Vivisecting Supernatural- Why the Leviathan Don’t Work

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.

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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.

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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’.

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This would tie in with the leviathan’s extreme… toothiness.

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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.
Such as:

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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-

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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.

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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.

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19 thoughts on “Vivisecting Supernatural- Why the Leviathan Don’t Work

  1. I loved this post! And I do agree with the points you stated.
    On another note, I have only read Paradise Lost, book I (which I totally loved) but I was like omg Lucifer, omg leviathans!! I was literally squealing because I had these characters! πŸ˜› But yeah, season 7 was a little meh for me, honestly I loved the previous seasons much more but they gradually became more serious and mature in a kind of way as they proceeded. I think season 3 was my favourite and I loved Ruby. It was the season where I think they Lilith first appeared. I loved the twists and turns in that season.

    It’s been a long time since I watched Supernatural, I sort of watched until season 8 before my channel poofed up, but I do intend to catch up soon after my new computer arrives. I LOVE this show so much, it’s really nice to find out another crazy fan of the show.

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    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! I love the combination of mythology used- season seven was really the only significant downer for me, though it still had some fantastic emotional beats. It’s picked up though- season ten is fantastic. Glad I’m not the only obsessive out there πŸ™‚

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      • Yes, that it definitely had. πŸ™‚
        Now that you said this, I really can’t wait to watch Supernatural again!!!

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        • Ha, I’ve done some good with my musings then πŸ™‚
          Season eight starts off patchy but the last part is fantastic. Season nine’s pretty good. Ten, though, is one of the best ever. Not a foot wrong. It’s amazing, really.

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  2. This deconstruction of season seven is also great. I had trouble with both seasons 6 and 7 as a whole but they both have some really excellent episodes. For season 7, I agree it just felt “off” and you made some really great points as to why that might have been. Since then, they’ve gotten better and better. With 9 and 10 I began to love it as much as I had the earlier seasons. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 11!

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    • Season six is my personal favourite but I know a lot of people had issues. But yeah, the recent seasons have been extremely strong. Season ten’s probably one of my favourites- I absolutely loved the Demon Dean arc. Can’t wait for season eleven either!

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      • I didn’t hate seasons 6 or 7 but I just loved 4 and 5 so much it was going to be hard to top for me. They had a feel of their own that to me was very different from where we’d been the previous couple seasons. It was still my most faithfully and immediately watched show and some of the best episodes came out of it. I just think there was some awkwardness is trying to start a new story line with a new showrunner. They’d been building to one point for at least 4 seasons and after that they had to figure out a way to keep going by building a new story. I feel kinda bad for Sera Gamble because I think a lot of people blame her for seasons or storylines they didn’t feel were up to par, but I think she had a nearly impossible task ahead of her. She was one of the best writers for the show and I hope she’s remembered for that.
        I just think it took a little while for the show to really find it’s footing again. But I never stopped loving it each and every week! The Demon Dean/Mark of Cain storyline has been one of my absolute favorite and I think both actors have really knocked it out of the park!

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        • I liked the more personal approach of s6- I felt that worked, like they knew they weren’t going to top the apocalypse so they’d deal with the considerable aftermath. I loved the s7 Hallucifer plotline but I felt the leviathan plot was weak, but I agree about Sera Gamble- those must have been incredibly difficult seasons to run. She wrote some of my absolute favourites- I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Born-Again Identity- and I think the show still misses her.
          I love the MoC storyline too- the whole Darkness thing is the first plot since s5 that really feels cosmic.
          Must admit, I adore the last few episodes of s8 as well- Dean mothering Sam just gets me every time. I think I might do an essay on the attraction of hurt/comfort just based on those few eps.

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  3. Do you know I don’t get the hate for Season seven. if anything I enjoyed season six less than season seven; mostly because the first time I watched it I didn’t get what the fuck was wrong with Sam and at subsequent watchings I’m just always waiting for Sam’s soul to be back. anyway, I digress. The thing with the Leviathan in my opinion I found them to be the most organised and methodical villains I’ve ever seen. nothing mindless about them. they had a long term plan and that’s why they’re more scary than other monsters. they’re not just here to fulfill primal needs; kill and eat; like wild animals. oh no, they’re organised, they’re taking over the planet. they’re the new apex predators. Predators you can’t kill. plus they had some really entertaining dialogue.
    I also think they were a commentary on big business and how its always out of fuck you over in secret. I also maybe really enjoyed it because it was one season without any division between the boys. they were united in their quest throughout. It was nice to see them working as a team, no lies, no intrigue; just two brothers kicking some ass. I also kinda got the impression that ‘people’ did not like it because of the whole ‘Americans make some nice fatty meat’ message which the rest of us were not really concerned about.

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    • I don’t understand the hate for the season either. Not trying to invalidate your opinions or anything- obviously me not liking the leviathan is a personal taste thing, whereas I did really like the Soulless Sam arc.
      While I dislike the leviathan in general as villains I did like the way they were handled. I thought all the episodes they appeared in were pretty good.
      I think it probably was intended to be a commentary on corporate greed and stuff. And yeah, it was nice to see the boys working together- except for with the whole Amy thing, but that got resolved relatively fast if I remember rightly.

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  4. It has always bothered me that the oceanic origina of the leviathan were ignored. The writers also do a tremendously good job of making up complete bullshit for the “Christian” (totally in quotes because, let’s be honest, they’re not even TRYING to be correct from a biblical standpoint) aspects of the show. I’m a Christian, and you would think that would make me have a problem with watching SPN with all the demons and crap, but I don’t, because I know what I believe, and I know what my Bible says and this show does little, if anything, to cause me to question those beliefs. However, I do, on a purely pedantic level, find things like this annoying. I also had issue with the whole MOC thing and the insinuation that Dean’s having the mark would lead to Sam’s inevitable death all b/c Cain had the mark and he killed Abel. Anyone who has read even that blue Bible story book in the damn doctor’s office knows that Cain killed Abel BEFORE he got the mark. God gave him the mark as protection because Cain knew people would be after him when they learned what he had done. I’m done now. I think. I wrote a thingy on this over on tumblr if you’re interested. http://tinyurl.com/oeb5r3a

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    • I too am a Christian and I love this show, so you know. Will absolutely check out that link, thanks. As far as I’m concerned they can screw with the lore all they want as long as they keep the feel of it, which I don’t think they did with the leviathan. Obviously a lot of the SPN stuff is drawn from Milton, which gets a pass in my book.
      I’d forgotten about Cain getting the mark after Abel died. That’s a little annoying, but I like the MoC plot too much. Thanks for reading my stuff, anyway. You’re certainly observant πŸ™‚

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  5. I simply found the leviathan boring. I like evil characters with personality like Azazel, Alistair and especially Crowley and Rowena! Also, thank you for visiting my blog, liking my post and the follow! Just followed yours. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, you’re welcome- and thanks for the same. It wasn’t so much that I found the leviathan boring- I love Dick Roman as a villain, though I agree that very few of the others had personality. I just wasn’t feeling the burn of the whole people-as-food scenario.

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  6. Pingback: The Complete Hunter’s Guide to Supernatural Monsters

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