Paul Asay
Emily Tsiao

TV Series Review

Sam and Dean Winchester are (still) on a mission from God. Kinda. Maybe. Sometimes. Not really.

The two brothers have been hunting devils, demons and all manner of preternatural beasties for 15 seasons now—a near eternity in television terms. You’d think they would’ve run out by now, but no. Because in this CW world, demons really do lurk behind every bush, always on the lookout to devour more bodies, corrupt more souls, destroy more worlds and just make everything a literal living hell.

Heaven’s Hitmen?

But Sam, Dean and occasionally a handful of others stand in the breech, protecting humanity from demons, vampires and all things that go bump and screech and, perhaps, squelch in the night. They’ve been almost like heaven’s human hitmen, dealing with terra firma’s muck and grime so the angels don’t have to sully themselves.

It ultimately doesn’t help much, though. Sure, God and his minions are generally the good guys in the show’s 15-season run. But sometimes we see indications that those who reside in the heavenly realm are just as petty and duplicitous as the folks down here, prone to jealousy and anger and not above triggering the occasional celestial civil war. Even God Himself (who goes by the name “Chuck”) has His issues here. All powerful? Maybe. All good? Not in this show.

And Sam and Dean (using every last bit of the knowledge they gleaned from modeling school) sometimes have to give these almighty beings a bit of a talking to. You know, to straighten out their priorities.

Mortal Mess

Not that Sam and Dean are all that great themselves with issues of peacefulness or morality. They hardly ever keep their language in check, and sometimes one or the other of them gets into a sexual situation. Blood spatters like rain in Seattle. Heads roll like bowling balls on the PBA tour. While the show is self-aware and campy enough to make all the blood feel a little less … bloody, it’s still there, and in greater quantities than you’d see in a shocking old Hammer horror film.

Supernatural has its merits. Strip away the theological mumbo jumbo, and you have a middling good-vs.-evil conflict in which these two bros are week after week asked to save the world and each other. There are some nice messages about family and self-sacrifice, how the world’s monsters can literally be the guy next door and how demons—no matter how nice they may seem—shouldn’t be trusted.

But you just can’t cleanly strip away the spiritual gunk in Supernatural. It’s been pretty obvious for years now that this series is about as sacredly sound as The Walking Dead, doing for theology what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does for presidential history.

Episode Reviews

Nov. 19, 2020: “Carry On”

In the series finale, Sam and Dean celebrate a Chuck-free world the only way they know how—saving people, hunting things… you know, the family business.

People wearing creepy clown masks stab a man in the chest. Offscreen, his wife is also stabbed (we see her body). We later learn that the man’s body was drained of blood, his wife’s tongue was cut out and their children were kidnapped. A man is impaled by a spike on a wall. We hear about people whose hearts were ripped out. Someone cleans guns.

Sam and Dean fight off several vampires, beheading them with machetes in the process. They shoot one vampire in the leg and head. (This only incapacitates him so the brothers can threaten him with a slow death for information.) We also learn that the vampires kidnap kids and essentially raise them for slaughter.

The brothers discuss death and express their love for each other as they face their final moments together. A body is burned on a funeral pyre. A man dies of old age and we see him flatline.

Several people go to heaven and discover that it is a simple, happy place where all of their loved ones are finally together. A man explains that Sam and Dean’s surrogate son, Jack (a Nephilim), and their best friend, Castiel (an angel), were responsible for fixing heaven after Chuck’s defeat.

We see a shirtless man. We hear a sexual reference. Some people drink beers. We hear uses of “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is also misused.

March 16, 2020: “Galaxy Brain”

When Chuck (aka “God”) decides to destroy all the worlds he created—save for the one Sam and Dean live on—the brothers have to travel to one of these alternate universes to save a friend they thought was dead.

Chuck watches his multiple worlds being destroyed on TV screens. A young woman chooses to stay in her world as it is destroyed. A fireball destroys a world moments after Chuck promised to spare it. A background TV shows a man magically healing himself after being shot in the head and others with monster teeth.

A woman is stabbed with a scythe (no blood is seen) and she crumbles into dust. A friend of Sam and Dean’s is knocked unconscious, tied up and threatened to be killed. Sam, Dean and their friend fight a young woman before knocking her down with a chair. A sheriff investigates a cow that has been bludgeoned to death. (We see the bovine corpse.) Sam and Dean arm themselves with guns.

People use magic and spells to create protection and to open a cosmic rift to teleport to another world. Monsters with red eyes surround Sam and Dean but don’t attack. People discuss the issues of eating angel hearts, having no soul and seeking revenge. Dean talks about Chuck potentially being killed by his own grandson, who is a Nephilim. A boy’s silent prayer to “Death” summons a reaper.

A boy blames himself for trapping a girl in another world. A young woman rocks herself in fear. A woman is forced to stay behind during a rescue mission to protect her “adopted” daughters from becoming orphaned again.

People lie and drink whiskey. A same-sex relationship is brought up. Someone litters. We hear “h—” twice and the term “BS.”

Oct. 10, 2019: “Back and to the Future”

“What’s one more apocalypse?”

Good question, Sam. Good question. The Winchesters are at it again. Picking up where the last season left off, Sam, Dean and Castiel (their angel BFF) are faced with yet another apocalypse where the only chance for humanity lies in the hands of the trio. After Chuck (aka the show’s laid-back version of God) released all 2-3 billion tortured souls of hell, the brothers are forced to evacuate a nearby town so they can trap these spirits with a spell to buy some time until they can find a way to send them back from whence they came.

Corpses in varying degrees of decay are possessed by the spirits of the dead. The Winchesters fight their way through these zombies: kicking, smashing, punching, stabbing and—in the case of Castiel—exorcising until the three find refuge in a cemetery mausoleum. We see skeletal-looking spirits with red eyes leaving these bodies as they are destroyed. Later, ghosts attack the trio, punching, kicking, telekinetically throwing them and even choking them.

The corpse of Jack, the Winchesters’ surrogate son, is possessed by a demon. Jack’s eyes have been burnt out of their sockets, so the demon puts on a pair of sunglasses in order to blend in. He comments that he prefers hell the way it was because he enjoys torturing souls. He performs spells in Latin that include angel blood and a human heart as ingredients.

A ghost with bloody tears trickling down her cheeks attacks two teen girls, appearing in their mirrors and causing one of them to cry blood as well before the girl starts clawing at her own face, creating deep gashes in her skin. Later, the girls’ corpses are found in a bloody heap. A man is found with his throat slashed open. Clumps of plasma cover an abandoned car on the side of the road.

A horrifying clown with a gore-covered knife chases a mother and daughter through their house, cackling maniacally. We see blood splattered on the walls and around the kitchen where a child’s birthday party was held. The mother later comments that everyone is dead, and although no bodies are seen, it is clear she means the party guests.

A man’s hand is sliced open by a ghost. A man receives a deep cut in his stomach which is later healed by angel magic. A man purposely cuts his hand with a blade to provide blood for a spell. Castiel attempts to heal a gunshot wound but is unable due to the evil that caused it. The infected-looking wound is later cleaned and bandaged.

Lots of negative comments are made about God/Chuck. A cross is seen on a mausoleum and empty beer cans and liquor bottles are littered inside. Graves explode as newly possessed corpses crawl out of them. A grave is desecrated by the brothers as they try to escape. A man threatens another with a knife to the throat.

A man breaks down a door. A teenage girl says divorce is awesome since her mom buys her gifts out of guilt. The brothers lie and pretend to be FBI in order to evacuate a town. A man hides a gun in the glove compartment of his car. The demon in Jack’s body, comments on the good-looking appearances of humans and mentions that back when he was human, they were much uglier and worshipped a phallic-shaped rock. A comment is made about a woman’s rear-end. “D–n,” “b–ch,” “a–” and “h—” all make an appearance, as well as two misuses of God’s name.

Nov. 28, 2018: “Unhuman Nature”

Sam and Dean are worried about Dean’s semi-surrogate son, Jack, whose natural father was Lucifer. Seems the 18-year-old half-archangel is sick, perhaps dying. Dean says he knew that when they brought Jack into their world, death was always a possibility: “I figured it’d be a vampire or a ghoul, not a freaking cough,” he says. Meanwhile, Nick—once the human vessel for Lucifer—continues his quest to find out who killed his wife and son. But in so doing, he discovers he enjoys killing and invites Lucifer (who supposedly died earlier) back into his body.

Nick “talks” with the corpse of a priest he just killed: He’s nailed the body up in a doorframe (in imitation of Christ). We see nails in the dead man’s palms and blood around his neck, where Nick apparently slit the priest’s throat. We watch him kill another man, too: the vessel for the entity that killed Nick’s family. He ties the guy up and has already beaten him terribly before the camera arrives. (We see the man’s cut, bruised and bloodstained face.) Nick threatens to drive a knife into his victim’s leg, and later he hits the fellow in the head with a hammer, though it doesn’t kill him. More hammering to the head ensues. We don’t see those blows land, but we do watch as blood sprays all over Nick and the walls. In flashback, we see the corpse of another man Nick killed, lying still and bloody, with the murder weapon (again a hammer) lying nearby. Nick holds people by their throats as well. We also hear that Jack’s unnatural father (Lucifer) was stabbed in the heart and exploded.

Jack coughs up blood and foams at the mouth during his sickness. Castiel, an angelic being, visits a shaman named Sergei, who may hold the key to Jack’s recovery: some bottled, glowing “grace” from the archangel Gabriel. Sergei traded the grace for a spell that allowed Gabriel to “hide away in Monte Carlo.” “With porn stars,” Castiel finishes. Meanwhile, Jack and Dean spend quality time together. “If I don’t make it, stuff I’d miss wouldn’t be things like Tahiti or the Taj Mahal,” Jack says. “I’d be missing more time with you. … It’s time together that matters.”

Dean and Jack drink beer, and Dean offers to take Jack to a bar: “Low on class but high on hookup potential,” he says. Jack’s seen shirtless a couple of times, and Nick approaches a woman dressed in a revealing evening outfit. (He almost kills her, but thinks better of it.) Nick recalls “getting hammered” at an Elks lodge the night his wife and son were killed. We hear people cast spells, talk about powerful witches that could help Jack, and discuss various angels and demons. A black, skeleton-like thing with glowing red eyes—likely Lucifer—is resurrected when Nick prays to him. Sergei initially uses “holy fire” to trap Castiel. The shaman smokes a hookah. We see liquor bottles scattered about a living room.

Supernatural: Jan. 24, 2018 “Breakdown”

Sam and Dean seemingly take a break from monster hunting to help Sheriff Donna track down her missing niece. But when they uncover a truly horrific online auction in connection with the girl’s disappearance—one in which people are kidnapped, cut up and sold off, bit by bit—the Winchester Bros. realize they’ve got more monstrous activity to deal with after all.

We don’t see anyone actually get their limbs sawed off here (though one such operation is obscured by the operator), but we do see the bloody tiled area where the auctions and dismemberments take place. Blood coats the walls, and victims’ screams echo as the killer preps his terrible tools. The camera zooms in on an arm where a bloody chunk has been removed. The killer leaves a bloody thumbprint on a stereo dial. Body parts, from limbs to organs, are auctioned off to the highest bidder, and a comment string down the side of the auction expresses how delectable or desirable each part is.

A vampire (with a gruesome set of fangs in its mouth) attacks someone, rips open a vein in his own wrist and pours the blood into his victim’s mouth, turning him into a vampire, too. (When the victim regains consciousness, he attacks his friends.) Someone gets shot in the chest: Blood seeps broadly into the victim’s white shirt. Another person is shot in the leg: The shooter indicates that the victim will most certainly be killed, but it’s up to him as to how short or long the agony will be. A guy is stabbed in the gut: The blade sticks out of his abdomen as he apparently expires. Someone’s head is smashed against a countertop.

A traveling pastor is arrested in connection with the auction site. We hear him recite a psalm before his arrest, and he carries a Bible with him during questioning. But we learn the man has a rap sheet, too: He’s previously been arrested for exposing himself to a girl, and another time for picking up a hitchhiking boy. When asked about a couple of people who’ve gone missing—one of whom is Hispanic and the other a young girl—he refers to them as “your illegal and your whore.” A bloody shirt is found in his van whose back window reads “Jesus saves.”

People drink beer. Characters say “d–n” three times, “h—” five times and “b–ch” once. God’s name is also misused once.

Supernatural: Mar. 30, 2016 “Red Meat”

Sam and Dean take on a pack of werewolves, rescuing a pair of hikers in the process. Alas, both of them die. Sort of.

Sam is shot during the battle, suffering a bloody wound to the gut. Then he’s suffocated to hurry along the whole dying thing. Note that up until this season, death has been a relative condition for the brothers. But now an entity known as the Reaper promises that the next time they die, it’ll be for real. So, in a hospital, Dean takes a handful of pills to also “die” in order to bargain for his brother with the Reaper, hoping that the nearby doctors will be able to save him before it’s too late.

Several others die as well. One man is run through with a werewolf’s claw. Another victim sits dead in his car, claw marks covering his body. A doctor is killed, her body left to lie in the hallway. People are stabbed. And they fall down stairs. A hiker is left with vicious scratches on his chest and a gruesome bite on his forearm. His girlfriend has a gash across her cheek (held together with tape). We hear talk of missing hearts.

Dean drinks a beer at a bar. We hear “d–n” and “h—” three times each. Also “god” and “jeez.” Somebody says that “death is not the end.” The Reaper begs to differ, though, telling Dean that “the Empty is waiting.”

Supernatural: 1-30-2013

“As Time Goes By”

Henry Winchester zips forward in time to keep a mysterious box away from a demon—running into his incredulous grandsons, Dean and Sam. The demon (in the guise of a woman wearing a bloodstained, cleavage-revealing dress) is a powerful, bloodthirsty thing. Before she follows Henry in time, she kills several members of a secret brotherhood (leaving them in pools of blood, one bleeding from his eyes). She kills at least four more in present-day action—dispatching one with a slice to the neck (offscreen) and another with a stab to the gut (with blood splashing against a wall). She makes her most gruesome kill by jamming her fist through a guy’s stomach, leaving a gaping wound.

The brothers stab the demon. The wound doesn’t kill her, but does electrify her body from the inside. She’s shot point-blank in the head. Again she lives on, with the bullet leaving a grotesque wound. Finally, someone knocks her head clean off, and we’re told that the demon still isn’t dead. (Sam and Dean say they’ll cut her body into little pieces and bury them in cement.)

We see a variety of occult-looking symbols and hear references to angels and demons and the supposed Mayan doomsday prophecy. A grave is exhumed. Characters say “h‑‑‑,” “a‑‑” and “b‑‑ch” two or three times each. We hear the f-word stand-in “freaking.” God’s name is misused.

Supernatural: 5-14-2009

“Lucifer Rising”

Brotherly love? Forget it. These siblings, apparently inseparable through four TV seasons, have had a bit of a falling out as the episode opens. Seems Dean’s been signed to a lifetime contract with the angels, and he’s got a little problem with Sam being infected with demon blood. They must deal with a smug angel named Zachariah, who’s hankering for the end of the world, wand who tells Dean that the afterworld will be wonderful for him—full of peace and happiness, along with “two virgins and 70 sluts.” When Dean asks where God is in this “divine” plan, Zachariah says, “God? God has left the building.”

Supernatural posits that heaven and hell are two powerful and essentially immoral forces using humanity for their own whims and wiles. So Dean rebels against his angelic overlords, declaring he’d rather choose pain over peace any ol’ day, if the latter involves becoming a mindless “Stepford b‑‑ch in paradise.”

A possessed priest slaughters a sanctuary full of nuns, and we see their bodies and blood strewn across the sanctified space. Sam kidnaps a terrified nurse (who is possessed by a demon), and viewers hear her scream before he kills her (offscreen). Sexual double entendres arise, as do profanities.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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