Supernatural Rant: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Banner by the Collected Mutineer
Banner by the Collected Mutineer

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.

via giphy
via giphy

I’m not sorry.

Warning: there be spoilers ahead.

Synopsis

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?)

the CW
the CW

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.

the CW
the CW

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.

via giphy
via giphy

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.

the CW
the CW

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.

the CW
the CW

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.

Screenshot 2015-12-10 08.08.46

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,

The Collectress

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5 thoughts

  1. I get your points about consent versus coercion, and I understand how troubling sexualized violence is–though this show is not the first, nor will it be the last, to tread this path–but something else you said was kind of a light bulb moment to me. You said that the writers chose to nullify free will in order to further a plot. I would suggest that nullifying free will is ITSELF the plot. It is, after all, the thing the Winchesters hold most dear. It is the most important lesson Castiel learned from Dean, way back before “Swan Song” when Dean said he would take all the pain he feels on earth rather than be a “Stepford bitch” in Heaven. The only thing more devastating than the loss of free will would be the (permanent) death of one of the brothers. The coercion is meant to be horrifying, and on at least some level, your reaction is what the writers are going for. This is still a horror show, after all.

    Maybe it’s because you and I are watching from different perspectives, but I got pretty caught up in the story here. There’s a lot of commentary on the nature of God and religion. There are wheels in motion regarding characters like Rowena and Crowley, neither of whose motives are crystal clear yet. And despite the nature of Sam’s past with Lucifer, we have this character who so bravely faced down his worst fear because he believed God had faith in him. We saw Sam’s utter despondency when he realized that this wasn’t the case. And we are still mid-story, though I’ll admit that this is a pretty problematic note on which to leave the show for the moment.

    I guess I just feel like, although there are consent issues and agency issues happening here, the intent is not to use them purely for shock value. Serious shit is hitting the fan, yes. But how much sweeter the victory will be when Sam and Dean overcome it.

    1. I see your point, and I agree that Sam’s decision to face Lucifer showcased his bravery and dedication to righting the mistakes he’s made in the past. The show has played on some interesting themes of religion and faith this season, and I’ve enjoyed watching those themes unfold. This episode is the first in a while that has struck a raw nerve in me, and while I have a difficult time enjoying any show that has such issues with consent, my real problem with the episode stems from the writers choosing to make the episode’s antagonists, namely Lucifer and Amara, sexually appealing AND abusers of consent. Amara’s appeal is obvious in that she is portrayed by a beautiful woman, and Lucifer’s is made apparent in Rowena’s response to him. I believe she describes him as an “alpha male” or something similar. Both antagonists are written in a way to indicate, to the audience, that other characters in the show find them appealing, and therefore their methods could also be seen as appealing or sexy by these characters (and, perhaps, the audience?). If the issues of consent were intentional, and likely integral to the plot of the season, then I understand that necessity in terms of the larger myth arc. However, I wholly disagree with the writers’ choice to sexualize any character who chooses to coerce instead of obtain consent. Amara and Lucifer are villains, and we expect them to be evil; sexualizing the characters is not a requirement.
      To sum up, it’s not a disagreement with the direction the plot has taken, but rather the method by which the characters were steered in that direction. -TC

      1. You’re not writing the story though. Its a ‘choice’ to watch or not to watch but the characters of Supernatural, although might be dear to you, are not yours. If they use sexuality for the villians then so be it, that is the story, that is their story. Plus they’re evil, evil abhorent people use whatever they have to in order to get the result they want. Amara finds Dean fascinating, desiring and is in wonderment when she is around him as he is with her. Fans subtext is not fact and can actually be dead wrong. I for one do not see any rape culture with Sam and Lucifer. He is just torturing him, playing word games with him to force him to allow him to use his body. Bunk buddies & to share was to share bodies, not like with him. I think for some Supernatural is a cause, they want to be able to control it and tell it what to do. For alot of fans there is no problem, they will watch come hell or highwater because the root for the Winchesters to beat the evil force. I have a friend who is not online and doesn’t know about any talk on rape culture of SPN and I told her and she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

        It was a very brotherly caring episode and the underlining ‘subtext’ of the episode was not rape or consent, but rather the fact that Sam and Dean need each other, they have a connection to higher beings which they seem to mirror. And on the subject of Castiel, he did not mention he went down to the cage, he got the body of Sam out but you don’t know how he got there. If he went down, phsysically opened the cage and dragged Sam out why was his soul left there.

        Plus at the time Castiel got Sam out of the cage, he was working with Crowley and doing evil things with Gramps & Crowley. This show and the brothers can run without Castiel, they do not have to use him for everything.

      2. You’re right. I do choose to watch this show, even with the issues I see with its thematic content. However, I disagree with you when you say that this is ‘their’ story. They created the story and its characters, yes, and as such copyright and trademark are theirs, from a legal standpoint. However, the meaning of a story is constructed in three things 1) the text, or canon, itself 2) the authorial intent behind the story and 3) the audience’s reaction to and perception of that story. Often times, because of censorship, authors rely on the audience’s ability to read between the lines to tell a story. This is especially apparent in early 20th century film and television, when the Hayes Code was still in effect. Currently, on network television that has strict content guidelines to be adhered to, the creators still use such practices to keep the story and characters realistic and true to authorial intent but also to comply with network standards. That aside, once the story is out of the creators’ hands and out for public consumption, it no longer solely belongs to the writer, much like if you go to a bookshop to buy “The Hobbit,” the work is no longer thoroughly controlled by the author. This means that an audience members’ reaction to said text is valid, no matter the interpretation, because every person will respond differently to the same writing. You response in thoroughly enjoying the episode is valid, and I respect that. The point of agency is that you and I are both allowed to respond to the same thing in different ways. You and I are free to choose to love the show, to accept the show, or to critique the show, or any combination of the above.

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