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The Expendable Women of ‘Supernatural’

‘Supernatural’ Season 11 has done wonders to improve on over a decade of show history, but it’s essentially gone backwards with it’s sexist treatment of women.

Supernatural has a largely female fanbase. This isn’t a revelation of any kind and it’s not meant to be. The show definitely capitalizes on the eye-candy of the series regulars. It’s a point of pride, really. As an avid viewer from around Season Nine or so, one of the biggest draws is watching Sam and Dean save the world over and over again. We came for the good-looking guys but stayed for the sometimes fun but mostly emotionally damaging character arcs!

And it’s been a wild ride for over a decade. But here’s the thing: for a show that’s been on for just over ten years, a show that made it through the Writer’s Strike (where so many failed) there is one problem that the Winchester bros have yet to fix. The way Supernatural treats women.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a show to task for the way it handles it’s female characters. I called out Steven Moffat‘s writing choices on that very issue some months ago during Maisie Williams’ guest arc on Doctor Who. Speaking of Maisie, you can bet I’ll handle Game of Thrones for the same reasons as well, when the time comes (and after Season Five’s deplorable display I have no doubt that will be a necessity). Unfortunately for Supernatural, I’ve lost my patience and so here we we are once again questioning why we can’t have nice things?

Generally with any hiatus throughout this season I’ve tried to come up with some fun ways to deal with the break. But with another one upon us so soon after the mid-season premiere, I’m not feeling all that comical. It’s not entirely because I’m upset we’re left waiting, but more in-line with the fact that I can’t ignore what’s become a glaring problem.

Mark Sheppard as Crowley in Supernatural Photo: CW Gif: mooseleys vai Tumblr

The women on this show are not just expendable they’re outright sacrificed. I could go back to the early days of the show when it was just about two brothers driving around the country keeping the family business alive: “Saving People, hunting things.” But I don’t need to. My issue isn’t with the way Jo, Anna, Meg or Ruby were handled. They had long arcs. Perhaps not long enough, but up until recently Ruby had the most episodes of a female character and that’s quite a feat for a cast that largely relies on it’s frequent and often familiar guest stars. Even more inspiring is the fact that Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) has been around since the early days of the show and she has yet to hit that mark. So I don’t need to go beyond something that seemed to start during Season Ten’s final episodes.

Felicia Day as Charlie Bradbury in Supernatural (8×20) Photo: CW Gif: yelloweyedcrowley via Tumblr

Maybe this is an extremely delayed reaction to Charlie’s (Felicia Day) unforeseen and frankly unfair death last year. Which is not an uncalled for matter. If for no other reason because it was done for the shock and gore value. It didn’t even emotionally resonate as well as it should have with Sam and Dean. I’m extremely anti-fridging (and the overuse of the word man-pain) but Charlie’s death benefited no one. The series went a step further by getting rid of one of the best, most well-liked female characters and pulling the audience out of the Season Ten finale’s big win against Death and the subsequent unleashing of The Darkness. And to the best of my knowledge Charlie has been mentioned a grand total of once this season, and that mention came by Rowena. Who coincidentally is also recently deceased and also, probably didn’t deserve it.

In the latest episode recap I made an offhand joke about creating an “In Memoriam” for the “Female Character of the Week” and it’s still an idea I’m strongly considering but not before the end of the season, because with a full order of 23 episodes there are sure to be more to add to the list. So for now, what’s become my weekly rants on the issue, will have to suffice.

Weronika Rosati Delphine in Supernatural Photo: CW Gif: marilynmay via Tumblr

That’s not to say there haven’t been episodes to compensate. Two episodes in the second half of Season 11 get that honor, which I suppose is a lot. But it’s hard to appreciate the idea of Women of Letters and Wayward Daughters when there have also been so many strong and immediately admirable women who have been introduced only to be sacrificed for the greater good (Ambriel, Delphine and Simmons just to name a few).

It’s a downright supernatural (if you’ll excuse the pun) phenomenon in the current TV climate. Especially with shows like Jessica Jones, Agent Carter and Orphan Black who all make it look downright effortless. Those shows all exist in a similar genre and are much younger so it’s odd that after so much success and bold moments of pure fan service that the writers can’t find a more seamless way to effectively prevent themselves from inevitably harming women in nearly ever episode this season.

Rowena, in particular seemed like a swift and unnecessary casualty at the end of the mid-season premiere. However, it doesn’t get any more meta than Ambriel who talked about her own expendability (and was essentially a catalyst in Cas’ decision to let Lucifer use his vessel). But moments like that just aren’t enough.

Misha Collins & Valerie Tian as Castiel & Ambriel in Supernatural Photo: CW Gif: ohmysupernatural via Tumblr

They’re also no longer funny. What’s worse is Amara was introduced in direct relation to a weird connection to Dean and I find her extremely dislikable when she should be really interesting. The chemistry isn’t working, mostly because the link existed through Amara’s rapid aging but it feels forced. It’s also getting to a point that I feel obligated to appreciate her but at the same time that’s literally futile since the entire through-way plot is about stopping her.

 

Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester in Supernatural Photo: CW Gif: timetraveldean via Tumblr

Is it much less an issue of when will we get a female character who’s death isn’t eventually used as a means to end and more of something to ponder what we need to do to get that? Why is it that male eye-candy has to exist at the expense of the females in that universe?

Supernatural will return Wednesday March 23 at 9/8c on The CW. Be sure to tune in!

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