The End of Supernatural: Review and Retrospective

Photo Courtesy of The CW
Photo Courtesy of The CW

Anastasia Dziekan,

It’s time to admit it– Supernatural is a show fundamentally at odds with its own fans. The final episode aired on November 20th, bringing to an end its 15-season run, and despite assurances from cast and crew that the ending would be satisfying, many fans were left feeling hollow.

Some of that negativity can be attributed to (Spoiler Alert) both protagonists, Sam and Dean Winchester, dying by the end of the episode. But ask any fan and they’ll tell you it’s more than just the dying. It’s the absolute emptiness that surrounded it.

In the 18th episode of their 15th and final season, Supernatural did something unexpected. The characters Dean Winchester and the angel Castiel had been viewed by many fans of the show as perhaps more than friends, as their dramatic plotlines often led to much time spent on the relationship between the two. Self-sacrifice, lingering glances, and not-so-subtle gay jokes led to the creation of the ship “destiel.” Over the seasons, shoehorned female partners for the two of them, and an understanding of the nature of the show itself, seemed to send a clear message that, while they were more than willing to tease– to “queerbait”– if that’s what kept fans watching, they didn’t seem to have any intention of making the pairing a reality. It seemed that way, that is, until season 15 episode 18: “Despair,” in which Castiel openly confesses his love to Dean. It’s a scene that’s genuinely emotional and raw, with the character crying yet smiling with the joy of his realization that he is at peace with saying it out loud. It’s a scene that’s not up for interpretation as platonic– it’s a declaration of romantic love. It left a lot of fans feeling vindicated by a confirmation that they hadn’t been crazy all these years, that the feelings were there. Castiel then immediately died.

His death was a culmination of a deal he made seasons earlier, and an act of self-sacrifice to save Dean’s life. Fans were disappointed, pointing out that the choice to kill off the character felt in line with the “bury your gays” trope. Others felt dissatisfied since, technically, requited love between the characters was never confirmed. Dean doesn’t say “I love you too,” and Castiel seems under the impression that he wouldn’t want to. But in Supernatural, as all loyal fans

know, death is rarely the end, especially not for a main character. Dean, Sam, and Castiel have each died many times over, and been brought back to life through increasingly convoluted means. Many fans, thus, still had hope for a return for Castiel sometime in the final two episodes of the show. It just wouldn’t make sense to leave such a fan-favorite out of the finale, right?

Well, the finale came and went, and excitement turned to dread turned to disappointment with each passing minute. The finale felt lifeless, absent the characters we’ve come to know and love. Castiel does not return, and Jack, another fan-favorite, left in the episode before. We are left with only the brothers, and they struggle to carry the entire weight of 15 seasons’ worth of expectations on their shoulders. The actual plot of the episode is fairly basic, reminiscent of the monster-of-the-week episodes that the show was known for. The monsters are vampires, there is a callback to a character from season one that just about no one remembered or cared about, and it is solved with a straightforward fight.

The fight itself is standard enough, but it ends in a shocking way, with Dean stabbed through the back on a piece of rebar. He tells Sam not to call anyone, gives a monologue, and then promptly dies. It’s an anticlimactic death for a beloved character, having come as a random accident in an otherwise unnoteworthy fight. It is made only worse with the context of the previous episode, in which the Winchester brothers literally defeat capital “G” God. It felt out of place, it felt forced, and it felt too small. It’s exactly the way Dean himself expected to go, if his comments throughout the many seasons of the show about “going out in a blaze of glory” during a hunt are anything to go by. But after season after season of far more spectacular deaths for the brothers, this death feels vacant. Lonely, even.

The episode then proceeds to switch between two storylines. Dean, in heaven, and Sam, on earth. Dean reconnects with the character Bobby Singer, who informs him that heaven has changed — it is no longer a replay of your happiest memories, but a true ongoing paradise. There are references to characters from previous seasons, including Sam and Dean’s own parents, but we do not get to actually see any of them. There is an off-hand reference to the idea that Castiel may now be alive again, but it’s so vague that for many fans, it is no different than if he had just stayed dead. We never see the fan-favorite character, never properly say goodbye to him, and in fact, Dean himself never even utters his name in the finale. It seems any chance at canonical representation from the two simply won’t happen, and “bury your gays” persists. Rather than visit any of the characters that fans had come to love who built the world of the show, Dean opts to go for a long drive alone.

Dean’s heaven feels empty, but Earth only feels emptier. Sam gives Dean a “funeral,” which quite literally no one attends, in an odd writing choice. It seems Sam didn’t even inform any of their friends or allies about his brother’s passing. A montage of Sam continuing to hunt then starts. He eventually settles down with an unnamed faceless woman who we only see standing in the blurry background of some shots. It’s another odd choice, considering that Sam already had a love interest that season, a deaf hunter named Eileen played by deaf actress Shoshannah Stern. Sam names his child Dean, a fact that is subtly conveyed to the audience by having it written in large letters on his clothing. Sam grows old in some truly awful old-age makeup and wigs, and then eventually dies, with only his son in the room. There is no further mention of his blurry wife, nor any of his friends. Again, emptiness. Dean finishes his drive, Sam appears in heaven, the two hug, the end.

So where does that leave us? Well, for most fans, it leaves us disappointed. While much of the vacant feeling caused by a lack of supporting characters has been blamed on COVID restrictions placing a limit on who could be on set, Samantha Ferris, who played Ellen Harvelle, a fan-favorite character who appeared by name only in the finale, revealed that she had never been contacted about being in the finale, even pre-quarantine, suggesting that the emptiness of the finale was the plan from the start.

The fact of the matter is that the showrunners of Supernatural seem to always want different things than the fans do. To them, the brothers are the show, and to the fans, it’s the interactions between the brothers and the patchwork family they’ve built over the years that give the show its heart. This finale was for the writers, not the fans.

If there’s one thing the finale has revealed to me, it’s that the show was always like that. From introducing the character of Becky to parody the female fans of the show, (worth noting that in one episode she critiques a possible ending to the series that feels eerily similar to the one we got), to actively “queerbaiting” fans while continuing to write in homophobic dialgoue and avoid chances to provide canon LGBT+ representation, the show has been fighting against its own fans for almost as long as it has existed. Still, with “Despair” having come along, I think a lot of fans were hoping it might be different this time — that as the show ended, it would finally give fans just a little of what they wanted. But of course, it didn’t. No, the Supernatural finale did just about the worst thing a bad ending can do: make you feel stupid for ever caring in the first place.