When a television series opens its new season with a lead character crawling out of his grave after escaping Hell itself, one cannot help but wonder: how will the rest of the episodes ever follow that? In the case of Supernatural
's fourth season, the answer comes from above with the introduction of Misha Collins's Castiel, an angel dispatched to rescue Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) from infernal torment and reunite him with brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) for a very special mission. That quest--to stop the demonic Lilith from opening the 66 seals required to bring Lucifer to Earth and launch the Apocalypse--forms the backbone of the 22 episodes, which takes some fairly adventurous risks with the core of the show. Chief among these is the rift that deepens between Dean and Sam as they attempt to work together, despite their divergent destinies; also agreeable is the season's tonal shift away from its previous Monster of the Week format (though that's still intact for many episodes) and toward a single, more ambitious story and thematic arc. The sea change deepens the show's drama, intensifies the level of suspense and stakes in each episode, and pushes it several big steps away from its teen-friendly origins. Of course, there's still plenty of the show's trademark irreverence and humor to be found, especially in the clever "Monster Movie," which pits the brothers against a Shapeshifter that takes the form of classic movie fiends, and "The Monster at the End of This Book," where Sam and Dean discover a comic book with plot lines very similar to their own lives. By the time Supernatural
's fourth season reaches its cliffhanger ending with "Lucifer Rising" (the title neatly sums up the plot), viewers should be fairly hungering for the next episode--a good sign that a veteran series is still hitting its stride.
Extras on the six-disc set include commentary for three episodes: "In the Beginning," with executive producer Eric Kripke and writer Jeremy Carver; "When the Levee Breaks," with director Robert Singer and writer Sara Gamble; and "Lucifer Rising" with Kripke. Extended scenes are also available for several episodes, and the features are rounded out by a trio of somewhat ponderous featurettes on the concepts of Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, as depicted in scenes from the show and discussed by its writers, theologians, paranormal investigators, and the like. Clocking in between 10 and 25 minutes apiece, the docs feel padded and somewhat undernourished in the information department. However, they're unlikely to detract from one's enjoyment of this stellar season. --Paul Gaita