Supernatural returns tonight to The CW for its eighth season, picking up a year after the events of May’s finale, with the audience left to piece together through flashbacks what transpired during that time. In the premiere, demon-hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, find themselves face to face after enduring starkly different years: Dean fought for his life in Purgatory while Sam, believing everyone he knew was dead, moved on with his.
Struggling to find common ground, the two are forced to endure each other while they help Kevin (Osric Chau), the high-school student turned prophet of God whose newfound knowledge sets high stakes for this season: He knows how to close the Gates of Hell.
Spinoff Online attended The CW’s screening of tonight’s premiere, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” where writer and executive producer Jeremy Carver and director and executive Robert Singer were on hand to field questions.
Virtually every character experiences flashbacks in the episode, hinting at their actions during the year-long gap between the events of the Season 7 finale and tonight’s premiere – be it Dean’s bloody battle in Purgatory or Sam hitting a dog with his car. "I think flashbacks play heaviest in the first 13 episodes of Season 8," Carver said. "I say that with a small caveat because we're working our way through the season's second half now. There won't be flashbacks in every episode but they'll be there where appropriate."
He said using flashbacks opened up a dialog in the writers’ room, allowing him to "tell slightly different kinds of stories in that we're talking about relationships. Supernatural hasn't spent a lot of time on relationship stories, and this is a really nice mechanism to do that without imposing on the forward momentum of the main plot."
Something to watch early on is how Dean reacts to discovering Sam didn’t look for him during his year in Purgatory, and how long these feelings linger. "We wanted to look at this from a real jumping-on point and the idea of being truly alone," Carver said. "What does that mean and what kind of impact does that have on somebody. How might that affect their mindset. As for how long Sam is meant to pay for this -- one thing we particularly like about the first 13 is how we play with perception. Early on Dean is piling on Sam. Then they discover what they've both done the past year and how those tables turn on who has to answer for what. Everyone will get their licks in -- no one's going to be a beaten dog for too long."
Singer explained Sam's point of view early in the season, saying, "The end of Season 7 is the first time Sam was truly alone and had nobody. I don't think he knew what he wanted to do, and then he hit a dog [who in time will come to be known as 'Riot']. I think he got a taste of something he never had before and it had a profound effect on him. I don't think he expects Dean to understand nor does Dean expect Sam to understand what he went through. For Dean, so much so that he's keeping a secret about how he got out of Purgatory and who he got out with. So while Sam is trying to be forthcoming by saying his mindset is different, Dean is being less than forthcoming and judgmental.
"Sam found in this last year real solace and comfort,” Singer added. “His conscience was clear; the only thing that really brought him back was his responsibility for Kevin. His attitude is, ‘If we can save Kevin, I'm done [being a hunter].’"
Carver admitted to taking a radical approach to the look and tone of Purgatory. "I think a lot of times in shows talking about going to Hell or Purgatory -- the instinct in the room is to say we're never going to create a Hell or Purgatory that will live up to people's imaginations, so the instinct is to not go there. We went the other way this year and said we're going to go there, and it's turned out really successfully."
Singer added, "We wanted Dean's flashbacks to be a stark contrast to Sam's flashbacks, so what we decided on for Purgatory was a real lack of color, high contrast and desaturated look. It helped to convey the harshness of the place -- there's no good spot to lay your head down, no soft pillow or green leaves. The contrast with that and Sam's flashbacks, which are more diffused and dreamy, you get a sense his past year was kind of nice and warm and Dean's was cold and dark. Dean got a little more brutal in the last year."
"Dean came out of Purgatory with a surprising reaction in that it was pure down there," Carver explained. "One of the last things you'd expect going to a place so horrible is someone would actually consider it a happy experience -- Dean has to ask himself what was this primal side he connected with down there and how will he deal with that topside. This is where we'll really use Benny."
Plenty of foreshadowing is provided for Benny (played by Ty Olssen), a vampire who strikes a deal with Dean in Purgatory. Carver confirmed the character is "going to certainly be playing an important part this season. The idea of Benny will be hanging over our brothers pretty heavily as the year goes along. He's a guy who has a tremendous bearing and he's working out wonderfully as a really complex character. Benny adds an interesting wrinkle in our brothers' relationship and how they deal with it.
"Dean's actions with Benny in Purgatory are something that will have to be confronted at some point," he said. "During the flashbacks when Benny and Dean meet in Purgatory, there's reserve and general mistrust, but topside in the present there's a warmness. How do they get to that embrace? This is what the flashbacks will tell. It's the stew of Purgatory."
Carver also confirmed fan-favorite Cass (Misha Collins” will return this season, saying, "We're going to be going back to Purgatory steadily for 7-8 episodes. After that you're going to get a pretty good idea of what happened to Cass."
He went on to tease more characters. "We'll be seeing a healthy dose of Kevin. By virtue of seeing Kevin more we'll learn what he personally feels about being a prophet, going on this mission with the brothers to close the Gates and the personal cost for him,” Carver said. “We'll see how his willingness or desire to do the job rubs off on the boys. They're all playing off each other and linked here, so absolutely we'll see more of what powers Kevin. […] Crowley is set up to be an antagonist this season. We might see Meg. There's Amelia. Obviously there are some new characters -- some new angels we're introducing, like a mysterious angel named Naomi. I could keep going."
With the Winchesters’ mission to permanently close the Gates of Hell driving this season, it raises the question of what would happen if they succeed. "I think it might be overly sweeping to think that no demons means no hunt," Carver clarified. "There are so many other monsters in this universe. In the Supernatural universe, closing the Gates may eliminate a huge chunk, but certainly not all. Closing the Hell Gate is meant to be a seasonal arc but the questions coming up in this quest, and the series of reveals and discoveries, are meant to be given as underpinnings for questions and secrets to be explored in future seasons."
True to seasons past, Carver confirmed lighthearted episodes are in the works. "We're doing an episode dealing with what happens when you find yourself living in a cartoon universe. It will not be animated but it deals with cartoon physics in a real world. We will be doing an episode dealing heavily and fun-ly with the LARPing universe." He added jokingly, "One can only hope for a musical episode, but no immediate hopes."
Carver explained the scenario of a standalone "found-footage" episode, saying, "It's unlike any episode this show has ever done before."
Singer agreed, adding, "For 95 percent of this show you're living within this found footage. They are in it unknowingly, so it's crazy. It's really a good episode and compelling with some great guest stars. It features college kids dealing with a situation gone awry."
Carver said he's most excited about Episode 5 because "it deals with a good deal of flashbacks from Sam and Dean, plus vampires. It's really a meaty, emotional episode -- a nice turning point for the boys in the Sam/Dean relationship."
The Q&A session closed with the executive producers being asked what they think about Supernatural’s new Wednesday timeslot. Singer replied, "Ask us Thursday."
The eighth season of Supernatural premieres tonight at 9 ET/PT on The CW.