"Supernatural" 7.23: "Survival of the Fittest" Recap

This season's final episode of Supernatural is in many ways a microcosm of the issues that have bedeviled the second season after Sam and Dean successfully staved off the apocalypse. Ever since Castiel's (Misha Collins) ascent to something like evil godhood at the end of last year ("The Man Who Knew Too Much"), the CW series has seemed to struggle with the answer to the question "what's next?" Now that the wall is down in Same's mind and Lucifer is ever-present, what's next? Now that something worse than demons and monsters have been unleashed upon the world, what's next? Now that's Bobby's dead, what's next? In each case, Supernatural ultimately gets around to something like a plot development to answer these questions, but they're so long in coming that they lose all dramatic tension and in some cases, the go out with more of a whimper than a bang.

Spoilers, of course, to follow.

There were a couple of balls in the air with the finale: Sam and Dean collecting the final ingredients for the god-weapon that would allow them to destroy the head of Leviathan, the purgatory-imprisoned species currently coiling its way around North American corporate power. The human-eating monsters were ramping up production of their human food mill, creating a corn syrup-based substance that was dimming the intelligence of of the masses while plumping them up for consumption. Meanwhile, current king of hell Crowley (Mark Sheppard) was making plans of his own to maybe/possibly supply the final ingredient for the Winchesters' Leviathan-killing weapon. Finally, Bobby (Jim Beaver) has gone mostly-evil, and is planning to mount an assault on his killer Dick Roman using a hijacked body.

The way that this episode presents the problems of season 7 in microcosm, so does the resolution of Bobby's story, where he effectively gives up the ghost and allows the boys to burn the flask that ties him to the Earth. It's such a weirdly abbreviated handling of the character after building up to him being a problem for Sam and Dean for the back half of the season. Likewise, in a show with demons, angels, zombies, and gods, the thing that strained credulity the greatest this season was Sam and Dean's inexplicably easy offensive against Dick Roman's company (I get that they used a distraction, but really, how effective is a distraction that is so transparently a distraction). And like the Dick jokes that someone on the show's writing staff think are the pinnacle of wit, the show keeps hammering on the "fat America" thing, which could have been really funny in more deft hands but simply feels like one of the more obnoxious extended bits from a Bill Maher rant.

And it was such a winding, circuitous path to get to all of these slim revelations about an enemy that was never fully developed. John Patrick Stewart was good fun as Dick Roman, but the big revelation of his plans on Earth never really went all that next level. For most of the season, it was Sam and Dean fighting corporate banality. There might be a compelling story in that somewhere, but we never got to see it. And for a race that was older and stronger than angels, the show never really found a balance to creating mystery about them the it has been able to in the past with villains like Lilith or even Lucifer, that is to say effectively/cleverly obscuring their motivations and giving us a reason to want to know more about them.

Really, the only character who was well-served this season was Crowley, who was able, in one fell swoop, to restore himself as a real threat again after spending last season under Castiel's thumb and this one mostly off the board. It would have been nice to see his character in play a bit more throughout the year, but what we got is what we got.

The final scenes of this season see Sam alone, something of a reversal from seasons past where it's usually Dean left holding the proverbial bag. And there's a kind of interesting development with Sam and Castiel in the wake of Dick Roman exploding all over the place (why didn't Castiel teleport them out or something before that happened, ugh, don't think about it).

Going into the sixth season, the problem for the show was what to do after the apocalypse is averted. And over 40 episodes later, Supernatural is having a hard time answering that one.

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