In the twenty-second and final episode of the fifth season of Supernatural, Sam and Dean make their choices. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
Trigger Warning: For mention of suicide and brief line about ableism.
Remember when I was going to watch just a single season of this show?
I try not go come into projects in the Mark Does Stuff world with many preconceived notions about what I’m going to experience. That was a little big harder with Supernatural because of the issues I discussed in the review for “Pilot.” I had a negative fan interaction, and then a ton of people decided to try to bias my eventual thoughts on the show because… well, no need to get into that. The point is that I came to Supernatural with more knowledge of what I was going to watch than is normal. Mark Watches is rooted in my experience with Twilight over 5 years ago. (The 5 year anniversary of Mark Does Stuff was August 5!) So I was actually pretty excited to get back to the core point of this site: I want to find out why people like things. Why is this show’s fandom so huge? Why has the show lasted ten seasons so far? Why do people say I’ll like it and hate it at the same time? Who is that gay angel everyone is obsessed with?
Of course, for many years, I only said I’d watch the first season of this show, and then I’d make a decision of whether or not to continue watching. But I did concede to submit myself to this entire nightmare once I thought about the challenge it might present. What if I really didn’t like it? What if the people who were convinced I’d despise it turned out to be correct? Could I still write about it?
I hope that I’ve done a decent job of explaining my thoughts about this goddamn show over the last ten months. It was a sleeper for me, one of those shows that surprised me the more it grew on me and the more it took risks with its own narrative and mythology. I had to suffer through garbage like “Bugs” and “Route 666” in order to find the fondness that was the season one finale. And as the show pulled back the curtain on all the reasons for Winchester angst, I began to see what was so compelling about this show about a goober and a moose driving around the United States, ignoring every horror movie warning trope and dying. Again. And again. And again. I began to find ways to relate to the unending and fatherly emotional baggage. I found MISTY-EYED BOY TALK. And I found a show that was willing to take its characters to increasingly impossible places in order to entertain us.
It is by no means a flawless show, and I want to think I’ve tried to engage with some of the more ridiculous habits this show has. Hell, there’s one of them in this very finale: the reliance on keeping certain characters “safe” from death. NOT THAT I WANT A SHOW WITHOUT BOBBY OR CAS. But all of the currently “safe” characters on Supernatural are straight white men. Sure, they die, they suffer, they’re constant punching bags for the writers, but they don’t disappear from the narrative. They’re still here, resurrected or brought back in some form, while nearly all of the supporting cast aside from them stays underdeveloped or developed at the last minute and killed off. (There’s also the magical healing of a disabled character! Lord, can the entire world drop this horrible trope?)
“Swan Song,” which I now know was Kripke’s final episode as showrunner, causes us to look back on this show, and it made me realize that I’ve been remiss in comparing this season to season five of Buffy, which has a number of unintentional parallels to what I just experienced here. IT REALLY DOES. But I wanted to devote a significant portion of this review to looking back on the experience of Mark Watches Supernatural because this unending emotional nightmare might just be the biggest surprise in the history of this project. Because I go into things so wholly ignorant, I can’t speak to having my mind changed. Going from neutrality or nothing to anything doesn’t feel like much of a change. But I worried about what I’d think of Supernatural. I was worried that the fandom wouldn’t enjoy my style of analyzing fiction and television. Shit, I was worried about the fandom in general since a lot of moderators had witnessed nonsense over the years. (Reminder that the most upvoted comment on the first review is a mod begging everyone not to be jerks. YOU DID IT. You had one job, and you did it.)
The content of this show has surprised and impressed me, and the conduct of the fandom here has surprised and impressed me. And the sheer fun I’ve had doing this project is the best part of it all. For no other show do folks liveblog my own videos back to me on Twitter. (There are a handful of folks who all don’t even know each other who do this, and I adore them. It’s so flattering and fun!) I love that people compare me to Sam every time I roll my eyes at Dean being a manchild. I love that there are people who have compiled gifsets of me squealing at Dean and squishing my face because I can’t deal with his princess face. Not since Harry Potter has a fandom arrived in my life and held their arms wide for me like the Supernatural fandom. (I suspect that the last three months of exponential growth is also due to the great summer hiatus of 2014.) It’s astonishing to me how many of you there are and how much joy y’all are to have in my life. And seriously, I’m just barely reaching the halfway point of this show, counting season 10. THERE’S STILL SO MUCH MORE OF IT.
Thank you, Supernatural. This has been a ridiculous ride and I have cussed you out a lot, and I hope my eternal hatred for what you’ve done to me never ends.
So, I don’t want to ignore EVERYTHING ELSE GOING ON HERE. “Swan Song” is Kripke’s final major work on this show (as far as I know), so it’s clear he went out in the biggest way possible. Let’s discuss the ways in which this is ruining my everything and probably will for a long time.
The Framing Device
Even without the final mysterious reveal, the use of Chuck here is a poetic way for Kripke to have us focus on the bigger picture. I know that Chuck has insisted his writing is pretty shitty and that the Supernatural books aren’t very good, but I loved Chuck’s narration here. That’s some pretty good writing. And it does what a television show often has a difficult time doing: it provides an outside voice. In this case, Chuck is technically that voice, and he sets up the emotional and plot importance of the Impala, which represents a constant in Dean and Sam’s life. That constant is what later triggers the real Sam and allows him to fight successfully against Lucifer. Without this storytelling device, would “Swan Song” even feel like it does? I’d argue that it’s a vital part of this episode and that without it, you’d have a much different experience.
Pulling the Rug
Given that this season has so faithfully foreshadowed a number of things about the end, I had to wonder how the writers were going to pull this off. Sam was predicted to give in to Lucifer in Detroit, Castiel was predicted to become an alcoholic mortal, and it was clear these things were happening. And just a few minutes into this episode, we’re outside the very building Lucifer is in, there’s over a half hour left here, and I DON’T UNDERSTAND. THIS SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING NOW. IT’S TOO SOON.
In order to build up the sense of loss and grief that is so important to this finale, Kripke had to pull the rug out from under us and these characters very early on. He does this by having Lucifer already know about the rings, and by having Sam unequivocally lose in his fight against him. In literally a couple minutes, the whole plan is a disaster, Lucifer closes the door to his cage, and Lucifer is gone, now inside Sam’s body. That’s it. Their only plan is toast IN LESS THAN TEN MINUTES. And Dean’s face is quickly not okay because this show is rude and has to make Dean cry STOP IT SUPERNATURAL.
I love the motif of Sam facing his “other” side through mirrors, which gives Jared Padelecki a chance to show us more of his portrayal of Lucifer. But what struck me most about the whole sequence was the ongoing theme of hopelessness and inevitability, which is part of the fabric of this season and specifically this episode. When Lucifer reveals how much of Sam’s life has been orchestrated by demons or containing demons, it is meant to break Sam down, to keep him quiet and obedient, not because Sam agrees with what Lucifer is doing. It’s because Sam is meant to realize that there was never a chance for him to escape this. It’s the message in “The Song Remains the Same,” isn’t it? You can’t escape this. This is your destiny.
And Sam gives in to his anger and lets Lucifer control his destiny. For now.
That theme of apathy has been a part of each of the other characters’ stories this season. Dean pondered becoming Michael’s vessel when he believed that there was no way to stop the end of the world. Bobby admitted to wanting to end his own life after his injury, and he faced a soul-crushing choice in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” And I think you could argue that Castiel’s transformation into a mortal has a wicked parallel in his loss of faith in God. Without God in his life, he has no grace, both literally and figuratively. So I found it incredibly meaningful that after Dean had decided that he couldn’t give up on Sam again, he’s the only person left to go after him. It’s a powerful statement about these two brothers, one that Chuck will later spell out when he states that the Winchesters always chose family first. That’s what I saw this as: Dean choosing his brother against all the odds and in the face of every instinct of his telling him he couldn’t win.
The Apocalyptic Showdown
I think I would have liked to see this fight spill into the world at large a little bit more. The most we ever get are the global earthquakes and bizarre weather, but I understand that this show would have to deal with a major change in scope if the supernatural world ever became public knowledge. Still, there ultimately isn’t even a fight between Lucifer and Michael because of Dean, Bobby, and Castiel. That doesn’t diminish the tension of the final confrontation in Stull Cemetery by any means, nor does it make it disappointing. This was always a battle of wills, a battle of ideologies, and a battle of faith.
Still, it ends up being shockingly physical. Dean is thrown violently onto the Impala, and then Sam beats him to within an inch of his life. Lucifer kills Castiel by TEARING HIM INSTANTLY INTO A BILLION PIECES OH MY FUCKING GOD. And I didn’t even get to recover from that before Bobby is killed, too, his neck snapped. Just one after another with no effort: Lucifer was clearly the most powerful being in that field. How? How could this possibly end well for anyone?
I suppose that Chuck was ironically right about the Winchesters choosing family. Not only does the Impala help Sam to resurface and control Lucifer, but Sam chooses to pull Michael!Adam into Lucifer’s cage with him. In one moment, Sam saves the world while sacrificing himself. Again, I can’t ignore the parallels to “The Gift,” the end of Buffy’s fifth season, and the parallel to Dean’s own horrible trip to Hell at the end of the third season.
But it’s a decision that deserves attention all on its own. Sam has spent these five seasons wondering what his place was in the world and whether or not he could ever do anything good. Was he destined to be unable to escape what he’d done with Ruby? Would he be forever marked by that act? I think you could see his choice to plunge into the Cage as an act of penance. Not that the world needed that from him! Dean certainly didn’t. But in order to complete this journey he had been cast into, Sam needed to know that he could do one irrevocably good thing for the universe. And this was it.
In that sense, didn’t every get what they wanted, as Cas puts it? Sam did good for the world. Bobby could walk again. Castiel was elevated, not only through his resurrection but in his powers. And Dean had a world devoid of the paradise of the angels and the destruction of the demons. He was on Team Free Will, and that means the final thing he is left with is a choice. Sam proved it: you could absolutely deny your own predestination.
I think Dean returns to Lisa more out of respect for Sam than anything else. He wants to honor the deal he made with his brother because it’s the only thing left to do for Sam. It’s not a happy ending by any means, and if anything, it’s one of the loneliest things I’ve ever seen on this goddamn show. But what choice does Dean have left? He can honor Sam’s request and get out of the hunting life, or he can keep going. Alone. And I don’t think Dean really wants to be alone anymore.
Sweet mother of god, what an episode. Everyone got what they wanted, and yet it’s the saddest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.
HAHAHAHA YOU FUCKER, YOU WERE TROLLING US THE WHOLE TIME. I personally like the theory that he was God the whole time. Doesn’t he admit to it as much in “The Monster at the End of This Book”? Whatever, I’m sticking with that theory.
So! Predictions go up on Tuesday, and we start season six on Thursday! HAHAHAH I DON’T HAVE TO WAIT LIKE FOUR MONTHS TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED. I will revel in this before this show destroys me again.
The video for “Swan Song” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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