Analyzing SPN: Introduction

So. Last week, I mentioned a fun new project I’d be unveiling this week. My friend Zeroth and I will be analyzing Supernatural episode by episode. We’ll be presenting the pilot episode for your enjoyment tomorrow. Today, I’ll introduce you to our methods and aims so you can spend more time enjoying our analysis and less time trying to figure out what the fuck we’re talking about.

So, first, Supernatural: for those who haven’t watched the show, it’s basically about two brothers who travel the country tracking and fighting all sorts of supernatural entities. You’ll encounter everything from ghosts to terribly mauled Native American legends to angels and demons. It’s very strongly influenced by the horror movie genre, although it’s not afraid to play around in other genres, and has a healthy propensity for laughing at itself. It’s gone on for eleven seasons and been renewed for a twelfth, so yeah, it’s been a pretty successful formula.

Image shows the Supernatural title, which is the show's name in all caps over a blue fire pentegram.

Why Supernatural? Because it’s so good, and yet so bad. It’s chock full of toxic masculinity, dudebro strutting, clichés, tired tropes, formulaic writing, and sexism. Sometimes, it transcends every expectation, and yet too often it fails to live up to its promise. But the characters are compelling, the actors are incredible, the show’s creative team services its fans more than almost any other program ever, and it’s engaging as hell. And we just want an excuse to watch it a lot and talk about it, okay?

Introducing Zeroth: who writes at Social Justice Wizardry, loves deconstructing pop culture, and has the sharpest eye for detail of anyone I’ve ever known. We’ve been Facebook friends for a while now, enjoying photos of each others’ pets and social justice article and so forth, but we really bonded when I started babbling about Supernatural and he would comment with things that enhanced my viewing experience by a factor of 11. He has an incredible eye for cinematic elements, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the show. He will be able to show us things we may not have noticed on the first or forty-second pass. He agreed to do this “because Supernatural has some of the most beautiful production and craft of any show I’ve seen. And it’s a criminal waste how the writing so often lets that craftsmanship down.” He is so very right. Also, he is a social justice wizard and will catch things I miss.

How this works: We watch the episodes. We give you the gist of what’s going on. We make smart aleck comments. We analyze everything from the scene composition to the music to the tropes and much more. We talk about where they succeed and where they fail on certain social justice topics. We give you screenshots. And we’ll do counts.

The Counts: There are recurring elements we’ll be counting along the way. Allow me to define the ones we’ve got so far.

Woman in the Fridge: Women on Supernatural tend not to survive. Most of them seem to be there simply for our heroes to get attached to, only to lose in some gruesome way in order to get them adventuring. Occasionally, we’ll throw a man in the fridge if his death is really gratuitous, but it’s overwhelmingly going to be women.

Death by Femme Fatale: Supernatural features a lot of women who are there merely to lure hapless dudes to their doom, whether that’s death or disaster.

Death by Mommy/Daddy/etc Dearest: There are a lot of times in this show when people end up killing their children.

Revenge from Beyond the Grave: So many episodes revolve around ghosts or other formerly-living folk who are trying to serve up a cold plate of vengeance.

Death by Monstrosity: And then there are all the poor people who die because some monster attacks them. Sometimes, it seems like a little too many.

Blood and Gore: I swear that the majority of Supernatural’s special effects budget is spent on red dye and corn syrup (or whatever professionals are using to make fake blood these days). They love to splash fake blood around. This count will also be used for gore that verges on too-intense-for-teevee.

Daddy Issues: Especially in the early seasons, this show basically runs on all the shit that John puts his sons through. He was a terrible father. And a lot of what’s broken about his sons can be traced straight back to him.

Brotherly Love: The conflict between the brothers often reaches epic proportions. And when it’s not Daddy Issues driving their dysfunction, it’s their congenital inability to be honest with each other.

Toxic Masculinity: This should be fairly self-explanatory, but we’ll basically mark all the times the boys use violence to solve their problems, or let society’s notions of masculinity turn them into raging dudebros. It happens a lot. This show is basically toxic masculinity distilled.

Culture Thieves: A hell of a lot of cultural appropriation happens in this show. We’ll count many of the most egregious examples.

You Bloody Fool: Many plot elements are driven by people doing the least sensible thing possible.

Ewww Goils: A count we will use for all those times when a man runs away screaming from femme things, as if getting too close to girl stuff might give them cooties.

Cumulative Counts: These are counts we’ll be carrying forward throughout the series.

What Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy? It seems like a Supernatural episode isn’t complete without at least one of the boys being knocked unconscious at least once. It gets particularly egregious in later seasons. Yet they never show any permanent ill effects…

You Know, I Died Once: We’ve lost count of the number of times someone’s died and come back on this show. So we’re going to start keeping a tally.

Dean’s Man Tears: Manly-man big brother Dean is often allowed to show intense emotion with some restrained tears. It’s practically a requirement that he experience at least one Man Tear Moment per episode.

We’ll probably add more counts in the future, as future episodes have particular tropes or elements that really stick out, but weren’t present early on. We’ll define them as we go along, and if I can remember, we’ll add them to this list. Fans of the show should feel free to suggest counts as we go along.

I think this is going to end up being a highly enjoyable project for all of us, but we’re hoping it will also be enlightening and enriching. And, if nothing else, perhaps it will get future creators thinking about ways to not only surpass the things Supernatural gets right, but also learn from all the things it does wrong. All of our faves are problematic, but I’m very hopeful that the faves of the future will have a lot fewer problems.

We’re going to say some unflattering things. We’re going to be hard on this show. But trust me when I say we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love it deeply and want it to become even better before it finally ends, which hopefully won’t be for a dozen more seasons. And while we’ll be thinking deeply, we’re also going to be having plenty of fun.

This is going to be awesome.

Image is a gif of Dean from Supernatural. It's in black and white, showing him from the shoulders up, looking pensive. Caption says, "Do I really say 'awesome' a lot?"

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Analyzing SPN: Introduction
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3 thoughts on “Analyzing SPN: Introduction

  1. 1

    I think this could make a great series of posts. I’ve watched this show from the beginning, but kinda trailed off in the last season, and both love and hate the relationship between the two brothers. It’s *so* goddamn toxic, and yet…………………………

    Just don’t make a drinking game out of the misogyny. You’ll end up drinking more than both of them put together…………..

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