It truly is the end of an era.
The CW president Mark Pedowitz has sat on stage at the network’s Television Critics Assn. press tours for years now saying that “Supernatural” would go on for as long as its stars felt they had more in them. True to his word, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins announced on social media Friday that the long-running demon-hunting series would come to an end with Season 15.
“Supernatural” is a show that survived multiple network presidents, as well as the WB’s merger with UPN to become the CW. It revitalized TV tie-in merchandising, created a whole separate business around conventions, and launched the careers of dozens of writers and actors, and at least one journalist.
An assignment about “Supernatural” was the very first professional writing gig I ever booked. It was the spring of 2008 and I was just starting to seriously consider a career change after the writers’ strike kept me out of work for a few months and put the fear of not being able to eat or pay rent into me. During those months I began blogging — and being that I was not working, I had a LOT of time to watch and form opinions about television. It was also during this time that I first started watching “Supernatural,” admittedly, yes, seasons after it initially launched.
Like many, I knew Jensen Ackles from “Days of our Lives” and Jared Padalecki from “Gilmore Girls.” Their casting in “Supernatural” during pilot season of ’05 did not escape me. But also admittedly, I wrote the show off as “just” a monster-of-the-week procedural. I had not gravitated toward genre programming in my youth, and I didn’t think that would change as an adult.
“Supernatural” first became an escape for me during a tumultuous professional time. Immersing myself, for 42 minutes at a time, in a world where the Winchesters could save the day from literally any hellish creature staring them down was escapism at its finest. But to my great pleasure and surprise, the show ran so much deeper than that. It was about the connection between these wayward sons who had lost so much at such young ages and got up every day to selflessly put everyone else ahead of themselves.
While Dean (Ackles) and Sam’s (Padalecki) bond was enough to keep me coming episode after episode, it was “The Benders,” two-thirds of the way through the first season, that really spoke to me. After 14 episodes of meeting cleverly crafted special effects monsters and apparitions, the villain in this one was “just people.” And watching the Winchesters’ horror, surprise and sadness when they realized that spoke volumes. They could vanquish every evil element from centuries’ old lore, but they still wouldn’t be able to save the world.
Cut to the spring of 2008 when Creation Entertainment was throwing its first-ever “Salute to ‘Supernatural'” convention in Los Angeles, and I was ready to try my hand at journalism in earnest. Although the show was still very much a “small” show — it had a dedicated group of fans but was perpetually on the bubble when it came to renewals in those early seasons — I managed to convince the editors at a pop culture website that they should send me to the convention. And yes, it did take some convincing: I wasn’t going to be able to interview any of the actors attending, but I would sit in on panels and meet the show’s audience members, many of whom had flown across the country to attend, to report on the sense of community that had sprung up around the show.
It was a community that embraced me immediately — because that’s just the kind of people they are. Although through the years in-fandom fighting has reared its head (because the #SPNFamily is a family like any other and families fight), it is a community that has raised thousands of dollars for charities and reached across datelines to support each other when one of its own was battling an illness, lost a loved one, struggling financially, or having thoughts of self-harm. And that day they supported me, by opening up honestly, emotionally and willingly to talk about their love of the show and how it was about so much more than just being entertained.
That one article, for a website that sadly no longer exists, spurred countless followups during the time I worked there, and at every place I have worked since. For six years I worked primarily at consumer-driven entertainment websites that often dictated its content by what performed well, and the power of the #SPNFamily meant the words I wrote would be read and shared many times over. It inspired me, and it emboldened me to continue and create a career out of what I had always been told was just a hobby.
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, ironically just months after that “Salute to ‘Supernatural'” assignment, we sat watching the third season’s “A Very Supernatural Christmas” episode during what we both knew would be her last winter holiday. It was supposed to be Dean’s last one, too, in that episode, after he had made a deal to give up his life in exchange for Sam’s. The show got renewed and Dean obviously lived (well, he died but then was “raised from perdition”). Much like the Winchesters, my mother and I didn’t say much to each other during those moments, but it was enough to share the moment and connect to the episode with her, the way we had connected over Ackles’ work on “Days of our Lives” so many years earlier (but that is a story for another time).
Over the years Dean and Sam have gotten much better about sharing their emotions, most often as they sit side-by-side in their beloved Impala. Those “boy melodrama” scenes, coupled with how they literally died for each other time and again, have aided in subverting the stereotypical depiction of action heroes. Sure, they know how to handle themselves in a gun fight, a sword fight or hand to hand combat, but their true strength is in the vulnerability they are willing to show each other, and their own extended hunting family.
The show has tackled a lot in its 14 seasons so far. It has told tales of demon possession, angel warfare, a world in which teddy bears could come to life and the Titanic didn’t sink. It killed off mothers, fathers, surrogate parents, friends and the actual leads of the show — often to see those characters return, sometimes in new forms. It made an angel (Collins’ Castiel) and the devil himself (Mark Pellegrino’s Lucifer) beloved series regulars. It saw the boys team up with the very beings they once swore to kill, no questions asked — giving the characters opportunities for growth. It rewrote the bible, introduced a God who left the humans to fend for themselves and created a reality in which Dean and Sam were never even born.
It has gone meta and brought the #SPNFamily into the narrative through a student musical and at times been extremely intimate, spending multiple acts of episodes dedicated to the pain in Dean and Sam’s mind, such as when the former returned from purgatory with PTSD and the latter was detoxing from demon blood. Its characters — and the audience by extension — have seen many wins but countless heartbreaks, too, such as those aforementioned deaths or the moments in which they gave up relationships and chances at a quote-unquote normal life to carry out their family business. The show fought for #TeamFreeWill but never shied from the harsh truth that so much is out of one’s control.
The 20-episode final season has a tall order of paying homage to so much that has come before it.
The battle cry for the “Supernatural” audience has become “carry on my wayward son, for there’ll be peace when you are done” (Kansas, 1976). But whether the show chooses to end its story with an apocalyptic explosion or a long shot of the Impala driving down a dirt road as the Winchesters are off on another hunt, this time to occur off-screen, it will undoubtedly be awhile before the #SPNFamily can truly come to peace with the fact that the Winchesters won’t be saving people and hunting things on their screens anymore. It hasn’t been a perfect show, but it’s been ours for for a decade and a half — enough time for a second generation of #SPNFamily members to be born and get hooked on the show, especially thanks to producer Warner Bros. Television’s Netflix deal. But what we should all take solace in is that they are going out on their own terms and that the community and the memories they created will live on long after those final end credits roll.