The little show that came back from the dead

Cult favorite CW show Supernatural was only supposed to have five seasons, ending with Lucifer and the archangel Michael in an Apocalypse smackdown. But it came back for a sixth season coda. Here's why you should be watching. Spoilers!

Last Friday, Supernatural's mid-season finale "Appointment in Samarra" was a perfect example of what this show has done to expand its scope while still following through on a many-season plot arc that's hard to forget - the Apocalypse and its consequences. That episode delivers the gallows humor that has made Supernatural a fan favorite, while also opening a window onto some of the refreshingly complicated metaphysical questions raised in a story where God has gone missing, the angels are at war in a post-Apocalypse heaven, and our monster-hunting protagonists Sam and Dean Winchester are struggling to reunite Sam with his tormented soul.

Most shows in this genre would leave unquestioned the idea that having a soul is a Good Thing. Not Supernatural. Sam's soul was ripped out of him after Lucifer turned the poor guy's body into a meatsack, picked a fight with archangel Michael's meatsack, and subsequently got chucked into Hell's cage when Heaven won the war for Earth. Basically, the two ex-angels have had nothing to alleviate their boredom except playing Doom with Sam's soul. Would having such a wounded, tortured soul really be better than "being all Replicant" the way Soulless Sam is now?

Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs are just another set of entertaining myths

Then again, most shows dealing with Judeo-Christian-Islamic themes wouldn't overtly treat these religious traditions as myths whose importance is roughly equal to myths about faeries and shape-shifters. Indeed, the point of Friday's episode was that the powers of Heaven and Hell pale in comparison to Death, a terrifying creature who transcends time, existed long before "God" and "Lucifer," and loves junk food. Supernatural is sly enough to tweak the self-importance of what you might call the "Big Three" religions. But it's gutsy enough to actually deal earnestly with the big questions these religions ask about the meaning of life.

Though this half-season has been dealing a lot with what happened to the Winchesters in the post-Apocalypse, it's also been about what's going on in all the significant parts of the supernatural world that really don't give a crap about the Big Three. There are huge groups of monsters whose lives and deaths are untouched by God and Heaven. One of the season's big mysteries is what motivates these monsters. Do they have an ethical system? Are they evil? Where do they go when they die? The new "king of Hell," Crowley, spent several episodes trying to track down Purgatory - AKA the monster afterlife zone - because he thought it was great "Hell-adjacent real estate."

Monsters of the week, in Supernatural season 6, are never just that. They're also a reminder that the Big Three religions are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to cosmology.

Death takes a holiday

Now that we've brought the Big Three down a peg, Friday night's episode gave us a peek at one of those cosmological powers far greater than anything God or Lucifer could ever conceive. Desperate to make Sam whole again, Dean has himself temporarily killed so that he can talk Death himself into retreiving Sam's soul. Robert Englund cameos as the doctor who helps Hunters from the less-than-sanitary rooms behind a butcher shop.

And Death is willing to bargain. He'll rescue Sam's broken soul - and even create a wall around the damaged parts of it - if Dean will just wear Death's ring for 24 hours. That means Dean has to kill everybody on Death's list, and (usually) answer a few confused, tearful questions from their about-to-be-reaped souls. Things start easy - he kills a guy who was threatening a kid with a gun, then gives a typically rock-n-roll explanation of life's meaning to a cholesterol-snarfing guy he killed with a heart attack.

But then he discovers the ugly structure that underlies Death's role in the universe. When Dean refuses to kill a little girl with a heart problem because her father will be heartbroken, his act only unleashes more death. The nurse who would have been tending the dead girl goes home early, and is killed in an auto accident. Her heartbroken husband gets drunk and tries to kill himself. As one of the reapers explains to Dean, there's a "natural order" to Death's actions - any change to the order creates a domino effect. Given that both Sam and Dean have been brought back from the dead multiple times at this point, it seems that the brothers aren't just part of God's plan - or Satan's - they're somehow a tool of Death himself. Maybe they always have been.

Death himself later confirms this over a meal of bacon hot dogs. The brothers are a disturbance in the natural order, whom he'd like to keep unleashing upon the world. And that's ultimately why he decides to deliver Sam's soul back to him.

Why you should be watching

The post-Apocalypse season of Supernatural is much better than it has any right to be, helped by great writing from most of the same staffers who have been with the show from the start, including Ben Edlund, Sera Gamble, and creator Eric Kripke. Monsters and metaphysics make for pretty much the perfect Friday night.

If you haven't watched Supernatural yet, it's time to start. Seasons 3-5 are where the Big Three action starts to get intense - before that all you really need to watch are possibly the season openers and enders, where we get some back story on the boys' relationship with their father. You've got until January to catch up, when we'll get to see what happens when Sam gets his damaged soul back. Hopefully, we'll solve the mysteries of what's happening to Heaven, Death, and Purgatory. And along the way, we'll eat a few burgers with Dean in the brothers' midwestern stomping grounds.

Even if you can't catch up on the whole show, you can start tuning in next year while skipping back in time to take in the previous episodes. You have a lot to look forward to.