Joy of Sets: Supernatural

Dean and SamThis review comes with a disclaimer/health warning. I’m writing this having just watched eight seasons (that’s American, 22-episodes-per-season seasons) of Supernatural in less than six months (and the first five seasons were consumed in less than two months – I had to take a couple of months off to recover from what the Tumblr generation call ‘the feels’) . If I sound like a member of cult, that’s probably because to all intents and purposes, I am one.

I started watching something that was kinda X-Files meets Buffy with a (large) dash of daddy issues thrown in. By season five it became a show that will rip your heart out (if you’re human – if you’re a monster it will simply drive a stake through it).  

The basic premise has never changed, even as the camera has slowly drawn back to show us that what we thought was the whole story was just a piece of a bigger, as yet incomplete, puzzle.

impalaThat premise is two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, hunting and killing monsters. Like modern day cowboys they ride into small towns across America, albeit in Dean’s 67 Chevy Impala rather than on a horse. (The Impala is practically a character in its own right, just like the Tardis is. Also, the last time I wanted to own a TV car this badly was in the 80s and that one talked and jumped over lorries…)

If you had asked me in December 2013 if I enjoyed horror, I’d have given you a resounding “no”. 172 episodes of Supernatural later, I can’t be so unequivocal. Granted there are plenty of scenes where I have to look away, but luckily Supernatural wasn’t sold to me as horror, so I’ve taken the gore as the price I pay to travel with the Winchesters.

There’s a richness to the stories that bears comparison to some of the most iconic novels, films and TV shows. Stories are this show’s lifeblood. It starts by telling us stories based on stories (folklore like the Woman in White, wendigos, shapeshifters, a hookman, Native American curses) before shifting perspective and leaning so hard on the fourth wall, it has Winchester-shaped dents in it. When it’s done well (and it’s done beautifully here) I adore this sort of thing. Throw in a heap of jokes at the expense of the cast (“I call this one my Blue Steel” (Dean, having his mugshot taken – Jensen Ackles was a child model) to mentions of the Gilmore Girls (Jared Padalecki had a recurring role in the show), the writers (Eric Kripke has a dig at his own film Boogeyman) and the show itself (spoilers…) and you can see why I’m smitten.

And that’s before you get all the excellent pop culture references, the whole Luke/Han vibe that Dean and Sam have going on and enough sass to sink the Titanic (I’m not saying the boys sink the Titanic, but they totally sink the Titanic. Sort of.).

CastielAnd it’s not just the Winchesters who the writers send to hell and back before finding a way to hurt them (and us) a little bit more, but their ‘family’ of fellow hunters – not to mention Castiel, the gorgeous, dorky angel in a trenchcoat. The tears I’ve shed watching this show… I can’t tell you (I really, really can’t. Spoilers.)

I’ll be honest with you, there’s an argument for getting out after the season five finale. It’s the point at which the original story arc is complete and you can save yourself from some serious emotional pain further down the line. Also, the first five seasons are where the best writing is. However, seasons 6-8 aren’t dreadful, they boast the fabulous Sebastian Roché as Balthazar and they ensure we get to see a lot more of the superb Mark Sheppard as Crowley. Put it this way, as I sit jonesing for season 9 to be released on DVD, I regret nothing…

There is so much more to say, but it’s hard to say more without giving away things that are best enjoyed as surprises. Suffice to say, I can not recommend Supernatural highly enough. In fact, if I had to choose between my Supernatural boxed sets and my Doctor Who ones, I have to confess the Winchesters would be the ones protected inside a ring of salt, while the Doctor would be left to fight off the demons and vampires and shapeshifters and hellhounds. (Thank Ikea I don’t have to actually choose…)

Posted by Jo the Hat


1 Comment

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One response to “Joy of Sets: Supernatural

  1. thegirlfrommarz

    I am so glad you loved Supernatural so much after I banged on about how great it was! Pretty, pretty boys in a classic car driving around solving mysteries while listening to rock – what’s not to like? Except that, as you say, there’s so much more to it. Honestly, with the amount Sam and Dean have been through, I’d expect them to be locked in a padded room, rocking mutely back and forth. At its best, the show is smart, funny, moving, scary and emotionally devastating. The two leading actors, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, are criminally underrated – it’s not easy to pull off a performance with the kind of range they’re called on to display.

    I particularly like Seasons 3 (lots of great episodes, including the very funny Bad Day At Black Rock, Mystery Spot, and A Very Supernatural Christmas, the goriest Christmas episode you’ll ever see on any show, which will nevertheless make you wipe away a tear at the end) and 4 (despite the irritating demon blood plot – the addiction metaphor didn’t work in Buffy, doesn’t work here – and Replacement Ruby, who I don’t think is as nearly as good an actress as Original Flavour Ruby, there are big pluses are the introduction of Castiel, whom I adore – Misha Collins is not only fantastic in the role, but also hilarious on Twitter and spends his non-acting life saving the world – a real sense of approaching doom, and the episode The Monster At The End of This Book, which gleefully imagines what the Winchesters would make of the Supernatural fandom). I have to agree that there have been diminishing returns since the end of Season 5, and I no longer love it quite as much as I did (how many more times can I watch Sam and Dean fall out?), but I’m still looking forward to the return of S9 when Sky Living deign to show it.

    The show does indeed have MAJOR daddy issues, and has been rightly called out by fans (and even some of the cast – Misha Collins is on record as saying the show has problems with women) for its treatment of its female characters, who tend to end up dead sooner or later. Having said that, pretty much everyone on Supernatural ends up dead sooner or later.

    Demian at the much-missed Television Without Pity wrote some fantastic recaps of the show (warning: there are S9 recaps at the top of that link, so if you want to avoid spoilers scroll down fast), and was even given the dubious honour of having a Supernatural fan at a convention named after him. Well worth a read if you’re missing the show!