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I’ve had a primitive incarnation of this meta, which was supposed to be the twin of this meta, festering on my hard drive for years.  Because we’re encroaching on the end of yet another season, I thought it would be fun to dust it off and finish it.  The original premise (from early S3 … doh!) was about upping the stakes in fiction and how SPN does a terrific job of this season after season (in fact, it’s pretty much textbook perfect, which amuses my dorky self to the nth degree).  So for your consideration here are some thoughts regarding SPN’s story structure and a pattern-finding exercise that yields some predictions for S5’s end and possible directions for S6. 

 No spoilers for episodes past 5x21!  \o/
 

Sadism (a.k.a. “Upping the Stakes”): The Heart of Every Drama

“Upping the stakes” is an integral part of any well-structured story.  It’s partially responsible for maintaining the tension that’s required to keep an audience captivated, reveals important information about the characters, and, if done properly, helps to propel the plot forward by using character motivation as a catalyst.  When a writer “ups the stakes”, they’re essentially torturing their characters.  To do this, writers first ask themselves, “What do my characters want/love/need the most?”  They’re not only establishing character motivation as the characters need an unattained desire in order for the story to get off the ground, but, at the heart of the matter, they’re really looking for things to slowly break their characters with.  And as the story progresses, the writer will methodically and systematically endanger and even take away exactly what their characters want/love/need the most while simultaneously stringing them along (and audience) by doling out hope, half solutions, and the possibility of the characters saving whatever has been threatened (this agonizing and torturous process makes up part of something innocuously named “the plot”, haha).  After a number of failings, missteps, and small triumphs (something has to give false hope, right?) finally, and usually at the last minute, the author does the unthinkable—they don’t reward the characters by giving them the carrot that’s been dangling on the stick.  They snatch the beloved thing away, leaving the characters beaten down, bereft, and/or broken or conversely full of resolve, determination, and/or angry.  The screen fades to black or the chapter ends, and we, the audience, scream, “Sadist!” then scramble for more.  And the writer smiles because they’ve done their job successfully.  And this is why we watch until the agonizing end.  Upping the stakes makes things matter, pressurizes the story, gets the audience invested, and tests the emotional/physical endurance of the characters, but more importantly it helps stack the story in preparation for the big pay off, the climax.

Each season of SPN is an exercise in upping the stakes whereby a good number of events that comprise everything between the opening of each season’s story arc and the climax are purposefully and repeatedly dramatized in order to prepare for the end, a laying thread-by-thread of the hangman’s noose so to speak.  It’s the upping of the stakes in the middle of the story that makes the end feel inevitable, logical, and earned.  For this reason, S1 had to end with Sam and Dean reuniting with John with intentions of finishing off Azazel together because throughout the season they were repeatedly teased with near misses with John that systematically progressed from covert messages from him in “Wendigo” (1x02) and “Something Wicked” (1x18) to curt phone calls in “Asylum” (1x10) and “Scarecrow” (1x11) to spy!John in “Home” (1x09) to a brief reunion that ended with them staring at John’s taillights in “Shadow” (1x16).  Similarly, tidbits about Azazel’s plan, which provided the entire motivation for the Winchester’s quest, were carefully doled out in progressively more significant reveals in preparation for the finale: we heard the pilot!demon whisper to Sam about Jessica in Phantom Traveler (1x04), we learned of Sam’s premonitions in “Bloody Mary” (1x05) and Home (1x09), discovered that he had a demon stalking him and then all three Winchesters in “Scarecrow” (1x11) and “Shadow” (1x16) respectively, saw his telekinetic powers manifest in “Nightmare” (1x14) while it was revealed there were other children “like him”.  It wasn’t until the final scene of “Dead Man’s Blood” (1x20), the beginning of rising action for the climax, when John agrees all three of them should go after Azazel that we see the boys’ season-long goals finally achieved: Sam and Dean found John and as a family they were attempting to avenge Mary and Jess’s deaths.  After that point, what happened was complication after complication that funneled into what had to be and what had been set up by the previous 21 episodes—the confrontation with Azazel (the inevitable, logical, and very earned climax). 

For brevity I won’t recount other seasons like I did previously, but you can play this game with every season, including S5, and come up with roughly the same pattern.  But something worth mentioning is that there are always two main goals per season (arguably S5 could have 3 depending on how you look at it, see my nerdy summary table thing below).  Sometimes they are mutual exclusive (S1, S4, and S5) and sometimes they’re complimentary (S2, S3), but always the two goals become increasingly more tangled as the season progresses and their stakes are upped until they merge at the climax for a double dose of squee-inducing tension.  \o/

But what’s more interesting is that, if viewed in the larger framework of the entire series rather than just within a single season, the climatic episodes that comprise SPN’s season finales are each progressive steps in upping the stakes on a grand scale.  Each season, a bad situation is made worse while Sam and Dean get a small piece of what they want (at least one if not both of their goals is/are achieved) as the season-long story arc is concluded.  Early in every season the quests are clearly set.  S1 it was “find John and kill Azazel”, S2 “save Sam” (kill Azazel), S3 “save Dean” (kill Lilith), S4 “kill Lilith and prevent the apocalypse from starting”, and S5 it’s “stop the apocalypse and say “No” to Lucifer and Michael”.  And every season we’ve seen at least one of the quests being achieved and that season’s story arc completed in roughly 22 or 23 episodes.  In S1 Sam and Dean found John, S2 Sam survived Cold Oak and was “saved” and Azazel was killed, S3 Dean was rescued/“saved” from Hell (story wise “Lazarus Rising” (4x01) is arguably part of S3), and in S4 Lilith was killed.  Every season we got an ending with definitive answers (and then a boatload of more questions).  One goal was always achieved, Sam and Dean beat the odds, and, for that reason, we made victory arms at our TVs. 

But that’s only half the story, and this is the part that has us screaming, “Sadist!” and the writer smiling as the screen fades to black.  Always and without exception, the season-long goal was achieved at a greater expense.  In S1 they found John but then John sacrificed his life for Dean’s in “IMTOD” (2x01).  In S2 Dean ultimately “saved” Sam from Azazel’s showdown in Cold Oak but then he put his own life on the line in “AHBL-2” (2x22).  In S3, which arguably story-wise concluded with “Lazarus Rising” (4x01), Dean was rescued/“saved” from Hell but in his absence Sam began his journey down the path of good intentions, metaphorically selling his soul to the enemy.  In S4 Lilith was killed but the apocalypse began (“Lucifer Rising” (4x22)).  Every season something more important to Sam and Dean is endangered or taken away as a direct result of getting what they previously wanted, and this new desire to save something more meaningful becomes one of the next season’s quests.  And this is how SPN ups the stakes on a multi-season scale while simultaneously planting the seeds of next season’s story. \o/

To get even more brain bendier (is that even a word?), the attainment of the goal and then the subsequent loss of something of greater value as discussed previously is always preceded by a failure that results directly from a difficult personal decision made by either Sam or Dean or both boys.  This personal and self-defining decision marks the Point of No Return, a moment at which all resources have been stripped away from the protagonist and the risk factors have been systematically raised to their highest pitch (Whoo! *points at the upped stakes*), and coincides with the plot apogee (Whoo!  *points at the plot climax and the two merging season goals*).  In S1 Sam decides to save John’s life and, therefore, the Winchesters fail at one of their season-long goals to avenge Mary and Jess’s deaths by killing Azazel (“Devil’s Trap” (1x22)).  But this allows the boys’ to achieve the other season-long goal to reunite with John and hunt as a family.  The expense?  John’s life (“IMToD” (2x01)).  S2’s decision was Sam choosing not to finish off Jake, which precipitated the failure of one of the season-long goals: Dean “saving Sam”.  As a result Sam died (“AHBL-1” (2x21)).  But this goal was ultimately attained when Sam was resurrected (and the other goal, kill Azazel, was also achieved).  The expense?  Dean’s life (“AHBL-2” (2x22)).  In S3 both boys decide to go down fighting Dean’s way rather than to take Ruby’s advice for Sam to kill Lilith with his “psychic abilities” and Sam fails in his season-long quest to “save Dean” (“NRftW” (3x16)).  However, ultimately this goal is realized when Dean is resurrected from Hell (“Lazarus Rising” (4x01)).  The expense?  Sam runs off the rails and begins honing his powers and cavorting with Ruby.  In S4 the boys decide to take the hard-line and alienate each other (Dean calls Sam a monster and Sam abandons Dean), causing them to fail to stay united (something I think that at this point in the series has become a integral part of the story and a legitimate goal in and of itself) (“WtLB” (4x21)).  Their estrangement allows one of the season’s goals, kill Lilith, to be achieved (“Lucifer Rising” (4x22”)).  The expense?  Sam and Dean’s relationship and Lucifer is released from his cage, starting the apocalypse. 

So, if you’re still onboard (*taps microphone Hello? Hello?*), here’s a bare-bones summary of what has been discussed: each season’s quests, conflict, resolution (which of the two quests is achieved), expense (the stakes being upped), and the unfinished business for the following season (the upped stake).


S1 quest: Find John.  Avenge Mary and Jess's deaths.
CONFLICT: Sam and Dean relearning how to be brothers.  Dean’s desire to keep the family together, Sam’s desire for independence.
S1 resolution: John is found.
S1 expense: John's life (story wise 2x01 belongs in S1).
Unfinished business for S2: Avenge Mary, Jess, and John's deaths.

S2 quest: Avenge Mary, Jess, and John's deaths.  Save Sam. 
CONFLICT: Sam wants Dean to kill him if necessary.  Dean won’t (can’t) do it.
S2 resolution: Sam is saved.  Mary, Jess, and John’s deaths are avenged.
S2 expense: Dean's life
Unfinished business for S3: Save Dean.

S3 quest: Save Dean.  Kill Lilith.
CONFLICT: Sam wants to break the deal.  Dean doesn’t want Sam to break the deal. 
S3 resolution: Dean is saved (4x01 could arguably be part of S3).
S3 expense: Sam begins using his powers (as revealed in 4x01).
Unfinished business for S4: Kill Lilith.  Dean’s mission as commanded by higher powers (as revealed in 4x01).

S4 quest: Kill Lilith, prevent Lucifer from getting sprung (prevent the apocalypse as commanded by higher powers)
CONFLICT: Secrets between Sam and Dean (feeds into a subsidiary, tertiary quest: preserve the brotherly relationship).
S4 resolution: Lilith is killed.
S4 expense: The apocalypse starts, the brother’s relationship.
Unfinished business for S5: Stop the apocalypse.


Now for the fun!  How does all of that stuff apply to S5, what does it imply for our upcoming season finale, and where could it possibly lead in S6?  

Applying the Template: S5’s End and S6’s Beginning

First, this season’s main goals as I see them are “stop the apocaypse” and “say ‘No’ to Lucifer and Michael”.  If you buy into this meta and if Krikpe and Co. follow their established formula, then one of these goals will be met at a great expense and it will be precipitated by a difficult and character-defining decision, resulting in failure.  We already know from 5x21 which goal has to be met and likely what the difficult and character-defining decision may be.  As far as the expense and the failure … well, in the past they often involved death and/or a sacrifice and Sam and Dean’s greatest fears were made real (S1: John dying, S2: Sam dying, S3: Dean dying, S4: Sam using his powers, S4: the apocalypse starting and Sam and Dean’s relationship in ruins).  So for continuity, let’s frame S5’s plot in the same way the previous seasons were broken down:

Dean decides to consent to Sam’s plan and Sam decides to say “Yes” to Lucifer.  The boys fail at their quest to resist becoming vessels (at least on Sam’s part but perhaps on Dean’s part as well), but this allows them to achieve their other season-long goal of putting Lucifer back in his cage and stopping the apocalypse.  The expense?  Sam and Dean’s greatest fears materialize. 

And because this is the end of a five-year story arc, this is where the writers gleefully up the stakes to the highest point yet, when they smash the characters to smithereens with their sadistic pens of torture (hehe).  What better way to do this than take what the characters want the most and make the inverse come true.  Sam’s greatest fear that’s been cultivated since S1 is giving into the darkness inside of him and becoming the “Boy King” and the prophesized leader of a demon army.  Dean greatest fear that’s been made glaringly apparent since S1 is failing at his job of “keep Sam safe” and losing his family.  It would make for the ultimate climax, then if the writers make Sam become Lucifer’s vessel and if they take away the last of Dean’s family.  Not only does this ratchet up the stakes to sky-high levels by putting absolutely EVERYTHING on the line, but both boys’ fears can easily come to fruition with a single, efficient plot twist, with one little word: Sam saying, “Yes.”  And that, folks, is how you bring 5 years of storytelling to teeter on the head of a pin while simultaneously fueling the launch of the next season!  \o/ 

To complete my nerdy table, here’s a summary of S5:

S5 quest:  Stop the apocalypse.  Say “No” to Lucifer and Michael.
CONFLICT: Trust between Sam and Dean.
S5 resolution: The apocalypse is stopped. 
S5 expense: The boys’ greatest fears come true: Sam becomes "the boy king" and Dean fails to "keep Sam safe" (loses his family).
Unfinished business for S6: The S5 expense is plus another goal that will be revealed in the opening scenes of next season’s story or the ending notes of this season.  

So I think it’s safe to say that Sam and Dean will once again succeed in their quest and stop the apocalypse, but how and at what greater expense exactly?  It’s the details that make the story.  Below are my quick and dirty regurgitations of the 5 W’s (and one H) of things we know from previous episodes, things that may be possible, and things that are options but aren’t likely to happen in the season finale.  BTW, no spoilers, just a whole lot of arm waving and hot air.  :) 

 

What: the end (or the beginning of the end) of SPN’s five-year story arc  

When: Thursday (duh)

Why: to stop the apocalypse

Where: If we’re looking at pre-planted anvils clues compliments of “The End” (5x04), perhaps Detroit.  Or based on where Lucifer was unlocked from his cage in “Lucifer Rising” (4x22), St. Mary’s Convent in Ilchester, Maryland. 

Who:  Team Free Will: Sam and Dean and Bobby and Castiel (Bobby didn’t get the use of his legs back for nothing!).  Lucifer will be there because the villain must show up for the climax.  Based on Adam’s current status in limbo and the fact it was revealed he’s now Michael’s vessel in “TMtM” (5x21), it’s a given that Michael wearing Adam will be there.  Now that Cas is mostly human (or totally human), Team Free Will likely need to be pointed in the right direction or need some sort of omniscient advice not privy to them, so Crowley and/or Chuck will likely make an appearance. 

Longer shots are Rufus (who has been referred to on multiple occasions this season and showed up to scuffle in “Good God, Y’all” (5x02)), Raphael (who was left raging in a ring of holy-oil fire in Waterville, Maine in “FtbYaM” (5x03)), the Antichrist (who is, according to “IBTCAOF” (5x06), probably wearing boardshorts and tanning on the beach on Oz (WTH was up with that episode anyway?!)), Meg (who we last saw toasting on the floor in holy oil in “Abandon All Hope” (5x10)), God (who is apparently on Earth but “doesn’t think it [the apocalypse] is his problem” (“DSotM” (5x16) … what was the whole business of Dean’s amulet about if discussing God was only to address and close one story thread?), and Kali (why did she live when he death could’ve fueled the Gabester’s about-face with Lucifer in “HotG” (5x19)). 

And long, long shots are the four Horsemen.  They’re not dead, but withered husks (“TMtM” (5x21)), and presumably could be returned to their previous state with the return of their rings.  Apparently Death will reap God and, therefore, would likely reap lesser Archangels like Lucifer (“TMtM” (5x21)) once they die.  Which brings me to something that’s been bugging me all season.  We’ve been repeatedly told that “you” (meaning the boys) can’t kill Lucifer.  But if Lucifer’s just a fallen Archangel and not that different than Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel—who was easily killed with his own sword in “HotG” (5x20)—then why can’t Lucifer be killed with his/an Archangel’s sword and then reaped by Death?  Have I missed canon’s justification for this?  Has Lucifer done something to himself to make himself greater than the average Archangel or something equally convenient?  Did being God’s favorite (“HotG” (5x20)) afford him exceptional powers … erm?  Bhuz.  

BTW, do we know many archangels there really are?  For certain are they limited only to the 4 we’ve been introduced to (Lucifer, Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael)?  If so, then which one is Chuck’s guardian Archangel?  Raphael?  So if Chuck showed up, technically so would Raphael?   *has a mental image of a grouchy Raphael at fan conventions, tethered to Chuck by a leash*  Heh. 

How: This is where things get fun.  How will the boys stop the apocalypse?  Being that SPN tends not to pull its punches and based on the fact that the characters’ worst fears are usually realized, Sam will say, “Yes” and Lucifer will take over his body.  Then what?  Will Sam jump into the cage and then we fade to black?  Will Dean jump into pit with Sam and then we fade to black?  Will Dean also say, “Yes?”  How will Michael figure into the mix?  Bobby?  Castiel?  There’s probably some unforeseen reveal/twist that will stir things up, reverse the Winchester’s misfortune, and make us all stare at the TV with our chins on our feet.  But exactly what and how this will happen is why we keep watching!    

Of course, this being the final year of a five-year story arc, it’s possible that this season’s end may not follow the tried and true formula and instead tie everything up into a neat bow with no unresolved problems for next season (Sam and Dean driving off on a deserted highway with Metallica blaring).  But this being SPN, the show of brother angst and single-tear manpain, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get another cliff-hanger finale with the story arc closing and the new arc being revealed in next season’s premiere very much like “Devil’s Trap” (1x22)/“IMToD” (2x01) and “NRftW” (3x22)/“Lazarus Rising” (4x01).  After all, there’s got to be something to keep us on our edge of our seats all summer, and it’s not called “upping the stakes” for nothing.  ;)
 

“What Did You Say?”: The CliffNotes Version of … Everything

Each season of SPN is a nice example of upping the stakes, putting something more dear and non-expendable at risk.  Similarly, the entire series can been seen as a single exercise in upping the stakes whereby the end of each years’ story progressively makes a bad situation worse.  Each season we see this accomplished by the boys failing at one of the two season-long goals as a result of their own difficult and revealing decisions.  In the end, however, that goal is achieved but at an even greater expense.  And it’s this outstanding, unresolved expense that lays the groundwork for the following season. 

Upping the stakes ratchets up the intensity while catapulting us into next season’s story arc is SPN’s tried and true pattern (as it is of written character-driven fictional series and other TV shows).  This pattern can be used as a predictive tool in which to blab about possible S5 endings and potential directions for S6.  Based on the established pattern in all four previous seasons, I think Sam and Dean will once again succeed in their quest and stop the apocalypse.  But the heart of the story is how and at what greater expense?  I think the great expense will be a manifestation of the boys’ greatest fears: Sam’s fear of becoming evil and Dean’s fear of losing his family.  The ramifications of this will likely be the main through line for S6’s story and catapult us into new adventures with the boys.  Go Show! 

Comments

( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
ficwriter1966
May. 11th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
My GOODNESS, you put a lot of thinky-thoughts into that! Very, very interesting.

I've seen any number of interviews with the writers saying that absolutely yes, the season finale winds up the whole Apocalypse storyline. So I'm thinking there may be some unfinished business of a minor variety, but no cliffhanger. No Samifer walking around when we go to black.

My guess? They made a point of showing last week that the Horsemen's rings are magnetic. I'm thinking Dean attaches them to the Impala. Lures Samifer inside, and drives the car into the cage/pit/whatever. God shows up, rescues the boys and the car from the pit, hits the reset button on a few things, and sends the Winchesters on their way.

Casualties? I'm guessing Bobby survives. Jim Beaver is dropping dire hints yet AGAIN, but I'm not buying it. And Show would be idiots if they let go of Misha. I think Michael survives. Crowley...survives. Chuck? Maybe not. (He's kind of run his course.)

Seriously - if they go to black with Sam walking around as Lucifer, I'm going to reach whole new levels of being pissed. I'm so far beyond tired of the whole destiny/Apocalypse/"I don't trust you" thing, I can't even see it with binoculars.
bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 02:15 am (UTC)
there may be some unfinished business of a minor variety, but no cliffhanger. No Samifer walking around when we go to black.

No cliffhanger might be a nice respite, but, at the same time, leaving the boys in dire straits makes for awesome season premiers *points at 2x01 and 4x01*. I'm conflicted on how I'd like to see this season end, so I'm just going to sit back and enjoy whatever happens (and then probably go supersonic fangirl). ;)

Would locking Lucifer back up but then having to deal with the ramifications of what it cost to do that be considered "winding up the Apocalypse storyline"? Because I have no doubt the boys will do just that, but I guess my definition of "ramifications" extends to Sam and/or Dean still being stuck in a cliffhanger-like situation when we fade to black. OK, I guess I just figured out what kind of ending my inner drama queen really does want now. Heh.

My guess?

That's an imaginative guess! Writers always have the more creative solutions! The Impala should play a role in saving the world--it would only be appropriate.

Chuck? Maybe not. (He's kind of run his course.)

Agreed. Show seems to be fond of creating these characters to fulfill these certain niches (mostly to get the boys where they need to be in the story or to get them info. they need) and then killing them to wrap up the storyline/prevent these characters from providing an easier solution to the problem. I don't know what role Chuck would play next season, his existence would seem to be more of a hindrance story-wise than a help.

Bobby better live. Part of me thinks that there's a possibility that the new S6 goal may have to do with the boys saving Bobby in some capacity. I wonder how true Crowley will be with his word about giving Bobby's soul back.

if they go to black with Sam walking around as Lucifer, I'm going to reach whole new levels of being pissed.

UGH. NO. I'd rather not see Samifer running around next season either. I think Sam's redemption arc needs to come complete circle this season, and that means stopping the Apocalypse end of story. I have no doubt that Lucifer will be back in his cage forever by 10 pm Th. night. What condition Sam and Dean are in as a result of that is what I'm interested in. *bounces*

Edited at 2010-05-13 02:35 am (UTC)
fannishliss
May. 11th, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Nice work!

I can totally see how Sam going into the Pit would satisfy that cycle you describe so well. But... Sam has kind of already faced his own evil. I think when he fell to Ruby he saw what he was capable of, for only the best intentions.

I could also see Dean sacrificing himself again.... but Michael already has Adam.

I don't know! I'm on tenterhooks.

I'm also really psyched about a season six that helps the boys find out who they really are without all this Destiny hanging over them. :D
bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
Sam has kind of already faced his own evil.

Yes, definitely. But I think this time around Sam would be coming at it from a completely different perspective. Last season, his was at a place of self-righteousness and anger (with good intentions). Now he's at a place of humility ("I'm the least of all of you" 5x21) and determination. And for him to find redemption and forgive himself, he's got to go back to that dark place within himself again. Only this time he'll win. I think it's the outcome that's important, not so much the recycling of the circumstances.

I could also see Dean sacrificing himself again.... but Michael already has Adam.

This is where I think Kripke is keeping his big gasp-inducing trick/reveal for the finale. The boys have got to get some sort of reversal of fortune *sometime* on Thursday. I'm not saying that something/someone is going to solve the entire Lucifer problem for them (how cheap would that be?), but something has got to happen to tip the scales in their direction so the boys can then take the reins and succeed. Maybe it's Adam somehow? He's a Winchester after all. ;)

I don't know! I'm on tenterhooks.

Me neither! Ahhhh! *runs in circles*

I'm also really psyched about a season six that helps the boys find out who they really are without all this Destiny hanging over them. :D

Yesyesyes! I want them, in the end, to have a happy ending. And that means coming to peace with themselves and who they are before we see the series end. Also, maybe we'll get some love scenes next year. *winkwink* My het tank is totally empty.
monicawoe
May. 12th, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
Sam’s greatest fear that’s been cultivated since S1 is giving into the darkness inside of him and becoming the “Boy King” and the prophesized leader of a demon army. Dean greatest fear that’s been made glaringly apparent since S1 is failing at his job of “keep Sam safe” and losing his family. It would make for the ultimate climax, then if the writers make Sam become Lucifer’s vessel and if they take away the last of Dean’s family. Not only does this ratchet up the stakes to sky-high levels by putting absolutely EVERYTHING on the line, but both boys’ fears can easily come to fruition with a single, efficient plot twist, with one little word: Sam saying, “Yes.” And that, folks, is how you bring 5 years of storytelling to teeter on the head of a pin while simultaneously fueling the launch of the next season! \o/

Personally, I'd love this as the end of the season. Oddly, I'm actually worried about the possibility of there not being a cliffhanger. Since season 5 is wrapping up the original arc I'm worried that this season's finale will have a resolution...and I find I don't want one! I want the most epic cliffhanger yet!


bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 03:44 am (UTC)
I'm actually worried about the possibility of there not being a cliffhanger.

Part of me feels this way, too. I love the tension (even though I'll probably scream at my TV). Cliffhangers always make great season premieres. The one time we got a non-cliffhanger finale (2x22), the next season premiere was a little flat. I also think nail-biting cliffhangers get the creative juices flowing, and from a completely selfish fangirl perspective, I'll take as much of crazy-exciting fic during the summer hiatus as I can get. :)
su_darklily
May. 12th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
One thing I learned about SPN's upping of the stakes is that while the writers will definitely take the plot to its most extreme possibility, each season outdoing the previous, in the following season, they allow themselves a relatively easy out by use of sacrificial gambit.

For instance, s1 left Dean at the point of death, then immediately saves him in the season 2 premiere by sacrificing John in his stead. Which brings me to the point I wanted to address in your post:

"In the end, however, that goal is achieved but at an even greater expense. And it’s this outstanding, unresolved expense that lays the groundwork for the following season."

This theme was touched upon in SPN by the Trickster in Mystery Spot:

"This obsession to save Dean? The way you two keep sacrificing yourselves for each other? Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood and pain. Dean's your weakness. And the bad guys know it, too. It's gonna be the death of you, Sam. Sometimes you just gotta let people go."

The main motivational force (OT but had to say that the plot & motivation tigers were gorgeous!) in SPN is about the Winchesters' need to save people but most of all to save each other. And each time a Winchester acts to save another, they invariably save a Winchester at the cost of another Winchester in a viciously reductive cycle. Thus Mary saved John by promising Sam to YED, John saved Dean by selling himself to YED, Dean brings Sam back to life by selling his soul and so on. I see s5 as the penultimate ending to this cycle as Sam finally moves from being the bartered object then the intended object to taking his place as the active subject for the first time in his family history. He was forbidden to sacrifice his life/soul to get Dean's return and I think that was the rot that ate away at Sam both pre and during s4. This time, Sam is ready to assume the burden of being the one to sacrifice, rather than the one being sacrificed or sacrificed for.

To return to your table above;

S5 quest: To put Lucifer back in his cage. To get Michael out of Adam. To not have to say 'yes' to either Lucifer or Michael. To stop Lucifer and Michael from meeting before the previous objectives are met.
CONFLICT: To resolve the doubts and fears for each other
S5 resolution: The apocalypse is stopped. Both Sam and Dean are alive, safe and not occupied vessels.
S5 expense: Instead of losing Sam or Dean permanently, Bobby, Castiel and Adam have been added as possible sacrifices because someone(s)is going to pay. Sam or Dean will be occupied vessels.
Unfinished business for S6: Most obvious gambit is to get Sam back after he gets stuck in Lucifer's cage. Or alternatively to get Dean back after he says yes to Michael to save Sam. Interesting possibility is to have Adam back to temporarily 'replace' the missing Winchester until the resolution in s6.

Possible surprises in final episode: Return of Jesse, the anti-Christ. There's just no way to justify having introduced this character unless he gets to pop in at the end. Return of Chuck, the prophet motif appears to have been written out but he was supposed to be God's prophet so should really be involved in the final scenario. Rufus is unlikely but Rafael should really be included. And I thought Meg was dead in 5.10 actually, was she dead or was she just locked down? Not expected: God.

As for Lucifer, the reference to him being difficult to kill had to do with the colt, the boys have not yet tried going at him with an angel sword but since Gabriel did (and died), I'm suspecting that it would be possible to kill him with an angel or rather an arch angel sword. Getting one, without being taken over by the said arch angel would be the tricky bit.



bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 06:15 am (UTC)
the plot & motivation tigers were gorgeous!

Thank you! That was a fun meta to write. It's always interesting to look at past meta and if any predictions held through subsequent seasons. I think that the small amount of predictive stuff in there was vague enough (and wasn't too surprising) that it held up through subsequent seasons.

by use of sacrificial gambit

Yes, wonderful point about the Winchester gambit! It's ironic that even though the Winchesters purport to love each other so much that they'll do "anything" (including sacrifice themselves to "save" the other), they fail to realize the how much they're hurting the ones they're trying to save by their leaving them (dying).

Your mention of Mary sacrificing unborn Sam to save John in 4x03 just made me realize that that could possibly be seen by Sam as a great betrayal. Not only was virtually motherless and doesn't have any of his own memories of Mary, his mother essentially bartered his life away. O_o Talk about self-worth issues.

Sam finally moves from being the bartered object then the intended object to taking his place as the active subject for the first time in his family history.

You sum up the the hero's journey. :) And how appropriate is it that the youngest Winchester, the one that was always protected (even though he didn't want to be), is the last to be allowed to step up. I guess I'm not counting Adam as he's a half Winchester.

Moreover, I think this is exactly why the past number of seasons the writers haven't let Sam succeed at the tasks that matter (S3: saving Dean) or took his successes and turned them into something disastrous (S4: killing Lilith, releasing Lucifer). They needed to bring him to his lowest point, showing him to be largely ineffectual or not allowing him to be the driver of his own destiny, so the ONE time Sam will succeed will be significant and meaningful and we can all say, "Finally!"

To stop Lucifer and Michael from meeting before the previous objectives are met.

No kidding! I was just thinking about this exact issue. Now that Michael is in Adam (apparently as of 5x21), there's no reason that we know of that's preventing him from going after Lucifer at any moment and totally circumventing Sam and Dean. The only reasonable explanations I have are: 1) Michael hasn't yet found Lucifer and 2) there's some disadvantage to being in the temporary vessel and taking on the opponent in one's true vessel would afford a better chance at winning, thus Lucifer and Michael are both trying to wait out Sam and Dean on the chance one of them will say, "Yes."

My reply is so long I have to split it into two! To be continued...
(no subject) - bowtrunckle - May. 13th, 2010 06:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - su_darklily - May. 13th, 2010 12:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - su_darklily - May. 13th, 2010 01:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
amonitrate
May. 12th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
yes, i totally agree about the pattern of the season finales. And it will be interesting to see how this one fits the pattern!
bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
I'm curious to see how much of this holds up, too. Only one more day until we'll see!

Gorgeous icon, BTW.
aidennestorm
May. 12th, 2010 03:22 am (UTC)
I agree pretty much with everything you've said!! SO much to digest here... this is one of the best, most well-thought out metas I've ever read. Fantastic work! \o/
bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 03:49 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad it wasn't too convoluted and out-to-lunch. Thanks for stopping by and reading.
missyjack
May. 12th, 2010 03:29 am (UTC)
wonderful wonderful meta. Totally love the way you've framed the narrative arc for each season and the conflict/resolution/expense model.

which only makes me VERY anxious for this week's episode and extremely excited for S6.
bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)
Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

All of this certainly doesn't bode well for the boys. But, like always, they'll stitch themselves back together and persevere. It'll be interesting to see what condition they're left in tomorrow evening.
llywela13
May. 12th, 2010 05:55 am (UTC)
Great meta - way to go, you. Nice to see you thinking thinky thoughts again. :)

why can’t Lucifer be killed with his/an Archangel’s sword and then reaped by Death? Have I missed canon’s justification for this? Has Lucifer done something to himself to make himself greater than the average Archangel or something equally convenient?
OMG tell me about it - I've been complaining about that one for what feels like forever now! It was why I was actually glad to see Lucifer ripping all those gods apart the other week, just because it was the first time we'd actually seen him do anything to justify the awe and terror in which he is held! What makes him different than any other angel, Show - what? Other than being lord of hell, that is, because that doesn't explain it.

Raphael is Chuck's guardian angel, yes - based on the fact that it was he who killed Castiel in 4.22. I'm wondering, though, how his taking a human vessel jibes with doing his job and monitoring Chuck every second in case of danger - harder for him to pull that sonic boom act of his while wearing a human body. Maybe that was why he'd abandoned it until Castiel summoned him back, he only ever wanted it temporarily.

This season has driven me mad - the plotting and pacing and narrative structure have been frankly lousy at times. I'm pretty sure that the writers have done at least one abrupt about-face, changing their mind about about either where they were headed or how they intended to get there, which may mean that many of the clues planted along the way may never be referred to again. I daresay in a few more days we'll all find out!
(Anonymous)
May. 13th, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)
Nice to see you thinking thinky thoughts again. :)

It's nice to have a thinky thought again. Seriously, I think all the brain deadness/lack of concentration had a lot to do with hormones. Now 1.5 years later when my body is returning to normal it seems like my meta-fu is as well. \o/

I was actually glad to see Lucifer ripping all those gods apart the other week

Me, too! XD Besides the fact I love how MS plays Lucifer and whenever he's in an episode I look forward to his scenes, Lucifer FINALLY doing something nasty was good confirmation that he is not all hot air. We did see a bunch of demons fall down and Death rise because of him in 5x10, but it's not the same as him actually being intimately associated with killing gods and their vessels (and his own brother). I think he, out of all the season villains, has been the most "inactive" as far as demonstrating his nastiness. Perhaps that has to do with Kripke wanting him to be more sympathetic? *points to 5x01's title*

Raphael is Chuck's guardian angel, yes

Thanks for clearing that up. :)

how his taking a human vessel jibes with doing his job and monitoring Chuck every second in case of danger

I wonder how he got out of his holy-oil fire if he did at all. I'd think he'd get a big, fat FAIL from God abandoning Chuck even momentarily. Which makes me wonder if the other Archangels have prophets they're also not watching.

This season has driven me mad - the plotting and pacing and narrative structure have been frankly lousy at times.

Tell me about it! Don't get me started on the pacing. It's too bad really because I think there was so much potential with the 4 Horsemen. Show could've really introduced the quest for the rings earlier (mid-season cliff hanger?) and then it would've provided more purpose to half the season. Instead we got Sam and Dean floating around, looking largely ineffectual and then a couple of mytharc-heavy episodes at the end where things were raced through (*coughPestilencecough*) when they could've been milked for more action/drama.

I'm pretty sure that the writers have done at least one abrupt about-face

Are you referring to the ridiculousness that is the Antichrist episode?

which may mean that many of the clues planted along the way may never be referred to again

This, more than most things, really drives me crazy. So disappointing, esp. for people like me who love detail and prefer clean story telling. :(

I daresay in a few more days we'll all find out!

!!! TONIGHT! I can't believe we're at the end of the 5-year story arc! I'm so glad we have another season to go, otherwise I think I'd be even more worried about getting a satisfying ending to cap off my SPN experience. *crosses fingers for an awesome episode* I'll see you on the flip side! *hugs*

(no subject) - bowtrunckle - May. 13th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
smilla02
May. 12th, 2010 07:36 am (UTC)
Beautiful post. You framed the narrative of each season win/loss perfectly. Poor boys, they never won, no matter how hard they tried.

Although, I would like to point out a different frame for season five in which the quest is: stop the apocalypse, repair the relationship. There's also been a narrative thread through the season about roles that has been embodied in the the boys being vessels for Lucifer and Michael. Both Dean and Sam have broken their traditional role inside the Winchester family of little brother/big brother and, this way, they have basically solved the second quest you point out in your scheme-type.

If you look at it this way, I'd say that the boys have repaired their relationship already and and they will, most likely, stop the apocalypse. Seen under this aspect, I'd say that this is the only season when both subplots have been resolved, and in the end there won't be any big cliffhanger, no upping of the stakes, this time.

Or maybe it's just me who's being optimistic. I would love a clear-cut victory for Dean and Sam. They alredy have so many things that they need to take care of personally and together once the end of the world is averted. And the big question next season could be: how do you keep living a semi-normal life when the big crisis that lasted 5 years (or 26 years) has been resolved.
bowtrunckle
May. 17th, 2010 05:24 am (UTC)
stop the apocalypse, repair the relationship.

Yes, I agree there could be a 3rd goal this season just like, depending how you look at it, there could've been a 3rd goal (preserve the brother relationship) last season. I guess the reason I didn't really emphasize that or discuss the 3rd goal in S4 was because I saw them more as the emotional story, which I considered to play into the "CONFLICT" aspect of the season more than the surface plots (i.e. goals). But it's really a matter of is the glass half full or half empty. :)

Both Dean and Sam have broken their traditional role inside the Winchester family of little brother/big brother and, this way, they have basically solved the second quest you point out in your scheme-type.

Are you referring to "Say 'No' to Lucifer and Michael"? If so, I'm not quite understanding exactly how those two things tie directly into each other. So sorry, sometimes I can be completely dense, but I want to make sure I understand what you you mean before I start rambling...

this is the only season when both subplots have been resolved, and in the end there won't be any big cliffhanger, no upping of the stakes, this time.

I think in S2 both goals were also solved (kill Azazel and "save" Sam). But you make a good point, no cliffhanger. If you look at this season in terms of only your two goals, then we also come to the same conclusion! The apocalypse was stopped and the boys' relationship was repaired = resolutions all around = tying this season with a tidy bow. If you look at this season in terms of only my two goals, then we still have the general pattern of at least 1 goal being achieved and the other failed goal ("Saying 'No' to Lucifer and Michael) fuels one of next season's goals. I think it's pretty awesome that both hold true and they're not mutually exclusive. In fact, both happened during the finale. We got our 2 resolutions and then a mini cliffhanger at the end that spun from Sam failing to saying "No" to Lucifer.

I would love a clear-cut victory for Dean and Sam

As would I. I think (hope) now that we've had the literary end of the story (the closing of the intended 5-year arc) complete with changed characters and the fulfillment of the implicit promise, we can get our fannish ending next season with the clear-cut victory and send the boys onto greener pastures without impending doom or brother separation.

the big question next season could be: how do you keep living a semi-normal life when the big crisis that lasted 5 years (or 26 years) has been resolved.

It would be nice to see the boys learn who they are without constantly living in a state of personal crisis. I'd like to think their relationship would be all the better for it, too.
(no subject) - smilla02 - May. 17th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
borgmama1of5
May. 12th, 2010 12:18 pm (UTC)
Nice analysis!

And its implications scare the crap out of me for Thursday...
bowtrunckle
May. 13th, 2010 03:55 am (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by!

its implications scare the crap out of me

You and me both! The good thing is that we know Sam and Dean will be back next season so whatever happens to them is nothing compared to having the series just end. Whew.
seesmooshrun
May. 12th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC)
This was amazing. It's good to see you back in thinky mode! Your summaries of the seasonal conflicts and semi-resolutions was spot-on. You missed one little possible element though: Dean's greatest fear is losing his family, yes, so losing Sam would be devastating. BUT ::switches to sadistic mode:: if Dean also winds up sliding a little further down the demon path (starts torturing again or the like), reminding himself of what he did/became in Hell, that would be his second-greatest fear. No guesses as to how that might come into play, so it may be of no consequence for this season.

I've missed your thinky-self because she writes such brilliant analyses. Thanks for this and I'll be holding my breath all through the finale to see if they follow pattern or just wrap up a tidy bow around the five-season arc and start afresh.
bowtrunckle
May. 17th, 2010 05:38 am (UTC)
Hey! Thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts! You make a good point about Dean's other fear. I'm glad we didn't have to see that manifest again. In that respect, watching "OtHoaP" was hard for me, and I think if Dean had to deal with losing Sam AND regressing to that dark part of himself and the ensuing self loathing, he'd dissolve into a puddle of goo never to be reconstituted again. :(

I've missed your thinky-self because she writes such brilliant analyses.

Ah, thanks, sweets. I missed my what's left of my brain, too.

I'll be holding my breath all through the finale to see if they follow pattern or just wrap up a tidy bow around the five-season arc and start afresh.

What do you think now that you've seen the finale? In my estimation, I think they stuck to their tried and true pattern. Our mini cliffhanger was a result of Sam's failure of the second goal (say "No" to Lucifer and Michael) and will fed into what will likely be the first of next season's goals (figure out/solve whatever happened to Sam?). And if the writers continue to stick to their formula, then we'll see the second goal be introduced by the end 6x01 (Save Bobby's soul? Restore order to Hell/round up stray demons released during the apocalypse? ).
We'll just have to see!!! I'm so happy we have another season no matter what happens!
yourlibrarian
May. 13th, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
Every season something more important to Sam and Dean is endangered or taken away as a direct result of getting what they previously wanted, and this new desire to save something more meaningful becomes one of the next season’s quests.

Nicely put. I think it's going to be interesting to see where the story is left this week exactly because the original ending as Kripke envisioned it from the start of the series (my own speculation is here) is very likely going to be changed due to the additional season. I find it hard to imagine that it's going to be capable of having the same emotional impact that it would have had, were we ending the series for good.

Reportedly, the only season where they were truly uncertain about returning was S2, and that was the one that had the most optimistic ending.

Also, just wanted to point out you didn't mention the Impala dying in the S1 finale ;)
blackjedii
May. 13th, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)
Ahh, I do know that Sera Gamble mentioned that like any season, they would accomplish their goals At Great Personal Cost. I am thinking the Impala will no longer play rock music?

Some finer points - there are 4 archangels (confirmed by Sera Gamble) and it is indeed Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, and Lucifer.

More spoiler-iffic (or arguably LESS spoileriffic): (highlight)

Meg is out, as she is not confirmed to be in any more episodes post 5.10.
Chuck is likely -in-, as Rob Benedict (I think) confirmed that he would be back.
Rufus is questionable, I haven't heard anything either way.
Antichrist is iffy. I don't think he would be back, but the casting call was indeed for a "recurring" so I know they left that window open.

Am I missing anyone?

bowtrunckle
May. 19th, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC)
they would accomplish their goals At Great Personal Cost.

O_o Well, Gamble never fails to deliver on her promises as demonstrated by Sam in a hole all summer.

I am thinking the Impala will no longer play rock music?

*sporfle* For a while during the finale, I was thinking the Impala might not make it. Kripke!Chuck blabbing about the Impala gave me the feeling of DOOM. But, whew, she didn't end up exploded or in a hole or without her ability to play music. A car like her being silenced forever ... tragic. ;)

there are 4 archangels...

Thanks for clearing that up. My Show Facts haven't been so great these past 2 seasons--my brain powerz were diverted to other things it seems.

Meg is out, as she is not confirmed to be in any more episodes post 5.10.

I was so bummed we didn't see Meg. I seriously love her. And RM, I thought, was excellent the little we got to see her. She did this thing with her eyes (made them all gleefully evil) that I adored. I think it may be wishful thinking that she'd somehow pop up next season.

Antichrist is iffy. I don't think he would be back, but the casting call was indeed for a "recurring" so I know they left that window open.

I didn't know that role was "recurring"!!! Oh, ugh. I don't know if I should be annoyed by that or ... annoyed by that. Seriously? The more I think about that episode and the Antichrist character in general, the more I just want to press the "delete" button. If Jesse showed up in 5x22 and solved the whole problem I would've been annoyed, but the fact that Jesse didn't show up makes me annoyed about that Antichrist episode even more. It's a lose-lose situation with me no matter what. I usually think I'm pretty forgiving with Show, but not this time. *shakes fists*

Am I missing anyone?

Kripke? ;)
(no subject) - blackjedii - May. 20th, 2010 12:28 am (UTC) - Expand
hugemind
May. 13th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
OMG, GOOD STUFF. *noms*

I read this, but I can't think of anything smart to say, because I'm basically just randomly flailing and squeaking while I wait for it to be morning already.

*concentrates on post at hand* You sum up the season arcs very beautifully. And I agree with the stuff you list in the 'who' section for 5x22. My guesses/hopes are that Cas losing his mojo and being human will be important, the amulet will surface again, Sam's plan to say 'yes' is what the boys will have to go with in the end because it's all they got, and Dean will need to protect the Sam!Lucifer plan by possibly telling Michael to vacate the not-true-vessel!Jake and using him instead. And there better be hugging. *nodnodnod* *flails*

Re: 5x06. IDEK. Seriously, I have issues with that episode and it's 'I don't know if I'm a stand-alone or a mytharc episode'-ness. But it used the red, white, and blue combination very beautifully.

This is the end of the intended 5-year arc, but I really hope that we get something cliffhanger-ish that segues nicely into S6. Maybe it's the personal sacrifice from the plot tools, maybe the fallout of the episode, but something so that S6 isn't like hitting a reset button. You just don't come back from stopping the Apocalypse and ignore that it almost happened. Unless God hits the reset button in the end of 5x22, and man, that opens up all kinds of delicious possibilities for fic. *rambles* I kind of like the finales bleeding into the following season openers.

In conclusion, THE FINALE. *FLAILS*
bowtrunckle
May. 19th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
Cas losing his mojo and being human will be important, the amulet will surface again

I wish something involving these two things happened. I think fandom is going to be fixated on the amulet until it's back around Dean's neck. Next season, Gamble better be ready for the amulet monkey that will be on her back.

Sam's plan to say 'yes' is what the boys will have to go with in the end because it's all they got,

*sobs*

and Dean will need to protect the Sam!Lucifer plan by possibly telling Michael to vacate the not-true-vessel!Jake and using him instead.

The ANGST of Sam vs. Dean, oh, my heart!!!! Never mind that I was the one championing for epic Sam vs. Dean back in early S3, I clearly underestimated my tolerance for brotherpain. I'm sort of glad douche-y Michael stayed in Adam. Samifer was hard enough to watch, Deanichael would've tipped my angst boat over the edge.

And there better be hugging.

!!! I just realized we never got a hug. *gapes* What?! How can that be?!? The epic end, the epic goodbye and NO HUGGING? That's it. *throws down the gloves* Next season, it's all about the HUGS and the AMULET! Do you hear that Gamble? While I'm at it, let me add that I like fun brother pranks, too. HUGS. AMULET. PRANKS. Am I missing anything?

But it used the red, white, and blue combination very beautifully.

It did. Was that the one with the American flag motif everywhere? I only watched it once (I can barely believe it). I think the whole giving birth to a demon baby alone in the dark while possessed and writhing in pain turn pushed all the wrong buttons for me, so ... yeah ... the colors and visual motifs and actionfigure!Cas weren't enough to overwhelm the part of my brain that was recoiling from demon labor.

I really hope that we get something cliffhanger-ish that segues nicely into S6. Maybe it's the personal sacrifice from the plot tools, maybe the fallout of the episode

I think you got your wish, yeah? *bounces* Even though emotionally I'm all *flailSaminaholeohnofail*, the rational part of my brain is happy with the ending and the bridge into S6.

God hits the reset button in the end of 5x22

Yesyesyes. I think this is what happened. God was watching. The boys make the right choices. God rewards the boys in his own way. My current favorite (horribly dramatic/bad fic) idea for next season is that Sam was saved from The Hole by God, and for his sacrifice God put him back on earth to start his life over so he could have everything he never had before. Only that means Sam has NO MEMORY of before. Then one day Dean is passing through Lawrence and sees Amnesia!Sam... OK, I know, whatever, this is why I shouldn't write fic ever because hello, cheesy with cheese on top. *facepalm*

I kind of like the finales bleeding into the following season openers.

I do, too. Cliffhangers make for better premiers. I'm already looking forward to seeing where we jump into the story next season!
(no subject) - hugemind - May. 20th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
zazreil
May. 17th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Lovely - Just need to update it with the ending of Season 5 - where you can talk about what next season will bring. Yes Kripke and Sera are brilliant sadists

LOL

Zaz
elliemurasaki
May. 17th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
S5 expense: Sam in literal hell. Dean in metaphorical hell. Like S3-S4 hiatus only swap the adjectives.

Unfinished business for S6: They're apart and they're miserable.

There, done. :-D
(no subject) - zazreil - May. 17th, 2010 02:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elliemurasaki - May. 17th, 2010 02:54 am (UTC) - Expand
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