Supernatural is a horror series that goes a lot deeper than your average monster-chaser story. This past season, heroes Sam and Dean were caught in a dirty war between some nasty demons and even nastier angels. We asked show scribe Sera Gamble about the show's unconventional take on religion.
Last week season 4 of the show ended with Lucifer rising from Hell, aided in part by a group of double-crossing, unethical angels who say they want to do a "planetary enema." That's right - the angels wanted Lucifer to rise because they are so bloodthirsty they're looking for any excuse to wage a war. So they stopped protecting the world from demons and lied to our monster-hunting brothers Sam and Dean about their intentions.
Over the past four seasons, the show has evolved from the story of two boys stalking the demon who killed their mother, to a genuinely smart and funny exploration of metaphysics. I don't mean to say the show has gotten boring - far from it. Older, snarkier brother Dean's way of talking about the ambivalence of angels is to tell his winged friend Castiel that he's "being a dick." And he expresses his rage over the angel's unthinking obedience to a God they never meet by calling them "Stepford bitches in paradise."
Think of it as a heavy metal version of Judeo-Christian paradoxes that are as old as the Bible itself. How can there be freedom in heaven when the definition of paradise is obedience to God? How can humans hope to change their own destinies if they are merely playthings of demonic and angelic forces stronger than they are? What happens to human life when angels declare that it's time for Heaven on Earth? Will there be hamburgers and beer in Heaven? (Actually that last question has been answered with a definitive yes.)
With its dim view of angels, and hints that there may actually be no God at all, is Supernatural a show for atheists? We talked about this question with Supernatural writer and producer Sera Gamble, who has been with the show since the beginning and wrote recent episodes like "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (where the brothers meet rebel angel Anna) and "When the Levee Breaks" (where Sam tries to detox from demon blood).
Gamble said the show tries to avoid sticking to one particular mythos:
I suppose the apocalypse storyline is rather Judeo-Christian, but we have been telling monster stories from all over the world for the last four seasons. We're clear that we're not a religious show, and we're not trying to tell religious stories per se. We're just cherry-picking the good bits of one of the most terrifying stories of all time.
I asked her whether the choice to make the angels into dicks was in the tradition of atheist-leaning novels like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. In that series, the angels are just superbeings jockeying for power in what seems to be a godless universe. She replied:
When you think about it, scary and suspect was really the only viable way to characterize angels on a show like ours. Whatever we do, it has to be scary, and it has to make life harder for Sam and Dean. The only people they can really rely on is each other, or the show just isn't the show.
We've been careful to leave room for agnosticism when we talk about God. There's no direct line to answers about His existence— at least not in the first four seasons. And in my mind, there's been lots of room for atheists to stay on board. First of all, no one's trying to convince anyone of anything; we're just here to entertain you. Second— even some of the angels doubt God's around, so join the club.
I think at the end of the day, we're trying to tell a story about humanism. We come out suspicious of organized anything. We're for individuals with balls and a strong moral center telling bureaucrats from heaven and hell to fuck off. That's where the fun is.
I couldn't agree more. Gamble also gave us a few hints about next season:
We just got in the room a couple weeks ago for season five, and of course all bets are off for everything I said. Lots of possible directions now, theologically — given the finale of season four, I doubt anyone will be surprised to hear that. Sometimes I just sit there listening to everyone debating about God and the devil and the true implications of free will as it relates to the hierarchy of angels and demons... and I think back to season one when I was like "well, maybe the dead boy in the water, like, wants revenge on the people who drowned him?" and I kind of can't believe how far the show has come.
Supernatural returns for its fifth and final season this fall. Lucifer is on the rise!