A seven-week hiatus can be rather maddening. Given Supernatural’s explosive season four and the mind-boggling material that’s been presented for ten episodes, this long time to reflect has left me with more questions than answers. I’m sure I’m not alone.
Thankfully Sera Gamble, supervising producer and writer for Supernatural, an instrumental player in developing the show’s story lines, was generous enough to answer some questions about season four during the break as well as address a few of my other curiosities. She even opted to tackle a few fan questions I sent her way.
Below is part one of my two-part interview in which Sera gives her thoughts on the introduction of angels to the mythology, the introduction of Castiel, Dean’s faith issues, and Sam and Ruby's strange relationship. Heck, she even talks about the life-sized teddy bear.
This is where I must offer the standard spoiler warning, but I wouldn’t call them heavy spoilers, more like teasers. If you don’t even want hints though, stop right here.
First, congratulations on season four so far. It's been generating some big buzz and the increased ratings are proving that. How happy is everyone about that?
We're happy. Also surprised. Eric [Kripke] emailed us the day after the premiere and I marched into his office holding my bowl of Cheerios like, "You're lying. We did not pick up a million viewers." He just shrugged and said he was a shocked as I was.
You guys went there! Just when everyone had written off the idea of angels appearing, we get not only one but two badass angels in the most spectacular way. When it was pitched in the writers' room that angels would drive story line this season, was it obvious from the start that they would be wrathful, unfeeling, and flawed in their blind obedience, or did that evolve over several episodes?
Angels weren't pitched in the writers' room. Eric started talking to me about them just before hiatus. They'd sorta been in our hip pocket, but I don't think the show was ready for them before now. I've discovered, working on Supernatural, that a lot of good ideas don't work at all until the time is right. And then they just slot magically into place. This was like that.
Our notion of the angels has evolved a bit, yes. Less that they're different in their construction, more that we've become more thorough and creative in developing them as individuals and weaving them into the story. There's an episode coming up that opens in Castiel's point of view. That's a strong indication of how central the character has become this season. It was an organic evolution; we discovered that we were just unexpectedly inspired by these creatures. It was clear to us that when they were in the sandbox, cool stuff happened on the playground. And it's interesting to me, by the way, that you call the angels "unfeeling" and "wrathful," because I don't see them that way. Castiel wrestles hard with his obedience. Turns out it's really hard for angels to walk among humans and not get kinda… involved.
Castiel's character is a gem, and the casting is even more inspired. He's got quite the deep conflict going inside of him since he's gotten to know Dean and it's all told in the eyes. Is everyone there pinching themselves over having an asset like Misha Collins to work with? What direction do you anticipate Castiel taking, especially in his relationship with Dean?
I doubt anyone needs me to point out that Misha is doing a great job. He's very sharp. As for the direction Castiel's going, I don't want to give away too much. In his relationship with Dean… Castiel genuinely likes Dean. And that is going to create difficulties for him.
Where are the sources of inspiration for the story lines coming from? While I love how the show is carving its own mythology and keeping us guessing, my Google search on 'Rising of the Witnesses' came up empty, as did the 66 seals. Are the stories being created on actual legends, or are you having fun with us?
Rising of the Witnesses is our twist on some of the actual stuff in the Book of Revelation, about the dead rising from their graves. We twisted it up quite a bit; hence our assertion that the version you find in motel rooms is "just for tourists." Our regular monsters, you can straight-up Google. But our mythology tends to reflect a bit more mental ping-pong. We don't want to just retell the same old thing.
At this point, I couldn't begin to say where inspiration comes from. I can't watch a brownie commercial without trying to turn it into a pitch for an episode.
Dean and Sam's faith issues this season are particularly compelling. You wrote so well Dean's conflicted struggle over the fact that angels and God exist in "Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester". That must have been an exciting direction to take, especially after you introduced his issues in "Faith" and "Houses of The Holy". How pleased are you with how Dean has slowly been embracing his faith and the way Jensen has been selling it?
I guess I must be deeply interested in this stuff, because I end up writing about it over and over. I like the turn Dean took this season, because it was so unexpected and because we laid so much groundwork in previous seasons. I feel like we earned Dean being rescued by an "angel of the lord" and then calling him a dick and continuing to doubt that there's a God. Needless to say, Jensen kills it. Very talented actor, that Jensen. You may have noticed.
Yeah, I think I’ve heard a few positive comments on that Jensen guy. On the other side, Sam's faith is now slowly eroding after meeting the angels and finding they aren't merciful plus they want to stop him from using his abilities for good. How much fun has it been to setup that parallel, both brothers changing directions on their beliefs?
It kinda writes itself, right?
It certainly does! Still, those words of Castiel’s ring in my head, “Stop him, or we will,” along with Sam’s heartbreak over the angels’ disapproval of his powers. Can we hope that someday Sam will find at least personal redemption for his actions?
What Sam is doing isn't cut and dried. Basically, the way I look at it is to put myself in Sam's shoes. He can't do anything about the fact that he was dosed with demon blood when he was six months old, and it changed him forever. He's trying to make lemonade out of some seriously fucked up lemons. Which is what a hero would try to do. At this point, Sam's a pragmatist. He knows he can't change what he is. He's all about the results of his actions. So, yes: saving people.
Speaking of parallels, first there are the demons, who get that way after forgetting their humanity, and the angels, who haven't walked among humans in 2,000 years and are pretty out of touch themselves. It seems the two sides aren't all that different and I'm assuming that plays a role in why Dean was chosen. How excited are you over the possibilities this sets up?
We'll be laying out the specific reasons Dean was chosen. Stay tuned.
I need to take a few sentences to gush over "I Know What You Did Last Summer." The script was gorgeous, as was Jared's performance of Sam at his absolute lowest point. You gave him some outstanding material to work with. Out of all your scripts, that so far is my favorite. Having said that, did the ridiculous fan debate about Sam being a rapist prompt you to give Ruby an empty shell to inhabit (great line, by the way, "Al Gore would be proud") or was that the plan all along?
We started work on the episode before any debate began that I know of, so none of it was a reaction. But we did know that Sam having sex with a demon would be provocative. Actually, I was very excited to work on the episode. People do a lot of otherwise unthinkable things when they're grieving. Who doesn't want to write the episode where a character they've worked on for 70 episodes does stuff he'd otherwise never do?
But anyway, the state of Ruby's body was the subject of much conversation, mostly because I couldn't shut up about it. I just couldn't get past the rape thing. I think I actually disappointed some people I work with, who thought I'd be tougher or darker or something. Or possibly just didn't care as much as I did one way or another. But I took a lot of writers' room time talking about it. And ultimately took the long way around so I could get her into a vaguely more morally acceptable body. I readily admit it's rather silly, and the mechanics are contrived — that's why I leaned into the joke so much.
Did you write Sam and Ruby's sex scene to be like Monster's Ball, or did that come from the direction? I loved it by the way and it so fit with how broken their characters are.
I referenced Monster's Ball right in the script. We were asking ourselves, "Where's the lowest place Sam can go in a state of despair?" That's why calling it a love scene strikes me as hilarious. It's kind of like self-mutilating and calling it getting dressed for the prom.
Speaking of Ruby, her character has caused quite a stir again this year. There's a vehement debate that she's carrying a hidden agenda, while others see her benevolence and truly developing feelings for Sam. She also seems to be winning Dean over. I gotta say, I love the ambiguity. How fun has it been to write for her character this season?
Ruby's fun this season because so much has changed between her and Sam. Actually, more has changed than we've gotten to so far — there's stuff coming up later in the season that's useful in further understanding their dynamic.
I see you got another promotion this year. Congratulations! Are there increased responsibilities with "supervising producer", or is it just an impressive title change? Does this mean more visits to the set, or do you coordinate from LA stuff like casting snakes and reptiles and pink-bowed Yorkies to have their fun with Jensen? Who was the genius that found that giant teddy bear costume?
These kinds of title bumps are built into contracts. There aren't specific responsibilities that go with the title, but it's true that I've picked up some new tasks this year. But the majority of my time is always spent working on the story side of things. I don't go up to the set; I work with the folks up there by phone and email.
We built the teddy bear. Many swatches of fur were FedExed to the office and scrutinized with great seriousness. You'd think we were redesigning the Batsuit or something.
I've enjoyed seeing some new writers work their way into the show this year. Have you had to take any of them under your wing? Are there any episodes other than your own that you've played a pivotal part in?
They're all under my wing. They're great. Since there's a constant rotation of several episodes happening at once, I'm almost always working with someone.
Coming up in Part 2, Sera gives her reaction to Jared Padalecki’s answer over whether he cringes at her scripts, talks highly about Eric Kripke, and graciously answers some fan questions.