I thought this would be campier. People told me to expect camp, and I prepared myself for it. I’m not sure if it was the low bar I set with my own expectations, but for a show starting in 2005, I was seriously blown out of the water. I also came to Supernatural FRESH off a 3-month binge of the entire Gilmore Girls series, so the name Dean was completely throwing me off. (Jared Padalecki plays Dean on the Gilmore Girls, but Sam, BROTHER OF DEAN on Supernatural. This is only confusing when I’m watching episodes of both shows at the same time, because sometimes I rewatch the GG episodes where Jess and Rory are getting together, and that’s okay.) Basically I was happily surprised. Even though I am a girl who DOES NOT like horror, I DO enjoy drama and good characters, so I am enjoying this series.
I had my squinty eyes on looking for anything to dissect- this is a ten year old show about badass bros, so I expected sexism, racial exclusion, homophobic jokes (which Gilmore Girls, set only slightly before Supernatural, was RIFE with) and more. At first I was a little annoyed that every damsel in distress was a conventionally attractive female between the ages of twenty-five and thirty, but then I realized that I was falling in love with the close ups of Jensen Ackles struggling to contain his emotions and I might be a tad hypocritical. While the characters are majority white, I was glad to see Dean’s first love was a biracial woman in an entire episode (Episode 13, Route 666) about the prevailing hatred of prejudice in the south- racists ghosts, people. I don’t know enough about the folktales and lore from countries around the world to know if they’re being sensitively used- I am cautiously suspicious of Episode 8, Bugs, about “sacred Native American land.” In general, though, the tone has surprised me.
So far it reminds me of nothing more than a sexy X Files. Each episode starts with a setup of the paranormal case du jour, and the boys travel the country protecting and ghost hunting. I like how threads of a continuous plot line keep everything loosely linked, but there are tons of classic urban legends explored in Monster of the Week episodes. In this first season alone they enter an asylum where a doctor did illicit experiments, investigate a man with a hook for a hand, and solve a case about Bloody Mary. The overarching plot relates to finding their missing father, and, on a deeper level, trying to solve the 20-year-old murder of their mother, which has certain demonic ties. The writers do a good job of keeping you interested in the family drama while sprinkling in enough action and tension to keep it creepy.
The character development, again, surprised me. The brothers definitely have their “roles”- Sam is book smart and tries to reject the life of a hunter while Dean is road-rough with a soft spot for booze/girls- but the writing carefully avoids the easy trap of letting these brothers become caricatures. Dean and Sam struggle with issues of favoritism from their father, the pain of their fractured and dangerous childhood, the caretaker role that Dean has assumed and the repercussions of Sam’s decision, at 18, to leave for college. They tackle survivor’s guilt and severe trauma. They constantly worry about each other and the way they are handling recent developments. And still, somehow, the show remains funny, with plenty of light moments to break up the monotony of constant pain.
The entire season culminates with the boys finding their father and facing the demon that took their mother. The episode where they talk to their dad for the first time in the show was well acted- both characters snapped for the first time into a role that was submissive to authority, throwing down ‘yes sir’ and swallowing back questions or arguments- a striking contrast to their typical demeanor. A lifetime’s work for all of the Winchester boys comes down to a few packed episodes, and I was relieved that the writers resisted the urge to tie things up neatly. The shocking cliffhanger end of the last episode is one of the best season endings I have ever seen- I was taken completely by surprise.
A note for sissies like me: I don’t watch Supernatural if I’m by myself a night, and it’s ruined house hunting for me, because I typically walk into a house and picture myself in the first three minutes of an episode, about to make a decision that will paranormally endanger my family or end my life. A few things I do to ensure that I won’t be too overwhelmed by any particular violence include reading the Netflix descriptions, which can have spoilers that are actually helpful to a anxiety-ridden person like myself, and asking friends about which episodes have particular triggers- I can’t stand torture or violence against women, and even a creative show like Supernatural doesn’t avoid those tropes (Episode 6, Skin, has some uncomfortable scenes). I do need to break up particularly long binges of Supernatural with something lighter, but overall, I’m loving the characters. I am hooked.
Do you watch Supernatural? Have you been a fan from the beginning or are you a Netflix binger? Favorite episode in season one? Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I often come up with alternate names for Supernatural and tweet vaguely/rant about where I am in the run of the show. I’m on to season two!