Supernatural Episode 7.11 Review: Smile, Though Your Heart is Aching
I'm generally pretty easygoing about Supernatural. I love the show no matter what and I didn't even hate that wedding episode as much as most people did, but I don't like the fact that Bobby is dead (we'll talk about the ghost part in a bit). And it's not just because I like both the character and Jim Beaver (which I do).
Supernatural wants to take away all of Sam and Dean's resources this year. Fine. They destroyed the haven of Bobby's house. They also lost the only real home they've ever known: the Impala. They got rid of their angel helper. And then they killed the only major secondary character left on the show. And for what? So Sam and Dean can lose everything and keep on fighting? But WHY are they fighting? What do Sam and Dean have left to fight FOR?! In the beginning, they were fighting for their parents and, more specifically, to find their father. And they've always fought for each other. In this episode, Frank told Dean he should quit, but Dean said that there was no way he could walk away from his brother. While I believe that the brothers undeniably love each other and would die for each other, I don't think soldiering on for the other brother is enough of a reason anymore.
If they have nothing left but each other and, subsequently, we as an audience have nothing left, then what's the point? Dean is so depressed and he is struggling to find a reason to keep going. We know this, not only because we were told that it would be his struggle this year, but also because we've seen how despondent he is (and not just about lying to Sam). All of this is clearly displayed in his words and deeds. In episode 7.09 he even said he didn't understand why they were trying to save the world anymore. He's not wrong. They beat the devil, for god sakes, and something else evil just popped up instead.
So what is the point? Well, Frank tried to explain it with his own story of woe: they fight because they must and because it's their job, no matter how they got into it. But I disagree. Hunting is not like someone saying 'I'm a garbage man because someone's gotta do it.'Being a garbage man generally isn't going to get you eaten by monsters. What's the point of Sam and Dean continuing to fight when Sam is maybe/possibly a basket-case who has hallucinations of the devil and Dean has lost everyone he's ever loved (except his brother)? In the end, Dean tried to take Frank's advice and soldier on with a smile. But there was something remiss about it. You could see the sadness in his eyes.
I want to make it clear, I do not hate Supernatural. In fact, I liked this episode a lot. I can still love a show but question story arcs within it. I am disappointed in the fact that Bobby had to die. And I really don't like the fact that he's very likely a ghost. If they're going to have him around after his death, then he should be fully resurrected. Otherwise, what's the point?
I need this show to give me one tiny shred of hope on this particular matter. I don't like tragic endings. Especially not with all the tragedy that Supernatural contains. I'm not saying Sam and Dean need to retire to the suburbs with a white picket fence and some dogs, but I need to understand why they bother to get out of bed every single day and face the world. Revenge for what happened to Bobby is all well and good, but what happens when Dean achieves that? After the adrenaline and drive of revenge has dissipated, what's left? And how many times can you save the world before enough is enough? Remember Sam asking if there's a chance of them winning the war someday back in 'Criss Angel is a Douchebag'? Dean's response was 'Well, the problem with the snake is that it has a thousand heads. Evil bitches just keep piling out of the Volkswagen.'Supernatural has proven that the snake has a hundred thousand heads, in fact. What do the fighters have?
Bobby was one of the last few personal reasons that they continued to fight. And now he's gone.
Supernatural can be an example of a 'hero's journey'(even a modified one), as my editor and I discussed when we learned of Bobby's death. Bobby's death could fit in with a hero's journey because, along the way, they often lose the people important to them, or their mentors are humbled and unable to assist in the big fight. In a 'hero's journey', it is also generally the cause that transcends everything.
In other words, a hero fights because he must...because it is his duty. In many respects, the duty transcends personal relationships. So relationships, while important - particularly in Supernatural - would still not be as important as the cause. And, my editor argued, 'It's not that the relationships don't matter, it's just that the bowling ball is rolling'. In other words, hunting and fighting the good fight is the only thing the Winchesters really know (which I agree with), the events are in motion and it's kind of impossible to stop them. In episode 7.09 Bobby tried to make this point when he said that this was really the only life that Dean knew so he should find a reason. Frank also tried to make this point when he basically told Dean to suck it up, smile, and be a professional.
However, I believe that relationships transcend the cause in Supernatural and without them there is no reason. After all, it was because of his relationship to Mary that John got involved in this life in the first place. It was because of their relationship with their father (and their mother) that Sam and Dean took up the mantle to fight. Later, it was because of their love for each other that Sam and Dean made most of the choices that they did. Don't mistake me, I believe the boys fight the good fight for the reasons that Dean said all the way back in season 1: 'saving people'. But you'll recall the full quote containing that line: 'I think Dad wants us to pick up where he left off: saving people, hunting things. The family business.'That's right, folks, 'the family business.'In other words, the job performed by members of their family not only for other people, but because of a shared goal as a family. Now, one could argue that the show has grown beyond the narrow scope of season 1, and that's absolutely true. But it doesn't diminish the importance of relationships. In fact, in tonight's episode Dean agreed with Lee and said they too got into this business because of family.
You could argue that technically they got into this business because of a desire for revenge against the demon who killed Mary. Once they achieved that revenge, they still found a purpose in it. But I would argue that relationships were still the driving force between their decisions and their reason to soldier on. It's not that Sam and Dean don't care about saving the world, it's just that they can't JUST care about saving the world.
There have been many times in their journey that the boys could - and should - have made different choices if they were really devoted to the cause above their relationships. If that were the case, Dean really should have let Sam die at the end of season 2. After all, Sam could have become one of Azazel's evil children if he lived. Arguably, Dean was more important to the good fight at that time then Sam had been. But Dean selfishly chose to bring his brother back to life rather than make the smart - and objective - hero's choice. Of course, permanently killing Sam that early in the show would have killed the show itself, so that's why Sam couldn't die. But I still think relationship motivations can be assigned to the choices the boys have made.
One could argue that Sam's decision to go to Hell at the end of season 5 was more about the cause and less about relationships, but I don't necessarily see it like that. Yes, I absolutely believe that Sam's actions were noble and heroic. But I also think there's something to be said that his decision had been motivated by external factors: both guilt and love. Guilt because he believed he was (partly) responsible for unleashing Lucifer on the world. And love for his brother. Sam was trying to atone for his actions against both the world and Dean - actions that occurred primarily in seasons 3 and 4. He wanted to be the only Winchester to die so that Dean didn't have to sacrifice himself to Michael and the brothers didn't have to destroy one another. He made a point to have Dean promise to go off and live a normal life because he thought that was what his brother wanted and he believed that is what Dean deserved.
Yes, the Winchesters are undoubtedly heroes. But more than many other heroes - lone figures who fight for the cause - the Winchesters have always been defined by their relationships, primarily with each other, but also with a select group of people that have become important to them along the way. They find meaning in them and their relationships are the one stable thing in an otherwise unstable life (or, at least, we hope they are). It's not a coincidence how much value Dean has placed on the idea of family since the pilot episode. We know without a doubt that being a hunter is really the only thing they can do with their lives after all they've done and I'm not disputing that. There is no escaping this life for the brothers. But that doesn't really give them a reason to choose hunting over offing themselves or giving up (seeing as retirement isn't even an option anymore). The whole 'be a professional'thing just doesn't cut it.
So what does that mean for Supernatural? Well, my rant is over, for one thing. Here's the truth: I actually believe Bobby will eventually return and I sincerely hope that it's as a fully resurrected person and not as a ghost. But I am both saddened and disappointed about his death. I think I would have been less upset if Castiel had also not disappeared at the beginning of this season. Now the Winchesters have lost the two most important people left in their lives. Like I said, they need another reason to fight.
Please, Supernatural writers, show me that reason. There's still a tiny spark of hope in me and I don't want it to be snuffed out. There is a purpose to be found here again that previously existed, I just know it. And I believe it can be delivered.
A new episode of Supernatural will be airing next week on January 13. Dean travels back in time to the 1940s and teams up with famed G-man Eliot Ness. It's going to be awesome. View a preview for the episode here.
(I know there are going to be other people out there who may want to discuss the Winchesters'relationships, their commitment to the cause and their reasons for fighting. You may very well have a better argument than me, so let's talk it out in the comments if you'd like.)