SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Carry On,” the series finale of “Supernatural.”
For 15 seasons the Winchester brothers of the CW’s “Supernatural” put the rest of humanity’s needs ahead of their own, so it is only fitting that in their final episode they were still doing that same thing and ended up getting the “heaven [they] deserve.”
The series finale, “Carry On,” started as a throwback episode to the monster-of-the-week format of the drama’s earliest days, full of callbacks and references to what made audiences fall in love with the show — and the boys — in the first place. They may have been able to write their own story with Chuck (Rob Benedict) out of the picture, but that story still included the family business — even though it meant losing one of them. And for once, dead on “Supernatural” really, truly meant dead.
This time on this seemingly regular case, rescuing the next generation of brothers (with parallels to the young Winchesters, dragged into a life of the supernatural in their own way), Dean (Jensen Ackles) was impaled on a post and told Sam (Jared Padalecki) to stay with him, rather than call for help.
“You always knew it was always going to end like this for me,” said the man who survived having the archangel Michael inside him and going up against God himself.
As Dean was fading, he reminisced over the origins of the show by admitting to Sam that he didn’t know, when he showed up in California to pull his younger brother out of college and ask him to help him find their father, whether he’d tell him to “get lost or get dead.” And he told Sam he didn’t know what he would have done without him — a sentiment felt around the world as the #SPNFamily has been contemplating that very same thing as the end of the show has inched nearer.
Dean made it to Heaven — and the Heaven “it always should have been,” as Jack (Alexander Calvert) and Castiel (Misha Collins) reset things so those who had passed on could see loved ones again and make new memories, instead of traveling a road of their old ones. (It’s hard not to imagine who might have popped back up for one last cameo had COVID-19 not required two-week quarantines in Vancouver.) Meanwhile, Sam managed to build the life he had attempted the last time he thought Dean was gone for good, and when he grew old and sick his adult son (who he named Dean) echoed the words he had said once upon a time to his brother: “It’s OK, you can go now,” reuniting the Winchesters at long last.
Paying homage to the show’s beginning at the beginning of the series finale was not only a way to respect its origins and everyone who took a chance on it from the beginning, but it also served to drive home the selflessness of the Winchester family business’ motto of “saving people, hunting things.” There were times through the years where both Dean and Sam took brief detours from the life, but after defeating the vengeful God Chuck in the penultimate episode and being, in the words of Dean, “finally free,” they didn’t chuck it all and head to Vegas or sit by a lake drinking beers all day. They climbed back into Baby and got right back on the road to do what they do best.
Other, less dedicated characters and shows wouldn’t have done that. These guys, after all, could have theoretically done anything. The show could have even ended with that penultimate episode, “Inherit the Earth,” leaving the audience on an image of the boys driving down a long, open road but having to make up in their own minds (and fan fiction) what became of their lives in a universe where the new God Jack was their friend but also the spawn of Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino).
Instead, driving down that open road brought them back to their roots. And driving down an open road in Heaven bookended the series, as Dean once again picked up Sam, this time not from Stanford but in the afterlife.
It was poignant that Dean and Sam jumped back into the regular hunting life after facing down the greatest cosmic being they ever would. Neither one of them questioned the job, nor seemed to feel resigned to or reluctant about it. Although the show started with Sam desperately trying to leave his unconventional childhood behind him as he attended Stanford, and although both Winchester men attempted “apple-pie” lives at various points in the series, they both came to accept, claim and truly choose their life’s work.
And what amazing work it was. Aside from the countless lives they have actually saved over the years (that is math too high for this writer to feel confident about), they also managed to make a chosen family, not only bringing together people who would otherwise never cross paths but making them care so deeply for each other they were willing to put themselves in harm’s way, if not downright sacrifice themselves, for each other.
Between the other hunters, such as Bobby (Jim Beaver), Eileen (Shoshannah Stern), or Ellen and Jo (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal, respectively); every day people who, after being helped by the Winchesters, became a part of that hunter network too, from Jody (Kim Rhodes) to Charlie (Felicia Day); Castiel, and other other-worldly beings including Crowley (Mark Sheppard) and Rowena (Ruth Connell) who came in handy from time to time, the Winchesters’ world expanded greatly from their lonely childhood of growing up on the road with mostly only each other as company as dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was off on a hunt.
And let’s look at some of the most recent and most emotional sacrifices a little more closely. Most notably, in order to save Jack, Castiel made a deal to give himself back to the Empty, a place deemed worse than Hell. The real rub was that he would be yanked there at a time of pure happiness on Earth. In the third to last episode of “Supernatural,” Castiel verbally acknowledged that he loved Dean — and humanity in general — and, despite also saying he realized what would make him happy was something he could never truly have, it was enough for the Empty to come calling.
In a way, Jack, too, sacrificed himself. After absorbing the power radiating off of Lucifer and Michael (Jake Abel), he was strong enough to also take Chuck’s power — which also meant taking Amara (Emily Swallow). As he became the new all-mighty being, he walked away from his life with the Winchesters into the great unknown. After all, he noted, when Chuck put himself in the story things didn’t turn out so well.
Realistically, given everything the show has depicted for 15 seasons about power corrupting humans who learned spells or summoned demons to make deals, to say nothing of angels and other other-worldly beings as well, the series finale could have jumped a number of years into the future to show that Jack, too, had to be taken down. However, not only would that have required a whole lot of exposition to cram into a 40-odd minute episode, it would have undone so much of the messaging the show imparted in the most recent years: The Winchesters may have started out saving people and hunting things, but along the way some of those things proved to be worth saving, too. And there is something both extremely hopeful and poetic to leave on that note, even if it didn’t work out with everyone (cough, Jenny, cough).
But even more poetic was the Winchesters’ reunion in Heaven. Being decked out in the clothes they wore when they first reconnecting 15 years ago was one thing, but the idea that NOW they were finally free after years of dedicating their lives for others was … well, I haven’t quite found the words yet, which is what I shouldn’t admit as a writer.
For 15 years they formed a bond amid fire — often literally — and now they can sit back with each other and enjoy a relationship free of danger around every corner. They can see all of their lost loved ones again and make some new friends along the way — friends that, for once, they don’t have to fear losing. They can rest knowing they left a better world behind, simply for being in it.
Ever since “Supernatural” first used Kansas’ “Carry on Wayward Son” at the end of the first season, it became an anthem for the #SPNFamily, and hearing it — and multiple renditions of it — in the series finale was emotional all on its own. There was a lot to love about the song, starting with the connection that the name of the band was the Winchesters’ home state. But personally the lyrics always felt foreboding. Sure, there were some poetically perfect parallels in there, including “On a stormy sea of moving emotion/Tossed about I’m like a ship on the ocean,” and singing that “there’ll be peace when you are done” certainly always implied that the world would be a better place when they were able to finish their work, vanquishing all the monsters. But as the Winchesters’ faced down more formidable foes season after season, from Azazel (Fredric Lehne) to Lucifer to Abaddon (Alaina Huffman), the Mark of Cain and God himself, it often began to feel like their work wouldn’t be done unless they sacrificed themselves. And how could there be peace then? A world without Winchesters, as “Supernatural” depicted with in its 13th season, was literally apocalyptic.
Outside of the show, the longer it ran, the more invested we became in our heroes and it equally became hard to imagine feeling peace when they were gone from our lives, meaning when the show came to an end. Announcing the final season months ahead of its premiere on the CW — and announcing that it was their choice to end the show — offered opportunity to get used to the idea of being without Dean and Sam and the show in general. The COVID-19 pandemic pausing their production and pushing their final batch of episodes to the end of the year gave even more time for that — and the unexpected hiatus was also a taste at what it would be without the show in our lives.
In that time I, a self-proclaimed dumb-dumb (for lack of better word, but perfectly capturing the tone) when it comes to music, listened to “Carry on Wayward Son.” A lot. I probably heard it more times in the months between April and November 2020 than I had ever before in my life. And I finally learned to stop fixating on the parallel I was drawing from “peace when you are done” to the literal of the show ending because of course Kansas, releasing the song in 1976, was not telling me things would be better when “Supernatural” was over.
The song overall is about a search for meaning, and “Supernatural” was a source of meaning for so many people, myself included in at least one essential way. It’s also about resilience — to keep looking for that meaning and, to borrow a term from Padalecki, to “always keep fighting.”
So instead, I thought about the journey “Supernatural” took me on: being my first entry into the world of entertainment journalism on a professional level, which effectively introduced me to some of my closest friends and some pretty amazing people in the industry in general; being the reason I traveled to Canada for the first-ever time; showing me the perfect portrait of leadership and selflessness, and reigniting my passion for psychology while simultaneously making me care more about genre programming than I ever thought I would.
And then I thought about the journey of “Supernatural” in a broader sense: how it grew from a show on the brink of cancelation into the longest-running broadcast genre series, even surviving the end of its original network; how it connected millions of people around the world who found friendship, solace, support and sometimes even romance in each other; how those same people banded together to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for numerous charities; how it gave breaks to previously unknown talent both in-front-of and behind-the-camera, all of whom, thanks to the leadership of the Nos. 1 and 2 on the call sheet, took a sense of graciousness, passion, intense dedication but also pure fun to their next jobs as they spiderwebbed out across film and television.
For 15 years “Supernatural” was comfort but it was also revolutionary and, though it may be done now, there is peace because it existed at all.