Supernatural is a horror-drama series that centers on two brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles). Part of a family of 'hunters,' the two travel the country in Dean's car, a black Impala, set to a soundtrack of classic rock and heavy metal, pursuing the "family business." In other words, this means hunting monsters and saving countless lives in small towns throughout the U.S.
Now in its seventh season, the show elaborates, through its stories, on America's rich history of folklore and urban legends, with the Winchesters hunting everything from vampires and demons, to werewolves, to more obscure things like shapeshifters and haunted ships.
The brothers are often joined by a motley crew of supporting characters, including Bobby (Jim Beaver), a good-natured man who runs an auto repair shop, and Castiel (Misha Collins), an angel who rebelled against the dogmatic ideas of Heaven.
Throughout Supernatural's run, the show has served as a vehicle for commentary on family values, working class ideas, and particularly a firm stance against religion (the characters have always advocated "free will," as opposed to spiritual ideas like destiny or divine intervention).
In fact, many episodes have made bold and powerful statements against religion and politics that few other shows have dared make.
A great example lies in this year's seventh season opener, in which Castiel, assuming the role of God, begins setting things right in the world. One of these includes dismantling the Westboro Baptist Church and defending LGBT rights ("God is indifferent to sexual orientation," Castiel claims). The second involves the angel attacking the campaign office of one 'Michelle Walker,' who has "caused people in poverty to suffer in God's name." 'Michelle Walker,' of course, was a play on Republican politicians Michelle Bachman and Scott Walker.
In addition to tapping into the zeitgeist of modern America, Supernatural carries emotional volume unrivaled by almost any other series and focuses on the importance of family and friendship in a time when most shows have taken morally ambiguous routes.
Interestingly, the series has a very down-to-earth, all-American format, exploring the rich cultures of rural or small town areas. However, the writers are able to achieve philosophical depth and analysis within this basic, relatable context. Supernatural has questioned everything from the nature of a human soul (and how one can define existence and freedom of choice) to the very structure of humanity and how no choice we make may ever be perfect.
"What would you rather have, Dean?" says Castiel in the critically acclaimed finale of the fifth season. "Peace...or freedom?"
As for the stories, they are always well-executed and even unnerving. With a limited makeup and special f/x budget, the show has done bold and convincing things with monsters, particularly with the latest team of dark creatures the brothers must contend with: leviathans.
No matter how dark or chilling the events of the show get, it always falls back on an important thing: the bond of family, and what either of the brothers is willing to do to save the other. Supernatural is a show with heart at its core, and it is this that drives and molds the stories in each episode, and draws viewers back in, season after season.
"It's always been a show about family," said series creator Eric Kripke. In fact, he elaborated, "The mythology is an engine to raise issues about family. A big brother watching out for a little brother, family loyalty versus the greater good, family obligation versus personal happiness...These are all issues that [Sam and Dean face], and in my opinion, they are just as rich, if not richer, than [stories about] psychic children and demonic plans. It's always going to be a show about brothers."
Meanwhile, we are taught, through powerful metaphor, and sometimes satire, that Heaven and angels may be little more than idealism in the long run, and that what matters is right here on Earth, in the people around us.
Dean Winchester has sacrificed everything to save his brother Sam and surrogate father Bobby, and continues to do so time and again throughout the series, indeed illustrating the significance of loyalty.
In short, his opinion ultimately describes the message of the show at large: He'll take the pain, he'll take the trials and tribulations that come along with the family business - because, it's about saving people; that's the reward in defeating monsters. And in the end, it's people - and family - who matter.
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW official Supernatural website.