Supernatural: The Complete Third Season (DVD)
Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Katie Cassidy, Lauren Cohan, Jim Beaver
Created by Eric Kripke
Distributed by Warner Home Video
By the time a TV series' third season rolls around, it's either got your full attention or you skip it without hesitation when flipping through the channels. In the case of Supernatural, I've been onboard since the very first episode (see my Season One and Season Two DVD reviews) and look forward to receiving the box set a few weeks before the show resumes each fall. It's a chance to look back over where the Winchester brothers have been, speculate on where they're headed, and spend some time behind the scenes with the cast and crew. Although it's short on episodes (the writer's strike cut Season Three down from 22 to 16) and offers fewer supplemental features than either of its predecessors, Supernatural: The Complete Third Season still packs a powerful punch and is without a doubt the best of the bunch. Which just makes it all the more bittersweet that we only get five discs this year instead of the usual six.
Since most people have already made up their minds whether or not to watch Supernatural, I don't intend to spend a lot of time preaching to the choir. If you're reading this review, you're likely already a regular viewer of the show and just want the goods on what extras are included this time around. But I do want to make a point of saying what an abundant amount of episodes are truly kickass in this third season. It starts off amazingly strong with "The Magnificent Seven", in which Dean (Ackles), Sam (Padalecki), and Bobby (Beaver) battle the seven deadly sins among all the other demons released when the Devil's Gate was opened at the end of the Season Two. This installment also introduces Ruby (Cassidy), who from then on always seems to pop up at just the right moment and possesses a special dagger that plays a key role in the outcome of Sam's season-long quest to save Dean's life.
Next is "The Kids Are Alright", a Dean-centric ep that's one of my sentimental favorites of the set. Ackles has hit his stride in finding the essence of Dean Winchester, and he shines here. Another recurring character is unveiled in "Bad Day at Black Rock": the much maligned wheeler-dealer Bela (Cohan). Now I can understand why dear Bela rubbed certain fans the wrong way, but I never did harbor the animosity and ill will towards her that some did. When I attended the Salute to Supernatural in LA last March, you could literally feel it in the air whenever her name was mentioned. But not to worry. As those who watched the third season know, she more than got what she deserved.
In Episodes 4-8, things move along nicely with the boys battling evil ranging from a genuine "Sin City", Grimm Fairy Tales come to life, a ghost ship, and the Anti-Claus in "A Very Supernatural Christmas" (in which we also finally learn the origin of Dean's necklace). In Episode 9 Ruby's true identity is uncovered, and Episode 10, "Dream a Little Dream of Me", provides another highlight of the season. Bobby is inexplicably in a coma, so Sam and Dean do what any friends would: Eat some wacky African plant root procured from Bela and enter his dreams to get to the bottom of the situation. As you might expect, in light of Dean's predicament of only having a few months left to live, he sees some pretty fucked up shit out in Dreamland, including a chilling vision of himself doing battle with … himself. It's one of the most powerful scenes in the show's history and just another reason why Supernatural is head and shoulders above most genre fare offered on the tube nowadays.
Proving my point, along come Discs 4 and 5, which are packed with balls-to-the-wall, non-stop goodness from start to finish. "Mystery Spot" and "Jus in Bello" are homages to two classics -- Groundhog Day and Assault on Precinct 13 -- and excellent in their own rights. "Mystery Spot" is especially entertaining and demonstrates perfectly what a fine line Supernatural walks between comic relief and the darker side of things. It's also an outstanding example of the writers' ability to have you watch an entire episode thinking it's a stand-alone, only to sucker punch the audience at the very last minute by bringing in the mythos and amping up the precariousness of the brothers' situation even further. Padalecki really stretches in this one to great effect.
Right here is where the strike reared its ugly head and threw a kink in the season, but it returned with a vengeance with the hilarious reality show episode "Ghostfacers", in which we're treated to a repeat visit from the "Hell Hounds", Ed Zeddmore and Harry Spangler, who first appeared at the end of Season One. And that's where the laughs end as the final three episodes provide a 1-2-3 knockout beginning with "Long-Distance Call" wherein Dean starts receiving phone calls from Papa John Winchester. Normally that's something a son would be happy about, but considering John's dead, well …
The next to last episode, "Time Is on My Side", carries on the series' tradition of including one or two unexpected guest appearances each year. In this case it's the always compelling Billy Drago as Doc Benton, a real-life doctor who in 1816 abandoned his medical practice to follow his obsession with finding the key to eternal life. I don't think I have to tell you what Sam has in mind once he hears about Doc's research. But as everyone knows, there's "No Rest for the Wicked" no matter how much brotherly love is at stake, and as Dean's contract comes due, he and Sam learn exactly whom they're dealing with and what she's capable of despite her child-like appearance.
So for those looking for a quick, easy refresher, that's the season in a nutshell. What about those extras the rest of you have been waiting to hear about? Instead of the couple of commentaries that are normally found in Supernatural box sets, we have seven "Closer Looks" at Episodes 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12. They are narrated by Kripke or the applicable writer, director, or producer; run a couple of minutes each; and touch upon what was especially memorable or significant about the episode. For instance, with regard to "A Very Supernatural Christmas," Kripke gleefully describes how they set out to make the most brutal and violent anti-holiday holiday show ever on TV, which is why Santa Claus is cruelly slaughtered within the first five minutes. Deck the halls with splashes of bloooooood! Fa la la la la, la la la la. The "Looks" can be accessed either through the Special Features menu or via little camera icons that show up on the episode list. While I do miss the fun of a full-length commentary, all in all, these "Closer Looks" are a nice addition to the set. As is the five-minute featurette on Dean's beloved Impala. Not only do we see a lot of the show's stunt cars, including one that breaks down into dozens of pieces, but then we get to peek at the weapons stashed inside the trunk including stakes, salt, gasoline, and yes, the Colt. The guys' onset antics take the gag reel to a whole new level this time around. It runs a full seven minutes, making it obvious they know how much people look forward to this feature, and everyone plays it up shamelessly for the fans' enjoyment.
The last two extras are the yin and yang of the set. "From Legends to Reality" runs over 20 minutes and pays tribute to the men and women who work on the show's special effects, special effects makeup, and visual effects. To be honest, those three categories have always been a bit of a grey area to me, but this mini-doc breaks them down and also differentiates between organic and physical effects. You can't ask for much more than a group of dedicated, talented people whose number one goal day in and day out is to make up new monsters who are both spooky and achievable … and, most of all, believable. In Season Three they succeeded with flying colors. They are all rightly proud of the visual language they've collectively created for the show and certainly seem to have one of the best jobs in the business! On the opposite side of the fence, we have the 15-minute "pilot" for Ghostfacers. It does add explanations of and depth to those characters, but it just did nothing for me, particularly because of its lame ending. The Ghost Facers' presence was a glaring reminder of Ackle's and Padalecki's absence. Unless they tighten things up, I'm not sure they have what it takes to stand on their own apart from the Supernatural security blanket.
Considering how Season Three ended, Sam and Dean are each in need of their own security blankets … or something to bring them comfort in the night. Times are bleak for our boys, and I sense that the dark, demonic tone of these 16 episodes is only going to deepen from now until the end of Supernatural's run. While nothing's really "perfect", this show has fewer flaws than most, and as long as The CW keeps allowing Kripke and crew to keep doing what they've been doing, there's no reason to think Season Four won't uphold the standard of all that's come before it.
• "From Legends to Reality: Supernatural Effects" featurette
• "Supernatural Impala" featurette
• Seven "A Closer Look" featurettes
• "Ghostfacers! Confessionals" minifeaturette gallery
• Gag reel
4 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
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