As probably expected, my review of episode 11.21, “All in the Family” is less glowing than that of my counterpart, Nightsky.  There are two ways to view “All In The Family.”  You can turn your mind off and go with what you were given, or you can go in with thematic expectations, given the title and what we got from last week’s brilliant script, and build from there.  If you’re in group A, you’re happy.  If you’re in group B, then you’re likely feeling some real disappointment.  Sorry, but given my critical nature when viewing these episodes, I’m in group B.  It isn’t that the episode was horrible, but I tend to dig into episodes searching for a little more than just a set of events.  Behind all the flash of this episode, there was very little substance underneath.     

I know, I do have a tendency to dislike any scripts written by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming.  Accusations of bias are fair, but my beef with them always rides back to the same criticism.  More is supposed to happen in a story then just stringing together a bunch of “bam” here and “pow” there.  Their style is very reminiscent of the way TV used to be in the 1980’s (possible since they started writing in the 70’s).  Remember shows like "The A-Team?"  Character bravado which hid real personality, a bunch of cute lines, a few explosions here and there, and a cheesy ending.  Plotting was often flimsy and character dynamics were superficial.  Pacing wasn’t even considered.  Given the low budget aspects of TV, a snails pace was considered fast. 

As TV writing has improved through the years we’ve grown to expect complexities in story building, aka clever parallels, interesting dialogue, hidden meanings, proper flow from one scene to another, conversations that actually go somewhere, themes that carry on consistently through the whole episode, not to mention main character growth.  My expectations are not just limited to these two writers.   Many other SPN writers have struggled as well, and I blame the weekly cycles of TV and the impossible task of putting together 23 quality episodes in a short amount of time.  But by episode 21 in the season I expect better and this episode fell short.  That’s why I’m looking at this one with more scrutiny. 

The Good Stuff

I’ll offer this consolation, the episode didn’t suck.  It was actually one of the better efforts from Brad and Eugenie.  I’m stunned that the appearance of Kevin, even though very random, was so satisfying.  His resolution was long overdue, that’s for sure.  As awkward as that whole cameo was, I do applaud that Kevin’s plight was actually dealt with before moving onto the next prophet.  The fact that Brad and Eugenie even thought about that piece of continuity impresses the hell out of me.  Enjoy Heaven Kevin, even though you were the perkiest damn ghost I’ve ever seen.  Welcome to the Chuck fan club!

I also LOVE the new prophet.  Great choice in picking the atheist Donatello Redfield as the new wise one.  He doesn’t believe in angels but can spout Enochian like it was his native tongue. No wonder he freaked himself out.   I’m still trying to figure out this whole names of the prophets thing.  Angels know it, was this guy added recently?  He wasn't mentioned before.  I know all the rules are changing in Heaven anyway, so I’ll let that nitpick pass.  The only problem I had with Donatello’s story was why was he taking a cab back to Oklahoma?  Shouldn’t Chuck have zapped him back there?   

I really loved though the portrayal of Chuck in this episode.  God is the quintessential laid back slob! Rather than deal with the end of the world he goes for the long showers, the Men of Letters bathrobe, Chinese food and curling!  He’s also disgusted by the fact that Dean actually has too much porn.  My, my Dean, you have taken a disturbing turn if Chuck thinks you’re that way.  I just love that God is hanging out in the bunker like its another day at the beach.  Throw in a rescue of the Impala and its occupants here and there and he’s carrying his weight.  Speaking of which, did anyone see where the Impala landed in that garage?  It was wedged between two poles.  That’s not a tiny car they’ll be trying to get out of there.  Looks like they’re going to need Chuck’s services again. 

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Thanks to Donatello and Chuck, we also got one of the best pieces of dialogue all season long:

Donatello: I-I-I guess you know that I was an atheist, until ten minutes ago. Is that an issue?
Chuck: Not from me. I mean, I believe in me, but your skepticism is to be expected. I did include free will in the kit.

Breaking Down the Fundamentals

“All in the Family," despite some fun bits, was structurally a mess.  It was a bunch of random events that just didn’t flow together well or come with any well constructed underlying parallels.  I do understand that following Robbie Thompson’s masterpiece was last week was a bit of a chore, but the setup was there.  Run with it!  Family is the theme, so why weren’t there more discussions between Sam and Dean about faith and/or the amulet?  A speech from Sam about why he held onto the amulet all this time would have been superb!  Perhaps their issues could have run in parallel between the drama of Chuck/God and Lucifer, which was also not well defined.  God gave a throw away comment about Lucifer in the beginning, and then they exchanged a weird glance at the end.  Yeah, um, great tension building there. 

Brad and Eugenie like to have talky scenes in their episodes.  This was an episode where talky scenes were definitely warranted.  The problem is, nothing of relevance was said.  I do appreciate that we got a scene very early on with Dean coming to Chuck/God with questions like “Why?” and “WHY??”  Dean has throughout the series had the hardest time reconciling the existence of God and naturally he didn’t take finding out about Chuck very well.  Well, for five minutes anyway.  He gets shut down by Chuck with a out of place line about Dean confusing him with John Winchester then it was all “oh, there’s something strange in Oklahoma” and all was forgotten. 

Worst of all, we didn’t get much about Sam’s faith other than an implied “Atta boy” from Chuck and absolutely NO mention of the amulet.  Um, wasn’t that just as important as finding out about Chuck?  Does anyone remember that Sam’s faith was actually a plot point earlier this season?  No?  Sam who?  Yeah, okay, moving on I guess. 

I found there were some inconsistencies with Metatron as well.  Last week we were left with that crushed look on his face when he read the final pages of God’s autobiography.  That emotionally powerful, kick you in the gut sort of moment.  I expected more from him this week, like a sense of emotional devastation or urgency.  I get that he would call Sam and Dean, but all he did was tell them that the manuscript read more like a suicide note.  He was just going through the motions.  What was the motivation behind his act of self sacrifice?  Was he doing it because that was what was in the pages, or because he truly was trying to change the outcome?  Where was the passionate plea to save his bestie?  We needed more and that lack of understanding killed the whole momentum of the redemption arc started last week. 

Then there’s Amara, whose actions have been perplexing all season long.  She suddenly wants to talk to Dean?  So she can come onto him?  Every moment between them was clunky and not very appealing.  I don’t feel the magnetism and the dialogue was just plain silly.   Their meeting was just hurried plot exposition to get her to find out that Dean had been talking to Chuck and man was it weak and contrived.  Not to mention, who in the world thought torturing Lucifer was a bad thing?  Why did he have to be rescued?  Chuck himself said that Lucifer belonged in the cage.  Oh right, because he’s wearing Castiel.  Chuck has rescued Castiel tons of times through the series.  He even admitted it.  Why can’t he step in this time?  If not, we all do remember that CASTIEL CHOSE THIS!

Then there’s the obvious, sensationalized plotting that didn’t add up.  Why was the plan to find Lucifer so that they could take him to God and find out where Amara is?  Couldn’t they have stopped there with Amara visiting Dean?  How did Sam, Donatello and Metatron even find Lucifer?  Because Metatron suddenly found a way?  A way God didn’t know about even though he dictated the angel tablet that Metatron transcribed?  Because of the lack of proper plotting and build up, I’m spending more time lost in the setup of why this rescue even happened rather than enjoying it.  There was nothing driving the plot logically from point A to point B.  Once again, it was a random set of events with no fluidity in between. 

11

The Red Headed Monster

Ha, you thought that was the monster talking in the previous section?  No, that was the rational critic.  Here’s what the monster thinks.  I demand that Supernatural writers read the previous scripts before constructing their own.  This is a problem that has plagued "Supernatural" its entire existence but man has it gotten worse in these later seasons.  I cannot stand how a writer is given so much with a preceeding boffo script and then does little to nothing with it, deciding their own sensationalized story shouldn’t blend with what happened before.   In this case, Brad and Eugenie were given the task of carrying on the God conversation that started with Chuck’s “We need to talk.”  They took a few minutes to grapple what was a pretty heavy conversation and it applied to only one brother.  They ended it with Chuck chastising Dean for confusing him with John?  What? 

No, I can think of countless examples where writers just don’t play nice with others, and strangely the biggest offender through the years hasn’t been Brad and Eugenie, but Andrew Dabb.  Remember that amazing ending Ben Edlund passed on from “Hello Cruel World?”  We got the crappy and very flawed “The Girl Next Door.”  Or how about “The Great Escapist?”  The next script by Dabb was atrocious and they turned Metatron evil?   I’m also FURIOUS that they still to this day haven’t addressed the issue of Sam being purified by the trials.  It’s if Edlund put that in there and everyone else decided it wasn’t worth their time.  Why?  Sam’s demon blood only dominated the first five seasons. 

It’s because of this lazy plotting that they are suddenly having to address all these dangling plot threads like Kevin.  It’s all due to lack of congruency in the writing all these years.  This week “All in the Family” just managed to highlight how glaring that weakness has been.   I would normally question why this is even happening, but I'm just thrilled in a way it finally is. 

Overall grade, a C.  Let's just hope that the two strongest writers left on the team (I miss you Robbie), Robert Berens and Andrew Dabb, do the next two episodes justice.  Hell, I'll be happy if they just compare notes.