'Supernatural' Season 11 Is a Battle Between Good and Lackluster
As the Winchesters fight an all-powerful yet boring villain, the show is redeemed by its stand-alone episodes.
At any given time, Supernatural is one of two very different shows. Some episodes are like shortened horror movies, in which brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) travel across the United States in a 1967 Chevy Impala on a mission to salt, shoot, and burn whatever goes bump in the night. Others feature another show, in which these same two brothers join up with various supernatural entities (angels, demons, etc.) to solve a major crisis: avenging their mother's death (season one), preventing the apocalypse (seasons four and five), closing the gates of Hell (season eight), or stopping a leviathan-led plot for world domination (season seven), to name a few. Fans of the series argue about particular seasons stand-alone to mythology-heavy episode ratios, but perhaps those differences were never more present than in Supernatural's 11th season.
In season 11, the various monster-of-the-week episodes are exciting (just try watching "Red Meat" without caring who lives or dies), and just plain likable ("Baby", filmed entirely from the perspective of the Impala, turns what could have been just a clever gimmick into the best episode in recent memory). These episodes, which are mostly unconnected to the main plot, will be the ones that you'll actually remember and want to re-watch over and over again.
Season 11 also dealt out more fan service than any other season before it. There are cameos from fan-favorite characters (Bobby Singer [Jim Beaver], Kevin Train [Osric Chau], and Jody Mills [Kim Rhodes]); detailed references to the series' mythology (most of "The Devil In The Details" requires a thorough understanding of past seasons; half of "Safe House" takes place in season four); and playful exploration with its main characters (Misha Collins' gleeful portrayal of a Lucifer-possessed Castiel, Dean and Sam's childish love of professional wrestling in "Beyond The Mat").
Further, after much speculation, I can reveal without spoiling anything that fan favorite Chuck the prophet (Rob Benedict) is indeed God. (It's printed on the back of the DVD box.) While I was initially one of those fans who thought that the slacker hack writer was just too imperfect to be God Himself, I eventually got the in-joke that He was an allegory of the series creators, and accepted the different take on the character. His introduction even breathes new life into the role of evil angel scribe Megatron (Curtis Armstrong), who gets the best moments in his entire character arc here.
What's not to like? Season 11's promising yet ultimately useless villain: The Darkness. Beginning as a dark cloud filled with a (too easily cured) virus, she evolves into a soul-sucking infant named Amara. Aging at warp speed, she becomes a spoiled child (Yasmeene Ball, Gracyn Shinyei) and a Dean-obsessed teen (Samantha Isler) before assuming her adult, little-black-dress-wearing self (Emily Swallow), all within five episodes. All of these actresses showed some great talent; it's just bad writing that made the character especially unlikable. Most of the Darkness' screen time is spent awkwardly walking around city landscapes, screaming for God's attention, vowing to destroy the entire universe, and having long, rambling conversations with Dean about how they're destined to be together.
Later, as we learn more about just who or what she is, we're supposed to feel bad for her, but after seeing her devour the souls of countless people and angels, it's hard to care. The best thing about the character is that her all-consuming power eventually requires the core trio of Sam, Dean, and Castiel to join forces with God, Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino), Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard), a Reaper (Lisa Berry), Rowena (Ruth Connell), and a coven of witches. Yet this epic end-of-season showdown eventually fizzles out into a disappointingly simple ending. Still, there's enough action in the final moments to pique interest for season twelve's main plot.
Supernatural also occasionally suffers from quickly resolved plots (such as in the not-really-about-Lizzie Borden mess that is "Thin Lizzie", and the forgettable "Love Hurts") and general tackiness (the goofy gore of "Just My Imagination", the implausibilities of Amara's character), but chances are, if you like Supernatural, then you'll at least love half of season11.
On Blu-Ray, Supernatural's nighttime scenes are more visible and the various special effects look better than it was during initial TV airings. As for the special features, there's the standard gag reel, deleted scenes, and audio commentaries, but there’s also the nice surprise of another hour of additional bonuses. Most of these featurettes explore the effort that goes into making the series, but one particular half-hour documentary follows the winners of a "Become A Hunter" contest, and we also get to meet fans who are so enamored with the show that they break into tears at the mere sight of the Impala prop car. Is Supernatural: The Complete 11th Season worthy of such devotion? I would say yes, but only about half of the time.