Now that we’re on Season Ten, it’s easy to look back on Season Seven and write it off as a blot on the face of Supernatural. Not without reason either- if I was to rank the seasons according to my own opinion, I’d place Seven (or, as it’s often referred to, the Leviathan Season) near the bottom, if not last.
But I don’t think it should simply be written off as the one that got away. Supernatural is far more complex than that, and deserves to be treated as so.
For those who can’t remember, Season Seven began with a resolution of the Godstiel cliffhanger left over from Season Six. Cas, having basically eaten Purgatory, was supercharged to the point where angel blades had no effect on him. He then embarked on a spree of angelic genocide, healing the occasional blind person along the way. Unfortunately it wasn’t just souls that are inside him- he was colonised by leviathan, some of the oldest and nastiest beings in Purgatory. Apparently God locked them up so they wouldn’t eat the world, which is understandable. (Though, Chuck, it would have saved an awful lot of bother had you just killed them.)
These beings force their way out of Cas’s vessel (by this point it’s probably a good thing that Jimmy’s dead) and into a lake, and from there they spread, using the water system to reach people.
The leviathan turned out to be akin to shapeshifters- they can take anyone’s form using only DNA. Other features are theirs alone- they bleed black and are all completely evil. They’re also often blamed as the reason for Season Seven’s dubiosity (is that a word?). I found the season compelling- I’ve never not found SPN compelling- but it doesn’t quite work. There’s a lot of stuff to like, though- Hallucifer, Meg, crazy!Cas, Godstiel, the slinky/clown ep (oh my God, that unicorn) and Frank Devereux, to name but a few.
The leviathan seem to be what tip the scales for most of the people who dislike Seven. It’s not too hard to see why- despite being supposedly ancient, malignant creatures from the depths of Purgatory, they appear as middle-class bureaucrats in smart suits. Who just happen to eat people.
It isn’t that they aren’t scary. For me there was something horrible and shocking about seeing them throw back their heads and become blind worms from a dentist’s nightmare. Though according to a certain Sophie Douglas, they look like thumbs with teeth (never going to find the leviathan scary again now. This is what good similes can do).
But they just didn’t feel like Supernatural villians. They didn’t have the grit of Azazel, Alastair, Eve. The leviathan were sinister, but also sterile.
In a way they have a similar cleanness to angels like Naiomi or Zachariah, or S9’s Bartholomew. But with the angels, somehow it works.
Why should this sterility and hierarchy work for one set of characters and yet not another? It can’t be because the angels were set up from the start as ancient and terrifying, because the leviathan were too- in Meet The New Boss, both with Death’s fantastic speech and that incredible visual of them trying to claw their way out of Cas’s strangely stretchy stomach.
I think part of the reason is down to the images and colours that we associate with the seperate species. Supernatural takes the ‘holy warriors’ approach to angels, and of course they are associated with the colour white- from the glaring corridors of Season Ten’s Inside Man (and oh my God, I know this is a tangent, but the surly Bobbys), to the sparking lights hailing Cas’s magnificent entrance in Lazarus Rising. With their beautiful, terrible images of iridescent black wings, the angelic mytharc brought things to the show that are still being explored.
Importantly, though, the way the angels are presented taps into our expectations- twistedly, but that’s SPN. The lore is also utilised, bringing in everything from Paradise Lost to the book of Revelations.
In the leviathan lore, whether Christian, Jewish or Satanist, the leviathan are referred to as sea monsters, creatures symbolic of envy, dragging chaos in their wake. Interestingly, they are often associated with the number seven- perhaps it’s no coincidence that the leviathan were brought out in the seventh season. The mythology stretches back so far that it has a primal, archaic quality, a sort of profound beastliness. This, in my opinion , is what the SPN interpretation lacks- a shame, and an unusual one, as the SPN writers usually have a knack for picking out the strange and fun details from the legends.
One thing they do seem to have used is the associations of the leviathan with the ‘Hellmouth’- according to Wikipedia, ‘a monstrous animal into whose mouth the damned disappear at the Last Judgement’.
This would tie in with the leviathan’s extreme… toothiness.
However, SPN seems to have disregarded the biggest associations- those being the sea, and also the leviathan’s sheer age, and the weight of expectation that comes with dealing with legends this archaic. Instead, the leviathan form a corporation- Sucrocorp- and proceed to turn the human race into morons. There’s an alpha there too- Dick Roman, who has absolute power amongst them. They take up residence in the Sucrocorp building, which is large, white, and shiny. And did they mention? their master plan is to turn the entire human race into cattle. As Roman says, ‘I think the herd might panic when they turn the corner and see the blade assembly up ahead’.
Yeah, good going, SPN.
It all begins to feel vaguely absurd, with a faint air of Soylent Green- or, as Dean puts it, Soylent Us.
I think it’s the slight conspiracy-theory feeling that keeps it from working. Supernatural has delved into such territory before- notably with Nightshifter and Clap Your Hands If You Believe, some of the show’s best episodes. But there it was in a more parodic context, and the theorists were sort-of-but-not-quite right.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t that parodic subtext beneath the whole leviathan plotline, but it’s more veiled. The introduction of Frank Devereux, a conspiracy theorist who was a little like a cross between Ash and Ronald Resnick, was a great touch here- drawing parallels between Sam and Dean’s leviathan issues, and fears about government corruption and cloning. It’s touches like this that stop Supernatural taking itelf too seriously, and these touches are vital in this season. But they can also be over the top, which sends it in the other direction- direct farce.
Yes. Yes, this show did kill a man with melted cheese.
The above scene is what pushed the leviathan over the edge for me. SPN has to get silly occasionally- it lets air into what would otherwise be an overly claustrophobic and depressing show. Hell House, Yellow Fever, Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie, Hunteri Heroici, and Dog Dean Afternoon are all prime examples, though there are loads more. But this just took it too far for me. It threw the entire season off balance.
But then there’s Dick Roman.
The character of Roman- played by the excellent James Patrick Stuart- was a saving grace, though he couldn’t redeem the leviathan in my eyes. He was the perfect combination of slimy and calculating, and I can’t recall ever seeing him blink. And that smile that he gave Dean before exploding into black goo-
Of course, standing too close to exploding Dick gets your ass sent straight to Purgatory. And do I even need to go into the sexual connotations of that picture?
Yet even with such a great villain helming them, and Sam and Dean’s very personal desire for revenge (still not over Bobby dying, and judging by his nine post-mortem appearences, the showrunners aren’t either), the leviathan still don’t work. They just don’t feel like they belong on Supernatural.
Honestly? I can’t help but put it down to the way they’re visually presented. Bad enough that the connotations of water and the sea are virtually nonexistent- only indicated in Meet The New Boss when they use the water system to get around- but then they’re made to be all bright and shiny with their Sucrocorp. What happened to the abandoned warehouses and factories and creepy-ass houses? Why does this entire season look like The Wizard Of Oz?
The title card’s pretty cool, but it carries its own implications.
I take the black-and-whiteness symbolically. The leviathan, as villains, are black and white in every sense of the word- their shiny habitats against their black blood- including morally. There will never be anything morally dubious about killing a leviathan. The only time that territory is even approached is at the end of Out With The Old, where the leviathan tells Sam and Dean that they plan on curing cancer because they’re ‘only here to help’- but it sounds sinister and it’s obvious that there’s no way these creatures are good news. Anyway, they killed Bobby and thus are going down.
And there’s the core of it. Supernatural is at its best when it ventures into the grey areas, blurs the boundaries. There was no hope of doing that with the leviathan- with the possible exception of Out With The Old, where we actually begin to sympathise with one of the creatures- a very interesting decision on the parts of Robert Singer and Jenny Klein. But it’s still left in no doubt that the leviathan are evil and all should be killed simply for being.
This is a message that Supernatural had never before advocated. After Season Seven, it never does again. Look at Cas overcoming his brainwashing. Look at vampires like Lenore and Benny. Look at Cyrus Styne from The Prisoner. Look at Madison the werewolf and the skinwalker from All Dogs Go To Heaven. Even demons can be saved- Crowley and Meg come pretty damn close, and Dean’s transformation in Soul Survivor is the final proof. There’s even hope for Lucifer, as demonstrated when he tells Michael that they don’t have to fight.
It’s only the leviathan that can’t be saved. And the idea that redemption is impossible for some species simply because of what they are– that’s what goes against the grain of Supernatural.