Supernatural: "Dark Side Of The Moon"
B+

Supernatural: "Dark Side Of The Moon"

B+

Supernatural

"Dark Side Of The Moon"

Season 5, Episode 16

A guy I follow on Twitter mentioned tonight that "Dark Side of The Moon" was the first Supernatural episode he had ever watched. His roommates tried to bring him up to speed, but I can't really imagine that working too well. "Moon" is another continuity heavy episode after last week's comparatively standalone outing (sure, Death was responsible for all those zombies, but the zombies themselves didn't require a lot of back story), and most of its dramatic moments rely on knowing the Winchesters, knowing what drives them and knowing all their angst-driven obsessions. This season as a whole rivals Lost for its unfriendliness to new viewers: Lost may have more ambition, but both shows are dependent on loyalty, and I respect that. I respect how, even if we have heard Sam and Dean's Daddy issues about a thousand times now, nobody stopped to remind us just what those caused those Daddy issues in the first place. 

One of the challenges of writing weekly reviews for a show like this is having to justify my reaction each week, in a way that makes sense even if you don't agree with me. I find myself looking more at structure, at the way an episode fits into the larger season, at the themes and subtext and what have you. The challenge with Supernatural for me has always been to keep my expectations in the right place without ever getting too easy on the show. If the hour passes pleasantly, I have a tendency to overlook clunky plotting or redundancy, and I find it especially hard lately to try and contextualize the series' current direction with its development over the years. After all, the first season was a mediocre X-Files knock-off rescued by great chemistry between its leads and the occasional interesting monster. We had some continuity, but it wasn't crucial. And here we are now, neck-deep in a sort of Dark Shadows-meets-Joss Whedon morass, with the twists and intrigue and betrayal stacked so high I spend most episodes waiting for a stiff breeze to knock the whole thing over.

I thought "Moon" was good. It repeated some information--yes, we get it, Dean feels betrayed by Sam's desire for a normal life, Dean misses his mom, Sam likes getting groped by 11 year olds--but the concept of Heaven was striking, and I'm interested in the new development in the hunt for God. The show is still taking itself a little too seriously, as it works best when the grimness is leavened by self-awareness. But the touch was lighter than its been in the season's darkest outings.

First, our new Heaven. After a terrific cold open, with Sam and Dean getting shot and killed by a pair of pissed off hunters, the Winchesters finds themselves going down a road through some of their happiest memories. There's nothing new here, of course, but it gets interesting when the boys run into Ash, an old friend who died a couple seasons ago. Ash explains that Heaven isn't just one place but a bunch of places, and everyone (with a few exceptions) gets their private part of paradise. Dean points out this isn't all that terrific, and I have to agree with him, but it does fit in the concept of the Afterlife that's been developing on the show: nobody's in charge, everybody's kind of doing their own thing, and it's just as lonely up there as it is on Earth.

This becomes even more clear when Sam and Dean finally meet Joshua, an angel Cass tells them talks to God. He explains that God really is on Earth, but He wants the boys to leave Him alone. He doesn't think the Apocalypse is His problem. Dean's "Just another deadbeat dad" line is too on the nose, since we've already spent most of the episode being reminded how little connection these guys have with their father, but it's still an important point. One of the big problems I've had with this season of the show is that it's difficult to know what I'm rooting for anymore. The mythology has gotten so arcane that Good and Evil no longer seem relevant: nearly everything that our heroes come across is just some varying degree of Bad. So at least giving us an absent Lord fits in with everything else, and it also gives us enough of the big picture that the show's direction becomes clearer. This is a world where everyone follows the letter of the rules, but ignores the spirit. The forces of darkness and the supposed forces of light are so embroiled in their petty needs that moral authority has largely vanished from their struggle. So it's left to the Winchesters to find some way to be heroes, and it's a point in the show's favor that I'm still not sure they can manage it, confirmed sixth season or no.

But it's to the show's detriment that I'm not entirely convinced the writers will be able to give all this a satisfying conclusion. If you look back at the stories of the earlier seasons, each climax has essentially been resolved by making a lousy situation worse. Since the series hasn't been cancelled yet, it has to leave some doors open each spring, but I'm wondering how the hell it's possible to top "the end of the world"? 

Stray Observations:

  • Despite the heavy plot developments, "Moon" managed to keep an even-handed tone throughout. So that's nice.
  • Ash on Heaven: "Like Disney land, but without all of that anti-Semitism."
  • Oh, and Pamela, that psychic chick who got her eyes burned out and eventually died, is in Heaven too. But Ash hasn't been able to find Mom or Dad Winchester, and he had no idea Ellen and Jo were dead. That might not be good.
  • Any of you read the comic Preacher by Garth Ennis? Given tonight's developments, I'm betting some of the people who make Supernatural have.