Collins’ Crypt: God Personally Saved SUPERNATURAL This Season

Not that they needed help - the show is still solid.

"Speaking of which, "Fan Fiction" seemed to suggest Chuck (Rob Benedict) was still alive, but that was his only appearance in the season - let's hope season 11 does something with this reveal."

That's from my review of the Season 10 Blu-ray of Supernatural, and I had to laugh when re-reading it, because when I wrote that I was only thinking "Chuck comes back in an episode or two and explains where he's been" or something. Instead, practically by the time I forgot he was a potential player again, Chuck did indeed come back, but with a slightly more exciting reveal: he is in fact God (and if I'm understanding correctly, always has been - this isn't a recently acquired "vessel" kind of thing). Chuck (he prefers to be called Chuck, not "God") ended up playing a major role in the season's third act, almost doubling the number of episodes that Rob Benedict has ever appeared in, and elevated what was already a pretty good season into what may be the best since the show's extended life (everything after season 5) began.

It is testament to both the show's rather nutty mythology and also how much leeway fans will give it when some bearded guy that looks like a community college English professor can say he's God and not only are we fine with it, but react in a "Yeah, duh" kind of way. It's a theory that had been floating around for a while (since he vanished in Season 5, in fact), and a fully satisfying one; as I've said in the past I don't really revisit the older ones, but it might be worth it to go back and watch the Chuck-centric episodes with this new knowledge confirmed. The meta jokes are always fun to hear again (he once again takes a shot at "Bugs" in his first appearance of this season; can we leave that one alone from now on? S(h)urely there are other bad episodes to take a shot at by now?), but knowing he's God will give those episodes an extra little oomph - assuming the showrunners knew it at the time, anyway.

I suspect they DID, because God's explanation for where he's been is too perfect, and since Benedict is the sort of guy who pops up on several TV shows every year, they had to have a good reason not to bring him back on the regular like they do for other recurring characters (meaning, unlike Jeffrey Dean Morgan, it doesn't seem like the actor's unavailability was the reason they disappeared). Bobby (Jim Beaver) and Rufus (Steven Williams) show up for a flashback episode this season, Jody (Kim Rhodes) appears once or twice a season, etc. - there's no way I can believe Chuck has been MIA since Season 5 unless there was a long-standing reason for it. Hell, the explanation is so good it's almost worth applying to real life; God doesn't intervene because he wants his children (humans) to find their way instead of holding their hands, and from his point of view, despite the giant missteps, they're actually doing pretty well considering how bad things could get. It's fairly impressive how easily the show manages to tackle giant themes like this in the same episode that makes a joke about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and have both things land as intended.

Of course, for God to come back there had to be a good reason, and that would be The Darkness, this season's big villain (sprung loose in Season 10's cliffhanger) and usually personified by Amara (Emily Swallow), the latest in a long, possibly unending line of gorgeous brunette women that Dean finds himself drawn to. When Amara is first introduced this season it is an infant, but she rapidly ages, taking on various adolescent forms before settling as the full grown woman she remains for the rest of the season (if there's an in-show explanation for why she stopped aging then, I missed it - in reality they just needed someone we'd understand that Dean would be attracted to), and makes for one of the better villains in a while. The show's insistence on upping the stakes with their villains each time makes it harder for them to really connect to our heroes, but since she's related to God (she's his sister) and Lucifer (aunt), it feels a little more personal than usual, with a firm connection to established players. Naturally, Crowley, Metatron, and of course Castiel get involved with the overall plan, and that's part of what makes the season so strong - it makes great use of its roster without shoehorning them in clumsily, as has happened in the past.

Then again, the more personal the villain is, the harder it is for the show to find time for standalone episodes. By now we've seen some variation of the following conversation probably fifty times:

Sam: Any word on [the season's villain]?"
Dean: No, Cas is [doing something to help but nothing is working so far].
Sam: Well we need to get out of here, clear our heads. I found a case...

And I swear we hear it two episodes in a row at one point this time around, probably during the curious stretch from episodes 15-19 where only one out of those five had anything to do with Amara. I would prefer a fairly equal balance between the arc/mythology episodes and the standalone ones, the way X-Files usually managed pretty well, but it's understandably hard to justify when the fate of the world is at stake. The show's budget isn't huge - the only way we can really buy into the potential catastrophic damage the villain is posing is if they work round the clock to stop it, and so every "Let's go check out these possible vampires" type excursions can feel a bit silly. Luckily, the supporting cast is able to smooth those edges, often popping up in a B-story, allowing Sam and Dean to go old-school while they keep the overreaching plot wheels spinning. Crowley in particular runs the gamut this year, first as Amara's sort-of guardian, then as a slave of Lucifer's, and finally (as usual) reluctant ally to our heroes. Characters like his have been around long enough that they can easily take on their own plots independent of Sam and Dean without it feeling like a waste of our time; if anything the show should bump Mark Sheppard and Misha Collins up to full-time regulars and give them even more to do - they've earned it.

The season had very few missteps; I loved the IDEA of "Baby", a bottle episode of sorts in which the entire thing took place inside the Impala, but there were so many far-fetched plot points (it gets stolen by joyriders) and unusual character actions (since when do the boys sleep inside the car instead of a cheap motel?) to make it work that it wasn't really worth the effort overall. As a Blair Witch Project junkie I was excited to see Eduardo Sanchez helm an episode ("The Chitters"), but apart from a few little easter eggs for BW fans (note the name of the bar and the brew they serve) I found the episode to be rather lackluster in execution and downright maddening in its placement, coming between two of the season's biggest mythology episodes ("Hell's Angel", which really set all the pieces for the big finish in motion, and "Don't Call Me Shurley", the one where Chuck came back). I suspect if I ever do revisit the series (and I would like to, once it's over) I'll be skipping right past that one. Other standalone episodes fared better ("Plush" and "Beyond the Mat" come to mind), and thankfully the writers spent very little time putting Sam and Dean at odds with each other.

But what really excited me about the season as a whole was the finale - as it didn't set up another impossibly powerful villain. Instead, it set up a very personal season 12, with Sam being taken in by an agent from the London Men of Letters chapter to answer for all of their transgressions (let's not forget it's their fault the darkness was freed in the first place), and Dean, teleported to parts unknown, wandering into a clearing and finding his mother Mary, who even the most casual Supernatural fan can tell you is a pretty big deal if it turns out to be the real McCoy. When God and Darkness reunited and ended the threat, Chuck promised Dean he'd thank him by giving him what he needed most, so bringing his mom back to life would seem to be a pretty good fit for that promise (ten bucks says they had "John" penciled in there in case Jeffrey Dean Morgan could be wooed back). Of course, we won't know how much these things will play out (life-altering events for the boys that occur in season finales - including death - tend to be reset to status quo by the 3rd or 4th episode of the next season), but I like that if the London MoL chapter IS the next season's big villain, it seems to be a relatively grounded one.

Because like I said last year, this show is basically comfort food at this point, and it's not really the villains that keep us coming back every year - it's the Winchesters, and I don't think it could possibly hurt the show at all to scale things back and do a season that's a little more intimate. Not only would it be a refreshing change of pace, but it would also make "monster of the week" diversions a lot easier to justify. If the London Men of Letters are angry at all the damage the boys have done while trying to do right, forcing them to stick to more traditional, small-scale threats could actually BE THE NARRATIVE for the season, giving them a pardon if they can show that as hunters they are still capable of tracking down common monsters, instead of letting them be something they do to kill time when things are quiet on whatever world-ending threat is currently the focus. And obviously Mary's return (again, if not just a throwaway cliffhanger that will be resolved before long) will have ramifications for Sam as well, since she died when he was still an infant and he never really knew her. Obviously I've always come back, so it's not like any season finale left me cold, but I must say that as cliffhangers go, this one has me more intrigued than any in recent memory (Demon Dean excepted, but come on - you knew it wouldn't last).

The Blu-ray package has the usual scattered commentaries, deleted scenes, and featurettes; nothing really noteworthy in that department, but that's fine. The show itself is the treat for this season, a fine return to the glory days (novelty aside, of course - it's been ELEVEN YEARS) that does right by all of the regulars and rarely had me rolling my eyes (I still wince at that terrible would-be "Bloodlines" spinoff episode from a couple seasons back). Season 12 continues the trend of the show starting later and later every year (October 13th), so we will have to wait a little longer to know how the cliffhanger plays out and what will be in store for our heroes this year, as well as how the new showrunners (Andrew Dabb and Robert Singer, taking over from Jeremy Carver) will handle things, but at this point I think it's safe to assume that, at worst, it'll be something that I can continue to look forward to when life settles down enough for me to watch an episode (I should note I only just finished season 11 last week), and at best it will continue to justify its much-extended lifespan. Just think of how many great episodes we would have been deprived of had the show ended after five seasons, as intended? Not to mention barely letting us get to know Castiel and Crowley (the latter was only introduced halfway through that season), and never know Kevin or Metatron at all (or Charlie, yes, but take the good with the bad). No, keeping the show going may have seemed ill-advised at the time, but once they got back on their feet they proved it was a good idea after all, and we continue to reap the rewards.