Supernatural 5.22: "Swan Song"



With all the trials and tribulations this season, the writers definitely had the odds stacked against them. The steady reduction in the budget over the years made it nearly impossible to stage a proper apocalypse, never mind one with a showdown between Michael the Archangel and Lucifer. One of the biggest disappointments of the season, at least for many, was the absence of scale. The story was intended to be epic, but the constraints made that nearly impossible.


Had the series not been designed from the beginning as more of a character-driven show, then the smaller scale would have killed the series in its tracks. As it stands, the show is defined by the depth of its treatment of the Brothers Winchester and their relationship. Sam and Dean have always been at the center of the storm, and this episode rightfully focuses on that bond.


Part of the “apocalypse problem”, beyond the off-screen carnage, was the notion of the Winchester Gospels. It’s a neat concept, and one that evokes a certain power. But how does that translate into something so profound that it lives up to the billing? What could possibly be done that earns a place in future religious canon?


It comes down to the underlying tenet that “God helps those who help themselves”. As Castiel suggests at the end of the episode, it’s practically impossible to fathom the plans of God, yet it’s fairly clear that the outcome was as God intended. And in retrospect, the logic is right there, even if it’s hidden within the limited perspective of the Winchesters.


It wasn’t that divine intervention wasn’t possible. The end of the episode bears that out: Castiel was fully restored, Bobby was returned from the dead, Dean was healed, and Sam is apparently back from Hell, though his status is obviously unknown at this point. God rewarded the players as they would have wanted to be rewarded.


But so much of the season was all about how Sam and Dean were fighting to keep the angels and demons at bay until someone else could step in. And if the Brothers Winchester were symbolic of all of humanity, struggling with faith and good and evil within and without, then the solution had to come from them. It had to be a total commitment to resist, even when all hope was lost.


It seems pointless and cruel, but it is the reason why the notion of the Winchester Gospels now works. Not because it will depict some massive catastrophic struggle, but because it is the symbolic and real victory of humanity as God’s chosen. It’s a refutation of everything that caused Lucifer to rebel in the first place.


Lucifer rebelled because he couldn’t wrap his head around the notion that a species with free will, capable of enormous weakness, was somehow favored above the angels. In that, he only went further than Michael and the others. If anything, Lucifer is more sympathetic, despite his evil, because he was honest in his actions. The rest of the angels rebel in their intentions, if not openly.


Yet in the end, it is Sam and Dean’s simple human bond that overcomes the power of Lucifer and Michael combined. Granted, the rings of the Horsemen opened the gate back to Lucifer’s cage, but it all came down to Sam overcoming his darkest impulses and making the ultimate sacrifice. Not simply dying (that’s old hat for the Winchesters), but risking eternal suffering.


Part of my appreciation for this episode is the coda, in which it is revealed that Chuck, supposedly a prophet, is actually God. In retrospect, this fits very well into the statements at the end of the Book of Revelation, in which it is said that there would be no further prophets until the return of Jesus. Chuck seems a bit ludicrous as the “second coming”, but there have been enough twists on religious concepts that it doesn’t really bother me at all.


Chuck’s true identity now makes it obvious that there was a guiding hand for the Brothers Winchester, and Chuck is the one that tells Dean where the final battle is and essentially reinforces the principle that the solution has to come from the brothers themselves. Where the angels see their blind obedience as superior, God champions humanity’s choice to do the right thing, even when it seems there will be no reward from a higher power. (And frankly, since Chuck was always something of an avatar for Eric Kripke, it makes sense for him to be the Creator, doesn’t it?)


The episode is not perfect. The depictions of the massive loss of life in passing does not really bring home the scale and horror of the end of the world. Again, this is mostly due to budget constraints, and there wasn’t much that could be done. Also, while not specifically tied to this episode, the decision to use Adam as a substitute for Dean feels like a cheat. If Dean could be replaced all this time, why would the angels have waited?


On the other hand, the story effectively hinged on Dean retaining his humanity, so that he could appeal to Sam’s humanity as part of the final solution. He was the lynchpin to bring the entire cycle to its fitting conclusion, and he had to make the choice (as per Death’s condition) to draw Sam out, knowing it would mean his brother’s doom. If Dean had been possessed by Michael, that would not have been possible.


Also, if Dean was aware that Adam could be his substitute earlier in the story, then he wouldn’t have had the crisis of faith that was necessary to push him from hopeless despair to the man capable of facing Death and strutting onto the (relocated) field of Armageddon to the tune of “Rock of Ages”. Dean had to feel the pressure and face the choice.


As promised, Eric Kripke brought his original intended story arc for “Supernatural”, as well as his tenure as showrunner, to a close with this concluding chapter. Chuck’s monologue and vanishing act was a nice touch, even if some of the commentary was a tad defensive. It’s such a clean break that this episode feels like it could have been the series finale, had Sam never returned. As it is, it gives Sera Gamble and the sixth season a relatively clean slate going forward into the next era of the Winchester saga.


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May 15, 2010 7:49PM EDT

Perfect summation! I salute everything the show has come to mean and I cannot wait for next season. By the way, I didn't know Chuck was GOD, but that explains a lot.

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May 16, 2010 4:38AM EDT

I love that whole "humanity as God's chosen" line you put there. It pretty much sums up what supernatural was probably gunning for. I loved this episode immensely and can't wait to see what season 6 has in store.
I'm still not sold on Chuck = God thing because there's still that necklace that supposedly burns hot in his presence that we haven't seen happen.

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May 16, 2010 6:36AM EDT

One thing i'm confused on is how the fight between Gabriel and Lucifer was so unspectacular, surely, as they are both arch angels it would be at least in the same ballpark as a micheal lucifer fight

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May 16, 2010 1:55PM EDT

I may be completely wrong in my interpretation here, but I felt watching the episode that the car was God's Vessel. Chuck stressed its importance tremendously, and even in its history there where aspects that tied it to religion (thus possibly making it a suitable candidate as God's vessel....) i.e. the guy who gave out bibles from it as the original owner. I dunno... something about Chuck being God is just really unsatisfying...but then again maybe that's kinda the point of Supernatural with its ability to surprise.
Absolutely loved the series so far, and the finally also.

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May 16, 2010 6:39PM EDT

Thank you for not attacking the show, because that was the best-crafted ending to a series I have ever seen. Although you are right, they were a little defensive in the end. Nevertheless, I think it was needed.

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