Significant Mothers of Supernatural Part Two: The Surrogate
(For Part One: One-Hit Wonders go here.)

The Winchester Brothers have had their share of loss. Their family has never been large, forged more in arms than in blood, to be sure. From the first moment that the boys meet her, in her own way Ellen adopts the boys - tough-loving them as she does her own daughter. Throughout the series, Ellen has demonstrated many faces ranging from deft huntress to mournful mother. She serves to bring a maternal element to the series in mostly non-conventional, gun-slinging ways.


Ellen is first introduced to us in Everybody Loves a Clown as an old friend of John's who knows about the hunting life. When they first meet, Ellen is holding a gun to Sam when she realizes they are the Winchester brothers. Throughout season two, the Roadhouse and Ellen herself become a touchstone for Sam and Dean and what's nice is that with Ellen, what you see is what you get. Ellen Harvelle isn't a mother-figure in the traditional sense of the term. She's tough and does what needs to be done, many times disregarding her own safety in favour of protecting those around her. When we first meet Ellen, he has a daughter of her own and her first and fiercest loyalty is to protect Jo. In this respect, Ellen affords Sam and Dean more equal footing that her own daughter as a hunter and serves to be a sister-in-arms. Nevertheless, even older sisters have surrogate-mother tendencies (trust me, I know, it drives my brother nuts).
     

The respect Sam and Dean offer Ellen shines through at many moments in their relationship. Memorably, Dean's respectful fear for Ellen also comes through in the way he abides her authority in Simon Says he tells Jo he won't "run off" with her largely because of her mother, whom he claims to be afraid of. Actually, he seems to greatly respect her, similar to the way Sam and Dean respond to Bobby as an authority and grant him full respect.
Ellen 
Ellen's motherly instinct shows in "No Exit" when she calls Dean looking for Jo, not believing for a second that Jo went to Las Vegas. In "No Exit" we also learn that John was involved somehow in the death of Ellen's husband and what's admirable is that despite this, she continues to help his children. In fact, she didn't mention this to Sam and Dean - it was Jo who revealed this truth to them, perhaps to spare them (further) damaging the reputation of their deceased father?

The last appearance of Ellen is in AHBL:2 when Ellen turns up at Bobby's shortly after demons attack the Roadhouse, leaving nothing more than rubble. This is one of the few times we see Ellen's emotion as she and Dean embrace.  

Here, Ellen stands with the boys (one of many times) ready for whatever is coming. Like a mother, she also knows something about self-sacrifice and doesn't flinch when Jake has her point her own gun to her temple, threatening to kill her through induced suicide if Sam and Dean don't obey him. To this her response is simple - take Jake out and never mind what happens to her. At the end of "AHBL: P2," she still stands with the boys - no mention of them making a mess (as other characters do repeatedly throughout the series), just an offer to help them clean it up. A mother if ever there was.

Years later Ellen re-encounters Sam and Dean in "Good God, Y'All," again while holding a gun on them and throwing holy water on Dean - and like a true mother hassles them for failing to stay in touch, especially for not letting her know Dean was alive. 

  
 "Real glad to see you boys. [hug then slap] The can of whoop-ass I oughta open on you“ you can't pick up a phone?! What are you, allergic to giving me piece of mind?"
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When asked if Ellen seemed a surrogate mother to the boys, Ellen's real-life counterpart recognized Ellen's role in the Winchester's lives:

"Yes, if I had to say in one way or the other...they definitely listened to Ellen and looked up to her. She was a living connection to their dad...they needed a mother type figure but on a regular basis, I was more of an equal to them in terms of my ability and knowledge of what was going on. (Supernatural Magazine, Issue #16)."

In the end, Ellen makes the ultimate sacrifice of her life for two reasons; her daughter, who is dying and whom she won't let die alone and to give Sam and Dean a fighting chance by kicking some hell-hound ass.

"I will always love you, baby." These are the last words Jo hears before she dies, cradled against her mother's shoulder just before Ellen blasts the hellhounds back to Hell. Truly the epitome of a mother's love and self-sacrifice for her child(ren).

What is consistent with Ellen throughout the series is that those she adopts are under her protection forever, regardless of circumstance or association. For a while, she was solid ground for Sam and Dean to regain their bearings and when it counted, she was always there with a helping hand. While not a mother to the Winchesters in the strictest sense, she is nonetheless a significant mother figure in the Supernatural world that touches the lives of Sam and Dean in considerable and powerful ways.

Comments  

Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-08-06 04:07
Elle, a strong woman like Ellen - a great gift to the viewers of Supernatural. She can serve, I think, as an example to younger women in terms of how to be gutsy, loving and intelligent all in one. She's vulnerable but never giving up. Personally, I hope to be like that when I get to that age.

To the brothers, she has been probably more than a mother... another part of the family that don't end with blood, the kind of rock they knew would always be there - and always missing in their world (and in ours, as I will go on missing Ellen in this show).

Thank you so much for this lovely tribute to a lovely woman. Love, Jas
Karen
# Karen 2010-08-06 08:59
Hi Elle
Thank you this was a beautiful tribute to Ellen.
I really liked her character and how she was there for the brothers. I really hated that they killed her off, but after all it is Supernatural.
Damn you Kripke!
But on a happy note I have to say every time I hear ‘Cold as Ice’ it does bring a smile to my face.
Elle2
# Elle2 2010-08-06 11:07
Elle,

Wonderful tribute to Ellen Harvelle! I love this character. She is one of the few female characters the show had no difficulty writing well and she was consistently the same character each and every time we saw her.

Thank you for offering this excellent tribute to a character who will be sorely missed -- but perhaps like Ash she will unexpectedly reappear!
Bevie
# Bevie 2010-08-06 11:22
Aw, I loved Ellen from the getgo and was extremely upset when we lost both her and Jo.

Wonderful tribute indeed to an awesome character who will be missed dreadfully.
alimac
# alimac 2010-08-06 13:17
I agree totally Ellen is an example of a brilliantly written character we didn't know a huge amount about her but the way the writers portrayed her allowed us to fill in the gaps, the boys accepted her immediately like I think the viewers did as well, it was like you knew instantly who she was and what her motivations were
I think part of the reason why ellen was a popular character was because the actress who played her (so sorry I can't remember her name) is just amazing, she was ace even when she didn't have a lot to do like in good god y'all
I cried so much when her and jo were dying, she was so brave and dignified
Freebird
# Freebird 2010-08-06 16:34
One of the best female characters on tv! Well written and well interpreted. The kind of woman I wouldn't mind to be like - not just when I get to her age. I don't think I was ever more sorry to see a character go than her.
I'm glad I got to know about Samantha Ferris, will surely be keeping up with her work, she's an amazing actress!
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-08-06 19:55
Oh, R.I.P., Ellen. I'm going to miss her a lot. Thanks for this very nice tribute to an amazing character, Elle.
Evelyn
# Evelyn 2010-08-07 13:58
This is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful character. Thanks for this. I loved Ellen and was very sad to see her go. Would have loved to have her around a little while longer. And I totally agree that Dean and Sam latched on to her really quickly in a motherly type of way, but also as equals. There were several facets to that relationship and depending upon the situation would depend upon their actions and reactions with her. She was a wonderfully written character that we saw just too dang little of.

Question though, about her slapping Dean in Good God Ya'll and saying you can't call me to give me peace of mind - did she mean when Dean got back from Hell, not calling her, or after the Apocalypse started and not calling her? I'm not clear on that.
elle
# elle 2010-08-07 20:31
Hi All,
Thank you for your comments. I started this before Ellen died but I had trouble with this piece because she is such a special character and I loved her. I am glad that this seems to have come across in the article.

Evelyn - I took her comment to mean that they didn't call her and let her know Dean was alive because when season two ended, she was there and knew about the Apocalypse having started up and season three began only about a week after season two (if I'm not mistaken) so presumably she went off to battle in her own corner of the world and was never informed if Dean was able to get out of his deal or not. IMO, it didn't seem as though she'd thought Dean was dead persay but in fact that she didn't know one way or another. Good question though.
Evelyn
# Evelyn 2010-08-08 05:54
Thanks for some clarification Elle. Being that we never saw Ellen in Season 3 or 4, I guess they kind of left that open to interpretation. So, I like your thinking on it, that she didn't know one way or another if Dean was alive or dead, that makes sense.