After listening to a podcast about writing characters the other day (Writing Excuses Episode 10.8, check it out, this is a fantastic podcast in general), so much of what they said spoke to me about why SPN hasn't been working Season Eight and beyond. (That's not to say I'm not enjoying a lot about Season Ten; I really am digging it, but I do have thoughts, so here goes.)
I wrote a huge braindump to a friend about the subject of Sam's POV, or lack thereof, because she--as a dyed-in-the-wool Dean!girl--wanted Sam's POV in order to better enjoy Dean's delicious mytharc. This is something ash48 has touched on too, over at her journal.
I've decided to share my theories here, since I've bothered to write them all down and we're on hiatus, but please ... no character or commenter bashing! Because this isn't actually about the characters or whether or not Dean deserves his mytharc (because he does!), it's about the writing and how the story is structured ... or not, as the case may be.
(There aren't current spoilers in my post, but there might be in the comments; tread with care if you're not caught up!)
Yay, Dean finally has a mytharc! So why is the telling of the story not quite working?
Honest to goodness, it's not about who has the mytharc that gets my goat, though I certainly understand why that has become a beef between Sam!girls and Dean!girls. On the surface, it appears as though the character with the mytharc (Sam, most often) gets all the 'special' authorial treatment. He's the one who has been possessed (multiple times) and drank demon blood and jumped into the Pit and had Lucifer in his head and did the Trials and ... yadda. But after listening to many podcasts on writing (and pondering story structure and character development itself,) I've concluded that the guy who gets the mytharc isn't the problem with Carver's SPN. Many fans have made the observation that the plot 'flip' isn't working like we want it to. Nearly all of the unrepentant Dean!girls on my flist have made exactly the same observation, as well as people who have no preference, so this isn't just bitter Sam!girls pining. Sam!girls have felt for literally years that the character wasn't given the same breadth of development as Dean, mytharcs notwithstanding. It took the role reversal of Dean and Sam for everyone, Sam and Dean fans alike, to start saying "Huh. Wait, what does Sam think, now? We really don't know. Why is he doing that? This isn't making sense...")
This flaw in the show's writing has been very notable during Carver's reign, mostly because guidance (or lack thereof) starts from the top down, and the best of the show's writers have trickled away. I will tag an exception onto my current fave, Bob Berens. He, of all the recent squad, seems to have his pulse on not only how the show used to be written--tone, patter, themes--but he gets it. He gets character development and use. He builds great stories, IMHO. I'm hanging so much of my hope on him, poor guy!
Okay, so here's what I've distilled the problems down to:
First off, I suspect many folks who want the boys to "grow" and "mature" into a so-called "healthy relationship" don't really mean it. (There are quite a few with ulterior motives: if Sam gets a dog and a nice girl, then Dean and Cas can be together. I'd rather not get into shipping wars and I've never seen Dean/Cas as a viable canon option anyway, so let's just not go there.) APOLOGIA: this came of really harsh towards Dean/Cas fans, as well as fans who want 'happily ever after'. I have some lovely Dean/Cas folks on my flist! Just because I don't see it doesn't mean no one else can, and anyone is welcome to want a happy ending. Doesn't seem plausible to me, but I'm only one big mouth!
Truth is, we love the tangled flaws in our characters. When the flaws go away, the character starts to change who he is, and we don't want this. It's unbelievable and boring. Even in the real world, our flaws never truly vanish, we just get better at managing them. As a notable character says in this last episode (name redacted to protect those who haven't watched yet but OMG WHY HAVEN'T YOU WATCHED IT YET??), there is only remission and relapse. I've also heard it said from various writers (of both TV shows and comics, which is important to note,) that viewers/readers don't want actual change, they just want the perception of change. This especially applies to open-ended worlds, not finite productions like movies or novels. Products that have a concrete end can get everything wrapped up in a big red bow, happily-ever-after, and all that sunshine. Change, kill, spit-and-polish that character to a high gloss, so what? IT'S OVER. But in open, long-running universes, we still want the characters we first fell in love with. It's that simple. They can evolve, certainly, but they will always have core qualities that will never leave. Change those, and you've broken the character. (Now, if the author intends to break the character, such as Theon Greyjoy from AGoT, that's a whole 'nother thing, but we're not talking about that here.)
Carver has supposedly been trying to “mature” Sam and Dean. To do so, one must build on the past experiences of the characters (hello, that's how growth and maturing works), but it appears as though their past experiences have little to do with the way the story is unfolding during his administration. For instance, everyone wants to see Sam correlate his addiction to the demon blood with Dean's addiction to the First Blade. Not a peep about that. We want to hear Sam say “I get what you're going through, Dean. You helped me through that; I can help you through this. I know from whence I speak, man!”
So we have that issue: the writers not acknowledging the characters' canon past histories. We all chafe at this, especially because it seems to indicate (and this has certainly been born out time and again) that the current writers don't know past canon. Sometimes they pluck small plot incidences from the past well enough, but they far too often don't have their heads wrapped around the characters' past emotional arcs and thought processes.
And this brings us to sticking point #2: what ARE Sam's thought processes? This is a problem that has been built up from the second the show decided to make Dean the POV character, which he arguably is. We know all his favorite foods, all his favorite music, his favorite catch phrases, and so on. I could sit here and list off a bazillion descriptors and trademark behaviors of Dean Winchester, but his brother Sam? Good luck with that. You might get a scant handful. And I'm a Sam!girl!
So now that the show is trying, in earnest, to flip the scenario — have Dean be the plot device and Sam the POV character — it's stumbling. It can't seem to extricate itself from Dean's POV, which is understandable because it doesn't know what Sam thinks. It certainly hasn't done a good job of establishing this in Carver's era. We have jumped around, with little to no foreshadowing or demonstrable logic, from 'Sam wants a normal life' to 'Sam doesn't want out of hunting anymore' to 'Sam doesn't want Dean as his family' to 'I lied.' (Okay, this last one was Jared's doing, but he has said in interviews that the original line of “I didn't expect this to happen” — meaning Dean's death — just didn't feel right. I wish he hadn't done that, but it just further demonstrates how not on-the-same-page the writers are with the actor who has played this character for a decade.) There has been little internal consistency to Sam's core characteristics the past three years. The writers don't know who he is, so they can't write from his POV. It's that simple.
I suspect what Carver intended was for Sam's regret at having disowned his brother (thereby pushing Dean into increasingly reckless behavior and his eventual demise) to morph into Sam's desperation to rescue Dean from demonhood and the lingering effects of the MoC. Jared's changing of the line to “I lied” thwarted all that, but I get why he did it. It painted Sam as the selfish brother yet again. If we had gotten good insight as to why Sam had left Dean to rot in Purgatory or a more skillfully and thoroughly written “we can't be brothers” exchange, then Jared may not have felt so maligned (on Sam's behalf.) This, of course, is just my guessing; I could be waaaaaay full of shit. ;)
But the fact is, the plot has been driving Sam's character for ages; not the other way around. (But at least during Kripke's run, Sam has been consistent.) His behavior from S8 on, however, hasn't truly been grounded in canon or foreshadowing, nor has it been consistent.
Now, it may seem consistent and foreshadowed on the surface. Sam left the family to pursue Stanford; Sam made Dean swear that after he jumped in the Pit, Dean would try to live an apple pie life. So of course Sam would shrug and skip off to mundane suburbia when Dean vanished without a trace, right? RIGHT?
Yeah, not so much. Sam also went all sociopath during Mystery Spot, trying to get Dean back. He refused to accept fate in the “Faith” episode. He did his deadly best to free Dean from his crossroads deal, and when that didn't work, he fell in with Ruby in an attempt to make things right, but only after trying everything else at his disposal to get Dean back. THIS is the Sam we know (and love.) Carver's Sam makes no sense. But he could have! Had someone bothered to give us Sam's POV during early S8, committed to figuring out why Sam was doing what he was doing and sharing that with the rest of the class, we wouldn't be so cantankerous about it right now. I'm positive of this.
Sam's character is a hot mess. Dean's? Clearly drawn, because they've been doing it for years. I'm not sure there's diddly squat they can do about this now except maybe get the writing team together and have a frank discussion about who Sam is. Then, maybe, they can write from his POV. But first they have to admit that this is a problem with the show and that'll probably never happen.
But hey, a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while! And so I still have hope.
Feel free to give me all your thoughts! Just, as I said earlier, don't bash in a way that'll hurt anyone here on LJ, please. Everyone can still really enjoy the way S10 is shaping up; I am! But a bunch of us have been struggling with why, despite all the apparent good turns of event, we're still feeling discontented.