Supernatural Writers Return Drama to Its Hellish Roots in Season 8
In the long-running CW drama Supernatural, strange things lurk in the cities, towns, highways and byways of America. These things often have an appetite for death, destruction and even human beings themselves. Thankfully two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), had dedicated their lives to protecting humanity by destroying these vicious supernatural beings.
Over the course of seven seasons the Winchester brothers and their allies have battled ghosts, werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires, gods and malevolent angels, but their most persistent foes have been the denizens of Hell and the infernal realm’s current king, the demon known as Crowley. In the show’s current eighth season, the brothers have been given a shot to once and for all end the demonic menace that murdered their mother and turned hunting the supernatural into a family business. Spinoff Online spoke with writers Adam Glass, Daniel Loflin, Andrew Dabb, Robbie Thompson and Jenny Klein about the season and what it’s like to work on the series.
Spinoff Online: I thought we might kick things off with a sort of roll call where you introduce yourselves, tell us how long you’ve worked on the show, and what you enjoy most about writing for it.
Robbie Thompson: This is my second season on the show. I joined in Season 7, and one of the things I love about writing for Supernatural is, frankly, the chance to work with the people on this phone call. They’re a big bag of awesome.
Jenny Klein: I’ve been the writers’ assistant on the show since Season 3. I co-wrote the 16th episode of last season with Bob Singer, and I wrote my first solo episode this season. My favorite thing about working on the show besides what Robbie said, which is the nice answer, is getting to write about cryptozoological creatures. The show has wonderful characters in Sam and Dean, plus I love writing about monsters [laughs] and scary stories.
Daniel Loflin: I’ve been on the show for five seasons now. All politics aside [laughs], I love working on the show because we get to cover a wide range of emotions with this show. We can do super-broad comedies or hardcore drama. I do love all the monsters and the wide array of creatures that we can do just keeps things interesting.
My first year here was Season 4, and I remember sort of banging my head against the wall thinking that we’ll never ever find a way to get through this season with the ideas we had. It almost felt like we had run out of them. As you work on this show more and more though you start to realize how deep the well of possibility is here. I’ve really enjoyed the broad array of episodes I’ve been able to write for this show. It’s just great.
Adam Glass: I started with Season 6, and I thought that I took a job at NCIS. I had no idea what I was getting into here. [Laughs] No, in all honesty the very simple answer is that Sam and Dean kick ass, and I love the rock ‘n’ roll, Americana and monster-of-the-week aspects of the show as well as the overall melodrama.
Andrew Dabb: I’m also on my fifth year on the show. Since all the good answers have been taken I would say what I like most about it is the money.
[The others laugh.]
Glass: I’m actually in my pool right now taking this call
Dabb: And Jenny has a flying car. So we’re all doing very well
[Laughs] Good to hear. Let’s move onto some of the possible challenges of writing for Supernatural. For instance now that the show is in its eight season, is it tough coming up with new stories and new monsters for Sam and Dean to do battle with?
Thompson: I think Adam really touched upon the reason why this show has lasted so long, and frankly can last forever. It’s certainly a challenge to come up with a new take on something, but because the show is rooted in these two boys and their sibling relationship there’s so many stories to mine there.
I’m the youngest of two boys, and when I joined the show and watched the first six seasons I was shocked at how emotional the story was and how I related it to emotionally. I’m a big nerd. I came for the monsters, but I stayed for the drama. So it’s certainly a challenge to come up with a new take on a monster, but with these two characters as portrayed by these two actors it’s an endless well to draw from.
How are episodes divided between the writing staff? Do you guys get assigned episodes based on certain characters or specialties that you’re known for?
Loflin: I like not having a specialty. I like being able to tackle a comedy episode, a drama episode, or to be able to float between those worlds because it gives me more experience as a writer. So I don’t think we’re really specialized in any way.
Dabb: Obviously we all bring our own twists and turns to different episodes, but generally speaking what’s fun about the show is at the beginning of the year a certain order will be set. That sets you on a cycle. So. for example, if you did Episode 5, you would do Episode 10 when it comes up. The fun of that is you don’t always know what you’re going to get. It may be a funny one, a scary one, or one that covers a bit of the mythology.
As Dan said, that forces you to spread your wings a little bit and try a bunch of different things. And I think as you do that you discover things you might not have thought would be fun are fun, like writing one of the bad guys. So it forces you do different things, which makes you a better writer.
This year you’re writing for a new showrunner, Jeremy Carver. What’s it like working with Jeremy? What do you feel he brings to the show?
Glass: I think Jenny would be the best person to answer that question
[The others laugh.]
Klein: Jeremy wrote some of my favorite episodes. He wrote “Mystery Spot,” “Changing Channels” and “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” He has a really great sense of humor, but he’s also got a terrific handle on the boys’ emotions. He writes the hell out of the scenes with the brothers, especially when they’re fighting. So he brings a lot of humor and quirkiness, but also a lot of emotional depth to the episodes. Plus, he’s a super-nice guy. So he’s really easy to work with. I honestly can’t say anything bad about him because he’s really, really sweet.
So last season you chronicled Sam and Dean’s war with the shapeshifting Leviathans, and that story took the boys to some pretty dark places. It seemed like that season was about taking everything away from your main characters and seeing what was left. Is that correct?
Thompson: Absolutely. When I joined the show last year, Sera [Gamble] and Bob [Singer] said quite frankly that was what they specifically wanted to do. I know they sort of talked about it having an almost Western vibe to it — the end of the Old West and what these two gun slingers would look like on their own. So, yeah, that was the intention.
How do you think that ordeal affected the brother’s emotional states? It seems like we started of this season with Dean suffering from PTSD thanks to his year spent in Purgatory, and Sam conflicted about hunting.
Glass: I think if you look at their relationship now, in some ways we’re back to the beginning again. We started the year off with Dean coming back from Purgatory where he made some new relationships, and Sam also went off and had a relationship. They lead different lives for a while and now they’re coming back together again. It’s sort of like when Dean first showed up at college to grab Sam.
So it’s certainly a reboot in a way with their emotions. Of course they have a lot more history together now. These are two guys who have changed a lot and they’ve come back to sort of find their mojo together again, which makes it interesting and give us a lot of conflict.
The brothers have also had to adapt to some new circumstances this year, like the loss of their father figure and chief informant on magic and monsters, Bobby Singer, played by Jim Beaver. How has Bobby’s death affected your scripts?
Glass: Bobby’s dead? [Laughs]
[The others laugh.]
Loflin: Jim Beaver is a phenomenal actor, and we always loved to work him into episodes, almost to a fault. His absence makes it so we have to get a little more creative in how the boys do their procedural stuff. So we stripped away their father figure, which means the boys don’t have someone they can automatically go to. So we need to have them find father figures in other characters. And the guys can’t come up with quick answers any more to their procedural dilemmas. The “Let’s call Bobby” has become kind of a cliché.
Glass: No one can replace Bobby, but we can surround them with some people who will give them support. So we’re bringing other characters into our mythos.
Loflin: So much of last season was about taking away things from the boys, and so much of this season is about reorienting them and tying them back together. The big quest of the season, which is to slam close the gates of Hell, speaks so closely to their motivation back to the first episode of the show ever.
And we gave Jim Beaver a pretty good sendoff last year. So to bring him back in the first episode of this season because we love him would have taken away from that. Then again this is Supernatural, and nobody is ever really dead [laughs]. So we’ll have to see how that goes.
Glass: We have to build people back up in the show. We need someone to kill, right? [Laughs]
Bobby may be gone, but Sam and Dean’s angel comrade-in-arms Castiel is back. I’ve noticed. Though, that they haven’t been able to rely on him that much this year. So what’s it like writing an episode without having to factor in the raw angelic power of Cas?
Loflin: Sam and Dean are very capable, but it’s great to have them as underdogs, because the fun of that is seeing how they get out from under things. One of the things that makes them such effective heroes is the fact that they’re not angels, demons or monsters. They’re incredibly capable humans. That’s what this show is about. It’s about the triumph of humanity.
So to have them face challenges without Castiel as backup or have him be unreliable allows us to put the focus on Sam and Dean. Because Cas as an angel is very powerful and limiting him is sometimes a challenge.
As you mentioned, in this season you introduced quite a few new supporting characters. Who are some of your favorite new supporting players?
Thompson: My personal favorite is the one that I brought back, Charlie, Felicia Day’s character from episode 7-20 “The Girl With the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo.” Felicia is a national treasure, and she’s a lot of fun to write for. I’m also a huge fan of Garth. I think DJ Qualls is hilarious. That energy with the boys is a lot of fun
Loflin: I think one of the fun characters this year is the Benny character. Ty Olsson, the guy who plays him, is just great. We’ve also got characters that we haven’t used in a while, like Sheriff Mills and people like that. I think we’re in a really good place supporting cast wise and we just feel lucky that we get to work with all these good people.
Sam and Dean’s quest this season, to slam shut the gates of Hell, has put the spotlight back on one of Supernatural‘s oldest villains, Crowley. What’s it like bringing the king of Hell back into focus as the series’ prime antagonist after focusing on the Leviathans last year?
Loflin: Mark Sheppard, makes the job very easy. He’s a great actor and plays great villains. So he’s fun to write for and any chance we get to put Crowley in there we jump on it.
Dabb: They always say Batman doesn’t exist without the Joker. I’d have to say Crowley has become the boys’ Joker. He definitely is the yin to their yang. So we really enjoy writing him. And he’ll be a big player as we keep moving forward, as he has been.
If Sam and Dean are successful in their quest to close the gates of Hell, it could greatly change the dynamic of the show. So why do this story? And why do it now?
Glass: We’re going to write ourselves out of a job if we do this! [Laughs] We’ve got to change some stuff!
[The others laugh.]
Loflin: What it came down to was last season was the Leviathans, and we had a lot of fun telling that story. Then we knew at the end of the season Sam and Dean were going to be apart and we had to find something to bring them back together. Then we thought demons from Episode 1 and angels from Season 4 have been kind of the fire under this show. They’re what keeps this show, mythologically speaking, at a boil, so to get back into that felt really right.
And you’re right, it speaks to the core of the show. As things move forward I think it will change the way the show looks and feels probably in some pretty drastic ways. That’s a good thing, though. I think a show in its eighth season and moving forward needs to change things up. You try to play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses, and I think demons, Crowley and Hell have always been a big strength for us. So we’re leaning back into it
So this season has been about getting back to some of the show’s roots and strengths. Which aspects of this season have you found most enjoyable as writers?
Thompson: For me it’s just been fun to take some big swings. As Dan said earlier, we’re allowed to do some pretty broad things in terms of tone. I got to do a found footage episode and then an episode about live action role-playing. I can’t think of another show on TV with that broad of a tone that can actually pull things like that off. So for me, it’s being able to take big swings like that and to have some fun.
Klein: Benny is a big part of this season, and he’s really fun to write. I think Ty, the guy who portrays him, plays off of Jensen really well. The character of Benny has really been an awesome addition to this season.
Glass: Someone said earlier, and I couldn’t agree more, here we are at Season 8 of exploring the melodrama between the boys and their journey together, and I think it’s not just the fans who want to know more. As writers we want to know more. We just love writing for those two guys and seeing where they’re going to end up. I hope we’re all together when we write the last line of the show ever.
Supernatural recently got renewed for a ninth season. How does it feel to know you’re coming back for another season? And have you already begun thinking about plans for season nine?
Thompson: I’m thrilled. To season infinity and beyond!
Klein: I’m pumped for exploring the new storylines of Season 9 and feel immensely grateful to the fans for supporting the show they way they do. It’s incredible and there wouldn’t be a Season 9 without them!
Glass: First off, we’re so lucky to have Jared and Jensen as our leads. Those two take our scripts to a whole other level week in and week out. Secondly, we have the best fans in the world; they seriously keep this show going strong and we can’t thank them enough. Finally, there are still so many stories to tell, and we look forward to writing all of them and exploring these two brothers and their adventures for some time to come.
Loflin: I doubt any of us are less than psyched to have the opportunity to play in this world for another year, so yeah, more Supernatural is always going to be a good thing. And building on what I said earlier about how I never thought we’d be able to come up with enough ideas to fill out Season 4? I’ve already got a number of potential standalones in the chamber for Season 9. New points of view for monsters just keep coming, so at this point it’s really about figuring out what Jeremy and Bob are going to respond to, and then assigning them a story that best suits the message. It’s funny, I was joking around with Jared a few weeks ago, talking about how to end the series. We kicked around a few ideas, but the one that made the most sense was “Why end it at all?” Let’s Gunsmoke this beast! Keep it going through Season 20 if we can! We had a good laugh, thinking about an ossified Sam and Dean kicking monster ass with walkers and canes. But who knows, maybe it’ll happen?
Dabb: I think we’re all incredibly excited … but honestly, I probably won’t start thinking about Season 9 until we’re done with Season 8. Still, I think we have a lot of really good stuff to work with going forward, with Sam being turned into a girl, and Dean … crap … I’ve said too much.
Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.