Directors: Robert Singer, Kim Manners, Phil Sgriccia, Charles Beeson, and more
Writers: Eric Kripke, Sera Gamble, John Shiban, Cathryn Humphris, Ben Edlund, and more
Starring: Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Jim Beaver, Genevieve Cortese, Samantha Smith
Release Dates: 09/2008 – 05/2009
Network: The CW
In my previous reviews about Supernatural (which you can find here: S01, S02, and S03), I mainly talked about the content of the show – meaning the story. This time I want to change things up a bit and focus more on the how than the what.
The introduction of angels to the Supernatural lore allows the creative team to not only raise the stakes for the brothers, but everything else also seemed to improve. After three years, the team eliminated all that did not work, and by doing so produced the best season of the show so far. Five elements especially stand out in season four:
The visual design
When one has to sell the ideas of heaven, hell, and everything in between, you have to sell it visually first. You need a cohesive and consistent look. We already knew demons from previous seasons with their yellow and black eyes (or white in the case of Lilith). But how to include angels? How could they ever be cool? Castiel’s first appearance eliminated all doubt and quickly became history. A barn covered in seals and signs, lightbulbs bursting, Castiel’s iconic trenchcoat-look and the shadowy wings – perfect in every way. To show the wings of the angels only after they died (or under exceptional circumstances) was a bold move, but it pays off every time. In doing so, the creative team accomplishes to make the paranormal feel real and horrifying.
The sound design
After the look comes the sound. Since the beginning of the show, Supernatural set itself apart from other shows through unique sound design. The fourth season continues this tradition: from angels flapping their wings, to demons who are killed — the separate elements have a distinctive sound and build on one another. But also the little things sound amazing: from snapping necks, punches, to burning holy oil and the classic rock.
The creative choices
The heart and soul of Supernatural are the monster-of-the-week episodes. They make up the more significant chunk of each season, so they have to work. Season four has the best ones so far, and they never feel like filler episodes. I especially love when they try something new and different. The best example of this season might be the fifth episode “Monster Movie,” which is an homage to old horror movies. It is a standout episode and proof of the sheer talent behind the show.
The all-in mentality
Eric Kripke, the creator of Supernatural, says in a Bonus feature of the next season, that he had somewhat of a five-year plan. Not that he knew everything that will happen on the show from the beginning, but a rough idea of the main plot points. It shows in this season because they don’t pull any punches. Be it the lore or the monster-of-the-week episodes, it never seems half measured. They find the perfect balance between the serious themes of the show but also the funny moments. It looks like everyone involved has fun and wants to create something unique.
You can have the most expensive costumes, the best effects, goosebump-inducing music, and the most talented actors on this planet. It all falls apart if you cannot capture it on film. Thankfully, the directors, cinematographers, and all the other members of the crew can do just that. They create a dense atmosphere and show you precisely what you need to see. From the comedic episodes to the deep dives into the characters psyche, there is nothing they cannot capture engagingly.
As I mentioned above, the fourth season is the best so far. Everything we discussed adds to the stories and create an engaging viewing experience. Sam’s demon blood addiction continually serves as an underlying threat until Dean can no longer ignore it. It drives a wedge between them like nothing before, raising questions of trust and loyalty. Castiel is an excellent addition to the cast, and Misha Collins can handle every situation. With his cool, subtle underperformance, he can be quirky funny or deadly serious. Lilith, who threatens to break 66 seals to raise Lucifer and start the apocalypse balances her role as an ominous threat and something concrete the brothers can fight, perfectly.
The expectation subversion that comes with introducing angels and handling them like the Old Testament warriors could not have been any better. The monster-of-the-week episodes not only stand on their own but also add something to the overall story of the season (at least sometimes) and never get boring. Season four is a testament to the talent involved in the show. From Dean’s iconic moment, as he climbs out of his grave, up until Sam makes his final decision. If nothing else, watch this season of Supernatural, you cannot do any better.
BluRay Bonus features
The BluRay features for this season are exceptionally detailed. The writers (and several mythology experts) take us on a journey through real-world mythologies and how the writers implemented them into the lore of Supernatural. You get a good sense of the interrelations and where the different elements come from.
Ranking (Best to worst)
Season 4, 2, 1, 3
Dean cheated death two times now (“Faith” 1.12, “In My Time of Dying” 2.1) and died once (“No Rest For The Wicked” 3.16)
Sam cheated death twice (“All hell breaks loose” 2.22, “Wishful Thinking 4.08).
John also cheated death once – without even knowing it (“In The Beginning” 4.03)