Pacing in a narrative is the speed at which important or interesting events happen. The difficulty in talking about pacing, however, is that there is no correct speed for any particular narrative. Instead, good pacing is a delicate negotiation of the sometimes conflicting needs of storytelling: to lay narrative groundwork but get the actual tale moving, to advance a plot slowly enough to be followed but have events move quickly enough to keep the audience engaged, to provide enough lulls and breaks in the speed of the action to keep people guessing but still keep things coming at a clip that allows tension to build toward a climax. This season of Supernatural has been excellent example of how pacing can make or break a story. And unfortunately, it’s been the latter. Each season of Supernatural has had at least one unifying story to it, and one of the charms of the series has been the way it has balanced telling that story over the course of twenty-something episodes while still managing to create individual outings (both of the myth arc and the freak-of-the-week variety) which are entertaining and kept the primary plotline developing. Until this season. The story this season has been about Dean and the Mark of Cain—more specifically, what the Mark is doing to him and the boys’ (and now girls’) quest to remove that Mark before it kills Dean (or worse, more likely). Along the way, we have had some really good episodes. “Fan Fiction,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and “The Things They Carried” certainly stand out. But even on a show renowned for over-the-top ethical navel-gazing, almost nothing has really happened in the Mark of Cain story. We’ve been told (rather than shown for the most part, especially in the back half of the season) that it’s bad for Dean. A book has been introduced and acquired which could help remove the Mark. An enemy of a frenemy has been established as someone who can translate the book, with the help of Charlie, and a deal struck. And that’s basically it, in 20 episodes worth of development. And the last two episodes are excellent examples of why we haven’t gotten much further than that. In “Angel Heart,” we return to the arc of Jimmy Novak’s family. Jimmy Novak, happily married man and devoted believer, gave Castiel his vessel, thus passing onto heaven and allowing the angel to save the world. But in doing so he left behind a wife and child, both of whom have been suffered. Castiel has been at odds with daughter Claire for some time, feeling responsible for the girl, despite the teenager’s best attempts to tell the angel to get bent. At the beginning of “Angel Heart,” we learn that Claire has been searching for her mother her abandoned her in order to try to bring back Jimmy, and that search has landed the daughter in the hospital. Castiel calls in the Winchesters because he believes they speak the girl’s language (the Angsty Alienation dialect, I suppose). Jimmy’s wife Amelia, it turns out, went looking for “miracles,” hoping somehow to regain her husband from Heaven’s grip, and instead fell into the hands of a Grigori angel named Tamiel. The Grigori, a subset of angel gone bad, feed off human emotions, and so Tamiel has been keeping Amelia (along with a dozen or so others) in a sort of dream-coma that stirs strong feelings on which he can sup. Castiel and Sam go in, Sam having intentionally benched Dean due to the Mark, but when Dean and Claire discover who and what Tamiel is, they race in and save the day. Which only frustrates the whole “Mark is BAD-BAD-BAD” storyline. We haven’t seen the Mark driving Dean to do all that much damage lately—only Sam insisting his brother is going to go nuclear at any moment—and now Dean is the one calmly doing homework, getting the relevant info (although, honestly, it’s not all that necessary), and making the smart decision to trust Claire in the fight. Truth be told, this is possibly the most level-headed we’ve seen Dean. So rather than “Angel Heart” building us toward any sort of crisis, it instead leaves us with the distinct impression that Sam may blowing things way out of proportion. Except, we know that this cannot be true. We saw at the beginning of the season what the Mark was capable of both in how the demon that came with it made Dean turn his back on his brother in favor of carousing with Crowley and then in the rampage he went on in Randy’s den in “The Things We Left Behind.” But the presentation and pacing of the Mark story has not built up that threat over the course of the season, and “Angel Heart” defangs it almost entirely. It’s not a terrible episode, but it’s the wrong message at the wrong time in the larger story. As if to try to make up for it, we get “Dark Dynasty.” One of the things that I and others have bemoaned about Supernatural is the lack of female characters. The writers seemed determined to address that lack this season with the presence of Hannah, the introduction of Rowena, and the return of Claire, Jody, Hanscum, and Charlie. Unfortunately, we quickly lose Hannah, Rowena has been more an annoyance than welcome addition, Claire is little better, and Charlie—where I think many of us were pinning our hopes for strong female to balance Castiel—is also now among the dead. The death of Charlie at the hands of the Frankenstein family is so frustrating because it reads so much like a narrative Hail Mary pass. After so much nothing, it’s as though the writer felt we finally needed a something, and that something is so devastating that many viewers may simply decide they are done. Let’s back up a moment. So for the last couple of weeks, Sam has been lying to his brother (yet again), this time about the Book of the Damned having been destroyed. Instead, he’s arranged for Rowena and now Charlie to be holed up under the not-watchful-enough eye of Castiel in order to try to decode the book in order to free Dean of the Mark. In the meantime, Dean just happens (don’t you love/loathe narrative coincidence) to have chosen a case that brings the brothers up against the Styne family, who has been trying to locate Charlie and the book for their own nefarious purposes. Turns out that the Stynes are actually the Frankensteins (and, boy, was that reveal telegraphed), a family that’s been reusing stolen body parts to make themselves into better and badder versions of their fellow human beings. They are hard to stop, hard to effectively torture, and evidently, hard to turn into actual bad guys worthy of the Winchesters. The very idea of them is so utterly laughable that even the writers must have realized it and thus needed a way to prove that they mean business. So Charlie had to die. The optimist in me looks back at one of the last things that Claire said to Sam in “Angel Heart”: “You said sometimes death isn’t always goodbye, right? So goodbyes aren’t always forever,” and thinks maybe Charlie will be back. But to have one of the best female characters ever on the show cut down simply because the writers could not be bothered to properly plot and pace their story over the season is not just unacceptable. It’s almost worse than not bringing her back in the first place. And with only two episodes left to supposedly resolve this Mark of Cain story, Supernatural has killed more than Charlie. I came into this season with the highest hopes and the great faith that Kripke and company would continue to deliver. But they’ve officially killed those as well. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.