May 25

Mesopotamia is Canonically Bigger Than the Grand Canyon

Originally published September 17 2013 on Tumblr.


“Yes, they are STILL bothered by the Grand Canyon thing…” (x)

There are two continuity errors in season 8 that have been acknowledged and spoken about with the writers. (These are not, of course, the only ones, but for my purposes, these are the ones that have been definitively confirmed to be errors by TPTB.) The first, of course, is The Grand Canyon Thing, which—as seen above—is still being talked about four months later, and at the time was the subject of uproar that seemed to overshadow the episode itself. The second is Crowley’s Mesopotamia line, which was noticed and the subject of some discussion at the time—with many presuming it was an intentional tip to the possibility that Crowley’s history was not quite what it seemed.  But since then, it’s been more or less forgotten and the revelation in a recent interviewthat it was an error—the writers just thought Mesopotamia sounded cool—has mostly gone unremarked upon. Why this discrepancy?

First, let’s compare the errors. Sam’s “memory” of the Grand Canyon trip in 8×21 conflicts with a statement from Dean in 2×09, “Croatoan”, that he had never been there. It is worth noting that the primary purpose of Dean’s line is to establish his state of mind—it is of little to no significance to the plot of “Croatoan”, and it is of no continuing significance (of any kind) in the show. (The Grand Canyon is referenced twice more, in 3×13 and 4×02, but not in context of the Winchesters’ not having been there.) It is not canonically important symbolically or thematically, nor is it in any way part of a seasonal—let alone multiseasonal—arc. It is an almost entirely throwaway line, nothing more.

Then we have Crowley’s “if you remember our time in Mesopotamia the way I do” line to Naomi in 8×17, “Goodbye Stranger”, which conflicts with the central plot of 6×04, “Weekend at Bobby’s.” The resolution of that episode centered on Crowley being a 17th century Scottish tailor named Fergus. Like the Grand Canyon, Fergus has –to my memory—not been brought up significantly since that episode, barring a vague reference in 6×10 “Caged Heat”. But very unlike the Grand Canyon, Crowley’s history was the essential focus of a relatively recent sixth season episode. It is arguably the most significant fact we know about the character, it is the definition of his history, and changing it could potentially have serious implications for some of the show’s foundational mythology.

It is undeniable that within the canon of the show, the Mesopotamia error far, far overshadows the Grand Canyon error. Yet the Mesopotamia mistake has been easily and quickly forgiven—where it was even noticed—while months later the Grand Canyon mistake still remains a fandom irritant. The reason, of course, is the discrepancy between canon significance and fanon significance—which results in errors being judged disproportionately to their actual canon value. The “Grand Canyon” has been built up in fanon—apparently; I was not aware of this until people started talking about the Huge Mistake in 8×21—into a major symbolic theme in seasons two and three, and an important plot point in the show. Some people envisioned the end of Supernatural being Dean and Sam finally reaching the Grand Canyon. All of this has been extrapolated from Dean’s offhand comment in “Croatoan.” The Grand Canyon has taken on huge symbolic and thematic significance in fanon that simply does not exist in canon.

Crowley’s backstory, on the other hand, has a reasonable amount of significance in canon—albeit significance as applied to a supporting character. The error also has canon implications not only about Crowley, but the nature of demons and the some of the show’s foundational mythology regarding them. Yet there is not a huge amount of fanon importance attached to it, likely owing to Crowley’s—again—being a supporting character. There are, of course, a few who hope that Crowley’s story is not what it seems—whether he be fallen angel or something else—and who were intrigued by the Mesopotamia line. There are also a few who see Crowley’s given history as fundamental to understanding the character, who presumably were not pleased with that line.  But most seem to simply accept Crowley’s story as given, possibly accepting his given history but willing to accept a change if done well. But Crowley’s story has not generally been given any widespread amount of fanon symbolism or thematic importance.

So we see that these two continuity errors are in fact opposites. The Grand Canyon has a great deal of fanon significance, but is vanishingly insignificant in canon. Mesopotamia has very little fanon significance, but holds large implications and is a significant plot error in canon. The difference in reaction between the two would seem to demonstrate that fanon has greater importance to many fans. Which makes sense, as fanon is reinforced constantly through fic, art, meta, and simple discussion. Canon, on the other hand, is presented solely through 20-odd 40-minute episodes per season. Fanon may serve to reinforce canon, but more often fanon expands upon canon, giving form and life to things that canon only mentions in passing.

Now, this is a good thing, and why fanon is so important. This is what fandom is about—taking the skeletal bones of what we are given and wrapping them in flesh, breathing new life into them. But the problem is that sometimes we forget that while canon + fanon together are the currency of fandom, the show itself must deal solely in canon. The importance of canon continuity errors should be tied solely to their importance in canon, not how fanon has added to them. Fanon significance should not be considered in determining how significant the error is. In other words, a mistake that seems huge and unforgivable due to its fanon significance may be an extremely minor canon error. And major canon errors may go virtually unnoticed or be easily forgiven when there is no fanon significance attached to them.

In the end, while mistakes and challenges to established fanon are understandably important to fandom, the mistakes of the show (and its various PTB) must be judged based on their significance in canon. The Grand Canyon is fairly undeniably a continuity error. (Though, like Mesopotamia, there are ways it can be explained.) Yet in terms of actual canon of the show, it is such a minor error that it is fairly worth not much more than an aside in a review or a check on a list of the season’s plot holes and continuity errors. (Truly: People are angry over this Huge Canon Error, which, in perspective, is the writer(s) forgetting one insignificant line in one episode six seasons and one hundred and thirty-five episodes prior. Talk about unrealistic expectations.) But thefanon significance is such that it has taken on outlandish proportions; people are still complaining to the writers about it months later, as if it were a monstrous and obvious deviation from an established plot point instead of a very minor (and understandable) mistake. That is unfairly judging canon continuity errors according to their fanon significance, which is a mistake.

Afternote (aka stuff that didn’t really fit):

Personally, I’m no more bothered by the Mesopotamia thing than I was by the Grand Canyon thing. And actually, I find the Mesopotamia mistake more interesting, because I thought that the Crowley-Naomi scene was intriguing. On the other hand, I just found the Sam “memory” scene unfunny and pointless. I hate defending it, because I really don’t care for it, but I feel obligated.

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