Season five. What a pretty big season for this little show. One reason is the fact that there was a season five. So few shows make it to this milestone. So few shows get to celebrate the coveted 100th episode. So few shows get to decide that despite the success they're ending the planned five year mytharc anyway. Okay, maybe that's the only show I know of. So season five now gets to be labeled as the penultimate season. It's over, but its not.
I held out doing this review for a while. I had intended on writing this months ago, shortly after the airing of "Swan Song" but the scathing posts of disapproval and open bitterness interlaced with the passionate outcries of support left me waiting until the dust settled. Season five did perplex us in many ways and time was needed for an objective analysis. Now here we are, ready for the season five DVD release and all eyes are focused on season six. The time is right.
Come on, admit it. You secretly (or maybe not so secretly) wanted Supernatural's season five to be something it wasn't. It's okay, it's just between you and me, us fans. I won't tell anyone. Maybe expectations were high. Maybe it's just that season four spoiled us so much. Maybe you're like me and dreamt for once that a genre show would give you that "perfect" ending. Curses, foiled again!
Nah, I kid. It wasn't a bad season by any means. There were some absolutely "kill-you-dead" moments that any fan heavily invested in a show craves, but it wasn't a masterpiece either. Granted it was near impossible for season five to stand up to the gold standard of season four, one of the best seasons in television in my opinion let alone Supernatural. Still, expectations were high so there was bound to be some disappointment. As I learned a while ago though from the creative yet sometimes overwhelmed minds of Chris Carter and more recently Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, there is no perfect ending. While I'm completely satisfied with the way season five and the mytharc ended, the journey getting there did get bumpy at times.
Season five wasn't as fluid as season four. Heck, it made the hobbled by the writer's strike season three look well plotted. Despite that, I've never been more entertained, stunned, or emotionally wrecked. This show continued to go outside the box and give it's loyal fans and casual viewers alike something different. Any proper analysis though from a passionate fan or not has to avoid the "wows" and "what if's" and take an analytical look at what was given. The goal of this review is to look at the 22 episodes presented and answer the question, "Did it all add up?"
It's impossible to start with season five without going back to season four. The comparisons are inevitable since they are so strongly tied together. Season four was masterful at so many things, starting with the show's primary core, the brothers and their constantly tumultuous relationship. Season four painstakingly yet brilliantly pulled Sam and Dean apart. The slow plotting of their deteriorating bond paralleled the pre-apocalyptic events perfectly. As the brothers fell apart, we got closer to the end of the world. For a fan their rift was positively heart shattering but so compelling as well. It was high drama done right.
Season four also expanded, no exploded, the universe by introducing angels. It was a game changer. Then it turned out Heaven and Hell weren't all that different. Each had an agenda and the plight of man wasn't in either of their interests. The payoff at the end that both angels and demons were eager to start the apocalypse was the satisfying outcome to a season long mystery that kept us guessing the entire time. Sam and Dean were the pawns of the plan and deceived into doing their bidding, despite good intentions. That's where season five starts, the apocalypse has begun and Sam and Dean still have important roles to play. In other words, the universe isn't done screwing with them yet.
Season five actually did a great job of carrying on the real core of this show, the epic story of two brothers. It all played out with the long, slow and painful reconciliation of Sam and Dean. It wasn't easy and often hard to watch but it made sense throughout, for it had to take more than a quick "that's alright" to heal a fractured relationship that was seasons in the making.
Sam, coming off of his disastrous and unforgiving mistake, had no other choice than to lay low and put his faith in Dean. He learned the hard way once and for all going out on his own only resulted in tragedy. He stuck with his brother through it all, even when Dean lost faith in him. Dean's journey went in the opposite direction, for he finally felt the weight from intense burdens he put upon himself. He cracked by doing something very human, losing all hope. God let him down, angels let him down, his family let him down. Sam had done nothing for years but lie to him and then ultimately betray him. When push came to shove, how could he have total faith in Sam? He'd been burned too many times by the brother that always wanted to leave. The brother who didn't value family. He had to carry on his fight alone and found he couldn't do it.
Oh, but he did find that faith again, all because of Sam's ultimate show of faith in him. It was only then that Dean was able to do the one thing he hadn't been able to do thus far, trust Sam to do the right thing. Yes, that meant that he would lose his brother. He'd have to let go. Through all the horrible traumatic events and losses that got in their way, Sam and Dean stood together in the end and that bond helped them overcome all odds. Ultimately, that's what heroes do. However, as we've learned from this show by now, being the hero comes at a deep personal cost too and there was no shortage of suffering at the Winchester's expense. It was tragic, sad, somewhat depressing at times but it felt real. The apocalypse is no picnic.
In looking at season five beyond the core of the brotherly drama and their inspirational story of triumphing over evil by standing together, the foundation of got shaky. So what happened? Let's take a closer look by examining the good, the bad, and the ugly of season five.
You have to admit, season five had some epic episodes and landmark scenes. Only an established show like Supernatural could be confident enough to do something as groundbreaking and wildly imaginative as "Changing Channels." Tying it into the exploding mytharc too added shock value as well, giving huge depth to an otherwise screwball comedy. Lucky for them, they had a very strong character in the Trickster to step up to that incredible twist. "The Real Ghostbusters" expanded on that risky meta territory that was started last season and it didn't get old. The average guy got to be the hero, all inspired by the Sam and Dean mythos. It was Eric Kripke's nice pat on the back to a loyal fandom that's often given him both joy and fifty fits through the years. It worked without pushing this meta world too far into ridiculous territory.
In terms of emotional impact, this was the strongest season yet. Who can forget the stunning events in middle episodes like "The End," "Abandon All Hope," "The Song Remains The Same," and "My Bloody Valentine." Dean's powerful showdown with Sam/Lucifer in "The End" is a scene that still gives us chills, the touching, no absolutely gut-wrenching, demise of Jo and Ellen in "Abandon All Hope" still makes us weep, Sam seeing his parents in the past and Dean's discouraging meeting with Michael in "The Song Remains The Same" still gets to us, and Sam going off the deep end with his powers after giving into Famine's spell (with a stunned Dean watching everything) and Dean's meltdown during Sam's painful demon blood detox still forces us to scrape our jaws off the floor.
"Dark Side of The Moon" and "Point of No Return" are also two stellar and landmark episodes that will be talked about for ages, especially with the latter being the most satisfying and long desired brotherly reconciliation just in time for the 100th episode. Dean's dinner with death in "Two Minutes to Midnight" is easily one of the most heart stopping scenes this show has ever done, working by only using deep suspense and a deathly slow pace that had us white knuckling it the entire time. Then in the next episode, "Swan Song", there's the eerie and spine tingling showdown through the mirror between Sam and Lucifer. These are the moments that set this show apart from everyone else.
Speaking of "Swan Song," when it comes to tying up the core theme, family conquers all, it was perfect. Sam and Dean's plight was a test. A test that affected multiple lives and the future of humanity. For five seasons we got to see that test through the lives of these tortured siblings. How they responded, how they managed against impossible odds (they barely did), and how they prevailed (bittersweet, with the sacrifice of Sam). They never completely lost faith in each other, even though it did waver. After all, they're flawed humans. Ones that got to teach both Heaven and Hell a thing or two about the power of free will.
This season carried on the ambitious themes set in season four rather well, one exploring God's motivation and his role in this universe. Remember Castiel from early in season four, "God works in mysterious ways." Sure, that might have inspired Dean to kick his ass over that comment, but it didn't change things. We weren't really going to get the answer about what God really wanted, but the exploration is part of the ages and could not be ignored. It was like Lost finale. Answering what the island was all about was like answering the meaning of life (credit to Mo Ryan for that observation).
So, was Chuck God? I think so, but it will always end up being a playful and unanswered notion for this show. It reminds me strangely of the real identity of Robin Masters in "Magnum PI." They played with us the entire time and we never did get the firm answer, but the hints were delicious. Shows are allowed to do that. I take Chuck's presence to be more reflective of Joan Osborne's song, "What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us. Like a stranger on the bus trying to find his way home." I know people hate unsolved mystery but hey, creative license. The way I see it, God was there helping. Doesn't it make sense it would be someone close to them? It'll be a fun little debate to carry on for a while, which means the show did its job.
Season five also was a master class showcase for acting. You know how exciting it is to see a little show like this attract the caliber of acting it does now? Sure, Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Jim Beaver, and Misha Collins constantly prove their muscle, but the guest acting was some the best I've seen. All four actors that played for the four horsemen, Titus Welliver, James Otis, Matt Frewer, and Julian Richings took their small parts to a level that rivals the performances of the top dramas. The words "Sci-Fi show" didn't deter or cheese up their dastardly moments. Ditto for reputable genre actors Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer) and Mark Sheppard (Crowley). Richard Speight Jr. really took his recurring character The Trickster to amazing new heights, literally since he was promoted to full fledged Arch Angel.
Throw in the already steadies of Samantha Ferris (Ellen), Alona Tal (Jo), Matthew Cohen (Young John), Amy Gumenick (Young Mary), Samantha Smith (Mary), Colin Ford (Young Sam), Kurt Fuller (Zachariah), and Chad Lindberg (Ash) getting their golden moments to shine and they left us with performances we'll never forget. Out of all the guest performances though, my sentimental favorite is Chad Everett. I grew up watching this guy on TV and to see him pull off a dead on aged Dean Winchester? What a stroke of genius. Even at his age, Chad Everett still has got it.
Going back to Jared and Jensen though, fans often get spoiled with their consistency. We forget what extraordinary things they do each week. In season five, this is usually the point that many actors start phoning it in. This especially happens when the writing gets less consistent as it often was this season. Not these guys. They took even the worst stuff (cough, "Hammer of The Gods" cough) and made it work. They delivered something spectacular emotionally that only comes from that special touch actors can give. The words on the pages won't do that. So bravo to them both for continuing to blow us away every week, Paris Hilton or not.
Plotting and pacing. I get that 22 episodes are hard, but season five failed where season four wildly succeeded. Season three was a badly paced season, but most of that could be blamed on the writer's strike that took away six important episodes needed for good story telling. Season five had no such excuse. In terms of flow and even pace, this is season five's bad grade. Sadly, most of this can be blamed on inconsistent writing.
The first five episodes are great actually. Yes, "Fallen Idols" isn't a great episode, but we needed something light after the first four intense episodes and that kind of story fit the bill just fine. After that it was a mess. "I Believe The Children are Our Future" is decent upon first glance, but a mytharc episode that ends up going nowhere only manages to leave fans scratching their heads rather than delighting over a mystery. It harms the momentum of a season. "The Curious Case of Dean Winchester" and "The Real Ghostbusters" are perfect standalones, but they really didn't benefit from being on each side of "Changing Channels." We almost forgot an apocalypse was happening in that string of episodes until Gabriel reminded us. Gabriel's stern warning about Sam and Dean's awful fates would have been the perfect segue into the amazing yet grim showdown in "Abandon All Hope." Given how bad several of the standalones were, the season would have benefitted with TCCODW and/or TRG being shown at different points.
Sure, every season has weak episodes. They happen. Ones like Sam, Interrupted" are decent but suffer from missed opportunities. After all, brothers in a psych ward? The potential was huge and it came out with nothing more than Dean's stressed, Sam's angry and wraiths make a terrible MOTW story. "Swap Meat" was a concept fans wanted for years but it just didn't work. "99 Problems" fizzled after a great opening. Weak episodes however should only be tepid and shouldn't leave more questions than answers. Several season five's weak episodes left maddening head-scratchers that really wreaked havoc on the flow.
Why was Dean a demon target for the first part of the season up to "Swap Meat" but ended up being left alone after that? They figured out he couldn't die? Didn't they already know that? What happened to the Anti-Christ after much attention was brought to him in "I Believe The Children Are Our Future?" Wasn't he supposed to be there for the apocalypse? Why was Dean able to kill the Whore of Babylon in "99 Problems" which happened to occur after he had the power to kill Zachariah in "Point of No Return?" Wasn't it established in season four only angels could kill other angels? Why give the hero that kind of power then do nothing with it? I expect not all plot threads can be answered but these were pretty glaring.
The pacing in the back end of the season didn't improve much. Between "Hammer of The Gods," "The Devil You Know," and "Two Minutes to Midnight" they couldn't have worked in the appearance of Pestilence better? Why couldn't he get a full episode with a climactic conflict and build like War and Famine? The unfolding story between the three episodes was jagged and sloppy and several plots shown in those episodes felt like a rushed afterthought. It was the acting performances that gave these episodes some depth.
The biggest error in pacing though came from screwed up CW scheduling. The lineup was really hurt by "My Bloody Valentine" and "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" switching places. The effects were jarring. Wouldn't have that stunning lead in to "Dark Side of The Moon" made more sense after the crushing ending of "My Bloody Valentine?" Ditto DMDWP would have made a nice buffer after the emotionally heavy "Song Remains The Same."
Then there's mystery, or should I say lack of one. As I mentioned earlier season four had a great mystery that unraveled perfectly all season delivering a satisfying pay off at the end. Season five lacked such mystery, instead choosing to build on the early season reveals that Dean is Michael's vessel and Sam is Lucifer's. I'll give kudos for the interesting dilemma and how shattering that idea must of have been for Sam and Dean, but it didn't make for a meaty enough season long arc. I got bored with it by mid season.
Season five ended up being about Sam and Dean resisting destiny. Sure we were left guessing through the season why either of these guys would say yes to Lucifer or Michael, speculation started by Lucifer wearing his own Sam suit in "The End," but there were only so many times we could take hearing about that destiny and them saying "no." It was a lot to put up with until Dean's "yes" then "no" in "Point of No Return," which was really awesome, and Sam's "yes" in the finale, which got my heart jumping. Sadly, those two episodes weren't enough to keep us engaged all season long.
The parallel of Sam and Dean with the Michael and Lucifer's relationship just got too heavy handed at times. It wasn't always consistent either, especially the Michael of "The Song Remains The Same" and "Swan Song." One was charismatic and confident, the other was wooden and weak. Raphael, one of the four archangels, was introduced in episode three and was never heard from again, even though his role in this mythologically should have been as key as Gabriel's. His introduction ended up being another one of those head-scratchers that jarred the pacing.
Aka, the not pretty. The true "What the Hell were they thinking?" moments.
"Hammer of The Gods." I still positively loathe this episode. If it wasn't for the incredible scene stealing and major showdown between Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer) and Richard Speight Jr. (Gabriel), this episode would be out-shaming "Bugs." This offensive, poorly written, ill conceived piece of you know what was a major setback to strong storytelling that is Supernatural's strength. Sam, coming off of a major character breakthrough, went back to the worrying ill-confident Sam of old as if nothing had happened. Dean was really out of character, asking Gabriel to kill his own brother. Huh? Is that something Dean would have done? No, as we appropriately learned in the finale.
It didn't help that by this point scary was replaced by the gimmick of which episode could outgross one another. It worked in "My Bloody Valentine" but after that, especially the graphic depiction of Gods that ate people and when creepy ended up being just plain gross in the case of Pestilence's introduction, it became my assumption this show was out of ideas, time and money.
Then there was Castiel. I'm on the fence when it came to Castiel this season. His desperate search for God really didn't work out all that well. It's one thing when there's a failed quest but his purpose never really went anywhere in the first place. It ruined some of his mystique of the fallen angel on a mission. Granted, I am very pleased by his character turn from "Point of No Return" on. Once he got off the God thing, he went back to being the angel in crisis we know and love. More humbled, but still doing his part for the team and being the fierce warrior he always was.
Demons were quite different this year too. They were excited that their overlord was in charge yet they were dumbed down this season. They weren't menacing for sure. Part of me takes that though to show that these guys were nothing when compared to the horsemen and Lucifer. So, I suppose I'll let that pass. I won't comment on the music either, for we've learned by now budget is too much to blame. From what we did get though, I'm happy.
Unfortunately, with a keen fandom like this one, sometimes there was too much focus on little details, like what happened to the amulet. Where were Dean's rings, Sam's bracelet, all that. I do excuse the fact that in a 22 episode season, forty minutes at time, if there isn't time to address some of the bigger details the little ones will definitely have to go. Count me in though as a fan that wants to see that amulet back in season six.
So there you are, season five in a nutshell. I wouldn't call it a disaster or even bad, but compared to the other seasons, they're all better. Considering how good all the other seasons are though, season five is still in very good company and holds up. Now it's time to see what season six has in store. Unlike season five, season six won't be starting with lofty expectations. The pressure is off. Also, we're pretty emotionally drained from season five. Give the brothers a break, give us a break, and let them get back to saving people, hunting things. You know, the family business.