By Merrill Barr on February 15, 2014
The roller coaster that is television quality is often very predictable. Seasons 1-3 feel fresh and new because everything is just that, brand new and interesting to the audience. Season 4 drags a little, but ultimately succeeds. Then season 5 takes the show back to its roots and becomes awesome again. But after season 5, things usually take a turn for the worse. Arcs feel dull, characters feel tired, series simply lose those things that make them great in earlier seasons. After a while, there’s nothing else to do… and that’s what makes Supernatural one of the best series on television. Despite losing its original creator and show runner, Eric Kripke, at the end of season 5 and going through a bit of a rough patch in season 6 and parts of season 7, by the end of season 8, the series had not only re-found itself, but was able to create a new path that never has to end.
Arguably, the driving force of Kripke’s tenure was one question: can you fight destiny? Sam and Dean were the chosen vessels of Lucifer and Michael in order to bring about the apocalypse. What made the dynamic interesting was towards the end, it seemed Michael and Lucifer had no interest in actually battling; they just felt it was what they had to do because it was the path written for them by God. We know how the rest of the journey plays: Sam and Dean fight off the angels and Sam goes to hell at the end of season 5, and a whole new world opens up in season 6.
What makes the show great is instead of cowering in an existence filled with nothing but a never ending monster-filled procedural, the series – like its characters – simply threw out the rule book. Suddenly, the driving question was no longer “Can you fight destiny?” It was, “What do you do now that you’ve changed it? What do you when your future’s no longer written in stone?” Those questions opened up Supernatural to the world of Purgatory, falling angels, power struggles in hell; these are not the dynamics typical of a show in the ninth season of its run. Somehow, through a consistent drive to keep the series at the top of its game, Supernatural cracked the code on television longevity, without suffering in quality.
How many series can you name delivered one of the best episodes of its canon in season nine? Because that’s what happened in “First Born.” Not only did the hour contain one of the best Timothy Omundson performances on record, it actually dared to subvert one of the most well known biblical stories ever (something that’s become typical of the CW series). Suddenly, Cain isn’t an envious ass that killed his brother Abel for the heck of it; he’s a protector that saved his brother’s soul from being damned to hell at the cost of his own morality. What Supernatural realized after season 5 is it doesn’t have to be beholden to the idea that the Bible ends at the end of days. Instead, it started looking to the Bible – among other ancient writings such as Greek mythology – for inspiration to build out the question of what happens after the world ends in biblical terms.
But in addition to all of this, and most importantly, Supernatural’s managed to keep its characters lively. When Dean cries for a fallen comrade like Kevin, you still feel it. When Sam feels lost and betrayed by decisions made for him by his protective older brother, you still care. When Castiel stumbles through another element of humanity, you still laugh. Even in one of the most recent episodes, Garth, a character that’s been all over the map in seasons past, was given a proper goodbye and true love as a freaking werewolf. Now, that’s some really clever writing.
The reason it’s important to point out the consistency of a show like Supernatural is because it’s proof television can sustain, that just because a show’s old, it doesn’t mean it isn’t still kicking. Despite existing on the fringes of the airwaves at The CW – the series actually holds the rare distinction of being older than the network it airs on – Supernatural’s a show from which every other series on television can learn something. It’s a show that dares to say to the world, “age is no excuse for laziness.”