Collins’ Crypt: SUPERNATURAL’s 13th Season Still Has Some Luck

The show still entertains, but stubbornly refuses to surprise.

Apart from The Simpsons, I don't think I've ever watched ten seasons of a single TV show. Not that there are a lot of options once you get to that point, but I dropped shows like Smallville and X-Files before they ended, and I skipped a season or two of Friends somewhere in the middle, because let's face it: 200+ episodes is a lot of time to spend with the same characters and more or less the same story. But I'm still here for Supernatural, now about to start its 14th season - during which it will hit its 300th episode, which is not only amazing for a genre show (it already broke the record for longest running primetime one in that category) but also for me, as history dictates I should have lost interest around 100 episodes ago. But it remains pretty much the only broadcast network drama I watch, having long since disregarded their lineups in favor of AMC, FX, and pay cable, and I still think I'd be rather sad to see it go should CW ever decide to pull the plug.

But that might change unless this season can rise above my expectations, because the S13 finale really rubbed me the wrong way. First off, they once again ended on a major change for one of the boys, in this case Dean (Jensen Ackles) becoming a meat suit for the villainous archangel Michael. I suspect this change will last longer than "Deanmon" did a few seasons back - with the 300th episode arriving for the season's 13th episode, they might even stretch it out to then in order to center the marketing on "Dean is BACK!" - but rest assured, unlike if you or I got overtaken by an archangel, Dean Winchester will be back stuffing burgers in his face and driving the Impala before long. On any other show, I might legitimately believe that he might be gone forever, or even a full season, but after so many years and so many seemingly insurmountable challenges, as much as I like the show I can't ever for one second be legitimately shocked like I was for certain things about Lost or Buffy. Hell, Sam died in one episode this season when his neck was torn apart by some Descent-like creatures, and was revived so quickly (with zero repercussions) that I actually wondered why Dean got choked up upon his return. Isn't he used to this by now?

Had "Deangel" been the finale's only setup for things to come, I wouldn't mind much - again, it's not like they haven't done this sort of thing before, so I probably just would have rolled my eyes and looked forward to seeing Ackles act evil for a few episodes before things went back to normal for the thirteenth time. But it came after another, bigger development: the revival of Bobby and Charlie, two supporting characters who had thankfully managed to stay dead (unlike most of the other people on this show, the leads included). In season 12 we were introduced to "Apocalypse World", an alternate universe inhabited by some familiar faces, including Jim Beaver's beloved Bobby, who was killed off a long time ago and had only made a few appearances since, via flashback or a ghost. Until the end of S13, I took this as just another excuse to work him into the show every now and then, but instead of just leaving him there in that world when the boys returned to this one, they decided to take him and everyone else along with them, filling up their bunker in a manner not unlike Buffy's house full of would-be slayers in Season 7. 

The writers worked in a quick explanation to set up why/how these folks wouldn't always be around - Charlie (Felicia Day) and Rowena (Ruth Connell) were said to have taken off on a trip together, and some of the others even managed to get jobs (these folks took to being brought to an alternate universe rather well). But still, the fact that they're there at all is just another example of far too many for this show refusing to make death mean anything (also back: last season's sub-villain Ketch, who was revived and is, for now, an ally). When they were in Apocalypse World, we met an evil version of Cas who had weird facial tics and a different haircut, so you instantly understood it was a being who went through a different life than the one we knew so well, but so far, this new Bobby is pretty much the same as the other one, right down to feeling free to tell the boys their plans are dumb when he thinks so, and using the "idg-uts" pronunciation of "idiots". Hell, somehow he even managed to know who Donald Trump was, when Sam tells him and the other refugees about what their world is like and gets to the unfortunate explanation of who our current President is (he says something like "The idiot from The Apprentice is in charge, and you call *our* version "Apocalypse World?"). 

So unless they plan to introduce some drastic new element to his character, or kill him off again, Bobby is basically back, undoing what was one of the show's most devastating - and persistent - changes. Charlie is at least somewhat different, as she is a respected soldier in her world instead of the geeky witch from ours, but Day's inability to play anyone but herself makes it hard to tell the two incarnations of her character apart. Jim Beaver is a terrific actor - why aren't they utilizing that to have this Bobby be vastly different? I half expect this guy to be answering phones for Sam and Dean by the 3rd episode of the new season. To be fair, they have so far kept their promise (well, more like Mark Sheppard's promise) of keeping Crowley dead, and they thankfully didn't let Mark Pellegrino's Lucifer become Crowley 2.0 - a few largely self-serving favors aside, he remained a villain until his demise. But this should be the rule more often than the exception, and they are exacerbating the problem by going back and reviving people whose deaths actually did register. Even with the "well they are alternate versions" excuse, it's a cheat, and one that I can't say I'm too thrilled about. At least when they were off in an alternate universe (one that supposedly was locked off forever - yeah right) their appearances felt in the same vein as coming back as ghosts, but now that they're here, hanging out in the bunker, it's a new ballgame. 

That said, there is a possible silver lining, and it ties into the "Wayward Sisters". As fans know, episode 1310 was a backdoor pilot for a proposed spinoff centering on Jody, Claire, and some other women they've met/teamed up with over the last few years, but the CW decided not to go forward with it. It's a shame, but it means they are free to stop by the flagship (well, only) show more often than they would if they were busy on their own show, and when you combine that with the big group of refugees, you have the ingredients for something the show could really use: a consistent ensemble. While it doesn't lack for a supporting cast of characters - dead or alive or in between - the only constants over the past thirteen years are Sam and Dean. I assume it's for budgetary reasons that Misha Collins or Alex Calvert (as Jack, Lucifer's half-human son) don't appear in every episode, but their absence is always awkwardly explained for those inevitable episodes (usually a phone call during the first act where Dean or Sam will be finishing up a conversation on the phone and then informing the other "Cas hasn't heard anything on angel radio, he's looking into it" or something along those lines). With more characters consistently inhabiting their perimeter, such absences won't even need to be explained - with other people buzzing around on the regular, we're less likely to feel the absence of this or that supporting player, and they can mix and match players with more variety.

It can also help with their ongoing death problem. I get why they were reluctant to let people die for good - it's a show with, essentially, two actors, one of whom occasionally directs as well. They need to get some of the weight off the two men's shoulders every now and then, and thus the show needs reliable supporting players that can take the spotlight for an episode without the audience minding all that much. This is the sort of thing that yielded fan favorites like "Weekend at Bobby's" or "Wayward Sisters" (which I quite liked) and is only possible if they walk that narrow line of keeping the show's casting budget in check while also building up the number of people who could conceivably take over for a week. Thus, they can't kill anyone for good unless they have a character of equal or greater value waiting in the wings, played by an actor who doesn't have their own regular gig elsewhere. If the writers take time to bulk up the significance of these refugees (they took around 25 of them), they might feel more comfortable letting people stay dead on a regular basis, as they'll have more backup characters than they normally would.

Ah, who am I kidding - it's Supernatural! Status quo must be resumed! However long they stick with "Deangel", all I know for sure is they will have less time to deal with its fallout: the only guaranteed change for the upcoming season is that it will only run 20 episodes as opposed to the usual 22-23. I worry that this will come at the expense of standalone episodes like this season's delightful "Scoobynatural" (which I enjoyed despite having zero affinity for Scooby and pals), but perhaps if this truly is a long-ish arc perhaps the season's scale will be smaller. If they're busy trying to free Dean from Michael's grasp they won't have time to deal with another world-ending scenario, which again can allow them to spend more time with the supporting cast and making them as memorable as... well, the people that are standing next to them, for the most part. It seems like Bobby and Mary might share an attraction (awws) and as much as I dislike Charlie I can't deny seeing her pal around with Rowena might be fun. And if Dean is off doing whatever then maybe Sam will take Cas, Jack, and/or Ketch along for the odd hunt. Long story short, if they ever truly wanted to shake the show up a bit, there's never been a better time to do it - I just wish I had more faith that they would bite that bullet.

The thirteenth season is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. The set features a few featurettes, two episode commentaries, a handful of deleted scenes, a gag reel, and Kansas' performance of the show's unofficial theme song "Carry on My Wayward Son" at last year's Comic Con. A copy of the set was provided by Warner Bros. for review.