Before we start talking about Supernatural Season 3, let me give you a little background. The year was 2007, and the Writers Guild of America just went on strike. The strike started after only 12 episodes of the third season of Supernatural had completed production, but an additional 4 episodes were rushed into production to meet the 16 episode commitment. This forced the writers and producers to push the show into high gear and left many connecting plot and character threads dangling until the fourth season.
Knowing that, it’s easy to see why Season 3 has so many peculiar qualities. The break-neck speed into the demon war is unsettling; it feels so different from the past two seasons which were a great mix of character development and meta-storytelling. Season 3 starts out with a strong focus on the demon war, but by the time we hit the middle of the season, the story begins to tread water. As those of you watching along know, at the end of Season 2, Dean makes a pact to save Sam’s life, agreeing to take his brother’s place by dying within the year. While this time limit on Dean’s life creates great tension and drama between the brothers, it also makes it very clear that the story won’t be resolved until the end of the season. This means that we have a great start and loads of tension for the finale… and a bunch of filler episodes in between that don’t really contribute to the plot or emotional development of the characters. Once we hit the season’s end, the pace inexplicably quickens with a two-part season finale that leaves Dean dead.
Part of the pacing issues in this season can be seen through the addition (and handling) of new characters to the show. Gone are Ellen and Joe, replaced with a new cast of supporting characters in Bella Talbot and Ruby. Ruby is our new “villain turned good” – a demon who shows up at just the right time to save the boys – and she has a particular interest in Sam. I’m jaded to my view of Ruby; her episodes are all plot this season, and they are so heavy-handed that I find her a bit too Ruby-ish to enjoy. Regardless, the wedge she creates between the Winchester brothers is very interesting, and that I did enjoy.
Bella, on the other hand, I really liked. I enjoyed her persona as a thief with an interest in the supernatural. In fact Bella represents a cool added piece to the mythology; it’s hard to believe that everyone who finds out about the supernatural world goes out and becomes a revenge-obsessed monster killer. Bella offered another perspective, and if only they had really given her back story the time to flesh out we might have had something truly impressive. Instead, Bella’s entire arc wraps up in a series of black-and-white flashbacks, and Dean has to learn from fellow hunter Rufus that Bella had her parents killed as a child. It had the potential to be a very powerful scene, but it didn’t really end up being a scene at all. We as an audience must infer that Rufus tells Dean all about Bella’s back story – since the actual telling of the tale happens off camera during a commercial break. Moments before Bella dies at the hands (paws? – EDITOR FRANK) of the hell hound sent to claim her soul, the writers seem to suggest that her parents were bad people, but by then it was too little, too late for us to truly care.
The filming style had changed as well; gone is the creative filming and beautiful horror techniques that drew me visually to the series in the first two seasons. This is not a bad thing per se, it’s clear that the show has a larger budget at this point, which allowed for an increase in outdoor and onsite location shooting, which leads to some visually stunning episodes like Bed Time Stories or Red Sky at Morning.
The relationship between the boys this season is fun. Dean’s impending doom makes for some surprisingly lighthearted situations and Sam’s frustration with it all is interesting to watch and really sets the stage for the following season.
The one thing I must say that I really enjoyed is how Supernatural started kicking the meta humor into high-gear this season. Episodes like The Kids are All Right, Bad Day at Black Rock, Dream a Little Dream of Me, A Very Supernatural Christmas, and of course the great Mystery Spot (which was intended as the season finale before the last four episode order) really show just how well Supernatural does its brand of humor.
Over all, Season 3 is a mixed bag. Between the writers strike and some unusual creative choices, it’s a step down from Seasons 1 & 2, but still thoroughly enjoyable in my mind. It’s also the season that gave us this classic segment, so it can’t be all bad!