• slow-burning longterm storylines. (i extrapolated a bit on this topic in this askbox reply to the person who asked me “why i was watching supernatural when i seemed to hate it.”)
  • horror story pastiche episode
  • genre-savviness
  • combining sophomoric humour with soul-crushing depression
  • the winchesters’ characterisation (particularly dean’s)

re: characterisation — admittedly, in the first couple of seasons jensen ackles was just a better actor than jared padelecki, but after 9 seasons (or 7, which is the point i’m up to), they’re pretty much even. they both know their characters inside out. but to me at least, dean is way more interesting. sam’s characterisation is solid and jared padalecki has obviously perfected his mannerisms and stuff, but the writers kind of have to do stuff to him to make him interesting, rather than having him be a truly compelling character in his own right. although i’m sure there are a bunch of ~sam girls~ out there who would disagree with me. i mean, for most of season 7 i was basically just waiting for the whole sam/lucifer hallucination thing to be over, and not in the “oh, i hope sammy’s ok” way the writers were presumably hoping for.

dean’s a really interesting character because he shouldn’t really work, but he does. superficially, he combines a lot of angsty antihero characteristics that i would ordinarily loathe and avoid at all costs. he’s a drunk, fratboyish womaniser who spends years and years angsting over his daddy issues and the deaths of various friends and relatives, he’s a misogynist drunk who ~gets away with it~ because he’s good-looking, charming and heroic, and his basic lifestyle is a kind of boy’s-own-adventure fiction combo of cowboy and noir detective. AND YET. as the seasons wear on, it becomes abundantly clear that he’s a deeply, deeply fucked up and depressed individual, and not in the typical “oh, our hero has to have a ~dark side~” kind of way. it’s as if christopher nolan’s batman movies continued on in the same thematic vein, but began to openly acknowledged what an absolute nightmare douchebag Bruce Wayne really is, instead of still characterising him as something of a ~tragic and conflicted hero.

actually, from the list i posted above, dean’s characterisation also falls into the “longterm storylines” and “sophomoric humour vs soul-crushing depression” categories. it’s been at least five years since i watched anything from the first couple of seasons of SPN, but from what i recall, i thought dean was kind of an asshole at first. because, you know, he is. but the interesting thing is that the better you know him, you more you learn that he and sam’s roles are in many ways reversed. the reason why supernatural has survived for so many seasons without falling into a traditional “buddy cop” dynamic is because sam and dean’s personalities are perfectly balanced.

superficially, sam is the educated, forward-thinking, ethical one, while dean is a careless, reckless asshole who never matured past his teens. but through a combination of slow-moving character development and just allowing the audience to learn more about the characters over time, by about season four you begin to realise that many of Sam & Dean’s more obvious traits are reversed. yes, sam often appears to be making the “sensible decision” on the surface, but in the end dean is actually the one who is more likely to end up doing “the right thing,” because he has far better social and emotional instincts than sam — despite being incredibly repressed and fucked up in his own personal life. sam regularly berates dean for being inflexible or uneducated, but the fact is that sam is almost MORE inflexible in his own attitude, just from the opposite direction: a classic impasse.

both sam and dean’s personalities are some of the most realistically fleshed-out i’ve seen in genre tv, because the writers have the luxury of using this incredibly insular backstory that basically just consists of sam, dean and their father being on exactly the same horrible roadtrip for years and years, right up until sam goes to college. there’s no need to randomly include some surprise flashback five seasons in to ~prove~ that sam and/or dean had a tragic backstory, because guess what? we already fucking know. everything, from dean’s macho bullshit and lack of ability to sustain a relationship, to sam’s snobbish educated superiority and desire to be the ~emotionally intelligent one~ is a character trait that makes perfect sense within the context of their childhood and upbringing. so when the show DOES decide to do a flashback to when they were younger, it feels completely organic.

SPN is the only formula show that’s managed to hold my attention for more than 3 or 4 seasons. i mean, it’s not quite as formulaic as something like House, which timed the various plot points of each episode right down to the minute. but in the long term, SPN thrives on a formula of sam and dean constantly driving around america in the exact same car for nine solid years, taking a break every ten or twenty episodes to have a serious argument (or to have one of them temporarily die) so they can have a heartfelt chat while standing next to the car in front of yet another Vancouver-disguised-as-Wyoming lake or forest or truck stop or whatever. they’ve probably been filming all the monster attacks in the exact same fucking Canadian forest for the past decade. but it doesn’t matter. it doesn’t matter. the show builds on the formula as well as reusing it, so by the time you’ve seen six or seven seasons, it’s practically like some kind of meditative state where you can see the years of their relationship spooling out behind them whenever they have another one of those terrible, stilted conversations in front of the car. which is why supernatural is one of the best shows to watch from beginning to end, but one of the worst to pick up halfway through.