I always take a cautious approach to any script that has Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner as the writers.  My expectations are lower, as are my standards.  What you get from these two is fairly basic stuff, and it’s always considered a good outing when they don’t butcher canon into a thousand bits and produce a relatively acceptable story.  Yes, when using those guidelines, “The Hunter Games” was a success.  There were some good moments in the mix there.  Still, even with the lowered standards, it's not an episode to write home about.

Overall, I liked what I saw. The whole saga with Metatron was pure gold and I so wish it had dominated more of the hour.  Why oh why wasn't it the whole hour?  By placing less emphasis on that story, it kind of ruined the urgency and the impact of what Sam, Dean, and Castiel were trying to do.  But still, it was a pretty ballsy plan.  When there is no tablet (anyone remember who has the demon tablet these days?) the scribe of God is the only answer.  Ross-Leming and Buckner wrote some great dialogue for Metatron and this is the Metatron I love to see; the evil, diabolical, scheming little prick and not the buffoon he was made to be last season in several episodes.  Every scene with Castiel, Sam and Dean interacting with Metatron was a huge treat.  Unhinged Dean, getting his chance for payback over Metatron killing him, let's just say I was happier than a pig in shoes (S6 reference!).  Angry Sam, just whoa!  Even Castiel's bitterness was enjoyable, even if he needs to come up with better comebacks.  

But then, the rest of it happened.  I get what the theme is this season.  Family.  There’s Sam and Dean facing their very scary situation, Crowley is dealing with mama issues and even Castiel has had a couple of family dramas of his own.  I do accept that people like watching these sort of character dramas.  I do too.  BUT, I’m rather accustomed to these issues being secondary to an actual plot.  There's still no plot here.  There’s nothing driving a big arc this season in some big direction toward a climactic goal, just the aimless happening of unconnected events.  Without a driving plot, the drama loses so much of it's meaning.  Suddenly, the show I once loved for it's bold storytelling has grown boring.  When there are many non-boring options on The CW (like the hour before it), "Supernatural" has a big problem. 

I do hold a couple of exceptions though to that last statement, for there were some scenes that got to me.  First was remorseful Dean in the bunker declaring to Sam and Castiel that the Mark had to go.  Second was the heartfelt chat that Sam had with Dean after the whole Metatron thing went sideways.  Sam’s sincere belief that Dean could live with the MOC, just like Cain did all those years, was a testament to the true backbone of the show, the brotherly relationship.  Little brother always has and always will believe in big brother.  Sam has that much faith in Dean, even though Dean lacks that faith himself.  It was sweet, refreshing, and was sadly wedged into the story before and after some very awkward, unnecessary scenes. 

I've read a lot of complaints, especially on this site, that Sam doesn't have a plot this season.  No, he doesn't, but honestly neither does anyone else.  The lack of character development and utilizing the strengths of the four actors at their disposal is pretty perplexing.  Other than wishing Sam had a better story (or even a story), I loved him in this episode.  He was strong, loyal, and while clearly bothered by Dean's behavior (yes, calm Dean is a flashing neon sign of trouble), he didn't let that loyalty waiver.  He's become the rock, the solid center, and I do love this new role for him.  

Dean is clearly distracted by his situation.  The question Sam asked was fair, should Dean instead be trying to control the impulses the MOC gives him rather than trying to get rid of it?  Can he learn to live with it just like Cain?  I do wonder if Dean has ever deeply considered having to carry with the MOC for the rest of his life (and beyond as he now knows).  It's an interesting parallel to Sam resisting the demon blood inside him all those years.  Dean always thought deep down that Sam's demon blood didn't make him normal, so I'm wondering if Dean doesn't feel very normal himself now.  Perhaps that's the reason why he doesn't want to live with it, because he doesn't want to be a freak like Sammy was all those years.  For Sam, having to live with the demon blood and overcoming it, the idea is a lot more acceptable.   

On the b-side of the episode, Rowena is not winning me over.  Her scheming is way too obvious and it does make you wonder why Crowley hasn’t skewered her by now.  The writers have gone out of their way to make Crowley look very dumb, even though I’m still clinging to the belief that he isn’t buying any of this and is playing along.  The question is, how did Rowena even get there?  How is she still alive and why did she suddenly resurface?  Shouldn't we be getting some of those clues and solving those kind of mysteries along the way rather than seeing a bunch of time wasting antics when Metatron is in the &@$! dungeon?  Again, it's missing plot, and it's a wasted opportunity.  

But out of all the “time wasting” crimes, nothing was absolutely worse than the whole Claire debacle.  What the hell was that?  Oh, poor wounded teenager is suddenly bonding with a couple of derelicts in a pool hall because Castiel is scum.   Geez, could they make her any dumber?   Having a powerful angel on your side can be advantageous chickadee.  When you’re rooting for a character to meet an early and very bloody demise more than actually connecting with her, something is very, very wrong.  More importantly, those derelicts seriously thought they could take on Dean Winchester?  That confrontation scene BTW, even thought the intent was to show that Dean was taking Sam’s words to heart and him choosing not to kill these losers, was the lamest damn thing I’d seen on this show ever.  Honestly, the lamest.  There were so many better ways to make that point.  So many.  It’s just plain lazy.   I suspect that Brad and Eugenie were saddled with a way to wrap up the whole dumb mess they inherited from Andrew Dabb (who’s clearly out of ideas) and took the very easy way out.  I hope that Claire is gone for good, even though revisiting her saga looked good on paper.  Too bad the execution sucked. 

"The Hunter Games" exposed a glaring weakness with season ten, and this isn’t just a Brad and Eugenie problem.  The writing really struggles with juggling multiple story lines.  The Crowley/Rowena storyline slowly progressed and then just fizzled without any mention in the closing act, the Castiel/Claire story was a choppy mess that was unnecessarily shoved between a very intense main situation, and the main story, the most compelling part of the entire hour, suffered greatly because of the inability to juggle three stories.  This is becoming a broken record complaint from me, but that doesn’t stop the fact that it still remains a glaring problem.  You don’t have to look at only past “Supernatural” seasons to see how this has been done better.  Just watch another current CW show.  They all seem to know what to do with their ensembles. 

That could be the issue though.  SPN has never been an ensemble show, and making it one (out of necessity to give Jared and Jensen some time off) seems to be a very ill-conceived idea.  Either that or SPN just doesn’t have the talent in the writer’s room to pull such a switch.  The most common complaint I hear is there’s not enough Sam and Dean.  If we’re noticing there's less Sam and Dean, then the writers aren’t delivering stories correctly.  Slowing down the pacing has been a colossal error in strategy.  That slowness has only exposed the weaknesses.  All I’ve been doing during these episodes is watching the clock, wondering how much longer I have to wait before something actually happens.  In “The Hunter Games,” that was finally achieved when Castiel blew through those doors with his angel mojo. Most casual viewers (it was after all the State of the Union) would have turned off the TV before then.  

My issue is just plain construction.  I like a fluid story.  I like individual stories that perfectly intertwine and I really love it when they all come together in the end to something meaningful.  That’s my thing.  I know that many others out there like the individual stories, focusing more on the personal elements than an overall mytharc.  These type of stories are very, very common in fan fiction.  Those are the happy “Supernatural” fans.  I’m not knocking the likes or dislikes of fans.  I’m just saying that for me personally, it’s because “Supernatural” went for something different and went away from the regular formula of other TV shows that I fell in love with it.  It captured my attention and imagination.  That’s exactly why the new creative direction isn’t sitting well with me at all.  "Supernatural" has lost it's unique edge.    

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Of course, there are times when I’m willing to put aside overall issues for those tiny little gems, like Sam’s wet hair in the rain.  Yes, they still do know how to get through to even the most disgruntled fan.  They certainly know me!  I also LOVED the VFX of Castiel going all nuclear angel and obliterating the dungeon door.  That was pretty badass and got me smiling.  It reminds us that Castiel is an actual warrior angel, doesn’t it?  Of course it’s hard to remember all that when he’s sitting in the MOL control room being all jovial about texting teenagers (ugh, way to diminish a popular character).  The dumbing down in the writing it probably the one thing I find most upsetting of "Supernatural's" new direction.  I love smart shows.  However, all I need to do is play that Castiel door explosion thing again and again or keep a screencap of Sam's wet hair on my laptop and character assassinations will be wiped from my mind (for now, until it happens again next week). 

Overall I give “The Hunter Games” a C, which ends up being a vast improvement over it’s predecessor, “Things We Left Behind.”  Still, I’m holding out hope that this show aims higher.  We’ve got another season to endure after this one, and plots usually prove to be entertaining in sci-fi dramas.  Here’s to hoping “Supernatural” gets one soon.