We live in a television world that includes Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Fargo and basically so much amazing crap. But hand on heart, I will always stand by Supernatural‘s fifth season as one of the best things to be put to the medium, with one of the most satisfying finales I’ve ever seen.
(If you haven’t seen it, I’m about to spoil the hell out of it)
The last season to be produced by creator Eric Kripke, Supernatural saw the climax of a five-year story that had been building since the show’s very first episode. The show took its time with this arc, slowly phasing out the ‘monster-of-the-week’ format as the story’s stakes got higher and higher. And the stakes couldn’t really be higher, since Season 5 begins with Lucifer breaking free of hell and beginning the Apocalypse. That’s right, Apocalypse time! The End of Days might be a well-worn trope by this point, but Supernatural fortunately decides to be a little more creative with it.
The Winchester brothers find out very early on that there’s an easy way to defeat Lucifer. Unfortunately, it involves roasting half the planet. Lucifer wants younger brother Sam as a vessel to unleash his full power and Archangel Michael wants older brother Dean so he can kill Lucifer. Of course, two mighty powers going at it like that is going to result in a lot of collateral damage and this is where the meat of the story comes in. They know Michael can win, but it means sacrificing millions of lives. But if they can’t find any alternative in time, then everyone dies. It’s an actually interesting dilemma that creates a lot more depth to the situation than the simple “we got to beat the bad guy”.
And this comes into the season’s major theme; free will. Michael and the other angels are determined to make this apocalyptic battle happen because they believe it has to happen. Twist, they even assisted in freeing Lucifer, because his death would lead to Paradise on Earth (for those that survive). It’s a pretty compelling argument for the angels, who truly believe that the Apocalypse is for the best. The brothers and their allies, including crotchety father-figure Bobby (Jim Beaver) and rebel angel Castiel (Misha Collins) fight kind of to prove they can, that they don’t have to what fate demands, especially when it means something terrible.
Supernatural has always been about family and this season is probably when that theme is at its best. Every season has some kind of conflict between the brothers, because drama, but this was the last time that it really felt justified and by the end, their relationship feels at its strongest. This deliberately plays parallel to the relationship drama in Heaven, likening Michael and Lucifer’s battle to a childish fight. It’s an interesting take that threatens to cheapen the stakes, but it works and it makes the relationship between the brothers feel much more important. Along with Bobby and Castiel, the brothers forge a family in this fire and the show presents a powerful set of relationships to play out in the face of this biblical nightmare.
And that brings us pretty closely to one of my favourite things about the season; Lucifer. Brought to life by Mark Pellegrino, who has plenty of experience in genre villains, Lucifer is an outstanding villain. When he wants to be, he is absolute menace incarnate, terrifying and captivating in equal measure. But he’s also a charming bastard, because he’s the Devil and seduction is kind of his thing. He’s actually nice at times. This is what separates Lucifer from other villains, in that he actually wishes no real harm to the Winchesters. He wants Sam on his side because he needs Sam’s permission to take his body and killing Dean or the others would drive Sam away. He genuinely wants the heroes to see his side of things, that he was punished by God and banished to hell unfairly. And yet this doesn’t make him any less of a threat. Pellegrino’s Lucifer easily ranks as one of my favourite fantasy villains.
One of the major complaints of Supernatural‘s more recent seasons is that events move incredibly slowly, usually involving characters keeping secrets that are definitely being saved for the mid-season finale. But for 22 episodes, Season 5 manages to keep the energy up the whole way by making sure to slip in enough huge moments and threats alongside the filler monster-of-the-week episodes. They have some great material to draw from, using the Four Horsemen, Archangels and Heaven, the Whore of Babylon and Pagan Gods, just to name some highlights, to make the whole season feel epic and allow the filler episodes to function as breathers rather than detours.
Early Supernatural had an amazing sense of humour that got a little lost in its later years, as the stakes got so high that it seemed impossible to laugh. But despite dealing with the Apocalypse, Season 5 remembers to be funny, because humour is important, it prevents a story from becoming too mopey. The show’s humour is at its best when it goes meta, such as a guest appearance by Paris Hilton where they mock House of Wax (which starred Padalecki alongside Hilton) or the reappearing of Supernatural as an in-universe cult book series written by an ignorant Prophet of God. A particularly highlight is “Changing Channels”, where the brothers find themselves stuck in various TV shows, including cheesy 80’s sitcoms, soapy hospital romances, cheesy police procedurals or a genital herpes commercial. Misha Collins especially discovers an amazing talent for comedy as Castiel, whereas the previous season he functioned as a much more serious character. He makes for the perfect combination of straight-man and fish-out-of-water, who takes everything completely literally. His dead-pan delivery of “I’ll just wait here then” as he stands beside an empty road in the middle of the night is just perfect.
As the supposed last season of the show (though there are now 12...), Supernatural brought in every recurring character they could, giving them one last moment to shine (or die). Even some of the more popular dead characters got to return, such as in the episode where the brothers spend a little time in Heaven. They even bring back several more or less one-off characters with huge roles, such as Richard Speight Jr’s Trickster, a fan favourite revealed to be theArchangel Gabriel, and dead half-brother Adam as Michael’s replacement for Dean. It’s a great love letter to the series so far and gives fans a little closure on characters they hadn’t seen in a while
And I stand by the finale as something really special. Framed with the narration of Chuck, the Prophet, (Rob Benedict) as he finishes his novel while the events play out around him, the finale sees Lucifer inevitably possess Sam and prepare to do battle with Michael. The final confrontation is beautifully written and acted by all involved, as we see the brothers’ relationship come to a powerful and emotional climax that is both epic and incredibly tender. In the end, a car basically saves the world and that’s okay because it makes perfect sense, because it’s about everything that simple thing symbolizes. It’s a bittersweet ending but it ends really as it should, with this simple relationship between two brothers managing to overcome angels, demons and fate itself.
The series may have continued on, under new showrunners and in a new direction, but as a conclusion to the initial five-year arc, “Swan Song” was the perfect final chapter, as was the whole season leading up to it.