Every time I think this show can’t get better it goes and rewrites the game. Supernatural, along with Doctor Who, has somehow managed to go back to basics while again flipping the script completely on what that means. The Winchester family, still utterly destroyed by Dean being body-napped by Michael, struggled to keep itself together while also trying to stop Michael from turning Earth 1 into The Bad Place. While that was the main arc of the first half of the season, the meat and bones of this season (and of the series overall) was family.
The shifting dynamics of the Winchester family were given the main focus as each member struggled in Dean’s absence and, when Dean was (temporarily) returned, those changes became even more important. We see Sam step into the role of patriarch of the family in a way he never fully embraced before, forcing him to not only make decisions that he didn’t always care for but to really, truly see how much of a burden Dean has been carrying over the last 30 odd years since Mary’s death. This, along with acclimating the refugees from The Bad Place, has given us a Sam who is wise and quiet in a way he never was before. It’s a natural progression for the character and one that Jared Padalecki has been fantastic in showing. Helped by Mary, and the Bobby from The Bad Place, (whose tentative and honest romantic relationship has been a little gem going on in the background) Sam has become every inch the leader he was meant to be and it shows.
Castiel on the other hand…well. Basically becoming the John Winchester (more on that later) to Dean’s Mary, Cas’ struggle to raise their beloved son, Jack, while dealing – or rather not dealing – with his all encompassing grief is so honest and raw it’s painful to watch. Castiel, more than anyone other than Sam, knows that Michael will not give up Dean easily. As one of the angels who helped manipulate events to bring about Michael’s perfect vessel he knows just how far Michael will go to keep what he views as his. Yet, Castiel balks at the mere thought of putting Michael down permanently, despite knowing that this is what Dean would want — that he would never want to be used by Michael to hurt anyone much less destroy the world. It sends Cas on a downward spiral of increasingly terrible decisions that will have consequences for years to come.
Then we have Jack. Usually, when a show adds on a new character, especially a young one, it’s the last gasp of the show. After all, the Cousin Oliver/Scrappy Doo tropes are tropes for a reason. Thankfully this hasn’t happened with Jack. Alexander Calvert imbues Jack with an adorable forthrightness that is refreshing. Jack is the perfect combination of Dean and Castiel, there is a hardness about him that is pure Dean – the scene where he calls out Castiel for putting getting Dean back above the fate of the world is a standout – with Castiel’s early purity at being new to humanity and what that means. It’s wonderful and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the latter half of the season.
Finally, there’s Dean. As I have said before Jensen Ackles’ lack of awards for his performance on Supernatural is frankly disgraceful, and one of the main reasons I truly don’t pay attention to awards shows. This season has made the lack of noms even more jarring as we watch Ackles seamlessly shift between a truly terrifying Michael and a wounded Dean, sometimes within the same scene. Michael, having learned from his previous mistakes in taking over a planet, has come to our earth with the intent to rule. Smart, calculating and petty af, he knows the only way to truly win is to make sure the Winchesters aren’t in play. His plan, which is so insidious and brilliant that if you haven’t watched the first half of the season I don’t want to spoil it for you, comes to fruition and it’s epic and utterly brutal. For the first time in a long time I don’t know how the family makes it out of this alive, much less intact, and I love it.
Sure, this season hasn’t been perfect. The stuff with Nick is dragging and seems like an excuse to justify the always-wonderful Mark Pellegrino’s continued presence; there’s a few too many new characters with all the refugees from Apocalypse world and I’m not really sure which ones I’m supposed to care about beyond Charlie, Bobby and Kaia; and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) I miss Ketch’s particular brand of snark and assholery. Following Crowley’s death, it was a welcome addition to the show. Otherwise, this season of Supernatural has overall been fire; full of heart, smarts and character work that’s honest and true.
…and that’s even before John Winchester returns and things get even crazier.
4 out of 5 Archangel Wings