'Supernatural': Castiel's absence and other hits and misses of Sera Gamble's final season

supernatural-season-7-jensen-ackles-jared-padalecki.jpg"Supernatural" has one of the most active online fanbases of any show we cover on Zap2it, so we've come to expect a wide range of opinions after any given episode. Now that Season 7 is over, we thought we'd take a look at the 23 episodes and discuss some thoughts on Sera Gamble's last season as showrunner. Please note that this article represents one fan's opinion, and we expect plenty of conflicting views. Discussion is welcome (and encouraged!) in the comments section below -- just make sure to keep it classy!

supernatural-misha-collins-exit.jpgCastiel's Exit: The season began on a controversial note, with Misha Collins' role being reduced to that of a special guest star after two seasons as a series regular. The choice to take the beloved Castiel down a dark road at the end of Season 6 was a bold one, particularly when he nearly destroyed Sam to create a diversion as he exacted his plan. With the angel storyline having gone stale as Castiel fought a civil war off-screen, Castiel's betrayal allowed him some human faults. Mirroring Sam's downfall in Season 4, it began with the best of intentions and escalated as Castiel grew reckless.

We expected some serious repercussions, particularly when it came to the friendship between Dean and Castiel. What we got was a one-episode scramble for redemption and a rather anticlimactic "death" as the Leviathan sank Castiel's body. While we knew we'd miss Collins, we appreciated, at the time, that producers had seen the story to its natural end. The loss of Castiel did provide an emotional arc for Dean as he dealt (or failed to deal) with the trust issues that go hand-in-hand with having one of your only friends break your little brother's brain.

In hindsight, though, we wish they'd kept Collins around -- if not as Castiel, then as a Leviathan. With the exception, perhaps, of James Patrick Stuart (also known as Dick Roman), none of the actors who played Leviathans were particularly memorable. Collins' brief portrayal of the monsters made our skin crawl, and having Castiel possessed by the Leviathan throughout the season would have made for higher emotional stakes that were lacking until Bobby's death.

supernatural-jim-beaver-deaths-door.jpgBobby's death: (You're welcome for that little segue.) In previous seasons, Sam and Dean have always been driven by revenge. Sure, they also want to save the world, but for the Winchesters, the more immediate motivator has been vengeance. Over the years, we've seen them avenge the death of their mother, the death of their father, Sam's death, Dean's death. Ever since Sam got his soul back in Season 6, though, there hasn't been a personal connection to their case, aside from their exhausting sense of responsibility.

Just as Dean finally began to vocalize his doubts about whether they should bother trying to save the world again, Bobby was shot in the head. Now, Dean had a reason to keep going -- he had to kill Dick Roman to avenge Bobby's demise. As much as we love Jim Beaver, the death was a positive turning point of the season, providing much-needed motivation and a reason for the fans to care about the story.

We wrote about our thoughts on his death in more detail here immediately after the stunning episode "Death's Door," which was arguably one of the best episodes of "Supernatural" ever. A few months later, after some not-so-subtle hints were dropped, Bobby returned as a ghost. We actually appreciated the way that the ghost mythology we've collected over the course of seven seasons came together with such a fan-favorite character.

We've grown accustomed to ghosts coming and going, so seeing the story through Bobby's eyes added some gravitas. Our only gripe with the Bobby-as-a-ghost storyline is that it progressed quite predictably, ending with him almost killing Sam -- but let's face it, that's just a regular Friday for Sam -- and ultimately, "crossing over" when Sam and Dean put him to rest. We'd have liked an unexpected twist somewhere in there, or, at the very least, to see angry spirit Bobby do some more lasting damage.

supernatural-season-7-sam-dean.jpgThe Sam-and-Dean of it all: Every "Supernatural" fan has their favorite aspect of the show, be it Castiel or the gore or the car or Jensen Ackles' freckles.

For us, the relationship between the Winchester brothers and its ebb and flow over the years is what keeps us tuning in (and staying in to watch on Friday nights). Season 7 began with the boys in a strong place in their relationship. With Sam's soul intact but his mind fractured, their battles were with outside forces, not with each other.

The most powerful point of the season for the Winchester brothers was in Episode 2, "Hello, Cruel World." In a beautifully directed, acted, and written sequence, Sam confused Dean with a hallucination of Lucifer and nearly shot him. By inflicting physical pain on his brother, Dean was able to drag him back from the edge. Yes, it's a dark concept, but it was a great way to highlight their unique influence on each other, and how much they've been through.

For the most part, their bond was strong throughout the season, aside from a blip involving "Amy Pond," ( Jewel Staite), a monster Sam had befriended as a teenager. After she was forced to kill humans to save her son's life, Sam decided to let her go -- but Dean, unbeknownst to Sam, killed her. When Sam found out, there was a brief rift between the boys.

The Amy story was a low point of the season, manufactured to add disingenuous stress to the relationship. (This was spotlighted when, after killing Amy because it was the right thing, Dean thoughtlessly let a couple of witches -- who had been murdering people for sport and attention -- off the hook.) Luckily, the divide didn't last too long, and in fact, Sam and Dean may have emerged even stronger after their separation. For the first time, we saw a season finale without many poignant (or traumatic) moments between the Winchesters, largely because their relationship had been stable for so long that neither of them needed reassurance of it.

supernatural-castiel-pull-finger.jpgCastiel's return: The highly anticipated return of Castiel was one of the most controversial episodes of the season, if our comments section is anything to go by.

Having him back in the mix reminded us of what we'd been missing all season. It cranked up the bromance with the revelation that Dean had been carrying his coat around all year, and finally brought about some redemption as Castiel absorbed Sam's mental breakdown. (We're not sure how that worked, but we know better than to use logic on this show.)

Most notably, though, the return of Castiel restored the balance between humor and angst. Cas' unique brand of obliviousness coupled with some new quirks, courtesy of a little brain damage, delivered some unexpected laughs: "Dude, on my car. He showed up naked. Covered in bees." Where Sam and Dean may have sunk into hopelessness and their future continues to look increasingly grim, Castiel may have some hope of a happy ending. We're just not entirely sure what that would look like.

supernatural-felicia-day-320.jpgNew characters: Though Season 7 wasn't the strongest the show has ever seen, it did introduce some of the best recurring (and potentially recurring) characters we've seen so far. Felicia Day's Charlie is the most memorable of those. After the fangirl character Becky went off the rails in "Season 7, Time For A Wedding" -- a bizarre, creepy episode that didn't fit with the tone of the season -- seeing a geek girl showcased in a positive, powerful light was a relief. Day's character was smart, brave, and relatable. "Supernatural" rarely includes gay characters, so the fact that Charlie is a lesbian was also a plus.

The season also introduced Garth (D.J. Qualls), a new kind of hunter -- one that actually has fun with the gig. As Dean's depression threatened to drown him, Garth served as a reminder for the audience that things could have gone a different way. Like Chuck or the Trickster before him, Garth signaled a silly (if not particularly deep) episode, and we look forward to seeing more of him in the future. Unfortunately, we're not sure we can say the same for Frank ( Kevin McNally), a tech-savvy, sharp-tongued surveillance expert who likely died at the hands of the Leviathans. It was fun while it lasted, Frank.

supernatural-jensen-ackles-season-7-finale-230.jpgA finale cliffhanger: After introducing Purgatory in Season 6, it was only natural that -- having explored Hell and Heaven -- at least one of our heroes would find his way to Limbo eventually.

When Castiel and Dean found themselves in Purgatory (note: don't stand too close to an exploding Leviathan), Sam was left to fend for himself on earth, where the rest of the Leviathan will be looking for some direction now that their "head" has been cut off.

Fans are divided over whether Sam and Dean's separation is a good thing, though Jared Padalecki looks forward to putting a little bit of physical distance between the brothers in Season 8. On our part, we're excited to see where Sam's priorities fall, and whether the time together in Purgatory heals or hurts Dean and Castiel's friendship.

We were spoiled by finales like "Swan Song" from Season 5, and it'd be hard for any season ender to live up to that epic conclusion to Eric Kripke's time with the show. Still, Gamble held her own until the very end, leaving us with a victory to celebrate as well as a new predicament to ponder over the summer months. Jeremy Carver has an embarrassment of opportunity when it comes to where he can take the show.

Drop a line in the comments section and let us know what you loved (and didn't love) about Season 7 -- and where you hope the new showrunner takes Season 8. "Supernatural" will return to The CW this October, on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST.
Photo/Video credit: The CW
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