SEASON FINALE: Supernatural 7.23 "Survival of the Fittest" (updated)A tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
I'm having a very hard time putting my feelings for this episode into words. I mean, it did everything it needed to do. It wrapped up most of the open plot threads from the season and laid groundwork for new developments for next year. There were jokes, good and bad. There was violence, poorly staged and nicely done. There was nothing really out of place.
Then why did it all feel so hollow? So pointless? So mishandled?
The last few weeks have been strong, bringing the meandering plotlines together – finally – with a sense of urgency and actual goals to be accomplished. Beginning with 7.20, "The Girl With the Dungeon and Dragons Tattoo," Supernatural seemed to have gotten its swagger back. Finding the Word of God, then introducing the new Prophet, Kevin (Osric Chau), in 7.21, "Reading is Fundamental," was classic Supernatural material. Last week's "There Will Be Blood" brought back the First Vampire and set the stage for an intense and impressive finale.
But then it just sort of fell flat, like it was written by a Supernatural Episode Generator, rather than the actual show runner, Sera Gamble. This entire episode was filled with things that happen not because they make a compelling quality story, but because the plot demanded certain situations to be wrapped up and new ones established by the time the credits rolled.
It was amateurish and a bit of a disgrace.
We had the return of Crowley (Mark Sheppard) and the obligatory "Can We or Can't We Trust Him" moment. This, after a drawn-out joke about the dueling contract negotiations between the King of Hell and the Head of the Leviathans. In the end, however, it also fell flat because there was no payoff. Crowley just cheats Dick (James Patrick Stuart) despite the contract, and we never know how he does it.
That's how the audience is supposed to know and appreciate the trickery. We have to be let in on how the trick is done. But there's no time for that.
He just breaks the contract because that's what the plot demands, regardless of the excuse.
Similarly, with the final confrontation between the boys and Dick, a building that just a couple of episodes ago was practically impenetrable can suddenly be waltzed into, just because Meg (Rachel Miner) distracts four or five Leviathan guards out front.
And did we really watch a huge build-up for the return of the Impala, just to have Meg crash it into a sign? It served no purpose dramatically, instead serving as simple fan service. A distraction from the lack of actual storytelling.
So, with a handful of guards being killed outside, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), along with batshit insane Cas (Misha Collins) – the ONLY bright spot in the episode, I might add – sneak inside. Did they teleport? No, they slip in through a side door.
They have to sneak around in a building teeming with Leviathans and cameras because Dick has replicated himself. Oh, there's still just one Original Fake Dick, but he's set other Leviathans around the building looking like him, and only Cas can tell which one is the Head Dick. But they've got to creep around and let Cas look at each of them to see.
Let's forget for a moment that even though he is charmingly insane, Cas is an angel and has no shortage of his usual angelic powers. He disappears and reappears at will. He travels around the world to slaughter a pig and make the boys ham sandwiches free of the Leviathan's deadly food additives (more on that later), but he can't flit around, find Dick, and then zap the boys right to him?
That I can overlook. It's a textbook attempt to raise the stakes and establish some sort of tension. However, since there seem to be no other Leviathans in the building and all the security cameras are apparently shut off, there's no real sense of danger. It's ultimately just a failure of imagination.
But what about the final confrontation with Dick?
Well, Dean is able to stab him in the chest, first try, because Dick believes that Crowley has betrayed the boys. And because the plot demands that we, the viewers, twist and turn, wondering whether or not it's true right up until the end, the first stabbing doesn't work.
Not because Crowley double-crossed them, but because Dean stabbed Dick with a Fake Holy Bone Weapon. Then he is able to stab Dick in the neck with the Real Holy Bone Weapon and kill the monster.
Think about that for a minute.
Why use the fake one first? If that had been the Real Holy Bone Weapon then Dick would have been just as dead. In fact, his hubris would have been what brought about his own death, because he couldn't believe that Crowley could outsmart him. He didn't even really try to defend himself.
Because the plot demanded a little twist there, we have a Fake Holy Bone Weapon, followed by a stabbing with the Real Holy Bone Weapon.
And then, with no fight, the Big Bad of the season is killed, leaving all of the rest of the Leviathans ON THE PLANET, IN POSITIONS OF POWER IN GOVERNMENT, THE MEDIA, ETC. leaderless and without direction and therefore no longer a real threat.
That's the actual argument. Without Dick leading them, the others are relegated to your typical monster of the week.
Except, as we've seen for the last few weeks, Dick's direction is clear. There are hundreds of minions running around making all of Dick's plans come true. If they can follow a Power Point presentation, they can still turn the planet into a breeding ground for Leviathans. They've already infested the food supply with a High-Fructose Corn Syrup that dulls our minds and fattens us up.
They've just introduced a dairy creamer that kills skinny people, for fuck's sake. It just has to be shipped out.
Sure Crowley has an army of demons ready to kill the Leviathans in this building, but hasn't it been established that they're everywhere and nearly impossible to kill for very long? They've been killing demons and angels with impunity all season, and now suddenly, without a leader, they can be taken down and the threat is over? Hell, before Dick is killed, Meg is able to slaughter them right and left with just a squirt of detergent and a chop to the neck. How is that suddenly possible?
Because it's all about what the plot demands at this moment, not what has been established in previous episodes.
While it wasn't the worst part of the episode, the most disappointing part was the final farewell to Bobby (Jim Beaver). As if killing him earlier in the season wasn't a bad enough move, once the Powers That Be decided to bring him back as a ghost, there couldn't really be any other ultimate ending for him. In Supernatural, ghosts are right fucked, either lingering around and going mad or turning into vengeful spirits that have to be put down once and for all.
All the side trips that Bobby's ghosting forced on the story were for nothing. It was almost as pointless as Sam's bout with and recovery from madness, adding nothing to the story but forced melodrama and a distraction from the main story arc.
And in the end, they simply burn his flask and he flames out. OFF CAMERA. Sure, we get moving shots of the boys' tearful reactions, but Bobby dies for good and we only see the glow from stage right.
He doesn't sacrifice himself to save someone. He doesn't do anything heroic at all. It's a bullshit way to send off the strongest, most interesting supporting character in the show's entire seven seasons. Even those mysterious numbers he died passing on didn't amount to anything. He was so horrified that he died getting the boys the coordinates for where the Leviathans were planning to break ground and build a cancer-research center?
Ridiculous. Just another missed opportunity in a season of missed opportunities. It was like someone came up with an idea about the numbers but didn't know what to do with them, so somebody had to come up with something. Fans wouldn't forget something like that.
But again, we had a failure of imagination.
Speaking of which, I almost forgot. Dean and Cas are in Purgatory now. And Crowley has Meg and the Prophet. Sam's all alone. Again. It wouldn't be a bad way to set up a new season, except that it's all so familiar and frankly, tired, that I just don't care.
The board's been necessarily cleared, regardless of any actual storytelling standards. A new season has been ordered by the suits and is now set up. I'm afraid, though, that the life is all but gone from this show. They've really got to find a way to freshen things up, but given how this season turned out, I don't have a lot of hope. There are only so many times you can rehash the same basic plots before it all just becomes a meaningless cash-grab.
UPDATE: Although when Padalecki and Ackles renewed their contracts after Season Six, it was only for a two year bump, the CW's boss Mark Pedowitz is talking as though the upcoming Season Eight won't be the last. Also, show runner Sara Gamble has stepped down, marking the return of former Executive Story Editor and Co-Producer Jeremy Carver to take over those duties. Carver has recently been serving as show runner for Syfy's surprisingly solid Being Human.
Maybe things are looking up, afterall.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.