Monday Sep. 13 marked an important birthday: the hit CW show “Supernatural” turned 16. Though the show finally ended last November, it remains culturally relevant, with a fandom that won’t die and actors who thrive off of chaos. It’s crazy to think that all this mess started with the two Winchester brothers on a quest to find their father.
I revisited the “Supernatural” pilot episode for the anniversary, and I am once again shocked by how good it was. It’s a true horror show. It’s gritty and compelling and scary. Yet between the fear, there are comical lines and the beginnings of some truly complex characters. Dean (Jensen Ackles) is the perfect amount of cocky with his oversized leather jacket and infuriatingly charming smile. Sam (Jared Padalecki) is wonderfully sincere, a college boy with an even mix of compassion and anger. The pilot is home to so many iconic lines that used to constantly fill my tumblr homepage—like “Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole.” The show is far from perfect, but I can remember the appeal, why 15-year-old-me fell in love in the first place.
The characters are compelling and the plot lines seem clear. Two brothers on a road trip, hunting monsters, on a journey to find their missing dad, listening to classic rock and eating in diners and sleeping in motels. John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is set up to be a terrible father—something the rest of the season will confirm. Dare I say it, but season one is good. Sam has psychic powers, viewers start to appreciate the Winchester family dynamics and it all just feels like it fits. Every plot point has a clear purpose. Sure, it has some classic early 2000s-era problems, but overall, a solid start.
However, the show definitely does not stay as good as the pilot, and instead takes viewers on a journey filled with racism, homophobia, bad graphics, worse acting and plots that never really hit their full potential. Even the good parts were bad. “Supernatural” was about two brothers, a 1967 Chevy Impala and family. It grew in culture and theme to become a phenomenon. It was supposed to be creator Eric Kripke’s male fantasy: two manly men, muscle cars, hot women, no rules. It ended up being about characters who fight their universe’s God and yet are still unable to break free of toxic masculinity. Beloved side characters we met along the way were constantly reduced to the sidelines, usually killed. As great as the Winchesters are, their friends are also so compelling, so it hurts to see them repeatedly killed off for shock value.
Most notably, the Winchester’s canon best friend for 11 years, an angel named Castiel (Misha Collins), is murdered over and over again. They bring him back every time—potentially due to fan outrage if you read into the metaphors in season 15—but it still hurts to see your favorite character explode and drown and get stabbed. Ironically, if you focus on Castiel only, “Supernatural” becomes a wonderful tale about breaking free of your toxic family, rebelling for love, earning forgiveness and raising a child. It takes creator Eric Kripke’s male fantasy of hedonism and Hell, and makes it as a beautiful canonically queer love story about righteousness and free will. However, half the writers won’t even acknowledge Castiel’s existence, so there’s really no joy here.
It’s impossible to either fully praise or condemn any of the writers on the show. Kripke, who managed the first five seasons, had a wonderful vision for the plot, but it was filled with morally questionable aspects, like women only existing to sleep with Dean. Later writers tried to amend those mistakes, but ultimately failed, only ever with side characters, often accidentally. Castiel only exists because of a writer’s strike that prevented the “Supernatural” staff from wrapping up the season three plot lines. Kripke even admits to having a “no angel policy” in early seasons. Crazy, right?
And yet, I still watched the whole thing. I did break free for a few years, fed up with the nonsense of the characters endlessly dying and coming back to life. But even I could not resist the allure of the finale—15 years of a show, finally being tied up. I frantically binged the seasons I had yet to see, easily falling back into old habits, watching as many as six episodes a day to try to catch up in time to see how it would all wrap up. Obviously, I was disappointed.
With a finale that bad, you would think that the fandom would die off, that they would be so betrayed by endless death and the world’s choppiest finale and just give up. Pursue a new show, maybe. And yet, much like the Winchesters themselves, the fans refuse to quit. Recently, Destiel—the ship of Dean Winchester and Castiel—hit one hundred thousand works on ao3, the most popular fanfiction site. Many cast members, including Collins, attended a convention at the beginning of the month, once again trending the show and highlighting new information. “Supernatural” has truly gained a cult-like fanbase, and yet it started so simply. “Supernatural” had essentially no budget when it aired, and was originally planned to be only five seasons long. It was through the fans that it got to stay for 15 years, to leave an impact (albeit not a good one) strong enough to trend on tumblr almost every day.
“Supernatural” is a hard show for me to reckon with. On one hand, I genuinely believe that “Supernatural” is the worst written show of all time. On the other hand, the secret good version that lives in my head is the most compelling script ever written. The subtext and offhand implications add layers upon layers to these characters. The problem with a series going on for 15 years is that there are countless different writers, each with their own vision of who the characters are and how they should act. (Personally, I believe in Steve Yockey supremacy.) This results in so many inconsistencies that the writers have accidentally created some of the most complex characters. If the writers would lean into those complexities, maybe this could’ve been a respected show, but alas, the finale proved that it was always and only a show about two brothers, a muscle car and no rules.