In January, home from college on break, Eleanor showed me some episodes of a TV show called Supernatural, which I was afraid to watch because I thought it would give me nightmares. Interest soon started winning out over fear, though, and we watched more episodes over her spring break in March. After that I was hooked, and began watching episodes by myself, even in the evenings, sitting in a darkening room with the screen on my lap and the pre-credit screams coming directly into my ears from earbuds.
The show has a five-season story arc, and so I spent some of the days preceding Eleanor’s return from college for the summer watching all but the last few episodes of the fifth season so that when she arrived, we could watch the last three episodes together. We saved the very last episode for after Walker’s voice recital on a beautifully warm and sunny Sunday afternoon—he sang “Soon It’s Gonna Rain”–which is one of my favorite songs from any musical, ever–and then “Singin’ in the Rain.” Two little girls came up to us afterwards and said, shyly, that “Horton” was their favorite (naming Walker by his part in the recent high school musical). We visited with the families of the other singers, picked up cookies and strawberries from the table at the reception, and came home to put lasagna in the oven and take care of the bunny outside before Eleanor and I descended the stairs into the dark cool of the recently renovated basement, where we keep our TV.
The season finale was, of course, not exactly final as most of the main characters die and are then brought back to life (this has happened at the end of more than one season). It’s not exactly necromancy, and it’s also not clear about whether it pays or not. For a show with a lot of moralizing (Annalee Newitz, in her i09 review, calls the two main characters “Team Free Will”) it asks more questions than it answers. The show’s researchers have done an eclectic job of picking from myths and legends, mostly from Judeo-Christian culture but occasionally with another country heard from.
Eleanor said that watching Supernatural this fall made reading Milton’s Paradise Lost in January even more interesting. I haven’t yet reread Paradise Lost in the wake of watching this show, but I did find myself thinking about Robert Frost’s sonnet “Design”:
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth –
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth –
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.
The way the octave begins with “I found” and the sestet follows with the idea that maybe it wasn’t the speaker’s discovery, but something left there for him to find encapsulates the way so many writers have explored the concept of free will—could be one, could be the other, but what might matter most is making the right choice next, not waiting for a choice to be revealed to you.
As most of you know, I am not a fan of horror movies, being easily appalled. But I can escape being appalled by not going to those kinds of movies. Usually I won’t watch those kinds of TV shows, either. But in Supernatural, what I like is the reassurance that people can continue to choose to fight against what they find appalling, rather than just stare at it, caught in a web of morbid fascination.
Sometimes it’s not enough to tell people that you’re appalled by something, or that it doesn’t pay. Some days you need to face your fears and be reminded of what you believe, why you get up on a Monday morning and do what you do. If “some things are just clear once you remember what you’ve read about them,” then part of the job is to continue to share the stories that shape you, in the hopes of spreading a little more of that clarity around.