“I wouldn’t do this without my brother. He’s had my back every step of the way…even when I let him down.”
For over a decade, the Winchester brothers have been battling demons, ghosts, vampires and other assorted monsters while putting their lives on the line trying to save the world over and over again. As its eleventh season nears the end, it’s time to appreciate North American television’s longest running sci-fi, fantasy or horror series and give the show the credit it deserves. The Gore 4 is talking about the one and only, Supernatural.
When Supernatural first aired in September of 2005, President Barack Obama was only in his first year – as a U.S. Senator, there was no iPhone yet, and The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones existed in literary forms only. And in the time since then, one of television’s most honored shows, Breaking Bad, has entirely come and gone. For younger fans of the show, they don’t even know of a television landscape where Supernatural did not exist. It’s the last remaining show from the old WB Network, and has now outlasted both Smallville and The X-Files, with no end in site, as it has been renewed for an incredible twelfth season by The CW (which renewed its entire lineup). It truly is a remarkable achievement, especially for a show that relies basically on two principle characters to carry the extensive, and bloody, workload. For those who have yet to watch this entertaining and frightening show (what the hell are you waiting for?), and for those legions of dedicated fans, grab yourself a burger and a beer and take a look at what makes Supernatural so great, and get caught up with the road so far.
The show begins and ends with its two leads, the Winchester brothers, Sam, played by Jared Padelecki, and Dean, played by Jensen Ackles. These two actors display a natural camaraderie unlike any other on television. Modeled by creator Eric Kripke after Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty from Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel, On the Road, Sam and Dean travel the country in search of, not jazz, friends, booze or drugs, but rather, all sorts of ghouls and other ghastly creatures that make a habit of killing people. They are hunters, like their father before them, and their ‘job’ is to save as many people as possible by killing as many of these monsters as possible. While they do much of their work on their own, they are aided occasionally by other hunters (dear ‘ol Bobby) and even otherworldly beings, like the trenchcoat wearing angel, Castiel (Misha Collins). Even a nemesis like the black-clad demon, Crowley (Mark Sheppard), may lend a hand when it turns out they have a common enemy, like in the current storyline (which we’ll get to later.)
Now, though Supernatural is a guy-centric show, there have been no shortage of strong, capable women who have helped, obstructed or outright tried to kill the Winchesters over the years. Some have had recurring roles, like Lauren Cohan (below left) (The Walking Dead), as the villainous thief, Bela, Katie Cassidy (Arrow), as demon, Ruby, and Alaina Huffman (below right) (Stargate: Universe), as the demon, Abaddon. Other actresses who have appeared on Supernatural include Julie Benz (Dexter, Defiance), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), Amy Acker (Angel, Person of Interest), Adrianne Palicki (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars), to name but a few.
Besides On the Road, Supernatural clearly draws inspiration from The X-Files, and shares a number of similarities with that classic sci-fi/horror series. Both use Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada as their location, as it serves to replicate the variety of landscapes for much of the U.S. Of course, there’s the fact that Mulder and Scully were F.B.I. agents, and Sam and Dean often pose as such, under a variety of creative names. Both teams investigate the paranormal, but while Mulder and Scully had to answer to their superiors, the Winchesters are on their own, and only have to answer to each other, and sometimes they don’t even do that, which leads to friction and even animosity and mistrust between the two. Both shows do a fantastic job of mixing up stand alone episodes with ones dealing with a greater mythology. In the case of The X-Files, that concerned the threat of an alien invasion, while on Supernatural, the big threat varies season to season, the current one being how to stop the entity known as “The Darkness.”
Supernatural has never shied away from the red stuff. It is one of the bloodiest and goriest shows on television, but not gratuitously so. But vampires will get staked, demons will get their heads lopped off, and there’s dismemberments, eviscerations and bodies exploding into a pool of guts, but it’s the nature of the job. However, not all is doom and gloom on the show. There’s a lot of great humor stemming from the characters and situations, which is a welcome relief amidst all the annihilation and potential Armageddon scenarios. While Sam is generally the more stoic of the two, Dean wisecracks his way through the darkest of situations and never met a burger, beer or babe he didn’t like. One of the most amusing running gags of the show is the variety of aliases the two use when posing as agents to investigate a case. Usually, they’ll take on the name of famous rockers, like Page and Plant, Allman and Betts or Geddy and Lee. In a season 2 episode where they investigate werewolf killings, they take on the monikers of Landis and Dante, who horror fans know are the directors of the classics An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, respectively. Rock and roll is integral to the show itself, as it begins each season finale with “The Road So Far” segment which catches viewers up on what has transpired over the coarse of the past year, to the accompaniment of Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son.” Check out this beautiful and moving rendition performed by a theatrical production of Sam and Dean’s adventures in the season 10 episode, entitled, “Fan Fiction.”
Dean is a huge fan of classic rock, listening to everything from AC/DC and Boston to Metallica and Van Halen, which usually emanates from the speakers of his beloved ’67 Chevy Impala. This classic American muscle car has become a character unto itself, nowhere more evident than in this season’s inventive episode, “Baby.”
Now, ‘Baby’ is Dean’s most prized possession, handed down to him by his father. It not only is the means of transportation for the brothers as they traverse the country tracking down the paranormal, it, or should we say, ‘she’, also serves as their home away from home, especially being that they don’t really have a home, staying in one fleabag hotel after another. In the aforementioned “Baby,” the entire episode is told from the perspective of the Impala, beginning with its birth on the assembly line, with all the action taking place either inside the car, or outside within view from the car. As Sam and Dean investigate what is known as a ‘Whisper,’ that feeds on hearts and blood, and which Dean so wants to call a ‘werepyre,’ Castiel advises, “silver will kill it, but you may want to decapitate it, just to be sure.” This results in a lopped off head residing in a cooler in the back seat. As Dean rocks out to Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” he notes, “time heals all wounds, especially good times.” It is a fun, gory, and creatively entertaining episode, and a break from the somewhat nihilistic cloud that permeates the season-long battle against Lucifer and The Darkness.
Another episode this season that leaned more on the humorous side was “Beyond the Mat,” which saw Sam and Dean earn a welcome respite themselves from their ultimate mission when they attend a wrestling tour and get to geek out when they meet one of their heroes. Although dead bodies are never far behind, the episode gave the brothers some much needed r & r while also drawing parallels between the life between the ropes and that of their own. Dean laments the life of a wrestler who has left his glory days behind – “You think about that. Town after town, putting your ass on the line for next to nothing. No money, no glory. Wow,” as Sam, follows with, “you realize you just, literally, described our jobs.” For these two, who, day in and day out, risk their lives to save others, it is often a thankless job, and one that doesn’t pay either. But it’s who they are, and Dean comes to the conclusion, “No matter how much it hurts, no matter how hard it gets, you gotta keep grinding. That’s how we’re going to win. We’re gonna save Cass, we’re gonna ice the Devil and we’re gonna shank the Darkness. And anyone that gets in our way? Well, God help them,” to which Sam replies, “Damn right!” As weary as they might be, Sam and Dean are committed to seeing this through, no matter the cost.
No question Sam and Dean have gone up against some formidable foes against insurmountable odds. But they really have their work cut out for them this season. Not only do they have to save their friend, the angel, Castiel, whose body has been taken over by Lucifer himself, they have to then return the Devil to his cage and throw away the key. On top of that, there is a new enemy, known as ‘the Darkness,’ aka, Amara, who threatens to remake the universe to her tastes. You see, she has come to “settle an old score, the oldest score.” Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), an angel with a grudge, lays it all out: “What He did, creation, that took work, it took sacrifice. In order to create the world, God had to give up the only thing he’d ever known – he had to betray and sacrifice his only kin – the Darkness – his sister.” (Puuuhhhwwwkkk! Mind blown!) Yes, only Supernatural has the cojones to come up with a storyline where God has a sister, let alone one where she is intent on laying waste to the universe and starting it over to her liking. As Lucifer (Mark Pelligrino, when he isn’t occupying Cass) explains, he was cast out of heaven because he “didn’t buy into His obsessive, compulsive love of mankind,” adding that this mankind resulted in the Salem Witch Trials, the Third Reich, Hiroshima and the Twin Towers. As the Darkness’ plans for the universe would supercede his own, Lucifer is out to stop her as well. And Crowley, the self-proclaimed King of Hell, who has often been Sam and Dean’s enemy, has now become their untrustworthy ally, as he looks to regain his throne. However, looking back at all of humanity’s misdeeds and acts of violence, might a reboot be entirely without merit? And where is Captain G, the Eternal One, who has remained AWOL while this battle for his Kingdom rages on? This is deep, heady material even for the Church or religious scholars to examine, let alone a TV show. Yet, Supernatural does it deftly and entertainingly.
I hear the voices when I’m dreaming. I can hear them say….
While other shows may question whether God exists, or maybe just ignore him completely, on Supernatural, his existence is a given. As one of the wrestlers has realized, “if you’re a demon, that means there’s a hell. And if there’s a hell, there is a heaven.” It’s this constant battle between the forces of Heaven and those of Hell that form the crux of the show, and Sam and Dean are usually right in the middle. They have literally been to hell and back, on more than one occasion, in their attempts to save the world and all of humanity. Sam spells it out: “This is about me, having faith in my friends, having faith in my family. We will find a way. I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to watch people I love die.” It’s the ultimate in sacrifice, not just giving up on a having a life, but actually willing to give up your life for the greater good. And while characters on other shows, like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, are fighting for their own survival, on Supernatural, a lot more is at stake as they are fighting for the survival of all of mankind. As Supernatural heads to the conclusion of this season, with a twelfth on the way, fans hope the Winchesters, Sam and Dean, can find some sense of comfort in knowing that all they’ve given up wasn’t for naught. Their efforts have made a difference, and have been appreciated. Until then, the road awaits, no matter what lies at the end….
Carry on my wayward son,
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more
— written by Brian de Castro