TV Review: “Supernatural” S11 – Fading To Black

Written by Jesse Gelinas June 02, 2016

Sam and Dean in season 11 of SupernaturalI am a bit of a latecomer to the Supernatural fandom. I avoided this show for a decade. I was convinced it’d be another cheap X-Files or Buffy knockoff, with two gorgeous leading men to draw in tweens and soccer moms, and little to no substance. I can say that I was happy to be proven wrong. I binged my way through ten seasons of Sam and Dean, “saving people, and hunting things.” Now, season eleven has come to a close. Sadly, that special spark the show carried so proudly has now faded, and it has become a shell of its former self. Season 11 started out with some promise, but a meandering plot and weak villain just sent it all straight to Hell… again.

Full season (including finale) spoilers below

Supernatural’s eleventh season finds Sam and Dean Winchester facing off against Amara. After removing the Mark of Cain from Dean’s arm, the void is uncorked and The Darkness escapes into the world, unleashing an evil infectious fog in the process. The Darkness is embodied into a baby named Amara, who soon grows into adulthood by devouring souls. The brothers scramble to find a way to defeat the primal force of pure destruction, recruiting friends and enemies alike, even seeking out help from the long-absent God. And in between they spend more than half their time on unrelated, small time cases in middle America.

“Together we can make Hell great again.”

Supernatural‘s early years were laced with a healthy number of Monster of the Week episodes. In the same vein as The X-Files, the brothers would bound around the country in their Baby and solve random monster and ghost cases. There is still heated debate among fans as to whether the show should focus on clear overarching plots, or stick to the MotW format. The problem is, the writers seem to want to have it both ways, and so the show suffers. This season, where our heroes were facing off against the most primordial form of evil in the known universe, they spent 12 (of 23) episodes hunting down random one-off monsters and ghosts. Following the biggest and most game-changing episode of the season, there were three self-contained episodes in a row before anything to move the main plot occurred. While I do appreciate the show’s commitment to trying to please both camps, I think this proves that the network styled 23-episode season may be a bit much for this series. It would likely feel much more comfortable and streamlined with a 12 or 13 episode season.

Amara, the villain for the 11th season of Supernatural

As with every season of Supernatural, 11 really tries to raise the stakes. Sadly, it seems to have hit a bit of a ceiling, narratively, and economically. The Darkness, Amara, is revealed to be Almighty God’s sister. Where he is creation, she is destruction. So of course, she is personified by a beautiful woman in a black dress (see above). As with all villains and monsters in this universe, she just looks like a regular person. She “needs a vessel” just like a common demon, angel, or leviathan. It is a little cheese that the show’s budget has to cast such a large shadow over its ability to showcase interesting concepts in any visually interesting way. It stops the Darkness from ever feeling scary or threatening. The big showdown between God and Amara takes place in a dingy warehouse and literally nothing happens. Amara gets stabbed, God tries to curse her, and she chokes him out.

Added to that, the actress (Emily Swallow) is so flat and bland throughout the season, I found myself bored whenever she was on screen. They try to force a strange obsession between her and Dean, but she is so uninteresting I found his undying love for her totally unbelievable.

“Give up your smallness, your humanity, and become boundless within me.”

The season looked like it would pick up some real momentum in episode 9 with the return of Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino). Sam and Dean visit him in his cage looking for his help defeating Amara. The original gangster ends up secretly possessing Castiel (Misha Collins) and escaping, leading to exactly two wonderful episodes with him undercover among the brothers. Afterward, he returns to his Hellish ways, commanding demons and trying to defeat Amara himself. So really, nothing changes, except he and the brothers aren’t working together.

Lucifer returns to Supernatural

The rest of the supporting players all return, including a few really old friends. Crowley (Mark Sheppard) is back to prove that he’s “not a bloody sidekick,” but he spends the entire season being a sidekick and a punch line. The awful Rowena (Ruth Connell) returns and takes up far more screen time than she deserves. Mark Pellegrino gets two awesome episodes as Lucifer before Collins takes over. Rob Benedict returns as Cuck Shirley, who is revealed to have been God all along. It feels like a bit of a copout, but only because it didn’t happen much sooner. It seems pretty late in the game at this point, tough he pulls it off well, and it does lead to some interesting and entertaining scenes between him and Lucifer.

“I wasn’t supposed to have favourites, but you, you were mine. I gave you the Mark because I thought you were strong enough to bear it.”

The finale is weak sauce, clumsily wrapping up the Amara storyline in the laziest way possible. There is a half-assed tease for next season that comes out of nowhere in the form of a Woman Of Letters arriving from England to arrest Sam, and Dean discovering his mother alive and well after 34 years. It might’ve had a bit more of a wow factor if the preceding 40 minutes hadn’t been so lackluster.

The rest of the season’s problems are the same ones Supernatural has been having since Kripke stepped down as showrunner. The villain is bland, the danger is undersold and uninteresting. The brothers keep going back and forth, racing to sacrifice themselves before the other can. It’s all just stale. That’s not to say there aren’t great episodes. The episodes in Lucifer’s cage were extremely entertaining. The season’s bottle episode (titled Baby) is fantastic, and impressively done, filmed entirely inside the brothers’ car. There is also a one-off episode (Beyond The Mat) involving pro wrestling that was really enjoyable. Beyond that, everything was average at best, with the finale serving as a very lukewarm conclusion. I’d say the season ranks ahead of 6 and 7 (Alpha Monsters and Leviathans), but behind 8 and 9 (Metatron and the Mark Of Cain).

Chuck returns to Supernatural

It’s not the worst season Supernatural has had, but it just continues the trend of subpar outings ever since Kripke’s exit. The first five years were solid, clever, and had purpose and direction. Every season since has seemed like on-the-fly, self-contained storytelling, chock full of deus ex machine (this season they were called “hands of God” and they sucked). The Big Bads have been weak, the twists have been repetitive, and the overarching plot hasn’t been solid enough to justify a whole season. It’s a shame, because they’ve upped the stakes about as high as they can go this time. If next season wants to be an improvement, it’ll have to be a complete overhaul. It needs an interesting, actually scary villain, new twists, and the brothers need to actually grow, rather than rehash their usual beefs. Maybe after a decade it’s too much to ask.

Season: 5/10

Finale: 4/10

Poster for Supernatural season 11

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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