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Late to the Party: Supernatural
I enjoy urban fantasy. It’s my jam. I like the darkness, I like the modern setting, I like the magicks. I’m a hardcore Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I’m all about The Magicians, True Blood is my not-at-all-guilty pleasure, and I live for Lost Girl. But somehow, somehow, I have missed out on one of the most beloved urban fantasy TV shows: Supernatural.
I’m sorry and I apologize for my oversight, but I’m here today to rectify my wrongs with this Late to the Party. The episodes I’m watching are courtesy of one Jenna Busch, Supernatural fan extraordinaire.
Here’s what I knew about Supernatural before watching these episodes: It’s Buffy, but, like, with brothers. Oh, and, I know that God is bisexual in the series.
On that note, let’s jump right in.Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
A mother with small children goes to check on her baby to find her husband already standing over the infant. She goes downstairs and finds her husband on the couch. Then who TF is upstairs?! Oh right, a demon that possesses the mom, pins her to the ceiling, and then combusts her body. Don’t worry, though, the 4-year-old older brother carries his baby brother to safety.
Twenty-two years later, Dean, the older brother, breaks into Sam’s apartment because their dad is missing. Sam wants nothing to do with the family business, but Dean is all in on demon hunting. The brothers follow the trail and find the woman their father was trailing. Long story short, she’s a malevolent spirit who seduces cheating men and then kills them, but when she’s faced with the children she murdered when she was cheated on by her husband, she’s dragged back to, I’m guessing Hell?
Satisfied with a day’s work, Sam wants to return to his life and go ahead with his interview the next day but instead finds his girlfriend possessed, pinned to the wall, and bursting into flames. This is the push Sam needed, just another dead woman, to get him to join the family business.
So far, this show is not for me. There are a lot of not-so-coded anti-women threads: a mom who kills her kids, cheating men being treated as victims, fridging ('cause a dead woman is a good woman). Even after the women are both dead, they really don’t seem to matter that much to the characters. The first thing Sam does after he finds his girlfriend burning to death on his ceiling is turn around and quip to his brother, “We’ve got work to do.” Not like, “Oh, my partner was significant to me and her death is meaningful.” It’s salt in the wound of the already fridged girlfriend. She (and the mom) just matter so little as characters. Woof. So far, Supernatural is the antithesis of Buffy, which is the reason I wanted to watch this.
The tone of this first episode is a lot darker than I anticipated, and most of the humor seems to be at least toxic, if not outright misogynistic. However, my favorite line was delivered by Dean, who looks at Sam aghast and says, “You think you’re just gonna become some lawyer?”
There are some redeeming elements. The sibling relationship creates compelling tension and complication, and demon hunting is always a fun angle. All I have to say is: This better get better.
“In My Time of Dying” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Thanks to the recap, I’m aware that the first season ended with a cliffhanger in which a semi truck hit the brothers’ car that contained both of them and their father.
The bulk of this episode takes place in the hospital where the Winchester family is being treated, and the events of the episode take place on multiple planes of existence. I’m not sure if it’s an astral plane or like a spirit dimension or what, but there are two layers of existence happening simultaneously and though the spirit dimension can see into our dimension, the opposite is not true, though Sam breaks through and senses Dean. Dean, who is in the process of dying, walks through the hospital trying to get his father or Sam to help him but instead encounters another dead-but-not-quite spirit/person. That spirit tries to convince Dean that everything is okay and that sometimes you just need to die, but Dean figures out that she’s the grim reaper. Meanwhile, their dad makes a deal with a demon, trading a special gun—oh and his life, minor detail—for Dean’s return. Daddio dies, Dean returns, and we’re off to another season of shenanigans, though it seems like we’re only gonna be getting even darker from here.
There was still some weird sexist stuff about “not liking prude chicks,” but it was much more muted, and other than those few seemingly errant comments, I really liked this episode. The older sibling/younger sibling dynamic is killing me in the best way. I love how they both want to be tough and protective and both have such love for one another. And when their dad apologizes to Dean at the end? Damn. Not to get too real, but that is one spot-on dying dad apology in my experience.
I got a much better sense of the brothers in this episode, and I really started to see why Dean is a beloved character. I hope I get to see more Sam in future episodes.
“Lazarus Rising” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Dean is dead, again. (After doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that this is a very common occurrence in Supernatural, which makes watching two episodes where he dies seem far less weird.) He awakes in a coffin and digs his way out in a very Buffy manner. When he can’t reach Sam, Dean goes to see Bob, a father figure, who doesn’t believe he’s real but verifies his humanity with silver and holy water. Not knowing who else to credit with his reanimation, they decide it must be Sam, but when they find Sam, he’s grateful to see his brother but chagrined that it wasn’t him who did the saving. After some scary stuff happens (and a seductive medium offers the brothers a threesome, which for the record is way gross), they find out the powerful being that brought Dean back was an angel! A bona fide fracking angel named Castiel! Who saved Dean because God commanded it! Because they have work for Dean to do!
This is an overall great episode in terms of storyline and upping the damn ante. Dean is a holy weapon, Sam has some superpowers that Dean doesn’t want him to use, and God themself is getting in on earthly matters. It’s truly great stuff that I am very into.
What am I not as into?
1. The fact that one of the first things Dean does when he comes back to life is pick up an EFFING NUDIE MAG that is specifically about orientalist fantasies about Asian women. WHAT.
2. That one of the most compelling aspects of the show is supposed to be the fact that a bunch of cishet white dudes struggle with their feelings about their dead loved one. It’s just so … obvious? Unremarkable?
3. The fact that from what I’ve seen women are just collateral on this show. They’re demons to be killed, women to be murdered, possessed bodies to be used and disposed of, sex objects to be played with and forgotten. I haven’t seen a single female character who matters for longer than a scene or two.
4. Where are all the people of color?
“Changing Channels” (Season 5, Episode 8)
When a trickster demigod traps Sam and Dean in an endless series of TV shows, they are forced to conform or die. They find themselves playing out common tropes in sitcoms and Japanese game shows and even Dean’s favorite guilty pleasure, Dr. Sexy M.D. As they play along with the scenes unfolding around them, they realize that the message is clear: Play your roles. The Trickster reveals what he means by this message. He wants them to finish out their battle as the representatives of Heaven and Hell (the recap told us that Sam is Lucifer’s vessel and Dean is Michael’s vessel). They figure out that the Trickster is actual the angel Gabriel and that he was really sick of his brothers fighting. If Dean and Sam would just do the fighting in their place, we could all get this apocalypse on the road.
Of course, Dean and Sam defy that wish, choosing not to play out the crappy relationship between Michael, the older son keeping to his absent father’s ways, and Lucifer, the rebellious younger son.
What a funny episode. Having the dark and serious content of Supernatural played out in such familiar, trope-y ways was just outrageously fun. From the campy '80s-sitcom-style opening to the groan-worthy CSI-style puns, this episode just does not let up on the humor. I always love when a show reveals a major plot point through a gimmicky episode (ahem, Buffy’s “Once More With Feeling,” anyone?), and this is no exception!
I still don’t care for the romcom shaming of Dean by Sam, but whatever. I think I’m just going to have to accept that those undertones are present in this show.
“ScoobyNatural” (Season 13, Episode 16)
When the brothers protect a pawnshop owner from a Barney-style monster, Dean takes a free TV as compensation and places it in his “Fortress of Dean-itude.” After switching the TV on for the first time, they find themselves inside of a classic cartoon, Scooby-Doo. In a dream come true for Dean, they join up with Scooby and the gang to solve a mystery only to find things going off the rails when characters are murdered, but like for realsies. Castiel looks for Dean and Sam and gets sucked into the cartoon as well. Scooby-Doo antics and mayhem follow until they decide they have to tell the cartoon people that demons and such are real. The characters all have a mental breakdown, but Dean gives them a pep talk about how they’re still heroes. Dean and Sam find that the malevolent spirit is a creepy kid ghost who’s being forced to haunt objects at the behest of a shady real estate developer, meaning the brothers and the Scooby gang were right!
What a fun and funny episode! I love that Dean embraces the fact that he’s a mega-fan and that Velma gets to be right, which is hilarious because Velma is always right. And when Dean goes from feeling competitive toward Fred to liking him to wearing an ascot as an homage, which is a delightful change to witness. Add to that that Castiel loves himself some Scooby and Shaggy and Velma’s got it bad for Sam and it’s all in all a pretty adorable tribute. My only beef? Why does Dean have to spend the whole episode chasing Daphne, who is clearly not feeling it? C’mon dude. Leave her alone.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Supernatural. Two brothers who are chosen to live out a cosmic grudge between good and evil decide to buck all authority in favor of their chosen lives as brothers and demon hunters. The storylines are funny and dark, and the overall irreverent tone works in no small part thanks to the fantastic characters that are Dean and Sam Winchester. They’re attractive, humorous, opinionated, and righteous. The relationship between the two is the driving catalyst of the show and to me the most compelling aspect. There’s nothing like the relationship between siblings, and the tension and complication it creates is productive, to say the least.
Supernatural does a great job balancing its horror elements with humor and a healthy dose of meta-commentary on TV, genre fiction, and all the things that go bump in the night. The narrative is fresh and references the body of supernatural TV, movies, and comic books fluently. It’s enjoyable to watch, and I’m guessing it is very fun to re-watch and binge.
I’ve got some beef with the misogynistic tropes in play throughout the episodes I’ve seen and with the machismo that rears its ugly head, particularly with Dean. I’ve only seen five of the nearly 300 episodes that exist, so I’m willing to acknowledge that those issues may be minor when situated within the entire corpus.
Even taking into consideration my hesitations, I enjoyed what I saw and think I’ll definitely put it on my watch list, though it’s not going anywhere near the top.