May 25

Intentions, of sorts

This blog is intended as an archive of sorts for the meta I’ve written and posted to my Tumblr blog, as well as a place for writing that for various reasons I don’t want to post there. At the moment, I’m still mostly posting my old meta, so much of what’s here was written a couple of years ago.

May 28

“The Boy Smoked the Pages”: Parallels With the Personhood of Monsters

Originally posted March 2 2013 on Tumblr.

The scene in “Everybody Hates Hitler” in which Aaron reveals the use to which he put the pages of the Golem book is fascinating in its potential parallels to one of this season’s themes—the personhood of monsters. The monster as a person with rights of self-determination, who can make their own choices, and who does not simply exist to be hunted, has been an occasionally recurring theme this season. It’s not as constant and persistent as the human-supernatural being relationship theme—although they could be read as interrelated—but it is definitely something that is being explored this season.  Aaron’s destruction of the book, and the consequences in his relationship to the Golem, morally and symbolically reflect the changing relationship of hunter to the hunted.

I want to look at the moral implications of that scene first, before getting into its symbolic dimensions. It’s obviously intended to be funny on one level, ha ha, the boy smoked the pages so now he doesn’t know what to do, but on another level it’s obscene and really not funny at all. And that’s there, as much as the humor, and it’s absolutely deliberate. Look at the scene: We have Aaron being defensive, Sam and Dean basically reacting like dude, you’re an idiot, and the Golem is enraged. This scene is definitely not intended to be only funny. I don’t know that Edlund understood just how deep Aaron’s offense went, although I rather doubt it. The interrelationship between Jews and Judaism and the written Word is fairly complex. You are supposed to treat holy books with respect–you aren’t even supposed to set them on the floor. Traditionally, old holy books that are no longer able to be used are buried.  To actually burn a book—not just a book, but a holy book with the Name–is an obscenity, even if he was burning it for a secondary purpose. It’s important to understand Aaron’s actions as profoundly obscene, and not just as a funny mistake, because if Aaron’s attitude that I have the right to destroy the book; it’s only paper and ink is an offense, then the hunters’ view that I have the right to destroy the monster—without consideration for its personhood–it is only a supernatural being is also an offense. The parallel is not just in the symbolism of his act, but in its moral implications.

Aaron burns the pages of the book not to be offensive or rebellious (although presumably there were elements of both) but because they are there, and he sees them as useful. He explains that they were perfect, thin pages, ideal for his purposes. He disregards the words on the pages, the purpose of the book, because it seems irrelevant to him. He sees the physicality of the book and ignores its substance. He mistook the physical form of a thing for the essence of that thing. And hasn’t that been another theme in this season—learning not to mistake the form of a creature for its nature? There’s an increasing presence of monsters who are interacted with and judged – by some characters at least—as people, on the substance of who they are and what they do, not what they are. And we see that again in this episode—the Golem may not strictly speaking be a monster, but he’s definitely a supernatural creature. Human-created, but supernatural.

The first example of this that we met was Benny. The first introduction to him is that of Dean hugging him, and that is the first indication of how Dean feels towards him and potentially how we as an audience are supposed to feel towards him. Benny’s history is then explored in “Blood Brother”, and it is revealed that he is a vampire who “drinks blood, not people.” This isn’t the first time we’ve been shown monsters (and specifically vampires) as choosing the least harmful path—Lenore and her nest from “Bloodlust” were an earlier example. In “Blood Brother”, we’re also specifically reminded of Benny’s (and by extension all monsters’) ties to humanity. “You take away the fangs and the fun, I was born human too,” he tells Dean. And Benny is not the only example of a “nonmonstrous monster” this season. Kate, in “Bitten”, also chooses the less harmful path. Dean and Sam recognize her choice and decide that as long as she is not harming people, she is not to be hunted. This represents a shift in the hunting ideology that the show has generally—though not without exception–presented before. Monsters and supernatural beings are not hunted and killed for their nature, but for their actions. This is not the only time this has been presented in the show, although it seems that sympathy for the monster was more often presented as a mistake and a weakness. This season, however, there is a more consistent tendency to present the monsters as thinking, feeling beings that are capable of making choices, and to present Dean (and Sam) as hunting them based on what they do rather than what they are. Monsters have always been presented as people in Supernatural, but they’ve also generally been presented as rightfully condemned to death for being monsters, rather than for being monstrous.

The Golem is certainly a supernatural creature, although not particularly a monster as “monster” has been previously defined in Supernatural mythos—that is, as a creature which was previously human. He is, however, potentiallymonstrous. The brothers recognize that potential and see the Golem as something that may need to be hunted. But significantly, even from the beginning they do not take eliminating the creature as inevitably necessary, but as something that might become necessary (so they’d want to know how.) Their discussion of methods leads to a confrontation with Aaron and another interesting commentary on the shifting attitude towards hunting and the monstrous that the show seems to be taking this season.

In a later scene, Aaron confronts the brothers when he hears them discussing methods of decommissioning his golem. “What makes you think you have any right to make that decision?” Dean responds that if necessary, “We’ll take [the right.]” We take the right has been essentially the philosophy of hunting and hunters in relation to the supernatural. Supernatural creatures – including both monsters and demons—have generally (although there are exceptions) had their rights of self-determination summarily taken by hunters, and this has been presented as rightful by the show’s narrative. So how does this statement fit in with the (again, not new, but increasingly prominent and consistent) narrative view that hunting should be based on the choices of the hunted (i.e., do they harm humans) and not on the nature of the hunted? At first glance, it really doesn’t – it’s a throwback to an older way of thinking. This isn’t the Dean that defends Benny and agreed to let Kate the werewolf go. This is the Dean who killed Amy Pond; the Dean who once told Sam that “if you were not my brother, I would want to hunt you.” But this scene does demonstrate the shift in the show’s point of view. The hunters’ blanket right to eliminate the supernatural is being openly questioned. In this case, it is not questioned by a supernatural creature—the Golem presents no point of view on his continued existence—but by a human being with custody of a supernatural being. The hunter asserts his right to take away the rights of the hunted—and that very right is being openly questioned. What gives you the right? Sam and Dean are basing their suspicion of the Golem on the possibility that he could be dangerous, not on harm he’s actually done. And even in this scene there is a definite change.  Sam and Dean are investigating how to destroy the Golem if it becomes necessary, not assuming that destroying him is a necessity simply because he is a supernatural being.

Returning to the “smoking the pages” scene, the exchange between Aaron and the Golem is also enlightening as to the show’s shifting presentation of the relationship between hunter and hunted.  Aaron asks the Golem, “Why can’t you just tell me what I need to know?” He’s recognized at this point that his grandfather’s gift was more than what it seemed on the surface, and he’s embarrassed about his mistake. But that mistake isn’t easily rectified; he can’t simply be taught what he needs to know by the object of this lesson, presumably because the Golem can’t simply tell someone how he works; it’s not in his design. “It’s not my place,” he roars at Aaron. “It’s not my place to guide the rabbi, to teach the teacher. It’s not my place!” This is a powerful confrontation, in which Golem makes it clear that it’s Aaron’s place to figure out how to move forward and what his relationship with this being should be.

The Golem’s response is illuminating in what it potentially tells us about the shifting dynamics of the relationship between hunter and hunted.  Limiting our examination to Kate and Benny, we see examples of monsters pleading their case(s) to the hunters.  I’ve never harmed anyone human, Kate tells them as she begs them to give her a chance.  I saw something in humanity, Benny tells Dean. In both of these cases, the monster has taken it upon her or himself to teach the hunter.  I am a thinking, feeling being who can make choices, is the essence of what they are saying.  I am not my fangs. I am not my appetite. I am a person. So what does the Golem’s statement have to do with this?  After all, these monsters clearly considered it their place to teach Dean (and Sam) about the personhood of monsters. Yet I think it illustrates that it is ultimately up to Dean and Sam to decide what their relationship with hunting and the supernatural should be.  It’s ultimately not the monsters’ place to teach them anew every time—it’s the hunter’s place to take that and forge a new understanding of hunting. This is, I think, part of Dean’s journey this season.  He’s been confronted many times in past seasons with the idea that monsters are people who can make choices (i.e., choose not to harm), but this season is about him learning from that idea and growing as a hunter (and as a character.)  It’s about the hunter assimilating this new understanding of monster personhood and taking charge of his role in the hunter/hunted relationship.

May 27

Naomi, the Angels, and Free Will

Originally published January 20 2013 on Tumblr.

I’m not sure if I loved “Torn and Frayed” (there were some things that really bothered me about it) but it has given me a lot to think about in terms of what Naomi and the angels are doing and why they might be doing it. These are some of my thoughts on who I think Naomi is, parallels between what’s happening to Castiel now and what happened to him in “The Rapture” (and why that doesn’t mean he’s always been controlled by Naomi), and how Naomi and The Room might fit in with the angels’ struggle with free will.  Mind you, this probably isn’t where they’re going with it, but it’s been interesting to think about in the meantime.

There’s been some speculation about whether or not Naomi is actually an angel.  Which is an interesting idea, but I personally really really hope that sheis an angel.  I want the angel/ Heaven part of this storyline to be about the angels, not about some other being moving in and taking over Heaven.  Because they are in the process of becoming entirely new creatures, and that is fascinating.  I want to see that story play out, and I want Naomi to be part of that story.  Right now they aren’t dealing with it too well, and it’s destroying them. And Naomi might be part of a faction that wants to fix everything by returning to start, by remaking things the way they used to be.

Perhaps Naomi was the one whose job it was to “fix” wayward angels.  And I think the “room” that Cass is called to is where she did that work.  Maybe it was something that didn’t happen all that frequently–angels becoming so wrapped up in humanity that they forgot their mission–and that is why she told Cass that “not many have” been in that room before. This room may be where Cass was during the events of “The Rapture.”  Naomi seems a bit surprised when he tells her he hasn’t been there before, and her reply is “Few have”–which doesn’t mean he hasn’t been there.  It’s been suggested that if Naomi was the one doing the reprogramming in The Rapture, then she has possibly been controlling him ever since.  Which would be a horrible idea, because it wipes out all of Cass’s character and story development? But I don’t think there is any reason to move from “Naomi was his deprogrammer then” to “Naomi has always been controlling him.” I think it is possible that the angelic reset used to be a one-time event—you pulled up the old programming and you had the old angel, the servant made to do nothing but carry out the will of Heaven, back.  But now everything’s changed.

We know that Heaven is a mess due to the upheaval caused by the aborted Apocalypse, the civil war, and Godstiel.  Crowley stated that it’s in such chaos they don’t even notice a missing angel–and apparently he’s right, as they didn’t notice Samandriel was missing until he called for help.  We don’t know exactly how bad it is, but we do know that (according to Ben Edlund) the angels’ home has been destroyed.  Which is an interesting choice of words, because it indicates that Heaven is not just changed or damaged or in a state of upheaval.  It has been obliterated. Which makes me wonder…Is this room all that is left? Is everything outside of this “room” just chaos?   And the angels are…going through some very difficult times. Castiel told the angels that God wanted them to have freedom, then after fighting a war for that very thing, declared himself to be God and told them that what they needed was not freedom but to be controlled–and then slaughtered them.  Point is, Heaven’s a mess, and the angels are a mess.  It’s probably a pretty safe assumption that the situation was different and relatively stable in comparison back in the breaking-of-the-seals days.

The parallels between what is happening to Cass in “Torn and Frayed” and “The Rapture” are very clear. We know the reprogramming was torture back then – Anna pretty much states flat out that Cass is being tortured in “The Rapture.”  I don’t think that has changed.  I think it is possible that this level of micro-control was never necessary for Naomi before.  Back then, every once in a while, an angel would start getting too close to humanity, start getting human ideas about things like freedom and choice, and she would be the one to go in and reprogram them, remind them of their essential coding: You were created to be an angel of the Lord.And that always worked. Now it doesn’t.  And why doesn’t it work anymore?  Because of the idea of free will that Cass brought back to them–specifically, the idea that God intended them to have free will. Because free will is something they know about, something belonging to humans, something that was not theirs, something they had to fall and become human to have.  But there was Castiel, telling them that free will wasn’t a human thing.  It’s an angel thing, too. Maybe it’s just an existence thing.  And he’s not just telling them this. He’s proof of it. He helped change the story whose ending they all knew was destiny.

And maybe Cass was wrong. Maybe God didn’t intend for angels to have free will. Maybe, as Raphael said, they weren’t built for freedom, they were built to follow.  Maybe free will is just part of the essential coding of the universe–even God couldn’t program it out of his celestial soldiers.  It’s there.  And now the angels know it’s there–whether they like it or not. And so Naomi’s old reprogram/reset doesn’t work anymore.  Because now there’s something else that answers “You were created to be an angel of the Lord” with “And you can decide what that means.” You were created to serve God and obey. But you have choices. You can say no. You can decide that this may be how the story was written, but that isn’t how it’s going to end. So she’s become desperate, she and whoever “they” are that Samandriel mentions. It didn’t really stick with Cass at the end of season 4—an episode and a half (more or less) later, he’s thinking for himself again and siding with humanity (with the Winchesters.) Hence, the micro-controlling.

I’m not sure who “they” are–more enforcers of the old angelic programming, possibly.  I’m also not sure whether I think Naomi is working with them or being controlled in turn by them.  I’d prefer that she is working with, or even in charge, because I like her as the face of what’s going on in Heaven, and there’s still plenty of room for her to be ambiguous.  Honestly, what I’d like to think is that she believes she is working to restore angelkind and Heaven.  That by controlling and attempting to “fix” this “flaw” in the programming she will be restoring the angels’ true nature and everything can go back to normal. So many are dead, so many are lost, and she’s trying to repair what she can because that’s what she’s always done. And maybe she’s scared and desperate, not just because of whatever’s on that angel tablet, but because she knows it’s not working.  That it can’t work. They can never go back. They can never make things the way they were before.

May 27

SPN, Evolution, and Hael’s Grand Canyon

Originally published October 10 2013 on Tumblr.

There’s a place. I built it when I was last here – many years ago. A grand canyon. –Hael, “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here”

This line bothered me because SPN had previously done a pretty good job of creating a world where religion/mythology coexists with science and our understanding of how the world developed. Not a great job, but at least they made bit of an effort, which they didn’t have to do. The SPN ‘verse is one in which angels, Heaven, and God (maybe) are concrete realities. They could easily have said “you know, alternate universe, everything hand-created by God, world is 6,000 years old.” But they didn’t, and as a student of biology (with a deep and abiding interest in evolutionary bio, although it isn’t my academic focus) and a fairly religious person I really liked that. But it seems like they just threw all that out the window.

We haven’t really had a previous reference to geologic change, but we got a reference to evolution in 6×20, with Castiel’s “little gray fish”, and again in 7×21 when Cass talks about the angels not knowing which primates would become humanity. Both of these examples not only demonstrate that SPN’s universe is like ours in that biological evolution happened and the world is billions of years old, but also showed the angels are non-interventionist in such matters. Granted, this is evolution, and in particular human evolution–to which God might’ve given a particular “Hands off!”–but angels interfering with natural geological processes is also a problem. You cannot have biological evolution and geologic change that occurs over eons and also have angels creating canyons on a whim during a visit to Earth.

We know Grand Canyon was formed through erosion over of millions of years. It’s still being created now, because geologic change doesn’t just stop at some arbitrary point. Even if Hael had, say, altered the flow of the Colorado River so it flowed in just the right place, her “last visit” to Earth would have to have been millions of years long in order for her to be able to say she made a grand canyon there. Which could be what she was talking about, but it sounds like she is saying that she carved out the canyon on a brief visit to Earth. I liked Hael a lot. I really did. I just wish they hadn’t thrown in that “things that were formed over eons by natural processes were actually created by angels” in there, because that really messes with one of the things I like about SPN.

May 27

Sam in Season 8: Progression, Not Regression

Originally published April 16 2013 on Tumblr.

Sam deciding that he wants out of the hunting life, that he wants to finish college an essentially return to what he was doing when Dean came to get him at Stanford all those years ago, is absolutely not character regression. It’s not pushing a reset button. It is, in fact, character progression which is hopefully setting Sam up for the end of the series. Season 8 Sam who wants a “normal” life is not season 1 Sam who wants a “normal” life. When we first meet Sam, he’s very clear about his priorities. He doesn’t want the hunting life. He wants to finish college and go to law school, and we can assume end up as a lawyer. He intends to help Dean out with this one thing—finding their father—and then go back to the life he wants. As we all know, a lot of other things happen and Sam isn’t able to go back to that life. He goes back to hunting. It’s been his life, and he’s very good at it. But then something happens at the end of Season 7. Everyone is gone. There’s no one and nothing keeping him in the life now. I think there are a lot of perfectly in character reasons why Sam didn’t look for Dean, but in the end, he didn’t. He had a year out of the life. And in that time, he discovered that, despite everything that’s happened in between, that was still the life he wanted.

And the fact that what Sam is vocal about wanting now is what he wanted in Season 1? That isn’t regressive. That’s not ignoring Sam’s character development. Personally, when I graduated high school, I wanted to study biology. For a lot of reasons, some complicated and some not-so-complicated, I started college as a prospective literature major, quickly dropped out (not because of the major), worked as a graphic designer (among other things) for many years. Then, when I was 32, I decided that what I wanted when I was 17was, in fact, what I wanted for my life. So I went back to school to study biology. This doesn’t mean I “regressed” to 17 (thank God) or that everything I experienced in the intervening 15 years was erased or didn’t count. I grew up. I experienced life. I figured out what I wanted. And it happened to be what I wanted when I was young. Sometimes what you want when you’re young turns out to be what you want in life; it can just take time and experience to figure that out.

Sam’s awareness of what kind of life he wants—and that it isn’t the life of a hunter—is character progression, not regression. It’s him becoming aware of what is necessary for him to be happy and fulfilled. That it’s what he wanted as a kid doesn’t matter; his awareness now is a sign of maturity. In the end, of course, Sam can’t choose anything but the hunting life—with some MOL life mixed in—anytime soon. Sam and Dean must be hunters together (in some form) for narrative reasons, because Supernatural is centrally (but not exclusively) their story. But Sam’s maturing and figuring out exactly what he wants, and doesn’t want, his life to be can, and should, lead ultimately to his being able to seek that normal life at the end of the series; or at least be on the path to such a life. Right now, Sam’s just at the beginning of that path. He’s realized what he really wants. He doesn’t know yet how to get there, or more importantly how to get there without hurting Dean—though MOL is a step. It may be the last step–maybe that’s something that can ultimately work for Sam even if he thinks it doesn’t—or it may be just the first step. Finishing the trials is another step towards that life, as it is a literal closing of the gates on the recent years of his life. Presuming he finishes the trials safely, he can then move on and start genuinely developing a new chapter in his life.

May 27

Some Thoughts on the Queerbaiting Question

I have a number of problems with the entire concept of queerbaiting and the way it has become the issue of queer media activism. And no, I don’t mean the supposed practice; I mean labeling every representation of queerness (queerness broadly defined) as ‘queerbaiting’ and wrong unless it meets an ever-narrowing standard of identity-representation. (Given that I’ve now seen canonically-identified-as-queer characters being queer with each other called “queerbaiting’–in “Fan Fiction”–I’m not sure if there is any standard anymore except “what I want.”) Because there is so much more that matters in how queerness (and gender/sexuality) is represented in media than just identity. That matters, don’t get me wrong. But it isn’t the only thing that matters.

The problem with the queerbaiting argument is that it isn’t just focusing on identity to the exclusion of all else; it’s declaring everything else to be not only unimportant but damaging. Which is destructive to all forms of representation of queerness that fall into the ever-broadening category of queerbaiting. Things that are vital to the work of changing societal attitudes towards queerness and queer people–and gender and sexuality–on a fundamental, systemic level. And if you are arguing “queerbaiting”–you are arguing for the reinforcement of those attitudes. There is a great deal of gender and sexuality essentializing underlying the idea of queerbaiting. In fact, most queerbaiting arguments are based on it. That’s a problem. That’s a serious problem.

Not to mention the way “queerbaiting” accusations silence queer people and queer arguments. Alternate interpretations or opinions are often preemptively dismissed as ignorance or self-hating, despite being just as valid and knowledgeable and experiential as the dominant “this is queerbaiting” arguments. I find a lot of things that get labelled “queerbaiting” to be good; to work–however unintentionally–at breaking down those previously-mentioned societal attitudes. Declaring those not-necessarily-intentional attempts “queerbaiting” is not only not helping–it’s taking steps backward.

That’s not to say I find all of it good; not at all. Media portrayal of gender and sexuality (including queerness) is not at all what it should be. I don’t think any reasonably thoughtful person could disagree with that. Constantine, for example–much as I like the show–is a textbook example of unqueering media. (I don’t want to call it “queerbaiting”, because I don’t like the term.) For the record, I don’t believe that the show’s intention was ever to portray John as straight, nor do I believe he was actively “straightwashed” on the show–but nevertheless the combination of poor PR and hesitance to make any kind of definitive in-show statement regarding his sexuality resulted in the unqueering of a canonically bisexual character. That is harmful.

On the other hand, we have Supernatural, which is often accused of “queerbaiting” for two things: the possibly-sometimes-ambiguous sexuality/attractions of Dean Winchester, and the relationship between Dean and Castiel. Unlike Constantine, we have no canon background for either Dean’s sexuality or the nature of Dean and Cass’s love for each other, and therefore SPN by definition is not unqueering media in the same harmful way as that show. All indications are that authorial intent–and I’m including all aspects of show production in “authorial intent” here, not just the writing–is that Dean is straight and his relationship with Cass entirely platonic. Interpretation otherwise is therefore based entirely on fan inference–and is a fine example of fandom queering media.

The problem is not in this interpretation–which is as valid as any other–but rather the way in which fandom defends this interpretation as the only acceptable one. Gender expression and (a very culturally biased view of) masculinity is essentialized; liminality in sexuality is erased; a very myopic and narrow idea of masculine relationships is promoted and enforced. These arguments embrace the very concepts they should be seeking to take down, and are profoundly antiqueer at their core.

Personally, as a queer person and a queer activist, I find the whole idea of queerbaiting–again, I mean the practice of labeling things as such; I don’t know what to call it–“the anti-queerbaiting movement”?–fundamentally flawed. In fact, I find much of it–particularly as applied to SPN or similar situations–to be based in arguments that are extremely harmful and destructive.

May 26

Still an Angel: Castiel May Be Human-ish, But He’s Not Human

Originally published October 17 2013 on Tumblr.

Castiel is still an angel. A fallen, degraced, dewinged angel, but still an angel. He is human-like (mortal, feels hunger and pain, and so on) but not human. He retains some angelic abilities which are apparently not grace-dependent. He can still tune in to “angel radio.” There are probably other things that we have not seen yet, such as possibly recognizing angels and demons. (But this may also be a grace-dependent ability, as he may or may not have recognized Hael as an angel. “You’re an angel” might simply have been the most logical conclusion, or he knew her name. He certainly didn’t react as he walks past her, as one might expect if he recognized her as an angel.) It’s an important distinction, although one that seems generally ignored in favor of Castiel’s supposed humanity.

“Human” seems to be a simplified shorthand for an ungraced angel. It’s how season 9 Castiel has been publicly presented and referred to by TPTB; most recently Carver referred to Cass as “human.” In the show, it’s also a shorthand we’ve seen Dean use before; in “Two Minutes to Midnight”, he summarizes Cass’s description of his complaints and ailments with “Human.” To Dean, an angel is a being possessed of its grace and power and attendant abilities; minus that, he equates the now-mortal being with humanity. This is not a negative necessarily; but simply his view that an angel is by definition a creature with powerful abilities that can be used in his favor or against him. Minus those powers, he sees them as the same as him—human beings. Accordingly, he sees these beings with human form and human frailties as human. It’s an understandable conclusion, but an incorrect one.

There are two major examples of degraced angels: Castiel at various points (most notably in “The End” and the end of Season Five) and Anna. In “The End”, Cass tells Dean he is “not an angel anymore” to describe his fallen state, but that may be a simplified according to Dean’s understanding. If we accept that “The End” was indeed one potential future, it is easy to suppose that at some point Alternate!Dean referred to Castiel’s loss of “mojo” as him becoming “human”, as he did in the “true” timeline when Cass showed up in the hospital in “Two Minutes to Midnight,” and Cass therefore describes himself accordingly. Alternately, if “The End” is a fabrication created by Zachariah (which is not my personal view but an interpretation favored by some) it makes sense that Castiel would speak in the same terms as Dean, equating fallen with human, because that is the way Dean thinks, and this is a Cass created according to what is in Dean’s mind.

Our other major example of an ungraced angel is Anna. When we meet her, she is able to tune in to “angel radio”, just as Cass is in “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here.” In “Heaven and Hell”, both Pamela and Anna refer to being graceless and fallen as being or becoming human. But, again, it is not clear that this is not a simplification. Anna is mortal; she has a human body; for most intents and purposes she would seem to be human. But she has knowledge and abilities that a human would not have—telekinesis and “angel radio”, for example. And when Anna retrieves her memories, her first response is not to say that she used to be an angel, but that she is an angel. It therefore follows that a degraced angel is still an angel, though “human” is a common shorthand for this state. This is perhaps because an angel without her grace and wings is forced to take on many human characteristics (mortality, bodily and spiritual desires) and therefore thinks of herself as essentially human although she is not. perhaps in some ways similar to the way in which a desouled human is still human (but with rather different consequences.)

Grace seems to be possibly more-or-less the soul equivalent in angels; a source of their powerful abilities. (And if the human soul is not precisely a equivalent, it is a useful analogy.) It is apparently not their true form (given Zachariah’s self-description in “Dark Side of the Moon”, or Cass’s “My true form is approximately the size of your Chrysler building” in “Family Matters”.) It therefore follows that angels without their grace retain their true form, but remain folded into a human vessel, unable to change or leave without their grace. Removal of grace forces the angel to take on various human traits; most significantly mortal needs (hunger, sleep, avoidance of pain, and the like.) Yet they are still essentially angels, perhaps in some ways similar to the way in which a desouled human is still human (but with rather different consequences.) The angel is still an angel, still a member of that species, not a human being—even though they are occupying a human body. If grace is like the soul, saying Cass is no longer a member of the angelic species because his grace is gone is like saying Sam was no longer a member of the human species when he was soulless.

There is no reason to believe that species-switching can occur between humans and angels. Angels cannot become human—nor do humans become angels. We have never seen an angel with human origins. Likewise, we have never seen an angel truly become human. (A human who takes in an angel’s grace becomes that angel’s vessel; they do not become an angel themselves, as Anna did when she regained her grace.) A degraced angel may be described as “human,” but this seems to be a simplification, an approximation, not the true state of being. The relationship between angel and human is not the same as human and demon; humans become demons and demons can be “cured” and become human again because they are essentially still the same species. This is why a demon can forcibly take a human vessel while an angel must obtain permission.

Angels cannot become human, only human-like. Unlike demons, they are a different species—a separate creation. Castiel is an angel with a vital part of his being forcibly removed from him; a disabled angel, if you will. Should his grace still exist—which likely depends on whether it was the catalyst for or an essential part of Metatron’s spell—and should he regain possession of it, he ought to be able to regain his full angelic nature by reconnecting with it. Were he truly human, that would not be the case. He’s not a human being. He may live and die now in the same way that a human would—by force or by choice—but he is not and never will be human. He is still an angel.

May 26

Writers Aren’t Machines

Originally published May 31 2014 on Tumblr. Addition published October 6 2014 on Tumblr.

“[They] aren’t machines for [us] to program and reprogram. That wasn’t what this was meant to be.”

Thinking about fandom attitudes towards (show) writers–how some fans seem to view them not as artists or storymakers but as machines who should mechanically produce whatever we demand–and how that also leads to the devaluation (by fans) of fandom creativity. This got long although initially it was just intended as a reminder to myself that I wanted to talk about it. Also it’s more rant than meta, mostly about Revolution fandom. SPN has issues that make it quite different in some ways, so what I say here about Rev can’t necessarily be applied equally to SPN.

Trying to articulate why I find the attitude of Rev fandom post-cancellation so disturbing. There was a post a while back–SPN-related–that approvingly quoted an article saying fans are in control of shows now and I wrote a response to that but ended up deleting it because it was rather off-topic to the full intent of the post. And also vaguely related are my feelings about the insistence of some that Edlund is morally obligated to return to SPN, that heowes us, that he is not allowed to make any other professional choice. Because even though it’s not the same thing, it comes from the same kind of attitude of we own you and you must DO WHAT WE SAY.)

There’s something I’ve seen a number of times in the Rev tag recently, particularly related to efforts to relocate the show. (Not gonna happen, but anyway.) People keep saying “if we get season 3 let’s make sure we get better writers who will DO WHAT WE SAY” and that the problem with this season was that they did not DO WHAT WE SAY. As if that’s the measure of a good writer or a good show. Where the hell did this attitude come from, the idea that writers exist not as artists or storymakers but machines which we fans program to manufacture a product to-order? Where the hell do we get off deciding that if they are not telling the story exactly the way we think it should be told, they are malfunctioning? Rev fandom: from what I see, you don’t want writers. You don’t want story. You want an automated process by which you receive all of your demands exactly as you order them.

And also, which fans should they listen to? I was a fan. I loved the nanotech. Loved Aaron. Didn’t care at all one way or the other about any ships. Didn’t care for the patriots either–thought that plotline was rather botched. I would have made the nanotech the a plot, integrated more of the characters into it (keeping Aaron at the center) and had the major b plot be something intimate to the characters. Maybe had the patriots as a distant creeping threat. So no, it’s not like I think everything was totally cool and awesome about this season of Rev. (The fact that the Patriots never felt like anything more than a threat manufactured for the purpose of the story and the repeated capture-rescue plots were my two major issues.)

But I was just as much a fan as anyone else. People who say “they need to do what we fans say”–beyond all the other problems with that attitude–are insisting on a hierarchy wherein some fans matter more than others. (If they had done “what ‘we’ say” and trashed the nano plot, I would have beendevastated. Do my feelings as a fan just not count?) And I just don’t get why people insist on seeing writers not as artists or professionals but just as machines that only exist to produce exactly what we want exactly as we want it. (But…again…which ‘we’?) And then having the audacity to call them arrogant for not obeying our every random whim? What the fuck. Seriously what the fucking fuck. TV storytelling already has so many restrictions and demands on it, commercial and budget and more, that adding “do exactly as fans order” harms, not improves, the art of writing and creating the story.

And as much as this disrespect for writers as professionals riles me, the disrespect for fandom that this kind of attitude reflects gets me as well. I mean, the idea that the purpose of fandom is simply to order the show’s creatives around ignores the entire creative purpose of fandom. It says that fan creativity does not matter. Why why why would any fan want to do that? Why write fic, create art, create alternate-seasons, make music, make fanvids–why do any of that if all that matters is getting exactly what “we” want from the show itself? I mean, one of the most important purposes of fan creations is that it allows each of us to get the show we want.

And because it comes from so many different sources with so many different ideas of what’s important–we don’t all have to agree. (You think X ship is the most important part of Revolution? Cool! Write fic! Draw art! Write meta! Make fanvids! Write a song! There now exists a creative expression where that is indeed the focus of the show. Someone else thinks Y character is the center of the show? They can write fic and make art too! And now there’s a creative expression where that is the focus of the show. I don’t really care about any ships, but I find the nanotech and the philosophical implications of their AI fascinating? Good, I can write my own meta or fic on that. And because none of us are restricted to “show canon” all of our creative and analytical expansions of the core show coexist equally.

I should add some kind of cohesive conclusion here but in all honesty this was just supposed to be a rant. So, uh: the insistence that fans should be in creative control of shows devalues writers and devalues the creative role of fandom. And I do not see how reducing shows to nothing more than a by-the-numbers list of demands to be met can possibly result in anything resembling a satisfying story. Or a story at all.

Later Addition

I still think all of SPN fandom’s Writer Problem (as I will call it) boils down to the idea that it is the writers’ job to Do What We Say, and that informs everything from the relatively innocuous “they don’t care about the show if they didn’t put Misha in the 200th” to the sickeningly horrific and dehumanizing way Jenny Klein has been treated.

And it’s true that SPN’s issues are different–but that actually doesn’t make it any better. In fact, because many of fans’ issues with SPN are important, it’s much worse–the approach that has been taken (that the writers are incompetent, ignorant, actively malicious, not even human) dismisses the actual complexity of the issues in favor of making an Enemy–a caricature of The Writers that has no reflection in reality. To be perfectly and coldly calculating, it is profoundly unproductive. (And insulting to the writers, but that’s really the lesser of my concerns. They can handle themselves. I’m far more concerned about the fact that fandom has made discussion of misogyny and representation (etc) essentially impossible.)

The accessibility of writers/producers today is absolutely unprecedented–yes, even if they don’t answer you, the fact that you can address them directly is…do people understand how new that is? How potentially powerful? But I see it being grossly misused by the attitude of Your Job is to Do What Fans Want. Do what we say or you’re bad writers. Do what we say or you’re bad people. I see an incredibly powerful tool being wasted–not only wasted, but actively degraded–and it’s really depressing. And of course that feeds into these weird ideas that the writers aren’t owed basic civility and respect as professionals and human beings. It’s very easy to be kind and respectful to people with whom you agree. The challenge is to do the same for people with whom you disagree–without backing down or compromising your position.

Finally, I have come to the uncompromising conclusion that people who are going to engage in criticism of the writing of SPN (or any show) and especially people who are directly addressing and criticizing the writers, really REALLY need to do their basic research on TV writing and the role of writers/writing producers in TV production in general. Just, you know, the very basics. (Once again, to be coldly calculating about it—informed criticism is more likely to be productive. Though I’ve recently learned that the failure to take this stuff into consideration is not lack of research but willful refusal, so…simply pointing out “that’s not how it works, this is how it generally works, even if we don’t know the details on SPN specifically” is clearly not enough.

There’s a lot of different stuff here. (Addition: there’s also the refusal to separate the writer from what is written–dismissing the idea of fictional narrative with all its often uncomfortable complexities in favor of “bad thing happened therefore the writer is bad”–and the (deliberate?) confusion of PR with the actual writing/development process. I’m not quite sure how those work in, but they’re…very odd.) I had wanted to get it written before the premiere, which looks unlikely now–especially since I just spent about an hour writing this when I could have been writing a proper meta on it. But if I get around to it, I do still want to write it. I think it’s important, or at least it’s important to me to be able to say it. And this post is just me trying to organize some of my thoughts; it isn’t intended to be Proper Meta or Good Writing.


May 26

“He Was My Gay Thing”: Representations of Queer Experience

Originally published March 6 2013 on Tumblr.

The scene between Aaron and Dean in the pub was an interesting one, to say the least, and my view on it seems to be a bit different than most of what I’ve seen. A lot of the meta written about this focuses on what it potentially suggests about Dean’s sexuality. I’d like to take a different focus and look at the scene’s representation of queer experience. For the record, I’m queer, and I enjoyed it and found it to be a positive scene, both in my initial casual viewing and on subsequent more analytical viewings. For me, it’s about queer sexuality and its representation onscreen.

This is somewhat lengthy, but I’ve divided it into five sections. The first part is a basic analysis of the scene, focusing on Dean’s reactions, with possible interpretations. The second part discusses what the scene says (or doesn’t say) about Dean’s sexuality. Third is an analysis of the humor in the scene, and why it isn’t about “lolgay.” This is followed by an interpretation of the scene as queer-positive. The final part is an examination of how the writer’s history informs my interpretation of the scene’s intent.

Part One: A Look at the Pub Scene

The pub scene starts with Dean interviewing two attractive young women about what happened to the Rabbi; he notices a man looking over at him as he takes a seat some distance away. We, as the audience, don’t know what is going on at this point—we know only that this man is distracting Dean. The man watches Dean and waves to him in a definitely flirtatious “Hey there” manner, and Dean abruptly finishes his interview and walks over. Again, the audience has no idea what is going on. We know only that Dean was distracted by this man’s attention, to the point that he hurriedly finished an interview to walk over to him.

Once Dean reaches Aaron, the mystery of Dean’s distraction and interest in the man is apparently resolved: He pulls out his FBI badge and demands to know why the man has been following him. He’s suspicious, possibly a bit angry, definitely on alert. Aaron then makes an unmistakable suggestion that he thought Dean was flirting with him with the reference to “eye magic” in the quad. Here Dean definitely realizes what is going on, and Aaron further suggests, based on this supposed mutual interest, that they should get together later.

This is where the scene gets interesting. Dean now slowly shuts the badge holder and pulls it back. It’s not really clear why he does this, although the camera lingers on him doing so, making certain that we notice it. Perhaps he thinks the badge’s role is done; he’s established himself as “FBI Agent on the Job” so he can now put the badge away. The withdrawal of the badge symbolizes the fact that Dean is now choosing to address Aaron as himself. He’s not creating an alternate persona to distance himself. He’s clearly a bit thrown off at this point; possibly because he was prepared for a different kind of confrontation. His response may also  have had more to do with “was I not doing my job well” than “was I accidentally flirting with this guy,” because if he’s on the job, and eying someone he thinks is following him, the last thing he wants is for that person to notice that he’s watching them. I think a lot of Dean’s initial flustered response actually has to do with this.

Dean’s response to the offer of “later we could…” also has multiple potential interpretations. “Yeah, okay…” is how he begins. This could either be an acknowledgement, “Yeah okay, now I see what’s going on, you thought I was checking you out and now you want a date” or an affirmation, “Yeah, okay, let’s get a beer or something.” Either is equally plausible, since he concludes his response not by negating the offer but by informing Aaron that his perception that Dean’s noticing of him was anything other than professional: “The job, you know…” At this point, Aaron responds “Is that supposed to make you less interesting.” Dean looks up at him suddenly. I see two ways to interpret his look here. One is that he’s annoyed that Aaron isn’t playing this properly; he’s clearly held out the badge and “the job” as reasons for lack of interest.

The second possibility for Dean’s sudden look at “is that supposed to make you less interesting” is that this is something new for Dean. Aaron is suggesting that he is flirting with Dean because he thinks Dean is interesting. Not because he’s hot, or pretty, or attractive. Just because Dean seems like someone he might like to know. And Dean’s look reflects surprise at that. There’s definitely something different in Dean’s look than had been there previously, and Aaron notices it too—he switches off the flirting abruptly and apologizes, backing off. Given what we learn later it seems very likely that Aaron interpreted Dean’s look as genuine interest, and backed off quickly because he had no interest in carrying their interaction beyond their current conversation.

Dean’s extremely flustered response to Aaron’s sudden change is also interesting. If we interpret Dean’s look as an expression of genuine interest, then Aaron’s rejection of that interest is what throws him off. In this scene, Dean has been flirted with by a man who thinks that he was interested in him; he first uses “the job” to deflect interest and noncommittally turns down an offer to get together, then after the man calls him “interesting”, he seems to change his mind—only to be summarily rejected. One wonders what Dean’s further response would have been if Aaron had not turned around so abruptly. It’s possible that he would have resorted to “thanks, but I don’t swing that way.”

The later scene in Aaron’s house, where he reveals that he was using the flirtation as an excuse to find out what Dean was up to, is significant in what it reveals about Dean’s reaction in the pub. Dean’s sarcastic smile, “You really had me, it was very smooth” shows that he is genuinely hurt by the fact that Aaron really wasn’t interested in him. This does not suggest that Dean was necessarily interested in him, but it does show that Dean was not in the least “freaked” or upset by the idea that the man was interested in him.

Part Two: Dean, What Does it Mean?

I don’t think Dean’s reaction necessarily meant he was actually interested—but rather that he was thrown off because he was flattered by Aaron’s approach. Because Aaron plays it as “you’re interesting.” I think if he had gone the “thought we had a moment and you’re really hot, so…” Dean would not have been the least flustered and would have given him some variation on “yeah, flattered but not interested.” But he doesn’t. He tells Dean he’s interesting. He suggests that he might like Dean as a person. And that throws Dean off. I really don’t see this scene as suggesting anything definitively about Dean’s sexuality. He’s, at the very least, flattered that someone shows interest in him as a person and disappointed when that interest is revealed to be subterfuge. So he could be interpreted as flattered and disappointed because he’s attracted, or because it’s nice when someone shows interest in you and disappointing when it turns out they were feigning interest to get something from you. Based on what we see onscreen, either one is equally plausible.

Part Three: What’s So Funny?

Watching the scene, what I noticed was that while on one level it’s played for humor, none of the humor derives from the fact that they’re both men and it’s a “gay” flirtation. The humor lies in Dean’s flustered response, in mistaken (and deliberately misleading) intentions. You could replace Aaron with Erin and it would play out with the same humor. There is homoeroticism in the scene, and there is humor in the scene, so there’s always a possibility that the humor is based on presence of that homoeroticism—that the scene is an example of “lol gay stuff is so funny.” But the presence of “funny” and “gay” in a scene does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that the funny is about the gay. As I stated above, the “funny” in the scene plays entirely off the flirtation, and the gender of the players is irrelevant.

The humor of the scene lies in mistaken assumptions – Dean thinks the guy is stalking him, Aaron (claims to) think Dean was checking him out. The flirtation itself is funny, as both players try to establish what is going on, and then try to keep their balance as the other changes. It’s also worth pointing out that the writer of this episode is a humorist, and a satirist, whose writing often has multiple layers of meaning and intent. Just because there’s humor on one level of the scene does not mean that every aspect of the scene is being played for funny, or that even the humorous parts don’t also have a serious intent.

Part Four: Showing Queer Experience and Why That Matters

Beyond the speculation on either character’s sexuality, there’s the fact that the scene plays on each character’s assumption that someone of the same gender is expressing interest in them. So there’s a portrayal of homo-sexuality there, which is separate from a portrayal of a queer or gay identity.  And here’s why I thought this was a positive scene: it displays same-gender sexuality as equal to opposite-gender sexuality. It’s shown as just another form of human sexuality. Aaron flirts with Dean to try to figure out what he’s doing (and possibly throw him off guard), but he could just have easily taken the same approach to a Deanna. And Aaron—while we aren’t told what his sexuality actually is (I read him as straight), only that he isn’t interested in Dean—has no problem flirting with another man if he thinks that will achieve his goal. (I have problems with that, in terms of the likability of Aaron’s character, because he was a condescending jerk about it later.) In short, it treats gay sexuality as being no different than straight sexuality—which in its own way is important. It’s shown as not a big deal—gay, straight, bi, whatever—it’s all human attraction, human interaction. And that’s a good thing. I don’t see it as anything extraordinary—it’s basic decency and awareness.

Representation of queer identities—through the inclusion of explicitly queer-identified people—is one thing; representation of queer sexualities is different but also important. It normalizes nonhetero sexualities. That is, too my mind, a very important part of queer representation onscreen. It shows not only queer-identified people, but queer experience as a normal part of the fabric of human existence. I am not devaluing the importance of including actual queer-identified characters, but I find that the value of showing queer sexuality and interactions is often dismissed. I think the interpretation of the scene as being queer-negative because it did not involve explicitly queer-identified characters is an example of that dismissal. But we should not have one without the other.

I think an important method of examining that scene is looking at what it says about social construction of sexuality and sexually-oriented behavior. (I’m counting flirtation as such a behavior. It’s not explicitly sexual, but it implies sexual attraction and potential future sexual interaction.) It asks the audience, “Did you find that odd? Or uncomfortable? Did you react differently than you would have if this had been an opposite-gender couple? Why did you react that way? And what does that say about how we observe and interpret same-gender and opposite-gender sexuality?” There seems to be an underlying intent in the scene to make the audience question the general normalization of opposite-gender interactions and the exotification of same-gender interactions in scenes like this.

Part Five: In Defense of Ben Edlund

I think it’s true that Supernatural has a problem with queerbaiting and lolgay, both on and off-screen—although I don’t see the onscreen problem as being particularly prevalent. That, I think, makes it a bit too easy to dismiss anything “gay” (especially if it’s presented with humor, as this scene was) as Supernatural playing mock-the-queer again. But that summary condemnation ignores the fact that the writer of this episode has a long history of pointing out ridiculousness of normalizing hetero-sexuality and exotifying queer sexuality in his work.

Most often, he places characters that are either ambiguously identified or explicitly straight-identified in homoerotic situations. (Again, this is not about queer identity, but about normalization of queer sexuality.) One example is the Crowley/banker kiss at the beginning of 5×10. When he talked about this scene at SDCC, he expanded on a statement that it was important to show “two men kiss” by adding that it was also important that they not necessarily be “super hot men.” In other words, it isn’t about the observer. It isn’t about titillating the audience. It’s about noticing the difference in the way straight and queer sexualities are treated onscreen and in society and pointing out the absurdity of that different treatment.

It’s a minor recurring thread in nearly all of his work, and he has talked about it briefly on several occasions. And his responses always have a basis in social criticism and commentary, not “lol gay is funny.” (And believe me, if he was doing it because of that, he’d say “because I think it’s funny.” But he doesn’t.) I don’t want to get too deeply into that here, because I want to stick to this particular scene, but I think it’s important to interpret Edlund’s intent in this scene based on his past work and what he himself has said about similar scenes he’s written in the past.

May 26

Meg, Her Cause, and Her Unicorn

Originally published March 21 2013 on Tumblr.

Some musing about Meg and her character development from Season 5 onward, in light of “Goodbye Stranger.”

I love Meg. But I have never seen her character arc as redemption; or evil becoming good. And I don’t think she was weakened.  I think her story has always been one of a character with absolute devotion to her cause. Along the way, her world got complicated and her ways of serving that cause changed. But Meg was always about the mission. She lived for it, and she died for it. And Castiel? He was a reflection of the complexity and messiness of her world, from the other side.

Do you ever miss the Apocalypse?  I miss the simplicity. I was bad, you were good, life was easier. Now it’s all so messy. I’m kinda good, which sucks. And you’re kinda bad, which is actually all manner of hot.

This quote is interesting, in that it points out the (apparent) change in Meg’s character from Season 5. Meg does describe herself here as “kinda good,” but I don’t think that means she is actually good, or that she has been redeemed and is on the side of capital-G good. (Does that kind of Good even exist in the spn-‘verse?  I don’t think so. Also, a note: when I talk about Good and Bad here, I am using the terms as general identifiers, not as an indication of what a particular character values.) I think she’s actually talking about how the cause she is currently serving requires her to do “good” things, to work with “the good side.” She’s clearly uncomfortable with this, and clearly still prioritizes “bad” as better. This is shown by her characterization of her goodness as something that “sucks,” and Castiel’s badness as “all manner of hot.” Of course, this last bit segues into a bit of Meg/Cas, but in terms of the previous part of this quote, it also serves to point out that Meg’s priorities haven’t really changed. She likes Cass because he isn’t all good and pure.

Things have gotten messy since the Apocalypse, and Meg is uncomfortable with this. Nothing’s clear for her anymore. Before, at least as Meg saw it, things were clear. There was Bad, and there was Good, and she was Bad. But then the Apocalypse happened, and Lucifer got trapped again, and everything got complicated. Turns out angels have a dark side and even the “good” ones are as capable of mass murder and torture and betrayal as any demon. And sometimes demons have to be a little “good” to get what they want. It’s interesting to wonder what Ruby would have thought of Meg, with her idea of how “simple” things were. Or, for that matter, what Meg thought of Ruby. Ruby said that no one else knew what she was doing, and yet it’s Azazel we see speak directly to Lucifer. Meg was close to Azazel, and presumably knew the endgame of his plan. Meg’s not around in Season 3 or 4, so we don’t know what they thought of each other.

We can clearly see that the (aborted) Apocalypse is the catalyst for Meg’s change. Let’s look at the last time we see her in Season 5—Abandon All Hope.  She’s with Lucifer—in fact, in this episode at least she seems to be his right-hand woman. The Apocalypse is here, Lucifer is freed, and it’s Meg’s version of Heaven on Earth. She works with Lucifer, brings out the hellhounds and sics them on the Winchesters and Harvelles, and is generally her normal self.  Her conversation with Cass when he’s in the ring of fire is somewhat reminiscent of Ruby’s last speech to Sam; it shows how she values a world where Lucifer is in charge. Neither of them wants Lucifer free because he’s going to do Bad Things, but rather because they think it’s what’s right. For Meg, Lucifer is her Creator, her Father, and her God. She believes he loves her, because he created her. And she’s going to do everything to make sure the story ends the right way.

So at that point, we still have our “normal” Meg. Then the Apocalypse gets cancelled. I see her appearance in Season 6–”Caged Heat” as her in a kind of transition. She’s starting to understand how messy everything is now. She’s still somewhat her old self in this episode—threatening Sam and Dean—but she’s also willing to work with them. The situation is presented as “she’s only working with them because that’s the only way she can get what she needs.”  Yet there are some parts that show she’s starting to see how messy and complicated everything is. She’s siding with the Winchesters against other demons—not just Crowley. There’s some indication that she enjoys this a bit; her “Dean Winchester’s right behind you.” And in this episode, we see her expressing trust in the Winchesters, not once but twice. First, when she returns Ruby’s knife to them and tells them to go get Crowley while she holds off the hellhounds (she then takes Castiel’s angel blade, but they don’t know if that will work against the hellhounds.) And second, when she goes into the demon trap with Crowley, she asks if they will let her out, and she trusts them when they say yes.

Then we have Season 7 Meg. Her cause hasn’t changed from the last time we saw her—she’s still intent on getting Crowley. She recognizes that Castiel is potentially a powerful weapon, so it’s—again—in her interest to work with the “good” side. I think the clearest indication that Meg is not on a redemption mission, but still working to serve her own purpose (which I still think is in service of Lucifer) comes in “Reading is Fundamental.” Meg flat-out explains to Dean that she’s working for a cause, and that she understands that to achieve that cause, she’s going to have to work with the “good” guys.

I’ve figured one thing out about this world – just one, pretty much. You find a cause, and you serve it. Give yourself over, and it orders your life. Lucifer and Yellow Eyes – their mission was it for me…Obviously, these things shift over time. We learn, we grow. Now, for me currently, the cause is bringing down the King. 

This is a pretty clear indication that Meg’s priorities haven’t actually changed. It’s not that she is now on the side of Good. She has her own interest in taking down Crowley. I’ve never understood the argument that post-Season 5 Meg is weak and no longer the evil demon she was because she allies with Sam and Dean. Working against them—and against her interests–simply for the sake of being properly “demonic” wouldn’t be evil. It would be stupid, and Meg’s not stupid. I think Meg was a Lucifer loyalist to the end—we’ve seen nothing that would indicate her allegiance has shifted. She’s working with Sam and Dean not because she wants to be redeemed but because they currently have a common cause.

I think there’s a bit more complication in her relationship with Castiel, though. She likes Cass not because he’s a symbol of good and she’s seen the light (so to speak) but because she sees that Cass is not all good. He isn’t pure. He’s done awful things. And she likes that, she finds it attractive, because she’s on the side of Bad. But she also identifies with it, because she understands. He’s done terrible things in the service of (what he thinks is) Good; she’s done good things in the service (probably) of Bad. Everything’s complicated now, and she sees Castiel as someone who understands that, even though he’s coming from the other side.

In the end, Meg refers to Castiel as her “unicorn.” She first refers to Amelia as Sam’s unicorn, that rare and mythical creature that could make Sam give up hunting. Yet she also knows that Sam had with Amelia—the normal life—was something Sam had wanted. So Meg uses unicorn to describe a rare creature who is able to give you something you always wanted but thought you could never have.  This makes her reference to Castiel as her unicorn even more interesting. I don’t think it’s as simple as “Sam loves Amelia and Meg called her his unicorn; she calls Cass her unicorn, so she was in love with Cas.”  It means Castiel gave her something she never thought she could have—or perhaps even knew she wanted.

So what, exactly, is it that Cass gave her? We know she’s attracted to the bad in him, and that she misses the simpler times when he was Good and she was Bad. I think, even though she doesn’t like the complexity of her world now—working with the Winchesters, liking angels—she values the fact that he’s shown her that it isn’t just her. That things are complicated for all of them. It’s not simple for anyone anymore. If he can do bad and still be Good, then she can do good and still be Bad.  That’s what makes him her unicorn.

I’m not happy with the way Meg died. Partly for my own selfish reasons–I wanted her to still be around at the end of Supernatural. I wanted her to make it through the whole series; that would have been awesome. But also, I think the way her death was presented was very anticlimactic. Meg’s death is sudden; we see the flash of light in her face as she’s stabbed. There’s no real focus on her; we see Sam and Dean watching and then we pull out to see Crowley standing over her body–but even there the focus is on him. Minor and one-time characters have gotten better death scenes. Her death is treated as an afterthought, as if it didn’t matter, and it should have mattered. It did matter.

But even though I’m not happy with the way she died, I think it’s important that Meg was Meg to the end. Meg was a demon with a mission. And at first the world was simple for her–she was a demon and she did evil to achieve that mission. Then everything got complicated and she realized that sometimes she had to be good in service of her mission. Meg lived for her cause. And she didn’t die to become good, or to be redeemed. She died for her cause.


May 26

Stop Calling it Worship

The dismissal of positivity as “deification” and “worship” is disgusting. There’s a poisonous underlying idea that anyone who thinks something is good, who has a positive interpretation of someone’s work, is just a mindless zombie. It’s the idea that positivity is irrational and emotional–the sign of an inability to think clearly–while negativity is rational, inherently unbiased, and The Real Truth. It’s horrible and it’s poisonous and I wish people would actually think about what they’re implying every time they dismiss support as worship. (I’ve written about this before in terms of negative meta being valued over the positive.)

Let me tell you something, since this was about a specific person: When I make gifsets of Edlund, or flail over Ghost Tyger, or drive 750 miles roundtrip to see him speak for an hour–that’s emotional and irrational and I fully admit that. But when I write positive meta about his episodes, or praise things he’s said, or think he’s a damn good writer and apparently a good person who fucking gets a lot of things, that’s not emotional at all. That’s hours of cold hard rational analysis of his work. That’s actually looking at what he’s said over the years, not just about SPN but the rest of his work. That’s reading teleplays and books about TV writing to understand exactly what goes into TV production from the writer/producer’s side. That’s twenty years as a queer activist. That’s examining all the facts, taking the time to make sure I understand them, and coming to a well-reasoned conclusion. It’s not fucking worship.

You know, I get tired of people wanting Edlund back on SPN. But I don’t think that people who believe that bringing him back would fix the problems on the show–something I strongly disagree with, by the way–are engaging in “worship.” I think it’s more that people want there to be a simple answer–over-negativity about season 9 coupled with over-positivity about previous seasons means people look at what changed between season 8 and 9, see Edlund left and naturally feel that’s where everything went wrong. I drifted away from the show during last season and while I don’t think I hated it as much as some, I certainly have no love for it. But its problems seemed to me to be pretty much same shit, different season rather than anything new, so I don’t see how bringing Edlund back–even if it were possible–would actually do anything for those problems.

There are no saviors and there are no devils here. Bringing that favorite writer back, or getting rid of those hated writers, or even changing showrunners, would not in itself fix the show. The fact that it’s had a near-complete turnover in writers and several changes in showrunners and still has the same problems should tell you that. Supernatural’s problems are embedded in the very foundation of the show–in the idea that these two straight white men are the normal center of everything and what is different is to be destroyed. Saving people, hunting things. That’s the root of every problem with the show right there. Bringing in more women, more poc, more queer folk–it’s a fix. It would be a good thing, don’t get me wrong, I want to see that. But it’s a bandage to slow the bleeding when there’s a spike hammered through to your bone. Bandages are good. They help. They’re better than ignoring the problem. But they are not the cure. (At this point, though, I think bandages are the best we might get. Ten seasons and the infection’s spread through the body with only minimal efforts to check it; there’s probably no saving it now. Sorry, I’m pessimistic.)

Getting back to Edlund, you do realize that he’s been fairly critical over the years? He’s talked about the show’s issues with women on several differentoccasions, as well as its often toxic attitudes towards masculinity and gender expression. He’s talked about the show’s race problems at least twice. He’scriticized the show’s “different is bad” theme. He was outspoken on the importance of respecting supporting characters and snarkily condemned the “elitism” of exclusive narrative focus on main characters. (Do I think it’s coincidence that he followed up “fuck that main-character elitism” with “I’m gonna go write an episode where a Black man is the main character, no Sam and Dean at all”? –not direct quotes by the way– Yeah, I do. But considering what he said recently about always thinking of SPN as “the whitemare”, maybe not.) He’s also said that Supernatural’s issues with respect to gender and race are deeply embedded in the psychology of the writers’ room, which is not in itself a criticism but shows that he was aware of just how insidious those problems are.

Outside of Supernatural, he’s been critical of the sexualized objectification of women in comics. He’s talked about his understanding of how our patriarchal culture teaches us to devalue “feminine” and elevate the masculine both in society and within ourselves.  (Ugh, don’t even get me started on that songand how our society’s destructive attitudes towards gender/expression are like a knife to the throat and its use of folk songs which are seemingly just there and we breathe them in without realizing where they came from just as we breathe in these poisonous ideas about gender.) I’m not going to get into the queer stuff again, because I’ve done that before and I’m tired of repeating myself. And all of that is just what he’s said publicly, on panels and in interviews.

[Edited to add: While I think it’s pretty clear that he had a decent grasp on what SPN’s problems were, what perpetuated them, and possibly their source, I don’t necessarily think he understood how to fix them. It’s like yeah, you see that the bread and peanut butter are made of molecules, but knowing that isn’t gonna get your sandwich made. But it’s hard to say, because we have no idea what efforts he might have made or if he was at all outspoken about them in the writers’ room. Just looking at his episodes isn’t a very good indication, either.]

The man is not ignorant. He’s been consistently critical, in his sometimes peculiar way, of Supernatural’s problems–sometimes the criticism is solicited, but often not. (I’d say he’s been more consistently and broadly critical than any other writer on the show, but to be honest he’s the only one I’ve looked at this in-depth.) Thinking that a cursory look at his credited episodes is somehow a good indication of his values, understanding, and worth is myopic at best. It’s based on the erroneous belief that the individual writer deserves exclusive credit or blame for everything that happens in an episode.

Take “Blood Brother”, for example. Andrea’s death made me angrier than I think anything that happened in any of his episodes. (I still don’t much care for that episode.) And I was angry with him. But let’s actually look at it. Benny’s story arc required him to be completely alone, which meant Andrea had to be permanently gone. Dead. Those kind of arc decisions are broader than the individual writer.  You can’t just look at the episode and say “he chose to kill off this character” and put a check in the Bad column. You have to understand how seasonal story structure works, and how it affects the way even one-off characters are written. That goes for all writers. Showrunners, obviously, have much more responsibility.

So much of what goes into an episode, even individual story and character decisions, is beyond the individual scriptwriter’s control, for better or worse. There’s the writers’ room and showrunners and above that executives with commercial and business concerns and casting and budget and directorial choices and actors and…well, I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot. And yeah, that also means you can’t give exclusive credit to a writer just because something you like happens in one of their episodes. I would love to give Edlund credit for Cas’s character development in 8×21, but that was a larger character arc decision that would not have been his exclusive responsibility. I love it, and I’m glad he wrote it, but I just can’t give him all the credit for it unless someone actually says “yeah that was Edlund’s idea.”

And getting away from the serious stuff–it’s truly unbelievable to me that people are dismissing unhappiness about Edlund not being around to write the meta-musical episode as “more worship.” Good God, is it acceptable to like anything? I’m deeply sad that he wasn’t the one to do SPN’s musical–though in my case I just wish they’d done it sometime when he was there because I’ve got no interest in him coming back. You know why? Because he’s a fucking excellent songwriter. Because he’s got a good track record with writing songsfor TV episodes. Because–beyond the musical aspect–he writes damn good meta. (And was much more about playing with ideas about narrative structurethan “lol fans”, for those who are particularly upset about the fan fiction aspect.) People have damn good reasons to think an Edlund meta-musical would have been awesome and to regret that he had left the show before it happened. But those reasons apparently aren’t worth a damn; it’s all just “worship.”

This is kind of all over the place, and I’m not even sure what it is. But I just want to close on a personal note. I’ve always been seen by people who know me as completely unfeeling, unemotional–rational and hyperanalytical to a fault. I’ve always been criticized for having stringent standards for openly liking anything–for needing a long logical and rational list of supporting evidence before I can say “Yeah, this is good, I can like this.” That’s exactly how I approached Edlund and his work. I noticed his episodes. I was impressed with his writing. But it took a lot of research and analysis before I came to the decision that he is worth supporting (before I became a fan, in other words.) It’s just so bizarre to be seen as this irrational “worshipful” person who supports Edlund and his work (and what he says) because my mind is clouded by feelings. It’s weird.

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