Friday, April 15, 2011

Supernatural First Impressions

Supernatural "My Heart Will Go On" (6.17): Spoilery

I heard that this episode had Fate in it. And I was really dreading it because one of the things I like about Supernatural is that it's very gung-ho about free will and giving Destiny the bird and what-not. And when I heard "Fate" I translated it as a personification of the fate that we see in texts like Beowulf, etc. So I was very much leery of the idea, to say the least.

But I was wrong! It was the Greek goddesses of Fate, which was a huge relief. And it renewed my appreciation for how well Supernatural navigates the tension between fate and free will because it's a rather nuanced idea that flicks like Star Wars always failed to properly explore.

Also -- Fate was a badass. Not only was her librarian look super hot, but she was a strong female character -- which Supernatural, despite it's otherwise awesomeness -- rather lacks (since we're talking about strong female characters, it was nice to see Ellen and to hear that Jo was off being an awesome hunter).

I really loved how Fate called Castiel out on the carpet. I thought she was complex -- she's angry that the world is suddenly a chaotic-topsy-turvy mess more so than usual, she's angry that she's lost her job--that the rug's been pulled out from under her feet, and she's angry that Castiel has been abusing angel privileges and saving boat-loads of people to fund his angelic civil war. And instead of wringing her hands, she goes through the proper channels, and then when that fails, does something about it. Very cool.

And you know, since we're talking about gender (I know, it's all I can think about these days--hopefully that part will get turned off soon, it gets a little exhausting sometimes), I really liked how the show sort of played with some stereotypes that are so commonly applied to women:

Don't be so emotional, Castiel tells her. You're confused. And the show subverts that by really playing off the different emotional dynamics at work here -- both the individual ones and the cosmically broad ones.

Sometimes I think the problem with shows is that they go too far in a polarized direction: either a woman is a stereotype in that she's passive or what not, or she's either the kick ass standard bearer that says This Show Believes in Feminism Because Look At How Macho This Woman Is. And so I liked that Supernatural did have her being emotional and reasonable at the same time. It was realistic and three dimensional and awesome.

And, if we're talking about three dimensional characters: Castiel.

I think it takes guts to take a fan favorite and to put him in circumstances where his motivations and desires will, perhaps, conflict with what made him so lovable in the first place. In Season 4, he was heaven's bitch, just accepting what he was told. In Season 5, Sam and Dean showed him what it meant to be human. But then he got put in charge of heaven and now he has some serious decisions to make. And he has conflicting motivations, and he must choose, and instead of doing the right thing, he tries to have his cake and eat it too (I couldn't help but think that his little speech to the boys about how they taught him about freedom etc. was sort of preluding a course of action that he knows they probably won't agree with in a future episode).

I love how palpable his shame is: even as he's denying Fate's accusations about his motivations for saving the Titanic, you can just see it (and he's obviously not used to lying, that's so adorable and beautiful and simultaneously sad that he's learning how to -- especially in context of that one episode where he asked Dean why people lie). And, even though he stopped Balthazar when she threatened to have Dean and Sam killed, I can't help but think that it was also because he knew she was right.

And then of course, he lies to Sam and Dean, covering for himself, blaming Fate because he's not brave enough to blame himself.

I can't say I'm thrilled with the direction that Castiel is being taken from a personal, squeeing fangirl point of view, but I have to say that, as a writer, I really respect the show for not keeping Castiel as Sam and Dean's backseat angel buddy. I feel like there are high stakes for the character, like the show is taking the opportunity to explore more of his character to make him round and full and real, and it just thrills me.

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