Some shows like to use the holidays as an excuse to make a heartwarming, funny, or otherwise light-hearted Christmas episode, with lots of good food and festive decorations.
Then there’s Supernatural.
For those unaware, this is an American TV show about two brothers (Dean and Sam Winchester) who drive around the country hunting ghosts, demons, and everything else that goes bump in the night. They also have to deal with the occasional apocalypse. Supernatural is my newest fandom, and although it isn’t as venerable or high-quality as some of my other ones, it does have a lot of things I like in a story–an epic fantasy setting, flawed heroes, mildly scary monsters, dark humor, and an awesome classic rock soundtrack. Oh, and once in a while, a giant talking teddy bear.
Anyhow, there was a Christmas episode back in Season Three called…wait for it… “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” It’s memorable for a number of reasons, none of which have to do with being a happy, nostalgic holiday story.
The episode begins with the Winchesters investigating a town in Michigan where people have been going missing, and witnesses are blaming something that looks like Santa Claus. As usual, the case gets personal–and dangerous–for the boys pretty fast.
Supernatural is famous for being able to violently swing from funny, to depressing, to horrifying, back to funny again, often multiple times per episode, and it does NOT take a break for the Christmas episode. There are plenty of laughs to be had throughout–the scene where Sam and Dean break into a creepy old Santa impersonator’s house, thinking he’s a monster, and try to cover their mistake by singing a butchered version of “Silent Night,” comes to mind. Several scenes with the episode’s monsters are also funny, in a dark sort of way. There’s something both creepy and hilarious about a couple of evil pagan gods posing as nice suburban folks who disapprove of swearing. Which of course leads to this exchange:
And on the horrifying end of the spectrum, this episode contains one of the show’s gorier moments. Somebody gets a fingernail torn off. Completely on-camera. In the same scene as the above quote, by the way. Merry Christmas, Sammy…
But mostly I remember this episode for being rather sad. At this point on the show, Dean knows he has less than a year to live (it’s a long story), and throughout the episode he keeps trying to convince Sam to celebrate one last Christmas with him. Sam is not in the mood. A few flashbacks to the boys’ crappy childhood help explain his negative attitude towards the holiday. They also explain, incidentally, how Dean got his trademark amulet and why he wears it all the time. And they make me want to punch John Winchester in the face, yet again…but I digress.
Yet the episode is not entirely without heartwarming moments. At the very end, after the monsters have been dealt with, Sam relents and gives Dean a pathetic-yet-somehow-sweet surprise Christmas celebration. Yes, the ornaments may be air fresheners and the presents may have come from a gas station, but it’s totally the thought that counts. Add the soundtrack–a melancholy version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”–and you get a poignant scene of brotherly love. Turns into a tear-jerker once you’ve seen the season finale, but still.
Family time is part of the charm of Christmas, isn’t it?