I thought I’d gotten out all my SPN feels this morning, but apparently I was wrong, because now I need to talk about Chuck Shurley.
WARNING: SUPER DUPER SPOILERS FOR THE FINALE OF SEASON 5 BEHIND THE CUT.
Chuck as God is one of the big “gotcha” moments at the end of Season 5 that took me completely by surprise—indeed, at the time, I thought the revelation was rather cheap. But now, looking back on the series, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Supernatural is hilariously self-aware sometimes, and nowhere else is this more evident than the concept of God as a booze-addled, nebbishy writer, strangled by his own Muse.
What’s the secret of life? Well, in the Supernatural universe, the secret of life is that it exists to entertain us, the viewer; an entire universe was designed to provide emotional catharsis for an unknowable observer. And no matter how hard any of the characters within that universe might try to understand that secret (or even learn what it is), they could never truly understand it, can they? So eventually, like Castiel, they just stop asking.
But it’s not like God purposefully wants to be obtuse. God wants to be understood, so God speaks to Sam and Dean the only way he can—metaphors and analogies of cult-favorite books and fan-conventions and Internet sites devoted to “Wincest”. But how do you explain to the character of your story that he exists to be an emotional by-proxy? After all, it’s his life God’s put at stake.
It’s a dick move. But writers—and Gods—are dicks by nature.
When Chuck vanishes at the end of “Swan Song”, nobody but the viewer knows that Chuck is and always was God. His secret is still safe, even as he leaves the building. So then why does he leave the building?
I think it’s because God is a writer, and the point was always to write himself out of his own story. And while his influence will forever linger in the world that he created, and while his favorite creations will all labor under his shadow and struggle with his absence in their own ways, the point of it all was free will; the point was not to have a God pushing you around like chess pieces. The point was, as Cas discovered, to be free.
But you know—and I didn’t notice this until I rewatched “The End” – there was an important clue Chuck gives Dean, and that’s this: In the Alternate Future, he is still around. In this aborted, broken narrative, God hasn’t left the building. He’s still trailing around his magnum opus—Dean Winchester— wondering how his story went so very, very wrong, and if it can ever be fixed.
Note Chuck’s role in the Alternate Future: He exists as a go-between for Dean and the Flock. He’s the one who manages resources at Camp Chitaqua—that is, it’s Chuck who listens to prayers for rations and toilet paper, and who answers them or not. God is the go-between, the intercessionary saint. No, actually, it’s even more hands on than that. I mean, He lives in a wooden box at the top of a mountain and walks among His People. This is an Old Testament God, the God of Moses, of Adam; or even worse, the God who never got the chance to take a seventh day of rest.
In the Alternate Future, God does not abandon the world, because he can’t. Something went wrong in his story; Dean and Sam never learned their lesson, Cas never learned the meaning of freedom, and so he must stay, chained to his story and his children; he must involve himself directly to keep everything together, one little man holding reality together, struggling to contain the forces he created and are now about to tear his very world asunder.
It’s crappy writing, and crappy God-ing, and Chuck knows it.
But in the Real Universe, God abandons His flock. God finishes His story and disappears. Because Dean, Sam and Cas figured it all out – they realized that between Michael and Lucifer, good and evil, there was a third option, and that was balance. Freedom. Transcendence. Call it what you will, but it was the way out, and now God can move on, secure in the knowledge that now, no matter what happens, no matter what missteps his children might now take, they at least now know how to walk. They don’t need a God to lead them by the hand any longer.
Supernatural is as much the story of a writer getting it right as his main characters: It’s a story of redemption and pursuit, and it’s a story that any writer knows well — that is, when God writes the correct story, God too is free.