SEPTEMBER 21, 2011
Having been on board with Supernatural since the show premiered back in the fall of 2005, I was very skeptical about this 6th season. For starters, its closest cousin, The X-Files, fell apart starting with its own 6th go-around, and they had the benefit of a new location (they moved from Vancouver to LA) and more money. But even more worrying was the fact that Supernatural was more or less designed to be a five year show, with a very specific overall arc building toward what would be the ultimate fight between good and evil, pitting brother against brother in the process (with Sam on the evil side and Dean on the good).
But dammit, people just love the show too much, and even though its ratings are never impressive, it must make enough dough for the CW to keep it going, so the last couple episodes of Season 5 were reworked a bit, leaving a cliffhanger for the 6th, unplanned season. Also, it apparently worked OK enough, because S7 starts in two nights, so those among you who STILL haven’t given it a chance are up for another year of being asked why (no, seriously – why? If you read this site you like horror, right? Supernatural has offered up consistently good/great horror on TV- for free - for 6 years now).
As somewhat expected, the season got off to a shaky start. The show always had its initial plan to fall back on, and now they were sort of back at square one, albeit with continuing story threads to guide them a bit as opposed to the actual beginning, where the characters weren’t really well established yet and there was no beloved supporting cast (Bobby, Castiel, Crowley, Rufus, etc) to pick up some of the slack. Thus, episodes like “Weekend At Bobby’s” were much needed diversions; taking chances that fans could appreciate while the producers/writers worked out the kinks behind the scenes. And really, it’s about damn time that Bobby got his own episode! Offering up a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern style take on a typical monster of the week tale, the episode largely ignored Sam and Dean (in the latter’s case, this allowed Jensen Ackles to direct for the first time) while showing a case from Bobby’s point of view, which means a lot of sitting around looking through books and making phone calls while the boys drive around and have all the fun. But it also has a fun B-plot that has nothing to do with anything (a female neighbor who has taken a liking to Bobby), while also resolving a nagging plot thread from the previous season.
Basically, it’s the sort of episode that makes up for a stinker like “Two and a Half Men”, which actually has some lame Three Men and a Baby humor and just sort of treads water, plotwise. Or “Live Free Or TwiHard”, which has a few amusing (if easy) jokes at Twilight’s expense but seems to exist solely to reveal a tiny clue about what happened to Sam during his stay in Hell, and the nature of his seeming resurrection. These episodes are problematic in two ways, in fact. One, they weren’t all that great in terms of action or cool monsters, with "TwiHard" seemingly just swiping plot points from Blade II at random, making them letdowns on a week to week basis. But also, they don’t really work in the season as a whole once you know how everything has turned out. The idea of the “Alphas” was basically abandoned around the halfway point of the season, and Sam’s actions don’t fully jive with the later reveal (spoilers ahead).
As we learn in episode 607, “Family Matters”, Sam has come back sans his soul, which is an interesting plot idea and introduces both great ideas/episodes as well as some fun spins on the usual dynamic between the brothers (particularly when Sam doesn’t understand why he can’t just go bang some local girl while Dean is missing and he has no leads to find him). The problem is, the way that Sam acts prior to the reveal is very different from after, which doesn’t make a lot of sense – why would a guy with no soul put on an act? It’s like in 24 when they introduce a plot twist near the end of the season that renders pretty much everything that the character did earlier in the day to be highly illogical if not downright idiotic. I understand the need to draw out the mystery a bit, but they could have handled it a bit better I think.
Luckily once all that stuff is out of the way and the season’s real arc begins, things pick up. The nice thing about having less of a plan in mind is that they were seemingly willing to take more chances – this season has more “high concept” episodes than in any previous one. In addition to the Bobby ep, there’s also a Western (“Frontierland”), an all Castiel episode (“The Man Who Would Be King”), and even a comedic meta episode called “The French Mistake” in which Sam and Dean are tossed into our world, where they are the actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, starring in a show called Supernatural. The show has always flirted with meta humor, going all the way back to S2 or 3 when they visited a haunted film set and made jokes about Gilmore Girls (Padalecki’s former job), and of course the character of Chuck has been turning their adventures into a series of novels for years. But this one blows it wide open, mocking not just the actors but the behind the scenes crew as well (Eric Kripke is called in to solve a problem even though he’s busy with his dream project: Octocobra). It’s the sort of thing that you just have to go with, which I gladly did (it’s worth it just for the scene where they try to act – Padalecki in particular is wonderful with his body language here).
And the great thing about this show is that these high concept episodes actually fit into the overall mythology – it’s not like they just reset at the end and forget all about it. For example, the Western episode, while it has its own self-contained, Old West-centric story, the driving force behind it is Sam and Dean’s need to obtain Phoenix ashes in order to fight an enemy in the present day. In “French Mistake” we discover that their little trip was the result of Balthazar using them as a decoy to distract one of their mutual enemies away from him while he put things in motion that build toward the end of the season. On X-Files, it always seemed like the alien threat was forgotten about during the monster of the week episodes, so it’s nice to see that they have found a way to keep the show’s serialized nature much more consistent. You can miss an episode or two and still keep up (the show’s lengthy “Previously” clips at the top are a big help), but there are no throwaway tales either – every episode offers SOMETHING toward the big picture.
OK, well then why should someone buy it on Blu-ray if they’ve already watched them? Well, for starters, the image quality is vastly superior to the HD broadcast (and without annoying bugs or promos for Smallville crowding the bottom of the screen!). As I’ve said numerous times, I think this is the best looking show on TV, and I loved seeing it in full high def glory (especially the episode with the goddess Veritas, for obvious reasons). The sound mixes won’t blow anyone away, but again, they are an improvement over their broadcasts.
As for the extras, I think it’s a pretty good selection. At first I was a bit bummed to discover that only two episodes had commentaries (I’m currently going through the Community DVD set, in which every single episode has commentary, so maybe I’m just spoiled), but the two that are there are kind of dull. Both have the same participants (Sera Gamble, Robert Singer, and Ben Edlund), and both have lengthy gaps of silence as well as a load of ass-kissing. Maybe the die-hard fans who pay 230 bucks to get photos with the boys at the Creation cons will eat this shit up, but I’d rather hear more about the FX, how the actors respond to the material, etc (or they could just let the hilarious Misha Collins do a couple, which would probably be the best thing on the disc). Likewise, I was excited to check out the Anime episodes that were created in Japan and remake the events of the first two seasons, but after about 10 minutes of one I gave up – it’s awful. The boys don’t really have the same spirit they do in their live action performances (nice way of saying that they just read the lines), and apparently Ackles is only on a couple of episodes anyway, leaving a standin for the rest. The animation isn’t even all that great either, so I just fail to see the point – why watch stripped down remakes of existing episodes? At least if they told new tales I could see some appeal, but trust me, you’ll want to stick with the real deal.
The rest of the stuff is better. Outtakes on “The French Mistake” are just as funny as what’s left in, and there’s a nice 30 minute piece on Ackles directing debut. It’s a bit fluffy (apparently, he never ran into a single problem! Good for him!) but it’s still a fun look behind the scenes, and much more in depth than I was expecting. Then there’s a pretty interesting look at the nature of the soul, in which we hear from some theologians and other “experts” for a while before they segue into discussing how it applies to Sam/the show. The gag reel seems a bit in-jokey (I think it was put together for the crew) and runs a bit too long, but it’s got a number of good laughs.
And exclusive to Blu-ray is a “Hunter’s Guide”, which is also the best of the lot. Set up as an interactive replica of their leather guide, we get two pieces on each episode; one that runs 3-4 minutes, the other 1-2. The long one will focus on one aspect of the show (location scouting, the score, the editing, the FX, etc) and go into detail of how it applies to a particular episode (not always the one its linked to in the menu; there are like three that focus largely on “Frontierland”). The other is usually a quick interview or outtake of some sort, or just a lame ass photo montage, but still adds some insight/context to the episode that the other features do not offer. It’ll take about two hours to go through it all, but it’s worth the effort (there’s no “play all” – keep your remote handy). Watching everything also unlocks a few Easter Eggs, which are more behind the scenes clips that you can access on the “back page” of the guide. I unlocked three, not sure if there any others.
So overall it’s not the show’s best season, but considering that they were a bit rudderless being the 6th year of a 5 year show (and also having showrunner Kripke take a backseat to Gamble), it could have been a disaster. After a shaky start they found their footing and delivered a season that was consistent with the others, and while I wasn’t a big fan of the final episode’s reveal, it certainly sets up an interesting concept for Season 7 – can’t wait to see how they handle it.
What say you?