Supernatural spoilers – including the final episode – follow.
After 15 long years of fighting everything from hillbilly cannibals to God, Sam and Dean Winchester finally hung up their plaid in the highly anticipated Supernatural finale.
When a show that long-lived comes to an end, you can’t expect to produce an ending that will please everyone. But it seems that when showrunner Andrew Dabb joked that only 30% of viewers would be happy with the ending, he might have been right.
The finale ended with Dean (Jensen Ackles) dying during a low-stakes vampire fight, leaving Sam (Jared Padalecki) to grow old with a son and an out-of-focus wife, until they were reunited in Heaven.
The two brothers ending up in Heaven – along with Bobby (Jim Beaver) – isn’t the part of the finale that fans have taken offence to. Rather, they’re furious with the way the show, after making great steps towards being more inclusive and progressive, jettisoned its supporting cast at the last moment, including all the women, the people of colour, and, perhaps most egregiously, the show’s deaf female love interest Eileen (Shoshannah Stern) and queer angel Castiel (Misha Collins).
Supernatural started in 2005 as a stereotypically ‘manly’ show. The boys wore a lot of flannel, carried a lot of guns, banged a lot of chicks and drove the sexiest car on TV. Early seasons of the show featured homophobic slurs, very few people of colour and female characters who were either mothers or whores, and who usually died pretty quickly.
But 15 years is a long time, and as the show developed its “family don’t end in blood” mission statement, new characters began to stick around, starting with immediate fan-favourite Castiel in season four.
It was a rocky path for the show, and they made mistakes. They drew justifiable flak for killing off plucky lesbian hacker Charlie (Felicia Day) and lovable prophet Kevin (Osric Chau), both popular characters and both representing minorities. The producers seemed to take the criticism on board and the show steadily built up a roster of excellent female characters, as well as introducing more LGBTQ+ characters. The show also started adding in more and more indications that Dean’s relationship with best friend Castiel might not be platonic after all. That, however, was mostly viewed as queerbaiting – something else the show has definitely been guilty of.
Going into the final few episodes of season 15, there was a real sense that the show was poised to fix the mistakes of its past and morph into something that better reflected its own fanbase, and the world it was being made in.
The villain of the season was God himself, or ‘Chuck’ (Rob Benedict), the author of all of the Winchesters’ misfortunes, allowing the writers to directly criticise some of the show’s previous failings.
Sam’s final love interest being a deaf woman was revolutionary for American network TV, but all eyes were on ‘Destiel’. Season 15 was littered with painful break-up scenes and tearful prayers of apology, all while Castiel’s feelings, at least, were increasingly plain to see.
Come episode 18, Castiel declared his love in a self-sacrificial gesture to save Dean, before immediately being dragged to the much-mocked super mega hell in an especially blatant example of the ‘bury your gays’ trope. But that wasn’t the only episode 18 death – they also killed Eileen, alternate-universe Charlie and her new (Black) girlfriend. (And the rest of the planet, but those characters all died explicitly.)
With two episodes to go, fans expected a mass-resurrection, which in some ways is what they got. Jack, the new God (Alexander Calvert), restored the world. But many character fates were left hanging in the balance: Did Charlie return to her original dimension, or is she still in Sam and Dean’s, with her girlfriend?
What about Eileen, who had earlier been unlawfully resurrected – did she end up back in Hell? What about Kevin, who was last seen wandering the Earth as an untethered spirit, doomed to go insane? And where the heck was Cas?
The finale answered none of those questions, nor did we get to see any of Sam and Dean’s found family, apart from Bobby. Hunter Donna (Briana Buckmaster) was mentioned, and Bobby told Dean that Jack saved Castiel from The Empty. But we didn’t see Castiel or Jack, nor do we get to see Dean’s response to Castiel’s declaration of love.
Dean didn’t give Cas an outright no, and in the world of Supernatural that amount of sexual ambiguity is apparently enough to get you impaled on some rebar and unceremoniously buried (or burned, in this case).
The producers were happy to use Castiel’s “homosexual declaration of love” (as Collins called it) to generate buzz and boost viewing figures going into the finale, but refused to actually address it in a meaningful way. We’re back to queerbaiting at the eleventh hour.
We also don’t get an answer on whether or not Sam ended up with Eileen. His blurry background wife could have been Eileen, but Shoshannah Stern wasn’t in the episode, so we can’t be sure. And anyway, who cares whether Sam’s wife is an actual character or not? All that really matters, apparently, is that she gave him a son that he could name after his dead brother. We’re back to that old mother/whore dichotomy of Supernatural’s early days.
Over the course of 15 years, Supernatural had evolved for the better. The main characters and their supporting cast were richer, and more diverse (although the show never did fix its race problem). But after years of telling us how important found family is, the show doubled-down on the blood bond between the brothers, to the exclusion of all else – from the impressive female ensemble, to the show’s third lead character.
Supernatural had the chance to end on a note of celebration, knowing that the ultimate villain of God was defeated. They had the chance to put out a message that the choice to be whoever you are, and surround yourself with the family you choose, and find power in that, was a beautiful thing.
Instead, it reverted back to the early, outdated era of the show, and left us with two unfulfilled and co-dependent brothers.
But, hey, at least they got a dog at the end, right?