Episode 11×13 AKA “Everything is a cliche”
Well, the hellatus is over and Darkness is unleashed on the Earth in the form of a woman. Sam has hair glorious enough to rival season 8; Dean has a weird not-quite-consensual relationship with the Big Bad; and Castiel’s not here right now. I’m guessing the Winchesters won’t be getting sunshine and puppies anytime soon…Warning there be spoilers ahead.
“Love Hurts” lights up on a married couple about to go for a night out on the town. They invite the babysitter in, and to the surprise of no one, the babysitter is having an affair with the husband. After the couple leaves for their date and the sitter settles in for some South Park, the husband seemingly returns to the house to rip the heart from the babysitter’s chest with his bare hands.
Except the real husband is still out with his wife. A case for the Winchesters? Only time will tell.
The Winchesters arrive on the scene, the faux FBI badges freshly pressed and at the ready, to discover that the husband isn’t to blame. The culprit? Dean thinks it is a shapeshifter.
Except the shifter returns as the babysitter and rips out the husband’s heart.
So, not a shifter?
After the “shifter” attempts to kill the wife, she fesses up to having contacted a witch for a spell to make her husband love her again. According to Sam’s loreful deductions, however, the spell is more of a death curse, or as the Winchesters so eloquently name it: a magical STD that can be paid forward through a kiss, because all is fair in love and war.
In a selfless act of self-sacrifice that has become more cliche than money growing on trees, Dean takes the curse on himself, thereby saving the wife from a fate worse than death. Oh…wait, ripping out her heart is death.
Sam, knowing full well that he cannot teach an old dog new tricks, calls Dean out on his tendency to play the martyr. Dean, of course, shrugs it off because all’s well that ends well, right? In the end, we discover that the not-a-shapeshifter reveals itself as its victims deepest and darkest desire and so when it attacks Dean it is—drumroll, please—Amara. Teh Darkness. The Biggest Baddest Evil in the Universe. Fortunately, Sam stabs not-Amara’s heart and the crisis is averted. Again.
We learn nothing new about The Darkness, or of the threat that she poses to anything other than a modest neckline, but Dean’s secret is confirmed:
SamAmara is his Achilles’ heel. For once, however, Dean does not play this close to the chest and goes for broke by confessing to Sam that he may not be able to kill Amara after all.
Luckily, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, Dean. Sam, to his credit, does not blame Dean, the victim, and in fact affirms that Dean has little choice in the face of such immense evil power. Who would know better than Sam, after all?
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
The Big PictureWriting 101
A Cliche is a phrase so overused that it means nothing to us anymore. In fact, we tend not to notice them, which is why I italicized every cliche I have used in this review so far. There are sixteen cliches, and you probably notice only because I wrote so many so close together.
Fun fact: I did this to my students in a writing class this week to make the same point: good writing is fresh writing.
But where are the cliches in “Love Hurts” you ask?
Well, for a show that has been on the air for as long as Supernatural, it is inevitable that a storyline or two will be rehashed and given a spin. As the cliche goes: there is nothing new under the sun. Just ask SPN’s showrunner, Jeremy Carver.
I could not have said it better myself. In a show that is in its eleventh season, it is inevitable that shapeshifters and heart-eaters will show up more than once, right? I am here to tell you that it is perfectly acceptable to use recognizable stories over and over again, such as the revenge story or the star-crossed lovers archetype. These told and retold story types are acceptable because these are what we call universal symbols and are instantly known to us, regardless of our age, gender, or ethnicity. The trick to writing well is to make these universal stories feel like they are new to the audience. This is where “Baby” succeeds and “Love Hurts,” well, hurts.
Let’s take the most noticeable trope present in “Love Hurts”: the femme fatale, AKA Amara. The femme fatale is meant to ensnare her lovers with her seductive ways. This character is often overly-sexualized in modern film and literature, and in Amara’s case, her sexuality creates a problematic reading for her character. As I wrote in my recap of the midseason finale, the writers often seem to be incognizant of the differences between consent and coercion, especially when it relates to their femme fatale. As a longtime [casual] viewer of SPN, I wonder why the writers made the choice to depict Amara as more of a love interest than the traditional femme fatale, whose archetype is known for skewing the line into a dubious consent.
To the writers’ credit, Sam is aware of the problematic themes surrounding this season’s villainess, and he goes the extra mile to assure Dean that he is not to blame, that Dean has no choice in the matter of his connection to such primordial evil. Why, then, does this story lack the empathy that has carried these characters through eleven seasons and to hell and back (literally)?
My thought is that it is because [some of] the writers have become as tired as the cliches that they now depend on. The reasoning behind Dean’s attachment to Amara is the most vivid example:
When a shape-shifter imprints on a specific person, he becomes unconditionally bound to her for the rest of his life. When it happens, the experience is described as being gravitationally pulled toward that person while a glowing heat fills him; the connections of everything else become severed, or simply secondary, and only the imprintee is left to matter, leaving the shape-shifter with a deep need to do anything to please and protect the person. Source.
The “bond” that Dean shares with Amara ceases to shock or surprise me once I realise that it could be straight from a Twilight fanfiction.
We know how Supernatural will end: the Winchesters will save each other and/or the world. So why then does the show rely on such cliches—such as Amara’s “hold” on Dean—to tell us a story we already know?
Oh, of course. The Story, the burden carried by writers in a lonely attic with nothing but a typewriter to keep themselves warm. The Story is all-important, and I understand that writers want to stay true to The Story by not compromising their vision to make the audience happy. It is, after all, their story. Isn’t it? If you’ve ever read Barthes, then you’ll know that is already a matter of some debate, one that grows more heated the more we enter into a pop culture that is both immersed in and shaped by social media. Speaking for myself, all I want from a show is writing that creates clever ways to tell (or, perhaps, retell) me things about its characters. “Baby” is proof that it is not an impossible feat, so should we be able to expect as much from the other writers on the same show? What can we expect to see from them?
Carver, that’s beginning to sound a bit cliche.
P.S. The lovely Jeremy Carver gif was created by The Collected Mutineer from our SDCC 2015 footage of the Supernatural panel.
Last year we covered the Supernatural panel at SDCC and tweeted all about the AKF candles, the Hamster, and the high five. Help us do it again by checking out our fundraiser here.