The Road Behind: Thoughts on Supernatural’s Final Episode

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the final episode of Supernatural. The first half remains spoiler-free and is a personal essay on the show and its meaning to me. The second half contains spoilers on how the show ended, as well as life lessons viewers can take from the show and its characters. (Don’t worry. I’ll alert you with glaring red text before the spoilers kick in so you can abandon ship and come back after you’ve had a chance to watch the episode for yourself.) Thanks for reading!

The last episode of Supernatural, television’s longest-running genre series, has finally aired and I don’t know how I feel about it. Having watched from the beginning, it’s tough to say goodbye to a show that was a fixture of my Thursday nights for nearly 15 years. Supernatural is one of those shows that, when you meet someone else who watches it and has just as many thoughts on the characters and plot twists, you know you’ve found a member of your tribe.

It’s a show that I sometimes didn’t know other close friends watched until one of us casually mentioned it — which then transpired into lengthy, in-depth conversations about Sam, Dean, Castiel, and all of their friends and frenemies. I also watched Supernatural with my boyfriend every week for 15 years as our “can’t miss” show. Through the years, he and I have had countless debates about different characters — mostly on the same page, but sometimes differing in opinion.

Supernatural was also my last remaining link to my father who also watched the show and would call me to discuss the week’s episode every Thursday night after it finished at 10pm. This was my ritual with Dad from the show’s start in 2005 (coincidentally, the same year of my mother’s death) until Dad himself passed away in 2009.

From the jump, I found the characters relatable. Like Dean, I have a younger brother I’m extremely close with, despite us being similar-yet-very-different people. Our mother’s passing affected us both in distinct ways. Also like Dean, I had a father I idolized and shared many traits with, and conflicting feelings about another parent (my mother) who I loved dearly, but felt she sometimes kept me in the dark in some respects while still holding me to her high standards.

Supernatural hit home for me and provided a springboard for many conversations with my father and a lot of great memories talking about the show and life in-general. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get my younger brother to watch the show. (Yet.) However, while Dad wasn’t around for the full run of the show (just like John Winchester), Supernatural gave me plenty to talk about with my boyfriend, my best friend Nicole, and several other friends I’ve stayed close with or made in the 15 years — a lifetime in itself — since it’s been on the air.

It’s been a helluva run. In today’s fickle world, most shows get canned after a few seasons. It was a comfort to have a show stick around for that long. Supernatural and its characters felt like family.

And while many characters have died during the show’s run (I’m still not over Bobby Singer’s death back in Season 7 and really miss Crowley and Rowena), one of Supernatural’s underlying themes has been that those who are gone and everything they taught you is never forgotten. The show also imparts the lesson that, in life, you must “carry on, my wayward son” because there’s always some darkness to fight — but there are also new friends to make along the way and a lot more life to live.

Supernatural: A Refreshingly Non-Toxic Fandom

Even at its darkest or even if you weren’t crazy about a particular story arc (I’m glaring at you, Leviathan season), Supernatural gave (and took) well-written, multi-faceted characters that you got attached to. Through talented writers, showrunners, and actors, the show came to life in a way that felt realistic despite its … ahem…supernatural backdrop.

Supernatural also bore the distinction as having one of the most welcoming and non-toxic fandoms. That’s refreshing in a day and age where being a dick (insert obligatory Dick Roman quip) is the norm. Rather, the cast of Supernatural made every effort to bond with fans and have used their celebrity as a platform to create positive change.

The show’s lead actors have all either founded or worked with multiple charitable organizations during their run on the show. Misha Collins founded Random Acts, a charity devoted to small and large acts of kindness around the globe. Jared Padalecki has worked to raise awareness and funds for mental health and depression organizations. And Jensen Ackles has worked with a diverse range of charities including Wounded Warriors and St. Jude’s. Additionally, many members of Supernatural‘s supporting cast are active with numerous charitable organizations.

You don’t often see a collective of actors who all seem to be a good bunch of folks, gathered on one show. I think that level of thoughtfulness really translated to the show itself, spawning such a devoted fandom that stuck with Supernatural for over a decade-and-a-half.

And that’s what makes having to say goodbye to the show so tough.

Warning: THIS is where the spoilers and discussion of the final episode of Supernatural kicks in. Turn back now if you haven’t seen the show and want to remain unspoiled!

Feeling All the Feels: Processing the Final Episode of Supernatural

I’ve had a full day to attempt to emotionally parse through the last episode of Supernatural and I’m still feeling all the feelings.

In theory, I would have loved to have a squishy, comfortable, open-ended finale with the boys still out there, hunting monsters together and keeping the world safe. Added bonus if they had Sam Elliot pop up as The Stranger to say, “the dudes abide. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ Sam and Dean are out there.”

However, the ending was also realistic. Sometimes, life isn’t fair.

It was not only shocking that Dean died, but that there was nothing metaphysical about his demise. That may have been what made it so effective. It was something that could kill any human — much like how Joyce Summers died as the result of a brain aneurysm in the gut-punching Buffy the Vampire episode, “The Body.” Dean’s death was sudden, shocking, and a jolt back to real-world scenarios where people can die suddenly as a result of a tragic accident.

Dean’s death occurred during what seemed like a routine hunt: staking out vampires and recovering lost children. Their much weightier task was behind them, having defeated a power-mad Chuck / God who was hell-bent on destroying every single dimension due to a petty beef with his favorite “characters” gone rogue from his story. Sam and Dean had saved the world and Jack was now the benevolent figure in-charge with Chuck now relegated to life (and inevitable death) as one of his own human creations.

The hard work was done and it looked like Sam and Dean would be off in the Impala, trekking around the country and hunting monsters, enjoying time together. And pie.

But sometimes life has a shitty way of saying, “That’s what you think!”

While Dean’s death was sudden, his mortal wound gave him time to say goodbye to his beloved brother Sam. Not everyone who has unexpected death foisted upon them gets to have a heartfelt goodbye with the people they love most in this world.

With his final words, Dean asked Sam to tell him it was okay to go. He wanted his brother to be happy without him.  In a montage showing Sam’s life after Dean’s death, it was clear he never forgot his brother and his extended family, blood or no. Sam named his son after his deceased brother and was often surrounded by photos of Dean, their parents, and loved ones at various points in his life.  Additionally, the protective tattoo on Sam’s son’s arm indicates that Sam either educated him in the ways of the hunters and Men of Letters, or at least kept him in the loop on how to protect himself from demons carrying a grudge.

The ending, while initially a bitter pill to swallow, made sense. If one of the Winchester boys was going to die, it had to be Dean. As much as the brothers loved each other, Dean was so duty-bound that he could not live without Sam and would likely treat every hunt as a death wish. Sam provided Dean with an optimistic buffer from his PTSD. Even when Dean had briefly settled into domesticated life during the period when Sam was gone at the start of Season 6, he couldn’t shake his sense of duty or the haunting feelings of guilt and pain. He preferred life on the open road with Sam to having a girlfriend and step-son. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them, but was that his identity as a hunter was so embedded in his DNA that it was almost impossible for him to adjust to a normal life.

On the other hand, Sam would be able to survive without Dean although he missed him. Sam was the type of guy who could ease into family life and find great comfort and joy in it. And in the end, that was what Dean wanted for his little brother: a chance to be happy and raise a family of his own without the life of a hunter hanging over his head.

So, even if Dean’s cause of death was something as run-of-the-mill as a giant, rusty, metal spike, his legacy (along with Sam and the rest of their extended family) was saving the world. He could “lay his weary head to rest” knowing that they had made the world — and even Heaven — a much better place.

The Use of Music in Supernatural‘s Final Episode & Bringing the Journey Full Circle

The episode’s use of music was both on-brand and well-chosen. Sam’s mourning period set to Dire Strait’s “Brothers In Arms” added extra emotional resonance and fit the scenes perfectly. (The song was used before to equally impactful effect in the 1986 Miami Vice episode, “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run.”)

And while the final episode shirked the tradition of kicking off with montage of “The Road So Far” set to Kansas’s “Carry On My Wayward Son,” the song made its appearance later in the show. The show’s unofficial theme was heard during another pivotal sequence, juxtaposing a brief moment of Dean’s time in the afterlife with Sam’s journey through marriage, fatherhood, and old age in the earthly realm. For longtime fans of the show, the song holds great significance and is always played in the opening to the last episode of every season. To have it used near the end of the episode instead of introducing the action familiar way brought the journey full circle.

On that note, I found Supernatural‘s version of the Afterlife to be a comforting one. Everyone had their own plot of land. It was fitting that Bobby — the gruff-yet-nurturing father figure to the Winchester boys — was there to greet Dean and share a beer. (I will always mark out for Jim Beaver as Bobby Singer. Period.) The mention that Bobby’s best friend Rufus just lived “a few miles across down the road” was a nice nod, as was that the Winchester boys’ parents lived nearby, too.

While Castiel and Jack didn’t appear in the episode, Bobby provided exposition that Sam and Dean had laid the groundwork for the angel and the fledgeling God to remake Heaven into a more comforting place. Essentially, the life Dean lead paved the way to the Afterlife he and many others deserved.

The Afterlife, as envisioned by Supernatural, is simple: You’re surrounded by the people you love. You have enough space and freedom to do what you wanted to and to appreciate the simple things so often missed in life due to the compulsion to pursue a sometimes daunting destiny jam-packed with responsibility. In the Afterlife, there’s time to sip a beer with your friend or go for a drive on a beautiful stretch of open countryside with the radio blasting.

What We Learn from Sam & Dean At the End of the Journey

While I would have loved an open ending with the boys still out there, cruising around merrily for monsters in the Impala, in a way, that ending is a selfish wish. And at its core — like most great fantasy genre shows — Supernatural is about selflessness. Every single one of the characters fans have loved and lost on the show died putting the greater good before their own desire to live.

With that in mind, maybe the ending encourages us to be a little like Sam and a little like Dean in our own lives.

Dean teaches us that, when our final hour is upon us, we can go out asking those we love to absolve us of our duties. And in turn, we absolve them from any responsibility they may feel to “honor” a loved one by picking up their mantle and carrying on. Like Dean, we need to recognize that our path and our duties in this world end with us and that the only obligation our loved ones have to our memory is to live life to its fullest and be happy.

From Sam, we learn that you can let the past go while still honoring those you love. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. That sometimes, the best way to honor someone you loved and lost is to find your own happiness and enjoy the road ahead of you, wherever it may lead.

And in the end, we’re all reunited in our own form of Heaven — if that’s what you choose to believe. Personally, that’s what I choose to believe. Time is a human construct. What feels like a lifetime here on Earth goes by in the time it takes to cruise down a stretch of highway in a ’67 Impala in Heaven. And that’s the hopeful, happy ending that Supernatural gave to its fans.

It’s easy to be dismissive and say, “it’s just a show.” However, if there’s anything that 2020 has taught us, it’s that life can take you in unexpected and often unpleasant directions. But if you have family and friends who are the family you choose, it makes it bearable. So, Supernatural, thank you for 15 great years and for fostering so many great philosophical discussions with loved ones, sparking the imagination, and shining a light in the darkness.

Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

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