TV on DVD: “Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

119441Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season (2009, Warner Brothers)
purchase from Amazon: DVD

The fourth season of Supernatural kicks ass. Great mythology, plenty of action, some good doses of humor, it makes you think, and yes, it will creep you out. I had never seen an episode of this series before the fourth season DVD box set arrived for me to review but, man, what a good place to jump into the world of Supernatural.

The first episode of the 22 on this box set opens with a man buried in a coffin. He’s Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), who, we find out, was sent to hell. As he slowly digs his way out of the grave to the surface, he wonders who pulled him from Hell and what it all means. Bursting through the ground, Dean finds that his grave is in the middle of nowhere and trees fallen around the headstone. If this were a horror movie, it would be the perfect opening. No ridiculous voiceover, no exposition in the dialogue, just mysterious visuals and plenty of eeriness. Dean comes upon a deserted town, breaks into a gas station and steals a car. Oh and there’s an ear piercing scream that occurs midway through the break-in. More intrigue. I was hooked. Dean finds his way back to his brother, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and their mentor, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver). The three of them are hunters, responsible for tracking down supernatural creatures and killing them.

Sam has psychic powers given to him by a demon called Azazel. As we learn throughout the season, Sam has been hanging out with a demon named Ruby, using his special gift to send evil beings back where they belong. The two of them hooked up during the four months Dean was in Hell. Like a good novel, we don’t learn what happened to Sam during those long months until later — specifically episode nine, “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Likewise, we don’t fully understand what Dean went through while banished to Hell until the following episode, “Heaven and Hell.” In the meantime, the fourth season sets in motion a huge arc in the Supernatural mythology.

An angel named Castiel (Misha Collins) is responsible for yanking Dean out of Hell. If you envision Castiel as one of your Disney angels from the outfield, think again. Inhabiting the body of a human host, Castiel is a pensive warrior of God sent to retrieve Dean for a mission handed down by the Lord. Dean’s job is to stop a demon named Lilith from breaking the 66 seals that will free Lucifer from Hell. If Lucifer gets loose, then the apocalypse will take place. Thing is, Dean has a hard time believing there even is a God, so Castiel has some convincing to do. One of the things Castiel does is send Dean back in time to the moment when his parents are about to get engaged. Dean meets his grandparents (also hunters) and witnesses firsthand how Azazel manipulated and ultimately cursed his family.

Once Dean is convinced of the existence of God he still has a major hurdle to overcome: his brother. Sam’s powers from Azazel were given to him for a reason, a reason revealed in the season finale (sorry, I’m not going to tell you). Rest assured, Sam and Dean are at odds by season’s end.

I assumed that Supernatural was going to be just another “monster of the week” show, but I was wrong. The look of this show captures the feel of a good horror movie, with intense closeups and hand-held cameras constantly following the actors around. You feel as if something may jump out at you at any second and are kept on the edge of your seat. The tone of the show is what makes it special; Supernatural has the ability to make you uncomfortable. This is a smart technique mastered by directors like Hitchcock, Carpenter and Raimi, men who understood that you can scare an audience more with anticipation than with a big scary monster or lots of blood.

Besides the fine writing and technical aspects of the show, the acting is outstanding. Ackles and Padalecki have the believable chemistry of true brothers who love each other, but who butt heads with the way they do handle delicate affairs. Dean is like every older brother I’ve ever met: quick to defend his younger sibling, and also a task master, constantly trying to keep Sam in line. Sam, of course, wants to prove he’s his own man and this creates the conflict necessary for good drama. Jim Beaver is fun as Bobby Singer, quick with the one-liners. Collins is unsettling as the angel Casiel making it difficult to trust the character. Robert Wisdom, formerly of The Wire, appears in multiple episodes as the fierce angel, Uriel. Both Collins and Wisdom appear weary and irritable, as if truly carrying the weight of the impending war between Heaven and Hell squarely on their shoulders.

I believe the mark of quality television is its ability to make you want to go back and explore past seasons if you happened to miss them. Season 4 of Supernatural is so fine that I know I’ll be adding the first three seasons to my Netflix queue very soon. If they’re anything like season four, I’ll probably add them to my bookshelf, too. In addition to the 22 episodes in the season four box, this collection included insightful commentary on three episodes. There is also an informative featurette, “The Mythologies of Supernatural: From Heaven to Hell.” The featurette is broken down into three sections with interviews from theologians, academics and the series writers, that explain Heaven, Purgatory and Hell and how they relate to the series.