Exorcising Supernatural: Season One

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Demons.  Ghosts.  Reapers.  Vampires.  The Winchester brothers hunt them all.  If it’s in an old Catholic legend or if it’s some terrifying mythological beast, they hunt it.  Or at least, one of them does.  The other is in denial, at least for a time.

Meet Sam.  Sam is a brilliant Stanford student, has hair so gorgeous people rave about it on Tumblr all-day long, and also happens to have a beautiful girlfriend (who’s shacking up with him).  Aside from not being the star quarterback, Sam pretty much has the college student’s dream life.  Except he’s hiding a secret.  His mother was killed by a demon, and he and his brother Dean were raised by their father to be hunters.  Not redneck deer hunters, mind you, but hunters of demons, ghosts, and the like.  So when Dean shows up at Stanford to tell Sam that their father’s gone missing on a hunt, Sam reluctantly goes with him.

The first season consists mostly of a cross-country trip with the two brothers looking for their father.  They have their dad’s old journal, which contains virtually everything their demon-hunting dad has gleaned over the years about various supernatural dangers.  During the course of the season they confront ghosts, reapers, demons, and even a wendigo.  But even while driving the episodic “case of the week” format, the show really isn’t about these paranormal creatures and spirits.  It’s more about the relationships between members of this family.  It becomes clear early on that Dean is the good kid, never questioning what their father says and taking seriously his duty to protect his younger brother and look after his father.  Sam, on the other hand, is always questioning their father, a common source of contention between the brothers.

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But all discussion about the wisdom of a father who trains his sons with machetes and rifles instead of a ball and glove aside, Sam and Dean are possibly the most believable siblings in primetime television.  That’s the strength of the show, and the thing that has probably allowed the show a kind of longevity almost unheard of in modern television (it’s been running continuously since 2005).  It’s a relationship full of love and compassion, even if tempered by testosterone-fueled conflict at times, as would be expected between brothers.  If the only implications of this show were related to the relationship between Sam and Dean, I’d have nearly no reservations for this show (there’s still problematic ideas of sexuality, such as hints at Dean being a womanizer, and Sam having a live-in girlfriend).  But there is a troubling aspect of this show in the first season, not in what it includes, but rather in what it omits.

The show itself thrives on the premise that absolute evil exists.  It exists in the form of demons and evil creatures, some with corporeal form, some without, which have no mercy, no compassion, and a whole lot of power.  While there aren’t any hard and fast rules about what’s real and what’s not in this universe (not to mention what works and what won’t, as they kind of make up the rules with each episode), it leaves no doubt that demons and other evils do exist.  They don’t offer any alternative explanation for these demons either, such as that they’re evil spirits from another world (as The Mortal Instruments series does), or come from some other source.  So it would be assumed, then, that demons come from a literal Hell (which is referenced in sending the demons back), and that there is a literal Satan behind them.  The question then, which was not answered in the first season, is “Where’s God?”

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There’s a dangerous premise in these kinds of stories, which acknowledge the existence of absolute evil (which is right and which we should do – see Ephesians 6:12), but ignore the theoretical presence of any absolute good.  There might be Satan, but there’s no God.  Or if there is a God, then he’s far away and either unwilling or unable to help.  In the absence of God, who becomes the force of good?  Who’s the good guy?  In Supernatural, we’re left with Dean and Sam.  They’re good guys in the sense that they try to save lives and do the right thing, but by the time you account for Dean’s womanizing and the number of times the brothers have close scrapes with death, it’s hard to see the ultimate force of good as terribly moral or very powerful.

That’s not to say that there aren’t redeeming qualities here.  The brothers are determined to fight evil, even if nobody believes them and they even are shunned for it.  It really is a thankless job, and the brothers don’t care, because they know that they’re doing what’s right.  But what is morality without God?  What hope can they have of survival when they get out of their league?  Is there no force to combat the legions of Satan that continue to threaten them?

Those are questions that the first season fails to even address.  It’s an intriguing story, but with a worldview which acknowledges evil, but strives for a sense of good without God, I’m not so sure that’s entirely a good thing.

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