Supernatural: Season 8 Review
Note: Full spoilers for Supernatural: Season 8 follow.
While the previous season of Supernatural was a disappointment, they at least had the good grace a year ago to leave things in an interesting spot, which gave Season 8 a good chance of starting things off well. And the show did not drop the ball. What we got was a solid season-long mythology storyline, some great supporting characters, and of course, a lot of the always reliable backbone of the show – Sam and Dean Winchester.
Beginning a year after the events of the previous season, things kicked off with Dean’s return from Purgatory. While Dean was gone, Sam had given up hunting, fallen in love and was living a normal life. During the first half of the season the separation between the brothers in terms of what they wanted out of life was reminiscent of the first year of the show, with Dean fully committed to the hunting lifestyle and Sam yearning for what he had with Amelia.
The visuals were especially great in the flashbacks to Dean’s time in Purgatory with the washed out colors giving the place a bleak, war-torn look. Another element that worked well was the introduction of Benny (Ty Olsson), the vampire who helped Dean escape. The friendship he forged with Dean during their time fighting side by side was fascinating, since Dean was not the Winchester brother who would have been likely to work alongside a vampire in the first place. After such an intriguing set up, it was disappointing when halfway through the season Dean told Benny that he couldn’t be there for him anymore. It was even more disappointing when Benny was sacrificed, ending up back in Purgatory. If they don’t rescue him somehow in Season 9 it will have been a frustratingly early end to that character.
While the Purgatory storyline with Dean was pretty successful overall, Sam’s break from hunting to live with Amelia had its problems, problems that continued to bring this plot thread down as the season progressed. The first issue was the fact that Sam had abandoned Dean. Sure, Dean would have wanted his little brother to live a happy life, but there was no getting around the fact that Sam didn’t put much effort into trying to find out what had happened to Dean. Even putting that aside, Sam also left Kevin behind which only compounded the problem. It was a tough spot for the writers to put Sam into. If the story with Amelia (Liane Balaban) had been worth it, maybe it would have been easier to see past Sam’s actions, but in the end there was no chemistry between the two. As much as it would have been great to see Sam happy, it was a relief when we saw the last of Amelia.
I appreciated that the writers must have been looking for new ways to explore the relationship between the brothers, but hopefully in the future they can come up with something that isn’t quite so tough on one character or the other. Luckily Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are both so damn lovable that when the brothers reconciled it was easy to forgive along with them and move on.
The idea of being able to shut the gates of hell permanently was an intriguing storyline right from the beginning. It effectively tied back into the first five seasons of the show, which were their strongest years, while avoiding the trap of trying to create a villain that was somehow scarier than Lucifer.
Keeping Crowley as the main adversary had its benefits – Mark A. Sheppard’s fantastic work in the role being one of them. No one can throw insults at the Winchesters as well as this guy. Sheppard was never better than in the final episode of the season, when Sam’s attempt to cure Crowley put him through the emotional wringer. It will be interesting to see whether the experience changed Crowley permanently when we see him again next season. I for one am hoping there will be a change, if only to keep things interesting. When you have an actor as compelling as Sheppard playing the villain, there is a danger in keeping him around too long. It’s likely any other demon would have switched bodies at least once in the amount of time that Crowley has been on the show, but Sheppard has made the role his own and it’s almost unthinkable to have any other actor playing Crowley at this point.
The introduction of the three trials that would shut the gates of hell was good in that it set up some tangible goals for the second half of the season, but there were some glitches with the execution. The second trial in particular was problematic, with its fairly boring vision of hell and the fact that Bobby was so easy to find. When the trials were discovered, it was assumed by Dean that they were a suicide mission, although Sam promised he’d find a way to survive. For them to spend so much time on the trials, only to drop it at the very end when Dean realized that it really was a suicide mission after all was odd. This is not to say that I’m unhappy that both Winchesters survived the season. That they chose to abandon closing the gates of hell in order to continue fighting together was a classic Winchester brotherly love moment.
Castiel’s (Misha Collins) return and his involvement with both Naomi (Amanda Tapping) and Metatron (Curtis Armstrong) were strong elements of the demon/angel war. Naomi’s mysterious introduction and sinister methods made her an effective villain and Metatron was also successful as an adversary, although he got there in a much different way. His helpfulness gave way to betrayal, one that was set up well but also surprising. The twist in the end of making Castiel human was a good one; it is one of the things I am most looking forward to watching unfold next season.
Although Kevin (Osric Chau) spent the majority of the season cooped up and stressed out, his best moments to date were in “The Great Escapist.” Between the mixture of anger and desperation in his message to Sam and Dean and his refusal to back down when facing Crowley, Kevin really came into his own. He was still around at the end of the finale, so here’s hoping he continues to be part of the team.
“As Time Goes By” was significant for introducing a young Grandpa Winchester and the Men of Letters organization whose headquarters were co-opted by Sam and Dean. It was surprisingly wonderful to see them finally have a place to call home. The episode also did that awesome Supernatural trick of taking what we know of the past, tweaking it and expanding the show’s horizons. I was happy to see that they could still accomplish that in the eighth season.
As usual, the mythology episodes were spread throughout the season, which meant that there were still a lot of monster-of-the-week episodes. Every season has some good and some forgettable installments, and while Season 8 didn’t have any instant classics, there were some fun episodes. With “Bitten” the show did a found footage episode, which had the unique twist of showing Sam and Dean almost exclusively from the guest actors’ perspectives. Other successful stand-alone episodes were “Hunteri Heroici” with its Road Runner style action, and “LARP and the Real Girl” and “Pac-Man Fever” which both featured Felicia Day as the likable Charlie Bradbury, who is as close to being a sister of the Winchesters as anyone has ever gotten.
Although there were some missteps along the way, for the most part Season 8 of Supernatural delivered the goods. It ended on a high note with the excellent finale “Sacrifice” which left us with a handful of cliffhangers to think about while we wait for Season 9.