Author as God? or, Kripke, We Don’t Need You to Explain Supernatural to Us
Last week’s Supernatural, called “Swan Song,” was an amazing season finale. In fact, it could have easilystood in as the series finale it had been intended to be until the show got renewed. It closed off the fifth season’s arc of battling the apocalypse, and it brought to the fore all the things fans loved about the show: the brothers, their love, the importance of family, and the central role of humanity and free will. In the climactic scene we see archangels Lucifer and Michael inhabiting the vessels of the two brothers Sam and Adam. The third brother, Dean, stands in for the human element he has always represented. And as it should be, human free will and love win out over angelic destiny. It’s an epic story and the dramatic bang of Sam overtaking Lucifer by remembering the last five seasons (and their entire lives) and pulling Michael into hell with him would have made a grandiose ending indeed.
That is to say it could have made a grandiose ending, except that the show has become notorious in what some would consider fan service and others might deem postmodern authorial intrusions. The acknowledgment of fans as they exist outside the series and the introduction of in-show interaction with fans has been cause for much debate this past year: some fans love these developments while others feel ridiculed and/or misrepresented, seeing Supernatural’s representation of fans as yet another indication of its quite problematic gender issues. The recent Transformative Works and Cultures’ special Supernatural issue addresses some of these conflicts. Given this context, the authorial in-show complaint that “the fans are always gonna bitch” is not too surprising.
Last season introduced author Chuck, who is both the writer of a Supernatural book series within the show and, it turns out, a prophet of the lord. The entire episode “Swan Song” is framed in his authorial voice over. Unlike film noir voice over, however, his is clearly external: we see him writing the story as he interprets it for us. Moreover, whereas in the beginning of the episode Chuck simply narrates the story (author, prophet, and possibly God of this world that he is), in the scenes after the apocalyptic battle he clearly moves in to explain the story to us. We move from Dean’s question “Are You God” to an image of Chuck in front of the computer screen, dressed in white and bearded. We’ve been told all season that God is on earth and doesn’t want to be found, and when Chuck finishes the story and types “The End,” he magically (God-like?) disappears.
Since the episode aired, fans have been debating whether Chuck (as Kripke’s stand-in) is meant to be God or not. I’m firmly in the camp that feels Kripke wrote Chuck as a stand-in and made himself author-as-God. Given that, it is the voice over explanation and interpretation that ultimately bother me most. We’ve questioned and undermined and complicated the concept of subversive readings and resistant audiences and yet, as a fan and as an academic, I do feel that much of my pleasure comes from interpreting and analyzing the text. I like active viewers/readers, and while I actually don’t think that authors are dead, I don’t think they should run after their texts telling us what they mean. A good text should show me its myriad meanings, and great texts tend to contain multitudes. I really wish Kripke—and many other creators who want to protect their texts from those fans that dare to read against the grain or, worse, go and take their “children” and create new stories (for an overview of the latest incarnation of this debate, see metafandom prowriting tag)—would give us, the viewers, the free will he so passionately proclaims and advocates in his swan song. But then fans may take that freedom anyway: Somewhere on the internet….