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

Jan. 13, 2012 | 9:42 a.m.
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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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36 Responses to ‘Supernatural’: The CW show finds its future in the past

  1. jack says:

    Dude, I liked the angels. And it's easy to cramp an angels style. They've done it like four times already on the show. Plus, if something actually threatened one with harm or something, I might actually give a crap. It would add tension to the episode. Instead of some random joe shmoe time dude who I don't know from adam and just showed up five minutes ago and could die and I wouldn't care. Man, where did you learn to write?

    • percysowner says:

      And I hated the angels. different strokes for different folks.

      • Sean says:

        Can you and your friends not just leave off bombarding *every single article* about this show with your Castiel hate? Because plenty of us do like him, and we also are a part of this fanbase and important to the show's success and its renewal over the last few seasons (and we as a collective are one factor in you getting to see your precious Sam for this season and – possibly another one). We also voted for the show for the TV Guide cover and for the PCAs, in the hope of seeing our favorite character returned to us.

        People like you give this fandom a bad name with your endless hate.

      • Micki says:

        I love Cas too, but seems to me if people are allowed to say how much they love the angels (and hate Sera and hate Supernatural without Cas), then other people should be allowed to express the fact they didn't like the angels. Especially since percysowner was saying "different strokes for different folks" i.e. I don't feel the same way you do, but I respect your right to feel differently.

      • Micki says:

        Just read through all of the comments, and I have to say, there are several Cas/Destiel fans hating on Sam and Sera. And only one comment saying only "And I hated the angels. different strokes for different folks." Which is pretty mild compared to the stuff being flung at Sera and Sam. It can't be okay for some fans to hate and not okay for other fans. And why do you assume this person is a Samgirl? Some people just didn't like the angel storyline. I love all the characters and I get really tired of being caught in the crossfire, or lumped into one camp or another because people assume if you say something nice about Sam you must be against Dean and Cas. Some of us love them all.

    • Mary says:

      What do you mean "random Joe Shmoe?" Most people with an even limited education know of the mythology of Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and even the Norse. Supernatural explores elements of all these and more because they read AND they are writers. Wow, Angels are great but Supernatural needed a bit of a swing, and they hit a home RUN!

  2. Lola says:

    For once they could have maybe, just maybe had Sam travel in time? The way it's always Dean is ridiculus

    • silver says:

      Maybe you're new. Did you forget that Sam and Dean both went back in The Song Remains the Same and that was was Samcentric with Sam bonding with both John and Mary? Did you forget that Sam went back in time with Dean in Frontierland, and got to be the only one to ride the horse, as well as the only one who talked to the great Colt himself?

      You also don't need to worry. I'm sure Sam will be the one to save the day, as usual. God forbid Gamble allow Dean too many heroic moments. Can't have Dean be equally heroic as Sam. That's not allowed. I won't be surprised if Gamble makes Dean freeze again so that Sam can save the day, like she did in the last episode that Adam Glass, her prodige, wrote.

    • Sarah says:

      For once they could maybe, just maybe, give Dean a role of his own in the myth-arc that doesn't just and only involve supporting his special snowflake, chosen one little brother and that isn't retconned away at the eleventh hour of the season or series finale. Sam also predominanatly gets the flashback episodes; so if you want to go in that direction, I'd like to see a flashback episode that's predominantly about Dean for once.

  3. silver says:

    It's going to be great to see Dean in a fedora and a suit. The man is hot no matter what he puts on, and he's in character with whatever the costum calls for. He truly is chameleon in a sense that he can play just about any character or variations of the character and never use the same expressions or characteristics twice. Great job and I'm really looking forward to this episode, something I haven't felt since 5.4.

  4. Mar says:

    It's nice to hear the Chronos character has some sympathetic elements. Compassion plus comedy is a moving combo to me. I look forward to it because Robbie Thompson wrote it, and he did an awsome job with Slash Fiction. Anything that makes Dean fanboy is going to be a good episode!

  5. Ann says:

    I love Dean but I am not interested in oh look Dean travels back in time to dress up again while Sam is the sideshow. This was a unnecessary time travel episode

    • raiders5869 says:

      It was good episode,because they worked together and thats why it's a great show.Both Sam and Dean were on about the same time,the writers didn't show one brother longer then the other.I don't know how u seen the episode tonight when it was just on and u wrote 7hrs ago.Maybe people should watch the show and have an idea were the writers are going with stories and not just boring us with one story line.The other demons are still out there and not on vacation.

  6. rabid fangirl says:

    I swear to god, she uses EVERY INTERVIEW as an excuse to remind us that the angels were nothing but deus ex machina. Maybe they were to you, Ms. Gamble. But we loved Cas even when (and even more when) he had no powers. He was always human to us. It's too bad you couldn't find a better way to use him.

    • Kate says:

      I was just laughing at the fact she dismisses Cas as a deus ex machina when the whole episode is based on a deus ex machina sending Dean back in the first place.

      • Micki says:

        A "deus ex machina" is a god (or other power) who drops into the story "to resolve a plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation." It doesn't apply to a foe who is creating the difficult situation.

    • Lord of the Night says:

      Cas was more than a deus ex machina but he was really a DEM in his power. All too often they could call on Cas to give them more knowledge or to save them from an enemy and I have no issue with that, but this season is about putting Sam and Dean out there alone. And I think that GodCas was great enough that it makes up for Cas not being around for most of this season.

      He'll be back. And I can't wait to see how he's changed, after all I really doubt Ms. Gamble would just kill off Cas without a plan in mind. His death is leading to something big for the character when he is resurrected.

    • Micki says:

      The whole point of rebooting Cas is to bring back the character without the Deus ex machina element. It's true he was too powerful and there is only so many times you can make up an excuse as to why he doesn't have his powers at that moment in time, so they had to find something big to do away with them for good. I love Cas the best when he is a "baby in a trenchcoat," trying to fit in with humans, rather than smiting a roomful of demons (that's just too easy) so I'm really looking forward to when the new less-powerful Cas comes back.

  7. Lucky says:

    I can't wait for this to air tonight! So looking forward to seeing Jason Dohring–he ALWAYS delivers. Seeing him on an awesome show like Supernatural is just a dream come true.

  8. Sarah says:

    I'm looking so forward to this episode as well. The time travel ones are some of the best of the entire series, IMO.

  9. kit says:

    I'm not watching tonight because of all the bad news we got this week in regards to Castiel's return. I feel like our tireless efforts to get him back resulted in him coming back for only 3 episodes just to be taken away again. So I don't know if I'll be tuning in again. Probably only for the 3 Castiel episodes.

    • Lord of the Night says:

      Then you aren't really a fan of Supernatural, just of Cas. And just because he's back for three episodes that doesn't mean he dies again, maybe he goes back to Heaven to try and atone and rebuild.

    • Linda says:

      If you only watch the episode for Castiel, then you are not a real fan of the show or the idea behind it, that of the relationship between the brothers and their fight against evil. And we wont have that anymore if supports dont turn on the TV to help the ratings. Enjoy the show for the great acting and stories.

  10. silver says:

    Gamble doesn't want Cas around because Dean and Cas have the chemistry that Dean and Sam never had and Gamble hates that. Plus, she doesn't like any attention taken away from Sam, so of course Cas had to go. If she could, she'd probably get rid of Dean also. But she needs him to prop up Sam and make sure somebody is always focused on Sam.

    However, this episode with Jensen and Nick Lea is going to rock. I'm not expecting anything fantastic, and I totally expect Sam to save the day. This is, after all Becky Gamble's show and of course Dean's role is to make sure that Sam looks good. But it won't take away from the hotness that is Jensen, the awesomeness that is Dean and Dean and Eliot will rock because Jensen and Nick Lea are that good and will rise above the mediocrity that this show has become under Gamble's dictatorship.

  11. Kate says:

    I find it utterly hilarious (but oddly enough not remotely surprising) to hear Sera Gamble airily dismissing the use of a deus ex machina device to magically whisk Dean Winchester back to the present in an interview about an episode that uses (guess what?) a deus ex machina to send him back there in the first place.

  12. maxie says:

    Jensen Ackles, Nick Lea and Jason Dohring all on my screen at once? I think I am in fangirl heaven. I hope Sam being boring in the present doesn't suck up too much screentime. Not when they went to all the trouble getting to two kickass guest stars for this episode.

    • shaws coveJen says:

      Ezra Stone said ;" What bucket of syrup did you two idjits step in? "Jensen Ackles and Nickolas Lea were awesome and Jason Dohring sufficiently tortured for an out of control Time God. The production values – music ,ambience were top notch. Sam and Sheriff Mills were excellent .Mills remark that life is "a puzzle with pieces all over the place" was so poignant. The two helped solve the puzzle requiring Dean be with Chronos in order to ride him home. I liked the " Hey Untouchable'"Ness yelled to Dean as he threw the olive spear. He knew Dean would appreciate the title.

  13. DPS says:

    Do ya'll think Bobby is really dead? Also what about Castiel?

  14. stenovrain says:

    Oh, c'mon, MS gamble, how ridiculous you are.
    What you're doing is no other than replacing an old deus ex machina with a new one.
    Nothing is MORE REDUNDANT than this, woman.

  15. Disgusted says:

    Wow, the Dean girl hate is right on schedule. Can't even read an article that is all about Dean with barely a mention of Sam (which should have pleased you all to no end) and still the Sam hate filters in. Ya'll are a piece of work.

    • Sean says:

      I believe your friends percysowner and Lola got in first with their Cas and Sam hate. Yet I see you haven't called them out for starting it?

  16. Lord of the Night says:

    I am so sick of all the hate for Sera Gamble. I have thoroughly enjoyed this season and many of her episodes rank among my favourites. People act like she is single-handedly writing every episode and making every single twist and turn that they don't like. How do you even know that she was the one who suggested Bobby's death or Cas's death? If she said she did it then I haven't seen it. Maybe Kripke suggested Bobby's death, would you all start hating him for that?

    There is a whole team of writers on this show, and Eric Kripke is still a big part of this show, that make suggestions and write their own episodes. Sera Gamble is part of a team that makes these decisions, she does not make the end decisions alone. The team has to agree with an idea, polish it until its ready for the show and they have to make it work with the mythology.

    So quit hating Sera Gamble because you want something to complain about. I subscribe to the belief of this image,

    But while haters will hate, its still annoying to the fans who aren't looking for a reason to complain.

  17. JAC says:

    Wow….the comment posters here are pretty brutal. Come on, people. No show is going to be able to please everyone with every ep or every season. It's impossible because people like such different things. I ALMOST tuned out during the first half of S-6 because of the whole Soulless Sam thing, and I'm so glad I didn't because things picked right back up again and I'm still loving this show even if things have changed a lot.

    They CAN'T keep things static, no matter how much people think they love it. It WOULD get old eventually. I loved Cas and Bobby and hated to see them both go, but it's awesome seeing the guys having to get back to relying on their own skills and each other to get through this stuff without instant help and answers from Bobby and Cas. It had reached the point where they could pick up the phone or drop a prayer and, bam, problem three-quarters solved. So while I do very much miss Cas and Bobby, from a story-telling point of view, I'm kinda glad they're out of the picture, at least for a while.

  18. Micki says:

    It was an awesome episode! 1944 was so perfectly recreated, and I loved Dean geeking out with Eliot Ness himself. It was nice to see Sam interacting with the Sheriff. And I really liked what they did with Chronos, how he no longer had control over time because he was no longer worshipped, so he had to make the "sacrifices" himself in order to control when he would end up when he got pushed through time.

  19. casammy says:

    I love bobby and I agreed to castiel as an angel of the guard of dean and sam but I like this routine of returning to see the united boys and depending at all more one of other one, together against the world

  20. Rooty says:

    Wait, Prohibition lawman? Didn't the Prohibition end 1933? Or does that mean that guy was a lawman for that during the Prohibition period, but not in the 40s anymore? Not actually watching this show, just very interested in the Prohibition era as a setting. Can anyone having watched the show enlighten me?

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