In the twentieth episode of the eleventh season of Supernatural, God is asked to answer for his absence. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
This season has been perhaps the most wildly inconsistent season of Supernatural. I can go from feeling tired about this show’s seemingly unending length to being excited about “Baby” or “The Chitters.” I see a lot of potential in the Amara/Darkness plot, and then I’m also frustrated by the writer’s willingness to dangle the carrot further and further away from me. I don’t know that “Don’t Call Me Shurley” addresses all the concerns I’ve had for season eleven, but it’s a significant effort towards that. Like I said on video, I realize that the absence of God within this season makes his return all the more exciting. This episode feels huge because we just went YEARS without his presence, and then BAM. AN ENTIRE EPISODE ABOUT HIM THAT DOESN’T SKIRT THE DIFFICULT QUESTIONS. It’s revelatory, emotional, and absolutely one of the best written Supernatural episodes EVER, and I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS, FRIENDS.
One of the best aspects of Robbie Thompson’s script (LITERALLY NO ONE IS SURPRISED THAT THOMPSON WROTE THIS EPISODE) is the fact that he knows the Winchesters are not the focus here. He dials back their participation in the story, limiting them to what feels like a fairly traditional plot regarding Amara’s development of her powers. This story will become about them very soon, but for now, this was the best choice. That’s not to say that Thompson ignores Sam and Dean; once their case kicks into high gear, I was actually quite hooked. But their use here is part of a structure, one I only noticed after the episode ended. Throughout “Don’t Call Me Shurley,” the Winchesters head towards the inevitable: a showdown with Amara’s fog. (That sounds so goddamn silly, now that I type it out.) As they realize that her technique has changed, they change their own response. They’re far more interested in saving as many people as possible, rather than stopping Amara.
Normally, I’d call foul in response to the resolution of this conflict. After the fog infects Sam and LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE ASIDE FROM DEAN, we are taken to a very frightening place. Amara’s fog has spread to multiple places across the Earth; Sam, while infected, is certain that Dean will abandon him and choose Amara; Dean is unaffected by the infection, which appears to concern Sam’s exact fear. Thompson sort of hits the reset button at the end, but I’ll argue that this is not a traditional use of this trope. I complain about it a lot whenever the Star Trek writers rely on it, but Thompson hits the button in order to develop Chuck. When the fog is defeated and the infection removed and the dead resurrected, it is not merely a simple way to eliminate the stakes. No, I’d say it has to happen so that Chuck can choose to stop running away from his creation.
AND HOW COOL IS THE DISCOVERY OF THE AMULET. IT’S WAY COOL.
There’s a metaphor employed throughout “Don’t Call Me Shurley” that I want to touch on here. Chuck speaks highly of humanity’s gift for creating music. The “safe” location he creates to protect himself from Amara is a bar known for its history of giving many musicians their start. When Metatron implores God to write a better autobiography, he invokes Brian Wilson’s (now disowned) book, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, while urging him to write Life instead. During much of the show, whenever Metatron and Chuck are talking, there’s no backing music, at least until Chuck climbs up on stage to sing “Fare Thee Well.” (AND THEREBY BREAKING MY HEART.)
Why music, though? In a story so rich with theological implications, courage, and cowardice, why does Thompson convey his point through music? Like Chuck states in this episode, I think there are few examples more compelling or meaningful in humanity’s existence that represent who we are. Music is resilience, and you can find plenty of demonstrations of Metatron’s ultimate point within the history of music. Humanity never gives up. How many success stories are tied to music? How often has music been the lifeline for the dispossessed and the oppressed and the forgotten and the unloved? Fiction may have provided me with an outlet and a catharsis, but it’s music that has saved me over and over again.
That idea – being saved – is central to the long, sprawling, and electrifying conversation that Metatron and Chuck have within “Don’t Call Me Shurley.” In true Supernatural fashion, the episode can’t avoid poking a great deal of fun at itself, addressing the legacy of “Bugs” and the “hack” writing and the bizarre absence of Chuck since the end of season five. But it’s in this exploration that something deeply serious unfolds. Much credit must be given to Thompson, who finds a way to have this episode address the canon absence of God in the story and the absence of God in our own world, all without feeling sanctimonious and preachy. In a world without demonstrable acts of God, how do the characters in Supernatural deal with the sudden appearance of God?
Just like the brilliance in putting the Winchesters second, Thompson’s script also brings back Metatron. I could not imagine this episode without him. The show’s master of the story is the perfect vehicle for God’s autobiography, not just because of the meta implications of it, but because he is a character who once tried to be God. AND THAT TURNED OUT POORLY. Thus, Metatron has nothing to lose, and as he pours over God’s manuscript, the audience gets honesty. It’s exactly what Thompson’s own script tells us: the reader is not interested in self-important flights of fancy. We want complex, layered, and flawed characters. We want to see people, warts and all. God’s perception of himself isn’t necessarily flawed; he’s well aware of what he’s doing. But Metatron, who gambled it all and lost it all, calls him on his bullshit: this version of the story stinks.
Of course, it goes much further than this. “Don’t Call Me Shurley” is an episode that brings back a character many of us enjoyed, yes. It’s a huge step forward in this season’s storyline. But to me, it’s a chance for the show to dip back into the compelling nature of good, evil, and complicity that we saw in season 5. How much of this world is God’s responsibility? How moral is it for God to check himself out of his creation? Metatron pushes God further and further towards a real answer, first through the manuscript, then with increasingly direct questions, all until God finally lashes out and shows that he’s the wrathful, vengeful being that Metatron once knew. Yet even that is a bit unfair of a characterization, you know? God sees and knows everything, but his character can also be everything. There’s a stunning sequence where Metatron, tears dripping down his face, relates the power of God simply choosing Metatron, even if the choice itself was meaningless. It wasn’t meaningless to Metatron, of course, and that’s the point. God has a power to give light and love to people by simply choosing them.
So what does it say when God chooses no one?
This is a story of the heartbreak of humanity, who lost God long ago, who disappointed him so much that he chose to inhabit the body of a geeky (BUT CUTE!!! DON’T FORGET THAT!) man and write a bunch of trashy supernatural thrillers. And now, Metatron, the angel who fell so far from grace that his grace was taken away, is the one who reminds him that humanity is worth saving, at least one last time.
That’s what I took away from the final montage. God chose humanity in that moment, but I suspect this really is the last time. It would explain the look of despair on Metatron’s face when he read the final page of the final draft of the manuscript; it would explain why God decided to hit that reset button at the end of the episode, too. I think that sacrifice is the solution to Amara.
I just want to end this by stating that Rob Benedict and Curtis Armstrong were also equally responsible for the power of “Don’t Call Me Shurley.” Rob Thomspon’s script knocked it out of the park, but someone else had to swing the bat. Holy shit, y’all, what an incredible piece of fiction.
Finally: GOD IS CANONICALLY BISEXUAL. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The video for “Don’t Call Me Shurley” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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