Arts and Entertainment

The Road So Far: A Look Back on “Supernatural”

Take a look back on The CW’s “Supernatural” as the series comes to a close after 15 years: its highs and lows and the massive impact it has had on 21st century media.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

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By Rachel Chuong

** Spoilers ahead on “Supernatural” up to season 15, episode 19

Viewers will tune in one final time to The CW’s “Supernatural” on Thursday, November 19. After 15 years and over 300 episodes, the show has gained name recognition and touched the hearts and minds of people all over the world. “Supernatural” follows brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) on their quest to hunt and kill a host of supernatural creatures. After their mother, Mary (Samantha Smith), was brutally murdered by a demon when they were children, the boys, along with their father (Jeffery Dean Morgan), are set on finding the killer demon and returning the favor. But over the years, it becomes much more than that, as the Winchesters get tangled up in the battles of heaven and hell, pitting them against not only demons, but also angels, Satan, leviathans, the Antichrist, alternate dimensions, and God himself. It’s been an extremely long road for the characters and viewers. As the show comes to an end, it’s important to look back on a series that has made an undeniable impact on the first decades of the 21st century.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or have never watched a single episode, there is a high chance that the name “Supernatural” rings a bell. From online usernames to a reaction image in a tweet, allusions to “Supernatural” are hidden everywhere. The series has had a massive impact on our generation’s history and culture, without many of us even realizing it. While most high school students didn’t know about the show at the height of its popularity in the early 2010s, the “Supernatural” era defined internet culture and still remains in the minds of many young people today.

And there are many reasons why fans would flock to such a show. If the series can last for 15 years, it has to be good. It has a plethora of characters that viewers have loved and cherished over the years, none more than the “self-hating angel of Thursday,” Castiel (Misha Collins). “Supernatural” owes much of its success to Cas, both in the universe of the show and in ours. Many fans have pointed out the correlation between viewership and Castiel’s screen time. In fact, the legacy of the show is widely agreed to hinge on whether or not he is brought back from the dead in the series finale. The angel has wormed his way into the hearts of almost every fan, and it’s no wonder why. Over the years, fans have watched Cas learn how to be human, sometimes for comedic relief, how a warrior of heaven learns how to create a voicemail, but more significantly, how to feel and love. He’s possibly the only character on the show that has done everything in his power to be good. Characters like Cas have been idolized by fans (whether or not many characters should have been aside), and there is no doubt that the strong sense of morality and positive message the show promotes has helped save lives.

Additionally, the cast of Ackles, Padalecki, and Collins knows their characters extremely well and have played them superbly since the beginning. It’s amazing to watch the dedication that goes into every line and microexpression that has helped shape these characters and make them real in the hearts of thousands, if not more. I personally have never found another series with actors who can play characters in such a way that you can see layers upon layers of subtle emotions, which have helped to bring the story to life over the years.

Furthermore, while the show has fallen off in recent years, the writing in the first five seasons is spectacular. There is no denying that the character arcs of both Sam and Dean are executed extremely well, bridging the span of the whole five-season arc, testing their humanity and their relationship as brothers. Each season’s plot builds upon the previous one, creating a continuous, organic arc. The very first episode of season one was always building up to the season five finale, something every season afterward has lacked. The subsequent arcs feel disconnected from each other and strung together out of necessity to keep the show going.

The only exception to this is the arc of Jack Kline (Alexander Calvert), the son of the Archangel Lucifer. It’s clear the writers had a plan even before his formal introduction in the season 12 finale and put careful dedication into the resolution of his character arc in the penultimate episode “Inherit the Earth,” in which he finally fulfills his destiny of becoming God. It is clear that everything Jack struggles through was purposeful. He suffers but retains his heart of gold. He brings a new dynamic to Team Free Will—Sam, Dean, and Cas—and they all become more whole with his presence.

It’s important to recognize that because “Supernatural” first aired in the early 2000s, a much different social climate, many viewers today would be shocked and offended by much of the content. And while it may not be as openly awful as it once was, the bigotry has evolved to be more subtle yet just as cutting. There is hardly any representation, and when there is, the token characters are either poorly written or brutally killed. There has not been a single POC main character throughout all 15 seasons, and hardly any others have appeared at all. While there have been several female characters who are in fact great, the writers hardly ever focus developing them, and for the most part, they only exist to aid the Winchester brothers. While this hasn’t stopped characters such as Claire Novak (Kathryn Love Newton) and Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day) from becoming fan favorites, fans recognize that the writers for the series should have done a much better job at incorporating them.

Finally, of course, the infamous homophobia in the show remains controversial. The show started out in its early seasons being able to make homophobic jokes, and though there have been massive changes for the LGBTQ+ community over the past 15 years, the series hasn’t improved its portrayal of the handful of openly LGBTQ+ characters. These characters either show up for a few minutes in one episode or follow the “bury your gays” trope: getting killed off for no reason.

What has made the homophobia of “Supernatural” so well-known among fans and nonfans alike is the queerbaiting of Dean and Castiel’s relationship. “Supernatural” is the poster child for this marketing technique for years, as the pairing has been a fan favorite since Castiel’s debut. Almost anyone who has watched “Supernatural” could tell you that the pair are more than friends, and they’re right to do so. The pair, affectionately dubbed Destiel, has been a central pillar of the series for fans for years. There is no one else Dean has mourned so desperately, with whom he would trade Sam, the little brother he would go to the ends of the Earth for, in a heartbeat. Every time Cas has died over the years, Dean has visibly fallen to pieces. Dean, jokingly dubbed the most emotionally constipated character in the show, has only ever let his guard down around Cas, someone who he himself has admitted that he can barely live without.

In the 18th episode of the final season, “Despair,” Cas sacrifices his life in order to save Dean from Death and in his final moments, professes to him how Dean has changed him for the better and given him the ability to love. This declaration of love was so powerful that it overshadowed even the rumors of Vladimir Putin’s resignation on November 5. Critics of the show and the scene have pointed out that this final confession that fans have been waiting 12 years for is inherently homophobic, as Castiel is killed immediately afterward. This could be remedied in the final episode if Castiel is brought back (again) and Dean is able to reciprocate his feelings, but for now, it is just another example of the show’s refusal to have openly LGBTQ+ characters unless they die.

This does not negate the impact this moment had on fans after years of being called crazy for believing in a couple they knew would never get together. This moment was the final confirmation and fulfillment of hope for so many people, a moment that took years of fighting from several writers and cast members to accomplish. Ironically, for all their homophobia, the writers of “Supernatural” wrote one of the greatest and most famous homosexual love stories of the 21st century.

Fans, however, have not come back year after year just because the show is good. They come back for the connections they’ve formed with the characters, seeing them as comparable to loved ones. While no fan will ever hesitate to explain to you the issues they have with the series, part of them—the part that fell in love with the show, the part that made them feel like they could be heroes—found a family with this show.

And at the end of the day, that is what the show is all about: family. “Supernatural” is a heartfelt tale of two brothers who would do anything for each other and stick together through even the toughest of times. Who, despite a harrowing—and most likely abusive—upbringing, are able to find and build a family. They lose, over and over again but come back each time just as strong. It’s a story of love, loss, freedom, and above all else, resilience. It’s sad to say goodbye to Sam and Dean Winchester, who have had such a massive impact on so many people’s lives. As the Winchester Gospel comes to a close, I look back fondly on the way the series has helped shape me into the person I am today, and it warms my heart to know that the boys will be going out the way they always intended: guns blazing.