11:30 pm EDT, September 11, 2018

‘Supernatural’ season 14: What we know – and what we want

Supernatural will be back on our screens in exactly one month. Here’s what we know so far about season 14 – and more importantly, what we hope it all means.

On October 11, Supernatural returns to the CW with a 14th season, which will include the ridiculously resilient show’s 300th episode. Filming has been underway since July, and ever since San Diego Comic-Con, more and more tidbits have been shared, painting a picture of what fans can look forward to when the season kicks off next month. We’ve rounded up the most important details and had a crack at deciphering what these teases could actually imply.

Shorter is actually sweeter

What We Know: It’s been fairly widely reported that season 14 will be reduced to 20 episodes, from a previous 23. Supernatural has enjoyed quite a few years with an extended season – this will be the first year since season 7 to have less than 23 episodes, and the shortest overall since the cut-short season 3 a whole decade ago (ah, Writers’ Strike. We’ll never forget.)

This isn’t the CW losing faith – the decision was apparently made at the request of stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, who obviously appear in every single episode and have done so for the past 13 years – a heavier workload than most on TV these days. This slightly shorter season gives them a longer summer hiatus, more rest throughout the year and and more time to spend at home (each is the father of three very young children) and if the stars don’t feel burnt out, the show has the potential to run for many more years to come.

Which, it seems, may be a possibility. A few years ago, questions were raised about Supernatural calling it a day at the 300th episode milestone, and we’ve been poised for an announcement ever since. However, that day fast approacheth, and the show apparently has no end in sight. Showrunner Andrew Dabb spoke rather candidly with UK print magazine SciFiNow about that potential, revealing that “[he] would be very surprised if this was our last season,” and that the writers are not approaching season 14 creatively as if it was the show’s last. Nor have they gotten any sort of heads-up from the CW to assume as such.

The season’s first 11 episodes have been released by SpoilerTV, and while we don’t know who dished this out to them, these reports have generally turned out to be accurate. So far, we’ve got 14.01 “Stranger in a Strange Land,” 14.02 “Gods and Monsters,” 14.03 “The Scar,” 14.04 “Mint Condition,” 14.05 “Nightmare Logic,” 14.06 “Optimism,” 14.07 “Unhuman Nature,” 14.08 “Byzantium,” 14.09 “The Spear,” 14.10 “Nihilism,” and 14.11 “Damaged Goods.”

The Supernatural crew’s “SPN Tape Ball” welcomes everyone back for season 14

What We Want: With a smaller episode count, the universal expectation from actors, writers and fans seems to be all about cutting the fat. Supernatural has a long and meandering history – it’s always had the time and the scope to deviate from the path and do standalone episodes, drawn out mythology reveals, and multi-season slow burn plots. It’s a wonderful opportunity which has made the show one of a kind, but it’s also a slog for everyone involved creatively, and so this year is all about honing the story to hit harder and have a more intense pace.

As most viewers are keenest on character-driven drama, we’re hoping that season 14 will be more personal, more insular and more concentrated than ever before – we want to see every episode as a clear and cohesive part of a whole, and relegate anything procedural, like casework, to an incidental background element of the characters’ day-to-day lives, while their minds are still on the season’s major external threat or internal struggle.

That seems to be the plan, according to cast and producers, and this is great news to anyone who loved season 13, because this approach was taken last year too – “Scoobynatural” was the season’s only genuine standalone, and the season was tighter and more emotionally consistent than the show has been in years. In the Digital Spy interview referenced earlier in this section, the EPs openly admit that it’s sometimes been hard to stretch their core stories over a 23 episode order, so the chance to trim anything that previously would have been added in merely to pad stories out means that what we’ll see in season 14 should be the best of the best – every moment counts.

The title reveals are all very interesting – this show has historically had some of the most wide-referencing and meta episode names in TV history, and while some of these are typical Supernatural (“Stranger in a Strange Land,” from Exodus 2:22; “Gods and Monsters” from Bride of Frankenstein) most of these are pretty simple statements, but a lot of them feel significant as pairs: “The Scar” and “The Spear;” “Mint Condition” and “Damaged Goods;” “Optimism” and “Nihilism.” The production credits are known for the episodes that have already been filmed, and so it will be interesting to see whether those similarities are actually true thematic pairs by the same writer.

As for the show’s eventual ending? More than anything we want advance notice. The various interviews that the cast and producers have given about the shortened season 14 seem to imply that the network want the seasons to be as long as possible and the stars want the seasons to be as short as possible. We hope that they continue to meet in the middle, and when Supernatural does call it a day, we want at least two seasons’ notice. Given the amount of time that the show has been on the air, any wind-down arc would need that much planning to feel satisfying and justified, and given that that wind-down apparently isn’t currently being worked on, anything less would be a total rug-yank.

Michael is a game changer

What We Know: Michael will be fully in control of Dean’s body, and he will be sticking around for a while. We will allegedly see – for the first time ever – episodes that will not feature Dean Winchester as a credited character, despite Jensen Ackles’ performance, and Ackles very thoroughly confirmed that he’ll be playing the character longer than the audience will anticipate.

Ackles previewed his new character for us at SDCC, explaining that Michael sees the Apocalypse World’s annihilation as a failure, so he’ll take a different approach here, and will begin looking for allies. “Michael is essentially looking for a race of people or animals or creatures to save, and then he will start his cleansing,” the actor explained, and he’s also spoken at length, to multiple outlets, about the challenge of shaking off Dean in an environment he’s so comfortable slipping into character in, and how he’s gotten more coaching and feedback than he has received in years. We got to see a video of a Michael scene, in which the archangel approaches a potential recruit, and we also learned that his fighting style will be very ethereal and hands-off.

Sam, of course, will be doing all he can to rescue his brother, while juggling the responsibility of being a combination military general/RA/social worker for a large group of hunter refugees who are stuck living in his house, and they’re going to run him ragged – in the first few episodes, Sam will sport more facial hair than usual because he literally hasn’t had a spare second to shave. Sam may well have this a huge group of new hunter friends all keen to help vanquish the enemy, but according to Jared Padalecki, he’ll also have to beat them to it, because their priority is killing Michael, no matter what, whereas Sam’s is, of course, protecting Michael’s vessel.

When the brothers are reunited – it looks like this will happen in episode 3, but there may more to it – expect to see plenty of PTSD as Dean is forced to relive and remember all the things Michael did with his body. This is how we’ll get to see Ackles’ performance as Michael thread through the whole season – it sounds like Dean will have plenty of flashbacks to being in Michael, so we’ll revisit that time period over and over.

Jensen Ackles poses as the archangel Michael.

What We Want: To have our cake and eat it too. There’s conflicting feelings here, because we want to check in with Dean as soon as possible – it’s going to be very odd if Jensen Ackles appears in multiple episodes as Michael without any perspective from Dean at all – but we also want his time as Michael to be drawn out as long as possible. When quizzed on their plans, cast and producers have all insisted at various points that this story won’t be aborted fast like the Demon Dean plot was – but they also acknowledge the difficulty of shaking up the Sam and Dean status quo for too long.

It sounds like Supernatural has figured out a perfect balance that will allow Ackles to re-enter the picture as Dean while still fulfilling a major plot as Michael. First of all, we’ll see Dean riding inside Michael’s head, trying to regain control. “We’ll see Dean putting up a fight, but it’s a really hard fight to win,” showrunner Andrew Dabb told TVLine. “But Dean’s a fighter. He’s going to try to get out even if it doesn’t quite go his way.” As for how that struggle will look, visually, Dabb says, “We have a couple of different approaches to it. Some are very much like he looks into a mirror, and some are going into people’s heads. It’s dependent on the story.”

Then, after he’s free, the opportunity to unpack Dean’s possession backwards with flashbacks is ideal. This story is both a really rich creative opportunity for a brilliant actor to explore and an important character journey that won’t be done justice if it’s cut short or solved quickly. Supernatural managed this well in season 8 with its Purgatory storyline, but even that arc is something that Ackles, particularly, has spoken about repeatedly as something he wished could have been explored deeper before things returned to normal. Given that everyone involved seems to be craving the chance to hit this one as hard as possible, we hope that they’ll take as many risks and go down as many untrodden paths as they need to in order to make Michael’s effect felt as wholly as it should be.

As for the aftermath – when Dean returns home, it’ll be to a Bunker where Sam is absolutely the boss of his domain, and it’d be great to see this adjustment of the dynamic play a part in Dean’s displacement, as he tries to fit himself back into his old roles where everything is now different. We get the feeling that a major theme of this season will be to do with the idea that you can never go backwards – that every state of being is impermanent, and that trying to build the future in an attempt to replicate the past is not possible – that, in the simplest terms, change changes you and you must let it. If that’s the case, it should make for some very interesting developments.

Wayward women will return

What We Know: All of the Wayward Sisters will return to Supernatural in some way this season, which makes sense. Of course, most of the ladies are recurring Winchester allies anyway, but the backdoor pilot left some real problems up in the air. Dabb told EW that “[we] found a way to fold [them] organically into the plot line, and some of the hanging chads from the pilot last year ended up dovetailing nicely with some of the stuff Michael’s looking to do, and some of the stuff that’s going on in our world just generally. It all folds together pretty well, but they’ll definitely be in multiple episodes this season.”

Mainstay Jody Mills is confirmed for episode 3 – actress Kim Rhodes posted many, many set photos during shooting. Jody will be investigating “a mysterious death, when it turns out that she and Sam and Dean are looking for the same person,” Andrew Dabb tells TVLine. “That involves her in a case that has pretty big repercussions, Wayward-wise, going forward.” Filming details seem to show that Jim Beaver as AU Bobby will also appear in episode 3, and given Jody’s history with the real Bobby, this could get very confusing. Somewhat less reliably, Yadira Guevara-Prip as Kaia also has an iMDb credited on that episode.

Episode 3, “The Scar,” is written by Wayward creator Robert Berens, and given the scar-sharing stories swapped by Kaia and Claire plus the fact that Kaia got hella stabbed with a spear and replaced by a dark doppelganger, the biggest cliffhanger of “Wayward Sisters,” this could be a resolution of all of that, or at least a continuation. (Remember those paired episode titles? “The Spear” is episode 9 – six slots, or one normal cycle of writer credits, after “The Scar.” Hmmm.)

Kim Rhodes steps back into Jody’s shoes on set

What We Want: For the CW to recognize the massive error it made in not greenlighting Wayward Sisters as its own show, and and re-order it for 2019. Jared Padalecki agrees. They’ll need to hurry up, though – Prip has already been snapped up by Apple’s straight-to-series drama See, Kat Ramdeen is running for office, and Kathryn Newton will be an unattainable A-lister in approximately 20 minutes.

Heaven, Hell and Castiel

What We Know: Castiel will of course begin the season alongside Sam, Jack, Mary and all the Winchester allies, hyper-focused on recovering Dean, and filming images from the season premiere, including a video from Misha Collins, show Castiel pretty roughed up straight out of the gate. At SDCC, it was promised that Sam and Cas would form a united, supportive team, but Andrew Dabb later revealed to TVLine that Cas may pursue some unsavory options for their joint cause: Sam and heavenly pal Castiel are “extremely driven to find Dean,” with the latter even seeking help from “certain people, possibly with black eyes, who he would not normally contact.”

The state of Hell is a real mystery, with no Crowley, no Lucifer and no remaining Princes. We have no idea who’s in charge and who Castiel’s connection might be, but according to TVLine we will get a good look at what’s going on in Hell straight away in the premiere. Upstairs, Danneel Ackles’ Anael (last seen breaking up with Lucifer when he wasn’t able to replenish Heaven with angels) will also return in the premiere, and the creative team also reminded us at SDCC that the unsolved problem of Heaven’s collapse will need to be addressed. Cas is one of this world’s few remaining angels, so he’s sure to be involved in that, for better or worse.

Castiel will also be stepping more firmly into his role as Jack’s chosen father – during season 13, the pair was mostly separated, and did not have a lot of time to get to know each other. Season 14 will see a much closer onscreen relationship, as Cas helps Jack adjust to life without powers, and through this mentoring, Collins has said that Cas himself may learn a few lessons about his own self-worth and his value in the family unit the Winchesters have formed – perhaps a case of realizing that one should take one’s own advice.

Luckily, there should be time to address all of these things as deeply as possible, because due to the season order, Castiel is set to appear in a higher percentage of episodes – it sounds like Collins has been contracted for the same number of appearances (last season it was 15, though in two of those he was kind of dead) and so 15 out of 20 lends potential for a much more featured story, compared to 15 out of 23.

Castiel, shellshocked in the wake of Dean’s possession. Image credit: The CW

What We Want: Season 14 marks the 10th anniversary of Castiel’s introduction, which in turn opened the world of Supernatural up to the divine and forever changed the show’s scope and format. There’s a serious corollary between Castiel’s initial arc and where we’re at now for Dean – after all, he rebelled against Heaven to save Dean from this very destiny as Michael’s vessel, so it makes all the sense in the world that this is going to hit Cas hard and that he would stop at nothing to help.

Many, many people on this show have made many, many terrible allegiances for the greater good, some of which were successful, some not so much. Castiel making deals with demons isn’t necessarily a red flag of a downward morality spiral, but he has proven his capacity for ruthless, dangerous and self-sacrificing decisions to help the Winchesters many times, with varying results. Season 13 saw Cas with a new sense of assurance, a different driving force and a greater upper hand, so hopefully he knows what he’s doing here – at the very least, please, no backpedaling.

However, if we’re shooting for the moon, three options to make this plotline a highlight of the season. Number one: the demon Cas is meeting with is Drexel, the hilarious, nervous, minion who popped up during the past couple of seasons. We have literally no idea what’s going on with Hell right now, so to quote a great prophet of our age, this might as well happen. Secondly, it would be awesome if the new regime in Hell found some way to reintroduce Rachel Miner as Meg, Cas’s best demon pal who yes, kinda died back in season 8, but this show has recovered many dead characters, and Miner is very open to the idea.

The third option worth exploring, in a slightly different direction, is one that could open up a lot of possibilities for Castiel in general, and it’s to do with his position as an angel. Cas has been drained of grace more than once, including becoming fully human for a period of time. His body is now his own – he’s not possessing a vessel, he’s effectively living in a rebuilt clone of Jimmy Novak that belongs entirely to him. No other angel has that. Even more tellingly, he has been possessed by another angel, and used as a vessel himself.

All of this kind of adds up to the idea that Castiel isn’t really a true angel any more, and that he probably has a soul as well as grace. He has to have grown one while human, and it didn’t just evaporate. Castiel is Not Like All The Other Angels, by physiology as well as choice, and that is something that the show needs to address at some point. It could become a factor either in his mentorship of Jack, another human soul with angelic grace, or in his dealings with Heaven, about how much he “counts” these days.

But what if it came up because a demon of the crossroads variety offers him a literal deal – the chance to sell his soul to save Dean, a soul that he didn’t really believe he had? What then?

#Mobby is real

What We Know: Love is in the air for Mary Winchester and the new Bobby Singer. Supernatural isn’t exactly a show with a successful romantic track record, but maybe these two will be the ones to break the mold. The pair have spent plenty of time bonding over the last season, when Mary became a resistance general in the Apocalypse world, so the foundation, and the spark, is clearly there – in fact, the seaosn 13 finale’s plot was kickstarted when these two discovered a dead body while on what can only be classified as a romantic stroll in the rain.

The vibes were there, the hints were dropped, but we’ve now got some more explicit confirmation. “There’s a brewing Bobby/Mary relationship that we want to explore,” Robert Singer told TVLine. And how will Dean and Sam feel about a potential romance between their mom and their surrogate father’s doppelganger? “I think the boys would be on board with this,” Singer says. “They love [Mary] and like [Bobby] a lot. And if it would make their mom happy, they’d go for that. But this Bobby is a little more complicated of a character in what he’s seen and done, and that can be a roadblock in the relationship.”

Bobby and Mary bonding on a walk through the woods. Image credit: The CW

What We Want: We’re extremely pro, but this is kind of a complicated situation, so we want it handled carefully, taking into account a lot of fragile emotional dynamics. For starters, this Bobby knew – and clearly had a thing for – his world’s version of Mary Campbell. He didn’t know John Winchester, and that John never became the horrible trainwreck parent who raised Sam and Dean in our world – the one our version of Bobby knew all too well. It’s too easy to look at Jim Beaver on screen and project that history of being Sam and Dean’s best parent onto him, and it’s important to remember that he has the same issue in reverse – he knew another Mary, and may have complicated feelings regarding that. There’s the potential for Bobby, Mary, Sam and Dean to all get mixed up in their expectations here.

Mary’s memories of her husband were a fallacy – the John she knew was not the father her sons had to deal with, and it’s hard to imagine a healthy relationship moving forward and the boys being all for it without some of those issues coming to light, just in terms of everyone balancing their emotions and perspectives with clear eyes. It’s a real shame that Mary never met Sam and Dean’s Bobby and learnt about John from him – though their new feelings probably wouldn’t have progressed in the same way if so. Regardless, we hope that this romance will bring some of that bittersweet baggage to light, even if it’s via Sam and Dean discussing the strange circumstances that have brought these parental figures together.

Sam’n’Dean, reunited on Halloween

What We Know: The season’s 4th episode will be Halloween-themed for the first time in a decade, and will be something of an homage to 80s slasher movies. This episode (which will air on All Hallows’ Day, November 1, barring unexpected airdate changes) will be meta-lite – think “Tombstone,” not “Scoobynatural” – and like “Tombstone,” it will be tied into one of Dean’s geeky childhood passions. At SDCC, Andrew Dabb teased that although no future crossovers are planned, we will see a fun delve into pop culture in this way, and both Jensen Ackles – at a convention – and Dabb – in TVLine – have since expanded on this and confirmed that the episode will deal with one of Dean’s favorite horror movie characters.

Thanks to on-location pictures from Vancouver’s Hollywood North tv blog, we know that Sam and Dean will visit a comic store, full of pop culture memorabilia, and that kids dressed in Halloween costumes will also feature. Ackles himself gave us a closer look at some of the set dressing as he posed next one specific meta easter egg – a statue of DC’s Jason Todd, the character he voiced in 2010’s animated feature Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Ackles and Padalecki spotted together on location. Image credit: Hollywood North

What We Want: A big twist. Thanks to the filming pics, this is the first episode of the season that we’re 100% certain will feature a reunited Sam and Dean on screen – and they seem to be having a whole lot of jolly fun, which doesn’t quite fit with the expected story and mood. Given how carefully season 13 laid its threads and delivered its tonal payoffs, we can’t imagine that a shortened season 14 will backpedal any of those raised standards in emotional consistency – so there’s got to be a catch.

As we covered when talking about Jensen Ackles’ stint as Michael, we don’t know how much linear time we’ll see with Dean away from the fold, but since we have this episode’s title – “Mint Condition” – it’s all too easy to imagine that phrase applied to Dean being released as a vessel, that this scenario is him putting on a brave face, claiming to be perfectly fine, and throwing himself enthusiastically back into casework, which could all lead to the PTSD-esque breakdown that we’ve been promised in the aftermath of his possession.

However, all may not be as it seems – this may not even be actual reality. We’ve seen inside the minds of both Sam and Cas when possessed by angels before – Sam unknowingly, and Cas with consent – and during those periods, both of those characters were living in a fantasy land. During season 9, in the moments that Sam wasn’t conscious, Gadreel had him locked in a dream, “something with ghouls and cheerleaders,” if you’ll recall. For Castiel, possessed by Lucifer, we saw him zoned out watching TV in the bunker’s kitchen as Crowley and Lucifer fought in the background of his consciousness. So although though we know that Dean will remember much of his time with Michael and be traumatized by it, there might be some incidents of Michael trying to suppress Dean in a dream world – and an indulgent romp where his fannish obsessions come to life sounds mighty likely as a contender to distract him.

Either way, we need to talk about those short sleeves. Chinos. Pocket protectors! Clearly undercover in some way, but these are two fairly well-rounded guys who have met a huge variety of people all around the country, including many, many pop culture aficionados, convention-goers, gamers and so forth, plus they were best friends with Charlie Bradbury. This better be the brothers’ idea of a Halloween costume (Revenge of the Nerds, maybe?) because there is no possible way that Supernatural can make me believe that Sam and Dean Winchester genuinely think that this is how comic book readers in 2018 dress.

Learning about Lebanon at last

What We Know: Episode 13 of this season will be the show’s 300th – a rare achievement. It will air sometime in early 2019 – February or March, depending on winter hiatus – and it’ll be a look at a day in the life of Sam and Dean, at home in Lebanon on their downtime, mixing with the locals. At San Diego Comic-Con, despite the cast claiming to know nothing and would not reveal any information about it in the panel, showrunner Andrew Dabb later surprised us with a full pitch in the press room.

“Sam and Dean live in this bunker. They’ve lived here for a number of years. This bunker is in a place called Lebanon, Kansas. We’ve never seen what the people of Lebanon think of Sam and Dean, these two guys that like, come to the bar, or drive their car through, or go to the laundromat, but their shirts are covered in blood, so it’s not all rosy. That’s kind of our idea, to explore that world, so it becomes a story about Sam and Dean, starring Sam and Dean, but allows us to make it a little love letter to the show and a love letter to them.” Dabb promised on Twitter that – unlike the 200th – Castiel would also be featured in this one.

EP Robert Singer will direct the episode, and he expanded on this idea with SciFiNow: “[It’s a chance] for us to take a bit of a Supernatural breather. It’s more about the guys’ life outside of what you see every week on the show, which is full of danger. But, you know, they live in Lebanon, Kansas, so what’s it like when they go to town to get a six-pack of beer, or if they get in a fender bender and don’t have car insurance?”

The real Lebanon is a very, very small town – the moments when we’ve seen the guys driving through or meeting someone locally still paint the town as bigger than it actually is in reality. (Fanfiction writers often expand the guys’ local experience to include shopping or dining in nearby Smith Center or Hastings, larger townships.) However, it sounds like the angle here is definitely to lampshade the fact that this is a tiny community who must have huge questions about these mysterious young men who arrived about six years ago.

The real Lebanon, KS. Image credit: LebanonKansas.org

What We Want: Oh, everything. The more mundane, the better. This episode is what hopes and dreams are made of. In a perfect world, this will be the most objectively boring Supernatural episode of all time. Let’s see where Dean buys his brioche burger buns. Let’s see Sam on a regular jogging route. Let’s see Donnie the Bartender knowing Dean’s order. Let’s see where Sam gets his hair cut, which dry cleaner they use for their fed suits. Let’s see how they explain Cas to literally anyone.

Let’s see no monster, no threat, no mystery – just straight up cooking, cleaning, vegging out, filling up the car with gas, going to the post office. Let’s see a crafternoon spent making new fake IDs for Jack. Forty two minutes of domestic bliss, which exposes, to the viewer, what the Winchesters’ cover story is in their adopted hometown.

But seriously, there are a couple of really important worldbuilding points to hit here – firstly, the history of the Men of Letters, because back in the day – the Bunker was completed in 1935 and abandoned in 1958 – the townsfolk must have had similar questions about all the stuffed shirts coming and going, and what exactly happened over at the old power plant.

Secondly, and sort of related: Lebanon is recorded as the geographic center of the continental United States – there’s a monument for it and everything, and it plays a part in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as it has magical (or anti-magical) properties that are able to neutralize the powers of the gods – it’s their No Man’s Land. The significance of Lebanon as a location in Supernatural has never been mentioned – mythology aside, it’s never even been referenced as the center – so that’s something that this episode should definitely make efforts to include.

‘Supernatural’ returns October 11, 8/7c on The CW

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