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Design

May 21, 2012

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.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2012 10:59 am

    OK, I’m intrigued. Something for next winter’s treadmill runs, if not before.

  2. May 21, 2012 11:17 am

    I never even considered this show because I thought it was more paranormal junk. It sounds like it gives you a lot to think about.

    • May 22, 2012 7:41 am

      That was pretty much my reaction, too, before my daughter started showing me selected episodes. In the first season, there are a couple of episodes that really are “paranormal junk”–there’s one about bugs in which it’s night for about 15 minutes because that’s how long the heroes can survive in the situation without it looking silly–but the writing improves throughout the first season and continues to improve in subsequent seasons.

  3. May 21, 2012 2:16 pm

    I probably will not ever watch this, mostly because I just don’t enjoy seeking out series shows to watch? but still, I like your insightful questions in the last few paras of this post. Your issue of free will and choice or waiting for a choice to be presented? Like pushing through a problem or relaxing to see if a solution will arise? (My last read asked this question!) ah, I just keep thinking up more questions.

    • May 22, 2012 7:48 am

      I think there’s a difference between relaxing to see if a solution will arise and waiting for someone (or something) else to present a solution.
      Whether God exists if he’s not around to help when things get tough, even at the end of the world, is a question the heroes keep wrestling with.
      It was a question at the back of our lives this year, with my daughter so far away that she had to do some things on her own for the first time. Now that she’s home, it’s clear she’s capable in lots of ways I couldn’t see before–whether that’s because she’s been dealing with everything on her own, or because I trust her to cope now.

  4. freshhell permalink
    May 21, 2012 2:41 pm

    That’s why I like reading certain horror novels though I’m interested in the genre, in general. Takes a good horror writer to hook me. But I like to see people conquer evil, in whatever form it takes.

    • May 22, 2012 7:51 am

      Oh yes. That is the joy of the show; they conquer evil in a satisfyingly basic way. When the way they conquer starts to get less basic, they trust it less. As they should.

  5. May 21, 2012 6:50 pm

    I’m with you, freshhell, I do like for good to triumph over evil usually after a long fight.

    • May 22, 2012 7:52 am

      And I like for “good” to continually examine its motives and decide what it’s fighting for.

  6. May 22, 2012 3:40 pm

    This does sound interesting — isn’t it amazing how much they grow up? Hard to even imagine it was possible, but then it is.

    • May 22, 2012 9:29 pm

      It is amazing. And wonderful, as you know–for instance, how wonderful to be repaid in kind for introducing her to all my my favorite fiction!

  7. May 24, 2012 9:40 pm

    This is on my TV-to-watch list. I’d have watched it sooner if it didn’t star Dean from Gilmore Girls WHO I HATE. And I just haven’t made up my mind to forgive him for playing that one part I didn’t like that one time. :p

    • May 24, 2012 10:49 pm

      Eleanor was just showing me how young “Dean” (aka Jensen Ackles) was on some show early in his career on a very amusing tumblr called “I spy a famous face.” Our favorite thing was a clip of him with Morena Baccarin for a pilot of a TV show with approximately the plot of The Lovely Bones. It was Dean with Sam’s hairdo talking to Inara from Firefly…(head explodes)

  8. May 24, 2012 11:00 pm

    Oh, I was so confused. Eleanor just explained that the character called “Sam” on Supernatural (aka Jared Padalecki) plays “Dean” on Gilmore Girls.

  9. June 1, 2012 11:25 am

    Hi, this comment probably should be elsewhere but wanted you to know I found a cool card to send you! It’s a tripych (did I spell that right?) amyway, thank you. Sending tomorrow.

  10. June 1, 2012 11:26 am

    Triptych. ANyway…

    • June 1, 2012 11:43 am

      Interesting how electronic correspondence can lead to paper correspondence…

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