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Supernatural has come to an end after 15 long seasons.  That’s probably for the best.  No TV show should run that long.  And it had multiple corny, goofy, b-movie impossible-to-believe arcs that sometimes made us groan.  But when it was good—and it usually was at some point in every season—especially when it got back to the fable of two brothers taking ghost-hunting road trips in their muscle car through middle America—it was really unique and fascinating.

I found myself keeping up with the show over the years, even at times when there were ostensibly more serious things I wanted to watch.  I even read some of the scripts in order to figure out how, exactly, they pulled off certain nigh-unbelievable episodes.  I even talked with a teacher of mine about a few of them. 

I learned TV writing from a very smart, funny woman who taught me a lot about the business and the machinelike precision that often goes into making a TV episode.  It changed the way I thought of television as a creative medium and sharpened my sense of how to make something happen in a scene.  Literary fiction writers often have a hard time with plot.  They tend to think more about the inner landscape of their characters.  But from a TV writer’s point of view, inner upheavals, quiet moments, and realizations emerge in the acting.  Good TV writing is plot.  And Supernatural’s writers never forgot that.

Often, I’d be watching an utterly goofy episode about a swamp monster eating cheerleaders in central Iowa and I’d realize the immense skill being employed to pack a fully formed dramatic arc into a single episode with surprisingly good character actors filling in the blanks.  Nothing about that is simple or easy.  Good TV never is.

Say you’ve got 50 pages of script for about 30 minutes of content in a tripartite dramatic structure.  An episode needs to sustain tension across commercial breaks, involve most of the cast regulars, and keep within the boundaries of the “series bible,” the style book for the show.  In a continuing series, it has to do these things while advancing the broad dramatic arc of the season.  Nothing can be wasted.  Every available minute must be used.  In this highly commercial form of storytelling, time is always money. 

There were a few episodes that astonished me in that respect.  And I started to follow some of the show’s writers on social media.  I’m not much of a fan, but sometimes I’d see some particularly acrobatic bit of dramatic structure and think, damn, who wrote this?  Who can build that sort of clockwork mechanism episode after episode, show after show well enough to make a career out of it?  I’d describe such a person as highly disciplined, precise, and obsessive.  She has to have all the skills with language that every writer has plus a fanatical work ethic, the willingness to commit to someone else’s creative guidelines, and an overwhelming amount of determination to dust herself off and get back into it when Hollywood inevitably hands her a beating.  Supernatural seemed to have a number of these ringers in its rotation.  You could see the craft.

As someone who stepped into that world, realized how harsh it is, and stepped back out just as quickly, I harbor a deep respect for what goes on in a show’s writers room.  I try to hold myself to a similar standard in my work and always enjoy discovering other writers who do the same, even though I’m writing stories and novels and not building three-act chronographs.  But a work of great craftsmanship is a wonderful thing to see, whether it’s pretending to be TV b-horror or something more serious.

I’m going to miss Supernatural, as much for these writerly things as for how entertaining and fun the show could be.  People talk about the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Dexter as being really well-crafted shows in the new golden age of streaming television.  And I think they are.  But a show like Supernatural sneaks in the back door.  It comes dressed as lowbrow pulp, as a jester that doesn’t take itself seriously, and it does such a good job pantomiming and parodying that we overlook its immense skill.  Of course, that’s what we were meant to do all along.

So I finally finished Season 5 of Game of Thrones and I know I should be emotionally manhandled at this point by all the cynical backstabbery, but I’m not. Martin Scorsese once said that it’s easy to get your audience to feel something—just put a puppy on stage and drop a safe on it. You’ll get the feels. Sadly (or happily), that doesn’t make for good drama.  Here’s my (I know, unsolicited) assessment with as many spoilers as possible now that the last episode has been out for a while. Look away now if you’re still planning on bingeing the season.  I haven’t felt compelled to write some kind of review since the second hobbit movie.  I know the world is probably better for it but Game of Thrones has had a special hobbity place in my heart ever since I watched the first season sick in bed in Bujumbura.  So here it goes.

The Artist Formerly Known as Theon: whatever. He has a Vader moment and takes a leap off the battlements with Sanza, the girl with the same two alternating expressions since the beginning of the show. Okay. If the fall doesn’t make them both quadriplegics in Season 6, I’ll be rooting that they don’t get flayed and salted into Bolton jerky. That’s good, I guess. I have a hard time caring about what has happened to Theon’s manhood or Sanza’s happy thoughts.

Ramsay “Lecter” Bolton: everybody wants him to die horribly because he’s such a sadistic yet annoying formulaic psychopath. He has everything Nazi but the dueling scars and the monocle, even the black leather get-up. I think his best quality is the frozen maniacal grin that every Nazi doctor from Central Casting has had since Laurence Olivier did Dr. Christian Szell in Marathon Man. That was in 1976. I was 3 years old. And, believe me, I can appreciate the number of torture-obsessed Nazi doctors churned out by Hollywood since then.

If Iwan Rheon radiated just a bit more charm, he could star in some deflated prequel to Silence of the Lambs. His character’s personality has zero depth, which, ironically is realistic when we think about how stunted serial killers and mass murderers are said to be in real life. Still, real life should not intrude when it would make a character tedious. If we don’t want to dwell on the obvious Hannibal Lecter contrast, we can always recall Jeremy Irons as Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune.  Claus is evil, yes, and we think he probably killed his wife.  Yet we just don’t care because the man has wit. Ramsay could use some wit, even just a little.

Stannis: he, however, gets 3 whole expressions: exasperation, bewilderment, and dread. And he doesn’t have to go through them sequentially anymore.  He burns his unrealistically angelic daughter, Shireen, at the stake because vampy evil stepmother Melisandre says the kid has to go. As soon as Davos gives Shireen the carved deer, we know the kid is done for. The whole arc is a sad case of writerly: look, I’m not pulling any punches here! I mean it! Nobody is safe! But if we don’t care about the characters—if they don’t have depth, if there is no redemptive vision at all—we’re in a 2D hellworld and everybody is worth exactly nothing. Sure, kill the kid if you want or drop a safe on the puppy. It’s all the same to us. This is hell, after all.

Jamie and Bronn: we know their expedition to Dorne isn’t going to end well. One good thing is that we keep expecting Bronn to be horribly eviscerated, stuffed with scorpions, and lit on fire by the end of their adventure, but all he gets is a sexy bite on the ear lobe. Otherwise, more backstabbery. In a country where everyone looks like Portuguese supermodels and dresses like medieval Turks, I guess you have to fall in love and someone is then required to put poison in your tea and you’re then fated to wake up in bed covered with snakes. Or something. You will still find the person who did it incredibly attractive.  One other thing is also certain: sweet and innocent daughters of noble houses die horribly. We know that already.

Arya Who Joined the Zen Death Circus: This has been my favorite plot strand. But by Episode 10, Arya has also gotten predictable. She was interesting for a long time—until she took revenge (oddly unsatisfying for all its gore) on demonically one-dimensional Sir Meryn. Faceless Assassin Master Po blinds her after some intentionally obscure Zen bullshit about “being no one.” All of it is a let-down because blinding is not what Arya needed. Transforming / revealing a new side to her character is what she needed. We all want her to either accept her new identity as a magical assassin or reject it and evolve into someone different. But we don’t get character change. We get Zen bullshit and Mission Impossible CGI masks. Disappointment—we get that, too.  I miss The Hound.  Bring back The Hound.  At least, he was funny.

Of Cersei, what is there to say? take one of the most beautiful actresses in the world; strip her down; and have a scene where she does the medieval walk of shame. It again works a la the safe and the puppy. Cersei’s hateful for most of the show up to this point (that’s 5 years of hate, people—think about it). So we’re meant to have mixed feelings about her “atonement.” And the whole scene has unintentional Monty Python potential. I don’t know. Lena Headey can read the dictionary in a space suit and it wouldn’t matter. We’ll still watch and try not to blink. Bright sparkles will still be floating around her in the air. But I didn’t quite believe the walk of shame scene was authentic, which is to say organic, to her character development. I know that sort of thing really historically happened (doesn’t matter, this is King’s Landing not Earth). And I know the plot can (barely) support the scene (also doesn’t matter). I just don’t think Cersei—as we have come to know her—would submit like that. One of the reasons she’s so compelling is that she does have dimensionality to her character. She does have wit. She has strong emotions and uncompromising direct motivations. We want her to do something grand.  Instead, we are given nakedness and rotten fruit.  And it doesn’t enhance our insight into her.  It also doesn’t cause her to change.  She takes a lot of abuse and has revenge in her eyes by the time she gets back to the castle. Right.  But what else?

Lastly, Jon Snow really does know nothing: His is the only death I actually believe—surprising because it isn’t surprising at all. The Castle Black plot strand is, in my opinion, stronger than the others. I found myself wanting Alliser Thorne to remain the prick that we all feel he is. And I wasn’t let down at all. Still, I don’t really believe that Jon Snow is actually dead. Maybe so. Maybe not. Of all the characters in the show, I care about him the most. I think this is because he has some redemptive qualities. He’s not just a resident sufferer in Hellworld. He’s trying to find and sustain some sense of justice. This is why I think we might be seeing him again in Season 6. Without him, Game of Thrones has no soul.

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I write fiction and nonfiction for magazines, work as a freelance writer / editor / journalist, and teach composition and fiction writing.

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