Out of the Pantheon, Into the Fire
Quick: What’s your favorite current TV show?
I don’t mean the one you think is the best, necessarily, but the one you can just let go and enjoy most, whether that feeling comes from pulse-pounding action, total investment in the characters, or laugh-out-loud comedy — or all three.
You might’ve been expecting me to say Lost. I think that the acting on Lost is underrated, find the premise and plot intricacies often brilliant, and believe that even if it doesn’t end well it will probably stand the test of time as both an example of what can be achieved in the realm of television narrative and in terms of multimedia or, perhaps, metamedia exposure. But although I can still be thrilled as a given episode unfolds, I have Lost on the brain too much, and the imminence of the finale gives me agita.
With its gripping scripts, great performances, and gorgeous cinematography, Breaking Bad may be the most accomplished show on television, but it’s almost too bleak to refer to as a show one “likes”. Sure, I’m totally into it, but I can only watch it when there’s something light to unwind with for dessert (not even then, right now; I’ve lost AMC to the digital-cable tier).
Supernatural is delightful, diverting storytelling. It debuted in 2005, airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on CW stations, and broadcast its 101st episode last week.
From third to fifth grade, having read many of the classics in Ms. Kerscher’s room, I was plowing through every book on Greek mythology I could find thanks to a curiosity kickstarted by comics. In middle school, I’d quickly get into Narnia, Prydain, and other fantasy series, as well as science fiction. Before that, I exhausted my elementary school’s small mythology section and then moved on down the stacks: After the Greco-Roman volumes — the D’Aulaires, Bulfinch, Robert Graves — came Norse and Egyptian (also familiar via comics but less so), then young-reader anthologies with such names as Gaelic Ghosts that retold spooky folk tales from around the world. Slavic vampires and Irish faerie tricksters and wronged spirits from the heartland of America — it’s these stories, especially those native to the good ol’ USA, that brothers Sam & Dean Winchester have explored for nearly five seasons of Supernatural.
The series has its own considerable mythology, rooted in Judeo-Christian lore but incorporating other world religions and legends — with, of course, interpretations and inventions specific to the show. And in what was intended to, but now won’t, be its final season it has certain wholly coincidental similarities to Lost. I’ll touch upon those in another post, maybe, but the latest Supernatural prompted me to finally stop writing about the show and start publishing.
While it began as a ghost- and demon-oriented cousin of The X-Files and its predecessor Kolchak the Night Stalker, albeit with less investigation and more outright monster-hunting, Supernatural has slowly edged closer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory with the revelation of the Winchester boys’ “chosen” status and the show’s shift from done-in-one “creature of the week” episodes to the grand battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell — yet it’s not quite as serialized as Buffy was at the end, nor, I hope, too wrapped up in its continuity to accommodate new viewers. Even amidst the literal Apocalypse, we’ve seen relatively stand-alone episodes this season that, frankly, seem rather hard to swallow despite the fact that the brothers, separately and together, have endured periods of eschatological apathy.
I was late to the game on Supernatural, but all that meant was that I got to gorge myself on the first two seasons via DVD — relishing the commentary from creator Eric Kripke and other special features so much that I’ve rented later discs just for the bonus material. The downside of such feasting is the famine that comes after one is caught up and has to wait a week or more between new episodes; I could extend the famine until the next DVD release in favor of feasting again (as I have to do with, say, HBO series; I’m still waiting for the next batch of True Blood), but the third season was pivotal and the thrill ride since then has been too powerful a lure. As soon as you have time in your television schedule, I heartily recommend the all-you-can-eat Supernatural buffet. In the meanwhile, however, if you don’t mind jumping into an epic storyline as it barrels towards the climax and you do enjoy seeing figures from ancient mythology or allusions to Paradise Lost represented in contemporary popular fiction, then last week’s episode is a nifty little treat.
“Hammer of the Gods” finds the Winchester boys at Elysian Fields, a far nicer layover than their usual roadside motels, to which it turns out they’ve been lured by a conclave of interdenominational deities. Offended and endangered by the destruction being wrought on Earth based on the Christian Book of Revelation, the Hindu goddess Kali and Norse god Baldur are presiding over a summit of celestials that runs the gamut from Mercury to Odin to Ganesha to Baron Samedi — sorry, Lost fans, no Taweret, but Lucifer’s current human host is a very familiar face. You need to know that Sam and Dean are resisting their supposedly destined roles as vessels for Lucifer and the archangel Michael in those beings’ final battle, and that a persistent thorn in the brothers’ side was recently revealed to be the archangel Gabriel, although the other avatars believe him to be Loki.
Funny, serious, rewarding knowledge of theology, mythology, and popular culture, Supernatural is grade-A entertainment. My only real complaint is the blood and gore, but then it is make-believe. If not, we’re all in trouble.
Related: Norse Code • Myth and Fingerprints • Woman on the Verge