In Supernatural Season Three, Episode Eleven ("Mystery Spot"), Dean's final C.O.D. occurs during a simple stick-up, and before the next scene, the title card tells us that it's four months into the future and Sam has been hunting alone this whole time. Now, seven "real time" months later, The CW offers a bit of deja vu with the first episode of the fourth season. Once again, it is four months since Dean's death (and journey to the traps of hell), and Sam has been hunting alone the entire time. Only this time, instead of the trickster granting Sam his one wish, there is no explanation for Dean's return: suddenly he is inexplicably back once again, this time crawling out of a grave in a field of knocked over trees. He arrived alive, in the flesh, and just as strong as ever; except for a weird burn in the shape of a hand on his shoulder, he has no scars from where the hell hounds ripped apart his chest. They did the usual demon check, and they even did a shapeshifter test, but Dean cleared both easily; he didn't even look paler than usual, despite being buried for months. Though the boys have faced everything from vampires to tulpas to death echoes, this supernatural occurrence is the one around which they just can't wrap their heads and therefore they feel warrants further exploration. For the first time, the boys try to figure out why, bringing the show to a whole different level.
What has always been fascinating, but also somewhat unsettling, about Supernatural is just how comfortable the boys are with their way of life. Sure, Sam resisted a bit at first, considering he was in a good school with a nice girlfriend and on the right track to live the cookie cutter life that was normal in the nineteen-fifties, but he came around awfully quickly when his brother showed up with the news that their dad was in trouble, solidifying the show's theme that blood really is thicker than... well, everything else. Dean seemed to take to it like any son would go into the family business of construction or plumbing, though. He idolized his father so much, he took his word at face value and never questioned that "monsters were real" (as Young Dean told Young Sam in 3.8's "A Very Supernatural Christmas")-- even before he saw them with his own eyes. Their relationship, and their lifestyle in general, therefore, is not nearly that of Bill Paxton's Frailty, like I originally assumed when I heard the pitch of demon-fighting brothers.
Supernatural has never really explored the boys' younger years-- sure, there have been the rogue flashbacks in random hotel rooms when Dean was supposed to look after his younger brother, but we have never seen them as rebellious teenagers, when they may have tried to reject their father's unorthodox way of life. What I'd love to see this season, therefore, is the boys digging for answers not only about how and why Dean returned, but also the truth of their past. There have been hints that their mother new the Yellow Eyed Demon more intimately than anyone ever let on, and there have even been moments that teased secrets of the boys' own pasts (like when Dean's eyes started to bleed in "Bloody Mary"), but for the most part, Supernatural has followed the procedural formula, creating stand-alone episodes that are set in a different place and introduce as well as resolve a different enemy each week. While I am always impressed with the film quality production value, I would love to see a more involved thread get carried through more than a three episode arc: for once I'd like a show to give answers, rather than just create new mysteries!
Luckily for me, the next episode proves to do just that with yet another Dean-centric episode (and really, aren't those the best!?) called "Are You There God, It's Dean Winchester." From the looks of things, Dean will have to face his new inner demons in addition to the ones that flew out of the gates two seasons ago. And as if searching for answers and dealing with all of the changes (Sam's iPod dock in his beloved Impala aside, he is also battling phantom electrical surges and high-pitched screeching that reads like a much too literal depiction of PTSD), some familiar faces are back to haunt the boys. Meg, Agent Hendrickson, and some little girls Bobby came face-to-face with once upon a time guilt trip the now trio over the fact that when they cast the demons out of their bodies, they still couldn't be saved. It looks like the Winchesters are finally going to have to answer for some of the casualties of their escapades-- casualties that will only continue to pile up now that Sam thinks he has perfected some of his abilities. The stakes are definitely higher now that the word is out on the elder Winchester, too; demons are now afraid of whatever sprung him in addition to himself-- but just as some may be scared enough to take a little open-handed slapping and verbal abuse, there are others that are that much more pissed off and can create storms and ground-shaking and cataclysmic events the likes of which we have not yet seen.
Or will Sam wake up and find it's all just a dream? Though it would undoubtedly affect the longevity of the show in a negative way, my money was on a higher-up demon inhabiting Dean's form until it gets what it wants (ala the Ruby fiasco of last year's finale)... but I'm just not sure demons could have advanced enough in just a few months to pass Bobby's little holy water test. So now the theory is someone from the Winchesters' past coming out of the woodwork to reveal a deal they made: once again sacrificing for these unconventional heroes. Maybe Ellen didn't really die in the roadhouse diner massacre... Or maybe Dean himself even made another deal while he was down in the fires: maybe he is supposed to carry out a sinister purpose with the extra time that he was given to be on Earth ‘cause really, just like Dean, I don’t really buy the whole Angel of the Lord thing, and knowing this show, there is something much darker lurking and lying in wait. Feel free to share your theories in the comments!
The premiere of season four brought more questions than it did answers, though: will all future episodes be slower paced and more methodical like the one that just aired? Will they be sentimental, as the brothers try to make up for lost time? Will there be a shift in dynamics since Sam had to fend for himself and will probably not just fall back into step following Dean's fearless and sometimes irresponsible lead? Will we even learn what happened to Dean in hell at all? Did he come back changed; does he now have the supernatural abilities that Sam once had?Sinister Dean is HOT!