Page 1 of 2As Supernatural fans already know, Supernatural is a complex drama, built over years upon a foundation of mythology and recurring themes. Its dialog is intricate, often layered with thematic threads, double meanings and foreshadowing. The “Threads” review series closely examines these subtlties, to both more thoroughly appreciate the detail of the plots and to attempt to predict the direction the story may be going. Now that the brother's 11th year of hunting is over and we know the outcome of this season's many plot lines, we can assess how well each climax was supported or foreshadowed, and our skill at unlocking season 11's mysteries.
The following are the season 11 threads we have been tracking. In each case, I recapped how and where the theme appeared in the season. I then compared our specualtions and the evolution of our theories to the eventual outcome of that plotline, and assessed the logic and continuity of the writers’, and the characters’, actions. Join me for a retrospective look at the themes, the Threads, of Supernatural’s season 11.
We've been tracking the "Sacrifice and Search" theme since 11.10, “Devil in the Details”. In that episode, Sam told Lucifer,
“I’m ready to die and I’m ready to watch people I love die.”
This scary, double-edged foreshadowing prompted fans to speculate that either Sam or Dean would have to sacrifice himself to defeat Amara. A few weeks later in “The Vessel” (11.14), Dean was deeply moved by the sacrifices of Delphine and the entire submarine crew. Dean’s comment about only being “a witness” to their bravery could again be interpreted two ways. Literally, it would mean Dean would “witness” Sam sacrificing himself. Alternately, maybe the submarine deaths would inspire Dean, giving him the courage to sacrifice himself in order to win the “end is nigh” war that he described to Delphine. In 11.21, “All in the Family”, fans were further teased that God would be the one who would sacrifice himself, when he admitted that he planned to be imprisoned for eternity to save the universe.
Sacrifice turned out to be central to final battle, so in that regard we were correct in identifying and tracking this theme, and both Sam and Dean’s prior experiences and comments foreshadowed the arc’s finale. In the end, Dean was asked to sacrifice his life to defeat Amara, paralleling the courage he witnessed from the WWII submariners in “The Vessel”. That episode also foreshadowed the pain of being a witness, and it was Sam who was left to witness to Dean’s selfless act of bravery. The final battle plan also fulfilled Sam’s declaration to Lucifer the he was “ready to watch people I love die” when Sam was required to endure the heartbreak of letting go of this brother.
Happily, neither Sam’s, Dean’s, nor God’s sacrifices were ultimately required. In a rare twist of a happy ending, Dean didn’t die and Sam’s grief will only be temporary, even if he doesn’t know it yet, so while everyone had to be ready and willing to make their ultimate sacrifice, it didn’t end up being required of them. I am thrilled to say that all our doomsday predictions were wrong as they related to these three characters, but other characters were not so lucky.
Unexpectedly, three of God’s soldiers endured true sacrifice. Castiel gave up his vessel, subjugated himself to Lucifer, and endured merciless torture at the hands of the enemy to help his side win the war. As with Sam, his pain was only temporary, but that doesn’t negate his courage and willingness to sacrifice himself. Castiel saying “yes” to Lucifer was a surprise, even though in retrospect we should have predicted it from the low self-esteem he had been projecting for weeks.
Lucifer also fought bravely in the assault on Amara. We don’t know yet if he was actually killed or was just banished somewhere for his role in God’s army. Personally, I expected he would be removed from the plot by the end of season 11, but I thought he be recaged or banished by the heroes, defending themselves against some act of treachery. His loyal allegiance to the allies’ cause, continually putting himself in danger to defeat Amara, was not something any of us predicted even though he repeatedly said he wanted her dead. When we will learn that Lucifer doesn’t lie?
Lastly, it was the angel who considered himself God’s best friend who made the ultimate sacrifice. Metatron willingly offered to give his life in a crucial moment so the rest of the team could escape and hopefully find a way to save God’s creation from Amara. This was his act of redemption, ironically following the example of Gadreel who sacrificed himself to allow Castiel to escape in season 9’s finale.
The angel’s actions were all surprising plot twists (at least for me). Even though we tracked the theme of sacrifice, I don’t believe we ever applied its foreshadowing to the angels. In the end, God’s soldiers all played critical roles in the Great War with Amara. Happily, their sacrifices were not in vain.
Separation and Search
The separation and search themes reentered Supernatural’s plot line in 11.11, “Into the Mystic”, when Sam’s apology to Dean reminded the audience of Sam and Dean’s prior extended separation:
“When I was with Lucifer, he showed me things. It was like a highlight reel of my biggest failures. I should've looked for you. When you were in Purgatory, I... I should've turned over every stone. But I didn't. I stopped. And I've never forgiven myself for it.”Dean’s reply was,
“All that matters now, all that's ever mattered, is that we're together.”Once the theme was reintroduced, it became obvious that the season's subsequent episode titles had a double meaning of being lost, experiencing a loss, or searching for the lost:
11.09 “O Brother Where Art Thou?”
11.12 “Don’t You Forget About Me”
11.13 “Love Hurts”
To further the foreshadowing that the brothers were headed toward another separation, "The Chitters" reiterated the sacrifice and search theme.
“Jesse: One of them took my brother 27 years ago. I’ve been waiting years to come back and have this shot at them.”
Given the obvious implication that Sam and Dean would be separated in the finale, we spent a great deal of time theorizing the details of their separation. Billie’s first appearance in 11.02 "Form and Void", when she introduced the idea of “The Empty”, and in 11.10, “The Devil in the Details”, when she repeated that she was going to send one of them to this mysterious nothingness, provided us with the first, obvious option – either Sam or Dean would end up in this new embodiment of Purgatory. Since “The Empty” didn’t enter into the finale at all, these predictions were wrong. Surprisingly, neither, Sam, Dean, Castiel, God nor Amara ended up in the Empty. Does this mean that the Empty was a hollow threat? I don’t believe so. The Empty was specifically introduced into canon, complete with detailed descriptions and multiple reminders. These weren’t obscure references or clues we imagined. The Empty warranted specific dialog in multiple scripts. We fell for the mis-direct that one of the heroes (or antagonists) would end up there in the finale, but Billie does not seem to be a character who would make idle threats. I believe someone ending up in the Empty is a continuing thread that will become important in the future. Do you agree?
A second possibility for the brothers’ separation came from “Red Meat” (11.17) and “Don’t Call Me Shurley” (11.20), both of which included very strong implications that Dean would rather die than live without Sam. In “Red Meat”, Dean “temporarily” died when he tried to trade his soul for Sam’s, and in “Shurley” Dean clearly tried to kill himself by inhaling Amara’s deadly fog. In 11.18 “Hells Angel”, Jared’s Always Keep Fighting campaign was referenced as well, reminding the audience of suicide prevention efforts.
I’m at a loss to explain why the idea of Dean’s suicide was not only introduced but repeated. Can you think of an implication or application that I’m missing? Rather than dismiss these hints, I instead propose that this theme be tabled for possible use in season 12.
The separation and search themes ultimately supplied the season’s cliff-hanger scenario, just not in any way that could have been predicted. Given that a MoL’s emissary received orders to “stop” the Winchesters, it seems quite probable that Sam was captured and dragged away to some secret dungeon in the United Kingdom. It will now be Dean’s turn to search for Sam with absolutely no clue where he might be. Without knowing for sure how season 12 begins, we can only speculate that this is the direction implied by Lady Bevell’s actions. The final scene of the season was clearly meant to imply doom for Sam, though, so I think we can claim to be correct with predicting a heartbreaking separation.
Heroes and HostagesIn my season 11, mid-season Threads recap, I recognized and summarized the presence of the hostage theme:
In "Just My Imagination", twin sister Reese held Dean hostage, telling Sam he had a choice, “You give me Sully, I give you your brother”. A third person, Sully, neutralized that threat by offering his life in exchange for the hostage.
One could argue that Lucifer held Castiel hostage within his own vessel. The description fits if you consider that Dean was direly concerned with “saving” Castiel before his vessel was destroyed by Amara. On the other hand, Castiel willingly gave his vessel to Lucifer, so he may not have been so much a hostage as an enabler. In the pre-finale action, Lucifer/Castiel were truly taken hostage, though. Both (?) were tortured by Amara in a desperate attempt for force God to reveal himself. The combined efforts of Sam, Dean, Donitello and Metatron saved Casifer.
In 11.10 "The Devil in the Details", Lucifer held Dean hostage, again telling Sam he had a choice, “All right, Sam. I'm gonna make this real easy for you. You say the magic word... ...or your brother dies, And we both know you won't let that happen.” Again, a third person, Castiel, neutralized that thread by making himself the object of Lucifer’s rage, then giving his life for Sam’s (and Dean). Then [in “DYFAM”, two vampires] took Jody and Claire hostage to hurt Alex. Yet again, someone (Alex) offered her life for the lives of the hostages. That’s at least three repetitions of a hostage scenario. Have there been more? It makes me wonder who will end up being Lucifer’s or Amara’s hostage, and who will sacrifice their life and be separated from the ones they love to save to save those in danger.”
As far as heroes, Sam and Dean clearly fulfilled their never-ending roles of the self-sacrificing heroes of humanity. Metatron’s death was also heroic, as were Castiel’s sacrifices. Anyone see someone else as heroic?
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