Supernatural Season Four – A Review

“The Journey of Two Brothers”

I’m playing catch up on season four of one of my favorite shows, Supernatural, as episodes of season five stack up on my DVR. As the inheritor to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel brand of television horror, the season opens with the episode Lazarus Rising, with Dean (Jensen Ackles) returning from Hell (reminiscent of one of Buffy’s season cliffhangers and openers). His brother, Sam (Jared Padalecki), recipient of special powers due to the blood of a demon, hadn’t kept his promise to not train his special abilities. Sticking to the formula, the season builds towards the confrontation with the “big bad,” in this case, Lucifer himself.

Caught in the world of angels and demons, the brothers find themselves suddenly aware of the reality of angels—since demons were a given in their world—thus front and center of the battleground of spiritual warfare. In this cosmological battle between good and evil, the angels (Castiel and Uriel) as well as the demons, as spiritual, free moral agents, also make choices and have actions which have consequences in our world. This spiritual aspect to evil takes on a personal dimension in the form of Lucifer, aka, Satan.

“The adversary” is a force not equal to God, not God’s shadow self, nor the demonic-in-Yahweh as some people try to explain him. He would be a created being, the most powerful of the spiritual “principalities and powers,” the highest of what some cultures would call a god. Boyd then takes it one step further: what we see as evil is the collateral damage of humanity and creation being caught in a cosmological battle of spiritual forces. The reality of this war sends the brothers on two different journeys.
“This is your problem, Dean. You have no faith.” –Sam

For Dean, faith is a tricky thing. He becomes a living testimony of how as much as our rational minds demand proof, we can ignore what we’ve seen or intellectualize it away. For example, in three seasons, Dean has fought demons, been to hell, seen the miraculous, the transcendent dimension to our reality intruding upon our normal world quite often. Yet he struggles with the idea that angels exist. Why? Because that would definitively indicate that God also exists. Which raises an entire host of questions he’d rather not wrestle with.

“If there is a God out there, then why me?” –Dean

Like how he doesn’t believe he should be saved. That God would care about him at all, much less send an angel to snatch him from the pit of hell. Or the idea that he has any significance to God at all, much less that God has work for him to do.

“It doesn’t matter what you are. It only matters what you do.” –Sam

Sam has a different set of issues with these smite first, ask questions later, style of angels. He struggles with the thought that he’s simply a nice guy with something evil in him. Like the rest of us, he struggles with his dual nature, his fallen/cursed aspect vs. the man he’s trying to be and knows is capable of being. His powers represent a slippery slope of temptation into sin. Since this dual aspect of himself is something he has to deal with, his goal is to take a curse and make something good out of it. And he’s not alone. He has his brother, his fellow hunters, and other folks who speak into his life. Together they participate in a mission from God, a mission Dei, to help and save people from monsters.

Supernatural is filled with genuine terror moments. This season seems especially taut and focused on character. With Ben Edlund (The Tick, as well as a veteran of Angel and Firefly), Supernatural is easily the best horror and one of the most entertaining shows on television. None of that sparkling vampire crap everyone seems so fond of these days.

Supernatural (Season One) – A Review

“Family Business – Doing their Father’s Work”

There are two types of horror shows that spring up in the wake of The X-Files: those that are pale imitations of The X-Files (the whole spate of shows that sprang up when The X-Files hit big, Fringe) and those do what The X-Files did at its best, like Supernatural.

“I don’t understand the blind faith you have in the man. I mean, it’s like you don’t even question him.” –Sam

Two brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki, Gilmore Girls) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles, Smallville) enter the family business of hunting down supernatural intrusions. Their father has mysteriously disappeared, their mother was killed when they were children (engulfed in flames by a demon), and now Sam’s girlfriend has suffered the same fate. Sam wants to escape the family line of work and pursue a normal life while Dean embraces his father’s wishes trying to be the obedient son. So week after week, they pursue any ghost, ghoul, or urban legend, all while arguing like the brothers they are, sort of Kolchak the Night Stalker in a Chevy.

I expound upon much of the following in my blogs the theology of horror (part I, part II, and part III), but at its core, horror is about fear, an attempt to get a cathartic release from dealing with what scares us – be it the unknown or ultimately, our fear of death. There are four things horror explores especially well:

“It must be rough to believe in something so much and have it disappoint you like that.” –Dean

4. Horror deals with the total depravity of man. Sometimes this comes out as wrestling with the theme of man having a darker nature to resist, restrain, or kill (with such archetype monster tropes such as the werewolf or Mr. Hyde). In fact, the modern day serial killer has become the natural incarnation of man’s capacity for evil.

“But if you know evil’s out there, how can you not believe good’s out there, too?” –Sam

3. Horror deals with the nature of good vs. evil. In horror, the reality of evil cannot be denied. Brian Godawa says that: “Another way in which horror and thriller movies can communicate truth in today’s postmodern climate of relativism is in their simple but believable portrayal of real and undeniable evil. Showing the harmful results of a belief has been traditionally called via negativa, or the “way of the negative.” It is making an argument against a certain viewpoint by showing the negative conclusion to which it ultimately leads.

In horror, evil takes on a life of its own. It rages against God and it rages against man. Once the evil is revealed, once we have been dragged kicking and screaming right into the face of evil, one is forced to react. We can’t just deny it and hope it goes away, that’s a sure route to a quick demise for any character in a horror story that pursues that course. Since horror has traditionally been a brand of morality tale that makes us see evil, one of its most powerful lessons is that evil can win if we fail to do the right thing. As the characters, our proxies, gear up for this fight, they must confront their fears. Evil must be opposed. In fact, not just opposed, but opposed in the right way. When we use evil to stop evil, the evil is never defeated and will resurface again, often strengthened (why do you think we have to suffer through so many Hellraiser movies?).

“How can you be a skeptic with the things we see every day?” –Sam

2. Horror, as a genre, embraces the reality of the supernatural. Horror not only acknowledges a spiritual dimension to life, but that transcendent reality often intrudes into our own. Even as we hunger for ths transcendent realm and can’t help but grapple with the idea of its existence, nothing scares like the unknown. The world of the Bible is a world full of mystery. Mystery defies explanation. We’re uncomfortable with mystery despite our need for it. The mystery of the afterlife, the mystery of unseen forces – the Bible takes seriously the world of the supernatural.

“You know what I’ve got faith in? Reality.” –Dean

1. Horror meditates on our mortality and the reality of Death. The fear of death fuels horror. There is a wisdom that comes from contemplating death. The reality of death forces us to assess what is important about life, what makes it worth living, and wonder what may come after it. Horror is about grappling with what we see in the world around us and dealing with the implications of the eternal philosophical question “why?” Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there evil? Why do we do the things we do to one another?

“I guess if you’re going to have faith, you can’t just have it when the miracles happen. You have to have it when they don’t.” –Layla (Julie Benz)

And in the course of their spiritual journey, in the face of all they’ve seen, the horror drives them to grapple with faith.

Supernatural hits all the right notes, the inheritor to both The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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