November 19, 2022.
One year ago today, the Supernatural family watched Dean die in a barn during a vampire hunt. Castiel was gone, taken in a moment of happiness by the Empty entity. Jack had vanished with a smile on his face, the new god of free will and blades of grass. Sam “carried on”, creating a life without his brother or his adopted family, dying of old age and natural causes after getting married and raising a son.
Sam and Dean found each other in Heaven, reuniting with the simple greeting, “Hey Sammy,” answered only with “Dean” and a tight embrace.
Those were the last words ever spoken to us by Sam and Dean Winchester.
Cue the wide, pull out shot of breathtaking scenery, goodbye waves and heartfelt words of gratitude.
Our hearts broke. Tears flowed like a torrential flood. I cried again after writing only these past 100 words about that day a year ago. So, I waited until my eyes dried before illustrating my text with these images of the show's last moments with us. Yep, cried again just looking at them. That’s how fresh and real the love and grief for Supernatural and all those boys was, and still is, felt. Was it all worth that many tears?
That is just one of the questions that can be asked on the first anniversary of Supernatural's finale, "Carry On". How do you feel about the entire experience of being a part of a fandom that was so deeply dedicated to a television show? Would you do it again? Does it hurt any less a year later? I’m not sure I want to answer any of these questions myself, because it means acknowledging feelings I’ve spent a year burying as far down inside me as possible. But it might be worthwhile to check in with ourselves and each other to commemorate something that was so very special to all of us.
So, One Year Later…
How has the passage of time changed how you feel about the series finale?
Have your read or written fan fiction to replace any part of the finale that didn’t match how you wanted the show to end? If so, how much have you read/written? What changed in these alternate endings?
Do you think the show should have ended sooner, gone on longer, or ended at the perfect time? If so, when and why?
Do you have any regrets about being a part of this 15 year journey?
Remembering the vital, daily volume of interaction the SPNFamily generated during the show’s tenure, AND the bitter fallout after the finale, what is your lasting, overall impression of the SPNFamily?
Did watching Supernatural substantively change you? If so, how?
What do you think is Supernatural’s legacy?
For my part, I am still processing the finale. My opinion of it hasn't changed, and the grief it generated hasn't numbed at all. It's not so much that I miss seeing Sam and Dean every week. I'm actually okay with that. Life goes on. But the reasons why their ending broke my heart a year ago weren't changed by time, reasoning, or any of the well-intentioned counter-arguments that were offered by friends or fandom. My feelings are the same as they were when the boys first said goodbye.
Yet, I'm still hoping for healing perspectives creeping in over time. Just this month I read a chapter in the newly released book A Supernatural Politics* that gave me a new and uplifting interpretation of Chuck being the big bad who was stripped of his powers and banished to live an ordinary life. It was one of those “huh” moments, where a conclusion is intuitively obvious to one person but never occurred to another.
A recent panel discussion with some friends over at Con-Tinual entitled “One Year Gone” also helped me realize that each fan probably viewed the finale through the same lens they use for their everyday lives. Do you expect reality to be harsh and unforgiving, and are surprised when you catch a break? Do you believe life is and will always be inherently hard? Then the finale probably seemed realistic to you. Good guys don’t always win. The best we can hope for is maintaining a balance, a stalemate, with evil. Alternately, do you believe that every good deed truly makes the world a better place, and that we should keep believing in and striving for happy endings because they really do happen in life? Then you probably didn’t get what you wanted in the finale. All the other members of the panel (3 aside from me) loved the finale so, to state the obvious, every fan internalized the finale in their own way.
There isn’t a right answer. Destiel shippers had very different reactions than non-shippers. 15 year veterans perhaps reacted differently than bingers. Young and older adults may have seen different things in the four boys' separation and (presumed) reunion.
I've come to believe that we each reacted to the ending according to our personal definition of “reality.” It may be as simple as the glass half full/half empty metaphor, but I think it’s far more ingrained in each of us than that. For example, I believe in Heaven. It doesn’t make logical sense and I’d have trouble defending the belief in a debate, yet it is a part of my psyche. I believe it on faith. So I expected Sam, Dean, Castiel and Jack to be reunited and live joyfully in the afterlife. It was satisfying and redemptive to actually see it happen, but of course it was what awaited them after death. Subconsciously, I never questioned that final reward, so that “peace when they were done” wasn’t enough. Of course, the writers certainly could have deprived Dean of that peaceful drive in Baby, and not ever had Sam find his brother after death, so I am truly, sincerely grateful that the boys at least got such a tenderhearted “final reward.”
But before that heavenly embrace, I wanted to see them win, then find peace in this life – beliefs that I also guess I hold as fundamental tenets of life. Arguments like “What show have you been watching?” or “Supernatural was a horror show. What did you expect?” don’t alter my view because I always saw Supernatural as hopeful and encouraging. The boys were rewarded with the security of each other’s unshakeable love, a magical place to live, an adopted family that would die for them, and friends to confide in and trust. In many ways, despite the horrors and unthinkable traumas in their lives, they appreciated what they had, which made them luckier than many people in the world. To me, Supernatural was always inspiring.
So I’ve found that debates about the finale are really about debates of our view of “reality.” At least, that’s what I’m thinking after year one. Ask me again on the second anniversary. Maybe I’ll have a new insight by then. More than that, though, I’m hoping it won’t matter because the Supernatural prequel will be a tangible probability and we’ll be one year closer to a Supernatural revival. My coping head canon is that this is just one LONG hiatus, and the Supernatural movie will resurrect the Winchester brothers to live out long lives with each other. That’s a reality I can live with.
Carry On Always,
I found it very interesting to go back and read the emotional reactions our staff experienced immediately before and after the finale, so I offer these links for nostalgia, comparison to now, or healing. I believe they will help:
What Are You Feeling Now that Supernatural is Over? (Dec.11, 2020)
The End of Supernatural, or Here I Go Again
and my absolute favorite, that makes me sob every single time I read it, Learning to Let Go... of Supernatural (written by Gail Dunn, whom we lost in 2021).
Nate Winchester wrote his own ending for for the same events we were give in season 15. His beautiful, surprise ending offers an alternate explanation and character interpretation that will warm your heart. Follow along with Sam, Dean, Castiel, Jack and friends as they save the world one last time: "Supernatural Finale: With or Without You"
* A Supernatural Politics: Essay on Social Engagement, Fandom and the Series an anthology edited by Lisa Macklem and Dominick Grace (2021). I am honored to be included in this collection with the chapter, "Driver Picks the Music: Tracing Supernatural's Long Road Trip to Discovering Fan Identity"