Episode 11×09 AKA “The One with Thematic Issues Like Whoa”
Forgive me readers, as this recap is more of a bloodbath than anything else.
I’m not sorry.
Warning: there be spoilers ahead.
Immediately picking up where “Just My Imagination” left off, the midseason finale has Dean listening to Sam and agreeing to pay a visit to Crowley to talk about opening the Cage and paying a visit to Lucifer. Crowley says he can lead them to the Cage, but he can’t open it because they have no key; to speak to Lucifer, they’ll need the Book of the Damned and Rowena (The Cage first appeared in season 5? What’s that? Castiel opened the Cage in season 6? Who? What?)
Meanwhile, Amara has decided to play around with some of her brother’s creations and butchers a church full of souls. So while Sam, Crowley, and Rowena take a trip down Below to see old Lucy, Dean goes looking for Amara. She finds him, however, and spirits him away for an extensive span of dialogue in which we learn nothing other than that she’s the Darkness and that she wants to one-up Big Brother. She kisses Dean, because, as she claims, no one can resist her, and later dematerializes three angels with little more than a thought. She sends Dean away soon after because to her he’s another plaything.
Meanwhile in hell, Rowena summons Lucifer out of the Cage and into a protected circle so that Sam can have a face-to-face to ask about the Darkness. Lucifer generously agrees to help Sam, with the caveat that he’s allowed to use Sam’s body as a vessel. In the end, Rowena’s spell falters and Lucy spirits Sam inside the Cage because, surprise, the Morningstar lied. Sam’s visions weren’t from God, after all.
The Big Picture (of Problems with These Writers)
Most of you are probably familiar with my displeasure with the two writers of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” They have previously brought us such travesties as “Route 666” and, more recently, “Dark Dynasty.” It is because of the latter that I am hesitant to watch anything written by them, and unfortunately, I only watched this episode because it is the midseason finale. Ross-Leming and Buckner have some of the lowest rated episodes in Supernatural’s history, and this brings me to the first issue I have with “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”: canon compliance.
For a mythology-laden show that’s approaching 250 episodes, I can well imagine that it’s tedious to remember the little details in the show’s canon, like Michael/Adam is also in the Cage or that the angels’ wings were broken in the Fall of season 8, or that Amara is as old as God and is yet written as an underwhelming villain, prone to tantrums and motivated by the simplest of urges. I mean, it’s not like these two have been paid writers for the show for 11 seasons, and who have access to an all-inclusive resource about previous episodes, characters, and themes, right?
Oh wait, they do get paid for this. Oops.
It is such blatant disregard for the canon that causes much of the fandom, myself included, to dread BRL episodes. If even the most casual of female fans can detect incongruency and inaccuracy while the episode is airing, what does this imply about the quality of the professionals hired to produce such an episode? In short, it is a breach of trust with the audience. We trust the show’s creators to do the job for which they are paid: to create a consistent and entertaining television series. Our trust, however, has been rewarded by negligent writing that highlights more systemic and deep-seated issues in the show’s content, such as the abuse of consent.
I’ve criticized the show for this kind of problem before. “A Rock and a Hard Place” curb-stomped Dean’s character development and grossly abused a woman’s wants and consent in a sexual situation. This time, however, the tables have turned and it is Dean’s consent that is conspicuously missing. No matter your position on the relationship between Dean and Amara, it is difficult to persuade fans that their conversation (and subsequent kiss) was mutually desired by both parties.
Let’s discuss the reasons for Dean’s resistance to Amara. First, Amara transports Dean to the middle of nowhere without his consent. This is also known as kidnapping. Secondly, Dean attempts to kill Amara, which does not indicate enthusiasm about his connection to her (we’ll discuss the sexualization of violence in a moment). And finally, Amara declares herself to be irresistible and then she kisses Dean. While Dean does not visibly resist her advances after he fails to kill her, it is important to remember that Amara is the most powerful evil being in the universe. Dean’s “no” means nothing in the face of so much power, and he’s smart enough to know it. Dean’s refusal is only apparent in his attempt to kill Amara, and his ability to consent is obliterated when the blade shatters. Up to that point, Dean knew that he had an another option if Amara threatened him; he had an alternative to consenting to her. The destruction of Ruby’s knife is the end of his ability to refuse Amara; the scene plays out afterward as if Dean were held at gunpoint. Can it be considered consent when Dean’s life is in the balance?
BRL seem to think that it counts as consent, especially if your antagonist is a highly sexualized individual like Amara.
This brings me to the issue of sexualized violence, which is thoroughly interwoven into the problem of consent in this episode. Amara, the Darkness, should be the most terrifying entity we’ve ever seen on Supernatural. Think Lilith multiplied by a million. Instead, the writers have chosen to depict her as an increasingly sexual interest for Dean, and her appearance and outfits have also become increasingly sexualized the older she appears. The writers have assumed that by having an evil, violent force in the form of a beautiful woman, consent from Dean is a given. When violence is sexualized, it becomes acceptable, and it’s a problem that is only too common in today’s entertainment culture. The lines between sexual autonomy and sexual abuse/non-consent become blurred in light of such misconceptions, and in this episode, the Winchesters become victimized and are powerless to give consent. Dean’s ineffectual refusal to Amara is indicative of a failure on the behalf of the writers to distinguish between consent and coercion.
The line blurs even further in the interaction between Sam and Lucifer. Sam’s previous experiences in the Cage have been hinted at, and while we don’t know exactly what was done to Sam by Lucifer, we can only assume the nature of the torture based on conversations like the following:
“Michael and Lucy are hate-banging it as we speak,” says Balthazar in 6×011. In “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Lucifer suggests to Sam that they share a bed.
The subtext is there, and it’s screaming.
When Lucifer first suggests his deal to Sam in this episode, Sam very clearly rejects the Morningstar. In the end, Sam’s consent, like Dean’s, is obliterated because Lucifer brings Sam into the Cage again through deceit (which shouldn’t surprise anyone because, hello? Satan?). My issue does not lie within the concept of Lucifer’s deception, but rather in that the writers decided to, once again, nullify free will to further a plot that could be otherwise achieved. And, by doing so, they are promoting a normalization of sexual violence as a viable and acceptable form of coercion to gain consent. Like Dean, Sam will be unable to resist Lucifer because against such an entity, he is powerless.
Whether or not you believe the torture that Sam has faced and will face again in the Cage to be sexual, writing antagonists like Lucifer and Amara to be both attractive and abusers of consent is problematic in the most fundamental of ways: it creates a precedent and perpetuates an already-existing problem in a rape culture society.
Perhaps if these writers were more in tune with who their audience is and what their audience wants to see, they would give us writing that fulfills the potential that Eric Kripke conceived in Supernatural eleven years ago. Or better yet, leave the writing to the writers who know what they’re doing, like Robbie, Bobo, Andrew, and Nancy Won.
Bitter, Disappointed, and Ready to Give Up,