Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray / DVD)
Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Jim Beaver
Created by Eric Kripke
Distributed by Warner Home Video
Note: This review assumes the reader has watched the prior seasons of "Supernatural" or is at least familiar with the basic framework of the show. If that's not the case, proceed with caution as spoilers follow.
The couple dynamic is nothing new in genre television. From Mulder and Scully on "The X-Files" to Buffy and Angel (and Buffy and Spike), we've seen how important a role chemistry plays when it comes to a TV couple's credibility and popularity. But you'd be hard pressed to find a more charismatic and believable duo than Sam and Dean Winchester, the fraternal protagonists of "Supernatural" who hunt and fight all manner of creatures and monsters (and each other). Their interactions take the concept of "chemistry" one step further. As portrayed by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively, Sam and Dean have become like members of the "Supernatural" viewers' own families. We have been right there with them every step of the way during their journey, never more so than in Season 5, when they banded together to save the world from the impending apocalypse, which, truth be told, the two of them were pretty much responsible for. As we learned during Season 4, Dean broke the first of the 66 seals that keep Lucifer in check when he started torturing souls in hell, and then Sam destroyed the last during the Season 4 finale when he killed Lilith. So Season 5 becomes not just a battle for the souls of the Earth's human inhabitants between angels and demons but also a fight for both brothers to live out their destinies and find redemption, even as it puts them at cross purposes.
If it all sounds a bit "epic" for a TV show that's popular with the ladies and airs on The CW, then you obviously haven't been watching for the past five years. Certainly cable shows like "True Blood" and "Dexter" are sexier and bloodier, but pound for pound, "Supernatural" is more emotionally involving and has a deep, rich mythology that could very well be the best the small screen has ever seen. Creator Eric Kripke and Co. have done what few have accomplished before them -- put a horror series on network television that's smart and well written, is often truly scary (or at least a lot darker than you'd expect for a show with such pretty boy leads), and treats its audience with the upmost respect and appreciation. But it's bittersweet as Kripke had always said he saw "Supernatural" lasting no more than five years, and as we now know, it's going to continue, meaning he had to tweak his vision -- and his ending. Even so, the way he closed out Season 5 would have been the perfect "Swan Song" (Ep. 22's actual title) for the series had it indeed ended its run.
But before we get to the climax, let's take a quick look back at some of the highlights of Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season. A key plot point this year is Sam and Dean's dealings with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War, played by Titus Welliver, first appears in the second episode, "Good God, Y'all", while Castiel begins his search for God, something that becomes an ongoing theme. The boys take on Famine (James Otis in a super creepy performance) in "My Bloody Valentine", and then the shit really hits the fan when Pestilence arrives in town at the end of "Hammer of the Gods" with the Winchesters hot on his trail during "The Devil You Know".
"Hammer of the Gods" is an especially interesting episode since it tackles a topic I myself have thought about: Where do the other religions fit into the Apocalypse? Seriously, unless you're Christian or Jewish, God, the devil, angels, demons … they don't mean all that much to you. "Hammer" brought out Baldur and Odin from Norse mythology, Hindu goddess Kali, Hindu god Ganesh, Chinese kitchen god Zao Shen, Haitian Vodou god Baron Samedi, and even Roman messenger god Mercury to work together to stop the war. But of course things don't go smoothly although there is a pretty big reveal concerning the recurring character known as the Trickster that makes this a standout installment. And I'd be very remiss if I didn't make special mention of Matt Frewer's beautifully disgusting portrayal of Pestilence. I still shudder when I think about it.
Scattered throughout the rest of Season 5 are the real meat and potatoes of "Supernatural" -- the episodes that, from their synopses, seem to bring the series that much closer to crossing the line from cleverly self-aware to outright campy. But they never do. Instead they suck you into what you think is a fun little diversion, a freestanding one-off that provides a break from the sturm und drang of the approaching End of Days, only to punch you in the gut at the end with a tie-in to the mythology that you never saw coming. Of course I have to mention "Fallen Idols" with Paris Hilton's cameo, which ends with Dean confessing to Sam about breaking the first seal. A perfect example of hilarity to heartbreak in less than an hour.
Other noteworthy episodes include Kripke's all-time favorite "Changing Channels", where we again meet up with the Trickster, who has trapped Sam and Dean in an alternate reality TV show universe; "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid", a real tear-jerker that has Bobby's wife returning from the dead; "The Real Ghostbusters", in which the brothers attend the very first "Supernatural" convention; and its follow-up, "Abandon All Hope…", which is significant for introducing the best new recurring character since Castiel, the demon Crowley (aka "King of the Crossroads"), who is superbly played by Mark Sheppard (whom you may recognize from "Medium" or "24" or any of the other numerous shows he's guested on). Crowley is pivotal to the events of Season 5 and constantly tests the viewers' deductive powers. Can he be trusted? Whose side is he really on? Sheppard owned the part and thankfully will be returning in Season 6.
Another major plus in Season 5 is the depiction of Lucifer, both on the page and in the flesh. It isn't easy to make the devil even slightly sympathetic, but "Supernatural" did it effortlessly. With just five appearances he altered the course of the Winchester brothers' lives irreparably and eternally. We should hate him; yet, there's something that makes him quite appealing. Casting Mark Pellegrino was a stroke of brilliance. Sure, a lot of us know him as Jacob from "Lost", which you'd think would be a distraction, but it turns out Pellegrino is so gifted that once he puts on Satan's skin, a bunch of folks stranded on an island somewhere is the last thing on anyone's mind. Instead, they're thinking about who the bad guy really is here. Possibly duplicitous angels like Kurt Fuller's Zachariah? He shines in "Point of No Return", which is also the point at which Adam, the third Winchester brother, is reintroduced.
And from there the last four episodes bring it all home … or as close to home as these brothers are ever going to get again. We've already covered "Hammer of the Gods"; next comes "The Devil You Know", which sees the return of the Croatoan Virus as a tool in Pestilence's arsenal of dirty tricks and provides a huge reveal about Sam's back story that will probably reverberate throughout the remaining life of the series. The penultimate ep, "Two Minutes to Midnight", is where we get our payoff on the Four Horsemen storyline. Death is exposed at last. Sam's and Dean's fates are sealed. And then they have their "Swan Song". The history of the Impala intertwines with the looming showdowns (in Detroit no less!) between Sam and Lucifer and Dean and the archangel Michael, Lucifer's brother. It's poetic and profound. Big words for a TV show that's popular with the ladies and airs on The CW, I know, but they fit. And I'm willing to bet if you've watched "Supernatural" from Day One, you'll agree.
If you've previously purchased the Seasons 1 through 4 DVD or Blu-ray box sets, you'll probably also agree that they've been getting skimpier from one year to the next, although this release has some pretty cool menu tricks up its sleeve. The Supernatural: Apocalypse Survival Guides featurette is set up like a video game where you enter Bobby (Jim Beaver)'s library and click on his bookshelf, his desk, or the next room to watch various extras. Two "books" are on the desk: Ride of the Horsemen (11-1/2 minutes) and Kripke's Guide to the Apocalypse (10-1/2 minutes). They provide the bulk of cast and crew interviews. Horsemen looks at the Biblical, symbolic, and cultural aspects of the Apocalypse and its relationship to the Four Horsemen. Folks like Kripke, writer/producer Sera Gamble, director/writer/executive producer Robert Singer, writer/executive producer Ben Edlund, and executive producer Philip Sgriccia appear in Horsemen while Ackles and Padalecki join them in Kripke's Guide, which looks at his numerous contributions while tying in the Book of Revelation to this season's story arc.
The room just outside the library is home to two special features: a quick interview with Kripke about self-contained episodes that can also be found on BD-Live and a spirited tour of the new "Supernatural" backlot by Location Manager Russ Hamilton that juxtaposes scenes from the series with the bare bones buildings and streets on the lot.
Then we come to the four VHS tapes on Bobby's bookshelf:
They're all just what their titles imply and are compilations of a wide range of interviews (sometimes serious, sometimes random and weird) on these subject matters. The best of the bunch is Search for Lucifer, which features real-life ufologist and cryptozoologist (and Ph.D holder in theoretical nuclear physics) Franklin Ruehl on his own "Quest for Satan".
Ten episodes of "Ghostfacers" (totaling around 30 minutes) are included, and they're pretty entertaining. As is the one deleted scene to be found in the set. It's from Episode 9, "The Real Ghostbusters", and it shows Chuck (the great Rob Benedict) speaking at the "Supernatural" convention. It may not have been appropriate for the episode, but it's a real treat for the hard core fans especially. Hilarious. As is a lot of the commentary for Episode 4, "The End", even though the ep, in which Dean time travels to 2014, is quite heavy in tone and in terms of what has transpired during the five years prior. The participants are Kripke, Singer, and Edlund, who joke about how originally "The End" was supposed to be about Sam's and Dean's clones, but they realized the "stupidity" of that idea, and then it evolved into Dean going to the future and meeting himself. They'll hook you within the first few minutes. These guys always enthrall and entertain with their enthusiasm, intelligence, and talent. And they even acknowledge the one flaw of Season 5: it was becoming repetitive and predictable until they realized what was happening at about the midway point of shooting (which is also when the commentary was recorded). Once they made that adjustment, things really took off and they could spend more time with character development, the hallmark of the series.
It's all good stuff, right? But a little light in the J&J department. Never fear. The de rigeur Gag Reel is here! It may be more polished and less organic than its predecessors (especially in the early years), but it more than makes up for it via its length. Plus, it's still damn funny and very much appreciated. In a nice change-up this season, it concludes with a montage homage to everyone behind the camera. Very classy. See if you can find the three easter eggs (all relating to "Ghostfacers"), and we're done.
The extras are identical on the DVD and Blu-ray alternatives; however, in terms of picture clarity, audio quality, and ease of accessing the special features, of course the newer, high def technology wins out yet again.
While the Blu-ray/DVD package doesn't quite live up to preceding years, what we have here is another stellar season … and another 4-1/2 rating from me. Kripke may be passing the torch to Gamble, but there's little doubt the change is in name only and the quality of Season 6 (and beyond, if the gods allow) will remain unaffected. And if not, then we'll always have "Swan Song" -- the perfect end to an almost perfect series.
• Supernatural: Apocalypse Survival Guides – Bobby's Exclusive Video Collection
• "Ghostfacers": The Web Series
• Producer/Writer Commentary on "Episode 4 - The End"
• Unaired Scene from "Episode 9 - The Real Ghostbusters"
• Gag Reel
4 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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