I have been a devoted Supernatural fan ever since the show first debuted back in September 2005, back when it was just a series about two brothers continuing “the family business” of “saving people” and “hunting things.” As someone with a brother five years older than him, whose behavior was very reminiscent of Dean Winchester’s, I was immediately drawn to Supernatural‘s focus on family and its realistic portrayal of a relationship between two very different brothers, who were able to forge a bond over the one thing that they’re both the best at: hunting down monsters, demons, and every other ghost or evil creature imaginable. The family drama, infused with the series’ genre elements, made Supernatural such an enjoyable and addictive watch, and that feeling became even more palpable for me after the show introduced us to its larger, more intricate mythology, solidifying it as the TV series I looked forward to watching the most every week.
However, even though I love Supernatural and considered it one of my top five favorite television shows of all-time, I also can’t deny that the CW series has faced some creative struggles over the years, particularly during its sixth and seventh seasons, after the departure of creator and showrunner Eric Kripke. In the years since Kripke left, other writers have tried to recapture the magic that he brought to Supernatural‘s first five seasons, and while many of them been have found some success, they’ve never been able to give fans the same type of show that they had during those initial years, when the characters were fresh and the storytelling was focused and had real purpose. Fortunately, though, that’s changed in Season 11, as Jeremy Carver and his team of writers have somehow been able to crack the code and produce what is easily the best season of Supernatural that we’ve seen since Season 5.
So what’s made this season of Supernatural so great throughout its first 14 episodes? A lot of things, but most importantly, it has been the storytelling. Unlike recent seasons, which have been filled with countless filler episodes and start-and-stop storylines about forgettable Big Bads, Supernatural Season 11 has regained perspective on what made the series so terrific during its early seasons: the relationship between Sam and Dean. Instead of having the season’s story dictate how Sam and Dean act in a given episode, the show’s writers have instead refocused their attention on this connection between the brothers, making Supernatural about them first and foremost and allowing their bond to inform the battle against Amara instead of using this new villain to create contrived drama between them.
Nowhere has this focus on the Winchester brothers been more evident than in Season 11’s best episode, “Baby.” The Impala-centric hour is unique in its style and structure, as the camera never leaves the car and most of the action takes place inside of Baby herself. However, even with the interesting framing of shots and creative camera work, what makes”Baby” such an incredible episode of television is that it just allows Sam and Dean to be actual brothers again. After so many seasons of the two of them lying and battling with each other, it’s been downright magical to watch the Winchesters fight alongside each other and, even more importantly, be honest with each other.
For example, look at how quickly Sam told Dean about his visions of Lucifer’s cage earlier this season, or, even more recently, in last week’s “Love Hurts,” when Dean admitted to Sam that his darkest desire was for Amara and the he didn’t believe he’d be able to kill her when the time came. These are secrets that Sam and Dean would have kept to themselves during the show’s seventh, eighth, and ninth seasons, fracturing their already damaged relationship even more. Instead, the brothers are no longer hiding their metaphorical demons from each other; they’re being open about their fears and their worries. It’s the most truly connected we’ve seen Sam and Dean since Supernatural‘s third season.
Furthermore, the power of this renewed bond between the Winchesters has allowed Supernatural to develop its best Big Bad since Lucifer. Amara possesses the same seductive nature that The Devil had, although this time it’s Dean struggling with a decision instead of Sam, and her connection with God (you know, being his sister and everything) also ensures that Sam and Dean have to reconsider their own faith in the Heavenly Father (not to mention that it’s also leading to the resurfacing of this important character). But the Supernatural writers couldn’t develop a nemesis as evil and as powerful as Amara and have the Winchesters defeat her unless we fully believed that Sam and Dean were stronger than ever before, and that’s exactly what they’ve been able to do with episodes like “Baby” and “The Devil in the Details.”
And even if you want to look outside of the connection between the brothers and this season’s more serialized arc, the standalone episodes from Season 11 of Supernatural have been wickedly entertaining. Fans only need to look at last night’s “The Vessel,” which was a fantastic, time-traveling adventure that featured memorable one-time characters like Delphine, for evidence of that. But then there’s also been “Just My Imagination,” “Into the Mystic,” and “Don’t You Forget About Me”; Season 11 has been filled with so many standalone episodes that I would happily watch again, and I certainly can’t say that about Supernatural‘s ninth and tenth seasons.
When you’re a show that’s been on the air for nearly eleven years, many people will insist that you have to change things up and break the formula. Be new, be inventive, be different. Supernatural has most certainly been experimental with certain aspects of Season 11 (again, I could write another thousand words on “Baby”). However, when it comes to the most important part of any TV show, its storytelling, Supernatural has been looking to its history and embracing the model of the past; the show has put Sam and Dean and their relationship before anything else, and it has helped produce a wonderful season of television, a season that been a true creative resurgence and reignited my love for one of my all-time favorite shows. Carry on, Supernatural writers. Carry on.
Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.
[Photos via The CW]