Tag: Supernatural

Supernatural (TV series)

My rating: ***

Season 4 episode 7: ‘It’s the great pumpkin, Sam Winchester’

Well, while I am on a roll, I thought I might as well continue with this discussion of God, angels and demons and the supernatural and so on and so forth. Perhaps a more lengthy piece on the emergence of a neo-gnostic themes in contemporary popular culture, might be something I can do at some later stage.

I have always had a bit of a take it or leave it attitude towards Supernatural. I watch it because it is fantasy/ science fiction and is reasonably inoffensive. Many people (especially women) watch it for the two main characters – the Winchester brothers – but I find them of fairly limited interest and I am not unduly concerned when I miss an episode or two.

The series takes the mystique out of the supernatural to some extent, and the two brothers have a fairly practical approach to the problems caused by the intervention of usually evil supernatural creatures into the mundane. This particular episode is set at Halloween. The most interesting aspect of the episode is the appearance of not just one – but two angels. The introduction of angels at the beginning of the current season (season 4) has actually got me almost interested in the series. Clearly the Christopher Walken The Prophecy movies have sparked off a whole trend for seriously dangerous and somewhat ambiguous angels in film and TV. No Touched by an Angel saccharine here! Misha Collins who plays the angel Castiel who rescued one of the brothers, Dean, from Hell is superb and hits just the right note of dangerous and jaded cool. Nice Columbo style trench coat as well. (I wonder whether this is an oblique reference to Peter Falk’s appearance in Wim Wender’s angel movie Wings of Desire?) I will be fascinated to see how the series writers try to solve the tricky question of God that introducing angels raises.

Unfortunately there are already signs of compromise in relation to Castiel’s character when we see him secretly expressing some ‘doubts’ to Dean about the mission he has been sent on. It is the difference, not the similarity of angels to humans which makes them interesting and it would be good to see the writers of Supernatural maintain that distance. This is something The Prophecy movies manage well.

I thought this lolcat picture of a hoard of demon cats would be entirely appropriate for this post. ‘Basement Cat’ is the lolcat name for the Devil.

Basement Cat summons his legions...

Apparitions (2008) Episode 2

My rating: ***
Spoiler alert

My post on episode one

Episode 2 of Apparitions is perhaps a little less convincing than the first one but what is interesting about it is how it manages to foreground contemporary cultural clichés about good and evil. There are some fairly absurd plot twists concerning the Chief Exorcist of Rome who is the main character, Father Jacob’s mentor. It transpires that the former after being interned as a Jew in a concentration camp during World War II is so horrified by the experience that he converts to Christianity and then converts to Satanism (!) How the Church bureaucracy which has employed him in a fairly important position has completely failed to notice this is a bit of a mystery.

Gnostic ideas of a Manichean struggle between two equivalent and equally dubious powers – God and Satan are wheeled out in the series with humans somehow stuck in the middle of the struggle for power. In recent years, a whole subgenre using this kind of Gnostic mythology and other medieval heretical and Cabbalistic teachings and demonologies has emerged. Examples include The Prophecy trilogy (with Christopher Walken), the Australian film Gabriel and also Constantine with Tilda Swinton and Keanu Reaves. We also see elements of these ideas in the TV series Supernatural and Dr. Who writer and producer Russell T. Davies’ film The Second Coming. I might also mention a slightly earlier contribution to the genre – the short-lived 1998 TV series Brimstone.

Father Jacob is incited to ‘convert’ to faith in Satan, which postures as a kind of dark obverse to faith in God. The God who emerges in both Apparitions and the films I have listed above is a fickle and remote dictator who seems to who have created the world purely for his own amusement and doesn’t hesitate to involve his servants in violence to promote his own cause.

What I found most interesting about episode 2 of Apparitions, however, was the notion put forward by the demon that rather than just being powerful predators, demons are in fact victims of a tyrannical God who has thrown them into hell to be tortured in much the same way as Nazis tortured the Jews in concentration camps. The notion of demons as victims is certainly an indication of current thinking on a number of fronts, in particular in terms of responsibility for action.

It is unclear whether the demon in the first two episodes is the Devil himself or just one of his minions, but he runs this line as a way of tempting Father Jacob and undermining his ‘faith’. How can one trust a God who tortures his own creatures in this way? Much is made of how clever and subtle the Devil is and how clever and dangerous his arguments are but what we get instead in this episode are the hoary old notions that if God is good why is there evil in the world? A God who allows evil and sends people and demons to hell is simply not viable and so on and so forth.

Some elementary logic here is helpful. If we believe people are free to choose their own fates and that God respects that freedom, then they have to be free to choose to reject God and to go to hell in a handbasket of their own accord. (I might also mention in passing the odd notion of heaven and hell as geographical spaces in these world views. Formal theological definitions of hell involve simply the absence of God.) There are plenty of science fiction and literary depictions of the unfreedoms involved in compulsory utopias where all are ‘happy’, which can be used to counter these kind of arguments.

People live in a social environment and no element in that system is insulated from the rest of the system. ‘Innocent victims’ (and others less innocent) are perhaps not being ‘punished’ by a heartless God, but are dealing with the short and long term consequences of the actions of others within a very complex and interconnected social and physical environment. Addressing problems at this level might be more helpful, rather than blaming some straw man figure of a remote and temperamental God, or alternately blaming the existence of a socio-cultural belief in God for all our ills (Richard Dawkins). Economic crisis and rampant corporate greed anyone?

There are some weak arguments from Father Jacob along the lines that the demons made their choice and have to live with it, but it all boils down ultimately to pure assertion that God is good and the Devil is evil so there!

Apparitions (2008) Episode 1

My rating: ***
imdb link

See also my blog post on episode 2

Apparitions is a new supernatural thriller series currently airing on the BBC which gets off to a gripping start in the first episode. I saw this first episode courtesy of a good friend who is a fan of the actor who plays the lead role in this series, Martin Shaw. All the tried and true clichés of the ‘interestingly medieval Catholic Church meets the Supernatural’ subgenre are taken out for a most satisfying airing. We have the maverick priest at odds with the rationalist and sceptical Church hierarchy, the Devil and his demons, the tortured homosexual seminarian, the not-long-for-this-world mentor who tells his charge that he is the chosen one who will be key in the up and coming Manichean struggle between good and evil. There are also the obligatory gory bits with demons flaying humans alive and knocking others unconscious. We even have Mother Teresa! What more could one ask for?

The Catholic Church has long been an imaginative gold mine for writers of tales of the supernatural. As Foucault notes: ‘[The Roman Catholic Church] is a superb instrument of power for itself. Entirely woven through with elements that are imaginary, erotic, effective, corporal, sensual, and so on, it is superb!’ [1] Apparitions certainly doesn’t stint on making the most of these elements.

A veteran of science fiction and the supernatural, Joe Ahearne, is helming this series as a writer and director. His earlier efforts include credits as the writer and director of the somewhat obscure but stylish Ultraviolet (the original 1998 British TV series, not the American remake) and he has also written several recent Dr. Who episodes.

Another series which deals with the idea of possession, haunting, and unfriendly supernatural entities, but this time from the rather different point of view of spirit mediums and psychics, is the American series The Others. This excellent but unfortunately short-lived series went to air with 13 episodes in 2000.

Other British series which address similar material include Afterlife and Sea of Souls. In these series it is university researchers in psychology who are the investigators of the supernatural. (By the way I have included a couple of Wikipedia links here simply because they provide the most comprehensive information and most numerous links to external sources).

The currently popular American series Supernatural covers rather different territory. It is not so much interested in the uncanny, [2] but in adventure horror and, of course, the exploits of a couple of good looking guys. I will write a bit more about this series in another post.


[1] Michel Foucault (1999) [1978] ‘ On Religion’. In Religion and Culture J. R. Carrette (ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 106.

[2] ‘The Uncanny’ by Sigmund Freud.