Friday, 25 May 2012

Supernatural, Season 6 – reviewed by Stephen Theaker

It took Sky Living a long time to get around to showing Supernatural, Season 6, and once they had it took me a little while to get around to watching it. The conclusion to season five felt like such a natural place to end the programme—series creator Eric Kripke left at that point, after tying up many long-running storylines—that I wasn’t in a hurry to see it start up again. But this season hasn’t been the pale imitation I expected, nor has it unpicked old storylines to rehash them, it’s done what almost every season of Supernatural so far has done, providing a significant new chapter in its heroes’ lives, while never letting the story arc get in the way of a good scare or a funny joke.

The series kicks off with Dean in in cohabitational bliss with his off-on-off girlfriend and the boy who might well be his son. But he wasn’t made for that kind of life, not while there are still monsters out there, and once Sam turns up again the two of them are soon back on the road. The first twist that keeps this season fresh is that Sam’s not the nice guy he used to be. He’s been pulled out of the cage in which they trapped the villains of season five, but something important was left behind. Now he’s sleeping with prostitutes, letting people get bitten by vampires and willing to sacrifice his best friends to achieve his goals.

Lacking a soul has its advantages. He’s fearless and heartless, and that often gives him the upper hand in negotiations; we see him facing down a goddess at one point. In episode nine, the old Sam would have worried about his missing brother; this Sam relaxes with a pretty hippy. But it inevitably leads to conflict between the brothers—not least because this Sam doesn’t want to make way for the old Sam. When he does get his soul back, a bit sooner than you might have expected, that adds a new wrinkle to the season, in that the brothers now find themselves running into trouble kicked up by Sam during his lost year (in the company of their resurrected grandad, played by Mitch Pileggi, who Dean previously met while time-travelling in season four).

The background to all of this is the aftermath of season five: a war in heaven between those who’d still like to get the apocalypse rolling and those, led by Castiel, who are rather happy with the way things turned out. The situation down below is equally in flux, with Eve, ancestral mother of all demons, returning to our world, and the new lord of hell (an old friend of the boys) looking for purgatory in a bid to get his hands on all those lost souls.

One of Supernatural’s strengths is its rich cast of supporting characters—as well as its tendency to kill them off. Episode eleven, for example, pulls in Bobby, Tessa the reaper, Death (his previous appearance was so good it was only a matter of time before he returned), and Balthazar the rogue angel. Conversely, its tiny core cast means no one is ever in a story unless they are needed—contrast with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, an often excellent programme whose second and final season was hamstrung by the need to check in with dull characters whose storylines advanced more slowly than a glacier.

Supernatural remains as imaginative as ever—for example episode fifteen, “The French Mistake”, brings the brothers into our world, taking the place and the lives of the actors who play them (I appreciated that the episode established that there are no gods, demons or magic in our world), or episode twenty’s vision of hell as an endless queue. There was the occasional let-down. “Let It Bleed”, the H.P. Lovecraft episode, did very little to capitalise on the story possibilities that name conjures. And the final episode of the season, spent largely in Sam’s head as he tries to re-absorb the pieces of his fractured psyche, frustrates when we’ve seen such stories so often before, and there are such massive events occurring in the world outside. The finale also felt pressed for money: the approaching stamps of huge feet turn out to herald just another flock of flying demons. However, the last five minutes of that episode redeem it utterly, as a good friend takes a bad, bad step.

I hope Sky Living don’t take too long to start showing season seven, because I’ve rarely been so keen to find out what happens next in Supernatural. It’s a good programme with many excellent moments, reliably enjoyable, and still the closest thing we have to a Hellblazer television series.

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