Yeah. It’s time to review the final season of the CW’s long-running series Supernatural. I’ve been putting it off for a while.
To be fair, the CW—and the COVID-19 pandemic—put it off for longer than I have. After watching five episodes a week for over a year, I was ready for this story to be over. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true.
My experience with Supernatural is why I have limited myself to watching no more than two episodes of the same show in any given week going forward. When you saturate your psyche with one series, you begin to learn its formulae and irritating habits. To a degree, familiarity does breed a kind of contempt. It also makes you hyper-aware of a television series as a thing, rather than a story, if that makes any sense. It makes you aware of the actors instead of remaining invested in the characters. It makes you focus on the realistic details in the settings rather than accepting the settings themselves. It damages what I (and John Gardner, among others) refer to as the fictive dream, that willing suspension of disbelief as the story is being “told.”
Do I ever break my own two-episode-per-week rule? Sure. It happens on occasion. It was a necessity when I learned that The West Wing and Hell on Wheels were being dropped by Netflix before 2021 arrived. And, I sometimes can’t help myself when it comes to Cobra Kai. Those 30-minute episodes are like popcorn kernels.
It was kind of refreshing when I finally caught up with the fifteenth season. I was forced to watch only one episode per week, then sit through the entire pandemic-caused hiatus, and, finally, back to one episode per week until the finale. After my mad dash through fourteen seasons, the series became somewhat enjoyable again.
Because I liked most of the characters in the series and appreciated most of the worldbuilding accomplished during its fifteen years on the air, I could never dislike this series. I’ve always maintained that even my least-favorite episodes were still pretty much all right. I maintain that, still.
My least-favorite season of Supernatural, prior to the airing of Season 15, was Season 7. That was the season with the Leviathans and Dick Roman, the season that Bobby Singer died.
Good news. Season 7 is still my least-favorite.
Bad news. Season 15, the final season, has become my second least-favorite season of the entire series. It replaced Season 11, which was the season in which we find out that Chuck Shurley is God.
A good friend of mine from junior high school and I would sometimes co-author stories in a game called Writing Roulette. The rule was that each writer could do whatever he wanted in the story, including introducing new characters or killing off characters created by the other, and when the story was passed back to the other author, he had to accept whatever was on the page as canon. So, if my favorite character was tragically killed by my friend during the fifteen minutes he was writing the story, I could find a way—plausible or not—to bring him back to life when it was my turn to write again, just before I killed off my friend’s favorite character, but I could never resort to the it was all just a dream device. Invariably, we would end up writing ourselves into the story—the writer as God—and we, as characters, would comment on the story-in-progress while it was in-progress. We were meta before meta was meta.
In some ways, especially after the Chuck Shurley is God reveal, this series has felt a little like one of those Writing Roulette stories that my junior high friend and I wrote. It began to feel like something that was being written by mere mortals.
Yes, I know. All television series are written by mere mortals. That is reality. However, we don’t want to be hit over the head with reality when we’re trying to enjoy something that is supposed to be fiction. As a person who sometimes appreciates a dose of the surreal, I’m aware that there is a fine line here. I’m not always certain where the line is, but I know when it’s been crossed. Supernatural crossed the line at some point. During the final season, I could appreciate certain moments and story beats, but I was always aware that I was watching a manufactured product.
By the way, my school friend and I never managed to write anything while playing our little game that was worth saving. It was a writing exercise. Which existed primarily to teach you that you never wanted to write with another person, if you could help it. Too many cooks spoiling the broth, and all that.
Supernatural felt a little like that as well. The first five years were the Kripke Era, when the man who created the series spearheaded the story and guided the vision. What began as a creepy little show about urban myths and one family who knows they aren’t just stories morphed into a story about demons and angels, and the humans caught between the two. Robert Singer, the namesake of beloved character Bobby Singer, had been co-showrunner with Kripke and kept a hand on the proceedings after Kripke left the show. A couple of years with Sera Gamble followed (which includes my least-favorite season—Dick Roman). Then, four seasons with Jeremy Carver, and four seasons with Andrew Dabb.
The overall story of Supernatural continued to grow over the years as well, as you would expect. As the world of hunters, monsters, demons, angels, and gods grew larger and more complicated, the series began to suffer a little beneath the weight of its own mythology. By the time Season 15 commenced, we had been introduced to so many different characters (of various character classes) and so many artifacts, objects of power, organizations and locations, that it all would get confusing sometimes. Things were so much simpler when it was a story about two brothers, a missing father, and a 1967 Chevy Impala named Baby.
In a very real way, the final season attempted to tie off all the various plot threads that had unspooled over the year, while paring the story back to the basics. When the season ends, it is once again about the Winchester brothers, and we find out the remainder of their story until the separate conclusions of their lives. That’s not a spoiler. The Winchesters are all dead by the end of the last episode.
You can’t be a true fan of this show if you’re mad because I told you that. We all owe the universe at least one death. Sam and Dean have died several times in this series.
The season begins with God releasing all of the souls from Hell. God, who we once knew as Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), is a hack fiction author with a particular obsession with Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki). This is the meta portion I alluded to earlier. The Winchesters are aware that they are characters in a story written by God, who has emerged as the chief antagonist—the Big Bad—of the entire series. If this offends your religious sensibilities, remember that the Old Testament God had a bit of a temper, and wasn’t above kicking folks out of the Garden of Eden or, in a sudden display of wrath, killing everyone in the world but Noah and his family after telling Noah how to build a big boat.
If it makes you feel better, this isn’t your God. This entire show is fictional. Jesus isn’t mentioned once, as far as I know.
After kicking off in full-on zombie mode—a few years past the height of the zombie craze, I might add—the series begins its slow journey to its conclusion. Allow me to hit a few of the highlights here.
The jailbreak from Hell plot is more-or-less wrapped up during the first three episodes. Dean is mad at Castiel (Misha Collins) again. The Equalizer handgun that Sam used on God is swept from the game board by Lilith (Anna Grace Barlow); it’s too powerful a weapon to leave in play. The deaf Eileen Leahy (Shoshanna Stern) is brought back to life (you see, a hellhound had taken her to Hell . . . ah, never mind). Dean ends up at a roadhouse named Swayze’s (nice touch, that) where he plays with guest star Christian Kane for an episode. The boys return to Hell for some reason and discover that Rowena (Ruth Connell) is now in charge. She and Ketch (David Haydn-Jones) had martyred themselves earlier in the season during that whole Hell jailbreak kerfuffle. The boys are reunited with their brother Adam (Jake Abel)—remember him? Dean and Castiel return to Purgatory, looking for that episode’s Maguffin that will help them defeat God.
Garth (D.J. Qualls) returns to make his final appearance. Jack (Alexander Calvert) returns from the dead, following the directions of Billie Death (Lisa Berry) to build up his power in order to kill God.
More side trips to Hell, to the Big Empty, and to the Occultum (which is the Garden of Eden). Jack gets his soul back. A Dean and Sam Winchester from a different universe comes to ours and then get sent to Brazil. The Men of Letters bunker—the Winchester Batcave—includes a wood nymph house mother named Mrs. Butters (Meagan Fay). Amara (Emily Swallow) is worked back into the story just as the last of the alternate universes is wiped out. God is doing his own Crisis on Infinite Earths thing. He ends up absorbing Amara, his sister. We get Baba Yaga and another flashback episode with Lil’ Dean and Sam. Billie Death’s plan to kill God fizzles out. Castiel takes his bow a couple of episodes before the finale. Turns out he really, really loved Dean. Then . . .
Should I just go ahead a ruin everything for you? Yes, I think I will.
Chuck/God loses all of his powers after making everyone but the Winchesters do the Thanos shuffle. Then, Jack Kline takes over as the new God. A kinder, gentler God, who brings back all the people Chuck eliminated. Everything is right with the world.
Then, we get our finale episode. Dean and Sam continue to hunt (although I’m not sure why Jack kept all of the monsters), and Dean gets his early hunter’s death, as he was always destined to get. He goes to Heaven, which is not the huge, sterile holodeck it was under Chuck’s leadership. No, instead of replaying favorite memories, he is actually reunited with lost loved ones, starting with Bobby Singer (Jim Beavers), for some reason. Sam lives out his long life, has a family, and dies a natural death. Then, he is reunited with his brother. And Baby.
The end. Although I failed to mention these returning characters/actors: Kevin Tran (Osric Chau); Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes); Kaia (Yadira Guevara-Prip); Ruby (Genevieve Padalecki); and, Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day).
In spite of the sarcasm I heap upon this series, I did enjoy it overall. The show was always at its best when it was about Dean, Sam and Castiel. And some of my favorite episodes were those I considered to be “filler” episodes, or monsters-of-the-week. The series mythology became a bit unwieldy over the course of fifteen seasons, as it would in any series. The final season had its bright and shining moments, for sure, but also seemed to lack something. I hate to use the word “realism” in a show about ghosts, vampires and werewolves, and a god named Chuck Shurley. But, there it is. After I was awakened from the fictive dream, when the author of the story revealed himself on-screen, nothing was ever the same for me.
Still and all, it was a good series that I’m happy is over.
Firewater’s Lay-Your-Weary-Head-to-Rest Report Card: B-
Maybe you expected a worse grade from me. I don’t know. But, as I’ve said, even at its worst, this show was still okay. Carry on.