I was lucky enough to catch Supernatural starting with the pilot. I got hooked early, and started reviewing every episode back in season two (which means I've been reviewing this show since 2006, can you believe it?) But since the show went practically unnoticed in its early seasons and still has something of a low profile, a lot of fans came to the series late. Reruns and streaming have made Supernatural's viewership increase every season. Which means that a lot of Supernatural viewers got into the show via the binge watch, which I also called "the immersion method".
Of the fifteen current contributors to Doux Reviews, four have binge-watched Supernatural: Sunbunny, Josie Kafka, ChrisB and last and most recently, Juliette. I thought it would be fun to ask them a few questions about the experience and about Supernatural in general.
(Please note that if you're not up to date with Supernatural, you will certainly be spoiled!)
1. Why didn't you try Supernatural earlier? What made you finally decide to try it? How spoiled were you when you began?
Sunbunny: I remember being curious about it when it first came on. I asked a friend if the show was really scary and they said yes so I gave it a pass. I so wish I hadn't listened to whoever that was. I first revisited the idea of watching it when it was made available on Netflix Instant. I knew Billie reviewed it so I checked out her description of the show. "It's also my favorite currently running series" was all the recommendation I needed. I actually wasn't incredibly spoiled, surprisingly. The big thing I knew was that some guy named Castiel was going to show up at some point and I spent the first three seasons rather impatiently awaiting him. Every time a new character showed up I would get excited like "ooh is this Castiel?"
Josie Kafka: I started watching Supernatural during season five. That is, I started at season one in the middle of season five, and marathoned it all in about five weeks. I managed to remain relatively unspoiled all the way through. I'm not sure why I didn't watch it before -- it was only slightly on my radar but didn't sound interesting. If you don't watch Supernatural, it's easy to overlook it. I think I finally tried it due to the combined power of Billie and a boring winter hiatus.
For what it's worth, I stopped watching last season around "Meta Fiction." Each week I'd record it. And each week I'd think about watching it. And each week I would dip into an episode and go do something else. It just wasn't grabbing my attention the way it used to.
ChrisB: As I was living in England when the show debuted, it failed to hit my radar in any way. I discovered it when I was still a lurker on the site and was looking for a show to get me through a bout of pneumonia. I marathoned through the first six seasons in a little over a week, pausing only to sleep -- literally. If I was awake, I was watching this show. I very nearly gave up after the "Bugs" episode, but decided to keep going because I had nothing else to watch that day. I'm so glad I did! I was not spoiled at all as, like I said, I had never heard of the show before I saw the reviews on this site.
Juliette: I'm not sure what channel it's on in the UK and I'm not even sure the latest seasons have been shown over here at all, so I never came across it while channel hopping, which is usually how I get into things. I also tend to prefer ensemble shows (apart from The X-Files) -- I prefer Doctor Who when there are at least three people in the TARDIS, for example. That's partly why I'm utterly obsessed with Castiel, I just like having more than two leads.
I'm also not that into stories about demons. Top of my list of fantasy tropes are ghosts, vampires, time travel, alternate realities and general paranormal activity. Right at the bottom are werewolves, bugs, animal shape shifters and demons. And I knew the show was demon-heavy. If I hadn't known all along there would eventually be angels (dicks though they may be) I might have given up somewhere around season three. But Billie had given it such a warm recommendation and it had so many things I like (hot men, awesome car, rock music, ghosts) I eventually decided to get hold of some DVD box sets and give it a proper go!
I was very spoiled all along. I knew that Dean went to Hell, I knew Sam was without a soul for a while, I knew who and what Castiel was and that eventually he would become mortal, I knew Kevin Tran died halfway through season nine and I knew the season nine cliffhanger, so I knew where we were heading all along (though that did make Dean's demon nightmares in season three nicely ironic). On the other hand, I didn't know the details of the earlier seasons and how they played out, or who died when (apart from Kevin, and knowing Castiel and Crowley weren't dead).
2. What plot arc or arcs did you enjoy the most? What did you dislike the most? What surprised you? Feel free to elaborate in any direction you choose.
Sunbunny: I really enjoyed the season four/season five race to prevent the apocalypse. It reminded me so much of Buffy: a few good guys up against the end of the world. As for the arcs I haven't liked, pretty much anything that involves blaming Sam for everything. So, season four (demon blood addiction), beginning of season five (freeing Lucifer), beginning of season eight (why did Dean have to get out of Purgatory by himself). Sam gets blamed for stuff... a lot. I also really hated the way the show ended Anna and Bela's stories. Like, I really, really, really hated that. In terms of surprises, I knew Supernatural had a reputation for killing off characters but there have been a few I was surprised to lose so quickly. Like Ash. I wish they'd done more with Ash, he was hilarious.
Josie Kafka: I loved the way the first five seasons led to the season five finale; a lot of my discontent since then has been due to the lack of a multi-season plot. My favorite mini-arc was Chuck the Prophet. In general, the meta-episodes are my favorite. (I love Ben Edlund.) But by season eight I wasn't fully engaged, and season nine was the end for me.
ChrisB: As I was thinking about how to answer this question, I kept changing my mind! It's difficult to say which arc is my favorite or least favorite. Each of them has aspects that I enjoy and aspects that I don't. I was thrilled when the angels showed up and I think that the show has only improved since they've been on board. Any arc in which the brothers' personalities are changed also intrigues me. I know I'm wimping out on this question, but I honestly don't have one particular favorite.
Juliette: I tend to be more into standalone episodes than plot arcs, as a general rule (that's been true of every show I've ever watched except Fringe, in which I prefer the plot arc).
If I had to choose a favourite plot arc, I guess it would be season five. I liked the simplicity of the general arc in season one, but it was never really clear why John was avoiding the boys or why he disappeared in the first place, so the resolution (or lack thereof) kinda spoiled it. Season five has a strong throughline with a good payoff -- though I'm glad the show didn't end with Sam trapped in Hell forever and Castiel and Bobby dead, 'cause that would have been spectacularly depressing. Luckily, since it was renewed, the conclusion to season five is pretty satisfying! Season three's arc is also very good, but depressing (though again, less so when you already know how season four starts!). Both season three and season nine definitely suffered from how spoiled I was -- both entailed sitting around waiting for Dean to hurry up and die!
Season six's plot arc was interesting, but I would have pulled back from Cas going quite so off the rails at the end and had him think better of it. I'm not wild about the special snowflake aspects of season two's (also a huge problem with five's) but it was pretty good and actually concluded with the death of the bad guy, a rarity! The Leviathan in season seven were kinda dull, but inoffensive. (But cleaning fluid? Really?!)
My least favourite plot arcs are seasons four (way too depressing and come on Sam, keeping a woman in your trunk?), eight (messy) and nine (partly because I knew so much about where it was heading, but mainly because watching the boys bicker for half a season and seeing Sam be so cruel to Dean -- deservedly or otherwise -- is just not entertaining to me. And leave Cas mortal and let him join the team!). I did like the visual on the falling angels at the end of season eight, though.
None of them really surprised me because I was so spoiled.
3. Of course, the eternal question: What's your favorite episode? (Or three. Or five.) And why those? Which episodes made you cry?
Sunbunny: "Swan Song" is probably my favorite episode. I also really like "Jus in Bello". Episodes that made me cry? "Death's Door" is the one that springs to mind, for obvious reasons. Also "Swan Song".
Josie Kafka: "Tall Tales" and "Mystery Spot" are wonderful, and they're both off-beat episodes that take a new approach to the monster of the week. So is "Bedtime Stories" with the great fairy-tale vibe. Almost nothing beats "Wishful Thinking" with the wonderful teddy bear who wonders if life is nothing more than tea parties. I will never not find that hilarious.
But "Changing Channels" is guaranteed to make me laugh until I cry every time.
ChrisB: My favorite episodes tend to be the flashbacks. I think "In the Beginning" is my all time favorite as I just loved watching the young Mary and John. Having said that, "Swan Song" was the one that made me cry the most. This is one series that gets its season enders spot on. From the Kansas open to the cliffhanger, they tend to be the episodes that I keep going back to.
Juliette: My top two are "It's a Terrible Life" and "Lazarus Rising", which is my absolute favourite episode by far.
I think what those two have in common is that they're the most positive episodes the show has ever done. The point of "It's a Terrible Life" is that Sam and Dean actually enjoy what they do, that they want to do it and would do it anyway as long as they knew about the supernatural. Plus, it's a ghost story (love those), it's a comedy episode, I've always loved parallel realities/selective amnesia etc., and I love that the Ghostfacers are properly useful!
And in "Lazarus Rising", one of the main characters gets rescued from Hell by a frickin' angel. However dark the plot arc later gets, that's a good thing.
Tolkien liked stories to be about danger and then rest, hence Rivendell and Lothlorien, to throw the danger into relief, and he also invented the word 'eucatastrophe' to describe a miraculous, wonderful, completely unexpected and unrepeatable event, the opposite of a catastrophe using the Greek 'eu', 'well' or 'good' (though they're hard to do – his always seemed to involve eagles). I like grimness and tragedy as much as the next person, but it needs to be balanced out. "Lazarus Rising" is Supernatural's one moment of eucatastrophe, poor Pamela's eyes notwithstanding.
(Though it's really hard to take Castiel seriously as an intimidating, threatening presence when you've seen a million gifs of him interrogating a cat on Tumblr).
Beyond those two, my top five would probably be rounded out with "The End", "Ghostfacers" and either "The Real Ghostbusters" or "A Very Supernatural Christmas". I love dark futures and "The End" is great. "The Real Ghostbusters" reminds me of conventions and of one of my favourite movies, Galaxy Quest, plus it's a traditional ghost story. "Ghostfacers" is also a nice little ghost story, plus it's funny, there's a genuinely touching story for the Ghostfacers and a helpful ghost. I like the occasional glimpses into Sam and Dean's terrible childhood, of which "A Very Supernatural Christmas" is probably the best, and it involves the giving of the Samulet.
By the way, the only thing that can equal my obsession with how much I want more Castiel at all times is my overwhelming obsession with the fact Dean just threw that amulet away, and Sam never found a way to show him that he does love him and want him in his heaven, and he never got it back. If I were writing the 200th episode, Sam would find the Samulet (hot, like God just dropped it -- guest spot by Chuck optional) and cure Dean (with Castiel, partly so Sam doesn't complete the trials in the process, partly for obvious Castiel-obsession-related reasons) and Dean would start wearing the amulet again. There would be hugging. This is probably about as far from the actual 200th episode we're about to see as it's possible to get! I think some of this is a result of binge-watching the show. I'm sure most viewers vaguely remember the amulet as a thing but have long ago made their peace with what happened, but I only watched it a few weeks ago. The wound is still fresh!
I also love all the random ghost stories from the early seasons, like "Asylum", "Houses of the Holy", "The Usual Suspects", "Playthings", and "Roadkill". There are friendly ghosts in all those except "Playthings". I like things to be nice!
I haven't cried much at Supernatural at all, which is very unusual for me. It's probably because I was so spoiled, and because when you watch it all at once, all the extreme death and tragedy is too much and you just stop caring, because you know something unspeakably awful is always just about to happen – Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, TV Tropes calls it. I did well up a little at "Abandon All Hope", "Swan Song", "Death's Door" and the end of "Pac-Man Fever".
4. The other eternal Supernatural question: Sam or Dean? And why?
Sunbunny: Sam! I love Dean too of course, but Sam's always been my favorite. I have no reason for this. Maybe it's leftover affection from Gilmore Girls. Where he played Dean. Which still bends my brain.
Josie Kafka: Dean. Do I need a reason?
ChrisB: Team Dean, all the way. I have a soft spot for men with issues and, oh boy, does Dean have issues. I can relate to his obsessive need to take care of his younger brother and I love his taste in music. I must admit to being a bit wary about the new season. The reveal at the end of last season stunned me and has left me worried about just how far he will go.
Juliette: Dean. Partly it's type. I showed Mum the pilot, and she was immediately interested in Sam -- she also likes Bill Compton, Angel more than Spike (though she hasn't watched much Buffy) and Ross Gellar (who she said reminds her of my Dad, so now he does me too, but he wasn't my type anyway). I like Spike, Eric Northman, Chandler Bing. Partly it's physical type (I like the babyfaces and Jensen Ackles is pretty much my ideal man, looks-wise). Partly, it's that I like the snarky bad boys with hearts of gold.
I actually identify more or less equally with both. I'm nerdy, both in an academic Sam-way and a Trekkie/movies Dean-way. I identify with Dean slightly more as an older sibling with an over-developed sense of responsibility, but with Sam more in, shall we say, my attitude to romantic relationships. And alcohol. But I'm far more attracted to Dean. (I'm actually not romantically attracted to Castiel either -- the obsession is a broader character thing).
And I've never forgiven Sam for leaving a knife lying around next to a not-dead guy trying to kill him and thus kick-starting, through a chain of events, the Apocalypse. Pick. up. the. knife. Idjit.
5. Do you have a favorite supporting character or characters? Is there a supporting or guest character death that really got to you? What about a favorite villain?
Sunbunny: Favorite supporting characters? How long do you have? Bobby, obviously. Also Kevin, Jo, Ellen. Supporting character deaths that got to me? See above list. Excuse me I need to go cry for a while... Favorite villain? I was always partial to Ruby but Lucifer was a lot of fun. Which is a weird thing to say.
Josie Kafka: I like Crowley. Who doesn't like Crowley? I liked Kevin, but I feel really bad about how his arc ended. And, as mentioned, Chuck the Prophet. I can't say I like Loki/The Trickster, but I love his episodes, as indicated above.
ChrisB: There have been so many wonderful characters on this show. The ones that I have loved the most are Bobby, Castiel, and Crowley -- mostly for the way these three interact with the boys. Bobby's death was shattering; I felt as though I had lost a friend. Castiel is just so special -- his arc of being human was one of my favorites. Crowley is a gem; watching him go snark to snark with Dean is always a highlight.
Juliette: I think I've probably answered this already! In addition to my favourite angel, I was very fond of Balthazar, his was probably the supporting character death that I was most ticked off about. His and Samandriel's. I'd be happy if Gabriel came back, too. And I was sad, if not surprised, to see Ellen and Jo go. Considering the show's terrible track record with female characters, I think if Jodie Mills dies, we riot -- though oddly enough, with the possible exception of Mary "I'll just make a vague and very unspecific deal with this demon and kick off unending tragedy for my entire family" Winchester, the show tends to do mothers better than other female characters. Mrs Tran is brilliant, and I like Jodie a lot.
My favourite villain is probably Crowley, because he is Spike without the bleached blond hair (and a bit less sexy, no offence to Mark Sheppard). In his first appearance, I kept expecting him to say he wanted to hang on to this world because he liked dog racing and Manchester United.
A Very Supernatural Christmas; Ghostfacers; Monster Movie; The Monster at the End of This Book; Changing Channels; Clap Your Hands If You Believe; Frontierland; Season 7, Time for a Wedding!; Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie; Meta Fiction
6. The opening title changes with every season, and there are also several special titles (see graphics above). Which is your favorite seasonal title, and which is your favorite special title?
Sunbunny: Probably season four? They've all been good except I really wasn't crazy about season five's. I love it when they do the special episode ones. I love when all shows do that actually. It's just fun.
Josie Kafka: My favorite seasonal title is season five, and my favorite special title is "Changing Channels."
ChrisB: I don't even need to watch them again. The best title card, ever, is the Christmas episode. I just love the juxtaposition of the title with the Santa hat and the falling snow.
Juliette: I think my favourite seasonal title is season four -- I love the flapping angel wings, also one of my favourite effects on the show. I would never have thought angel wings could be dark and scary and cool -- I'm actually not that into stories about angels outside this show either, too reminiscent of school nativity plays and too fluffy, but angels on this show are so much more plausible and gritty, and the flapping wings without actually seeing flying is part of that. I also like season six's shattered glass and season nine's burnt angel wings.
My favourite special title is definitely the X-Files spoof on "Clap Your Hands If You Believe". Loved it!
7. How do you think the series should end? How do you think the producers will choose to end it? Will season ten be the last (and should it be)?
Sunbunny: Okay so I'm sure I'm in the minority but I sort of want a really depressing ending. I just don't see Sam and Dean living happily ever after. Ever. They're not the guys who can just relax in suburbia while people are dying and they could be helping. At least they can't do that for more than a summer hiatus. I'd like to see it end like Angel. Sam, Dean, and Cas of course, preparing to fight against an impossible to defeat enemy, cut to black. Also, I'm sure this sounds weird, but I'd rather have them both die (or both survive) than just one to make it. The idea of Dean living without Sam or Sam living without Dean is almost unbearable.
Josie Kafka: I don't know how the series will end. I don't know how I want the series to end. (I think that's why I stopped watching: I wasn't sure what I was rooting for.) But I hope Sam and Dean find some measure of peace, if not happiness, by the end.
ChrisB: As much as I love this show, it's time to wrap it up. This past season was not its strongest and the rift between Sam and Dean is beginning to feel overdone. If I had my way, TPTB would use this season to close out all the story lines and bring the series to a satisfying conclusion before it runs out of steam completely. As to how I want it to end, there is only one way and it is not HEA as that would feel forced in this world. The boys have a destiny and it is not to live in suburbia with a wife and kids. They need to make the ultimate sacrifice and save the world. I would love the final scene/shot of the series to be that we see them in heaven with John, Mary, Bobby, and all the others they have lost in the past ten years.
Juliette: I've gone back and forth on this. At one point, I thought Dean should die, and Castiel get his wings back and hang out in Dean's heaven for ever (that would make Tumblr very happy), and they can all go visit Ash and Pamela and Ellen and Jo and Bobby and John at the heavenly Roadhouse. Sam should find a girl and retire and have a family (Dean's original ending of course, but Sam suits it better!).
Lately, I've started to think actually I'd like them to drive off into the sunset, maybe with Hell sealed and angels restored to give some sense of conclusion (but the angels able to come and go so Cas can still visit with his renewed grace), and with Sam and Dean out hunting ghosts, vampires etc because they've remembered the point of "It's a Terrible Life", which is that this is actually what they want to do. And the show is a bit like a Western, after all. But pretty much everyone involved with the show has said categorically that's not going to happen!
The producers will probably kill everyone in a giant bloodbath. As long as our guys get to heaven and can hang out in the Roadhouse etc., that's fine. And as long as Sam is "saved" in some way. Poor Sam.
I think season ten will be the last, but I can see that everyone has been saying that since at least season five so you never know! Whether or not I think season ten should be the last depends on where they go with it. Although I still love the show and am enthusiastic to keep watching, the last episode I thought was really good was season seven's "The Born-Again Identity", and the last episode I remember fondly was season eight's "LARP and the Real Girl", so it does seem a bit past its peak, creatively. However, if Dean spends most of season ten as a demon, I'll want another season, because I just want a few more episodes of the brothers saving people, hunting things. You know the drill. Hopefully we'll get a few episodes of demon Dean and the Dean we know and love will come back halfway through the season.
8. Last season, the producers gave us a backdoor spinoff ("Bloodlines") that failed miserably and didn't go to series. Do you think Supernatural is spinoff-able? If you were creating a spinoff, how would you do it?
Sunbunny: Supernatural is definitely spinoffable. They have such a huge universe and so many unexplored avenues. The mistake of "Bloodlines" was basing it around brand new characters. I suppose it would be easier to spinoff if they hadn't killed off so many of their popular supporting characters. I mean how cute would it be to set a spinoff at the Harvelle's roadhouse? Or a show about Bela? And hey, Charlie's still alive. Why not make the show about her?
Josie Kafka: If I were creating a spinoff, I'd follow the model of "Better Call Saul" (the Breaking Bad spinoff): a show that existed in the Supernatural world but had a different tone and a different set of goals. For instance, a Felicia Day spinoff. An office comedy that focuses on Crowley's attempts to wrangle divine and hellish bureaucracy. Castiel as a high-school football coach in an overcrowded, underfunded public school.
ChrisB: I didn't hate "Bloodlines," but was not entirely surprised when it failed to be picked up. I'm not sure Supernatural is a show that can launch a successful spinoff as this world is so unique. Of course, I would have said the same thing about The Vampire Diaries, so what do I know?
Juliette: I think it's hard to spin off a show that relies so much on two lead characters and their story. A lot of what we love about the show -- the car, the music, not to mention the guys -- can't just be transferred to new characters.
Having said that, the concept of hunters has some potential (I think where "Bloodlines" went wrong was in trying to be The Originals -- it belonged to a different mythology entirely). Perhaps, with new leads with a decent origin story, it could work. But probably not. Most successful spin-offs outside Star Trek take existing characters as their starting-off point, so maybe the only way to do it would be to do a different type of show, as "Bloodlines" tried to do, but with a familiar character, like Frasier. I'll give you three guesses which character I'd pick... ;)
That's it for the Q&A! Thanks so much to Sunbunny, Josie, Chris and Juliette for taking the time to write such well-thought-out answers. I was especially impressed with how our favorite episodes vary. (If you're interested, I'm deeply fond of "The Monster At The End of This Book" and "Dark Side of the Moon", as well as "In The Beginning".) And my favorite new word is "eucatastrophe". Thanks, Juliette.
If you feel inspired to answer any or all of the questions, feel free to post any or all of your own responses in the comments below. Regular old comments are cool, too.
(Supernatural returns next Tuesday, October 7.)
Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for a ridiculously long time. More Billie Doux.