Warning! This review contains, or rather, begins with spoilers from the first seven seasons of this biblically inaccurate, theologically loose American television show. Other than those glaring faults, it’s pretty good, so I’d recommend going back and catching up if you have any passing interest (note: not obsession) in anything, well, supernatural in nature. You know, like ghosts, monsters and ‘demi-gods’.
Let’s take a brief look back at the history of Supernatural, shall we?
At the end of the first season, our main characters are involved in a car accident that leaves Dean (the older brother of the two main characters in the show, played by Jensen Ackles) close to death. Second season begins with him being stalked by a ‘reaper’ preparing to send him to Heaven or Hell, until his father bravely sacrifices his own life to bring Dean back.
Fast forward to the end of the second season and it’s Sam’s (younger brother of the two, played by Jared Padalecki) turn to experience cold, permanent death. That is until Dean tracks down a ‘crossroads demon’ to make a deal that will mean bringing Sam back in return for Dean’s own life, which the demon promises to come back for one year later, when it will be Dean’s turn. Seeing a theme emerging here?
End of season three. Demonic hellhounds come for Dean and tear him apart. He dies. Is sent to Hell with no clear way of being brought back by a family member this time. Becomes clear that something a bit more creative is going to be needed to get Dean out of this one.
So what do the writers do? Well, send an angel in after him of course. Season four opens with Dean back on firm ground, breathing fresh air again. Turns out the heavenly realms see him as important, and ‘Castiel’ (the angel) was sent into hell by God in order to retrieve Dean’s soul because, apparently, they have ‘work’ for him.
End of season four sees both brothers alive and well going into the next season for the first time since the show began. The downside? They’ve accidently released the devil onto the Earth and are in the process of bringing about Armageddon which, apparently, is what the angels really wanted all along (cue the beginning of serious problems with scriptural accuracy).
To explain how we get to the grand finale of season five would involve a much more complicated explanation regarding the angels’ apparent requirement of needing a willing human ‘vessel’ to walk on the Earth (again, something you won’t find in scripture no matter how hard you try), the third Winchester brother and something about a big battle that’s supposedly been foretold all along. So I’ll skip that part and just say it ends with Sam throwing himself into a big hole, along with ‘Lucifer’ (the devil) and archangel Michael (apparently now leader in Heaven, after God – the same omniscient, omnipresent God we all know from the Bible – decided to ‘leave the building’ because he ‘doesn’t care anymore’). This big hole is apparently Lucifer’s ‘cage’, and once you’re in, there’s no way out again (unless you’re to follow the method that the brothers did in letting him out in the first place, of course. Fortunately, though, the rest of the world isn’t that stupid). Know what this means? Little Sammy’s gone for good. Season five spells the end of the series’ successful run.
But what’s this? At the end of the final episode we see Sam alive and well, stalking Dean through a window. What should have been a closed door for good, actually looks like it’s been the easiest cell to break into – Sam’s up and walking around without so much as an angel or demon in sight.
I recap all of this because season 8 begins in much the same fashion. Season seven saw the introduction of the Leviathans, a fearsome new monster that could kill angels as well as everything else. Their leader was the charismatic Dick Roman, whom our characters managed to kill in the last minutes of the season. Now, for Dean, who was standing next to Dick when it happened, this meant being sent to purgatory along with him (to catch you up again: purgatory, in Supernatural’s version of events, is where monsters go when they die – because they’re not eligible for Heaven or Hell, of course). Thereafter, Sam was free to continue on with a semi-normal life while it seemed there was no coming back for Dean, who really only had himself to blame on this occasion – just like on every other occasion when one of the brothers find themselves in the ‘afterlife’.
Guess what we find at the beginning of season 8, then? Dean’s back, one year has passed, and he’s walking around in the same clothes that he wore heading into purgatory (don’t ask me how the clothes thing works – or how he managed to keep grooming his hair and wash himself while he was endlessly running around in there).
The first half of this season focuses very much on the unstable relationship between the brothers (nothing new for fans of the show – luckily, they love it), and the events of the past year which created that tension. It does this through a mode of storytelling which I am a big fan of but which hasn’t yet been used by the Supernatural writers until this season: flashbacks.
Dean and Sam’s respective 2012 back stories revolve around teaming up with a vampire to get out of purgatory and a chance meeting with a pretty woman after Sam hits a dog in his car. Without doubt Dean’s had the more interesting time; Benny, the shady vampire with whom he teams up in purgatory, is a fascinating new character who keeps you guessing about his true nature and intentions, particularly during his marquee moments of the season in episode 9. Unfortunately the character fades after that, although he does have a crucial role to play in the plot towards the finale.
Sam, on the other hand, has found that the most intriguing thing for him to do while his brother’s away is to continue his perpetually womanising ways in getting involved with another nice girl when he knows, obviously, that his brother will return at some point like he always does. I was slightly disappointed by this aspect of season 8’s storyline; it seems every time one of the brothers ‘goes away for a while’ (i.e. dies) the default is for the other one to either ‘settle down’ or spend time looking for ways to revive the other one before then settling down. In this case, Sam has decided to skip the latter and just settle down straight away – anyone would think he’s trying his best to end the show prematurely. Regardless, this slightly less creative storyline then sets up the season well, with both brothers questioning not only their relationship, but their entire profession as ‘hunters’. As we get to the mid-point, it seems increasingly likely that they will agree to quit once this season is finished.
This of course isn’t taking into account the overall story arc of the season, which focuses on ‘Word of God’ tablets that can only be read by a chosen ‘prophet of the Lord’ (you know, seeing as the version of God that exists in the world of Supernatural has decided to take a vacation and leave everyone to their own destructive devices). The brothers’ main mission of this season’s first half therefore has them fighting over the sought after ‘demon’ tablet with self-proclaimed ‘King of Hell’, Crawley (played by the charming English actor Mark Sheppard). This also involves a constant tug of war over the chosen prophet, Kevin Tran (the relatively unknown Osric Chau), who is kidnapped, re-kidnapped, and repeatedly sees the people he cares about die over the course of the year.
By the way I’ve been talking you’d think this season is one of two halves, and this is very much the case. Just past the mid-way point, we discover that not only is there a demon tablet that tells how to close the gates of hell, but there’s also an ‘angel’ tablet, the contents of which even the angels are puzzled over.
Thankfully, it’s the morally grey angels that provide this season’s extra spice, preventing it from simply going through the motions. Castiel, played by Misha Collins, has by now become an ever-present on the show and once again is on top form as an angel questioning his own kind and growing closer to humans all the time. There is an almost tragic twist to this side of his character come season’s end.
Other angels making an appearance for the first time are Naomi, a mysterious ‘administrator’ of a secret department in Heaven magnificently portrayed by Amanda Tapping, and the sobering Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), scribe of the ‘Word of God’ tablets, who comes into the season very late on but nonetheless has a pivotal role to play in the dramatic finale which, if nothing else, makes it clear that Sam and Dean’s plan to quit after closing Hell’s gates isn’t going to be that simple.
There is also the welcome return of standalone episodes that provide a break from the main plot, literally ranging from the sublime (episode 11 is a wonderful homage to RPG video games and stars talented real-life gamer Felicia Day) to the ridiculous (episode 4 – an unoriginal story about teenagers filming their own demise in yet another Paranormal Activity-inspired bore fest – and episode 16 – a tired rehash of the Prometheus story from Greek mythology that makes little to no sense in the context of this show – are contenders for ‘worst Supernatural episode ever’). This results in a season that is perhaps more interesting and entertaining as a whole than the previous one, but also feels hideously inconsistent when judged on the basis of each individual episode.
With the ninth season due to start this October and a final tenth one already confirmed, one could be forgiven for wariness of Supernatural’s quality dipping considerably. I was wary of this myself beforehand, but season 8 has been for me somewhat reassuring. Yeah, you can’t rely on it one bit to portray any part of scripture accurately, but this is television land. Writers around here have every right to take liberties with the source material. That alone doesn’t affect its quality, providing you’re not the kind of hard-nosed person who considers fantasy and reality to be the same thing. It perhaps never reaches the heights of the show’s peak years in seasons four and five, some aspects of the plot are flawed and unoriginal, but its ending is likely to leave you on the edge of your seat and ready for more. In my book, that at least gives the illusion of a job well done.
7 / 10.