Supernatural 5.1: "Sympathy for the Devil" Review - Featured


Several times during the fourth season, I mentioned that the actions and statements from the angels, the demons, and the Brothers Winchester were all based on their limited point of view. As many times as the characters said that "God had left the building" and that there was, perhaps, no God at all, it was too easy to assume that it was the case. (That didn't stop some from assuming the worst, of course.)


I pondered in the review for "Lucifer Rising" that this may have been intentional from a storytelling perspective. Perhaps the angels were led to believe that they were on their own, because the final resolution to the apocalypse was never supposed to be in their hands. After all, the thrust of Christian religious tradition is how it all comes down to what humanity chooses to do. And, in keeping with that, we have our erstwhile champions, Sam and Dean.


A common religious proverb states, "God helps those who help themselves". It's a simple way of saying that waiting around for deliverance is never going to work; one must take active agency to solve a problem before divine intervention is likely to kick into gear. The beginning of this season arc practically screams that sentiment. The solution to this impending doom is taking action, however hopeless it might seem.


Both sides of the equation seem to be expecting humanity to lay down and accept their role in the process. Demons expect humans to be easy pickings as they take rightful ownership of the planet. (Demons being, in this mythology, humans who have fallen and been corrupted in Hell in parallel to the fall of Lucifer.) The angels expect humanity to make whatever sacrifices they deem necessary to take down Lucifer and fight the war their way.


It all boils down to reflections of the same mindset. Angels may need to ask permission to take on a human vessel, but they still expect it to be done at their whim. Demons don't bother with permission at all. Both treat humans like tools to be employed. Meg's minion uses Bobby against the Brothers Winchester, and moments later, Zachariah tries to torture Dean into becoming the vessel for Michael the Archangel. This is an intentional display of how both sides view humanity as lesser beings in the scheme of things.


Castiel's resurrection, never mind the timely rescue at the beginning of the episode, both point to a guiding authority that has a very different point of view. I don't expect the writers to be too heavy-handed about it, but the context is fairly obvious. This is the intervention of God into the equation, and that suggests that everything has been going according to plan.


Which, quite to the contrary of those who have objected to the negative talk about God in the fourth season, is exactly what I predicted would happen. And it is really the best possible direction for the writers to take. Assuming that this will follow the usual pattern and God's plan ends up well for the world and his chosen, then this initial setup is perfect for the exploration of how an increasingly doubting world struggles with the notion of God and his plan for humanity.


Sam is a character who will be grasping for any chance of salvation, and as an established believer, that has amazing possibilities. Dean, as the agnostic brother, is perfectly positioned to address how someone with those personal leanings might react to the reality of God's hand in his world. (That journey already started during the fourth season.) By taking the Brothers Winchester this far down the road, the writers prepared them (and the audience) for the moment when their psychological states would be perfect for this kind of exploration.


No doubt all of this will be missed by those who want to be offended, and they will likely focus on the portrayal of Lucifer. I thought it was spot-on. While the demons might revel in the notion of their depraved evil, it makes more sense that Lucifer would see his actions in a more positive light. Or, rather, that he would express his motivations in a way that made them seem reasonable.


But even that reinforces the point being made by the episode. The characters are speaking entirely from their own limited point of view, filtering through the blinders of their psychological state. The deeper truths are left to the subtext of the tale as a whole. And because that's the case, it's impossible to judge the message of the series until the entire subtext is revealed.


It might seem like the episode succeeds due to its mythological content, but as usual, the heart and soul of the story is the relationship between Sam and Dean. And in that regard, the writers pull no punches. It would have been all too easy for Dean to forgive Sam and let the slow degradation of trust in the fourth season wash away in the face of a greater threat. Instead, the writers maintain the strong characterization tradition and take the road less traveled. Dean's bitter rift with Sam will be a core aspect of this fifth season.


Such a deep and dark tale could have been light on humor, but that wasn't the case. Kripke has never been afraid to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous segments of fandom, and that's certainly true here. I would say that the Wincest crowd was lovingly mocked, and they should take that as the compliment to their devotion that it is. How many other producers would pay homage to fans who obsess over incest? (And no, Kripke is not saying that Sam and Dean are lovers, but that in the "Supernatural" universe, there are also crazy people who dream about the possibility.)


This premiere is such a winner that it almost makes me wish that the series were still the best kept secret on television. The success of the fourth season may have guaranteed that the show will get its planned five-season arc after all, but it has also led to the likelihood of future seasons beyond that. The problem is simply this: saying that it's possible telegraphs the survival of the Brothers Winchester. And frankly, some of the power of the narrative was the underlying possibility that the brothers might not survive in the end. I can't help but wonder if success came a season too late to give Supernatural the chance to choose its own fate.

Comments

6 comments

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Sep 12, 2009 12:10AM EDT

Great review :)

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Sep 12, 2009 5:03PM EDT

I agree with you when you said: "I can't help but wonder if success came a season too late to give Supernatural the chance to choose its own fate."As much as it would make my life empty without it every Thursday, the true greatness of Supernatural would be gone forever if anymore seasons were made without Kripke... he said he was going to do 5 seasons and that is all, so I hope The CW respects his decision and treats Supernatural as the classic as it will become after this season is through.

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Sep 12, 2009 7:05PM EDT

While i do believe that god will definitely play a strong role here, i think we may be jumping the gun by believing that he is one that did all the saving. I am thinking that both Lucifer(Who is still an angel) and Michael may have been involved.
Also, it would have been nice had the brothers been the receptacles for Michael and Lucifer, but i suppose that is too easy and obvious.

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Sep 13, 2009 5:54AM EDT

well penned

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Sep 14, 2009 8:34AM EDT

Agreed.
And while I will miss Supernatural when it ends, I want it to end properly, and not milk as much as they can from it.
So 5 planned seasons=excellent story, additional seasons=great chance for failure and chance for story to end abruptly (In the middle of a 2 season arc or something).

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Sep 15, 2009 6:52PM EDT

i agree with you, lucifer's portrayal is much like the one john milton created in paradise lost and that's key to the execution of this whole plot line--creating someone who, albeit evil, truly believes there is a "good" of some sort behind this action. that there's a rhyme and reason to it all so that the viewers will be able to empathize with him as they too becomes allowed by his twisted and convoluted logic.

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