“We’ve started seasons like this many times before. The Winchester Brothers have been separated by apocalyptic events, and someone has to escape from Hell, or in this case Purgatory, to get back to the comforts of Earth. It’s just business as usual. Another day at the office for the Winchester boys.
If you are a fan of the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker, you were more than likely disappointed in the remake a couple of years ago on ABC. Your hope is now once again restored. Supernatural is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to The Night Stalker. Like Kolchak, the Winchester brothers are faced with weekly incarnations of evil. They’re forced to research these legends and figure out a way to stop them. As Kolchak discovered, it’s a thankless job. Sure, Supernatural is populated with all sorts of beasties and nasties, but it also manages to hold on to a sense of humor that rounds out these adventures to make this one of the most entertaining shows around.
What amazes me most about Supernatural is the incredible balance the show manages to keep up week after week. Of course, there is that creature-of-the-week idea, but without taking anything away from each episode, there is an overall story arc that ties these creatures and moments together in such an intricate yet easy-to-follow fashion. Each episode blends just the right mix of darkness, comedy, and series mythology. Even The X-Files wasn’t able to spin so flawless a tapestry. I also can’t say enough about the leads. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles have a wonderfully complicated chemistry that gives us an element even Kolchak never had. This is not a one-trick-pony relationship. Under all of the brotherly love and shared tragedy there are far more emotional themes that surface from week to week. There are resentments and rivalries that can suddenly dominate their intercourse. Unlike most shows, these conflicts are real and remain a part of the fabric of this relationship, not to be brought out and then quickly overcome never to be seen again. Each of these events leaves a visible mark on their personalities. This kind of continuity is almost unheard of. It requires discipline and dedication by everyone involved, from the actors, writers, and production staff. And again, the season finale will leave you counting the hours until the next episode.
Dean has been trapped in Purgatory for a year while Sam has taken a crack at a normal life. He’s found a girl named Amelia (Balaban) and sort of settled down. Meanwhile Dean and Angel Castiel (Collins) have teamed up with a vampire, of all things, named Benny (Olsson) to get out. Only Sam and Benny make it out, and Dean isn’t so happy that Sam gave up the cause and settled down. It doesn’t matter, though, because there’s yet another mission ahead of them, and the brothers will have to put the past year behind them and concentrate on the new quest before them. That won’t be easy, and for most of the season we’re going to be treated to flashbacks of each of their lives over the past year.
The new quest involves a chance to close the gates of Hell forever. That means no more demons and monsters to fight, because they will all be sealed forever in Hell. You see, there’s a new prophet in town, and he’s Kevin Tran (Chau). He has discovered within a demon tablet written by God himself the instructions to shut down those gates. It’s not going to be easy. Crowley (Sheppard) isn’t going to let it happen, if he can help it. In fact, he has his own reasons for getting his hands on Kevin and the tablet. That leaves a bit of a tug-of-war between the Winchesters and Crowley for both Kevin and the tablet. The task takes an overwhelming toll on Kevin, and Crowley is getting nastier than he’s ever been. That sounds almost hard to believe, but it’s true. Crowley’s desperate to keep the instructions out of human hands.
Meanwhile Castiel manages to bust out of Purgatory, but he also had some help. Enter Archangel Naomi, played by everyone’s favorite Samantha Carter from Stargate, Amanda Tapping. She keeps whisking Castiel to Heaven where she makes some odd and bad (for the Winchesters) demands of the controlled angel. For Castiel’s part he wants to make up for all the damage he did previously when he wasn’t, shall we say, exactly himself.
That’s the big story in a nutshell, but the beauty of Supernatural is that it’s not really that simple. The season takes the usual twists and turns and leaves you not sure what to expect week to week. Best of all, there are plenty of stand-alone “Monster Of The Week” episodes that add the variety needed to keep the intensity from overload.
Some highlights include Heartache. It’s the gift that keeps on killing. An ancient Mayan athlete makes a deal to live forever in peak athletic condition. But when he is actually killed, he donates his organs, which are compelled to continue the human sacrifices in their newly placed bodies. The boys literally have to get to the heart of the matter to stop the bloodshed.
Bitten is a bit different for Supernatural. The story is told by the monster’s point of view through the found footage format. It’s quite interesting, because the boys are not even in the episode very much. Instead we see the story told through three teens who come in contact with a werewolf. The curse ends up among them and lays waste to their lives. It’s a love triangle that ends badly. Sam and Dean get to the whole story by watching the footage they shot. A nice break from the show’s typical style.
Blood Brother has Dean sticking up for his buddy Benny, and the tension over his vampire friendship will eventually lead to the annual split between the boys.
Hunter Heroici is one of the cleverest inventions of the series to date. The boys meet up with an old friend of their father’s played by lovable BJ from M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell. He’s living in an old folks’ home and pretty much a zombie watching Looney Tunes on television. Unfortunately, he’s transmitting psychic energy that turns the area around him into cartoon rules. A man sees a pretty girl and his heart jumps out of his chest. Anvils fall on unsuspecting victims standing on an X; you don’t fall until you look down, and you can break into bank vaults merely by drawing your own hole. That’s exactly what a doctor is doing when he discovers the effect. This one will be a fan favorite, to be sure.
As Time Goes By finds the boys face to face with their grandfather. He comes back in time looking for their dad and is followed by a nasty demon. The boys discover that there was a different life planned for them.
Everybody Hates Hitler guest stars another 70’s sit-com icon, Hal Linden. That’s Barney Miller for fans. A Nazi group comes to the present to find an important book that is being protected by an old rabbi played by Linden. When he’s killed the boys must help his grandson and the giant golem he inherited to keep the book from the Nazis.
Finally, there’s Clip Show. Don’t fret, it’s not what you think. This is how you do a clip show. Crowley is after everyone that Sam and Dean ever saved to get them to hand over Kevin and the tablet. Several guest stars from past episodes show up as the boys attempt to beat Crowley to his victims. A clip show without clips…great!
Of course, the season arc plays out on the usual grand scale. There are trials to complete that pretty much leave Sam messed up…again. The boys also discover that they were legacies to something called The Men Of Letters. This is one of those secret societies that would drive Brad Meltzer or Dan Brown crazy. They also find out that it comes with a very cool secret complex that gives the boys a place to hang out between jobs. This place is loaded with resources, and Dean gets his own room for the first time in his life. I hope the place doesn’t get blown up in the near future. I like that the boys have a place to hang their holy water and stakes from time to time.
Castiel also finds himself in procession of an Angel tablet, also the word of God. He’s convinced that maybe Heaven needs to be closed as well. Nothing is ever simple here, right?
As always, it’s not just the great writing and production values that makes this a winner. The supporting cast gets to really stretch its collective legs this season. Misha Collins once again puts in outstanding work as the angel Castiel. When I think of all of the changes the character has experienced over the years, I can’t help but be amazed at how fresh Collins continues to be in the role. He has a range of facial expressions from deadpan to the most compelling smile so that I never tire of the character. He’s put to the test this season as he must deal with his guilt over the bloody mess he left and so desperately wanting to make it all right. He even tries to be a hunter with the boys with quite humorous results. He doesn’t get the concept of a third wheel. To Castiel it means “better grip and better stability”. Priceless. One of the crew refers to Castiel as the show’s Data. There are many similarities, of course. Castiel loves humanity and wants to be more like them. He can also be taken over and turn bad. But Castiel has something Data never had. He has his own emotions and a better actor behind the performance.
Another notable performance goes to Mark Sheppard as Crowley. We’ve seen him before in various situations, but the role has never been pushed near this far before. One of Sam’s trials is to “cure” Crowley, and it’s one of Sheppard’s best performances to date. I will warn you that if you’re a needlephobe like me, this is not a fun episode otherwise. Sheppard manages to deliver levels to this character so that you’ll see him in a light you haven’t before.
Each episode of Supernatural is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you through a AVC/MPEG-4 codec. As you might expect, this show is dark in more than just its nature. Much of the action occurs at night, so black levels need to be spot-on, or any detail can be quickly washed away like blood pools in a hurricane. Supernatural delivers with great shadow definition and deep levels of black. I’ve seen the broadcast HD versions, and these are even better. What is remarkable about the colors is that they manage to hold on to such fine definition even under intense low-light filming conditions. There is nothing about this transfer that will keep you from enjoying the best horror series since Kolchak. The flashback scenes for Sam are filtered through a very soft light that destaturates the color and looks warm. Dean’s flashbacks are cold and stark in contrast.
Supernatural’s audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. The show just comes alive so much better in the uncompressed audio. Subs make themselves heard, and the rest of the show retains the quality we’ve had in previous releases.
There are some select Audio Commentaries.
Gag Reel: (8:55)
Creating The Found Footage Episode: (25:53) This one takes you behind the scenes of Bitten and shows how the actors also served as cameramen and the logistics of directing such an episode.
The Tablets Revealed: (20:12) Cast and crew talk about the season’s ongoing mythology and those pesky tablets. There’s a lot of talk of religion and the famous religious quests that inspired the season’s arc.
Angel Warrior: (19:33) This is a well-deserved profile of Castiel and Misha Collins.
Don’t expect this one to wrap up at the end of the season. The conclusion is really just getting started. It’s going to be a pretty busy season for Sam, Dean, Castiel, Crowley and the rest. It was nice to see Bobby for an episode, and I’m holding out hope for his return. Benny’s a character I also hope to see more of in the future. There’s no reason for you not to dig into the Blu-ray of the 8th season of Supernatural. The boys have a tough mission. Yours is much simpler. Buy the release, “Finish it. No questions. No hesitations.”