Previously on Supernatural, Dean made a deal with devil-child Lilith and ended up in hell. Pulled out for reasons undisclosed, he dug himself out of his own grave to find little brother Sam locked in a relationship with fatal femme Ruby and ignoring father figure Bobby’s best advice. A slew of stand-alones followed, including some natty flashbacking, as the present-day Winchester brothers were torn further and further apart.
Four seasons in, and the series is still riffing on familiar themes. Namely, family, duty and the bond between the chalk and cheese Winchester brothers. To their credit, the writers are still finding interesting ways to tell the brothers’ story. Here, the differences between Sam and Dean are made flesh in the company they choose to keep: Dean finds himself pursued by the mysterious Castiel, a serious-browed man in a flasher-jacket who, it turns out, is an angel sent to do God’s work. Sam, on the other hand, is still rolling with Ruby, the oft-decried side-switching demon girl who bit the dust at Lilith’s hands in series three but managed to claw her way back into the corporeal world and – much to fangirl chagrin – into Sam’s pants in the first half of the season.
It’s an interesting choice, pairing Sam – previously reluctant to join ‘the family business’, often bordering on self-righteous – with the seedy demon world, but the arc peters out into a now-clichéd magic-as-drugs metaphor, and buckles under the weight of its own poe-facedness.
Dean’s relationship with Castiel, on the other hand, turns up some of the highlights of the season, exploring some of the depths of a character more complex than the usual hair metal references and smutty asides would allow. Castiel, too, is an interesting character in his own right, and actor Misha Collins is quickly upgraded to star status alongside Jensen and Jared.
Flashback episode The Rapture is a stand-out, with Collins’ flicking between Castiel’s ruthless, stoney stand-offishness and the confused giddiness of family man Jimmy, former inhabitant of the angel’s human ‘host’ body, highlighting his deftness as an actor.
There’s a sense that the writers are starting to feel more and more comfortable within the universe they’ve created as they begin to play with the Supernatural mythology, never more so than in It’s a Terrible Life. An alternate reality story, the episode sees Dean as Dean Smith, a Wall Street yuppy with a penchant for faddy protein shakes, teaming up with Sam as Sam Wesson (do you see?) to put a stop to a ghost attached to a call centre who’s developed a fondness for killing wage slaves. It’s a story laced with fan-pleasing references. Dean Smith’s Mom and Dad are fellow hunters Ellen Harvelle and Bobby Singer, his sister Ellen’s daughter Jo, cleverly re-establishes the rules of the Supernatural universe in time for a finale which almost completely obliterates them.
The Monster At The End Of This Book continues the theme for referring back to previous episodes as Sam and Dean discover their lives are the source material for a series of books titled – what else? – Supernatural. It’s a device that throws the spotlight on Supernatural fandom in a way that other shows might not get away with, but the cheeky charm of the two lead actors sees them cocking eyebrows over discussions of LARPing and slash fiction as the writers trot out some of the series’ high, and low, points, working towards a reveal that belies the apparently tongue-in-cheek nature of the episode.
This series is at its best when it judders along at G-force, and the weight of an arc so reliant on three seasons of groundwork starts to show as the plot creaks towards a finale which never quite pays off.
Indeed, whilst previous final episodes have seen all hell – literally – breaking loose and the death of one of the show’s central characters, it was going to take some feat to make this one sing. The final moments of season four, however, promise that the best is yet to come, as threads are tied up in time for a very special cameo in series five.
As a boxset, this is bog-standard, with only a handful of deleted scenes and the option to play episodes uncut or as-aired as special features, but the episodes themselves are good enough to make it worth a punt.
In a climate where every new series has to prove its worth with twists, turns and false reveals within the first handful of episodes, Supernatural has proven the old adage that slow and steady wins the race.
From a cheeky, charming monster-of-the-week format, it’s matured into a show comfortable with its own complex mythology, whilst retaining an almost old-fashioned tongue-in-cheek humour that sets it apart from the majority of its sour-pussed contemporaries.
Well worth a look at, and an interesting jumping on point for fans of the esoteric in time for the season which creator Eric Kripke always intended to be its last. On the merits of this boxset alone, however, it’d be a shame to see it go.
Get Supernatural – Complete Fourth Season [DVD]at the Den of Geek Amazon Store