Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Diana's Adventures in TV Land: Season's End (Part 2)

Here's an ironic twist for you: while "Veronica Mars" was axed with no fanfare and no proper ending, the season finale of Supernatural could have easily doubled as a series ending, though a third season has been confirmed. Eric Kripke took the preparatory step that Rob Thomas wouldn't; as soon as danger was on the horizon, he designed the two-part episode "All Hell Breaks Loose" to serve primarily as a climax not only to the season but to the entire show, while leaving a thread or two open just in case things worked out (these being the sorts of threads that, if push came to shove, could leave you with a sense of "And their adventures continued" rather than "And then they did this really amazing thing, but you'll never know what it was").

When I reviewed the second-season premiere, I thought it probably should have concluded the first season instead, because you had all these plotlines winding down in the wrong place (the Colt, John's relationships with his sons, Dean's ambivalence towards death). Part of what's so surprising about "All Hell Breaks Loose" is that it doesn't just tie up loose ends from the current season (the Roadhouse, the Crossroads Demon, etc.), it also brings first-season subplots to a head: we finally learn the truth about Sam and the other psychics, the Colt is back in play, the Yellow-Eyed Demon's endgame is revealed, and everything leads up to an intense, explosive showdown, a battle that had been building up over forty-four episodes.

Now, this season wasn't perfect. Overall, I'd say there were two major missteps, the first being Jo and the second being Angst. Jo was initially set up to be a female counterpart to the Winchesters, and a probable love interest for Dean, but unfavorable fan reaction sent her rocketing to the Cornfield. While I was fond of Jo at first (or rather, what she represented - we haven't seen any real huntresses on the level of John or Gordon), I do think Kripke pushed her down our throats a bit too hard, to the point where gagging was the only possible outcome. Add that to the fact that Alona Tal's availability is sketchy at best, and it just wasn't going to work out.

The Angst is a whole other story, and might serve well as a cautionary tale of "be careful what you wish for". One of my criticisms of the first year was that the boys weren't quite three-dimensional enough for my tastes; Sam had some pathos to keep his character arc going, but Dean was flat as a kitchen tile. This season, they overcompensated. There was a lot of crying. A lot. A LOT. And unlike James Purefoy and Polly Walker, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles aren't the caliber of actors who can convey profound emotion convincingly; Padalecki proved as much by acting out a death scene as though he were falling asleep. While looking really bored. I don't know. It was awkward. Kripke did try to balance the Angst out with standard "case" episodes such as "Roadkill" and "Hollywood Babylon", humor episodes like "Tall Tales", and the FBI storyline in "The Usual Suspects", "Nightshifter" and "Folsom Prison Blues". But you just couldn't get away from all the (bad) crying and morose brooding.

On the other hand, the Angst actually had an appropriate cause - John's death, among other things - and more to the point, it served a purpose, that being character development for Dean. Granted, it's the cheap sort of development, where tragedy upon tragedy is piled onto a protagonist until he cracks, but structurally speaking it took him to the precise place he needed to be in the season finale, where he gives everything up for Sam. Sure, devotion to his brother has always been a consistent aspect of his character, but Dean's actions gain a lot more credibility in light of how ground-down and world-weary he's become. That, I think, is what ultimately justifies the overwhelming pathos this season, though it's no less exhausting to go over in full.

As payoff, then, "All Hell Breaks Loose" is more than adequate, and if the season as a whole tilted a bit too far in one direction, it was still consistently entertaining.

What I'd like to see next season: A greater emphasis on folklore would be nice. While "Supernatural" has appropriated and adapted many urban legends, I think they could do more in that department, given the series' backdrop. Obviously, I'd also appreciate a reduction in Angst-related storylines, though the brothers' interaction has been much more solid this season. My hope, in terms of storylines, is that they won't spend too much time on Dean's death curse; it's the sort of thing that could potentially be dragged about for way too long.

Part 3 (last one, promise!) to follow! :)