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By Becky Kifer · October 13, 2013
The road so far on Supernatural… is silent. From what I can tell, someone was either drunkenly turning dials at my local CW affiliate, or the retro over-the-air antenna on my wall was being blocked by some angry hills, because the first five minutes of my Supernatural season nine broadcast was sound-free. I caught a few bars of the “Who Do You Love?” recap song, followed by overpowering nothingness as the show opened to the boys talking in the Impala. Thankfully, after almost a decade of watching these Winchesters, I speak fluent man-pain and was able to decipher the context.
Scene: Sam (Jared Padalecki) is worried. Dean (Jensen Ackles) is worried about Sam. The Impala spits cheaply copyrighted classic rock. End scene. Same plot, different Thursday. Wait, sorry—Wednesday. Old viewing habits die… No? Friday? Shut the demon-trap-covered trunk, Supernatural’s back on Tuesday? That is channeling some old school WB programming there.
Two years ago, at the end of Supernatural’s seventh season, I had a Zippo in one hand and a can of Morton in the other, eager to put this wraith of a show out of its misery. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the boneyard. Season eight of Supernatural rolled around and it was good. Not great, not memorable; and definitely no disc three of the season one U.S. DVD set (that would be “Home,” “Asylum,” “Scarecrow” and “Faith,” if you’re wondering). But it was authentic, in a way the series hadn’t been in years.
Last season had its issues: shoehorned, clunky flashbacks for Sam; one too many episodes of Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) hiding out in a houseboat; killing off demon Meg (Rachel Miner), the longest canonically appearing major (sort of?) female character the program had. Those particulars aside, it was an unexpected reversal of the genre-show slide to late-season obscurity. Year eight: How Supernatural Got Its Groove Back.
The first episode this season, written by current showrunner Jeremy Carver, begins not long after the finale left off, with the angels banished from heaven and Sam nearly sacrificing himself to close the gates of Hell. The boys are driving and Sam, looking healthier than the last time we saw him, is trying to figure out their plan of attack. Dean instructs Sam to stop worrying; they have bigger issues at hand, namely Sam’s imminent death. The camera angle tilts suspiciously, and it’s reveled that this conversation has all been in a hospitalized Sam’s head. The real Dean, sitting by his comatose brother’s side, proceeds to angst himself into the new title sequence.
At the hospital, an unruffled doctor tells Dean that Sam has internal burns and it’s all “in God’s hands now.” Well, as the “God” on Supernatural spent his free time writing published fan fiction about the Winchesters, I think Sammy is pretty well screwed. I’m no doctor, but shouldn’t he have also followed up that question with, “And can you also explain how your brother’s gallbladder is charbroiled?”
With nowhere to turn and Castiel (played by Misha Collins, now powerless and wandering alone in Colorado) not responding to his prayers, Dean puts out an all-points angel bulletin asking for help. His call is answered by Ezekiel (Tahmoh Penikett), a potential new ally, and several other peeved angels more in the mood for killing than helping. After reigning terror down on the hospital, they are stopped by Dean’s last-ditch preventative wards.
In his coma, Sam wrestles with his mortality. Part of him, disguised as Dean, wants him to fight. The other side, appearing as the dearly departed Bobby Singer (a blatant, completely welcome excuse to get Jim Beaver back on Supernatural), ushers him toward the light, and ultimately to Death himself (Julian Richings). Back in the real world, Ezekiel offers a solution: if he uses Sam as a vessel, he can heal him from within. Distraught but willing, Dean hitches a ride with Ezekiel into Sam’s comaworld where he begs Sam to live—“There ain’t no me if there ain’t no you!”—and to trust him, he has a plan. Sam commits, of course, without hearing the details.
In the end, Ezekiel tells Dean that Sam cannot know about the possession, or he might eject Ezekiel like a heavenly VHS tape and die as a result. As it’s not Supernatural unless one of the brothers spends half the season lying to the other (ugh), Dean goes for it. Sam awakens with no memory of the last day, and Dean lies, easy as the pie that should be taken away for him for bad behavior.
When Supernatural pivoted from American urban legends to Judeo-Christian angel crusade, it essentially created a new series. The shelf life of a monster of the week show is indisputably short, so there’s no fault in transformation. There is fault, however, in getting too big for your britches. It’s why season five was anticlimactic, it’s why season six was forgettable, and it’s most certainly why season seven made me want to break out in mortified hives on a weekly basis.
Season eight was a reminder that the view is always better from the Impala’s windshield. The politics, the villain’s POV, none of that matters. We want Sam and Dean in the middle of the mess but separate, two freewheeling flies in the demonic ointment. If the ratings stay where they are, it’s more than likely we’ll get a ten-year run and a spin-off (courtesy a backdoor pilot in the spring). If season nine can maintain the creative uptick from last year, and expound on those Winchester family values, there’s a good chance this could wipe away many past season negatives. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared for the worst—a shovel and lighter fluid are standing by.