Saturday, October 15, 2011

Review: Supernatural 7.04 "Defending Your Life"

Warning - contains spoilers and possible unpopular opinions

.....I'm 90% crap. I get rid of that what then?

This week's Supernatural, Defending Your Lifewas one of those episodes I found I had to watch a few times to get a handle on it. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, I did. At one point I literally found myself sitting on the edge of my seat. Like literally. I was pulled into the story. But then, I would be wouldn't I. I'm highly invested in the character of Dean Winchester and very concerned about his slide down the slippery slope of what appears to be depression. I analyse and over analyse every single little thing he does. It wasn't that I wasn't engaged, it was just....I wasn't sure how to feel and I wasn't sure why I felt so conflicted. One part of me wanted to hug Dean, hold him tight and gently dab away those tears that were threatening to engulf him and the other part of me wanted to give him a good shaking. When he stood outside the bar and said "You're Dean Winchester" I yelled out YES YOU ARE! But then, this behaviour is nothing new. He's been wracked with self doubt and loathing and on very shaky ground for a while and he's always felt guilty for things that were beyond his control. Or as I prefer to call it, responsible. He's felt responsible ever since John handed him baby Sam and said "Take your brother outside as fast as you can! Don't look back." From that moment, he's felt responsible for just about everything. He shoulders everything. So if it wasn't the characterisation of Dean that troubled me and it certainly wasn't Sam and it wasn't the story as a whole, what was it? I came to the realisation it was something bigger, something that started chewing away at the corners of my brain last week and well, now I feel like I just have to get it off my chest. So what's my problem? Well I'm glad you asked.

Ok, here's the rub. The one thing I've always loved about Supernatural is the writing. Whenever someone says to me, why do you love that show so much, the first thing I say is, it's beautifully written. It's always been consistent. It's always had amazing attention to detail. It's always been focused. It's always had fantastic follow through, where the regular viewer can remember back to season 2 why this event in season 5 is so pivotal. Supernatural has always blown my socks off when it comes to the writing. This week's episode by Adam Glass and last week's episode by Dabb and Loflin were in my opinion, flawed scripts. All of these writers are highly gifted and have delivered powerful episodes in the past, so it's not that they're new and it's not that they don't get it, but their scripts for the last two episodes, while still involving, were in my opinion, simply not up to their usual high standard. Both The Girl Next Door and Defending Your Life felt like they had way too much squeezed into them to get through in 42 minutes and consequently they came across as inconsistent and a bit thin. I didn't go into this last week because I felt the character developments were far more interesting and the pop culture references were a lot of fun, but pop culture references a good script does not make. The stories are solid, the dialogue still pops but because they're trying to get so many different points across, they're not hitting all the notes. Both these scripts felt unfocused, that they lack discipline and that kinda breaks my heart. 

I had high hopes for Defending Your Life, I thought, great, let's get into it with Dean, let's see where his head space is, let's dig down into all that guilt of his. I was hoping, like many of us, he'd realise he feels guilt for a lot of things that aren't his fault. I was hoping we'd look into why he feels this way, where does this heartbreaking lack of self esteem come from (I blame John), why does he feel he has to take on the weight of the world. I was hoping we'd see how he really thinks and maybe see him coming to terms with some of the stuff he feels responsible for, including his time in Hell. This was a great opportunity to delve into that a bit more and tie it through to Sam's Hell arc. I was hoping that we'd come out the other side with him, if not accepting that he's not responsible for every terrible thing that has happened to the Winchesters and everyone they've known over the last six years, he'd at least be thinking about it and on the way to mending his broken heart. I was hoping he would learn something...... Apparently not....and that irritates me. It irritates me because Dean is a highly thoughtful and intelligent guy and I don't believe he wouldn't take some of that on board. Maybe he has, maybe that's yet to be seen, maybe when he said to Sam he gave a good argument that means he was listening and as always, I'll give this show a great big dollop of the benefit of the doubt but I feel like there's been a decision made to push Dean's character a certain way this season and to get to a dramatic point everything else is being thrown to the hellhounds to service his story arc. This was supposed to be an episode about Dean's guilt. He was supposed to be defending his life and according to Sera, reaching a turning point and yet the whole trial was short to the point of being inconsequential. We barely scratched the surface of what's going on in that deep well of emotion that's Dean Winchester and I sure as hell saw no turning point. There was too much set up. It was all sizzle and no sausage. It's not a problem with the story or the concept for this particular episode, I loved both of these. Dean feels guilt, the case was tried and sentenced regardless of the evidence because he truly feels that guilt, I'm on board with that, but this script tried to do too damn much and in doing so, didn't do enough. I would've liked to have seen more of the trial. More of Sam defending his big brother. More of Dean defending himself. I feel like this was an opportunity lost for character growth for Dean and growth for Sam and Dean in their relationship. Tell me something, why was Jo sent to kill Dean? It was ascertained that she didn't hold him responsible for her death and though Dean felt sad, he said he also didn't feel responsible. Sure this was probably lip service to get him out of a sticky wicket, but it was evidence heard and I thought, well argued. Now if Amy came to stab him through the heart while Sam was off trying to kill Osiris....that would've made more sense. Jo being dispatched to do the deed didn't make much sense to me.

There was the perfect opportunity during the trial to get the Amy issue out in the open. Why oh why didn't that happen! What a bombshell. We could've had the whole thing play out in front of the judge. We could've seen Dean give evidence as to why he chose to kill Amy and get a better understanding of his motivation. We could've seen the brothers going head to head as Osiris sat on watching in amusement. We could've seen Dean try to rationalise it with Sam. We could've had an apology for the lying. Maybe we could've even moved on. THAT would've been brilliant. That would've been drama. But no. Now the lie is going to fester. The lie will get bigger. Sam's going to find out like he always does. There's going to be a big blow up. They'll probably split up or punch each other out or... GAH! To be honest, I think this is why I'm being so harsh on the writing, because I don't like the direction that this plot point is taking the brother's relationship. I don't want this fight between the brothers to eventuate. I don't want it to infinity and beyond! I thought we were done with that crap and yet now it appears that we'll be doubling back on that old, well-worn path. Aren't there other stories to tell for these two? These guys are way more interesting than that. They don't have to be at each other’s throats all the time. They love each other for Heaven's sake. Drama schmama. There are other ways to create a gripping dramatic arc than sibling conflict and surely there's another story for Dean? It feels lazy. This is what I don't like from the Amy incident, the secret. It adds to the drama yes, it adds ammunition to Dean's current state of imbalance yes, but we know where it's going and it ain't nowhere good. And though I understand wanting to add juice to the story, to be frank, I'm sick to death of this kind of juice. Ever since Dean went to Hell the brother's have been on opposite sides of the playing field. I appreciate they're not the same as each other, they are vastly different human beings who look at situations in a different way, this is what makes them and their relationship so compelling and Lord knows I'm not one of those fans who wants them to be all bitch/jerk again, I get that they're men, not only grown up men, but deeply damaged men. They've seen a lot of shit ladies and gentlemen; they are never going to be who they once were okay? And I'm cool with it. But why do they always have to have something threatening to pull them apart? LET THEM BE BROTHERS. This conflict feels contrived and repetitive. Supernatural writers are better than that. Supernatural is better than that. But more importantly, we deserve better than that. I always say Supernatural never rests on its laurels...I really hope there's no laurel resting going on here.

Ok. It's off my chest.  I may have worked something through there. A little therapeutic outpouring. Apparently I don't like this liar, liar pants on fire storyline, like, A LOT! But maybe it's essential to where the mid season arc is going. Maybe it's essential to Dean and his relationship with Sam. Maybe it's going to bring them through to a better place. Maybe that's a pig flying past my window. *sigh* Onwards and upwards. I won't ever lose faith in this show so I'm quite sure this is just a blip and I still think it's one of the best written shows on TV, even when it's not as good as it could be.

If I remove my writers hat and close my over critical eye (it's the right one in case you're wondering, it gives me no end of bother), and put the whole Amy-lie thing out of my mind, like I said at the beginning of this review, I did enjoy this episode. I loved the whole idea of weighing your guilty heart against a feather. It played nicely into where Dean's head is at right now....just not enough. I enjoyed kicking off with a hunt, the EMF, the burning the bones. I think the boys are looking particularly spiffing in their suits this season. They must have laid down a bit on their fake credit cards for those styling duds. Dean flirting with the bartender was very enjoyable and kinda horny. I've missed flirty Dean. He's so damn hot. Sorry just had to say that. I even quite liked his little pep talk to himself outside. It's obviously been awhile. That was pretty endearing. I'm glad Sam's coming to terms with who he is and where he's been. I agree with him, he's paid his dues. As my friend Kara pointed out, in most cases Sam's a victim. He didn't choose to have demon blood dripped in his mouth, to get the psychic visions, to be Azazel's golden child, for Dean to sell his soul for him. Ok, the Ruby thing was poor judgement, but he didn't mean to raise Lucifer and he did everything in his power to stop him to the point of giving up his life to save the world. Then he was punished in Hell for way too many years. He's done his time. He's dealing with his special brand of crazy and he's moving on and feeling alrighty. Yay Sam! One less angsty brother is a step in the right direction. I'm sure he's not past the worst of it; I giggled when he said he saw Lucifer while brushing his teeth, but it's a solid start. I do wish when he told Dean that he feels like he's paid his dues, he made a point of also letting Dean know that Dean's paid his dues too. Because Dean has, over and over, just like Sam. He may not have been tortured for 100 or so years by Lucifer and Michael, but he has been tortured by his life and all he's sacrificed and lost. Both the brothers have paid their dues. 

I also liked that Sam was determined to save Dean. I dug what he said in the court about Dean's level of culpability in how Sam's life turned out let alone all the other things Dean feels bad about. I thought Sam was pretty great, not much of a lawyer but a pretty good brother. I was soundly criticised last week for my take on Sam, which personally I think was pretty balanced, but people will read things how they want. I guess when it comes to Sam I sometimes scratch my head at how he goes about making his choices. I believe he's a very bright boy with a heart of gold, but he seems to make colossal errors of judgement for someone who's a bit of a brainiac. This is maybe why, like Dean, I appear to judge him harshly. As Bobby once said, we're tough on the kid. But don't think for a minute I don't love him. Yes I'm a Dean girl, this blog isn't called sweetonsam after all, but this doesn't mean I'm one-eyed about the brothers. I calls it as I sees it and I've kicked Dean's butt around the page just as many times as I've kicked Sam's. And by the way, I LOVE his sidies!

I thoroughly enjoyed having Jo in this episode. She's a character I'm very fond of. I cried and cried when she and Ellen died. I still do. I'm not one of those people who felt like her and Dean would make a good couple, I could never see Jo that way, but I felt a strong connection between them. Their shared history and their daddy issues bonded them. I've always thought she crushed on Dean (who the hell doesn't) as opposed to it being reciprocal, but there was true affection between them and I always enjoyed that. This is something that shone through in Defending Your Life, that affection. Both scenes were lovely, the one in the court where Jo did everything she could to have Dean's back and then the one with Jo and Dean in the hotel. Particularly the second one. It was a beautiful moment, a highlight of the episode. I just hope Dean heard Jo and took in some of what she said. Her tender touch and how Dean pushed his cheek into her hand with his eyes closed.....superb.

Which brings me to Jensen. This guy's become such gifted actor. The emotion he can display and bring forth in his audience, or at least in me, feels real and true and more often than not, devastating. He can convey so much with that beautiful face of his. He can convey so much with his eyes. He kills me. His Dean just kills me over and over. But oh, it's such an exquisite death. Death by Dean. Let that be how I go out. And what about Dean. Poor Dean. 90% crap? Oh honey, I don't think so. That was beyond tragic. I may have made a sad gurgling noise when he said that. I went pretty extensively into how I see Dean's current psychological state last week, so I won't do it again here. I'm just worried that his guilt is starting to define him. That his suck it up and soldier on attitude is slowly but surely being eroded and I don't want to see that. I hope we don't see him go any lower. It's just too sad. I'm pouting as I write this. I want to see him come to terms, mend and grow. That will be some good character development. I really want him to start feeling better about himself and sometime soon. I'm tired of him being everybody's whipping boy, including his own. He's filled with so much remorse and self loathing that it's becoming perplexing because he's so gosh darn wonderful. And he's got this terrible saviour complex, which is not helping any. But in the past he's said to Sam, we can't save everyone, so why doesn't he believe that now? Where's that common sense gone? He seems to have been mired in this dark and horrible place for such a long time and I think I'm ready for him to come back into the light. A couple of seasons of him being all overly angsty is enough. I don't mind a bit of angst, it's what makes him so precious and so Dean, but I need him to kick some supernatural butt and well, get laid! He was almost there. He nearly got his end away. Stupid Egyptian God with his bad timing. Another reason to stab Osiris with a ram's horn! It's tough being a hero....

So how did I feel about Defending Your Life? You know, I just watched it one more time just to make sure I wasn't over reacting, that I wasn't being overly harsh and I don't think I am. It was 22 minutes before we got to the actual trial, that's over half way through the episode. Sizzle. No sausage. I was a little more accepting of it's flaws the fourth watch through, but I feel the same way. It was a good story, some nice dialogue but an opportunity missed. This was a filler episode in every sense of the word but one that not only didn't propel the story forward but didn't really propel the characters forward, except maybe a couple of baby steps for Sam. But strangely, even with this criticism, I really did enjoyed it, because of the characters and because of the performances and because even when Supernatural isn't hitting its stride, it's still better than most of the other shows out there and obviously, I love it to pieces. After all, you're always hardest on the ones you love.

Next week is the magical, mystical, Whedonesque fest with Charisma Carpenter and James Marsters guest starring. I'll probably review 7.05 and 7.06 together the following week, because next weekend I will be at Chicago con! I think I might be way too busy hugging Jensen to think about writing a review! Upon my return home, I'll also be doing a detailed report on Chicon including the Jensen Q&A which I'm lucky enough to be attending this time round. So stay tuned for both those things and in the mean time, here's next week's promo.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your support and don't forget to comment! I love comments! - Amy