There will be SPOILERS. You have been warned.
The third season of Supernatural was only 16 episodes long because of the Writers Guild of America strike from November 2007 to February 2008. I have learned to appreciate shorter television seasons because it encourages tighter plotting and fewer meandering story side trips. Still, this season seems to suffer a bit because of the strike, at least in its pacing towards the end of the season.
When Dean made his deal with the crossroad demon to save Sam’s life in the second season, we knew what our story arc would be for Season 3. Dean has been given one last year to live before the Hellhounds come to claim his soul and drag the elder Winchester brother to Hell. This season is that year. Which means the finale will have Dean paying his hellish debt or finding some loophole to get out of the deal. At the beginning of the season, I was pretty certain how the season would end.
I liked the way the season was set up. Dean’s impending death sentence is a loudly ticking dramatic clock. When the Winchester brothers are doing anything that’s not about trying to save Dean’s life, which is most of the time, I felt frustrated and tense. There was literally not a more important story goal. Certain lines of dialogue and conversations between Sam and Dean reminded me that Dean’s demonic deal was always on their minds as well, even when it seemed like it wasn’t.
This storyline gave Jensen Ackles, as Dean, a chance to spread his acting wings a bit. Dean is all bravado and machismo, snarking in the face of death, but underneath it all he is scared. Ackles does a terrific job this season transcending his basic hard-rock, gearhead dude-hood. By the end of the season, he emerges as the more interesting of the two Winchester brothers.
Two new characters are introduced during the season.
The demon Ruby becomes an unlikely ally to the brothers. She claims, to Sam, that she may know a way to release Dean from his demonic pact. She’s played by Katie Cassidy, who would go on to join the cast of Arrow as Laurel Lance (and later Black Canary/Black Siren). According to imdb.com, she doesn’t appear on Supernatural beyond this season.
Another female character, a professional thief of occult items named Bela Talbot, also joins the show this season. She’s portrayed by Lauren Cohan, who would become Maggie on The Walking Dead just a few years later. Like Cassidy, she doesn’t seem to appear again after this season. In fact, I think we are meant to believe she was killed in the penultimate episode of the season, “Time is on My Side,” as her own demonic debt comes due and she hears the Hellhounds coming.
It’s almost as if the team behind the show was attempting to dilute some of the testosterone inherent in a story about two close brothers. I understand that Ruby and Bela were generally not well-received by the viewing audience at the time. I kind of liked both characters and the actors playing them.
The season kicks off with the brothers hunting down some of the demons and spirits they allowed to escape from the Devil’s Gate during the previous season. During an encounter with the demonic manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins, we meet Isaac and Tamara, a husband-and-wife team of hunters. Isaac is played by Peter Macon, who is currently Bortus under a ton of makeup and prosthetics on The Orville. Ruby is introduced in the same episode, when she saves Sam, revealing that she has a special knife that can kill demons. In a later episode, she helps Bobby Singer repair the Colt, that mystical gun that can kill anything. I like the fact that our list of enchanted weapons is growing. I’m holding out for the Eye of Agamotto.
Bela Talbot first appears in episode 3.3 “Bad Day at Black Rock,” stealing a cursed rabbit’s foot from the Winchester brothers after they discover a storage unit their father had been using in Buffalo, New York.
Other episodes introduce scary children in the form of changelings, a ghost ship, more vampires, a neighborhood book club that doubles as a coven, a guy who can control dreams, a creepy crank caller, an even creepier immortal zombie guy, and, ultimately, the Big Bad demon of the season, Lilith.
I thought nearly every episode this season was at least above-average. None were really standout episodes for me, though a couple came close. I enjoyed “A Very Supernatural Christmas” with its evil Santa, and the flashbacks to Dean and Sam as children. I also liked the Groundhog Day-ness of “Mystery Spot,” with Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” playing in place of Sonny & Cher’s “Babe.” I didn’t like the “Ghostfacers” episode quite as much, since the ghost-hunter documentary style of the episode put some distance between the viewer and the Winchester brothers, but I applaud the creative minds behind the series for experimenting with the form. The episode “Bedtime Stories” could have been a back door pilot for the series Grimm.
Sterling K. Brown returns as the hunter Gordon Walker just long enough to get sprung from prison, turned into a vampire, and beheaded with razor wire by Sam. Good times.
Then there’s the finale, the showdown with Lilith, the demon who owns Dean Winchester’s soul. There’s a good fight, but when it ends, Dean is killed by the Hellhounds and our last images of him are his being tortured in Hell.
That is not how I expected the season to end. It poleaxed me the same way that the Season 3 finale of Angel did, when Angel was sealed in a metal coffin and dropped to the bottom of the ocean. Dean is dead. Again. Where do we go from here?
I liked Season 3. Not quite as much as the first two, but still quite a bit. I plan to continue bulldozing my way through the series.
Season 3 Report Card: B+