“Oh, Becky. I can do anything. I'm a writer.”
Davy Perez really opened a can of worms in “Atomic Monsters,” hasn’t he? I spent a good long week trying to process the underlying messages about the writers vs. the fans and it’s clever. Wickedly clever. It all leads to a three way struggle for between the characters, the writer, and the fans. Meta has just gone wild.
Humor me, I'm going a little outside of the box in this review. I've always taken a keen interest to episodes that break the fourth wall, and this time the quirky meta setup went a completely different direction. It's a fight for the end and everyone is involved this time.
If you recall, Chuck was initially created as the mouthpiece for creator Eric Kripke. In his subsequent returns, season 11 and now, Chuck has served as the voice for the writers in general, aka whoever was telling the story that week. Chuck’s struggles could mirror some of the struggles of the SPN writing team in general. He’s been out of touch with the fans and isn’t feeling his characters anymore. Writing has grown stale and it’s become hard to be original. He’s lost his relevance and got a little touchy over the criticism.
The SPN writers as well have often seemed disconnected with Sam and Dean of late which is probably one reason why there has been a lot of focus on new and other characters. Plots have been often repetitive and predictable. Villains have been one dimensional. The writing has been so desperate to make the fans feel something during the important episodes it usually results in an cliched untimely and unpopular character death. That likely explains why Chuck in this return has been coming across as a bipolar nut job. He is susceptible to the whim of the writer and they’re desperate for an unstable and fearsome villain to close this all out. You can't get bigger than God, right?
Becky, as we know from before, represents our vivacious fandom. She shows how much of a shift there has been in the fandom over time. As a long time fan, she hasn’t abandoned her love, but she’s more grounded and productive. She’s selling her “Supernatural” original creations on Etsy. Her fan fiction has shifted to basic character interactions and doesn’t really involve monsters. Her love and devotion is still pure, despite now being a wife and mother. She’s more mature but still very active in her fandom.
On the other side of all this is Sam and Dean, who are not aware of the current exchange between writer and fan over their lives, but aren't exactly feeling like they're in control. Oh Dean wants to believe he's in control, but he's just looking for a reason to carry on with what they do. Now they'll do it for the memory of those that they lost. It sounds good. That unfortunately isn't working for Sam though, who doesn't feel free or in control. He's consumed by grief and loss. He doesn't ever see where he's going to get that simple life or live in a world without hurt. Dean wasn't too long ago feeling his own despair and I imagine those feelings are still close to the surface. To know that a conversation is going on about their future right now won't do much for their already shaky confidence.
The writer and the fan, aka Chuck and Becky, couldn’t be further apart right now. As fans, several (including myself) are feeling quite a bit of monster fatigue. We’ve seen them all, many repeatedly, and it’s hard to forge an original, unpredictable story with monsters. This week, it was another vampire story. Yawn. Davy Perez at least tried to make us feel something for the family torn apart by this tragedy, but it took some tedious work to get there. The Chuck and Becky interaction was cleverly woven in between the main story to bring up the fan narrative, how do you tell a good monster story after all this time? This piece of dialogue hit the nail on the head:
Chuck: Your own... "Supernatural"?
Becky: Where the guys didn't have to hunt monsters all the time. They just sit around and do laundry and talk, you know? I mean, that's what people like the most, anyway.
Chuck: Well, I mean, people like monsters.
When you ask fans why they continue to watch “Supernatural” after all this time, the most common answer is pretty simple, for the boys. A good number don’t care about the monster stories or angels or demons, but hang on for the character interactions each week. They want to see the Sam and Dean talks or Castiel sharing his burdens and wisdom with one or both of the Winchesters. The rest is window dressing. The more emotional the situation, the better. Forget the fact that the villains have been cartoon caricatures or that the plots have been inconsistent and weak or that the guys in peril have been repetitive and overdone. I mean really, and this has been said many time on this site. how many times can Sam Winchester be knocked out? He should be drooling in a bucket by now, his brain total mush. How many times have we gotten tied up Winchester with the lame monologuing villain? Let’s just have Becky explain it, since she hit the nail on the head.
If I had to give one note... The jeopardy, Chuck, it's feeling a little thin? Low stakes? It's fun to hear the boys' voices, but a story is only as good as its villain, and these villains are just not feeling very dangerous? Not to mention, there's no classic rock. No one even mentions Cas. The climax is a little stale. Boys tied up again while we get the villains' monologue, which, frankly, isn't one of your best. A little originality wouldn't hurt.
Now the stakes are higher, because we're coming to the end. Inserting the writer and the fan into the story has always blurred the lines between fact and fiction, but now it becomes a complicated pyramid of fighting for control of the characters and their destiny. Chuck believes he’s the writer and only he controls the story. Becky thinks that it’s all about what the fans want. And Sam and Dean, who have been trying to grasp for a long time how they’re caught in this whole break in the fourth wall, just want control of their own lives.
I can speculate Chuck’s end. It’s only been foreshadowed since the beginning of the show and was shown clearly in that freaking awesome opening scene; one Winchester will kill another. The other will be forced to live alone with plenty of guilt. It seems evident at this time that Sam is experiencing another “Mystery Spot” effect, he is seeing all the ways this could play out or has in other universes. Chuck believes it will play out because the writer says so. By eliminating Becky at the end, Chuck basically declared it was the writer’s story to tell and only the writer’s. The fans have no say, despite their protests. This of course heightens fan anxiety who are experiencing a huge mistrust in the writers right now, both figuratively and literally. The writers as well are probably getting tired of the fan complaints, and this is a veiled message to tell them to let them tell the story they visualize. So yes, this all happens at the expense of the characters, who just want to be left alone.
But this is the fun part. You see, “Supernatural” has grown far beyond the writing on the page. It has turned into it’s own phenomena so to speak, it’s own universe. There are thousands of fan fictions to prove it, not to mention boat loads of official and unofficial merchandise and huge fan activity. What’s to say that if one crazy writer gives Sam and Dean their tragic end another writer doesn’t come along later and give them a new lease on life? There are many creators in this world now, not just one guy. Someone is bound to step in and carry on the story some way, whether it be a movie, limited series, or fan fiction. “Supernatural” will never truly end because fans won't let it.
So this episode might be the writer, fan, and characters fighting for relevance, but that’s all just background noise. Once you separate the story from the fan and the writer, all that’s left are the characters. So truly, this is Sam and Dean’s saga alone. There is where the hope lies. Forget the misdirection of the writer talk. There is only one appropriate end, the characters taking control of their own story for good and leaving the writers and fans behind, together. They get their freedom. Chuck actually told us the real ending back in season five’s “Swan Song.”
So, what's it all add up to? It's hard to say. But me, I'd say this was a test... for Sam and Dean. And I think they did all right. Up against good, evil, angels, devils, destiny, and God himself, they made their own choice. They chose family. And, well... isn't that kinda the whole point?
- Wasn’t that opening scene positively delicious? That was 15 seasons in the making and was every bit as satisfying as I hoped it would be. Demon blood prophecy fully realized. Sweet! I hope a lot of the visions are that exciting, despite the trauma to poor Sammy. This can’t bode well for a guy teetering so close to the edge.
- Huge kudos to Davy Perez for capturing the original “spirit” of the Kripke style meta episode. No, the episode wasn’t quite as fun to watch, but he stuck with the dialogue that made episodes like “The Real Ghostbusters” great. It was a gentle poke at the fandom that perfectly captured a fan’s quirks, yet made fans look respectable anyway. Case in point, Becky. “Season Seven: Time for a Wedding” is still in my mind one of the absolute worst episodes ever done on this show. It was so damaging. It took the representative of this quirky yet well meaning fandom, Becky, and turned her into a total psycho that pushed her obsession uncomfortably too far. That killed a lot of goodwill made with the fans by inserting them into a negative fan story. By revisiting Becky this time in a positive, more mature light, that goodwill was restored.
- I howled wildly in laughter over Becky giving Chuck feedback over his story. That is most of my reviews from the last five years! Heck, that was my review just a few weeks ago. I’m flattered someone has been paying attention.
- “Yeah, we don't get normal. And these towns, everything's the end of the world. You're late for work, your kid doesn't get into the right school whatever. They don't. They have no idea what's out there.”
Ouch, Sammy, ouch. I do love that Sam in the end verbalized what he was feeling. It was so perfect and that certainly made us feel something. He’s deflated and doesn’t have much fight left. It’s al too real, too heartbreaking. I feel that way as a fan. The losses are deep and I’m tired too. Maybe that symbolizes the other end we are driving toward:
“Carry on Wayward Son. There’ll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest. Don’t you cry no more.”
- Not one mention of Castiel, other than a Becky critique? Really? It's not like he's their best friend or anything (yep, that's sarcasm).
- Thank you Mr. Perez for giving us such a complex episode to analyze and debate. We fans have been starving for such food for thought for a while. Overall grade, an A.