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Watchable but full of wasted potential
on February 28, 2012
NOTE: This review is a work in progress and currently only covers episodes 1-15 of season 7. I'll post an update after the final 8 episodes of the season air. This review also contains spoilers for the season. I've tried to keep them to a minimum but some of my problems with the season can't be easily discussed without revealing some major spoilers. So I recommend reading at your own risk.
I've been watching Supernatural since season 1. So you could say I'm a long term fan of the series. Somehow the writers on this show managed to not only raise the stakes each season, but they also managed to top themselves with the overall story arc, standalone episodes, and character moments.
Season 4 marked a major turning point in the series with more serialized storytelling and the introduction of angels and heaven to the show's mythology. Season 5 continued on in that same manner but upped the stakes even more by introducing Lucifer and the apocalypse. The war between heaven and hell that had been brewing for the previous seasons finally came to a head.
I was initially skeptical of season 6 but they managed to raise the bar yet again. Rather than making the stakes larger than the apocalypse, they raised the stakes in more personal ways for the characters and by introducing a number of mysteries that appeared to be somewhat disconnected. By the end of the season, everything came full circle and all of the smaller mysteries were clearly part of a much larger story. The cliffhanger for the season raised the stakes yet again and promised a completely new situation when the show came back the following fall.
That brings me to season 7. Conceptually, season 7 should feel fresh and original. It doesn't deal with angels or demons. Instead, it introduces a brand new breed of monster for the Winchesters to fight: the Leviathans. New rules, new abilities. They can be summed up as "so many humans to eat, so little time." They can't be killed or stopped in the usual means and they have the ability to take on the form of anyone they eat. They're more about infiltration and indirect attacks than the usual methods we're used to with angels and demons.
Despite the fantastic setup and the strong start, sadly season 7 has been a mixed bag so far. It started with a huge burst of energy and featured one of the strongest Castiel character episodes to date. And then most of the arcs and plot threads were conveniently swept under the rug in favor of Sam/Dean angst, the return of the monster of the week format found in earlier seasons, and the systematic removal of most supporting characters and familiar places/items that fans of the series have come to know and love.
What should have been the perfect opportunity to explore the new threat from purgatory has quickly become a long, fairly uninteresting, tired slog. The Sam/Dean angst that has been at the core of the series since the very first episode isn't nearly enough to carry the show by itself anymore, and yet they seem to be focusing almost entirely on that. The series evolved over the course of seasons 4, 5, and 6. It introduced numerous supporting characters to help inject some much needed variety into the rapidly aging formula and to shake up the usual Sam/Dean interaction.
Season 7 eliminates all of the surviving supporting characters (with the exception of Sheriff Jody Mills and Crowley), gets rid of the Impala (seriously?!), and introduces a new, highly paranoid character that sort of replaces Bobby (and with none of the personality).
The removal of the familiar, in theory, should be pushing the brothers to new levels of desperation. While new territory and ultimately a good idea, in practice they've barely done anything with it. The brothers are supposed to be running for their lives from the Leviathans and yet they stop in town after town to deal with mundane cases that we've seen them solve several times over and aren't allowed to get any additional information on what the Leviathans are up to (after all, it isn't the season finale yet...). The Impala hasn't been in use for about 10 to 11 episodes.
One of the things that has helped keep Supernatural fresh for so long is the inclusion of clever dialogue and plot twists. Season 7 still mostly has the clever dialogue but overall the stories are pretty run of the mill and have a definite "been there, done that" kind of feel to them. With an exception here or there, even the monsters have been rather easy to defeat (the low point being vampire-like monsters that can be killed with a silver knife to the chest *yawn*). Even the usual high amounts of gore have been rather lacking this season.
It's been interesting to see how the brothers cope without all of their usual help from Bobby and Castiel. However, the problem is that nothing really feels any different. They're going up against the same old monsters and the Leviathan plot is pretty much where it was at when the season started. All we know is that they can't be killed, they're rapidly taking over the planet, and they enjoy eating people. Add in one of the most uninteresting villains (Dick Roman) and I've been finding this season to be rather disappointing. I always used to look forward to this show every week and this year I've often been finding myself looking at the clock whenever it's on. The story is almost at a standstill, the brother angst feels tired and forced, and many monster of the week stories this year feel like the writers are simply going through the motions.
They can and should be able to do better than this.
UPDATE: I just realized that I never came back to update this review after seeing the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, my opinion of the season remains the same after seeing it in its entirety. Starting with "The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo," the pace of the season picked up some. It also introduced Felicia Day in a recurring role, which was a brilliant decision. The Impala also ended up making a brilliant return in the final arc of the season. It really drove home just how much that car is a part of the style of the show. It just isn't the same without it. The Leviathan arc ended up not going anywhere particularly interesting and it was concluded almost as quickly as it was introduced. That said, I did find its resolution to be relatively satisfying overall. But it definitely didn't need all the set up it received. They had about 6 episodes of story for the Leviathans that was dragged out over the course of the entire season.
The good news is its conclusion freed up the new showrunner (Jeremy Carver starting in season 8) to do whatever they wanted with the storyline and left the door open for introducing a larger supporting cast. The season finale also managed to set up an interesting premise for season 8.