On Oct. 7, Supernatural will begin its 11th season. Not many TV series have such longevity. What’s Supernatural’s secret?
To begin with, it’s one of the best shows on TV. It’s also, at its heart, about family.
On its surface, the show is about brothers Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) hunting various things “that go bump in the night.” However, the emphasis is on the fact these are brothers who watch out for each other as much as they save people while hunting things. Each has done things and “made deals” on behalf of the other, which haven’t always worked out for the best.
For example, when Sam was killed near the end of season two, Dean sold his soul to bring him back. He was consigned to Hell a year later and spent forty subjective years there (about four months on Earth) before the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) rescued him. Dean’s time in Hell set in motion a series of events that culminated with Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) escaping from his cage.
At the end of season five, Sam put Lucifer back in his cage, but a lot of bad things occurred in the interim. And would subsequently happen via a civil war in Heaven and other unintended consequences.
Dean understandably didn’t want to lose his brother, but didn’t consider the long term consequences of his decision.
In season eight, Sam undertook a series of trials to close the gates of Hell. When Dean learned the trials were fatal to the person undertaking them, he stopped Sam just as he was about to finish the final one, curing the self-proclaimed King of Hell, the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard). But Sam was still on the verge of death; so, in season nine, Dean tricked him into saying yes to being possessed by an angel (Tahmoh Penikett), who would heal him from within (unlike demons, angels must have permission to use humans as vessels).
This angel presented himself as Ezekiel, a friend of Castiel’s, but was really Gadreel, who’d failed to keep Lucifer from a certain garden and had been imprisoned for millennia.
Yes, Gadreel kept his promise and healed Sam, but he also smote the prophet Kevin Tran (Osric Chau), an ally of the Winchesters.
Sam eventually drove Gadreel out, but was incensed that Dean— once again— took matters into his own hands. They had a confrontation in the season nine episode “Sharp Teeth.”
Sam: “I can’t trust you.”
Dean: “We are family.”
Sam: “You say that like it’s some kind of cure-all, like it can change the fact that everything that has ever gone wrong has been because we’re family.”
In the following episode, “The Purge”, the conversation continued:
Dean: “I may not think things all the way through, but what I do, I do because it’s the right thing. I’d do it again.”
Sam said that’s the problem and that Dean thinks he’s doing more good than bad. He pointed out that Kevin is dead, Crowley is in the wind and they’re no closer to resolving the current crisis
Sam: “Please tell me, what is the up side is of me being alive?”
Sam, who said he was ready to die, added that Dean saved him for himself, because he didn’t want to be alone.
Dean not thinking things through caused major problems in seasons nine and ten. In season nine, he took on the mark of Cain in order to kill the powerful demon Abaddon (Alaina Huffman), but was too impatient to listen to Cain (Timothy Omundson) when he tried to warn him about the consequences.
Those consequences include being resurrected as a demon if you’re killed (which Dean was at the end of season nine) and the mark (combined with the first blade) making its wearer want to kill. Even Cain, who resisted the mark’s influence for centuries, succumbed. And that was after he’d transferred the mark to Dean.
Dean was eventually cured of being a demon, but throughout season ten, he still did many monstrous things.
Cain received the mark from Lucifer, who’d been talking to Abel. Cain offered a deal: Abel’s soul in Heaven for his own in Hell. Lucifer accepted.
In season ten, Dean— who got rid of the mark in the season finale— learned that it acts as a lock of sorts, to keep out the Darkness that existed before the dawn of time and that God first gave it to Lucifer. It’s implied that the mark’s influence played a role in Lucifer’s rebellion.
Supernatural also explores other family dynamics, including the mother-daughter hunter team of hunters Ellen and Jo Harvelle (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal); Crowley and his mother, Rowena (Ruth Connell) and the sibling archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Lucifer.
In the season 10 episode “Inside Man”, Dean talked to Crowley about family:
Dean: “Why do you let Mommy Dearest tie you into knots?”
Crowley: “Because we’re family; we’re blood.”
Dean: “That’s not the same thing. A wise man [the boys’ surrogate father, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver)] once told me family don’t end in blood. But it doesn’t start there, either. Family cares about you, not what you can do for them. Family’s there, for the good, the bad, all of it. They’ve got your back. Even when it hurts. That’s family. That sound like your mother?
In season five, Lucifer worked to bring about the apocalypse via a confrontation with Michael that would lay waste to the world. In “Hammer of the Gods”, Gabriel (Richard Speight, Jr.), who so hated the infighting among his brothers that he ran away and hid for millennia, decided to take a stand on behalf of humanity. He confronted Lucifer.
Gabriel: “Boo hoo. Daddy was mean to me, so I’m going to smash up all his toys.”
Lucifer: “Watch your tone.”
Gabriel: “Play the victim all you want, but you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best. More than Michael. More than me. Then he brought the new baby home and you couldn’t handle it. So all this is just a great big temper tantrum. Time to grow up.”
Sam and Dean, the angels argue, are the true vessels for Lucifer and Michael, respectively. Sam said “yes” to Lucifer as part of a dangerous gamble to get him back in his cage, but Dean refused to say yes to Michael, forcing the archangel to use the boys’ half-brother, Adam (Jake Abel) as a substitute.
In the season five finale, “Swan Song”, Lucifer and Michael faced off, with Lucifer saying he can’t see the point of their fighting.
Lucifer: “We’re going to kill each other. And for what? One of Dad’s tests. We don’t even know the answer.”
He then suggests that they “walk off the chessboard.
Michael refuses, saying he’s a good son.
Michael: “You haven’t changed a bit, little brother. Always blaming everybody but yourself. We were together. We were happy. But you betrayed me- all of us. And you made our father leave.”
Lucifer: “Nobody makes Dad do anything. He is doing this to us.”
Supernatural also asks such questions as why a supposedly loving God doesn’t do anything.
In the season four episode “Are You There, God? It’s me, Dean Winchester”, the demon Lilith forced the ghosts of people Sam, Dean and Bobby failed to save to try to kill them. Dean said incidents like that are why he “can’t get behind God.”
Dean: “If he doesn’t exist, fine. Bad crap happens to good people. That’s how it is. No rhyme or reason. Just random, horrible evil. I get it. Okay. I can roll with that. But if he is out there, what’s wrong with him? Where the hell is he while all these decent people are getting torn to shreds? How does he live with himself, you know? Why doesn’t he help?”
Bobby: “I ain’t touching this one with a 10 foot pole.”
Even some of the angels have given up on God. In the season five episode “Free to be You and Me”, Dean and Castiel confronted Raphael (Demore Barnes) regarding God. Castiel asked where God is and Raphael replied that he’s dead.
In response to Castiel’s contention that Raphael is lying, the other angel reminded him of the 20th century.
Raphael: “Think the 21st is going any better? Do you think God would have let any of that happen if he were alive?”
When Dean made a wisecrack and Raphael responded with “Careful. That’s my father you’re talking about, boy”, Dean had a retort of his own:
Dean: “Yeah, who would be so proud to know that his sons started the frigging apocalypse.”
Raphael: “Who ran off and disappeared. Who left no instructions. And a world to run.”
Raphael said Dean’s living in a Godless universe.
Dean: “And? What? You and the other kids just decided to throw an apocalypse while he’s gone?”
Raphael replied that they’re tired and that they just want paradise.
Raphael smote Castiel at the end of season four. When Castiel asked who brought him back if God is dead, Raphael suggested that Lucifer raised him, as he needs all the rebellious angels he can find. Castiel’s response was an emphatic “no.”
God’s refusal to directly intervene reminds me of a storyline in Fallen Angel by Peter David. In issue 5 of the IDW run of that series, the titular character, Liandra, a former angel, tells her son Jude, a priest, that God, having created his crowning achievement, wants to end his existence. But he can’t, because humanity won’t let him go. They keeps praying to him and asking for things, “like adult children hitting Dad up for money.”
It’s strongly implied that the prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), is actually God, though Sam and Dean are not aware of this and believe Chuck to be dead.
One of the ghosts sent after Sam and Dean was Meg Masters (Nicki Aycox), who was possessed by a demon in season one. She confronted Dean:
Meg: “Nice to finally talk to you when I’m not, you know, choking on my own blood.”
She describes herself as just a college girl— “Sorry. Was”— who became a prisoner in her own head.
Meg: “I was trapped in there, screaming at you, ‘just help me, please.’ You’re supposed to help people, Dean. Why didn’t you help me?”
As she starts beating him, Meg’s ghost asks, “did you ever think there was a girl in here? No. You just charged in, slashing and burning.”
She also blames Dean for her sister’s subsequent suicide.
Meg: “Fifty words of Latin a little sooner and I’d still be alive. My baby sister would still be alive. That blood is on your hands, Dean.”
The “Meg” demon returned once in season two— possessing Sam and going on a killing spree— before being exorcised again. She returned in season five in a new meat suit (Rachel Miner) and caused the deaths of Ellen and Jo Harvelle. Despite these facts, Sam and Dean allied themselves with “Meg” in seasons six (against Crowley), seven (against the Leviathan) and eight (against Crowley, again).
Theirs was an uneasy alliance, as indicated by this exchange in the season eight episode “Goodbye Stranger”:
“Meg”: “I took how many bullets for you guys and you didn’t even look for me?”
Sam: “No disrespect, but you haven’t exactly been the most trustworthy person in our lives, Meg.”
In that same episode, “Meg” sacrificed herself for the Winchesters.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the brothers’ alliances with “Meg.” I’d liked to have seen her fate somehow left to the ghost of Meg Masters. That would have been justice of a sort.
It’s not all doom and gloom in Supernatural, however. The show has its lighter moments. In the season six episode “The French Mistake”, Castiel sent Sam and Dean to another dimension to protect them from Raphael. In this other dimension (AKA our universe) they were known as Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, actors who played characters named Sam and Dean Winchester. Dean’s reaction at seeing a clip of Jensen Ackles in a soap opera was, as they say, worth the price of admission.
In the season nine episode “First Born”, Crowley crosses himself when he sees Cain’s mark.
“Really? Now?” Dean asks.
One of the most enjoyable bits of Supernatural-related fun is a YouTube parody done by the Hillywood Show— produced by sisters Hilly and Hannah Hindi— this past spring. You’ve probably seen it— it’s had more than six million views— but in the unlikely event that you haven’t, you can watch it here:
The parody, with Hilly playing Dean and Hannah (who also directed) playing Castiel, focuses mostly on events of seasons nine and ten, but references events throughout the series.
It also features cameos by members of the actual cast.
The sisters have done other parodies, including a Doctor Who one with Hilly as the (tenth) Doctor. In fact, in a Q & A session they posted on YouTube earlier this summer, they addressed whether they’d want to have the TARDIS or Sam and Dean’s 1967 Impala.
The correct answer, of course, is The TARDIS. Then just fix the chameleon circuit so that it looks like the Impala. That way, you get two for the price of one.
Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.
Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.