I’m watching this more than a decade after it first aired. Even so, I guess the polite thing would be to offer a SPOILER WARNING here at the start of my review. I’ve managed to stay blissfully unaware of anything that’s happened during the entire series, so I have to assume there are others out there like me.
I have enjoyed this series so far. Season 3 slipped in my own personal grading system. It achieved only a B+, after Season 1’s A- and Season 2’s solid A. A big reason for that was the truncated season, due to the writer’s strike, and a story arc that felt a little rushed. Season 4 gets us back on track and expands the mythology of the series in new and exciting ways.
In ways that should have been obvious, too, even though they weren’t. Since we were already familiar with demons and the host of other monsters such as vampires, werewolves and zombies that have been introduced, it seems obvious that there should be representatives of the other “team.” Angels get introduced in this season.
Like I said, that seems to be an obvious progression. But, that hasn’t been our experience in other series, has it? The show Angel, in spite of its title, was a pure demon-fest. Other than the eponymous character played by David Boreanaz, there were no angels in that show. Most shows seem to shy away from stories about God and angels, even when embracing Evil to drive most of their plots. In Season 4 of Supernatural, angels are accepted into the mythos, and I’m sure nothing will be the same after.
When Season 3 ended, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) paid his debt for saving his brother Sam (Jared Padalecki). He was dead and in Hell. That’s what I call a cliffhanger.
As Season 4 opens, Dean has been saved from Hell by what are initially unknown benefactors. He has a burn in the shape of a handprint on his right arm. Dragged back into the world of the living, he initially believes that his brother Sam has found a way to make another deal with the demons. While Sam tried to do just that, it turns out he failed. He’s not responsible for rescuing his brother.
During Dean’s sojourn in Hell, however, Sam has become closer to the demon Ruby (now played by Genevieve Cortese instead of Katie Cassidy), who has somehow been able to return from wherever it was that the demon Lilith sent her last season. The indefatigable Bobby Singer (Jim Beavers) brings the Winchester brothers to a real psychic, a cool chick named Pamela Barnes (Traci Dinwiddle), who uses her powers to find out who saved Dean from Hell. Unfortunately, in the process, she looks upon the true visage of Dean’s savior, the angel Castiel, and she becomes permanently blind.
Castiel eventually appears in front of the Winchester brothers, in the form of actor Misha Collins. Dean, who readily accepts shapeshifters, werewolves and vampires, is an un-believer when it comes to angels and God, apparently. They just don’t fit in with his perception of reality. Dean also can’t accept that he is worthy of being saved from Hell. Castiel tells him that God has work for him to do.
This sets up the season’s story arc. The angels have returned to Earth to prevent the demons, led by the ever-popular Lilith, from breaking the 66 seals and freeing Lucifer from his prison and kicking off the Apocalypse. Several episodes are concerned with the breaking of particular seals, such as the “Rising of the Witnesses” in the second episode and the freeing of Samhain in the Halloween episode. But, not all seal breaking is on-screen. By the time the last episode of the season begins, all of the seals but one has been broken.
Tensions grow between the Winchester brothers as Dean realizes Sam has developed a close, unhealthy relationship with the demon Ruby. Sam has been drinking demon blood to augment his demon-banishing powers. The way it’s presented here, we’re meant to understand that this is Sam’s version of heroin addiction. Dean believes consorting with any demon is wrong, and he’s definitely correct in this instance. Ruby has been leading Sam by the nose because he is the one fated to break the final seal by killing Lilith. It is Lilith herself who is the final seal, and her death at Sam’s hands breaks Lucifer out of jail.
Meanwhile, Dean is dealing with his stay in Hell. It turns out that time moves a little differently in Hell than on Earth, and his stay was actually about forty years. After being tortured for many years, Dean eventually became one of the torturers, and it seems he was good at it. Dean has trouble reconciling the things he did to survive in Hell with being saved from eternal torment by an angel.
Along the way to the breaking of the final seal, the Winchester brothers have their usual share of adventures. They take on vengeful spirits, a shapeshifter obsessed with classic horror movie monsters, a town where wishes come true, feral children of incest, a 19-year-old man who just may be the third Winchester brother, and a town where it is impossible to die. Dean gets to go back in time to see the young John and Mary Winchester. Sam and Dean both get to experience a different reality in which they end up battling a nasty spirit together anyway.
Aside from the introduction of Castiel, we also meet the angels Uriel and Zachariah this season. There is evidence that things aren’t all well in Heaven, and the angels aren’t always very angelic. It turns out that Uriel and Zachariah are not exactly good guys, working to bring on Armageddon rather than prevent it. On the other side of the aisle, aside from the new Ruby, we are also introduced to the demon Alastair, who spent some time torturing Dean in Hell. There is also a girl named Anna who turns out to be another fallen angel, and a Prophet of the Lord named Chuck Shurley, who writes a series of Supernatural novels that tell Sam and Dean’s story and that, unbeknownst even to the author himself, will become new gospels.
It was emotionally tough to watch the rift develop between Dean and Sam. Supernatural is their story, whether the individual episodes are about ghost-hunting or the end of the world. When Dean and Bobby Singer lock Sam up in Bobby’s safe room to force him to dry out from his demon blood addiction, it was excruciating. With Lucifer being released from his prison, by Sam, at the conclusion of the season, the arc doesn’t have a happy ending. At least not this season. At the end of Season 3, Dean went to Hell. At the end of Season 4, Hell is coming to Earth. Great season finales.
I applaud the addition of angels to the Supernatural mythos. I’m sure their existence will complicate some future storylines, but I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen. We are gradually learning the “rules” which govern angels, the same way we learned about how salt, iron and silver affected other supernatural creatures. Angels, like demons, require human hosts, but the hosts have to be willing to let the angels take over their bodies. Archangels are super-powerful and are a bit scary. The angels all consider God to be their father. Stuff like that. As these factoids are casually dropped in conversation, the world continues to gain more depth.
The show seems to be on a more stable footing this season, making up for the minute drop in quality in Season 3.
Firewater’s Season 4 Grade: A