Okay, it's not exactly as simple as uttering three small words. Still, there is a way to rid the world of demons -- to slam shut the gates of Hell for all eternity. The only problem is...well, everything. These words of God are enscribed in an ancient tablet that just about always seems out of reach. The spectre of Crowley -- the lord of the underworld -- looms over the one person on the planet who can interpret the lost text. The Winchesters and everyone around them wind up in the crosshairs of the armies of Heaven and Hell alike. Oh, and that's just what it takes to find and translate the tablet; we haven't even started talking about what it'll take to actually grease the hinges of the gates of Hell.
In its eighth season, Supernatural breaks away from the desperate rush to thwart some Big Bad's nefarious scheme to vaniquish humanity or usher in the end of days. It's a quest in the old Arthurian style, and forever casting out every last demon sure as
You might not clue into that at first glance, though. I have to admit that my kneejerk reaction was that season eight seems a little too familiar. I mean, the premiere opens with Dean stumbling around in the middle of nowhere, still reeling from breaking out of an inescapable, nightmarish, Biblical prison. One of the Winchesters believing the other is dead, leaving hunting behind, spending a full year embracing a life of suburban bliss with the woman of his dreams...yeah, been there, done that. One of the brothers is harboring a terrible secret he can't bring himself to reveal. Lotsa blow-ups and mistrust. Hell, there's even a stand-in for Bobby -- complete with a handy hunter's journal -- to field all the off-screen research and rally the troops. Don't mistake this as Supernatural on autopilot, though. A handful of the broad strokes may ring a bell, but that's only a small part of what the season is about. Plus it's the execution that matters at the end of the day anyway, and season eight shoots to kill.
As much as I dug last season's Leviathan storyline, I'd still say that the mytharc in season eight is the strongest that Supernatural has delivered this side of the Kripke era. Just about everything in the mix is perfectly balanced. The demon tablet arc is hardly ever shoved to the sidelines for too long, and there's a constant sense of progress that keeps the pacing steamrolling forward. There's a hell of a lot of plot this time around, with the armies of Hell and a faction of heavenly puppetmasters bearing down on our boys, and yet the season never loses sight of characterization. Angsty drama, unflinchingly gruesome imagery, and a cacklingly demented sense of humor are once again juggled deftly. I don't think Supernatural has ever used flashbacks to such consistently strong effect. I found myself
This is a remarkably consistent season with hardly any weak spots. A few episodes do stand out above the rest, though. I'm not exactly a fan of found footage movies, but I'm really impressed by Supernatural's approach to the genre. It's not the first time a monster-of-the-week has been investigated by a bunch of camera-crazed kids while Sam and Dean are somewhere off to the side, but it's not played for laughs here like it was in "Ghostfacers" back in season three. "Bitten" feels more like Chronicle-meets-V/H/S rather than just another Paranormal Activity knockoff. Bonus points for its choice of creature too, something I don't think has been tackled in a found footage flick before. The Purgatory storyline introduces Dean's undead partner in crime, a southern-fried vamp named Benny (Ty Olsson). Benny is easily the best character that Supernatural has introduced over the past few years, making for some intensely emotional moments late in the season that hit like a slug to the gut. I'd like to think more about the good times, though, especially the team-up between Dean and a remorseful Benny in "Blood Brother", one of those rare episodes that splits the flesh-and-blood brothers apart the entire time. Supernatural has seven full seasons in the rear view mirror by this point, and season eight continually mines the series' wealth of mythology and characters. The collision between the past and present is a recurring theme this year, and at no point does that hit harder than in "Clip Show", where Crowley systematically starts murdering everyone that Sam and Dean had ever saved. I'm a sucker for Supernatural's high-concept episodes, and "Hunteri Heroici" ranks right up there with the series' best, this time drawing less from bleak, grisly horror and more from...um, Chuck Jones. Love it, love it, love it. Bonus points for piling on two hysterical Felicia Day episodes too.
If there's one frustrating thing about season eight, it's that all my least favorite episodes are bunched together, one after another. "As Time Goes By" is another episode where the past plows head-on with the present, introducing a secret society, a Winchester legacy the brothers never knew about, and a proper homebase in the wake of Bobby's death. Maybe it would've resonated a little more with some additional time to
I'm not left with a whole lot else to gripe about. Osric Chau is kind of bland early on as college-age prophet Kevin Tran, but the greater toll his burden takes on him, the more interesting a character he becomes. I can't say as much for his mother, a kind of over-the-top Sassy Mom! type, but whatever. D.J. Qualls pops up again as Garth, and his hamfisted quirkiness that was kind of endearing before gets stale awfully quickly this time around. Even though Qualls only puts in one on-screen appearance, it seems like he's referenced just about every other episode this season. If Garth is that important, do somethin' with him! He's no Bobby Singer; that's for sure. Amelia (Liane Balaban), a.k.a. The 23,648th Love of Sam's Life, fails to make any meaningful impression until her storyline is just about at an end. For most of her appearances, Amelia is kind of like a room temperature glass of water; not bad or worth complaining about or anything, but who cares? As that comes to a close, though...
Still, the Winchesters proactively taking the fight to Hell, Castiel's tortured search for redemption, Crowley continuing to stand out as one of the most cacklingly compelling badniks on TV, honoring the series' rich past while still looking to the future, a pretty much perfect blend of gruesome horror, action, smirking humor, world-building, and characterization: Supernatural gets so much right in its eighth season that its few missteps slough right off. It wasn't that long ago that I started to get that itch to see Supernatural pack things up and call it a day, but after this...? There's an offhand comment in one of the extras that makes it sound like the writers have another few years' worth of stories mapped out, and if they're anywhere near as strong as the episodes in the series' eighth season are, then I hope Supernatural stays on the air for a long, long time. Highly Recommended.
Okay, "Bitten" is a little bit of an outlier since that found footage episode was shot on consumer-ish-grade camcorders and isn't meant to be glossy and gorgeous. Other than that, though...? The otherworldly crisp and detailed
This eighth season of Supernatural spans four BD-50 discs. Its twenty-three episodes are presented at their broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and you're looking at AVC encodes all around.
Supernatural's lossless audio -- presented here again in 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio -- is an improvement over last year's already robust showing. Its use of the surround channels is intensely atmospheric, and the rears do a tremendous job reinforcing the action as well: godly bursts of lightning, a warlock unleashed, the ferocious rush of a tornado screaming out of nowhere, and all sorts of gunplay. There's a strong sense of directionality as well, and I cracked a depraved little smile as I heard a lopped-off vampire head tumble into the right speaker. Supernatural isn't timid about unleashing hellish waves of bass, and as frenzied and chaotic as things can get, the series' sharp dialogue remains clear and discernable throughout.
A handful of commentaries aside, the only other soundtracks are Portuguese dubs in Dolby Digital stereo (192kbps). Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.
Supernatural doesn't go the combo pack route like Warner has been doing with The Vampire Diaries, so you score a lean four-disc Blu-ray set rather than nine DVDs and BDs. My dwindling shelf space thanks you. For what it's worth, you do get an UltraViolet digital copy code out of the deal, and sure enough, Supernatural once again comes packaged in a shiny, foil slipcase.
The Final Word
It's probably a little bit of an exaggeration to say that, after nearly 175 episodes, this eighth season of Supernatural is as good as the series has ever been. For my money, anyway, it comes close enough. As much as I dug season seven, it still felt like an aging show that was starting to wind down. This latest run of episodes jabs a syringe of adrenaline directly to the heart of Supernatural, and now I'm not only looking forward to the premiere of its ninth season, but I'm hoping there's a tenth, eleventh, and who knows how many after that. Highly Recommended.