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25 November 2006 @ 05:12 pm
Supernatural University: The Personification of Good and Evil  

In an earlier blog entry, I analyzed the Winchester boys’ differing perceptions of Good and Evil. This time, I’m looking at the show as a whole to analyze how and why good and evil are personified in the series. We’ve seen a lot of evil-doing supernatural forces, from angry spirits up to and including demons; we’ve seen essentially neutral forces, including Reapers; but by my count, we’ve seen only one force who counted as a positive good: the spirit of the boys’ mother, Mary. Why the imbalance? Are the boys ever going to meet angels opposing the demons walking among us? Why, or why not? And how the heck did Mary even appear as a spirit, given that the lore in the show holds that burning a body lays its spirit to rest?

 

Welcome to another seminar at Supernatural University! Only the real professor, whose name is Kripke, actually knows the answers to these questions, but since he’s out of the room, I’ll pretend to be his T.A. (such audacity!) and offer my theories and rationale, and open the floor to discussion.

 

My thesis this time has several parts, but the key element is this: I postulate that the show considers the natural order of things, in and of itself, to be inherently good, such that anything that disrupts that natural order tends toward evil. And since the natural order of things, the way things should be, already stands on its own as the established and proper order of good, I would argue that we’re unlikely to see supernatural forces (i.e., angels) attempting to influence it further in that direction. Instead, what we see are the forces of evil trying to create chaos and disorder out of what properly should be in harmony. The natural order already includes its own defenders: both ordinary humans living ordinary lives, and hunters who’ve become aware of the active existence of evil and seek to oppose it.

 

Whether my concept holds or not, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen the Winchester brothers constantly confronting evil during the episodes we’ve seen thus far. Their hunting strategy up to this point was designed to target things that departed from the norm in negative ways, particularly those involving untimely, unexplained deaths and disappearances. That meant that they were looking for evil, for things disrupting the natural order, and they found it. Most often, the evil was supernatural: angry, vengeful spirits (the pilot. Dead in the Water, Bloody Mary, Route 666, to name just a few); the occasional unnatural life form (Wendigo, Something Wicked, Everybody Loves a Clown, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things); a pagan deity (Scarecrow); and out-and-out demons and demonic possession (Phantom Traveler, Shadow, Salvation, Devil’s Trap). Sometimes, the evil was human (Faith, Nightmare, The Benders, Simon Said, The Usual Suspects).

 

Only once so far did one of the brothers actively seek to hunt out something positive, something they would deem “good:”  Sam quested for a miracle to save Dean’s life in Faith. But if the natural order of things is inherently good and attempting to disrupt that natural order is evil, then it would not be surprising that the “miracle” Sam found was evil at its core. The natural order of things would have seen Dean die of heart failure as a result of his accidental electrocution. Extending Dean’s life, however good it may have seemed to Sam, was a perversion of the natural order, and the means that accomplished it turned out to be evil. I found it interesting that John didn’t even try to find a “good” alternative to accomplish the same end in In My Time of Dying, but turned instead directly to making a deal with The Demon to save his son again. It appears to take evil to cheat, to contravene the natural order.

 

What does this say about the children like Sam, possessed of gifts beyond the norm, and about whether the brothers might find something supernatural that isn’t evil, but good?

 

Concerning the first issue, much depends on the nature of the abilities of Sam and the other children like him. Many fans have debated the idea of these children actually being the offspring of demons, or possibly angels, or that their abilities were bestowed on them by demons (or angels). My thesis would be different: that these children and their gifts are human, not outside the natural order of things. We humans use only a fraction of our brain capacity; I could picture the development of what we would term psychic abilities as a natural potential next evolutionary step. If those abilities are normal, then how they are used would determine whether they are good or evil. If it is the brief of demons to create chaos and misery and pervert the natural order of things, then an ideal way to go about it would be to attempt to seduce or control these children of power and ensure that their abilities would be used in the service of evil rather than to maintain the good. My belief, however, is that the choice rests with the children.

 

What about the brothers encountering something that is both supernatural and good? Within my thesis, it would be rare, if it happens at all, because something “supernatural” would, by definition, be outside the “natural” order, which was already predisposed toward good. From what we’ve been told so far, the natural order of things is for souls to move on when it is their time to go; human spirits that don’t, at least according to Tessa the Reaper in In My Time of Dying, eventually become angry spirits, even those, like Dean, who may have made the initial choice to remain out of concern for others. Most of the spirits we’ve seen in the series thus far have indeed been angry and doing evil. A few have been essentially neutral in their intent, attempting to warn of evil, not to perform it, such as the falsely accused father in the painting in Provenance and the death omen Claire in The Usual Suspects. Some neutral non-human spirits have simply been fulfilling their function, like the Reapers, although the first of those we met was being controlled to do evil.

 

But then, there was Mary Winchester. She was killed by The Demon, burned to nothing on the ceiling of her infant son’s nursery. Twenty-two years later, her flaming spirit reappeared to greet her sons, apologize to her youngest, and then sacrifice herself in order to free him from an evil poltergeist. Her appearance would seem to violate several tenets both of my thesis and of the standard lore of Supernatural. The lore would hold that a cremated body meant a spirit laid to rest, unless something else connected with the spirit remained to link it to the world, such as the truck in Route 666 or the doll in Provenance. The lore would suggest that Mary would have become an angry spirit, if there was anything that allowed her to stay connected to the world, but the woman we saw acted with love, not rage, and chose her own destruction to save her son, pitting herself against evil. Her appearance would suggest that it is possible for a good supernatural force to manifest, and that a good human, at least one destroyed directly by a supernatural evil, not simply dying in due course or killed by a human, may become a force that plays by different rules than the standard run of spirits.

 

As Supernatural posits the existence of demons and shows them acting directly in the world by possessing innocent humans, could there be angels in equally direct opposition whom we might encounter? Perhaps – but I think that, in Supernatural’s world, fighting and withstanding evil is the task of humans, that it is left to us to choose our cause and our ground, and that there won’t be angels who would direct the battle or save the day for us, even if we invited them freely to borrow our bodies and act through us even as the demons forcibly do. Ultimately, I come back to free will and personal responsibility being at the heart of what it means to be human, and what it means to be good. It doesn’t seem fair, especially not when it seems that we all have weaknesses of anger or fear that could open the door to possession by demons, but salvation by angels would cheapen the struggle and sacrifice of those purely human, and that’s not a choice I would make, if I were writing this show. Humans can aspire to be greater, can choose to pay the price of opposing evil, and that, to me, is the essence of good.


 
 
Current Music: "For the Love of God" by Steve Vai
 
 
 
ladymirth: !!!ladymirth on November 29th, 2007 04:09 am (UTC)
Great meta! Paid off, because it sounds like Kripke is on the same page. =D
bardicvoice: SU brothers by Cakehole_Catbardicvoice on November 30th, 2007 12:52 am (UTC)
Thank you, thank you! I was so delighted by his comments, I was ready to dance around the room!