(Supernatural season 9 poster. Photo courtesy the CW.)
Supernatural, now in its ninth season, is one of the best shows on TV. At its core, this excellent character-driven series, which airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW, is about family. Brothers Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) watch out for each other as much as they save people while hunting “things that go bump in the night.”
During the eighth season, Sam undertook three Herculean trials that when completed would lock all demons inside Hell forever.
Meanwhile, the angel Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), the “scribe of God”, convinced the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) to undertake a set of trials which Metatron said would lock the angels in Heaven. He said this would A) prevent the ongoing angelic civil wars from spilling over onto Earth and B) force the angels to begin peace talks.
Had Supernatural ended last year, closing off both Hell and Heaven would have been a good way to conclude the series, because— Castiel being one of the few exceptions— angels aren’t much better than demons. While demons (who were once human) possess people against their wills, angels need their intended vessels to agree. But they aren’t above playing dirty to achieve their aims.
Of course, this being Supernatural, there’s always a catch. Completing the trials to close Hell is fatal. So Dean stopped Sam from finishing the final trial— curing the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard), the self-proclaimed King of Hell. He argued that he and Sam still had an advantage over demons, given all they’d learned.
And Castiel discovered, too late, that Metatron had lied. Those trials expelled the angels from Heaven. Metatron resented that he’d been forced to flee Heaven after God left because the archangels wanted to take over and needed Metatron’s knowledge to do so.
Season nine has seen the fallout of these events. With Crowley still a prisoner of the Winchesters, the demon Abaddon (Alaina Huffman) seized control of Hell. Meanwhile, thousands of angels were stranded on Earth, many blaming the Winchesters and Castiel for their predicament.
And though Sam didn’t complete the third trial, he was near death. Dean wouldn’t accept that; so when an angel named Ezekiel (Tahmoh Penikett) said he could fix Sam, Dean tricked Sam into saying yes to being Ezekiel’s vessel. Sam remained unaware of the angel’s presence, however.
But like I said, there’s always a catch. “Ezekiel” was an imposter. His real name was Gadreel and he’d been in prison in Heaven for several millennia, released only because of Metatron’s actions.
Seems Gadreel had failed to keep Lucifer from a certain garden. Either Lucifer tricked Gadreel into letting him in or he slipped past, somehow. Either way, Gadreel engenders disdain. Castiel blamed him for all the problems in the universe and Crowley called him “the original chump.”
Ironically, Sam also served as Lucifer’s vessel in season five.
Sam, since made aware of Gadreel’s presence, expelled the angel with help from Crowley (in return for Crowley’s freedom). But not before Gadreel had teamed with Metatron, who found being the only angel in Heaven boring. Metatron was willing to let select angels back in. With himself in charge, of course.
Metatron offered to make Gadreel his second-in-command. In exchange for Gadreel carrying out certain tasks. Starting with the murder of the prophet Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) a friend and ally of the Winchesters. This action has the brothers— who are at loggerheads over Dean’s having tricked Sam into saying “yes”— gunning for Gadreel. Dean, especially, is determined to kill him.
(The angel Gadreel smites Kevin Tran. Photo courtesy the CW.)
Had Gadreel not killed Kevin and betrayed the Winchesters, Dean might have given him a fair shake. In fact, both Dean and Sam would probably have sympathized with Gadreel’s mistake, given that they were inadvertently responsible for releasing Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) from his cage. Sam later locked him up again (along with the archangel Michael (Jake Abel)).
As an unintended consequence, civil war broke out in Heaven and Castiel unwittingly freed the Leviathan from Purgatory.
As I said, Supernatural is, at its heart, about family. Though decisions Sam and Dean make on behalf of family don’t always work out for the best. As Sam recently said to Dean, everything that’s gone wrong between them is because they’re family.
When Sam was killed in season two, Dean sold his soul to a crossroads demon in exchange for bringing Sam back. Dean went to Hell at the end of season three and was subsequently rescued by Castiel (after spending 40 subjective years there), but not before breaking under torture and agreeing to torture other souls. This opened the first of the seals that needed to be broken to free Lucifer.
Sam, in turn, was tricked into breaking the final seal by killing the demon Lilith. Had Dean accepted Sam’s death in season two, Lucifer might never have been freed.
Yes, Sam put Lucifer back in the cage, but a lot of bad things happened in the interim. Not least of which were the deaths of fellow hunters Ellen and Jo Harvelle (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal).
And later, Leviathan leader Dick Roman (James Patrick Stuart) killed the Winchester’s surrogate father figure Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver).
At the start of season nine, Sam was more than ready to move on and sought assurances from Death (Julian Richings) that he’d stay dead. However, Dean and Gadreel intervened at the last moment. For Dean’s sake, not Sam’s. As Sam said in the episode “The Purge”, “You didn’t save me for me. You did it for you.”
(Sam becomes “Ezekiel’s” vessel while Death looks on. Photo courtesy the CW.)
Dean believes he did the right thing. Just as Cain (Timothy Omundson) believed he did right by Abel. In the episode “First Born”, Cain tells Dean that Lucifer, not God, was speaking to Abel and trying to corrupt him. Cain offered himself to Lucifer in exchange for Abel’s soul in Heaven. Lucifer agreed, if Cain dispatched Abel himself. Cain, now retired, became a powerful Knight of Hell. One who terrifies Crowley.
Cain has since transferred his mark to Dean, so that Dean may use the First Blade to kill Abaddon, the only other surviving Knight.
Once Crowley finds it in the ocean somewhere. Crowley, of course, also wants Abaddon dead.
Cain also made Dean promise to kill him afterwards.
And he tried to warn Dean about the consequences of taking on the mark, but the impatient Dean wouldn’t listen.
He probably should have.
Dean learned in season five that he and Sam are descendants of Cain and Abel. Of course, for the Winchester brothers to be descended from both, it means some great, great, etc. grandchild of Cain had a child with his or her distant cousin, a great, great etc. grandchild of Abel and this child was a forebear of either John or Mary Winchester.
(Cain chats with Dean. Photo courtesy the CW.)
While beings from Judeo-Christian mythology play a prominent role (especially since season four when angels were introduced), Sam and Dean have encountered deities from other pantheons, including the Norse Vanir and Odin; the Slavic god Leshi; the Egyptian god Osiris; the Hindu gods Ganesh and Kali; and the Roman goddess Vesta.
One of Supernatural’s strengths is that it not only tells good dramatic stories, but also combines urban legends, ghost stories, fables and mythology.
Several moments of humor abound throughout the series, too. In “First Born”, for example, Crowley crosses himself when he sees Cain’s mark.
“Really? Now?” Dean asks him.
Missed (so far) Supernatural opportunity: Given Sam and Dean’s last name and their chosen occupation, it’s odd that no one has so much as mentioned the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating