The culmination of a five-year plan, this season of Supernatural sees the gates to Hell opened, Lucifer and his Four Horsemen walking the face of the Earth, and the boys in total disarray. After Sam's path of corruption and power last season, the relationship between him and Dean is fractured at best. But with the apocalypse looming and the End of the World nigh, they need to get their crap together before it's too late. But it's not all doom and gloom, as there are plenty of fun one-off episodes throughout this season, including an appearance by Paris Hilton, a Supernatural fan convention murder mystery, and the instant classic "Changing Channels," which sees the boys trapped inside television, where they interact with modern and classic TV show archetypes. This 22-episode season is almost worth the price of admission for "Changing Channels" alone. But the beauty of Supernatural is its ability to blend the seemingly inane episodes and capers with the larger story at hand, namely the Apocalypse and the coming battle between Good and Evil. Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) spend as much time running away from their destinies of being vessels -- human hosts of Lucifer and the Archangel Michael -- as they do running toward the challenges that they (okay, well, Sam) have wrought onto the world.
Throughout the season, there are still those standalone episodes that have become the bread-and-butter of the series. By balancing the arc-mythology episodes with these one-off yarns, the series remains accessible to the casual viewer, and it allows even the hardcore fans the chance to relax and breathe some weeks. And because of the cleverness of the writing, they even manage to make stunt casting like Paris Hilton make perfect sense within the context of the story they're telling. With the boys existing as fictionalized versions of themselves, thanks to the prophet Chuck's book series about them, any time the writers want to take a meta look at the fan phenomenon surrounding Supernatural, or any other property like it, they can write an episode like "The Real Ghostbusters" and have the boys meet their fanboys, fangirls, and even people who cosplay as them. Meta and a little creepy in many cases, but always a laugh riot.
We learn more about the history of the brothers Winchester, which goes back further than any of us could have imagined, as well as their mother and father thanks to a trip back in time. There are some pretty ridiculous "battles" along the way this year, including a disturbing Valentine's episode where lovers begin to eat one another, and a zombie plague sweeping through Bobby's (Jim Beaver) town, reuniting people with dead loved ones...yeah, that never ends well. I was a little disappointed that Castiel (Misha Collins) didn't have more to do, as he's been one of my favorite additions to the cast, but at least I got to watch him binge on hamburgers when Famine was around.
In the fourth episode, "The End," the creators take us, and Dean, to a future after the apocalypse, showing us the destruction our characters' decisions could lead to. It is a well-put-together post-apocalyptic environment, and easily one of the most ambitious set pieces ever constructed for the show, which got its own backlot this season so it could set up things like this. The final product is beautifully horrific and serves its purpose of reiterating to the characters and to the audience just how high the stakes are in this coming battle.
The Horsemen's appearances always make for a good episode. Lost's "Man in Black" (Titus Welliver) is on board as War, while Max Headroom (Matt Frewer) shows up as Pestilence, in a very snotty and disgusting performance. James Otis, who has had many small roles in film and television, portrays Famine, while Canadian actor Julian Richings is ultimately revealed as Death. Each provide their own challenges to eliminate, and it becomes one of the allures throughout the season to anticipate the next appearance of a Horseman. In fact, the entire season has that sense of building anticipation, which is perfectly executed by the writers and actors, as even the one-off episodes build on the mythology ever so slightly, moving us closer to the climactic battle that will wrap up the season, and which was originally intended to wrap the whole series.
In fact, had this been the final season of the show, it would have been a very satisfying conclusion to a long, epic story. Sacrifices are made for both good and bad reasons, while Bobby is crippled in a life-changing way, proving that no one is safe from the cataclysmic events unfolding. They've already killed off a Winchester brother once. Who's to say they won't do it again? Supernatural can already go down as one of those rare series that got to tell a massive story to completion on its own terms. Only now, it gets to continue beyond the apocalypse and see what comes next. The final scene of the season teases as to what that might be, but every beat up until that moment is wholly satisfying and "feels right." Every sacrifice makes sense from a moral point, as well as the perspective of personal redemption. Sam, Dean, Bobby, and Castiel have all made difficult choices throughout this journey, and just as the Earth is facing its ultimate test of survival, so must they face the demons of their pasts. For those fans who weren't raised in the kind of religious environment that would have prepared you for the coming apocalypse, never fear. The producers have packed this set with all the background information you need in an interactive feature narrated by our favorite curmudgeon himself, Bobby Singer. "Supernatural: Apocalypse Survival Guide" offers several video shorts that talk about the End Times, the relationship between Lucifer and Michael, the Four Horsemen, Satan, and demons. The only problem is that the feature has you navigate through Bobby's house. But once you're in there, I couldn't find a way to get back out without resetting the disc. Even the option to return to the main menu was disabled. Still, there's plenty to keep you occupied, so you won't be annoyed by it for a while.
Executive producers Eric Kripke (creator), Bog Singer (director), and Ben Edlund (writer) offer commentary on the episode "The End," the post-apocalyptic time-travel installment. As it was such an ambitious undertaking, and a monumental success, it deserves the extra notice, though it would have been nice to get some commentary on the finale of the season as well. Especially considering it's also Kripke's last hurrah as showrunner, and it proved the culmination of his five-year story with these characters.
There's a short exploring the backlot Supernatural finally got for this season, including all the different ways they've found to use it, as well as an examination of the importance of all those standalone episodes that make up each season of the show. Finally, the extras are capped with the presentation of the web series following the hilarious Ghostfacers, clear parodies of SyFy's Ghost Hunters, but even better because in this reality the ghosts interact with the hunters in a very real and very dangerous way. Plus, boobs! Everybody wins!
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