Supernatural has been doing meta commentary for years now. As a way to poke fun at some of their more ridiculous plot lines, the show turned its main characters into main characters — that is, in season four’s “The Monster at the End of This Book,” Sam and Dean Winchester discovered that their lives were detailed in a book series called “Supernatural,” and people were obsessed with their story.
It’s difficult to know when exactly the fourth wall was completely shattered. Was it when Sam and Dean traveled to an alternate universe where they were actors named Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, starring on a TV show called Supernatural? Or was it when it started writing fan fiction of itself in season 10’s “Fan Fiction”? Whatever the case may be, these meta commentaries usually played well and were often done as a treat for the fans who were still sticking around.
Outside of individual episodes, Supernatural found another mouth piece to mediate on the nature of stories and its heroes — God. Of course, we first knew him as Chuck, the prophet of the Lord. Before Chuck was retroactively made God in season 11, he was a stand in for show creator Eric Kripke, who left the series at the end of season five, at the same time Chuck did.
The season five finale, “Swan Song,” is narrated by Chuck and revolves around the heroics of the Winchester brothers and how it was fated since they were born that they would one day save the world. In the years following this finale, the Winchester brothers became even more legendary. Demons and angels collectively hate them, while other hunters know them by name. And when the brothers discovered an alternate, apocalyptic universe, Alternate Bobby tells them that because they were never born there, the world went to chaos.
In short, the brothers became larger than life and, as the seasons of the show kept going, it seemed the show had too. But in its last season, Supernatural wants to turn the heroics of the Winchester brothers on its head, all while sending a concerning message to its audience.
In “The Heroes’ Journey,” the brothers are taken down a peg, or so it seems. The episode begins in a mundane way — Dean goes to the local convenience store to pick up some items while Sam cooks dinner at the bunker. However, they both run into some obstacles while doing said mundane things, which the brothers view as cosmic. Sam spills pasta all over the floor, but only because he failed to use an oven mitt. Dean’s credit card — the one Charlie gave them so it never runs out of credit — is declined.
On their way to a hunt, the Impala breaks down. Dean’s tooth starts to ache, and the he discovers he’s lactose intolerant. Put together, it seems like a string of bad luck. It’s almost reminiscent of season three’s “Bad Day at Black Rock,” in which Sam incurs some bad luck after mishandling a rabbit’s foot. But it’s not framed as bad luck. To the brothers, all of these things going wrong is Chuck’s doing.
Sam and Dean are called on by Garth (DJ Qualls) to sort out a monster fight club issue. When they explain to Garth what’s been happening to them, Garth calls it “being normal.” Again, this is the show commenting on the nature of stories and how the heroes operate in them. Of course they don’t sweat the little things. Go ahead, drive a classic Chevy Impala cross country for 15 years, it will never break down for the aesthetic. The brothers’ constant credit card scams will never be caught because the show doesn’t have time to deal with those minor criminal behaviors. Don’t see a dentist for 15 years, you’re going to have 17 cavities, Dean. And it’s fine, because the audience needs to explain those realities away in order for there to be a show. In actual reality, though, these things do happen.
That’s where Supernatural takes a misstep. Sam and Dean go to break up this monster fight club ring. However, their “normal” behavior is keeping them from accomplishing anything. They get captured and Garth ends up saving the day (he blows up the entire warehouse with the most nonchalance I’ve ever seen and it’s a badass moment). By the end of the episode, Sam and Dean are still “normal.” They don’t believe they can go up against Chuck “like this.” But, what is the show saying here? That normal people can’t save the day? Not just anyone can be heroes of a story? There’s a really fine line the show has drawn between “bad luck” and “being normal.” Perhaps if it was framed as bad luck, much like “Bad Day at Black Rock” was, then maybe there’s no issue here. For now, though, I’m afraid Supernatural has lost me in this latest meta commentary on heroes.
This Week’s Wayward Thoughts:
Individually, a lot of these instances are hilarious: Dean running away to throw up in the bathroom after eating seven grilled cheese sandwiches; Sam dramatically being affected by pepper. It’s just how these are framed as being limiting things to a person I have a problem with.
Garth naming his twins Sam and Castiel. You love to see Dean’s confused and offended face.
Dean’s scared of the dentist — also a normal thing. However, this scene does lead to a wonderful black and white sequence of Jensen Ackles and DJ Qualls tap dancing.
Normal people can pick locks.
“Killed the tooth fairy?” “She had it coming.”
“Big Sam’s okay.” — Sam
“Being the hero sucks.” A sentiment I can get behind, if it wasn’t at the expense of being normal.
“I think you might be lactose intolerant now.”