Warning: Spoilers follow for Supernatural up to and including season 11.
It’s a rare thing for television dramas to hit seasons in the double digits and still deliver. By the time a tenth season rolls around, a show’s prime is usually long passed and stories are often in “let’s stretch this arc out as long as we can” territory. But that’s not so with Supernatural. The CW series is about to launch season 12, and the show about Sam and Dean Winchester is poised to keep audiences hooked and more invested than ever.
Before I go into why I think the series is in the middle of a renaissance, let’s step back a bit. I can’t pretend Supernatural has been without its problems. It’s hard for me to untangle the lump of seasons six through nine without consulting pages upon pages of Supernatural wikis. A handful of episodes in those four seasons sparkle with an unmistakable coat of memorability, but more of them faded into the territory of Well, That Was Just Okay, or The Brothers Lied to Each Other Again, Really?! This downswing followed a rock solid fifth season in which every episode is impressive in either cleverness, character development, or world-building.
In fact, the first five seasons altogether have very few low points. The mythology of the hunter’s world has never stopped growing, but it was populated with a number of fascinating monsters, angels, and mysteries in these early days. The monster-of-the-week format in season one introduced us to bizarre beings aplenty. Once we were familiar with a world where things actually do go bump in the night, the writers eased us into the first big arc: finding the Colt to take out the Yellow-Eyed Demon.
The dominoes fell from there. Seeking revenge on the Yellow-Eyed Demon, a.k.a. Azazel, for killing their mother Mary led to the siblings learning about how the demon was targeting certain children, including Sam, with his attack. That took the brothers towards Ruby and Lilith and the breaking of the seals on Lucifer’s cage. Lucifer’s release and his desire to bring on the apocalypse brought to light the revelation Sam and Dean were meant to act as vessels for Lucifer and his brother Michael and battle. Sam stepped up, Dean didn’t, and season five ended with Sam/Lucifer and Adam/Michael falling into a cage together.
Where do you go from there? It would have been a satisfactory ending for the series, and it was meant to be. Series creator Eric Kripke had a five year plan in place. In trying to top the stakes of a looming apocalypse, Supernatural faltered. But seasons 10 and 11 saw a turnaround. The Mark of Cain, Demon Dean, the Darkness, and a return to finding the sweet spot of sincere emotion and some humor amid the drama all played a part in making the eleventh season the best one since season five.
Episodes in season 11 consistently delivered. The season was split between heavy-hitters like “Don’t Call Me Shurley,” which featured the reveal of God’s identity, and creature-focused installments like “Just My Imagination,” with a plot focusing on the mysterious murders of kids’ imaginary friends. They tackled the poignant and the lighthearted with equal amounts of respect. They broadened mythology with tidbits like seeing middle management angels and demons complaining about their jobs. They heightened the playing field to a biblical scale with the Darkness and God. And hey, they brought back Lucifer and someone else key to Supernatural: Mary Winchester.
When showrunners, execs, and actors tease what’s coming up next for their series, I find two points come up regularly: things are going to get darker and/or they’re going back to their roots. The former promises intrigue and drama, the latter plays on nostalgia and lets the reader insert whatever facet of the show they most fondly remember. I’ve heard the latter said about season 12, specifically from Misha Collins. Given the characters they’re adding back to the mix, that seems true. The loss of Mary Winchester is what triggered her husband John to become a hunter, which led to literally everything Sam and Dean have experienced. There aren’t deeper roots to go back to.
Besides Mary’s integral role in pushing events into motion, her presence will enrich the family themes Supernatural thrives on. Make no mistake, Sam and Dean and their relationship keep this show alive and kicking. And what will their dynamic be like with their mother back in the picture for the first time in decades? Heck, for the first time in Sam’s entire life.
Then there’s Lucifer. He’ll be played by Rick Springfield instead of Mark Pellegrino, but his irreverent attitude and incredible power have always made him a worthy and entertaining foil for the Winchesters. Plus, if he’s around, we’ll hopefully see more of Chuck Shurley, a.k.a. God. Since the threat of the Darkness is behind them, the show could represent the big scale with characters like Lucifer and God.
With Mary and Lucifer on board and the introduction of more members of the Men of Letters, Supernatural has the potential to get very interesting. Dare I say it’s in its second prime?
Images: The CW