With her permission, I'm quoting her email in its entirety here:
Season 4 of Supernatural turned out much better than I had feared, and I heaved a sigh of relief when Uriel wanted to go all "Sodom and Gomorrah" on that hapless little town. It would have been indeed very boring to have the "angle and daemon" business turn into a showdown between Good and Evil.Incidentally, I did send her the first four episodes of season 5, and she has wonderful thinky thoughts on that as well!
I suppose, of the Thousand Faces of Hero, Greek Mythology holds the most appeal to me as building materials for dramatized conflict. These gods are brave yet petty, capable of incredible as well as terrible deeds. None of them could claim exclusivity on righteousness or wickedness, and what blessings or curses they bestow upon the mere mortals almost invariably stem from what could only be called human instincts. In other words, they are the most human -- neither absolute Good, nor unmitigated Evil.
(My theory on that is, much of what we know of Greek Mythology today had been told by the likes of Homer but committed to written form by well-educated men. All together it constituted an important part of religion for ancient Greece during the height of that civilization, which was blessed by prosperity, diversity, and hence liberalism and sophistication. Either as a body of literature or a belief system, it is deeply insightful into the complexity of human nature. In comparison, the Hebrews were too preoccupied with suffering while Arabian Nights, materialism.)
But I digress. Back to Supernatural, I was quite blah about S1. I agree with you that "Dead in the Water" is exceptionally cinematic, yet the story itself just seems so... bland, nothing that tucks at heartstrings or evoke thoughtful debate. In fact that's how I feel about most episodes in S1 -- flat, thoughtlessly violent, occasionally grossed out (e.g., "Bugs").
S2 opens with "In my Time of Dying" which is a welcome change. I agree with you that Dean's pain and guilt makes a very good storyline, and for me that emotional content made it my favorite season thus far. In that vein, I also like "Heart." The way the narrative culminates to the point where Sam does the brave thing to kill that which he loves makes it a very powerful episode.
On the other end of the emotional scale, S2 is balanced out by good comic relief. To date, Loki from "Tall Tales" remains to be my favorite villain on this show. Not at all good, but not pure evil, either. Almost like an overgrown kid with a twisted sense of humor (and, incidentally, I was very happy to see his return in S3's "Mystery Spot"). "Hollywood Babylon" to me seems like a spoof, but the sharp wit in its observation on the creative process is almost biting. Speaking of, did that producer guy remind you of Jerry Bruckheimer?
Good acting also starts to emerge in S2. One of my gripes about S1 was the poor quality of the guest stars -- the actresses were especially bad that oftentimes I imagined my teeth hurt. Then "Number Six" showed up and blew them all out of water. Tricia was just one of the good actors on BSG, but here she is phenomenal in comparison. Her acting elevated "Road Kill", a virtual ripoff of The Sixth Sense, to a moving piece for me.
S3 has some very poignant moments as well. "The Kids Are Alright" gives an unexpectedly touching revelation about Dean's psyche, considering his entire life has been, in one way or another, devoted to serving others. And there is the tragic "Fresh Blood" where a man is turned into that which he hates the most -- can any punishment be more cruel? The bartender in "Sin City" is memorable, because she shows the possibility of "true belief" by a daemon, as strange as it may sound. So is Elizabeth in "Malleus Maleficarum" because, as a quite ordinary (and even silly at times) housewife, she gave her life so the good guys could win the day.
All that good stuff being said, I think S3 revealed a problem quite fundamental -- this writing team does not excel in positive characterization of strong, independent women. Throughout the show, women are either victims or villains, and the only "positive models" seem to be the stereotypical nurturing types. Bela had potential, but it was never fully fleshed out before she was dispatched off. You could be right about the writers' strike being the cause, but I am not sure that was all of it. Look at how S4 ended, and a pattern seems to emerge -- the strong women entering the Winchesters' lives all have some nefarious designs. Which, if you really think about it, is a quite juvenile notion.
The other problem I perceive is the characterization of daemons. After 4 seasons and the revelation of their master plan, most of these guys still come across as one-dimensional characters. The only exception could have been Ruby, but she was summarily dismissed as yet another manipulative b!tch. All things considered, there seems to be no redeeming quality in any of the daemons to elicit sympathy from the viewers, and for me this lack of sympathy has translated to apathy. This is why, despite the intriguing narrative, I can't bring myself to care about the Epic-scale Conflict the show seems to be working towards.
Consequently, the S4 episodes that I liked have practically nothing to do with angels or daemons. "Metamorphosis" is a retold Frankenstein story, a tragedy that never fails to move me. "Criss Angel is a Douchebag" is a poignant commentary on growing old: when the ravage of time robs you of everything else, will you give up the only good thing in your life to do the right thing? "The Monster at the End of the Book" is just funny -- to think of prophets as bad writers of their time! And how can one forget "It's Terrible Life" where the boys finally cleaned up nice for once?
To give credit where it is due, the writers are doing a tremendous job developing these boys. I love everything you said about Dean, especially the comparison to Kara -- had Kara turned out the way Dean is, my BSG-love would have been complete. You said it was fashioned after Han Solo; if true, then score another point for my "juvenile notion" remark. Props to the actor to make it more complex! While Han Solo remains one of my favorite onscreen heroes, as seasons of my life change Aragorn of Lord of the Rings holds increasing literary appeal to me. And I'd love to see Dean as a similar warrior-protector-redeemer, who is not immune to guilt or self-doubt, whose aid to a seeker's Quest brought him closer to his own destiny.
And, in that same vein, I'd like Sam to turn out more Frodo than Luke or Anakin Skywalker. All are burdened with a blessing-turned-curse, Anakin succumbed to the dark side, Luke triumphant over it, while Frodo resisted the temptation but never fully recovered from the physical, emotional, and psychological wounds. Frodo's is a more powerful, complex story, one in which a Hero's destiny never truly fulfills his own dream, and yet so changed by the Quest that he finds himself utterly alienated from those he once knew. He is the hero who can never go home.
Then, perhaps, that's a bit too dark for popular television. Heck, I'm not even sure I'd like it; when RDM did something similar on BSG, I was royally p'ed off. Still haven't recovered from this sense of shattered dreams. Which pretty much says, no matter how seasons change, we probably hardly change who we are deep-down.
Bring on S5!