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14 November 2011 @ 09:32 pm
On Becky, Storytelling and Simplicity  
There’s a lot of wank going around fandom about how SPN 7x08 was a representation of the show’s attitude toward fandom, about how consent issues were exploited or, worse, ignored, and, most notably, how the hell Becky was able to hogtie Sam and drag him all the way to that cabin in the woods with her skinny little muscles. Seriously, did her friend get her a strength potion as well?

So my two cents on this starts from the fandom line and goes in a different direction. Proceed if you dare.



A lot of people feel like Becky is a substitute for the fandom. In Season 5 she was overenthusiastic, goofy, but nonetheless kind of loveable. When she arrived in Season 7 we barely recognized her, because she’d gone from someone we were somewhat proud (and somewhat embarrassed) to be identified with, to someone we didn’t like at all, someone who was manhandling and abusing our Sam and forcing him to do things against his will. Is this how the writers see us? we wondered. From the slightly teasing appreciation of Season 5, the fandom is now akin to a rapist, demanding we get our way because we have no life outside of our unreasonable love for the characters?

No way, said others. Becky isn’t an avatar for the fandom, she’s an avatar for the showrunners and writers themselves. They’re the ones who are lugging Sam and Dean this way and that, trying to force them into a box that they don’t naturally belong in. Eliminating rivals for their affection and looking down on those who would call them on their abusive behavior or, in their eyes, have the temerity to dictate what should happen to this show that the writers have created from the word go, the show that’s always been theirs and no one else’s, no matter how many fans it has!

Which is it? Who knows. What’s clear is that Sam is representative of the show as a whole. In that he’s too big to get dragged into a cabin in the woods without a serious suspension of disbelief. You gotta get him to go of his own volition, or things will just get messy.

Now, I was talking to my husband the other day about the Matrix trilogy. There was a simplicity to the storyline in the first movie, I said, that was not duplicated in the subsequent two. An ability to encapsulate the plot in a single sentence, to take all the diverse parts of it and tie them directly to the main point, so that they feel like natural limbs of the discourse instead of like embellishments.

“The human reality is in fact a Matrix created by robot overlords, but there exists one man who can free humanity.”

Everything else – red pills and blue pills, kung fu and lots of guns, oracles and phone calls – fed into that Story of the One. Not so in the sequels, when nonsense about programs and Mantowhatevers and Architects and all kinds of complications intervene in an effort to make the plot more layered but instead just make it more difficult to follow.

I would argue that all good storytelling needs to be like that first Matrix movie: layers and dimensions all feed into that one main line. Everything is the Story of the One.

That’s how Supernatural was during its first five years. Details notwithstanding, one thing that’s undeniable is that the whole series was always moving toward that one, defined endpoint:

“Sam and Dean’s love for each other averts the apocalypse.”

Everything that happened worked toward that goal. And the major plot points were simple and directly tied to it.

The search for Dad led to the hunt for the demon. Which intersected with Sam’s awakening powers in “All Hell Breaks Loose” and led to Dean’s deal and the opening of the Devil’s Gate. Which led to demons gathering strength and Dean’s death, which led to his resurrection, the reappearance of angels and, contemporaneously, Sam’s corruption. All of which brought Lucifer to Earth and brought on the final storyline: Dean and Sam are the vessels; now, are they able to overcome the trials and fights and misunderstandings and trust each other enough to win in the final fight?

Five seasons, in one paragraph. Simple, straight lines all being drawn inward toward a single endpoint. Each on-ramp was heading to the same highway in the end

Simplicity. “Two human brothers love each other so much that they protect the earth.”

Season six had a tough act to follow in that it had to start from a beginning instead of working toward an ending. To some extent, though, I would argue that Castiel’s corruption was the endpoint. (Yeah, that’s right… the whole point of Season 6 was to kill Castiel.) But even so, there were too many strands of plot, too many lines that veered off course or faded away. Sam’s soullessness, Dean’s family life, the re-emergence of the Campbells. The Alphas. The Mother (of all McGuffins). Too much was going on that never added up neatly. It felt like beginnings in search of an ending, and nothing about it was simple enough to sum up in a sentence.

Now we have season seven, and the theme, we’re told, is a return to the boys working together against a Big Bad, like the old days. Only, even the old days had a purpose, an end point. And again, we have threads that I don’t see how they can be woven. In fact, some of them are running against each other’s grain.

Dean’s guilty about Amy. But he’s also hardened. But he also doesn’t trust anyone. But he’s also “the old Dean” again. But he’s also losing his identity because he doesn’t need to take care of Sam anymore. But he does, because Sam is crazy.

But Sam’s not crazy. Sam’s feeling good. Sam’s a grown man and doesn’t need Dean anymore. Except Sam’s wall is still down and he’s still seeing Offscreen Pellegrino. Except he is mad at Dean for lying to him. Except he gets it. Except he doesn’t.

Meanwhile, God is dead. And Heaven isn’t involved. But Crowley still is. And the Leviathans are the big bad. Except they’re not. And by the way, Frank and Garth are brand new characters we should love. And there’s a CIA director involved. And Bobby and Jody are getting together, maybe. And Bobby’s past is coming back. And we may still someday see Castiel.

What’s the endpoint? Where’s the simplicity? Where’s the elevator pitch?

It’s as though they decided to throw everyone’s ideas in a basket and try to do them one by one. I feel like I need to stand to the side like Tim Gunn and suggest some editing might be in order. People are complex, but story arcs are simple. If they’re not, you’re doing something wrong. You can’t have on-ramps that don’t land on the same highway.

And to pull this all in to Becky again: if you’re working with the Sam you’ve got, you’re gonna have no problem taking him out to that cabin in the woods. Once you try to warp him and hog-tie him, that’s when you have to do a lot of heavy lifting. Becky’s what’s wrong with this show right now, and once she lets go and lets the man tell his own stories, she’s gonna be a lot more likeable.

EDIT: A bonus piece of meta from a discussion with harper47: So should the show have just ended at Season 5? I don't think so. I think that the idea of the unexpected post-Apocalypse world opens up lots of opportunities and there are still compelling stories left to tell... if you can let your characters tell them. And yeah, this is going to have to do with Castiel.

Because Castiel is the potential for the show after Season 5. He's the unexpected element that worked better than anyone thought he would, he's the life and heart that nobody thought would survive. It's destiny that the apocalypse would happen; it's destiny that SPN would always boil down to just Sam and Dean. But the show subverted destiny. Knowingly. And for it to try and stuff the character that is the embodiment of SPN's unexpected appeal and longevity -- well, it sort of puts the showrunners in Raphael's shoes, doesn't it? No, I don't care what the show has evolved into. We must go back to the prescribed destiny decided long ago.

It's just a shame they can't see that.

Thanks harper47 for the insight <3
 
 
 
Melaniemelalucci on November 16th, 2011 04:32 am (UTC)
I'm with you, although I'm still watching.