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January 13, 2012

‘Supernatural’: The CW show finds its future in the past

Posted in: TV

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The CW show “Supernatural” delivers fans its latest time travel episode Friday with “Time After Time,” sending Dean (Jensen Ackles) back to 1944. (Jack Rowand/The CW)

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In “Time After Time,” Dean meets famed Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Nicholas Lea, right). (Jack Rowand/The CW)

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In “Supernatural’s” first time travel episode, “In the Beginning,” in Season 4, the angel Castiel (Misha Collins, right) sends Dean back to 1973. (Sergei Bachlakov/The CW)

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“In the Beginning” presented fans with a “Back to the Future” homage when Dean meets his father (Matt Cohen, right) in a diner. (Fun trivia fact: The Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man” that plays in this scene was a nod to “Supernatural’s” own pilot – it was the first classic rock song on the show.) (Sergei Bachlakov/The CW)

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Sam and Dean’s parents, John Winchester (Matt Cohen) and Mary Campbell (Amy Gumenick), are dating when “In the Beginning” takes place. (Sergei Bachlakov/The CW)

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“In the Beginning” reveals how young John Winchester came to own his 1967 Chevy Impala, as Dean convinces John to buy the “Metallicar” – as fans affectionately call it – over the VW van he’s eyeing. (Sergei Bachlakov/The CW)

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Dean learns the inspirations for his and his brother’s names in “In the Beginning,” when he meets his maternal grandparents, Samuel (Mitch Pileggi, center) and Deanna (Allison Hossack, left). (Sergei Bachlakov/The CW)

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In Season 5's episode “The End,” the angel Zachariah sends Dean to 2014 to learn of the apocalyptic consequences if he refuses to help the angels. Both “The End” and “Time After Time” were shot on the set built for “Watchmen.” (David Gray/The CW)

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In season five episode “The Song Remains The Same” – originally titled “Back to the Future Part 2” before being revised to the name of the 1976 Led Zeppelin album – Dean and Sam travel to 1978, where they meet their young parents again. (David Gray/The CW)

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Sam (Jared Padalecki) protects his young mother from the angel Anna (Julie McNiven, left) in “The Song Remains the Same.” (David Gray/The CW)

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“The Song Remains the Same” gave fans a glimpse at a young Mary pregnant with Dean. (David Gray/The CW)

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“Supernatural” became a western for an episode with “Frontierland” in Season 6, when Sam and Dean travel to 1861. (Jack Rowand/The CW)

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In “Frontierland,” Sam visits the cabin of Samuel Colt, who on the show is the legendary inventor of a gun that can kill anything, including the supernatural. (Jack Rowand/The CW)

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Dean (Jensen Ackles) dons 1940s garb in "Supernatural" episode "Time After Time." (Jack Rowand/The CW)

The twists and turns of time travel are in the DNA of “Doctor Who,” “Quantum Leap” and “Star Trek.” But the CW’s “Supernatural” has also become a specialist in turn-back-the-clock television. In Friday’s episode “Supernatural” again goes to the past, this time 1944.

“Supernatural’s” Dean and Sam Winchester have chased ghosts, demons and all manner of beasties since their childhood, but time travel wasn’t in the mix until the show’s fourth season, when the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) sent Dean (Jensen Ackles) back to 1973, where he meets his young parents. Since then, “Supernatural” has taken the brothers to the Old West (with “Back to the Future” references galore) and taken an angel to the decks of the Titanic in an episode titled (what else?) “My Heart Will Go On.”

In this week’s episode, “Time After Time,” Dean meets Prohibition lawman Eliot Ness (Nicholas Lea, a familiar face to fans of “The X-Files”), while Sam (Jared Padalecki), stuck in the present, frantically tries to get him back. The force behind the time travel here is Chronos, the god of time, played by guest star Jason Dohring, known for his regular role on “Veronica Mars” as well as playing vampire Josef on the short-lived “Moonlight.”

“He was just perfect for this role,” said “Supernatural” showrunner Sera Gamble. “He has the ability to be a bit sinister, but he also is quite emotionally vulnerable, and this character is both.”

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Dean (Jensen Ackles) dons 1940s garb in "Supernatural" episode "Time After Time." (Jack Rowand/The CW)

This god of time is partially inspired by “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” the bestselling 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger that presents a man who is unpredictably pushed and pulled through time. Gamble said the show’s writers found a compelling starting point in the notion of time jumping that can’t be controlled.

“The character does have that god side to him but also a real life and real relationships and problems that arise,” Dohring said. “That made it really open to some vulnerable stuff that’s going to come out.”

This episode marks the first time the show has used time travel that’s not at the hands of angels, the celestial beings who were introduced in the fourth season but have been emphasized less this season.

“Getting Dean back would have been a job for the angels in previous seasons, but this is one of the reasons it has been a good difficulty for us to not have angels at our disposal this season,” Gamble said. “If you have an angel there to help you, when your characters are in trouble, then you sometimes can just dial one up. This is a perfect example of an episode that I think works better because you don’t have that kind of deus ex machina.”

Inventing their version of the god of time is just one of countless instances where the “Supernatural” writers have dealt with crafting rules for their universe of the weird and paranormal. It’s an endeavor that can be delightfully freeing – one perk is there are always methods for bringing back favorite characters from past episodes even if they’re dead – but it can be a daunting task as well.

“You have to keep in mind that as soon as you put a rule in place, that’s the rule. I can’t tell you the number of times after we said that demons were once human that we turned to Ben Edlund who first suggested that and we were like, ‘Well thanks a lot for saying that demons were once human!’ ’Cause now we’re stuck with that, and it completely changes everything,” Gamble said.

Though “Time After Time” is throwing some new things into the mix with Chronos, there’s one thing that isn’t changing since the show’s last time travel episode: Dean’s giddy excitement about taking a blast to the past. In the sixth season’s “Frontierland,” that glee leads to considerable comedy as he saddles up and tries to present himself as an authentic Old West spirit. In “Time After Time,” Dean is thrilled to find himself with a fedora and reveals that he’s a huge fan of Brian DePalma’s “The Untouchables.”

“For such a practical, down-to-earth, macho hunter, he is a tiny bit of a clotheshorse,” Gamble said. “He actually enjoys getting to put on the clothes of that time period – just to blend in and be a good investigator.”

“Supernatural” doesn’t have the budget of “Mad Men” or “Game of Thrones,” so the period piece episodes present a challenge. The 1944 scenes were filmed on the set built for “Watchmen” in Burnaby, outside of Vancouver, Canada, which was also used for “The End,” the “Supernatural” episode that dispatched Dean to 2014. Despite the challenges, Dohring said the producers delivered for this week’s show.

“I think they had the time period really nailed down,” Dohring said. “Everybody’s got their period clothes, you had a bunch of old ’40s cars on set – they really went all out.”

“Supernatural” episode 7.12, “Time After Time,” airs Friday, Jan. 13 at 9 p.m.

– Emily Rome

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