"Supernatural" returns for its eighth season tonight (9 p.m. ET on The CW), and the cult favorite has done what few shows ever do (especially shows that have been on air for the better part of a decade) -- escaped the Friday night "death slot" and replanted itself midweek, as a companion to The CW's new action-packed superhero drama, "Arrow," which premieres next week.
Select members of the press had the opportunity to screen the Season 8 premiere, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," ahead of its Wednesday debut, followed by a group Q&A with executive producers Robert Singer and the recently returned Jeremy Carver. Carver left the show in Season 5 to run SyFy's "Being Human" with wife Anna Fricke, before coming back to replace departing showrunner Sera Gamble after Season 7 concluded.
I've assembled a few thoughts and musings from the premiere screening below (needless to say, SPOILER ALERT, although I'm trying to steer clear of specifics about the episode's settings and scenes), and also included an edited and slightly condensed version of Carver and Singer's Q&A. It does include a few quotes and scene descriptions from the season premiere that relate to character beats more than plot, but if you want to watch the premiere completely unspoiled, you may want to skip the interview until after the episode has aired.
Without further ado, onto the "Supernatural" Season 8 premiere preview:
The Brotherly Bond
Ever since the show's panel at Comic-Con, there has been much speculation about the status of Sam and Dean's relationship, especially given the cast and Carver's revelations that Sam chose not to look for Dean after he and Castiel disappeared in the Season 7 finale. The revelation wasn't a misdirect, and as Jared Padalecki stated at Comic-Con, Sam has seemingly been living a normal life for the past year in the wake of Dean's disappearance.
While it seems inevitable that some fans may take umbrage at this, I would say that despite Dean's initial reaction to that revelation, it's also readily apparent that the brothers still love each other, and that the dispute is no more damaging to their relationship than any of the other trials and tribulations they've been through thus far (and certainly less damaging than Sam's demon blood addiction in earlier seasons, which brought the pair to blows). Carver has always had an enviable grasp of the Winchesters' brotherly banter and the wordless understanding that close siblings share, and though there are secrets that both brothers (especially Dean) are keeping from each other in the premiere, there are also moments of levity, and some nuanced and effective beats where the duo demonstrate their care for each other in simple ways, even if they're still not exactly vocal about their emotions or state of mind.
Carver goes into greater detail about his motivations for how they positioned Sam this season in the Q&A below, and though Dean seems to have righteous indignation on his side in the premiere, it looks like that balance of power might shift in later episodes as more of his own secrets and decisions are revealed.
The Holy Grail
As recently released promos and episode descriptions have revealed, the mission for Season 8 relates to closing the gates of Hell once and for all. Though this motivation is slightly less personal for the Winchesters than previous season arcs (few things can beat avenging their parents' deaths or fighting against their destiny as angelic vessels), it signals a return to the questing, road movie-esque feel of Seasons 1 and 2. One of my biggest issues with Season 7 was that it focused a little too heavily on the villainous Leviathans rather than on Sam and Dean (while Season 6 couldn't decide exactly where it wanted to focus), but with the brothers searching for something (like the whereabouts of their father and the Yellow Eyed Demon in Season 1), and with an established and fan-favorite enemy like Crowley as their main opposition, I believe Carver's previous assertion that this season is designed to return to the brothers' relationship at its core, which is a step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned.
It's inarguable that Castiel has established his own passionate fanbase at this point, and many fans of the angelic mythology have been vocal about their concern for the future of the character, especially given how sporadically he was utilized last season. Although Misha Collins doesn't appear in the episode (he returns via flashback in Episode 2) the angel's presence is keenly felt during the flashbacks to Dean's time in Purgatory. Carver has previously stated that he's a big fan of the character (and has written some of the best episodes that featured Castiel in the past) so I don't believe there's any cause for concern, even if the producers want to keep his story under wraps for the moment. (Collins talks more about what's coming up for Castiel in two recent interviews, here and here.)
Carver previously described the new character of Benny (Ty Olsson) as a "strange bedfellow" for Dean in Purgatory, and his introduction proved to be one of the most intriguing aspects of the Season 8 premiere of "Supernatural." Olsson provides a quietly menacing presence in every scene, even though he and Dean seem on amicable terms. While I was initially concerned about how much he could really bring to the show, I'm very interested in seeing how the character develops from here, and what his presence will mean for Dean post-Purgatory. (I asked Carver to elaborate on the relationship below, and I think the answer was very promising.)
From the premiere, it appears that last year's unwitting prophet, Kevin (Osric Chau), will be an integral part of the new season, and Chau proved himself more than up to the task. Not only does the actor have some truly excellent comic timing (and the episode's best line), his youth and earnestness present him as a necessary contrast for Sam and Dean, who are both a little more world-weary and pessimistic at this point. I also have a feeling that Kevin and Sam will be bonding over a few similar opinions as Season 8 progresses.
There and Back Again
The episode provides some compelling character shifts, devolutions and progressions that I'm looking forward to digging into a little deeper in tonight's recap, but suffice it to say, Sam and Dean have both regressed and progressed in interesting ways in the premiere. We see Sam returning to a similar place to where he was when we first met him in Season 1 -- he's always craved a normal life, so without any family left, I don't believe it's out of character for him to cling to something grounded and to want to distance himself from the life that took all his loved ones away from him.
Dean, on the other hand, has always doubted his ability to do anything except hunt and be with his family (which is why his attempt at a normal life failed in Season 6). Last season, that lack of purpose coupled with grief made him nihilistic, whereas this season, his time in Purgatory seems to have crystallized his resolve to get back to "the family business." He's focused on the hunt, while Sam is reluctant to get involved, just as they were in Season 1, but both of those decisions seem motivated by all the things they've experienced up to this point. I feel like it's a nuanced way for Carver (who wrote the premiere) to reassert how different these two men are as characters, and to emphasize their different but equally believable ways of coping with loss and trauma. They've never reacted to any situation in the same way, which makes them a great team, but I firmly believe that this season is an exercise in bringing them back together as grown-ups with a new sense of purpose, regardless of where they start the season. I'll be interested to see if you agree after watching.
There's also a pleasing amount of classic rock and old-school snark in the episode, further highlighting its similarities to the earlier seasons, and it's always a pleasure to see Mark Sheppard chewing the scenery with such aplomb. Crowley is as hilarious and malevolent as he's always been, and I think the decision to position him as the season's main antagonist (at least as far as we know), will pay dividends, since we're already invested in his relationship with the Winchesters.
Overall, I found the episode a tightly-plotted and confidently executed hour, promising a return to the show's former glory. It doesn't have the game-changing pizzazz of premieres like "In My Time of Dying" or "Lazarus Rising," but no scenes feel extraneous and Carver quickly demonstrates that he hasn't lost his knack for nailing Sam and Dean's voices. If the rest of the season can maintain the tone and resolve of the premiere, I think fans will be more than satisfied with where Season 8 takes us.
Showrunner Q&A -- SPOILER ALERT.
As a reminder, the Q&A includes questions from multiple outlets. It includes a few quotes from the season premiere that relate to character beats more than plot, as well as a few scenes that have been previewed in the promos or teased at Comic-Con and the Television Critics Association Press Tour, but if you want to watch the premiere completely unspoiled, you may want to skip the interview until after the episode has aired.
On Sam's relationship with Amelia (Liane Balaban):
Carver: Suffice to say that for now, Sam is keeping thoughts of this woman and this relationship to himself because it’s a type of thing that greatly informs where he is now at the beginning of the season. It represents something to him. It represents essentially another way, another life and that’s very much where he’s coming into this season right now, so it’s something he’d rather keep to himself than share.
On Dean's post-traumatic stress and how that'll inform the season:
Carver: We’ll see more of that. It’s not overwhelming but there are elements, yes, of his readjustment.
On how long we'll be seeing the flashbacks to Purgatory and Sam's relationship with Amelia:
Carver: I think the flashbacks play heaviest in the first 13now, and I say that with the small caveat that we’re working our way through the second half now, but it feels like it will probably play heaviest in the first 13. [There won't be flashbacks] every episode.
Singer: Not every episode, but where appropriate and that’s kind of a story, two stories that we just wanted to play out over a number of episodes that inform where the boys’ head space is at any particular moment in that given episode.
On the narrative appeal of using flashbacks:
Carver: It’s allowed us to tell slightly different kind of stories, in that we were talking about a relationship that Sam has had. "Supernatural" hasn’t, I don’t think, spent a lot of time on relationship stories, and it’s a really nice mechanism to do that without imposing that on the forward momentum of these other stories that we’re telling ... I think a lot of times in these shows, even when we talk about going to Hell or going to Purgatory, the instinct in the writers’ room is to say, “We’re never going to be able to give a Hell or a Purgatory as good as people’s imaginations,” so the instinct is normally not to go there. But we went the other way this year and we said, “We are going to go there because there’s a really, really strong character thing going on down there and the look of it is super cool" and so it’s turned out really successfully for us, I think.
On how the writers came to the decision that Sam hadn't looked for Dean in Purgatory, and how long Dean will be guilt-tripping Sam for it.
Carver: I think we wanted to look at this from ... the jumping off point. Certainly, when I came back to the show, I was staring at a landscape which was laid out by Bob and Sera, [what they] gracefully gave me, and to pick it up was [Crowley's line], "You are truly alone." So we really went into the idea of, "What does that mean? What kind of impact does that have on somebody, and how might that affect your mindset?" We talk about it in Episode 1. Dean talks about it: “We always ignored the advice we gave to each other” and what happens if someone actually took it? [As for] how long Sam is made to pay for this ... I think one of the things we really like about particularly the first 13 is the way we’re playing with perception because right now, Dean is piling on Sam somewhat for this, and so what happens is these brothers start to discover more about what they’ve done in their past year and might those tables turn in terms of who has to answer for what? So I think ... everyone will get their licks in. No one’s going to be a beaten dog for too long.
On Benny's role on the present-day storyline as well as the flashbacks to Purgatory:
Carver: I think you’ll see Benny playing a pretty important part, both in his physical presence and I guess -- I don’t know if this expression is actually real -- his psychological presence. The idea of Benny hangs over our brothers pretty heavily, certainly as the year goes along, and so he’s a guy who has a tremendous, tremendous bearing and he’s really working out wonderfully as a really complex character and a really interesting wrinkle into our brothers’ relationship this year, how they deal with something like this.
On how soon we'll find out exactly what happened to Castiel in Purgatory:
Carver: How soon? Well, we’ll be telling that story in Purgatory, pretty steadily through the first seven or eight episodes, so by Episode 7 or 8 you’ll start to get a real good understanding of what happened in Purgatory to Cas.
On other recurring characters, new or returning:
Carver: We’ll be seeing a healthy dose of Kevin. Of course Crowley is set up now to be somewhat of the boys’ main antagonist this season. We might [see Meg] ... I’m trying to think of who else is recurring. Obviously there are some new characters -- there’s Benny, there’s Amelia. There are some new angels that we’re introducing. One was announced; Amanda Tapping is playing a fairly mysterious angel named Naomi.
On why Sam decided not to look for Dean this time around when they've made similar promises and ignored them before:
Singer: I think this is the first time that he was, as Crowley says to him, well and truly alone, because he has nobody. He has no Dean. Kevin’s gone. No anybody. I don’t think he knew what he wanted to do and then he hit a dog. And that started something new for him and then exposed him to something that he had never been exposed to because even back in college there was always family. Now he had nothing ... So I think he got a taste of something he’d never had before and it had a really profound effect on him, one that he doesn’t really expect Dean to understand nor does Dean expect Sam to understand what he went through, so much to the extent that he’s keeping a secret about how he got out, who he got out with. So while Sam’s trying to be really forthcoming and say, “My mindset is different,” Dean is being really less than forthcoming, and the fact that he’s judgmental is probably not all that fair to say, given what Dean’s not saying.
On what closing the gates of Hell could mean for the show, and whether that quest is intended to be a season-long arc or more:
Singer: Jeremy’s hell-bent on multiple seasons.
Carver: Yeah. Closing the Hell gate is meant to be a season arc, but the questions that come up in this quest and the series of reveals and the series of discoveries are meant to start giving us underpinnings for questions and secrets and things that will be explored in future seasons ... I think it might be overly sweeping to think [if the gate is closed] that no demons means no hunt, because there are so many other monsters in this universe. I think in the “Supernatural” universe you’re thinking, “Well I’ve eliminated a big chunk,” but certainly not all and ... I’ll leave it at that.
On Jim Beaver's potential return as Bobby and whether Carver can say anything new about the possibility:
Carver: Not right now. Not beyond what we’ve already said. Of course, he was [at Comic-Con] because at the most basic level, he’s one of the most beloved characters and actors on the show.
On what the introduction of Kevin's mom, Mrs. Tran (Lauren Tom), brings to the show, whether she can be trusted and how she might alter the dynamics with Sam and Dean:
Carver: Putting aside the question of trust just for a second, you could say Mrs. Tran does something sort of interesting and somewhat fun in that it gives the boys, in an odd way, a bit of a mother figure that they haven’t had for a long time. So it’s a fun dynamic and it could be a rather moving dynamic at times also, and of course it also gives you a fourth wheel in the car that you’ve got to deal with. Speaking to trust, certainly unpredictable would be the way that I think we’d put it.
On whether closing the gates of Hell would close the gates to human souls as well as demons:
Carver: That’s something that will be clarified later on … clarified or dealt with.
On whether there are any fun or meta episodes coming up:
Carver: I don’t have the pithy one-liner for this one, but we’re doing one a little bit later that is dealing with what happens when you find yourself living in a cartoon universe ... that’s a lot of fun. It will not be animated but it deals more with cartoon physics in a real world ... We will be doing an episode that deals pretty heavily and fun-ly with the LARPing Universe, different than the way that we’ve dealt with it in the past, and those are two real fun ones that are coming up.
On a potential musical episode:
Carver: One can hope. No immediate hopes.
Singer: We’ve been hoping for eight years and it hasn’t ... Jensen can sing. It’s that pesky writing of these songs that’s [the problem].
On the upcoming "found footage" episode:
Carver: Let me go at it indirectly. It’s pretty unlike any episode that the show has ever done before ...
Singer: You’re living in this found footage, with the boys bracketed on either side in the opening and at the very end, but for 95 percent of the show, you’ve living within this found footage. They are in it unknowingly, so it’s crazy. It’s a really good episode and very compelling and it’s got some great guest stars and it deals with college kids.
Carver: College kids dealing with a situation that goes pretty horribly awry ... They’re fantastic and because of the amount of time that they’re in there, they’re really carrying the episode, [so you're] really engaged with these kids. Really neat episode.
On how said episode will differ from the found footage style of the "Ghostfacers" story:
Carver: "Ghostfacers" was still a conceit, in that it was a show, so there was a certain amount of, even in the bumpers or whatever they’re called, going to commercial. It feels most like that but it just feels more like your "Paranormal Activities" or your "Blair Witch." You could say it's a close cousin of those cases.
Singer: Tonally. It’s 180 degrees away from "Ghostfacers."
Carver: Right. It ain’t for laughs.
On Carver's favorite upcoming episode:
Carver: I think we have a really nice string coming up. I’m excited about Episode 5. We’re dealing with a good deal of flashbacks from Sam and from Dean. We’re dealing with our vampires who enjoy boating in their way, and so that’s a really meaty, emotional episode that I think is somewhat of a turning point for the boys also.
On the dark, desaturated look of Purgatory:
Singer: We want it to be a stark contrast to Sam’s flashbacks so what we decided was it would be a real lack of color and high contrast, desaturated look, to help with the harshness of the place and what kind of place it was and that there was no good place to lay your head down. No soft pillow of green leaves and we wanted to contrast that with Sam’s flashbacks, which are diffused and have filters and a little more dreamy, so that you get a sense that Sam’s past year was kind of nice and warm and Dean’s was cold and stark.
On how Dean and Sam's fighting styles may have changed, given how they spent their year apart:
Singer: I think Dean got a little more brutal in the last year.
On how Dean's experience in Purgatory differs from his time in Hell:
Carver: Is he worse for wear? I think he is not great for wear, but I think Dean actually came out of Purgatory with a bit of a surprising reaction to it, which we talk about in the first episode, this idea that it was "pure" down there. I think one of the last things you might expect going to a place that’s so horrible, that someone might have actually considered it something of a happy experience and I think you have to ask yourself, “Why do you think it’s happening and what is this thing inside himself that he connected to, this primal side of him?” And then ... how will he deal with that topside? And I think a lot of that is we use Benny as that thing that is representative of Dean in Purgatory. So yeah, I’ll cut myself off there.
On how this season differs from Sam being in Hell and Dean living a normal life in Season 6:
Singer: I wouldn’t say it’s a total flip. Dean had his normal life, [but] he was salting windows and always on the lookout for bad things and uncomfortably stepped out of the world and never quite really felt good about that. Sam found in this year a real solace, real comfort, and then really convinced himself. His conscience was pretty clear. The only thing that sort of got him back was that yeah, they were responsible for Kevin and so his attitude is to do the Kevin thing and get this done, "I’m done.” Back then, when Sam came back, Sam was soulless and Dean is not that, so the characters, while they went through changes, they’re not mirror changes of what they were.
On Kevin's arc this season:
Carver: I think by virtue of seeing Kevin more, we’ll learn more about how he personally feels about being a prophet, being involved on this mission that the brothers are part of, the personal cost it has for him, and to see how his willingness or desire to do the job, how that rubs off on the boys. I think they’re all playing off of each other and they’re sort of inextricably linked here, so absolutely we’ll see more of what sort of powers Kevin, as it were.
On why Dean would let Benny live, given how black and white he's been about killing monsters in the past:
Carver: I think that’s the question that comes front and center when you see Benny. In terms of our minds, that’s something that’s got to be confronted at some point and that’s something that walks out through the course of the season.
On Dean and Benny's seemingly warm relationship:
Carver: It’s something we’re going to see in the flashbacks, but I think the hopefully intriguing question that the premiere episode asks is: You see this warmness, but when they [first] meet you see this reserve and this general distrust. How did they get from that to [what we see in the premiere]? And that’s what the flashbacks are telling us, so everything ... is all part of the stew of Purgatory.
On other memorable monsters or hunts coming up:
Carver: It’s all situational in terms of the episode. Like the vampires who like to boat, we’ve taken vampires and we’re looking at them a completely different way, so I think we have a lot of fun twisting stuff like that. In terms of brand new creatures, we have a variety of monsters of the week, but there’s not one that I’d tout more over the other right now, nothing jumping off my tongue.
Singer: I think in general, because if you go to 150 or whatever episodes, creating new monsters is hard, but I think one reason we’ve endured is that while you’ve seen the monsters that we’ve come up with before, we try to imbue them with different personalities and make them unique characters unto themselves so not every vampire is the same or not every werewolf is the same. They all sort of bring their own baggage and whatever their particular situation is, so I think our villains are interesting. Crowley is just a demon, but he’s a really interesting character and way different than Meg or [anyone else].
On what they think of their move to Wednesday:
Singer: Ask us Thursday. [Laughs.]
"Supernatural" Season 8 premieres Wednesday, October 3 at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
What are you looking forward to most about the new season? Weigh in with your hopes and predictions below!