Supernatural: What’s in a Soul?

What’s in a Soul? The Road So Far…

supernatural season 6 posterBy all accounts, last year’s aptly titled Supernatural finale was supposed to be the show’s swan song. Eric Kripke, the creator of one of the most dynamic shows to grace the small screen over the last decade, had mapped out Supernatural’s direction from the beginning. It was supposed to end as it had begun, a Winchester losing someone he loved. For a rabid fan of the show, I was torn about how, after these past five years, what I would do with no Supernatural Thursday to look forward to. Though word spread prior to the finale that there would, in fact, be a season six, I was surprised that, had it ended as planned, I would have been content. But I’ve never believed too much of a good thing was bad so I looked forward to my favorite show returning with Friday as its new home.

Despite Kripke stepping down as the day-to-day man in charge and passing that off to longtime writer/story editor/producer of the show, Sera Gamble, I was charged for my number one show to return. I had full confidence that Sera would be able to keep the momentum of the first five years going. Sure there would be some bumps in the road; Kripke was the mastermind and, while not out of the picture, he would still be a bit further from the action. Yes, they’d have to start from scratch since the five-year plan was gone but I had faith they’d get it done.

Then came season six and the reality cross checked my faith into the boards with its furious mediocrity. There’s no other way to say it; the first half of season six was a major disappointment. It was more than just the bumps I had expected with the essential reboot of the show. Plots were, generally uninteresting and uneven. What was once suspenseful now came off as cheesy. The worst part of it all, the chemistry between Sam and Dean, the most powerful, consistent, and important aspect of the show, was gone. The dialogue was there but the interactions—on Sam’s part, mind you—were wooden, a caricature of itself. And while I tried to maintain the hope, it seemed every week had something to tear down that faith just a little more.

Now, to be fair, there were a handful of episodes that would have stood the test of any Supernatural season. To start, Jensen Ackles performance has been stellar. I can say that he’s had his best performances of his acting career this season, showing a side of Dean we’ve only on glimpsed on occasion. “Weekend at Bobby’s” centered on our favorite ‘uncle’, Bobby Singer, and was the first episode of the season that I wanted to watch again. Jim Beaver, never one to mail it in, was fantastic with the light shining brightly on him. Mark Sheppard, everyone’s favorite demon (okay, maybe not everyone’s…but I daresay quite a few) often breathed life in episodes that would have been bland and trite. Misha Collins, though not appearing quite as much, was always good. “Caged Heat” and “Appointment in Samarra” the final two episodes of 2010, not only gave us the answers to what was eating Sam Winchester, but they also combined the positive elements of the first half of season six into must-see TV. Much like Buffy’s season six finale, the first half of Supernatural ended with our dear Sam getting his soul back. So much promise was given in those last two episodes and I was excited for more though, in the back of my mind, I had to ask the question: Was I setting myself up for another healthy dose of disappointment?

Well, the first scene major scene in “Like a Virgin” allayed my concerns. In three minutes, my faith that the first half of the season was an aberration, was meted with a heartfelt interaction between Sam and Dean. And as the episode rolled, I realized just what we’d been missing.

Sam’s soul.

Running parallel to Sam’s behavior with his soul trapped in the Pit between Lucifer and Michael, the pulse of Supernatural just wasn’t there; it was off, sometimes  just a half step, but off nonetheless. And despite how it affected the show, credit Jared Padalecki for his soulless Sam performance. Never once did I believe this was the same Sam Winchester we’ve grown to know and love over the years. Unfortunately, the same could have been said to this season as a whole. This was not the show many of us have waited for each week with barely restrained excitement. While I never once entertained the possibility of turning away (no, I’ve NEVER missed an episode…not one) I was very disappointed. But now, the hope that I never let die has been rewarded.

Now, I will not give all the credit of the show’s resurgence to Sam’s spark being returned with the help of Death. I think Sera Gamble and the writers have started to hit the mark. While she’s been there since the start, she’s never had the immense responsibilities that she has now. There’s no doubt she’d have growing pains; and while it’s still too early to tell, my gut says that she’s on track for shadowing Kripke’s original tenor with some wrinkles of her own. With that being said, there’s still quite a bit of room for the show to go either way. Many of the first episodes were the resident monster-of-the-week, though we’ve recently found that they’re pieces to a bigger whole: season six’s big bad, The Mother of All. Just what, and how much of a superstar of evil, she is has yet to be seen and this is where the writers need to tread carefully. When all is said and done, I find it unrealistic for this Mother to top Lucifer, the baddest mofo the brothers have ever come up against. The best thing for them to do is put Mother in her own niche in the pantheon of Supernatural baddies without jeopardizing the overall arch by trying to make her too bad-ass (yes, that can happen). I have confidence the writers will retain that perspective of just what does and doesn’t work.

In that regard, Supernatural has never been about the things that go bump in the night. True, there is always the anticipation of what creature feature the brothers will have to handle next but, at its core, Supernatural is about family. The most obvious aspect of that are Dean and Sam; brothers who share an, clichéd as it may sound, unbreakable bond stronger than any adversary they’ve come up against. Yes, it has been bent and twisted on occasion but has never snapped. We saw it last year when the memories of their time together gave Sam just enough strength to overpower Lucifer. We saw it at the end of season two when Dean sold his soul to ensure Sam’s resurrection. Two of the more prominent examples, yes, but in infinitesimal sample of the lengths they will go, the pain they will endure, the sacrifices they will make, for one another.

It is this bond, this faith in one another that has fueled this show for so many years. Each season has peeled back another layer of the Winchester dynamic. This season started off with the brothers switching roles; Sam had become the hunter focused more on the job than the collateral damage while Dean became the voice of reason, the conscience. Yes, this was in large part to Sam’s lack of soul but we must remember that this isn’t the first time he has become uber hunter (Dean’s death at the end of season three had a similar effect on him). It begs the question of just what is inside of Sam. We’ve all seen the darkness in Dean, a darkness that the elder Winchester has readily acknowledged and battles daily. Dean’s year with Lisa and Ben has tempered that rage but it will always be there. Living such a life as they do would scar a person’s soul, even without experiencing Hell in the literal sense. Is Sam truly ready to acknowledge that part of himself? If so, it may allow him to come to terms with the things he’s done in the past as well as his soul’s imprisonment inside the Pit. These are things he will have to deal with, not only for his sake but for, what I see as a battle for his very being against two foes: this cryptic Mother and the veil shielding him from much of what Hell had in store for him.

As we approach the final stretch of season six, I am emboldened by what had been a less than stellar beginning. Without Sam’s soul, we were left with no real connection to the heartbeat of the show. Now that Sam back to being himself, we have our show back and, barring any unforeseen circumstances or decisions, Supernatural is firmly on track to end season six like every season before it; with a bang.

This Supernatural fan will be there every step of the way.

– Darryl (follow @djasper07 on Twitter)
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