Warner Bros. // 2005 // 945 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // September 1st, 2009
Between Heaven and Hell
This is the season where Dean gets Touched by an Angel and Sam takes a walk on the wild side. It's Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season on DVD.
If you haven't been following along, first I say, why the hell not? Then I say, here are the facts of this case. Sam (Jared Padalecki, Gilmore Girls, Friday the 13th) and Dean (Jensen Ackles, Dark Angel, My Bloody Valentine 3-D) Winchester are brothers. When Sam was a baby, a demon came into his room and dripped blood into his mouth then burned their mother, Mary, on the ceiling. From that day until the day he died, their father, John, dedicated his life (and his son's lives) to hunting evil. For the last three seasons, Sam and Dean have wandered the US in their extra cool '67 Impala, saving people, hunting things, and getting themselves in deeper with the forces of darkness.
When we last left the boys at the end of Season Three, Dean was yanked down into hell by demonic pitbulls, the result of a one-year deal where he offered up his soul to a demon in return for bringing Sam back from the dead. Now, at the start of Season Four, Dean is back from hell and Sam's had one heck of a summer vacation.
The fourth season of Supernatural hangs a hard left, leaving behind most of the urban legend investigations that were the original basis for the show and steering the boys headlong into the Bible. Which, depending on your religious leanings, could be considered the ultimate urban legend.
The season opens with a stunning visual of Dean waking up in a pine box, then literally clawing his way out of the grave. The scenes of him pulling himself up out of the ground with the appropriate grunts and groans so resemble scenes of childbirth that I have to assume it was intentional. Upon his return, Dean makes two discoveries: he's been gone for four months and he's completely intact ("I've been rehymenated!") except for a handprint burned into his shoulder.
Desperate to find Sam, he goes to Bobby's (Jim Beaver, Harper's Island) and learns that his brother has been off the grid in his grief. Together they track Sam to a no-tell motel and there we're handed the most perplexing scene of the season. Sam is with a girl (Genevieve Cortese, Wildfire) who appears to be a one-night stand but turns out to be the demon Ruby who used to inhabit the body of Katie Cassidy.
For the fans who may want to call me on this scene, let me take a moment to say, no. It makes no sense. I get that Ruby and Sam don't want Dean to know it's her, but the banter with Sam calling her the wrong name and her asking if Sam and Dean are "together" is ridiculous. It was a show designed to trick the audience and not the characters and that's not playing fair. Later on in the episode we learn that this new body is really Ruby but Dean doesn't learn the truth until episode four.
Enter the angels. Castiel (Misha Collins) is the one who pulled Dean out of the pit but he's just the tip of the holy iceberg. Before the season is out we'll meet Uriel, Zachariah, and even a fallen angel who gets her groove on in the backseat of the Impala with Dean.
New, recurring characters have never had an easy time fitting in on Supernatural. We like our boys together and we abhor anyone who might tear them asunder. But Misha Collins hath charms that soothe the savage fangirl and as such, he has earned himself a regular gig come Season Five.
The overreaching arc for Season Four of Supernatural is this: Lilith has a new hobby. She's trying to break the 66 seals mentioned in the Bible. If she succeeds then Lucifer escapes from the pit, walks the Earth, and it's apocalypse now. So, Sam and Dean simply have to kill her before she breaks the last seal and it would be nice if they did it sooner than later since each seal brings down some horrendous plague upon a section of the world. More than half the episodes this season directly relate to the problem of Lilith, the seals, and the angels. Scattered in between are a few stand-alone stories including one amazing salute to the classic Universal monsters and a "meta" episode that pokes fun at both the fans and the show itself.
Here's how I rate the episodes along with some of the best pop culture references.
* "Lazarus Rising"
Dean is back from hell thanks to the strong hand of Castiel. Dean's side of the story is well told but Sam's end is a little muddled. The first five minutes though, are worth the rest of the ride.
Dean: (on his pristine condition after being four months dead) "I know. I should look like a Thriller video reject."
* "Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester"
The ghosts of people they couldn't save come back for revenge on Sam, Dean, and Bobby. A cool concept, and I loved seeing all of those guest stars back again, but it's tiresome by the end.
Dean: (on how he thought angels would be) "You know, Michael Landon, not dicks.
* "In the Beginning"
It's Back to the Future, Supernatural-style as Dean is sent into the past to see how old yellow eyes first latched on to his family. Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files) rocks this episode as Dean's grandfather and the couple playing young John and Mary are spot on. Despite a lack of Jared in this episode, it's a real winner.
Dean: (wondering how Castiel sent him back in time.) "Okay, so what, angels got their hands on some DeLoreans?
In one of the more gruesome episodes of the season, Sam and Dean go after a Rugaru, a creature who chows down on human flesh. Only one problem. The guy they're hunting hasn't actually turned yet, so the boys must decide if they should wait until he kills an innocent before they take his life or take a possibly innocent life themselves. There are some good moments in this one, particularly when Dean finds out what Sam's been up to with Ruby, but overall it's slow moving and it spends too much time with the guest stars for my taste.
Top Pop: It's not a pop culture reference but it's one of the most damaging lines ever spoken on the show.
Dean to Sam: "If I didn't know you, I would want to hunt you." Ouch.
* "Monster Movie"
This is my favorite episode of the season but that's likely because I grew up a classic Universal monster freak! Sam and Dean investigate a series of deaths linked to a Dracula, a Wolfman and a Mummy -- as in, the ones you see in the movies. The episode is presented as if it were a classic film. It's black and white, it has titles and end credits that match the era, and there are dozens of monster movie references not only in the dialogue, but visual ones as well. A very funny episode that is a nice break in such a heavy season.
Dean: "We need to find this guy before he Creature from the Black Lagoons somebody."
Dracula's dying words: "It was beauty that killed the beast."
* "Yellow Fever"
Oddly, we have two funny episodes in a row. A real shame because this one could have been so much better had they not played it for laughs. The boys are investigating a case of Ghost Sickness, a disease that exaggerates your fears until the victim's heart bursts from fright. Now Dean's got it so Sam is pretty much on his own, trying to find a solution before Dean dies...again.
This is the episode that has the infamous "Eye of the Tiger" sequence where Jensen Ackles continued enthusiastically lip syncing to the song when Jared didn't enter on cue. It's tacked on to the end of the episode on the DVD.
Top Pop: One of the witnesses has a pair of boa constrictors named Donny and Marie. "It's Marie you've got to look out for. She smells fear."
* "It's the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester"
Lilith is about to break another seal. This time she's got a witch summing Samhain, the original Halloweenmeister himself. The opening is disgusting but it evens out as it goes on and there are some great brother moments in this one.
Top Pop: Not a lot of good one liners in this one, but the title alone qualifies as a great pop culture reference. Who didn't grow up with The Great Pumpkin on Halloween?
* "Wishful Thinking"
Funny in a truly twisted way, this is the ultimate "be careful what you wish for" tale. Ted Rami plays a nerd who throws a magic coin into a fountain to get the girl of his dreams. Now everyone in town is using fountain to get their wish and since this is Supernatural, you know that can't be good. The giant, suicidal teddy bear has to be the most twisted thing they've ever done on this show. Excellent episode all around.
Top Pop: (Young boy finally turning the tables on the bullies who have
tormented him all his life.)
Todd: "Kneel before Todd!"
* "I Know What You Did Last Summer"
This flashback-filled episode bridges the gap between last season's ender and this season's start. Sam and Dean meet up with Anna (Julie McNiven, Mad Men), a girl who can hear the angel's talking. Then Alastair, one of Dean's playmates from hell, shows up and things get really nasty. Speaking of nasty...three guesses what Sam and Ruby were doing over their summer vacation...
Dean: (referring to Anna who has recently broken out of a psych ward.) "So, I'm Girl, Interrupted..."
* "Heaven and Hell"
The Anna story continues and we find out why both the angels and the demons have it in for this poor girl. Tons of mythology here that moves the story forward but in general it's not one of my favorites.
Top Pop: Dean to Anna: "So, you just forgot that you were God's little Power Ranger?"
* "Family Remains"
This is what you call a bottle show. The boys spend the entire episode trying to protect a family from a creepy entity hiding in the walls of their new to them, but dilapidated home. This is as close to a horror film as you're going to get on Supernatural but the real horror is that it was based on an actual news story at the time. And as I write this, a similar story is running on the news. It's a sad, sad, world when you can base an episode of Supernatural on facts.
Top Pop: (There are actually quite a few pop culture references in this
Kate: "I just got molested by Casper the pervy ghost!"
* "Criss Angel is a Douchebag"
I knew from the title alone that this wouldn't be a favorite. Not that I'm a fan of Criss Angel, but the title is so lowbrow and so not like this series. The plot revolves around an old magician (Barry Bostwick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) who is on a hot streak while several younger magicians die in his wake. There's something very off about this episode. Our boys are made to look stupid, it spends too much time with the guest cast -- it's my least favorite episode of the season.
Top Pop: I got nothing.
* "After School Special"
More flashbacks, this time to the boys' high school years as they return to one of their old haunts to track down the source of several bizarre deaths involving students. Colin Ford is always perfect in the role of Young Sam while I'm not fond of the way they wrote Young Dean (Brock Kelly). This is the episode that features the now infamous Jensen Ackles in gym teacher shorts.
Dean: "Go have your Robin Williams 'Oh Captain! My Captain!' moment"
* "Sex and Violence"
A sexy siren in the form of a stripper lures men into killing the women in their lives. But when the siren goes after Dean, he takes a different, much more Freudian form. Great episode and a Sam sex scene for those of you who are into that.
Top Pop: Lots of great pop culture references but the best one is hard to catch. Put together all the names of the Siren strippers; Jasmine, Aurora, Ariel, and Belle and you get a list of the Disney Princesses!
* "Death Takes a Holiday"
Someone has kidnapped the grim reaper so Sam and Dean take a trip to the netherworld in order to get him and her back on the job. The episode features the return of Tessa, the reaper who tried to take Dean during "In My Time of Dying." It has its moments, but it's not a favorite.
Top Pop: another truly loaded episode but I'm going with. .
Dean: (upon seeing that the ghost boy can move things with his mind) "Dude, you are so Amityville."
* "On the Head of a Pin"
Someone is murdering angels so Castiel wants Dean to torture a captive Alastair (the demon who tortured Dean when he was in hell) in order to find out who is behind the insidious plan.
Top Pop: Alastair gets all the good lines in this one including this taut at
Dean's supposed ineptitude.
Alastair: "Grasshopper, you're going to have to get creative to impress me."
* "It's a Terrible Life"
In an alternate reality, Dean is a corporate yes man and Sam works tech support for the Sandover Bridge and Iron Company which just happens to be haunted. Terrific episode and it's so nice to see Jensen and Jared playing this "normal" variation of their usual characters. And there are Ghostfacers references as an added bonus.
Top Pop: The title is an obvious pop culture play on the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Also Dean and Sam's last names are Smith and Wesson instead of Winchester. So clever.
* "The Monster at the End of This Book"
Eric Kripke held nothing back in this quirky story that pokes fun at the fandom. Sam and Dean discover that their lives in every detail have been chronicled in a series of little known books called "Supernatural." They track down the author Chuck (wonderfully played by Rob Benedict of Threshold) and find that he is a prophet whose job it is to chronicle the Winchester gospel.
I think the episode is brilliant, but some fans were not happy about the references to slash fiction (stories that portray the brothers as lovers) or the line, "for fans, they sure do complain a lot." In all fairness, Kripke also pokes fun at his own writers with Chuck apologizing for forcing the boys to live through bad writing (ie: "Bugs").
Chuck: (on why he didn't write himself as a God in the books) "That's like M. Night-level douchiness."
* "Jump the Shark"
The boys have a lot to think about when a young man calls saying he's John's son and he needs help to find his missing mother. There are some interesting moments but it doesn't live up to the promise.
Top Pop: The diner in the episode is called Cousin Oliver's, a reference to the arrival of Cousin Oliver on Brady Bunch, which is often known as the moment the show jumped the shark.
* "The Rapture"
Castiel gets yanked back into heaven leaving his human host, Jimmy, behind and in mortal danger. Misha Collins does a fabulous job playing the dual role but overall, not a great episode.
Top Pop: I got nothing.
* "When the Levee Breaks"
While locked in Bobby's panic room, Sam suffers through demon blood detox and is visited by hallucinations of his mother, Alastair, and his own young self.
Dean: (talking about his feelings for the angels) I mean, they come on like shady politicians from planet Vulcan.
* "Lucifer Rising"
In the season finale, the angels reveal their plan for Dean while Sam goes after Lilith all alone. Not my favorite season finale but it does wrap up a few loose ends and leaves us with an exciting conclusion.
Ruby to Sam: "You didn't need the feather to fly. You had it in you the whole time, Dumbo."
And that's it. A whole nother season of Supernatural in a nutshell.
Turning our eyes to the DVD itself, there's some good and some bad. On the good side is a lengthy gag reel that was cut together as a presentation so it's like watching a short movie. Lots of fun, some great stuff and some unusual stills of the cast and crew at the end.
There are three commentaries, Eric Kripke and Jeremy Carver on "In the Beginning," Sera Gamble an Robert Singer on "When the Levee Breaks," and Kripke alone on "Lucifer Rising." If you're into the writing process or the story behind the story, you'll find these commentaries fascinating. I personally prefer commentaries that directly speak to what's happening on the screen -- behind the scenes tidbits and production trivia -- but there's little of that here.
The audio and video are as you'd expect for a new show. A nice range of subtitles in a variety of languages including English Closed Captions which I like to switch on to pick up details I may have missed.
The episode descriptions are printed in a paper booklet with photos from the season, very handy but...
The reason the episode descriptions are in a booklet is because they did away with the fold out case, and that makes me very unhappy. This season is packaged in those cheap plastic flipper discs inside one plastic case. So cheap that mine arrived destroyed. The plastic pieces that hold the flipper peg in place broke off in two places so the disc holders were floating around loose in the box. The weirdest part is that there is no damage to the outside sleeve so it appears that the inside case was broken before it went into the final packaging stage. It's like a magic trick. Watch me break this egg without breaking the box around it!
My second complaint is about the special features on this set. The gag reel and commentaries are fine, though I would have preferred to see at least one with Jared and Jensen. The deleted and extended scenes do add some new information, so no problem there. Then we have the big featurette called "The Mythologies of Supernatural: 3-Section Featurette Gallery Bridging Heaven, Purgatory and Hell to Examine Key Mythological Precepts."
It's as hard to explain as the title is long. The feature begins with a painting divided into three sections. I assume the sections are Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell but the font they use is so decorative there's no reading it on the TV. Click through any one of these and you're taken to another bizarre, medieval tapestry-looking graphic with more words you can't read. Move the curser and you highlight tiny, shadowy cutouts of people (?) to activate that section. The concept probably seemed cool on paper but in practicality, it's way to hard to navigate. Once you get past that test of patience, you're delivered a featurette that isn't worth the time it took you to get there. Basically, everyone one of these leads you to a lecture on the Bible. They have interviews with theologians and historians, and occasionally Kripke and his crew have something to say. And it's all superimposed over classic art pieces depicting events in the bible. It's too much. If I wanted to watch a documentary, I'd turn on The History Channel.
I get that this season is about angels and demons and I'd be fine with a five-minute featurette about the biblical ramifications of the storyline. But every featurette on this set is dedicated to the same subject. In earlier seasons we were given a look at a typical day on the set, a closer look at the Impala and the making of special episodes. That's what I'm looking for on a DVD, something that gives me the sense of being there. It was very disappointing.
Supernatural is currently my favorite TV show, and it ranks in the top ten of shows on my lifetime list. It's all the things I like to watch, investigating, the paranormal, and brothers -- I do love my brother shows. The acting, the writing, the directing, even the sets and the props are consistently top-notch and intriguing, and I'm always left wanting more.
If you haven't watched the show before, I wouldn't suggest starting with this season. It's too far into the mythology to pick up without being confused. Though, any fan of the Universal classics should at least rent the disc with Monster Movie on it.
For fans of the show, of course you're going to buy this set. There are plenty of episodes that bear watching a second or even third time and the gag reel is guaranteed to make you smile.
This court finds Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season guilty of overzealousness but we appreciate their style so we're willing to let them go with a warning. But the next DVD set better have behind-the-scenes features because we won't be so lenient next time.
Review content copyright © 2009 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 945 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site
* Supernatural Superwiki