Life is like poetry - it rhymes.
Believe it or not, I was planning on doing a video review.
Once upon a time in the year 2005, I was in the hospital. I had heard of this show, Supernatural, that was going to air (which at the time, I referred to by something like "teeny-bopper X-Files" or maybe pretty boy X-Files). So I tuned in to episode 1.02 "Wendigo" on the hospital TV and... found myself actually enjoying the show. I thought "well, I'll need to get out of here just to see where this will go" and that's why, for 15 years after that, I never missed an episode. Every day the boys survived, I would too.
Thus it was a bit of poetry that this night when The Winchesters aired, I found myself back in that same hospital - only this on account of my father's health. And here is a show about the boys' father as well.
So it seemed only fitting that with so much echoing across time, I keep with tradition and write an old fashioned text review, just like I did at first way back in the day.
I'll also admit, it's going to be hard to be purely objective here as there were a lot of emotions involved watching this pilot.
As always, let me start off with the negative:
The first "joint fight" annoyed me even more than it did in the trailer since its "comedy" was extended. I find it undercuts the attempt to portray John as an ex-marine to have him be that bad at fighting. It also goes against the episode's later demonstration of the demon overpowering Mary to have her just so casually win a slugfest against it (especially when the demon is in a body that's 2 weight classes above her). I always prefer Supernatural to be about the humans outsmarting their opponent. I would have greatly preferred to have seen something like the first Dean/Cole fight where John demonstrates proficiency and skill but it is useless against a demonically-empowered foe, while Mary uses holy water (and other tricks) to drive it back into a trap. You know, like they did with Carlos' introduction - THAT was done much better.
I'm also just going to have to push this show into its own canonicity level. I've said before that the season 8 episode with Henry Winchester kind of broke the original show's canon about the parents the first time. Though it was enjoyable (and the Men of Letters is neat), Supernatural essentially has the Kripke/Gamble version of the parental history, and the Carver/Dabb version of parental history. This show is definitely in the Carver/Dabb version, and I could probably nitpick it even there but...
Instead I'm just going to examine it purely as a show in the same "universe" (a spin off) rather than a direct prequel to our beloved show. How does that do?
The feel is definitely there. It's not exact but the the atmosphere and structure of it all does feel like an episode of the classic, original run. Since the show takes place in the 70s, obviously they can't be as overt about some of the pop culture references in it, but I was chuckling at the effort to put in more subtle ones.
Like Samuel's effort at the beginning in an outfit exactly like Indiana Jones and the entire segment ending with a creature very evocative of the Alien facehugger. Mary's nickname for John being "Soldier Boy" is both fitting and amusing to those who have kept up with Jensen Ackles' post-Supernatural career.
As for the characters, Carlos is not nearly as annoying as I was afraid he was going to be from the trailer and they got his character a good rhythm of alternating between cocky and sharing. I was annoyed with his disappearing act in the final confrontation, which was clearly done more to fake out the audience than be consistent with the characters. Latika is sweet and nice and I'm already getting afraid because of the Supernatural rule that everyone must die. It's going to be interesting to see how well an ensemble cast is going to work in this show since Supernatural was from the start a very concentrated, focused character study and adventure. The question will be whether these two friends can keep up in the show as series regulars or if it would be better for them to be frequent guest stars like Bobby and Castiel. I do enjoy they gave both of these characters distinct useful skills so the victory at the end of the episode was a complete group effort.
That brings us to the big two: John and Mary.
First let me reiterate that for a story to work, the protagonist(s) must be flawed in 2 ways: 1) They must lack something which they will try to gain over the course of the story and 2) There must be a reason they cannot have that gain immediately.
I have nothing but praise for Drake Rodger's portrayal of John. He did a near perfect job with the material showing us a boy, barely a man, coming back from a war and carrying scars inside and out. I liked that you could see him have emotions and struggles without being overly emotional and dramatic. He lacks and is seeking answers to questions in his life, answers that won't be easily forthcoming. They did very well with John here and I would like to watch more episodes with him.
Mary as portrayed by Meg Donnelly is... good but still rough. Her best moments are when she's not talking - and I don't mean her voice is harsh or anything, but the moments when she has to convey a wealth of emotion flooding her mind are the best moments in the show for Mary (and a credit to the actress she pulls these off). I understand the writers are intending for her dialog to be a cover for a character trying to shield herself from pain and people but it doesn't always quite... work. It's an issue that I think is a common one with prequels - you already know where the character's destination is, and it is very easy to "collapse" the journey to get there for them instead of working it out the way you would if the story wasn't a prequel. In this example, Mary is already talking about wanting out of the hunter life, which we know is what she wanted from the original show. The issue is what does "getting out" mean for Mary at this age and point in her life? What dreams/goals does she have right now when she meets John? She says she wants to find her father so she can tell him she quits, but that doesn't quite work as character logic.
It's really minor but I always stress that it is the minor things which can make or break your story. If anything, it seems like Mary should have been resigned to her life, looking for her father out of a sense of duty. She should be at a point where she had given up on her dreams, but then meeting John and falling in love with him on this journey sparks them up again. Like I said before, you get hints of this in the quieter scenes with Mary when the audience gets a look at her "true self" but some of the dialog works against it. I'm hoping this is just pilot jitters and it gets all ironed out later in the season.
As for the plot in general and arc set up for the season? I did like we got new monsters here and I love the idea that our characters are doing something new both with the loup-garou and with lovecraftian-style foes instead of the usual angel/demon shenanigans (though some nihilist demons do seem set on helping these Akrida). I don't know if this show has enough legs for 15 seasons, but I have a good feeling it could run for a solid 3.
The incorporation of hunters and men of letters both was much better done than I expected and I would love love to see this kind of interaction shown across various ages if the show changed into a kind of anthology series about the family history.
Normally I prefer to judge a show by its own standard, but obviously since this is the first, that can't be done. So grading it against the origin show, I give the Pilot here...
4 salt shells out of 5. It's not perfect, but it is a good faith effort that shows a lot of promise.
And like that fateful day 15 years ago, I'm going to be along for the ride until the very end.
Please add your thoughts below!
Keep going with more of Nate Winchester's Video reviews of The Winchesters and Supernatural, plus book reviews, fan fiction books and games, all found on Nate's Writer's Page!