Note: Again, I’m looking to do more short-form column-like pieces here on TVS. This is one of them.
All Supernatural fans know this, but for those uninitiated here’s a quick synopsis of the background information needed for this piece. The low-rated CW series was always on a five-year plan, according to creator/show runner Eric Kripke. With that plan in mind, the last two seasons of the series exponentially expanded the world, focused much more on mythology instead of standalone monster of the week stories and wrapped up gloriously in the S5 finale, “Swan Song.” Hurting for any sort of established product, the CW decided to bring Supernatural back for a sixth year anyway. Now Kripke’s gone as the day-to-day show runner and fans have wondered since May where the series would go in S6.
The answer? Back to basics, with a format that recalls the first two seasons. Meaning more close-ended procedural episodes with Sam and Dean fighting monsters and talking about their feelings.
That’s all set-up for the buried question that’s actually not buried since it’s in my headline — Is this storytelling approach a good idea?
On one hand, I see the point that new show runner Sera Gamble has been pushing since she took over. How do you top the apocalypse? The series has revved up so much over the last two seasons, expanding in scope and ambition, that trying to tell stories after the rise and subsequent fall of Lucifer is certainly a risky approach. Heaven versus is hell is one heck of a backdrop for stories and in this world, there’s nowhere to go, on the surface.
However, I would argue that even though Kripke wrapped his story up in a nice, heartfelt bow at the end of season five, there’s more territory to mine with the heaven versus hell story. Just because Lucifer was knocked back down into the depths of hell that doesn’t mean he cannot get out again. Obviously, I wouldn’t want the season to follow the same exact story path, but there were a number of storyline avenues that could have been pursued amid such a backdrop.
The budgetary restrictions obviously kept the full impact of the apocalypse from being seen last season, but that doesn’t mean everything was covered in the story. There could be more stories to tell with Lucifer and his plotting, especially with him out for revenge. There could be many more stories to tell about the Horsemen, especially Death. There could definitely be more stories to tell about the angels and the state of heaven (though those are more apt to still be coming). None of those threads were crucial to the Winchester brothers’ arc last season, but with all that brother drama (supposedly) behind us, they could be integrated in now.
Moreover, after two tremendous seasons (and a number of fine episodes in the transitional season three) totally embracing big, sweep mythology episodes and expanded scope, taking three steps back is certainly a major risk. Sure, the writers have no choice with the network asking for a sixth year of a five-year series, and the approach is a way to possibly breathe new life into the series, but Supernatural was simply better in seasons four and five than it was before. The relationship between Dean and Sam will always be the focal point, but weaving their story with heaven and hell raised the stakes tremendously and going back to random monsters of the week simply feels deflating. Even the standalone episodes have worked better in the last two seasons because the writers have slipped in bits of mythology.
Finally, though the writers are perhaps looking at season six as some sort of victory lap and the CW is hoping for more seasons after this, both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have contracts that end after this season. And both have been fairly adamant about not wanting to come back after that. Surely the CW isn’t stupid enough to continue this series without its two leads on a three-lead cast (though, I never know). Thus, I ask, what’s really the point? Sure, the series has supposedly gone for broke with its last two seasons, but I find it extremely hard to believe that the production team can’t keep crafting stories on that level, even if the scope shrinks a little and the antagonists change. Instead, all signs point to the series returning to a formula that resulted in its weakest season, both on a thematic and entertainment value level. I could be totally wrong and would love to be honestly, but from here, based on all the soundbites we’ve been given, I don’t think season six of Supernatural is even attempting to be as good as the last two seasons, and that’s overwhelmingly disappointing. It’s one thing to attempt something new and different and just fail. It’s another to revert to a middling formula that strays away from scope and mythology.