I do so love this show. It gets so many things right.
The first thing it does well is Monster of the week. It’s hard with a show of this format not to have monster of the week – week after week of seeing a different gribbly creature that the brothers then kill, ta-da. The problem with this is after 4 or 5 episodes of them in a row, the programme feels pointless and the series feels like it’s mired and going nowhere – see Grimm Season 1 and Haven, for example. But Supernatural always has something else going on – the “previously on Supernatural” are always needed and always relevant. The plot advances, the characters develop, something meaningful happens every episode. It could be the characters recovering from an emotional trauma or coming to terms with what’s happened. It could be them deciding what to do next in terms of the meta plot. They learn new things, or grow as characters or work through their latest trauma or build the greater world or otherwise extend or develop the plot just about every episode – and you don’t get 2 episodes together where something hasn’t moved forward or developed – even if it’s just mentioned and talked out. The meta runs alongside the plot, it isn’t lost in it.
And the plot is fun, exciting and epic – and it’s maintained epic. The season builds to a slow crescendo from the horror, grief and generally being lost after John’s death through to the slow revelations of what it means to be one of the Special Children for Sam. Being one of those Yellow Eyes – Azazel – has chosen to give his special powers to, these special abilities to. Cumulating in not only gathering all of these special people together in a duel to the death to find the best – but reaching an ultra epic peak with the opening of the gateway to hell and the final vanquish of Azazel. It develops at an excellent pace, it builds its foreboding, gives us a full season priming us for just how epic it is then we have an amazing, powerful, grand finale of excitement, death and the world hanging in the balance.
The plots themselves, week in week out, are also pretty good. They’re original for the most part - in fact, I think every episode of these season was something I hadn’t really seen elsewhere. It doesn’t follow the same formulaic patter of Urban Fantasy and it is interesting to see the switch from vampires and werewolves to demons and ghosts. I also like that the same monsters will re-appear – like the shapeshifter – because just because they’ve killed one doesn’t mean they’ve killed every last one, after all. Among these very original episodes were some really powerful ones – like Molly, the ghost who didn’t realise she was, seeking her husband and being tormented by the ghost of the man she killed. Or Sam and the werewolf Madison and finding that no, there isn’t a cure and there isn’t a happy ending. Then there were the fun, rather cheesy episodes with the Trickster and the horror movie set, that were nicely timed a break in the grittiness that characterises the show and adding something almost a little silly.
The acting is also extremely well done – including with many side characters (Molly and Madison as I already mentioned) carrying a lot of the pain and fear which, combined with decent writing and a special effects budget, really created the atmosphere, excitement and feel of the story. The acting of the Winchesters also bring the emotions home. There’s a lot of angst in this genre – a lot – and usually for very little reason or for very convoluted reasons and the angst is normally very dramatic, with wailing, crying, tooth gnashing and the whole nine yards. But in a few short scenes over several episodes we get the full sense of how hard it can be for Sam and Dean – the pain of losing their father, the fear of Dean dying in his hospital bed, Dean’s guilt over the deal his father made, dealing with what Sam may be becoming, what it could mean and whether he’s evil. Heavy, high emotions, excellently and realistically delivered within their characters without robbing them of impact.