A Case of Supernatural

(Imported from: [link])

Issue: In Supernatural season 8 episodes 1 and 2, Asian American women used as supporting characters are reduced to stereotypes and serve as plot devices to progress the main storyline centered on white men.

Prosecution: In the season premiere, Channing, Kevin the Prophet of God’s girlfriend, is reintroduced as having moved on to college, but there’s a demon in her.  When Kevin and the Winchester brothers find her with Crowley the King of Hell, Crowley lets her speak.  Kevin says to her, “You’re being possessed by a demon and you’re going to your safety school.”  She reacts with a mere appalled “What?!?!” before the demon takes control of her again.  As Kevin and the Winchesters are making their escape, Crowley tells the demon to get a new meat suit, and then snaps poor un-possessed Channing’s neck right where Kevin can see his girlfriend die.

In the next episode, embarrassingly titled “What’s Up, Tiger Mommy,” we are reintroduced to Kevin’s mother, which is just that.  She’s a fierce woman, asserting herself and getting her way when she convinces the boys to let her join them in their quest to find the Word of God instead of hiding somewhere safe.  When a shop owner refuses to spill information about the Word’s whereabouts, she cunningly threatens to tell the police about the fact that his car was stolen.  When in a turn of events Kevin, the only person able to read the Word, is being auctioned off with it, his mother gives her soul to save him.  (She doesn’t go through with it, though… It’s complicated.)

Channing doesn’t go through any character development whatsoever.  She only shows up in two episodes, and is killed off in the second one.  Her simple “What?” when Kevin speaks to her may as well be just as much a reaction to the fact that she didn’t get into her school of choice as it is to the fact that she’s being possessed.  She’s clearly very concerned with her education, as any Asian of the model minority would be.  As for Kevin’s mother, she is clearly the stereotypical Asian mother.  It’s even hinted at in the title of the episode.

Defense: After Channing dies, Kevin is fueled with anger towards Crowley, and he finally realizes that he is now a big player in this high-stakes game, he’s already lost someone he loved.  Kevin’s mother is a portrayal of any mother who has an intense love for her child.  It didn’t matter whether she was Asian or not.  When she offered her soul, I was literally about to tear up, I really did forget for a moment what the episode was doing with stereotypes up until that point.

Supernatural, being at times as much a comedy series as it is a horror drama, has a history of poking fun at things, sometimes horror movie conventions (“Monster Movie”), sometimes itself (“The French Mistake”).  This time, the thing being parodied is the stereotype of Asian American mothers as being Tiger Mommys.  They’ve already cast Osric Chau, an Asian American, for the role of the Prophet, so why not have some fun with it?  A lot of episodes start out silly before they turn serious, and this episode is one of them.

Supernatural also has a history of, or at least is wrongfully notorious for, treating its female characters very poorly.  Almost every female character who has ever been important to the Winchesters has been killed off.  So when the writers saw a chance to kill of Kevin’s girlfriend to further the plot, it probably just seemed like the most natural thing to do.  It’s not that they have anything against Asian women, they just like killing off important women in general.  (I probably shouldn’t be using sarcasm online where there’s no inflection…)

Let’s take a closer look at Kevin.  He goes through some character development when his girlfriend dies.  But that’s not the only development he goes through in that one episode.  In flashbacks, we see how he cleverly and courageously uses the Word of God to escape from Crowley and his demon henchmen.  Afterwards, it’s revealed that he went into hiding for a good whole year or so without being spotted by the King of Hell.  This is not the same Kevin we met back in Season 7 who was always about to poo his pants.  This guy knows what he’s doing, is self-sufficient, and can defend himself in times of trouble.  And he has a cool new haircut so he doesn’t look like a wimp.

Verdict: Not Guilty.
If killing off Channing and temporarily portraying Kevin’s mother as the stereotype is necessary to give Kevin further character development, then so be it.  It’s already obvious that the role of the Prophet just as well could’ve been given to a non-Asian actor.  It’s like the directors found the best guy for the role, but he just happened to be Asian, so they wrote that in.  We talked in class about how in Better Luck Tomorrow Stephanie is just a pawn in a game played by men, but that was kind of alright because the movie was doing so much already to break the stereotypes for Asian American men.  It’s the same thing here.  The season is far from over and, even though the show has treated Asian American women kind of poorly, on the other end, Kevin’s already developed into an intriguing three-dimensional character.  We can only wait and see what Kevin’s mother, the remaining Asian American female character, goes through later in the season, but we can expect Kevin to continue to be an interesting, developing character and play a big role in saving the world.

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