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The Road So Far, Season Four…
Whew, we made it, the end of the Road So Far Series – for those of you who hung on this far, this means we’re mere days from the beginning of Season 5. Hooray! When I started this I had no idea what I was getting into, my original plan was to look back across the series and pick out those episodes that I considered to be game changers, episodes like Home and Faith and Crossroad Blues and others. As I got going I realized my muse preferred to simply spend some time with each and every episode, some for a moment others for longer. Thus The Road So Far series was born…as much fun as it has been, I’m glad we’re up to date, if for no other reason then it means I can count the days on just my hands until the beginning of Season 5.
So here we go, a look back at the incredible, all around game changing phenomena that was and is Season 4.
Lazarus Rising:
What can I say, it was 17 loong weeks since we last saw Dean screaming, impaled by hooks on a web of chains, begging for somebody, anybody to help him – SAM! I sat down gripped, psyched and ready for anything and this episode delivered. From the moment Dean clawed his way from the coffin beneath the earth I was right there with him.
What I didn’t get on screen with Bobby’s reaction to Dean’s death and burial I got through Bobby’s reaction to Dean’s reappearance and then his carefully worded explanation of how they buried him and his emotions at just how hard the last four months had been. Sometimes it is what you don’t see but rather imagine that packs a powerful punch and Jensen and Jim delivered.
I’ll never understand the purpose of having Ms. Cortese scantily dressed and insipidly spewing dialogue about ‘are you like together’ and then ‘call me’ other than to say that sometimes EK gets a little carried away with busting on the fandom and playing up the gaydom aspect but it’s an annoying little speck that quickly disappears when what we’ve (I’ve) been waiting for for years finally occurs – they hug. The brothers Winchester mutually hug, gripping each other and letting their emotions show through that physical contact that eases many a heartache. Thank you, Kim Manners.
This episode packed a punch with the reunions, the suspicions, the humor, the terror of watching Pamela’s eyes being burned out but then it delivered its final wallop with the entrance of all entrances, and reveals, Castiel – an angel. Lazarus Rising delivered all I could have hoped for a season premier to deliver, answers, questions, action, calm, tears, joy and left me satisfied that the last 17 weeks were worth the wait…now bring on episode 2…NOW!
Are You There, God; It’s Me, Dean Winchester:
Occasionally the show makes an effort to deliver the message of how much time has passed from the events prior. I appreciate those little details as it’s helpful in framing my understanding of where the characters are at a given point. Here we know it’s only three days since the events of Lazarus Rising. While we don’t know how much time passed between this episode and In the Beginning (and also because Monster Movie was moved out of sequence) we do know that the events of ITB and Metamorphosis are tied right together as are I Know What You Did Last Summer with Heaven and Hell, Death Takes a Holiday with On The Head of a Pin and The Rapture with When the Levee Breaks and Lucifer Rising. In looking at that list I note that all my critical episodes, those that must be viewed again and again, are included. Season 4 had a lot of must see episodes and even the so-called standalone or off-beat episodes such as Monster Movie, It’s A Terrible Life, Yellow Fever and others add nuances to the season that without which one is missing the full flavor. Good thing the DVDs are due out momentarily *edited since first written, mine arrived today, 9/1*
I sometimes cringe when series start to bring back former guests, whether I loved them or not, for a couple of reasons; first, it usually means there’s closure coming *sniff*, second it tends to lead to the warm up to jumping the shark and third, it’s frequently done poorly. AYTGIMDW passed over all those hurdles handily. I love that Sera Gamble posed the question here, through Meg, of just what was Sam doing with that demon Ruby and the body she was possessing. Then several episodes later Sera got to write the answer. She made us all wonder at Sam’s moral fabric and then gave us an out that some say was cheap and not satisfactory but to me it shows not only do the writers have an awareness of how their characters’ actions can and will be perceived but also have no desire to so thoroughly devolve the characters so that they are no longer redeemable.
There was a lot of discussion on the threads throughout the early part of the season that Sam was raping some poor innocent girl and then when it was shown that he wasn’t, there was an equally loud discussion that ‘they’ cheaped out. Sheesh. Good thing Sera Gamble and the rest don’t pay a whole lot of attention to us but rather stick to doing their jobs. I for one find it very telling for Sam’s character arc that while he was in deep grief and a downward spiral following Dean’s death he had not so fully been lost as to question what body Ruby ‘was riding.’ Compare that to the Sam at the end of the season who, while still deeply conflicted over drinking that innocent nurse’s blood chose to do so, thus killing not only the demon but the host. Yeah, Ruby had to die for having twisted Sam so badly. He’s very redeemable though, heavy burdens forever he will carry (ooh, sounds like Yoda) but very redeemable. *I could have put this in with I Know What You Did Last Summer but I wanted to finish the thought here, so when you get to that episode, refer back to here.* 

This was a mytharc as well as a standalone as well as a deepening of characters episode, Sera Gamble didn’t mess around here. We see so much more of Bobby’s home and get more insight into his past, as well as what he likes to do on weekends, if there was any question Bobby was going to have a big part to play this season this episode took care of that. We don’t often see the boys questioning what they’ve done in the past and what it has cost not only them but others, there’s been little moments here and there, Devil’s Trap, WIAWSNB, Hunted and some other times but usually they move on. This season we see not only these past failures, if you will, but the more immediate devastation of Pamela who not only is blinded but then killed for her willingness to help. There are also such reflective moments – brief that they may be – that the boys are very much aware of how hard their lives are and how much they fight to keep what they have, it’s not a throwaway line in Wishful Thinking when Dean says they have to fight for everything they have; they do.
This is an episode I enjoy with a bowl of popcorn, it’s a feature movie packed into 42 minutes and at the end I’m just as breathless with anticipation for what is to come next.
In The Beginning
Mary was a hunter, Sam was named after his grandfather, Dean after his grandmother (and thus begins a season of ‘make fun of Dean moments – I’m not complaining) John was sweet, Dean is the reason the Impala has been in the family all along…and she was there at the very beginning of the family’s tragedy, Ruby takes Sam away in the middle of the night *boo, hiss* Castiel is still a very suspicious character but his conflict is already beginning to show. Jeremy Carver writes and Steve Boyum directs…settle in ‘cause we’re about to learn something, a whole lot of something.
We the fans have known for over a year that baby Sam had blood dripped in his mouth; In the Beginning is when Dean learns. Demon blood apparently is better than Ovaltine, I don’t think I’ve ever had Ovaltine so I don’t know if it’s better – course, I’ve never had demon’s blood so…
We knew in The Pilot, and were reminded in Route 666, that Sam never told Jessica about hunting. That means for years he lied to Jessica. It takes a special kind of strength to lie that well, for Jessica never suspected – if she had she’d have found that curved weapon thingy Sam packed into his bag in The Pilot but she was genuinely innocent, lucky girl – until the whole pinned to the ceiling lit up in flames part.
Now, In The Beginning, we learn where Sam gets his good lying from, Mary. Tigershire was/is right, Sam is so very much like Mary it’s scary. She wants out, he wants out, she lies to John, he lies to Jessica…is it any wonder that it’s Sam’s words echoing Mary’s sentiments when he wonders in The Pilot: â€œYou think Mom would have wanted this for us?” Nope, In The Beginning we learn that it was the absolute worst thing she could imagine. No wonder Dean choked up. Just remember how he was at the end of Something Wicked when Sam wished he could have the kind of innocence that had just been stolen from Michael thanks to the shtriga, Dean wished Sam could have that kind of innocence but it was already long gone, now nearly four years later he learns that his mom never wanted her boys to have this life; talk about pain.
We see young John untouched by the war he fought in, friendly to a stranger in need, making poor judgments about vehicle purchases – thank you, Dean Van Halen – Mary likes strawberry shakes, John likes chocolate, Mary fights -- well, like a hunter and Daniel Elkins apparently makes that trek from Colorado to Kansas to the home of the now dead Campbells and retrieves his Colt…did he know of John Winchester after that? Is that how he and John started a friendship?
In The Beginning fills in many blanks that I know I’ve wanted Dean to know about ever since All Hell Breaks Loose I, so for that I say thank you. I also have to say it’s an excellent episode. I know a lot of people didn’t like it claiming Sam was shortchanged by only having 30 some seconds at the beginning but I say it worked so very well precisely because Sam wasn’t there and yet he was.
In The Beginning points out that Azazel had an endgame, until now we’ve been led to believe that endgame is Sam leading some demon army, turns out it really was so much more than that, and now thanks to Lucifer Rising we know what. 
In The Beginning fleshes out the characters of John and Mary by going back in time and showing how two very different lives came together, that Sam fell in love with Jessica is not so odd seeing how Mary loved John. 
In The Beginning reminds us that all roads lead to the same destiny, we still don’t know what that destiny is…Mary wanted out of hunting, but ‘fate’ forced her back in. Dean was sent back to learn the truth of his family but did his returning have anything to do with starting the whole mess in the first place? Now knowing that some angels were on the side of bringing on the breaking of the seals and having Lucifer rise we can wonder that the very orders given to Castiel to send Dean back were simply to ensure that Azazel met up with Mary…the whole time travel thing gives me a headache, as much fun as it is when used sparingly, so no wonder Kripke says one must be careful with the mytharc or it all collapses in on itself, true, very true. I loved In the Beginning but what came throughout the rest of the season was even more spectacular.
A lot of people didn’t like this episode, at least on some of the fandom threads. Perhaps it’s because the parallels between Sam and Jack were so ‘in your face.’ I don’t know. It’s amazing to me how people gripe that Sam’s arc/storyline is so subtle and yet still gripe when the themes are absolutely smacking one in the face. *shrugs* I don’t get it. Suffice it to say, I thought this episode was excellent. 
Sure there are some nagging little threads, and if it weren’t for the several other conversations in this episode not to mention how well it was dealt with throughout the rest of the season I would have been p***ed about that interruption of the phone call and the hunt right at the crux of Sam and Dean’s first fight/discussion. Since we got two additional moments between the bros I’m more than over that. I’ll always wonder if Jack’s wife was/is really pregnant or was she using that as a ploy in the hopes of saving her life. Too bad she didn’t know what the danger truly was, if it was a ploy that is. If it’s real…there’s another rugaru out there. â€“ That really does sound made up.
I look back at this episode in the context of some of the earlier seasons, Season 1 and Bloody Mary specifically and realize that of the two Winchesters Sam is far more closed off, far more likely to keep his own counsel, afraid what others will think of him. Is that because he resented his life, is that because he’s so like John his stubbornness rules his thoughts and actions, is that because he resented Dean seemingly playing peacemaker between John and Sam which would alternately allow him to have some cover from John’s ire while at the same time implying that he needed protection…oh, the list could go on. I don’t know but Sam is a study in contrasts, he wants Dean to open up about his inward fears while keeping his own locked tightly away. He wants Dean to trust him and understand his motivations while not being willing to express them openly, rather have them found out through slips of the tongue or because an angel ‘told on him.’ How can Sam expect to be given trust when he doesn’t first offer it?
I feel very badly for Sam, he’s so confused, so hurt and so very lost. And it’s only the fourth episode.
Monster Movie:
I might just have a thing for shapeshifters since Skin, Nightshifter and now Monster Movie all land on my favorite episode list (granted that list is fairly long but…). I’m not a fan of the black and white genre, nor monster movies in general but I adored this episode. I love that the sets looked like sets, at times, that the secondary and tertiary characters were a bit outlandish (the girl with the really large soda and the slurping from the drinking from the beer stein – too much fun.)
Jaime was adorable, fresh, funny, full of life perfect for Dean who was reveling in his second chance and shaking off the darkness of not only his time in hell but his last month or so back on earth learning about angels and Lucifer and Sam’s abilities. It’s a sweet gentle episode in the midst of a dark and ever darkening series of episodes and allows Dean a chance to show his vulnerability as he opens up (somewhat) to Jaime about his near death experience and belief in second chances and allows Sam some breathing room as well as he watches his brother, quite amusedly, take pleasure in a giant pretzel and even finds humor in seeing the latest Raiders movie despite his brother suffering in hell. An unusual juxtaposition of humor and horror that just highlights the fact that these boys do indeed lead strange, very strange lives.
Yellow Fever:
This remains one of my least favorite for the season. While a fearful Dean with a protective Sam is something I love (fangirl I am) and the humor of a yorkie posing as a hell hound, hallucinations of Sam going evil, and Dean finally unlocking the secrets of hell are gems there is a lot that is jarringly out of focus here. I never wondered that Dean was a dick so that argument has no place here and I give Jensen huge kudos for willingly going so far with that scream (I’ve been led to believe there’s more to be seen on the gag reel but I’m not peeking at any clips that have been posted here or there to be found, I’ll wait until my DVDs arrive…a little over a week to go as I write this – probably less by the time you actually read it) *another editing note, yep, the scream is longer, kudos again to Jensen for so willingly making himself a fool to sell the scene, and give us some fun*
What leaves me with a sense of ‘eh’ for this episode is that what awoke the ghost and started all this. I’ve watched it several times and still don’t get what jumpstarted the whole thing. Did someone go into the mill and start vandalizing it? How is it that after twenty years those papers and pictures were all still intact and not moldered away and/or shredded by rats etc for nest material? Not sure they had to make the back story so far in the past, two years, two months, I don’t know. Also, while Dean had his fears or ghostsickness I find it truly difficult to believe he was afraid of his guns, really? Sam going dark, going back to hell make a lot of sense, the unease of the teenagers and fear of driving above the speed limit make sense in the realm of anxiety but being afraid his gun would go off? Over the top.
The final bit that gets me on this episode is the whole timing aspect. I like the idea of having a ticking clock to add suspense but this one cut a bit too close. I’ve expanded on that several times in other articles so I’ll only go to say that each time they’ve done it (notably I Know What You Did Last Summer, flashbacks, and The Rapture, it only succeeded in confusing the timeline and or deflating the suspense. Of all the episodes the newest writing duo produced this season this was their weakest, they got better I give them great credit and it’s no Bugs but still, I’ll pass on it more then I’ll stop on it.
It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester:
I wish this had been a bit tighter. The scenes with Castiel and Uriel and Sam and Dean were excellent, as well as Castiel and Uriel. I liked the cracks in Dean’s façade and Uriel’s reveal to Sam that Dean knew more about hell then he was letting on. I liked the ending with Dean and Castiel – although I agree with Alice, Dean’s and Castiel’s scene should have come first and then Uriel and Sam’s…more ominous, more portent.
The monologue from the witch was too over the top for me and the whole dramatic scene of Sam and Dean getting choked and writhing on the floor was a bit forced and too lengthy. Drop something heavy on them and trap them would have worked a bit better for me. I’m nitpicking, I know, but that scene always bothers me. However, what really makes up for it is Sam being forced to use his powers, something he avoided in Metamorphosis but could not escape here. His awareness that he was stuck came through at the same time as his determination to live, to defeat the evil that is Samhain. Dean’s stunned, horrified and saddened expression as he watched his ‘little brother’ defeat an evil presence was a beautiful bit of foreshadowing for later. Contrast that look to Dean’s shocked expression in The Rapture when he sees Sam drink a demon’s blood and then flinches as he thinks Sam is turning his ‘powers’ against his own brother…sad all the way around, ‘tis sad.
Wishful Thinking:
I laughed and thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Audrey was adorable without being sicky sweet, that she absolutely believed her teddy bear came to life made me want to hug her and at the same time admire her ability to ‘keep it together’ as her precious bear stole alcohol and girlie mags. She was quite practical about the whole thing, my bear is sick, my parents are in Bali…frankly Audrey was the only sane one in the whole zany episode. Much as I adore Sam and Dean, they aren’t exactly sane – just think back to Dean’s rant in Yellow Fever and you’ll know all the reasons why.
I still crack up to think that some suit at a network thought it too disturbing to show the fluff exploding out of the back of teddy’s head – hey, have you seen the two-part Criminal Minds episode “To Hell and Back”? Oh, wait, that was the season ender so by this time it hadn’t even been shot yet – silly me. Still – really?
I like how this season wove the overall storyline in each and every episode, it may have been in small ways but it remained. Sam wanted Lilith dead and admitted, openly, that he’s no longer the person we met so very long ago in The Pilot. Dean’s nightmares are on the increase and the cracks in his strong defense are clearly showing. There may not be a seal being broken in sight but the overall threads of the season weave their way in each and every episode. Sam should be careful what he wishes for, not only for Dean to tell him about hell but for wanting Lilith dead. As for Dean, hide all you want in alcohol and wishing well sandwiches…in the end, it’s going to come out and it’s not going to be pretty.
I Know What You Did Last Summer/Heaven and Hell:
Finally we get to know what Sam did last summer, it was worth the wait. From drunken Sam to suicidal Sam to so rock bottom I don’t even want to breathe Sam…it was great. I totally got the nod to Monsters Ball and it was perfect. Ruby is a great character – this past season’s choice for portrayal not so much – but the character is pure evil and will use everything and anything at her disposal, so much so she grants Sam’s wish and finds him a morally acceptable meat suit and then goes for the big guns with her whole… “I used to be human; I know what it feels like to lose someone.” Sam was so far down in the abyss he never had a chance. For Jared it was yet another in a growing list of tour de force performances. 
Anna was quite intriguing here with, as Dean phrased it, her whole ‘girl interrupted’ bit and I truly wondered, and worried, during the week between this and Heaven and Hell what she could have done that would make Castiel and Uriel – well, all right, Castiel for I’m pretty sure Uriel likes smiting things – want/need to kill her. The ultimate reveal was both exciting and underwhelming…that she was a fallen angel was cool, that all it took was a brief doze under the wiles of the lovely Pamela Barnes left me flat. Clearly Jim Beaver was not available for this episode and the writers went back to the drawing board. I like/d Pamela very much, it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense. How about a cup of chamomile tea and a biscotti? Or better yet a shot of bourbon?

Alastair was a wonderful addition, I shuddered at his ominous presence and truly feared him in IKWYDLS, somewhere between filming that and HAH he underwent an accent change…not for the better. Had he continued it a bit more subtle I’d have liked it a lot more, truly less is more…yes, that even applies to chocolate having overindulged a bit of late.
Heaven and Hell did not complete all that IKWYDLS promised but it didn’t completely miss the mark either. Anna’s whine was annoying but in the end she did what she didn’t want to for the greater good and when she returns in a few episodes I like her a lot more, she’s got more focus, less poor me. Sam’s reveal to Dean was every bit as awesome as Dean’s reveal to Sam, so between the two episodes they scored homeruns with both those huge moments. I love the jump through the glass, followed by the even better first aid/triage in the hotel room – about freaking time!
We get questions and answers and more to ponder and eight weeks of hellatus in between, it was a ripping first ten episodes to the season and more amazing, we got all ten in a row…way to go CW. (And you’ll not likely hear/read that from me too often.)
I liked both these episodes and because elements of one bleed into the other I decided to lump them together…they’re better as a whole than they are separate. I didn’t mind grace in a bottle…I couldn’t come up with anything better, and there was plenty of humor and angst to go around. For those out there whining that by this time there were two sex scenes and by gosh there’d best not be anymore ‘cause this isn’t 90210, relax. Sex scenes have always been about character exposition without the monologuing. If you’re really nice, perhaps I’ll even follow that up with an article that I’ve written and thrown away twice now…then again, perhaps not.


# Randal 2009-09-07 10:12
Ovaltine isn't all that good, even my kids won't drink it, and they love A Christmas Story.

As for the subtlety/blindi ng light of Sam's storyline, given their life of encountering monsters and spirits and whatnot that are hungry for 'something' (blood, revenge, human flesh, etc) or troubled, the odds are decent that they're going to encounter something that could be considered obvious as the Rougaru, and I think it was handled without a heavy hand, helped by deft acting.

Re: Yellow Fever. I can live with the 'oh shit, my gun!' (he WAS afraid of the fourth floor, after all, heh) but given that the husband had *killed* in a rage, I would imagine that those drawings would've have been destroyed/found and removed in the aftermath, not exist years down the line.

Grace In A Bottle (should that be trademarked?) didn't bother me as it's not as if there isn't a tradition of magical containers. I'm with you on the Pamela Barnes thing. Something that monumental is discovered through a 'lay on my Freudian couch' session?

And one thing that might be 'whatever' to most, but bugs the hell out of me is the choice of song for the Anna/Dean Let's Get It On: instead of Bad Company's version of Ready For Love, they should have used the original Mott the Hoople version. The instrumentation is a bit more melancholy, and Mick Ralphs' vocal is far more sad and longing than the rock god style of Paul Rodgers. I think the sentiment of the scene and the impending near-death would have been better served. But I'm probably more of a classic rock geek than the average viewer. :-)
# elle2 2009-09-07 16:58
Hi, Randal,

Great comments on the first 'almost' half of the season! Yellow Fever had a lot of holes but I give the new duo some credit for rising as the season went along, After School Special was an improvement and Jumpt the Shark really was quite excellent...sur prised the heck out of me they could do that so well.

As for your classic rock comments, admittedly (many times I've admitted) I'm not that in tune so I'm not able to appreciate fully your comments, however your analysis is excellent. The scene was a bit deeper than that song evoked so I'll be taking your word for it.

Great thoughts!
# Randal 2009-09-08 06:56
Thanks! Despite the holes, I loved Yellow Fever (another example of an episode that, if not perfect, still has something to offer. How many shows can say that?) but the others you mentioned are stellar. Jump the Shark played perfectly with the subject; even simple stuff like "Cousin Oliver's" helped deflate the inevitable 'oh shit' vibe of the unknown family member and the actors knocked it out of the park. The viewer him/herself could feel thrown for a serious loop along with the actors.
# elle 2009-09-08 13:47
Great examination of the first "half"! Those first ten episodes had me reeling and frankly, it was a relief to have a bit of a break. Yellow Fever, ah, I can't help but like that episode, gapping holes and all. I recently re-watched this one with my mom who was asking about said holes, I told her to just ignore them and enjoy the funny stuff. Plus, let's not forget - Eye of the Tiger! Perhaps that is what endears this episode to me so much.

I, like you, cannot fathom why there is such sniping about Sam's lack of focus/developme nt this season. Metamorphosis was pretty clear. This is one of my lower ranked episodes of the season simply because the ick factor was too much for me. Blood and gore is all well and good but there is something especially disturbing about the idea of consuming human flesh. Maybe that's just me. I loved how they handled the reveal - the Dean and Sam confrontation, it was well done in my humble opinion.

Wishful Thinking - ah, another classic. That Teddy Bear Suicide kills me each and every time - no matter how many times I watch it. As does the speech in the Impala to Wes(ley) about how humans are meant to be miserable. And of course, "Kneel before Todd!" All around great episode - laughs, emotion and character advancements.

IKWYDLS/H&H - I enjoyed these episodes, plain and simple. I didn't mind Anna, and I didn't even mind that she and Dean had some comfort nooky. The grace in a bottle - okay, that was little hokey but at the end of episode 10 - the big reveal about Dean in Hell totally eclipsed any flaws and made this a fantastic episode.

Off to read part 2 now! 8-)