Vivisecting Supernatural- Strange Grimy Glamour

Yes, you read that right. The VS project is back on. Have to admit, it’s nice to be back in the saddle. So without further ado: let’s talk about dirt.

One of the things that originally set the show apart for me- aside from the obscure mythology and the bro-mos- was the particular brand of glamour it adopts. I mean, look at Wendigo:

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The battered leather. The M&Ms. The griminess, too- SPN has never looked clean and polished in the way that other shows do. If you compare it to, say, Once Upon A Time- which might benefit from a bit of mud- the contrast is huge. No slight meant to OUAT, which I’m fond of, but cinematography-wise it’s pretty stock, brightly-coloured and sparkly-clean.

Supernatural has not always been dark. It began very, very shadowy, got slightly less so as it found its feet over Season Two, and hovered round there for the next few seasons until Season Six, which got brighter. Season Seven and the first half of Season Eight were irritatingly technicolour, Season Nine a little darker, and Ten and (so far) Eleven very dark again, much more early-SPN.

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But even Season Seven had a certain seediness to it. All the ducking and hiding from the FBI, the (of course) horrendous motel decor, the peiceashit cars, the cabins. Even when it’s as bright as this-

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-it manages to retain the disreputable feel.

Supernatural is tough guys drinking in smoky bars, sleeping in sweaty clothes, a vamp body hidden in the car boot. That’s Kripke’s legacy, and it continues to pay off; the show still occupies its original blue-collar territory, and that’s something it has in common with very few shows. It’s also a reason why Bloodlines failed so badly. Bloodlines lacked SPN’s noir sensibilities- the Fangasm ladies described it as ‘a Supernatural intro, forty minutes of Vampire Diaries, and a Supernatural outro’. Pretty ironic, considering that word around the campfire says SPN inspired Vampire Diaries in the first place.

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But Bloodines’ failure goes to show- we don’t want another show about rich monsters living in mansions and playing happy Mafia families. We want our gritty, sprawling, white-knuckle chronicle of traumatised siblings with dirty fingernails.

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It’s something that comes with the road-trip element, too. Obviously the Winchesters have the Bunker now, which is a little classier, but it’s still an incarnation of the hidden parts of America left over from bygone days. When Sam and Dean are driving down Route 66, we see an America very different from the one in modern rom-coms, which is shiny and privileged. The America SPN reveals is full of strip clubs and dusty roads and eccentric sheriffs- and this supposition is fleshed out in Frontierland, when they literally go back to the America of the 1800s. And as if it could get any more perfect, the Winchesters are told they look too clean.

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Perhaps I’m just projecting here, but I think there’s a tangible sense of nostalgia about the show and its depiction of the US. The world Sam and Dean occupy is getting lost- getting safer, but vanishing in the process. The writers cling to their dirty dusty landscapes just as Sam and Dean cling to each other. One of the notable features of Season Ten was the tiredness that hung over it- not tiredness as in this show has gone on way too long and I want to do a fucking Bond movie, but tiredness that comes from years of battle. Sam and Dean were pretty much at the end of the line. They didn’t know how to solve the MoC problem. They didn’t know what to do with their own relationship.

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Now we’ve got Season Eleven, and not only has the noir been kicked up a notch, but Sam and Dean are trying. The fact that Sam lied to Dean about being infected is irrelevant to this- they’re working on it. They haven’t really argued in, what? An episode and a half?

Season Eleven’s a reset, and a return to the early-SPN atmosphere with its dark beauty. And best of all? It looks filthy.

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32 thoughts on “Vivisecting Supernatural- Strange Grimy Glamour

  1. Ah, well, seems like I can’t even read your Vivisecting series until I can finally catch up with Season 11… Or would it be possible that you add warnings where the Spoilers start/end so I can skip that part and still follow your arguments?

    As fur the topic itself: I do believe the dirtiness is something that made me continue as well, it had a feel of reality to it, that most other shows usually ignored.

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  2. It is a gritty, dirty, expose of what really goes bump in the dark. Reality shows are glossy and polished for the most part. The mud in SPN makes it all the more real. The acting, scripts( ususally) draw us in to this world. Kudos to the cinematographers, directors, lighting, costume, and make up crew to fill this world with a believable reality of the Wiinchesters. The location supervisor Russ, finds incredible locations to use when a sound stage is just not enough. Prop masters- how do you keep track of the minutia for continuity. The contrast to this world is prominent in season8 when Sam is with Amelia- the colors are primary, the lighting is bright- it is Sam’s world away from hunting- but it is fantasy for him- his own reality gloss to get him through the tough loss of Dean. He gives it up for Dean and returns to the grit of hunting. Season 11 is bloody, dirty, dark. “ME Likey”

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    • Yuss aren’t the locations awesome? The asylum! The hospital in 11×1 and 2! The church they use over and over!
      Gotta say- I cannot bear the Samelia flashbacks- they just look awful.

      //Season 11 is bloody, dirty, dark.//
      Debabb, you are SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE. I am in love with this season so far 🙂 are you joining us on the comment thread for Baby?

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      • “I cannot bear the Samelia flashbacks- they just look awful.”

        Watching the season in real time, I was convinced the Amelia scenes were fake or a dream due to the lighting etc. I guess they were trying to show that Sam was looking at those memories through rose colored glasses?

        For gritty in the later seasons we had Purgatory. I could ahve ahd a whole season with Benny and Dean in Purgatory and Sam in real life trying to get Dean out. Bah humbug

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