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Apparently this is what happens when an episode (8x10) leaves me making my bhuz face and saying, “Really?” at the TV


ETA: since I wrote most of this, RL intervened (in the inconvenient and sleep-depriving form of a 2 am pediatric ER visit and general sickness and then general sickness again) and I wasn’t able to post this until now.  With the airing of 8x11, 8x12 and now 8x13, it seems like things are looking up for this season, but I think some of this may still be relevant or, at the least, provide something to think about for what not to do for half a season of an established TV show.  So here are some thoughts on why I think the first half of S8 felt weird.  How brother conflict was (accidentally?) turned into Brother Conflict, how audience loyalty relies on a sense of familiarity, emotional consistency, and acknowledgement of a rooted, established history.  And paradoxically how all these must be balanced with the demand for new, fresh, and exciting ways to repackage essentially the same emotional story season after season—the Epic Love Story of Sam and Dean, yo.


All stories have been told.  It’s not the plot that’s exceptional; it’s how it’s told, who and what hold it up—the characters, their relationships—and the emotion that drives the story.  It’s all about execution.  And when it comes to execution, the details matter.  That’s the problem with the first half of SPN’s S8.  The heart of the story that was sold to us 8 years ago was Sam and Dean, brothers against all else.  And that’s what we expect to see this season.  On a surficial level that’s what’s parading across our TV and computer screens—Sam and Dean working cases, driving around in the Impala—but the heart of this season’s story, the details, what’s underpinning the emotional story isn’t Sam-n-Dean, brothers.  It’s Sam with Dean or Dean with Sam, two guys who ride around in surly silence in a car and are pissed off at each other off most of the time.  Add to that some seemingly dead-end plot loops concocted to account for Sam and Dean’s year apart and a different flavor of drama (a la love triangle) that had most of fandom scratching its head and looking for a twist that has yet to materialize, and it’s easy to see why SPN seems like foreign terrain this season.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the writers and the rest of the SPN team are working hard, doing their best to keep the show fresh, bring us new stories, create new shades of brother conflict, and perhaps add nuances and relationships we haven’t seen before, but in doing so I think a vitally important part of what SPN has been accidentally sidelined for the first half of the season: Sam and Dean’s Epic Love.  Once upon a time it saved the world.  Remember that?

And that’s the conundrum.  As viewers we want new stories, excitement, a fresh take on the characters, a different, novel spin on …  everything, but simultaneously we want continuity, familiarity, acknowledgement of what’s come before, and the core of Sam and Dean’s relationship to fundamentally not change (brothers who are conflicted but care about each other over all else forever and ever amen).  It’s easy to see why we seem so hard to please.  But really all we want are for Sam and Dean to love each other (in a PG-13 fraternal way acceptable for the general viewing public, of course *wink*) and have some kick-ass adventures with guns and dangerous, pokey objects in a noisy black car that goes fast.

The issue I’m having is that all of these things can operate together.  We can see new relationships, new dimensions of Sam and Dean, an unearthing of new conflict between them, but it doesn’t have to be done at the expense of their underlying feelings for each other.  I argue that the push-pull of their feelings strengthen the drama because, in the past, it’s been the tug-of-war of emotion vs. action vs. I love you vs. I don’t understand why/what you’re doing vs. I’m gonna save you vs. I’m not worth saving that’s been the emotional cornerstone of SPN and, I think, vastly responsible for the show’s success.  Which brings us to the messy issue of conflict and the tenuous balance between too much, too little, and where it’s sourced.


“Conflict is the basis of good drama and there’s more storyline to play when there’s static between them and they don’t completely trust each other. I’ve always felt, even when I was writing the show, that the seasons where Sam and Dean were in agreement the whole time weren’t as interesting as when we gave them a conflict.” 
                                                                                                                                      --Eric Kripke (interview 1/23/13)


Yes, conflict is the heart of drama and SPN wouldn’t be the same show without it.  But it feels like this season, at least in the first half, the brother conflict was amped up (maybe in an attempt to up the stakes from the previous 7 seasons of brother conflict) to such a degree that the conflict itself wasn’t just surface issues over Dean’s socks in the sink, questionable alliances, or the grey areas between good and evil, but instead it became a conflict rooted in who Sam and Dean are.  It was as if brother conflict had been hollowed out to be Brother Conflict—Sam and Dean at odds not only in terms of the plot and surface elements but also in conflict over their basic feelings for each other.

In previous seasons the conflict was about what Sam and Dean wanted—and, yes, that’s about who Sam and Dean are—but deeper than that, fundamentally, Sam and Dean still cared about each other (except for the S6 soulless-Sam period when Sam wasn’t capable of caring).  Their love wasn’t the conflict—it created the conflict.  It was the opposing force that was at war with what they wanted and how they approached/dealt with things, their worldviews, and was almost a separate entity beyond who they were as individuals.  But it seems what we saw in the early part of S8 was that Sam and Dean’s feelings for each other became the conflict.  Instead of their Epic Love being an independent, static force driving everything else in motion around it, the opposite happened, everything else (plot, wants/needs, who the characters are, how they operate) pushed Sam and Dean’s fundamental feelings for each other to the periphery, making their love for each other—or the seeming lack thereof—the conflict.  The lies, mistrust, manipulation, suspicion and resentment during the first 10 episodes made the story of Sam and Dean’s Epic Love a hard sell.  And for a show that’s hinged upon the strength of the brother relationship since day one, it felt unfamiliar and unsettling, as if the first half of S8 got stuck inside out and backwards.

So let’s step back for a second and play a little logic game.  If it’s correct that Sam and Dean’s established feelings for each other could be summed up as “family trumps everything and everyone” and if the conflict during the first half of S8 was the brothers’ feeling for each other, then it would follow that the conflict should revolve around attachment, loyalty, the familial bond, and/or love.  This isn’t to say that the conflict should be non-existent because it’s about warm fuzzies, but simply that the conflict should be rooted in overall positive feelings even if the resulting actions aren’t productive, healthy, rational, or without negative impact (refer to Sam and Dean’s motivations and resulting actions for pretty much the last 7 seasons).

But this isn’t what happened.  Not only did brother conflict, which was previously sourced from their positive feelings for each other, get turned into Brother Conflict, it wasn’t at all apparent that attachment, loyalty, the familial bond, and/or love were motivating Sam and Dean’s actions.  Based on Sam and Dean’s long and tumultuous emotional history, it would’ve been easy to slip a line in about how Sam didn’t trust Benny because he was worried about Dean falling into the a similar situation that he, Sam, found himself with Ruby, rooting Sam’s suspicions in his concern for Dean.  In those first 10 episodes, it would’ve been easy for Dean to sympathize with Sam’s feelings for Amelia being that he had Lisa (and Ben) while Sam was presumed dead and not use Sam’s fear that something had happened to her in such a callous way.  Instead we got two guys arguing at every turn, who said hurtful things, committed emotionally cruel acts, and seemed like they genuinely couldn’t stand to be around each other.  But more troublesome was that all of this was sourced from some mysterious black hole void of attachment, loyalty, the familial bond, and/or love, making it feel like the Sam and Dean on screen were hollowed-out facsimiles themselves.

Not making the brothers’ bond the mainstay emotional storyline for the first half of the season was responsible for a show that looked like SPN but felt strangely unfamiliar.  Because so many other elements were in flux: new characters, a new (old) plot, new (old) conflicts, some attempts at what looked like character growth (Dean) and some attempts to reveal what looked like new aspects of characters (Sam), something rooted and familiar with major emotional traction needed to hold it all together.  For the last 7 seasons (except for the soulless-Sam period) that has been the brother’s love for each other.  It’s messed up, dysfunctional, and broken, but it’s the intention of doing what they think is best born out of love that redeems Sam and Dean’s actions and hurtful words.  And the undisputed intention of love motivating actions is something we didn’t see until “Time Goes By”, twelve episodes into the season, when Dean insisted on saving Sam.  And that’s why we got brothers begrudgingly together but deeply unhappy at the end of “Torn and Frayed” (8x10), which gave a sense of dead-end entrapment and sent fandom into a groaning tailspin of “Where did my Show go?!” and caps lock entries full of declarations along the lines of “I’d quit this show if I could! AKJADFJKL!”  So for the first half of this season not only did we get Sam and Dean in conflict over their feelings for each other rather than in conflict as a result of their feelings for each other, we didn’t see their love for each other, as has been very evident in the past, as a motivating factor for their actions.

In addition to those two factors affecting how foreign SPN felt for the first 10 episodes, I think there was also an issue with matching current characterization with past context and the brothers’ emotional history.  The main problem being that Sam and Dean’s actions, words, and motivations didn’t make sense in the context of their history.  On a show that consists of two brothers and their Epic Love and coupled with the two previously mentioned issues, the degree to which Sam and Dean lied, manipulated, refused to trust each other, and used each other as emotional punching bags didn’t make sense from what we know of them previously.  Instead we got Dean who used Sam’s greatest fear and vulnerability against him (planting information that falsely suggested somebody Sam cares about was in danger) and Sam who somehow refuses to trust Dean for something Sam himself did in the past (trusting a vampire, Lenore in S2), and both of them refusing to see each others’ viewpoints even though they themselves once held them (more articulate thoughts from galathea_snb about this here, in particular the first two paragraphs).  Substitute any other characters and maybe this would fly, but not with the Sam and Dean we’ve come to know over the last 8 years.

So just as we want consistency with the heart of Sam and Dean’s emotional story, we also crave familiarity and a semblance of character continuity, but at the same time we want the characters to change and grow and become better, more complex.  And that’s what we saw in S1-5: a progressive evolution of Sam and Dean’s relationship (even though at times it was painful).  I think that’s what the writers may be trying to manufacture now, moving Sam and Dean as individuals into discovering new facets of themselves.  But that evolution can’t be at the expense of who the characters were to begin with.  It’s building upon a foundation, not blasting away everything and starting new.

And finally a little foray into a related idea and one of the most common reasons why the first half of the season felt foreign: Sam, Amelia, and Don.  Let me first say that characters and relationships can look great on paper but they don’t always translate to the screen or resonate with the audience.  And I think this was the case here.  Sam and Amelia were portrayed two deeply bruised souls who found comfort with each other.  Realistic, sure.  So why didn’t it strike a chord with the audience?  We’re not looking for realism; we’re looking for familiarity.  Most of us involved in fandom watch for Sam and Dean and their relationship.  This is a Sci-Fi/Horror, show about two vigilante brothers, angels, and demons, where everyone dies grisly, horrible deaths, including the main characters.  This is a show where Death eats deep-fried pickle chips, parallel universes and time travel happen on a semi-regular basis, and Sam and Dean are healed in no time from grievous injuries that would kill or permanently land anyone in real life in the hospital or mental ward or both.  If we wanted something that approached realism we’d be watching docudramas or reality TV (even though reality TV approximates RL as much as Barbie is a realistic stand-in for a living, breathing human being).  Supernatural is meant for an audience that wants dramatic escapism, not dramatic realism or dramatic … drama-ism (ha, I made that up, but, you know, drama for the sake of drama based loosely on reality that isn’t fantastical and fantasy-based—shows like Gossip Girl or Grey’s Anatomy).  Couple that with the fact the established mo of SPN has never been based on meandering love interests, let alone love triangles, and it makes sense why we balked at the possibility of a subplot based on a pissing contest between Sam and Don over Amelia.  The latter two being characters we weren’t emotionally invested in because we weren’t allowed to get to know them in a way that made them more than one-dimensional as their appearances were either too brief, emotionally monochrome, or—with the exception of the last moments of 8x10—lacked relevance and urgency in the present time of the story.

It’s hard, no doubt (and this is where I start to feel bad for blabbing about all that is “bad” with this season).  Not only do the writers have to maintain a balance between character growth and consistency while simultaneously keeping an eye on the emotional underpinnings of the character motivation, they have to root the current story to its history—or at least not contradict or entirely ignore it—while maintaining forward momentum, keeping the story fresh, and giving it a new spin.  They have to pay tribute to what has come before, giving the story a sense of depth that is familiar and new at the same time.  Use new events, new characters, new situations to tell old stories that reveal new things about old characters that reflect their history and growth.  And do this all on a network TV deadline.  But that being said, I don’t think fandom’s reaction is unwarranted.  I think it’s borne out of a familiarity and protectiveness and standard of consistency that should be demanded.  SPN is a show where love hurts, but ultimately it’s the underlying driving force—no matter how misplaced, twisted, or misguided—for pretty much everything the Winchesters do.  And that should be the thread that holds every season together.

To sum everything up: writing is hard, we, the audience, demand lots of seemingly but not necessarily contrasting stuff, and conflict can be a good thing, but only if Sam and Dean love each other deep down.  We watch for dramatic escapism and to sit down with a show that feels like an old friend.  Comfort in familiarity resonates with fandom (why else would we stick with a TV show for 8 years?).  So keep the core elements of SPN and dress it up with exciting, kick-ass adventures and novel, colorful supporting characters that make sense in the context of the show’s history.  But ultimately this is the story of Sam and Dean’s Epic Love.  And it should remain as such.

Comments

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galwithglasses
Feb. 8th, 2013 07:38 am (UTC)
But really all we want are for Sam and Dean to love each other (in a PG-13 fraternal way acceptable for the general viewing public, of course *wink*) and have some kick-ass adventures with guns and dangerous, pokey objects in a noisy black car that goes fast.

Yes to everything you said. I hope we've turned a corner and are heading for better things from here on. I hope they don't backslide and go back to it.
bowtrunckle
Feb. 9th, 2013 02:42 am (UTC)
I hope so too! *crosses fingers*
galathea_snb
Feb. 8th, 2013 09:58 am (UTC)
I couldn't agree with you more. The first half of the season felt like the heart of the show was missing. Even in S4, when Sam and Dean were at each other's throats, I felt more love between them than in most of the first 10 episodes of S8, and I find that unsettling. I am fine with conflict, but I always need the feeling that no matter what, Sam and Dean love each other, even if they don't understand one another.

The lack of emotional continuity is particularly grating. I still don't understand how the writers got from the ending of S7 to the versions of the characters we saw in 8x01-8x10. The writers made no efforts whatsoever to paint a compelling emotional journey that lead the characters from point A to point B. The show used to excel in consistent, emotional contiuity for Sam and Dean; it's the one thing we could always count on. I would really like to know what the writers were thinking when they outlined the first half of the season.

But ultimately this is the story of Sam and Dean’s Epic Love. And it should remain as such.

AMEN! At least it seems the season has finally turned a corner. This week's episode has been amazing! It's been a long time since I last felt such a genuine sense of hope in one of Supernatural's storylines. ♥
bowtrunckle
Feb. 9th, 2013 03:21 am (UTC)
The first half of the season felt like the heart of the show was missing.

Ha, I think there used to be a line in this meta that said exactly that (but I deleted it), so I agree obviously. :)

Sam and Dean love each other, even if they don't understand one another

Yes, this is the best sort of conflict because their feelings for each other provide a needed counterpoint to the problematic issues, it's the "pull" part of the "push-pull" that conflict needs. If the characters have no reason why they keep hanging around to just fight, the conflict seem contrived and unbelievable, so it's necessary even though it seems counter to what would make for good tension/fighting. I feel like the writers somehow forgot this and just wanted to manufacture Big Conflict as if that alone would make for good drama. It's almost like they didn't know what else to do after 7 seasons of previous brother conflict so their default was to just make everything BIGGER. :(

I would really like to know what the writers were thinking when they outlined the first half of the season.

Even though I don't think it had to spin out like it did, I feel like it was spent cleaning up where S7 left off, a really long transition from Gamble's story to Carver's story. Like Carver felt obligated to play out the repercussions of Dean in Purgatory and Sam alone in order to position the characters for where he wanted them to be for his story (8x11 and beyond), only he really didn't want to deal with it thoughtfully. So instead of picking story lines that spun from Sam and Dean as characters (I'd like to have seen Sam get Dean out of Purgatory and have the boys be agencies of their own lives instead of pawns of the supernatural again), he just picked some story lines that hadn't happened yet (Sam in a long-term relationship, not hunting and Dean being best buddies with a monster) and shoved Sam and Dean into those roles.

At least it seems the season has finally turned a corner.

And just in time! Even my patience was beginning to wane.
antrazi
Feb. 8th, 2013 01:35 pm (UTC)
I may be an eternal optimist but I still hope they will finish these storylines in a way that it doesn't just feel like wasted time
bowtrunckle
Feb. 9th, 2013 02:47 am (UTC)
I'm ambivalent. A part of me wants to believe they will and that all of it was factored into some grand plan that will come full circle by the end of this season. Another part of me thinks that's a lot to hope for. Lately, I feel like I'm giving Show an expression that looks a lot like your icon.
fannishliss
Feb. 8th, 2013 01:52 pm (UTC)
I think this essay is very smart and very well-put. You should definitely cross post at spn heavy meta if you haven't already. :D

My reactions to the first half of the season are very different and so I think I have a meta of my own to write! I really appreciate your clear headedness in laying all of this out. It makes perfect sense and helps to illustrate to me why fandom has reacted as it has.

I would argue that SPOILERS are also to blame. I think a lot of people went into the season with Jared's words about Sam not bothering to look for Dean ringing in their ears. Taking Jared's words with a grain of salt (because I am vehemently opposed to SPOILERS, which are called that for a reason!) led to my really identifying with Sam and feeling with him for the long half season. I believe that it's true that Sam didn't look for Dean -- but I do not believe it's because he stopped caring. I think Dean's loss shattered him -- and I absolutely ached for him when Dean (and fandom) couldn't see that. (I think Jared does a stellar job getting inside Sam's head emotionally and conveying what he's feeling when Sam hasn't got any words or lines to say -- the play of expression on Sam's face mean everything.) Sam's inability/refusal to make any excuses for his inactivity blindsided everyone. But I also think that Dean's experience of purgatory did change something fundamental in his character-- something that he was unable to communicate with Sam, even though he did try. And even I myself, as a longtime Dean Girl, had a really hard time understanding. Which is why I need to write that meta!

Anyhow, I am really glad that Show has emerged from the morass of s7, which, for me, was an astonishing emotional drain, as more and more of Sam and Dean's support system was ripped away from them. This new mythos has a lot of problems of its own, but I am so grateful for Sam and Dean having friends and contacts and a homebase again. Huge sigh of relief!

I just have to say, I hope they don't let Dean just sit back and take this label that he is the "Brawn" of the family. I am really really happy for Sam that he has this mantle to draw around his huge librarian shoulders. (I am sitting around thinking about Bobby's books all in boxes and just itching for Sam to cross catalog them. I am literally picturing the satisfaction of slotting Bobby's book in amongst the Letters collection.) I want Dean to have his Legacy in Letters too though!! Is that too greedy? The very first meta I ever posted was about Dean's giftedness. I don't want him shoved over as Brawn.... Yes, I am a greedy fangirl.
bowtrunckle
Feb. 9th, 2013 04:28 am (UTC)
You should definitely cross post at spn heavy meta

I was thinking of it, but wasn't sure if that comm was relevant anymore *remembers its glory in S2 and its many posts*. I suppose it can't hurt, though. :)

I think I have a meta of my own to write ... Dean's experience of purgatory did change something fundamental in his character

That's a meta I'd be interested in reading!

I would argue that SPOILERS are also to blame.

For sure. Were you involved in this fandom during the summer before S3 (sorry I can't remember off hand)? If not or if you don't recall, there was a HUGE fandom freak-out as a result of Ruby and Bela sides being leaked with people rallying against potential love interests and the new girls causing Sam and Dean to be apart more than they were together etc. This stemmed from the sides being a scene of Sam and Ruby and then of Dean and Bela, and at least Sam and Ruby's scene (if not both) was hypersexualized. Anyway, I feel like those spoilers caused a portion of fandom to make up their minds about Ruby and Bela before they even stepped off the page and played into the developing idea at the time that women on SPN shouldn't last long. So, yes, spoilers create buzz and cause people to draw inferences and connect the dots as they see fit if they turn out to be accurate or not, and those preconceived notions can influence the perception of what actually happens.

I believe that it's true that Sam didn't look for Dean -- but I do not believe it's because he stopped caring. I think Dean's loss shattered him

I agree.

Sam's inability/refusal to make any excuses for his inactivity blindsided everyone.

I was surprised by this, but not because it didn't fit with Sam's personality (I feel like he's not one to make excuses really, but to internalize everything and sort of take it on the chin), but bec. SPN has always had a "twist" (except for maybe S7?), a sort of master plan operating in the background, something pulling the strings regardless if we were privy to it or not. There's a twist this season with Naomi, but I was originally expecting it to be with Sam, maybe having to do with the dark figure watching him in 8x01.

I am so grateful for Sam and Dean having friends and contacts and a homebase again.

Garth is growing on me. :) He's certainly enduring and a great change of pace from the usual flavor of alcoholic, mentally unstable hunters. I'm loving the Men of Letters idea so much! Ahhhhh, the potential!!!! And their headquarters is gorgeous to look at. OMG, there could be so many cool things hiding in there!
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astarloa
Feb. 9th, 2013 09:49 am (UTC)
This is really interesting and well argued!

SPN is a show where love hurts, but ultimately it’s the underlying driving force—no matter how misplaced, twisted, or misguided—for pretty much everything the Winchesters do. And that should be the thread that holds every season together.

Yes, very much this.

In some ways, season 8 feels like a negative image of season 1 to me: vibrant emotional connections set against a washed out / grainy palette versus the often hyperreal, candy colouring of this season with its worn out and frayed relationships…*ponders*
bowtrunckle
Feb. 10th, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC)
season 8 feels like a negative image of season 1 to me: vibrant emotional connections set against a washed out / grainy palette versus the often hyperreal, candy colouring of this season with its worn out and frayed relationships

Nice. I like the comparison. That "candy colouring" comment reminded me right away of S3 when suddenly the saturation was like getting poked in the eye with a 64 pack of crayola crayons. As far as this season goes, I understand why the look for Sam's flashbacks were adopted, but I still prefer the desaturated look of S1/S2 and the awesome look of Purgatory (although it is nice to see the boys brightly colored).
hugemind
Feb. 9th, 2013 10:18 am (UTC)
This. All of this. Especially this:

But really all we want are for Sam and Dean to love each other (in a PG-13 fraternal way acceptable for the general viewing public, of course *wink*) and have some kick-ass adventures with guns and dangerous, pokey objects in a noisy black car that goes fast.

And this:

Supernatural is meant for an audience that wants dramatic escapism, not dramatic realism or dramatic … drama-ism

And you hit the nail in the head with this:

It was the opposing force that was at war with what they wanted and how they approached/dealt with things, their worldviews, and was almost a separate entity beyond who they were as individuals. But it seems what we saw in the early part of S8 was that Sam and Dean’s feelings for each other became the conflict.

The first 10 eps feel like a different show, but I'm happy that the last three eps have had a lot of heart and soul in them. \o/
bowtrunckle
Feb. 10th, 2013 10:07 pm (UTC)
I'm happy that the last three eps have had a lot of heart and soul in them. \o/

Me, too! And so relieved. I'd rather be writing hyper-spaz posts that abuse emoticons and exclamation marks about how great everything is rather than meta like this.
etoile444
Feb. 9th, 2013 12:25 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what I would have written in response if I had written this after 8.10. Now, having seen the latest episodes I have them to guide my thoughts. My gut tells me Jeremy was attempting to clean up after Sera prior to moving on to the story he wanted to tell.

I agree that Sam and Dean's acceptance and understanding of each other was lacking. Sam was actually so emotionally void I thought his soul was missing again. How he got to that place should have been shown. Then as a viewer I'd get the decisions he made. Deans story gave me plenty to understand why he trusted Benny.

I'm happy the story seems to be off on a new path. I have Hope that wasn't there a month ago.
bowtrunckle
Feb. 10th, 2013 10:18 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what I would have written in response if I had written this after 8.10.

I think fandom was at an all time low after that episode aired (I know I was pretty exasperated). I think if I'd posted this that week, the discussion threads would be very different. I'm happy, though, that SPN seems to be finding its groove finally. I agree with you about Carver closing off Gamble's story (see my reply to galathea_snb's comment above for more if you're interested). :)

How he got to that place should have been shown.

Yes, it should've. We got lots of flashbacks showing how Sam was with Amelia and how their relationship evolved through mutual emotional devastation/dependency, but it was important for us to see Sam before Amelia and get a sense of his head space (and now I'm laughing at the idea of flashbacks within a flashback). There's much to be said about showing vs. telling. We were told a lot about how Sam was feeling (or else left to infer based on his "actions" or inaction), but we weren't really shown. A great use of showing was in "I Know What You Did Last Summer". I kept hoping for an episode that meaty this season so we could really understand Sam, but it looks like it's very unlikely as it feels like that whole missing year and its emotional repercussions for Sam and Dean are probably in the can now.
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bowtrunckle
Feb. 11th, 2013 01:26 pm (UTC)
The arguing between the brothers, in the first half of season 8, felt contrived and just put there because it was drama

YES! Manufactured! Almost like SPN forgot it's own history. I'd really like to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, but I feel like they collectively dropped the ball here by failing to create credible drama that made sense with Sam and Dean's past. And it was so frustrating.

we never got more information, no flasbacks, no conversations with Amelia and/or Dean about what Sam went through

It's the tell and not the showing problem (again). We seem to get a lot of this, I feel, with Sam's story lines and it's a big, fat pitfall whenever a show jumps forward in time, esp. when something major has happened. It's clear that Carver was trying to create some tension by not showing what exactly happened with Sam right away (and also not linger on a story with the boy apart by skipping that year as it's clear they think the audience will freak out if Sam and Dean are apart for any extended period of time, which I think is mostly true but, if it's done right it could be totally awesome and actually make the collective Sam-n-Dean identity stronger). But then as the episodes spun by it became apparent that Show was never going to really show what happened to Sam pre-Amelia and post-7x22 and that's when we, the audience, started crying foul i.e. "where's the twist with Sam's story?!". It was treated almost as a tease and then it was a big let down, AND we've been trained by to expect a twist so of course we were confused. I'm still waiting for the twist as I'm wondering who that dark figure watching Sam in 8x01 was.

it's so weird how episodes 1-10 feel like a completely different show then 11-13.

Dissociative identity disorder. Show has traumatized itself. *nods*

Thanks for leaving your thoughts!
maenad
Feb. 9th, 2013 03:09 pm (UTC)
Hi. I found this via spn_heavymeta, and I wanted to thank you for your excellent analysis of the first half of the season.

But it seems what we saw in the early part of S8 was that Sam and Dean’s feelings for each other became the conflict.

I think I would say that the basic premise of the show is that these are two people who discovered that they are both happier and more capable together, who were then informed by the whole universe - starting with John (who loved them but wanted them to behave in ways that wouldn't let them function as a partnership) and moving up to demons (who wanted them at odds) and angels (who wanted to use them for their own purposes) - that they weren't allowed to just be together and do their job.

They were always facing external pressure to fight. Of course, their differing personalities and opinions could exacerbate the situation, but the idea was that if they could just have the space to talk and think their natural inclination would be to sort themselves out - as evidenced by the occasions where they pulled themselves together and faced down their oppressors.

The trouble with season eight is that the main conflict was not about them at all: it was a battle of wills between Kevin and Crowley. That's fine, except that it gave them plenty of space to sort out their issues - and they made very little attempt to do so. And that undermines everything we've ever been told about them. That's one reason why the introduction of the Men of Letters is so encouraging - it puts Sam and Dean back in the centre of things, and hopefully creates an environment in which future conflicts will be meaningful. I think a lot of the problem stems from the fact that the show needs conflict on the mythic scale and on the personal scale. Usually, these two things have been tied together. But here they were disconnected, which meant that Sam and Dean's arguments necessarily looked manufactured.

Sam and Amelia were portrayed two deeply bruised souls who found comfort with each other. Realistic, sure. So why didn’t it strike a chord with the audience? We’re not looking for realism; we’re looking for familiarity. Most of us involved in fandom watch for Sam and Dean and their relationship.

I think the failure here ties into the whole 'backwards' theme you've been addressing. The show has a long history of using guest characters to highlight things about Sam, Dean or their relationship. Those characters generally have enough background and quirks sketched in to make them unique (though some are richer than others) but a lot of what we feel for them comes from our intimate knowledge of where Sam and Dean are at, and what the guest characters' arcs say about them.

Here I thought that, instead of Amelia and Don representing Sam and Dean, Sam and Dean represented Amelia and Don. We got a reasonable amount of info on Amelia and Don's past and why they were conflicted and so on - but since we scarcely know them we have little reason to be invested. And Sam's character arc was apparently just to be taken as read: if you want an idea of how Sam felt, look at Amelia and infer. You know - he's Sam. He falls apart in dramatic ways. We're not going to show you.

That leaves us with little to hold onto in the plotline. The metaphor doesn't work because it goes the wrong way. We have to know where Sam's at in order to really embrace Amelia's predicament as an extension of his.

Anyway, the last few episodes have been a great improvement. And I'm sorry for all the blather. I just love posts that make me think. :)
bowtrunckle
Feb. 12th, 2013 10:49 pm (UTC)
The trouble with season eight is that the main conflict was not about them at all: it was a battle of wills between Kevin and Crowley

So on point! This is a really good point, and one that highlights a major difference between this season and past seasons. It's funny how conflict and motivation are intertwined--they're often stuck together, but not always. And this season shows that.

I think a lot of the problem stems from the fact that the show needs conflict on the mythic scale and on the personal scale. Usually, these two things have been tied together. But here they were disconnected, which meant that Sam and Dean's arguments necessarily looked manufactured.

I agree 110%. I played a little game at the end of S5 and teased apart conflict for every season up to that point, then wrote a post discussing exactly what you mention here. :) It would be interesting to redo this exercise for S6-S8 and see how things compare with how the season was perceived to hold together.

a lot of what we feel for them comes from our intimate knowledge of where Sam and Dean are at, and what the guest characters' arcs say about them.

I feel that when Show doesn't do this AND the supporting characters aren't quirky and colorful, they aren't as well received. This poor show is all about Sam and Dean no matter how you spin it.

instead of Amelia and Don representing Sam and Dean, Sam and Dean represented Amelia and Don.

O.O My brain just turned inside out. :)

he's Sam. He falls apart in dramatic ways. We're not going to show you.

I can't help but wonder why this seems to be the case more than not with Sam's emotional journey vs. Dean's. My knee-jerk reaction is to want to reject it because I want SPN to treat Sam and Dean equally. But with the last couple of seasons, it's hard to ignore. *gets thinky*

I'm sorry for all the blather. I just love posts that make me think. :)

Don't be sorry, you comment was super awesome and really interesting! Blabbing about SPN is fun. Thank you!

Edited at 2013-02-12 10:51 pm (UTC)
percysowner
Feb. 9th, 2013 03:09 pm (UTC)
This is a great meta. The conflict was built on the wrong things and it really ruined the first half of the season for me. I'm not certain the second half can take that away, but the last 2 episodes have me hoping. The one thing I am going to need is SEEING how Sam reacted to Dean's disappearance. Yes, I can believe he shattered but devoting only 2 sentences to it "I ran", making Sam sound like a coward and "My world imploded" frankly isn't enough for me. I need to see the show acknowledge Sam's shattering when Dean disappeared. I shouldn't have to make up the plausible scenario in my mind. So, I'm still holding my breath on how I will end up feeling about this season.
bowtrunckle
Feb. 13th, 2013 02:50 am (UTC)
I am going to need is SEEING how Sam reacted to Dean's disappearance.

I was hopeful with the number of flashbacks we were getting in the beginning of the season that we'd see Sam before he hit the dog and met Amelia. Unfortunately that didn't happen (obviously), and even though I'd like to think we could still get to experience what Sam experienced, I'm not so sure that SPN is going to take us back that far again. It feels like we're finally gaining some forward momentum this season and (even though from a fannish perspective it would be satisfying) flashing back to that storyline in that sort of detail may be more of a distraction. :(

I shouldn't have to make up the plausible scenario in my mind.

I agree. But that's what fanfic is for!

I'm still holding my breath on how I will end up feeling about this season.

I'm still waiting to see if the writers are going to address the dark figure watching Sam in 8x01 and explain how Sam just happened to leave Amelia and then walk into Rufus' cabin when Dean just happened to have newly escaped Purgatory. Maybe it's supposed to be a coincidence, but it just seems so ... purposefully unexplained.
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runedgirl
Feb. 9th, 2013 07:22 pm (UTC)
This is EXACTLY what made the first half of S8 so uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Well said. I'm feeling like Show is getting back on track after the last three episodes, and I'd like to think they have learned something from what didn't work in early S8. Maybe you should send this to Mr. Carver just to make sure :)
bowtrunckle
Feb. 13th, 2013 02:55 am (UTC)
I'm feeling like Show is getting back on track after the last three episodes

Let's hope this nice trend continues! I'd love nothing more than just to write off the first half of the season and just think of S8 as being 12 awesome episodes long.

Maybe you should send this to Mr. Carver just to make sure :)

Heh, that would be ... scary. :) I have so much respect for people who write for a living, I'd probably wet my pants.
snchick12
Feb. 10th, 2013 06:47 am (UTC)
U know, I agree! I love S8, but I'll admit it felt awkward! but that's cause we never had to deal with that situation before, but true to Sam and deans nature they know that they are all they have left is each other and will always come back for the other, so for that I am forgiving them lol, but everyone is allowed thier own opinion! it did excite me the possible love Interest, or Dean knowing about Benny and helping him out, it was drama! but it all came back to like u said the epic love, and to be truthful it can't all 100% okey dokey, where is the angst in that ;) lol
bowtrunckle
Feb. 13th, 2013 02:58 am (UTC)
Yes, drama and angst and family and epic love, it's like the perfect little storm. \o/ And for that I adore this little show.
strgazr04
Feb. 10th, 2013 07:57 am (UTC)
Wow! This is impressive! I agree with so much of this I can't even tell you. If it wasn't 3am I'd totally write so much more haha! Well done!

I will say though that as much of a turning point as the last two or three episodes have made, it leaves me confused for the first part. I feel like the season so far doesn't flow as one whole story. Maybe once we get a few episodes more it'll make sense.
bowtrunckle
Feb. 13th, 2013 03:03 am (UTC)
I feel like the season so far doesn't flow as one whole story.

That's exactly the problem so far. The transition from Gamble to Carver was rough to say the least.

Maybe once we get a few episodes more it'll make sense.

Here's to hoping there's a grand plan just waiting to be revealed!

Thanks for stopping by. :)
peepingdru
Feb. 10th, 2013 08:01 am (UTC)
yes yes AND yes::DDDDD
bowtrunckle
Feb. 10th, 2013 10:18 pm (UTC)
YES! :D Thanks for stopping by!
mangacat201
Feb. 10th, 2013 09:44 am (UTC)
THIS. THIS Is SO GOOD. You hit it exactly on the head, as to why I was unwilling to say S8 sucked because I saw what they were trying to do and thought it was a pretty great idea for freshening up the joint 8 seasons in, but their execution was just lacking in certain rare but ultimately very important details. It kinda says it all that I read a fic where Sam was searching aimlessly, hit a dog and met a woman who was so hurt from her partner's passing that she couldn't enter into a real long term relationship. Sam just stopped because he couldn't go on alone and she took him in because she couldn't go on alone. And I was YES I CAN GET BEHIND THAT. Because it made sense with their characters, for Sam to just find reprieve in not looking because it would have destroyed him not to find Dean. Cue drama of 'you didn't look for me' - 'I couldn't or I would have broken beyond repair' same drama, same tension, same trust issues but with the underlying current of 'I did it because I love you TOO MUCH'.
I think the writers are working their asses off too and I commend them, but they have lost sight a bit of what actually drove the show. Maybe a rewatch is in order guys.
bowtrunckle
Feb. 13th, 2013 03:10 am (UTC)
for Sam to just find reprieve in not looking because it would have destroyed him not to find Dean.

See?!?! It's just those little missing pieces that we needed in order to establish that brother love was the underlying motivation for ... everything. I think most of fandom would've gladly accepted Sam's actions over that missing year if it had been backed by something as familiar and sensible as what you mentioned, and it wouldn't have changed Sam's early S8 storyline whatsoever. It wouldn't have taken a lot, just a line of dialogue. And that's exactly why early S8 was so frustrating and confounding. I think the worst part of those first 10 episodes is what potential they had for some really good storytelling. But as it stands, they were off the mark and just left a weird aftertaste everybody wants to forget.
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