There's no greater feeling of excitement than opening the mailbox and seeing a large cushioned mailer stuffed tightly in there, delivering something that I've been eagerly anticipating since pre-ordering in May. After skipping inside and tearing open the package in delight, the contents slide out, revealing in full glossy colors the Winchester brothers. My day just got happy.
Yes, Supernatural - Season 3 on DVD has arrived from Amazon, all ready for my critical review and intense examination. It knows that I'll be nitpicking every detail, and it's ready. Granted, I'm not an experienced DVD reviewer, but the way I see it, DVDs are judged on packaging, bonus materials, and of course the season itself. This set manages to do all that well, even though it was one DVD short due to the abbreviated season.
The packaging looks great to me, probably because it's exactly like the other two seasons. They didn't change what wasn't broken, so that earns points. This year's cover is a perfect reflection of the season's mood, more so than the other two (especially season two). Sam is in front this time, giving us his standard moody and pensive glare, while Dean is behind him looking down. Throw in the Impala in the background standing watch (the way it should be) and a picture of the crossroads where this season's mess all began, and it's all good. Very good.
The extras are a little lacking, but even season two was light. Only season one had the truly exceptional extras. What we were given is decent. This year, there are small scene commentaries for various episodes. Granted, I never liked full episode commentaries, so I like this idea. Most full episode commentaries seem like filler and usually only a couple of interesting tidbits are revealed. It's much better to have Eric Kripke, Kim Manners, Sera Gamble, and Ben Edlund come on and explain in a few minutes what went into that episode. The only trouble is I wanted to see that for all the episodes. "Mystery Spot" is one of the most intriguing and wildly creative episodes of the season, yet there's no commentary. None for the finale either. Even "Red Sky At Morning" had something. Come on!
Having said that, the true gem of the extras is the feature on special and visual effects. Seeing what goes into the process is fascinating, and it certainly points out all the little things we take for granted when watching the episodes. What they give us is detailed and long too, and it's a delight to see how everyone works so well behind the scenes. For example, when Kim Manners says he wants lots of blood, the visual effects guys go all out, working tirelessly to get the right consistency, the most effective trajectory, and the perfect amount to splat on the wall. Great stuff. Also, generating black smoke on a computer is some really intense work, and it's really fun to watch how excited these guys get over beheadings.
One disappointment though is this documentary only went up to "Mystery Spot" (which was filmed after "Jus In Bello"). I would have loved to at least gotten a short segment about the finale, because there are some great green screen pictures on the 'net of Jensen all chained up with hooks attached to him. That final scene of Dean in Hell is a great mixture of both visual and special effects, and something they should have touted as their crowning achievement (not "Red Sky At Morning").
The feature on the Impala is perfect. It's great to hear from the behind the scenes guys responsible for the upkeep. Man, do I want their jobs. The one thing I did notice in these behind the scenes segments is all these guys talked like Canadians, "eh"? The "Ghostfacers" segment is a little long, but has its moments.
The gag reel as always is fun, but again, nothing can top season one's. None of the clips go past "Jus in Bello". I read that Jared was a giggly mess during "Ghostfacers". Bits like that would have been more fun to watch than all the strange faces from Jensen and Jared. What about the botched takes of the brothers trying to talk in unison in "Mystery Spot"? Most hilarious moment shown belongs to Jared and Jensen's impromptu dance in the rain during the graveyard scene for "Red Sky At Morning." Second place, the hug in "Jus In Bello" after Dean suggests they should fight like men in tights.
Now for the episodes themselves. Watching these episodes for the first time on DVD is an enlightening experience. I experienced season one and two on DVD, so I didn't realize from watching season three on The CW how distracting those promos are, as well as the logo in the corner. Without all those interruptions, I'm catching far more detail than I did before. To see "Mystery Spot" without the Pussycat Dolls or Gossip Girl taking away from Sam's pained reactions to his personal hell is like I'm watching it for the first time. The emotional impact is far greater, surprising me since I was completely blown away the first 50 times I watched that episode. Ditto with Dean in "Dream A Little Dream of Me", "The Kids Are Alright", and the finale.
The video quality is outstanding, so much so, I'm not sure why I need the Blu-ray version in November. I'm sure I'll end up comparing anyway. Overall this is a well done effort, and worth every penny. Considering my scan of Best Buy and Target this last week revealed tons of unsold copies of House while the Supernatural slot was empty, I'm thinking many others are in agreement.
Season three has one big unfair disadvantage, and that alone means that it cannot be compared with the other two seasons. Even if you picked the 16 best episodes of season one and the 16 best episodes of season two, season three still can't be compared. That's because this season, like the others, started with a master plan, the entire season mapped out with sketchy detail on a writers' room board. Anytime a master plan is forced to be cut short, the overall flow of a season suffers, especially when the season got off to a slow start. I think the writers did a very commendable job of recovering after the writers' strike and came up with a great way to address Dean's arc, but yes, plot threads were left hanging, and gaping holes do exist. In the end there wasn't enough time to fix the issues, so now the expectation for season four is higher.
This season is more intense, more emotional, and shows greater character development with Sam and Dean than the other two. The stakes are higher, the stories more complex, and with the introduction of writer Jeremy Carver (yes, Dean fans, start pelting me), a new dimension of episode is introduced, packing an incredible amount of dialogue, action, humor, intriguing characters, plot twists, and set detail into 38 minutes. Even Kripke upped his game, for the difference between "The Magnificent Seven" and "No Rest For The Wicked" is night and day. Other than the pilot, NRFTW is his masterpiece.
The acting as usual is outstanding, and somehow got better. First, we aren't just talking about Jensen and Jared. Jim Beaver is masterful as Bobby's role becomes more defined and he gets meatier story lines. As the anxiety over Dean's deal and the demon war grows larger, Bobby becomes a bigger voice of reason, a more solid foundation, and a greater father figure than ever before. Jim fits like a glove too with Jensen and Jared, and the three of them together on screen engross us in the intimate reality that each other is all they have.
Jensen has been great since day one, and this season, living up to high expectations, he again exceeded them. Seeing the self-actualization of Dean is an intense ride as we witness his movement from taking on his death sentence with recklessness, to regret when he sees Lisa and Ben, to the reality of Hell setting in, to the revelation his gruesome fate, to being forced to accept things about himself, to a renewed will to live, to, finally, acceptance of his doom. Wow. Nothing Jensen has done thus far though can match his horrifying portrayal of Dean being mauled to death by an invisible hellhound. That's not as easy as it looks, and most of the time such gruesome acts happen off camera. As a bonus, watch the extra on "Dream A Little Dream of Me" where Kripke raves about the incredible job Jensen did during the Dean vs. Dean showdown. I couldn't describe it any better.
Jared, however, earns the award for most dramatic improvement. I'm still in awe when I pull out episodes like the pilot and "Home" over how far he's come when watching any episode in season three, especially "Mystery Spot". The reality of Dean's demise tears Sam apart, and every bit of that struggle is painfully portrayed each episode with Sam's gloomy demeanor and his slow descent into darkness. While Dean becomes the person he was meant to be, Sam loses all touch with his identity and becomes unrecognizable to both him and us. It must only get worse for him in season four too, for Dean's death can only push him lower. To think, Jensen got the easy part at the end of the finale. Jared killed us with his reaction after going after Lilith, when the heart-crushing reality that Dean was gone hit him hard.
When both these guys are on, I'm out of words to describe what remarkable things happen. I've already stretched the thesaurus too thin with all my episode reviews. I mean, what else can I say? How about incredibly magnificent? Stupendously jaw-dropping awesome? Tear-jerking heart-tugging amazing? Really freaking cool? Yeah, I got nothing. All I can do is bow down to greatness.
Everyone knows the weak spot of the season, so I'll mention Bela and Ruby and make it quick. I don't think Ruby is all that bad and serves her purpose. However, the true recurring character of this show is Bobby, and for Bela and Ruby to get billing and more screen time over him didn't sit right with me. There's too much of them too fast, and it felt forced when looking at the season as a whole. Another weak spot only applies to those that had high expectations of seeing a full blown demon war this season. I guess they don't work that way.
I close out the retrospective with a random (and far from comprehensive) list of important lessons we learned from season three:
Dean would make the perfect dad, far better than his.
Never get on the bad side of Sam when razor wire is nearby.
Don't introduce an annoying character who teases the Winchesters like a bully and constantly steals their lunch money. It doesn't sit well with fans.
Watch out for Dean on his lucky day, for he has delusions of grandeur.
Don't mess with the phone company.
Killing Dean over and over again is actually fun.
The best way to horrify fans is through the use of basic kitchen utensils and eye sockets.
Winchesters in chains... sorry, I forgot my point.
Don't kill bunnies around Dean. He's a little sensitive about that.
Don't invite Sam into your dreams. He's a little violent.
Gay love can pierce through the veil of death and save the day.
Pliers and fingernails should never meet.
Family don't end with blood. You tell â€˜em Bobby!
AMC Gremlins are the anti-Impalas.
Christmas is evil.
Fairy tales are evil.
Children are evil.
Birthday partiesâ€¦ oh, you get the point.
There ain't no happy ending.
And finally, Bon Jovi rocks, on occasion.
Considering this was my first live season for this show, I haven't been more thrilled with a series since season two of The West Wing. As much as I enjoyed season three though, I'm ready to throw it behind me and move on. Bring on season four!
In the meantime, to pass the time until next Thursday, share some of your fondest memories of season three. For example, share a favorite quote. Mine is, "If you fudging touch me again, I'll fudging kill ya!" Ah, good times. Or share what you learned from it. Let's send off season three with a bang!