Last week’s Meta Thursday was supposed to be a SPN 30 Day Challenge Essay on “Your Favorite Season”, but then it grew into something completely different, as I’m sure you noticed. (Just in case, here’s what you missed: Taking the Heroine’s Journey: How This Often Overlooked Storytelling Pattern Works, Using Tangled and DA2 As Examples, Part One and Part Two.)
So this week, in honor of the Season 7 finale this Friday, I’ve decided to do a five-part meta all this week about why I love flawed, beautiful, broken Season 7 so much. Today is more of an intro than anything else, but stay tuned for tomorrow, when I start digging into the Heroine’s Journey in more detail.
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with happily ever after. As much as we crave more story, more of our favorite characters and universes, we tend to find sequels, epilogues, and even just post-ending fanfic weird and unsettling.
For good reason, too, for no two words are more satisfying than “The End”.
As much as it hurts to hear sometimes, “The End” is also a blessing, because it lets you know that the characters’ struggles (and your role as empathizer) have reached their natural conclusion. “The End” means these characters, this world that you’ve fallen in love with will be alright without you. It’s okay to for you and them both move on. In that way, endings are gifts, blessings, benedictions.
But they’re also illusions. Because the story never ends, not really. For every action, there is a reaction, for every cause a consequence, and that’s what a life is: a sequence of stories tied into each other, messy and indistinct, no beginning or end, just one long jumble, nasty, brutish and short.
I like to think that stories that continue to follow these threads long after they’ve been tied into a neat little bow are subversive—even defiant. They show the neat little bow for the illusion it is. In a way, epilogues, sequels, lost chapters and all the rest are our reminder to ourselves that a story is not absolute truth handed down from the high heavens, but a contract between author and listener, a man-made construct subject to our will and desires, and stories only end when we want them to, not when some Divine Plan says they should.
Maybe for this reason alone it’s fitting that Supernatural has continued long after Kripke’s original five-season plan. For a narrative whose main theme was about ripping up the script and writing our own fates, I suspect the original “unhappily ever after” conclusion to “Swan Song” would’ve been too neat to truly satisfy.
That Supernatural has dared to continue has been, in and of itself, dissatisfying to many viewers. But I find it more honest —because as Chuck says, the story never really ends, does it?
More Supernatural Season 6 and 7 meta after the break:
Seasons 6 and 7 tell a different kind of story than the first five seasons. Seasons 1-5 were, in many ways, a Hero’s Journey, all rising action and uphill struggle against external foes. Two unlikely chosen avatars rose to meet their destiny, and they did so on their own terms. Yadda yadda. You’ve heard the story before, you don’t need me to recap it for you—and hello, spoilers for those who haven’t, right?
Seasons 6 and 7, however, are a descent, a falling action. They unravel that happily ever after. After running up that mountain to meet their fates, Team Free Will must come back down again, in their own ways and through their own choices. And as any hiker will tell you, coming down is as much of the story as the initial ascent.
It’s certainly as much of the human experience, even though we like to overlook it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist. It’s much easier to believe that death or change or fate can be eternally defied, or that maturity is something that happens off-screen and behind closed doors, than to accept the truth that we all must diminish and go into the West; that eventually, inevitably, no matter how high we soar, we must all one day or another fall back to earth.
Descent stories are uncomfortable, and messy, and real, and there’s no shiny summit at the end of them, no glorious picaresque view of the world around you. But in our nostalgia for the summit we tend to forget that the road downhill offers something even better at its conclusion: Rest. Comfort. Peace. Unlike the Hero’s Journey up the mountain, which ends at the halfway point, at the end of a Descent journey your characters’ trials truly are over, since there’s no more mountain to climb. And yes, your characters can just find a new mountain (in fact, they usually do), but descent stories teach us that everything dies, everything changes, everything ends, and that’s okay. The end is not to be feared, but embraced.
Although it’s fallen out of favor in recent years, the story of this downhill journey is a very, very old one, and it follows certain archetypes just as much as the Hero’s Journey does. Oftentimes, it relies on what’s called “The Heroine’s Journey”, a storytelling pattern wherein the protagonist faces internal, emotional struggles rather than external, physical ones. (And don’t be fooled by the name; men can undertake a Heroine’s Journey just as easily as a woman can.)
As Victoria Lynn Schmidt writes in her book 45 Master Characters (are you sick of me referencing this book yet?), “The feminine journey is a journey in which the hero gathers the courage to face death and endure the transformation toward being reborn as a complete being in charge of her own life.”
By their very nature, Heroine’s Journeys tend to be cyclical – which of course isn’t accidental. Just as women’s lives are ruled by the cycles of nature, so too do Heroine’s Journeys tend to end right where they began, in a closed, completed loop—except that the protagonist comes down off the mountain different, transformed, and transcendent. And while a Hero’s Journey tends to be a one-shot deal (which makes sense, given that it’s a coming of age story, and you really only come of age once in your life), a Heroine’s Journey can happen over and over again, to multiple characters and to the same character in multiple situations, and be different every time. After all, change isn’t a one-shot experience.
So what does happen after the apocalypse has been averted, and all the big baddies have been killed? The Hero’s Journey doesn’t really have much of an answer. But the Heroine’s Journey does: The heroes must learn how to deal with themselves, lest they in turn become the next Big Baddie.
And if that last paragraph reminded you of a certain fallen angel, or a soulless hunter, or maybe even just a brokenhearted alcoholic with a love of frisky women and pie, then good – you’ve been paying attention.
Tomorrow: I’ll look at Sam and Cas’s completed Heroine’s Journeys, and start to break down Dean’s. Read it here.