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'Supernatural' Season 8: Hopes For The Winchesters And Fears From The Past

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Things are stirring in the "Supernatural" universe, even though the show doesn't return until Oct. 3 -- on a new night, Wednesdays, alongside The CW's new superhero series "Arrow."

Production on Season 8 in Vancouver is gearing up and Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean Winchester, is directing the first episode that the cast and crew are making (though the episode will reportedly be the third to be broadcast). Also, fans are preparing for "Supernatural's" July 15 appearance at San Diego Comic-Con, which I won't be attending. Missing Comic-Con for the first time in eight years has nothing to do with my feelings about "Supernatural" -- it's more to do with a desire not to face down Hall H crowds six weeks after knee surgery.

Here's one more "Supernatural" goodie for you: Along with host Wendy Hembrock and guest Tina Charles of TV Guide, I recently appeared on an hourlong Tuning in to Sci-Fi TV podcast to talk about Season 7 and our hopes for Season 8. As longtime "Superanatural" fans and commentators, all of us had a lot to say about The Road So Far and where it may take the Winchesters. I hope you enjoy that discussion.

Previously on Mo Writing about "Supernatural," you may recall that I gave up on penning weekly reviews midway through Season 7; my last major piece on the show was posted around the time of "Death's Door" (though before that, I wrote what amounted to a position paper regarding what I perceived as the show's problems, in addition to other features and reviews, which can be found along with my colleague Laura Prudom's coverage of the show here).

Holy Metallicar, am I glad I stopped doing weekly reviews during Season 7. My thoughts and complaints about the show were getting so repetitive that I was as sick of them as many fans no doubt were, and the blow-ups that occurred in the comment areas for my "Girl Next Door" and "Mentalists" reviews are not something I'm eager to experience again. I love my fellow "Supernatural" fans, but there was a lot of agitated energy swirling around the show during Season 7, and it was a relief to drop out of the conversation, watch the season at my own speed and think about it of public view, as it were.

Still, I promised then to offer a wrap-up of my thoughts on Season 7 at some stage, and I'm here to do that now. Beyond that, I'd like to talk about what my hopes are for Season 8, when new executive producer/showrunner Jeremy Carver takes the reins. Previous executive producer/showrunner Sera Gamble exited at the end of Season 7, and please keep in mind that I still have a great deal of respect for Gamble: She's written some great episodes of the show, and if her version of "Supernatural" and the one I had in my mind didn't sync up for much of the last two seasons, I completely respect the fact that she had a tremendous and unenviable challenge before her when she took over for creator Eric Kripke.

If you don't have time to listen to the podcast, the following analogy I made during my chat with Wendy and Tina summarizes a lot of my thinking about Season 7. Let's say that I'm a big fan of stairs. Stairs! They're great. They take you places -- usually in a progressive and logical way, they take you from point A to point B. They can be fancy or plain, made of homespun materials or bricks or metal or whatever, but they generally move you in a particular direction at a particular pace.

Now, let's say someone took a pile of lumber, a bag of nails, a saw, a few other tools and threw all those materials at your feet and said, "Hope you like these stairs!" Um, what? No. These aren't stairs. Those are things that you could use to make stairs, but that has not been done. This is a bunch of materials that may have stair potential, but they have not been shaped or molded into anything stair-like.

That's what Season 7 of "Supernatural" was like for me. It contained some of the raw materials of the Winchesters' journey -- bits and pieces and "themes" we've come to know -- but there wasn't an overall vision for where the story was going, and nothing built on anything else, except in the most rudimentary plot sense. And I do mean rudimentary -- the Leviathan were mostly unexceptional villains who were tied to a storyline with very little resonance beyond "these bad guys want to eat humans -- humans who are often fat and indolent because they eat and drink too many things that are bad for them." Though I appreciated the appropriately hammy performance of the actor playing Dick Roman, who livened things up on occasion, the Leviathan were sub-Cylon villains, the kind of shapeshifter storyline we've seen done better elsewhere many, many times.

It's worth revisiting the word resonance, however. The best seasons of "Supernatural" did a few things really well: Each episode felt as though it built on the last, in a logical but suspenseful way. The show was careful not to build up so much ongoing baggage that it got bogged down in its own mythology, but there was a sense that a larger story was being told and that it was being parceled out in tantalizing, satisfying, emotionally grounded ways. Paying attention to clues was fun, new characters built out the world in intriguing ways, and recurring characters banded together with Our Heroes in brave ways -- or else arrived to stir the pot with snarky comments and devious shenanigans.

But the most important thing about the show -- what made it stand out and what led me to write about it so frequently -- is that the overall story and each week's individual story had resonance for the brothers and for their relationships with each other. Even though the Winchesters had no permanent address, we felt like there was a destination on the horizon. Though the critter-hunting journey seemed endless, there was a point, and that point was to show Sam and Dean Winchester's growth and their uneasy but necessary acceptance of each other and themselves.

Alice Jester, the founder of the fan site Winchester Family Business, summed up (as she so often does) exactly how I felt about the personal arcs this season. "Season 7's largest and grossest failure is easily the characterization of both Sam and Dean individually and with their relationship," she wrote in her "Deeper Look" at Dean's Season 7 journey.

And this is from her "Deeper Look" at Season 7 Sam: "In going through every one of the season's episodes ... there is little evidence the writers -- in terms of characterization -- were writing with any clear vision, or even reading each others' scripts. It certainly doesn't look like there was any sort of master plan, and as a result Sam (and Dean) ended up floundering through most of the season without any real purpose or passion. This is not how the first six seasons have handled characterization and the end result in Season 7 is nothing short of a massive disappointment."

I can't disagree with any of that. In Season 7, for the most part, "Supernatural" was like a cover band, rehashing old themes and conflicts without enough creativity, energy, vision or passion.

I found the presentation of New!Castiel manipulative and another tiresome permutation of a story element (Sam's mental issues/the wall) that had long ago outstayed its welcome. I wish I could say I found the Ghost!Bobby storyline credible, but I simply can't. I don't care what the ghost lore says, I don't find it believable that our Bobby Singer would go down that particular path. If the characer were going to go that way, the show need to set up that arc far more meticulously. All in all, it was another a cheap manipulation of a character that deserved better. Thanks to their unstinting dedication and professionalism, Jim Beaver, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki were able to make some of the Bobby stuff work, but in the end, the show did killed off yet another character that we loved in a way that didn't really feel all that fitting or -- wait for it -- resonant.

I've complained about the show's habit of killing off characters before, but Season 7 is when this tendency went toxic, in my view. We define who we are through the connections in our lives, and a drama can't fully explore its potential without enough characters to make relationships and connections seem rich, complex and vital. Relationships with a history provide the building blocks of drama: Conflict, collaboration, suspense regarding secrets, resolution through compromise and closure. Aside from Crowley and a few other characters, "Supernatural" has killed off or otherwise killed my interest in most of the show's previous supporting characters. This not only makes Sam and Dean's relationship seem unnecessarily claustrophobic, it gives them less to do, less to react to, less to feel. It makes the show as a whole a less interesting enterprise.

Why was Meg around in the final part of the season? She was a third wheel awkwardly jammed into the proceedings, but it's been so long since she had anything interesting to do that her presence was a distraction, not a welcome addition. The sad fact is, "Supernatural" used to excel at creating new characters (good and evil) who I desperately wanted to see return to the Winchesters' orbit. Not so much in Seasons 6 and 7. Kevin Tran was a walking stereotype who represented the problems the show has has created moderately compelling supporting characters, and I'm sure he will end up in the same limbo that houses the caged Adam Winchester and Dean's amulet.

There is an exception: Felicia Day's Charlie Bradbury was a terrific addition to the "Supernatural" universe, and I'd love to see her again. "The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo" had very few plot holes, a snappy pace and an excellent new character, all of which made me very grateful after a run of episodes that ... well, to describe them as sub-par would be generous. At this point, generally speaking, "Supernatural" seems as tired and run-down as its protagonists; even Dean's trip to Purgatory at the end of the season had the feel of a show going through familiar motions.

Is all hope lost? Come on, I'm a fan of the Winchester saga, so hell no.

But Carver certainly has his work cut out for him, there's no question about that. The most basic things that need to be restored to the show, in addition to an interesting roster of supporting characters, are a sense of hope and a sense of momentum.

At this point, are we hoping that the Winchesters are going to each get their own white-picket-fence happy ending? I think we're all more realistic than that, and so are they. They're hunters, this is what they do and this is what they will do until they run out of road.

That doesn't mean that the show has to dwell in a place of near-constant negativity and misery, however. When the characters have things that they hope for, and want for themselves and each other, it's immensely easier to root for them. We applaud the nobility of their selfless desire for the other person to have a better life, and we cheer the very belief that hope is possible.

The hope that they might make and nurture emotional connections, the hope that they might take satisfaction in a job well done, the hope that they can grow in confidence and judgment and compassion, the hope that they can remain men of honor in a mixed-up, crazy world -- these kinds of aspirations are all possible in the "Supernatural" universe. In fact, if we don't have this kind of camaraderie among the characters and good wishes for them, there's not much point in dwelling in that lonely place.

I will absolutely give Carver's efforts a try, but I don't think I'll get much past Episode 6 or so if I see a lot of by-the-numbers monsters of the week, weak plots and recycled angst. I know it must be hard to keep the characters and the story going eight seasons into the tale. But my love for the world this show has built makes me want the Winchesters go down fighting.

And not fade away.

There's more "Supernatural" chatter on a recent Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast, from about minute 20 to minute 32 in the recording below:

CORRECTION: This post previously noted that Jensen Ackles plays Sam Winchester. The error as since been corrected to accurately state that he plays Dean Winchester.