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Supernatural: Season 6

Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 13, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $69.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 25, 2011 | E-mail the Author
For five seasons straight, Supernatural kept upping up the stakes. Find John Winchester. Hunt down the yellow-eyed demon. Stop the gates of Hell from being flung wide open. Try to keep Dean from being
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dragged, kicking and screaming, into the pit. Prevent Lucifer from being released from his prison onto this mortal coil. Put the kibosh on the apocalypse. But...c'mon, the apocalypse -- how does a show like this one-up the end of all things? can't. Instead, season six delves into the fallout of a near-apocalypse, picking up a full year later with the Winchesters' world in tatters. With the last season ending with Sam leaping into the maw of Hell, Dean believes his brother to be lost forever. It took months and a hell of a lot of Jack Daniels to come to terms with what happened, but it looks as if Dean has finally moved on, settling down in a mundane life as a construction worker while playing house with former fling Lisa and her son Ben. He's a suburban dad these days, his trademark jacket mothballed and the Impala collecting dust in the garage.

Dean's so far out of the game that he has no idea that the near-miss apocalypse upended the world of things-that-go-bump. Djinn that normally like to keep things dark, dank, and cavernous are now hunting in the open, able to poison their victims with a touch. Werewolves no longer need the bright of the full moon to transform. Obscure beasts like the lamia and the okami that are normally anchored in one very specific part of the globe are now setting up shop stateside. Plus dragons. I mean, dragons. The other realms aren't exactly sipping margaritas in a deck chair, what with civil war brewing in Heaven and a new king reigning in Hell.

Wouldn't be much of an action/horror series if this season of Supernatural kept Dean grilling burgers and tucking a precocious tyke in bed for twentysomething episodes, so it kinda goes without saying that it doesn't take long for him to be dragged back into the job. 'Course, we saw in the last few seconds of season five that Sam has already somehow scored a Get Out of Jail card from Hell. Dean didn't get the S5 boxed set in the mail, so he's stunned to learn that his brother is alive and kicking, but...wait, Sam has been back for a year? Not only that, but Sam's spent the past twelve months hunting monsters with family that Dean didn't even know they had? Who plucked Sam out of his cage in Hell? Is this merciless killing machine really 100% pure, unadulterated Sam? What the hell are recently-resurrected Grandpa Samuel (Mitch Pileggi) and all those
You're welcome, ladies (and some guys)
random cousins doing when they find these monsters they've been hunting? Unlike previous seasons which mostly had one looming threat to overcome, Supernatural's sixth season throws a hell of a lot of balls in the air, and it takes all twenty-two episodes to figure out where they're gonna land and what the fallout is gonna be.

The story goes that creator Eric Kripke had mapped out a very detailed five season plan for Supernatural, and after more than a hundred episodes, he'd told the stories he'd sought to tell. Once the series was picked up for a sixth season, Kripe opted to hand the reins over to longtime writer/producer Sera Gamble. A new showrunner...lots of new writers...a return to the sorts of boys-on-the-road hunting a monster-of-the-week standalone stories from years past. After a couple seasons straight of sprawlingly epic Heaven versus Hell arcs, Supernatural's sixth season plays an awful lot like the series' very first year. Some of that I mean in a good way, and others...yeah, not so much. Supernatural's first season was all over the map, struggling in a lot of those early episodes to figure out what it was, exactly, and churning out a bunch of clunky eps that still rank all these years later as some of the series' absolute worst. Season six is frustratingly similar in that sense, only without the sense of discovery that still makes the first season such a blast to revisit.

Most every other season of Supernatural would announce pretty early on what the overarching story for the year was going to be. Season six deliberately keeps that blanketed in shadow, instead spraying out subplots like some kind of Gatling gun: Dean being forced to choose between two completely different lives...two completely different families, Sam's mysterious return from Hell, what Sam has spent the past year doing in secret and how there's something not quite right about him, the Campbells' return to hunting, Heaven's armories being raided and winding up scattered all over Earth, a search for Purgatory, the new king perched on that throne down in the pit, the civil war between Castiel and Raphael in Heaven, everything they've come to know about demons and monsters being completely wrong these days, encounters with 'alpha' creatures...the first of their kind...and the Mother of All who created them... Supernatural has brainstormed a hell of a lot of potentially rich and compelling storylines, doesn't...really know what to do with any of them. Some of those subplots are tossed aside almost immediately. Others run throughout the entire season but take place almost completely in the background -- something characters
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talk about occasionally but are never really seen -- making it borderline-impossible to feel all that engaged. Others still gobble up a lot of screentime but lack any sort of emotional hook, hitting the same forgettable, repetitive notes over and over and over and over.

Take the Campbells, for instance. There's no one on that side of the family I found myself aching to see more of. A few subplots are setup through them, but you could gut everything they do out of the season entirely and really not change anything at all. The Mother of All is built up as this devastating, unstoppable force, but Eve only scores a few minutes of screentime total, she's played by a ridiculously cute but not particularly gifted actress, and even the way the Winchesters finally get rid of her is mostly forgettable. So what was the point of that again? The "what's the matter with Sam?" thing is dragged out for half the season, and if I clenched my fists and tried really, really hard, I don't think I could care any less. There's a lot of chatter about the civil war in Heaven, but reams of dialogue are about all you actually get from it. Again...war!, and you could pick any random episode from season four or five and see more dead angels than you get this entire year. Conceptually, a lot of these ideas are spectacular, but the execution throughout just about every step of these arcs is fumbled. It's ambitious but rudderless. Even when it seems as if things are roaring to the finish line with "The Man Who Would Be King", the strongest mytharc episode of the entire season, everything after that point winds up being limp and lifeless. The season finalé in particular is a near-total disaster, with half of it devoted to one of those stupid "character battles himself in his own mind" plots that every genre show, ever, seems contractually obligated to do.

There's plenty of room for me to keep bitching, what with terrible monster-of-the-week episodes like "All Dogs Go to Heaven", the oh-noes-the-Winchesters-gotta-change-poopy-diapers ep "Two and a Half Men", yet another homage to The Thing since God knows the series can't get enough of those, plus the killer dolls and eye-rollingly...everything in "Mannequin 3: The Reckoning", but I'd rather talk at least a little about what Supernatural does right this year. I'm not a fan of the mytharc as a whole this season, but the reintroduction to Castiel in "The Third Man" marks the season's first great episode, as the Staff of Moses has been pinched from Heaven's armory and is bombarding a sleepy little town in Pennsylvania with the Plagues of Egypt. "Live Free or Twihard" starts off as kind of a playful Twilight riff -- the idea that vamps are all into the Bella-and-Edward thing since angsty seventeen-year-old girls now walk willingly into the slaughter -- but quickly shifts gears into something intriguingly dark and twisted when Dean gets vamped. "Clap Your Hands If You Believe" starts off as an X-Files spoof, and...well, revealing too much would be telling, but I'll just say that Dean has a fistfight with Tinkerbell and leave it at that. Dean takes over as Death for a day in "Appointment in Samarra". I'm more than a little bit obsessed with the Final Destination
Gender studies on Supernatural
flicks, and "My Heart Will Go On" is teeming with those same sorts of cacklingly elaborate Rube Goldberg-style kills...and the whole thing spills out of one of the most hysterical and inspired premises ever. "You Can't Handle the Truth" is one of the most gruesome episodes in an already splattery season in a town where people are cursed to hear the brutally honest truth. Best dental geyser-of-blood this side of The Dentist for sure.

If I had to pick two standouts, though...? "Weekend at Bobby's" is kind of like the Supernatural version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "The Zeppo", aiming the spotlight at an underappreciated supporting character while shoving the usual marquee draws off to the sidelines. While Winchesters are off fighting...well, something in the background, Bobby's stuck fielding phone calls, slogging thanklessly through eight hojillion hours of research, burying dead monsters, fending off an overeager new neighbor with a crush, and...oh, geez, squaring off against a beastie of his own. Add in Steven Williams returning as Rufus and -- oh, yeah! a woodchipper -- and you're looking at my favorite episode of the season by a huge margin. I also really, really dug the hyperaggressively meta ep "The French Mistake", where Sam and Dean are tossed through a window and wind up...huh, on the set of a TV show called Supernatural where everyone keeps calling 'em Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. In between trying to find some way out of this dimension and steering clear of an angelic hitman, the two of 'em have to stand in front of a camera and act, so...yeah, Jared and Jensen play Sam and Dean playing Jared and Jensen playing Sam and Dean. It's kind of the most amazing thing ever.

As sloppy and frustratingly inconsistent as so much of season six is, I will say that it plays a lot better devoured in a few short bursts on Blu-ray than these episodes did when I caught 'em live on The CW. Does the good outweigh the bad...? Well, no. There are enough episodes I love that I found this Blu-ray set well-worth picking up, but it's not something I'd rush out and pay full price for on day one or anything. As high as the highs are, the lows are so low that I think I'm done watching Supernatural week-after-week. Just goes down easier if I gobble down an entire DVD or Blu-ray set over a few weeknights. Hesitantly Recommended, but I'd wait for a Black Friday sale or something to ease the sticker shock.

I guess I can stop ranting somewhere around here. Really, Supernatural -- the live-action version, at least -- has always looked phenomenal on Blu-ray, and its sixth season isn't any different. The digital cinematography is almost always extremely sharp and immaculately detailed, instantly setting itself apart from anything DVD could ever hope to deliver. Contrast is consistently robust, and in a series like Supernatural that skulks around so many back alleys and crumbling warehouses in the dead of night, black levels are every bit as deep and inky as you'd expect. There is some sporadic softness, and video noise spikes a bit under low light, but neither of those are really all that distracting. The authoring of this Blu-ray set not surprisingly shies away from any noise reduction or edge enhancement, and I couldn't spot any of the compression artifacting that had crept into some of the other seasons of Supernatural on BD either. Pretty much perfect.

This sixth season of Supernatural is spread across four BD-50 discs. These twenty-two episodes are presented at their broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and have been encoded with AVC.

It took six full seasons, sure, but Supernatural has finally been lavished with lossless audio on Blu-ray. These DTS-HD Master Audio tracks sound tremendous too. Bass response in particular is deep and resonant that I could frequently hear just about everything in the room start to rattle. Supernatural is one of those series that really seizes hold of the surround channels, and the rears are used to great effect -- everything from ominous drips of water in dark, dank lairs to demonic snarling all the way to...I don't know, how about the Impala plowing through the side of a building? The score is reproduced exceptionally well too, most memorably the dead-on Morricone riffs in "Frontierland". Fidelity is consistently clean and clear straight across the board, and the series' trademark snappy dialogue never winds up muddled in the mix. The only gripe I have is that throughout some of the brawls, the punches and kicks that land wind up sounding kind of muddy, not hitting like a slug in the gut or sounding anywhere near as distinct the way most other effects do. Other than that...? Supernatural has stood out for a while as one of the best sounding TV series on Blu-ray, so when I say that season six delivers more of the same, I absolutely mean that as a compliment.

Also included are Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kbps) dubs in Portuguese. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese.

The extras on this sixth season of Supernatural are spread across all four discs.
  • Jensen Ackles: A Director's Journey (27 min.; HD): This half-hour featurette on disc one spells out how daunting it'd be for any
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    director to tackle an episode of Supernatural, but Jensen Ackles was up to the challenge, and his directorial debut wound up being by far one of the season's best episodes. "A Director's Journey" delves into pretty much everything: pre-production meetings, tech scouting, production design, wardrobe, stunts, effects, lighting, a particularly challenging climax swirling around a woodchipper (!), as well as Ackles pulling double-duty as an actor and a director.

  • Audio Commentaries: Producers Ben Edlund, Sera Gamble, and Robert Singer chime in on two episodes this season: "Clap Your Hands If You Believe" and "The French Mistake". The commentary for "Clap Your Hands..." is definitely the better of the two, if only because they talk and quip for fortysomething minutes straight, whereas on "The French Mistake", they kinda just kick back and quietly watch the episode after a while. The best part about the first track is how "Clap Your Hands..." was originally envisioned as being even more unhinged, piling on a unicorn, gnomes, and a Prius factory (?). There are so many other extras revolving around "The French Mistake" that this commentary seems inessential, especially with all the dead air in the second half. There's some chatter about how the hyper-meta concept was originally pitched, how they had to reign themselves in from overindulging even more than they ultimately did, and speaking out against saying "friggin'" and "freakin'" since no one who's not on network TV actually talks like that.

  • "The French Mistake" Trivia Track: Since the audio commentary for "The French Mistake" is surprisingly subdued, you might wanna pair it with this subtitle trivia track. It's heavy on pointing out all the Easter Eggs and in-jokes that are lurking in the background, and explaining which meta-gags are rooted in reality and which ones aren't is another favorite topic. (Turns out...? Jared and Jen don't own an alpaca.) It's worth a look, but kind of like the episode's audio commentary, I wish it kicked in a lot more often than it does.

  • "The French Mistake" Alternate Takes and Outtakes (4 min.; HD): Even more of Jared and Jensen playing Sam and Dean playing Jared and Jensen playing Sam and Dean! Oh, and if you're trembling your way through Misha withdrawals, you can get your fix here too.

  • Supernatural: The Anime Series (45 min.; HD): Complete with brief introductions by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, this set serves up the two-part finale from the direct-to-video anime: an adaptation of "All Hell Breaks Loose". It's the dub with Jensen and Jared that plays by default, but if you want to hear the series in its original Japanese with English subtitles, all it takes is mashing a couple of buttons on your remote.

  • Gag Reel (11 min.; HD): No, really, try to name a show with better gag reels than Supernatural. I defy you. Defy! Jared and Jensen doing high fashion runway
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    struts might be my favorite thing ever.

  • Supernatural and the Quest for the Soul (29 min.; HD): Theologians, philosophers, and...hey! the team behind Supernatural explore what a soul is, exactly. It's part history lesson, part philosophical musing, and part a study into what souls mean in the context of Supernatural this season. I'm personally a huge fan of extras that attack a topic from a different angle like this, and I'm very glad to see they're continuing to be a part of these Supernatural season sets.

  • The Hunter's Guide to Season Six (94 min.; HD): If you're just counting bullet points, it might not look like there are all that many extras on this Blu-ray set, but bear in mind that "The Hunter's Guide to Season Six" piles together close to fifty different mini-featurettes, photo galleries, interviews, and audio soundbites. It's presented as a hunter's journal, and you can either thumb through it all page-by-page or look at one giant index of the season. The featurettes generally run right at three minutes a piece, and although a complete list of them all would probably double the length of this review, I'll just say that they cover pretty much everything: assembling the ideas for this season, props, production design, visual effects, editing, music, costume design, tours of some particularly memorable locations, the relationships between some of these characters, the dark turns some of them take this season, and the new showrunner and gaggle of new writers that were brought onboard. All twenty-two episodes this season are associated with one of these featurettes, although only a handful are directly oriented around a particular episode. Each ep also has a high-res photo gallery, a very short audio-only snippet, or an interview, each running anywhere from thirty seconds to a hair over a minute. There's an extra page of microfeaturettes for advanced hunters, aiming its focus on purgatory, souls, and death, although if you've devoured all of the other extras, you're not gonna hear anything you don't already know.

The packaging is the same for season six as it has been for a while now: slimline case, four-disc set, liner notes with a detailed episode guide, and a shiny cardboard slipcover.

The Final Word
Supernatural's sixth season is the sloppiest and most wildly uneven run of episodes the series has slogged its way through since at least its freshman year, if not for the entire run of the show. It grabs a fistful of potentially compelling concepts for its mytharc and haphazardly chucks 'em at the screen, hoping something will stick, but the team in charge now lacks the chops to turn those ideas into...well, anything, I guess. Taken as a season, it's a definite disappointment, but there are still some really solid episodes served up this year, and the high points are just about as strong as anything Supernatural has ever hammered out. There are enough standouts to make season six worth picking up on Blu-ray, but with as scattershot as everything else is, I'd recommend to anyone but frothing-at-the-mouth fangirls to wait until it's on sale or something.

Someone Snapped Way Too Many Screengrabs
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