows and none are as good as Jensen. There were a lot of different settings in this episode, more than usual, and the scenes were shorter, not to mention Dean was in a lot of them. This was a difficult episode to shoot even for a veteran director and Jensen rose to the challenge superbly. I'm quite blown away by his skill. He is a Kim Manners student, that's for sure. I'm very proud of his grand accomplishments on what was a complex MOTW script.
Also, how priceless was that scene of friction between Dean and the cranky detective, aka Jensen vs. his Dad? I think Alan Ackles has earned some future screen time on Supernatural, don't you think? I love the angry close ups on the two men at the end, and then Sam just watching like they needed to take it outside. So good!
Script wise, that's where things get messy. I often found the MOTW plot confusing and not very fluid. During the unfolding of the mystery I said "WTF?" numerous times. I wasn't sure where they were going with it - which can be a good thing - but the end the payoff just fell a little flat. That was all execution though. The concept itself was quite interesting, and good job on bringing some Mayan mythology into the show. That was an original idea and I really did feel for that poor woman who ended up falling in love with an immortal and had to carry that burden as she aged and he didn't.
While "Heartache" didn't completely piss me off like "The Girl Next Door," it left me completely disheartened. I did love the ending, for that's truly the first time we saw Sam Winchester flashback on something and smile. The path to getting to that one nugget though was crooked and poorly focused. Unfortunately, it has me dusting off my batch of season seven criticisms at a time when I had hoped to have put those away for good.
What Happened to the Characterization?
My true problem with this episode is yet another reflection of my greatest criticism of season seven. The characterization was a total mess. Police procedurals are known for putting almost all of the focus on the story and throwing in perhaps a minute or two for the struggles of the character. Supernatural was never like this, until season seven that is. I absolutely hated that about season seven. I absolutely hated that about "Heartache."
The first two episodes of season eight have done a good job of showing how raw and unhinged Dean is, especially "What's Up Tiger Mommy?" It's very shocking and tragic to see him like this. If anything, I don't think enough time has been spent on the flashbacks showing how he got there. I'm dying to know more. I've accepted though there's a whole season for that and I'll be patient in watching that play out.
With Sam, its episode three and my patience has run out. His character development in season seven wasn't handled properly, and now in season eight he doesn't seem to have any at all. Would it have been so hard to work in a few more flashbacks in parallel to the MOTW story? Better yet, have his story actually parallel with the MOTW? There was plenty of opportunity. I can list a few scenes in the MOTW story that didn't have to be there so we could get some flashbacks. Don't get me wrong, the one very short flashback we did get actually brought me to tears (Sam finally gets a birthday celebration), but that's all we got? It made it extremely difficult for me as the viewer to relate or understand what was going on in Sam's head. This story fell drastically short in that aspect, and it's really starting to hurt.
What is it about Sam's characterization that the writers are struggling with? Since when did Sam's story stop being a priority overâ€¦everything else? Am I supposed to care about his character anymore?
I know that expectations were high too, as many fans were hoping to finally get more of a glimpse as to what happened with Sam's year. If it truly was just going to Farmers Markets and having picnics with his girlfriend and dog, I'll watch more scenes of that. I love seeing Sam happy. I still don't understand why he's with Dean right now. I do get he was trying to plant the idea in Dean's head that he didn't need him around, but without understanding truly where that was coming from, the statement has no meaning. Flashbacks could have explained that. We need to know what that life with Amelia was really like. Show, don't tell. It's one of the most basic concepts of storytelling.
I love pulling out old examples to prove my point, and the one episode that kept coming back to me last night was "Metamorphosis." In that episode, the cat was out of the bag. Sam was using his demon powers and Dean was livid. The MOTW story was tightly woven with Sam's predicament. A man was turning into a monster, an eerie parallel with Sam's story. Both stories had ideal symmetry. On top of watching Sam struggle with that, the brothers were having their own issues. There was the intense (and long) scene in the motel room where they both emotionally tried to work through things. Dean was extremely angry and throwing punches while Sam tearfully expressed that he didn't know what else to do since Dean was gone. That wasn't the end of it though. Dean was throwing all sorts of sarcastic remarks about Sam having a monster in him and Sam angrily had Dean pull the Impala over. They exchanged harsh words at the side of the road and hallelujah! I finally got what was going on in Sam's head.
I was DYING to see something like that in "Heartache" when Dean wouldn't stop giving Sam grief about giving up hunting. Sam just absorbed it all and said nothing. Ugh, not again. Is this guy not human? Why can't the brothers talk about that?
Speaking of that, I am truly, utterly sick and tired of brotherly chats just as their gaining momentum being interrupted by a phone call. It happened AGAIN in "Heartache" when Sam was trying to tell Dean he could get along without him. Season seven did this a few times ("Party on Garth" comes to mind) and it's royally pissing me off. At least with "Metamorphosis" a whole lot of intense shit played out before they were interrupted. It's a cop out. It's an excuse for the writers to avoid what is clearly a weakness, character dynamics. Itâ€¦mustâ€¦stopâ€¦now!
I know these brothers aren't the same people compared to back in season four. They've both been to Hell and back, Dean's gone to Purgatory, they've saved the world a few times over, perhaps there's nothing left to be said. The thing is, does that make for good storytelling? So far, it makes for very weak storytelling. I accept there are 19 episodes left and I am not writing off Supernatural season eight by any means, but I've been starving for some truly great character defining stories for a long while now and I'm beginning to fear that the well is dry. I keep digging for hope, remembering last season's "Hello Cruel World" and thinking there is a chance that we'll actually get some real character interaction again, as well as getting richness back to our main characters. When seeing a promo though for a "Paranormal Activity" type episode though, I know it's not happening next week. Sigh.
I've said this before, so much so I'm in broken record territory, but it was the brotherly relationship that initially attracted me to this show. That five minutes in front of the Impala at the end of "All Hell Breaks Loose Part II" was all it took. If I wanted to watch a procedural, I just have to tune into CBS every night. For yet another episode, I can't tell the difference between Supernatural and one of those procedurals. I just feel lucky the first two episodes weren't like that, otherwise this would have been the final straw. I fear that if I'm running out of patience, others might be as well. I'm really, really hoping it's just me.
What do you think about characterization in season 8 so far? Why do you think they're struggling so much with Sam's character?
(Note â€“ Some ground rules on the discussion. I'm stirring up a hornets nest here, I know it, but keep the conversation civil. No insults, putting words into other people's mouths, and please try to avoid repeating the same points over and over again. Otherwise, speak your mind.)