(Note: there are spoilers for the show throughout this article. Read at your own risk!)
As any fan or even casual viewer could tell you, death has rarely meant much on Supernatural for the past fifteen years. Due to the nature of the series’ mythology, which found our heroes Sam and Dean Winchester battling everything from anonymous vampires to the Devil Himself, there was always an easy way to revive someone with black magic or divine intervention. Both of the show’s leads, their parents, most of their other allies and even, well, Death were all killed and then revived in some form or other.
However, over time it became something of a detriment to the show. On one hand, it was always nice to have this or that beloved character come back; only a fool would say that having more Jim “Bobby” Beaver or Misha “Castiel” Collins was a bad thing. But on the other hand, it occasionally robbed the show of its emotional weight, as seeing someone sacrifice themselves to save the world didn’t quite have as much impact as it should when you had a suspicion (and were often correct) that they would be back the following season. With the boys allied with any number of angels or other heavenly beings (and, sometimes, ones from the other, warmer place) that could literally snap their fingers and bring someone back, being killed off was more of a way to give an actor a few months’ break as opposed to something permanent. Basically, it was more often than not a “see you later” as opposed to a genuine “goodbye.”
But then the once unthinkable happened. After their fourteenth season wrapped and got its seemingly obligatory renewal, stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles decided that they wanted to call it a day, and that the fifteenth season would be their last. Twenty episodes and a few COVID-related hiccups later, the final season has finished airing and been given its annual release on Blu-ray, with the usual bevy of deleted scenes and featurettes (not to mention given a better visual presentation than you can find on broadcast or streaming options). And while the season had its usual highs (“The Heroes’ Journey,” “Last Holiday”) and relative lows (“Gimme Shelter”), there was a throughline that made this season different than any other in the past decade or so: anyone who died was probably going to stay that way.
With this being the last season, there was no real incentive to bring anyone back to life if they got killed along the way to the final showdown with God. Usually it’s “the fans kept asking for them to come back” or something that would dictate those frequent presses of the reset button, but without a season 16 to revolve around this or that character’s revival, they would, for once, truly stay dead. Even with that in mind, after all those years, it was hard to really believe it as it happened; when Castiel died with two episodes to go, I assumed we’d be seeing him again in the finale, but nope – that shot of the Darkness swallowing him was indeed the last we ever saw of him.
Similarly, it’s been just as hard to believe the show itself is really gone. You know how when you take down your Christmas tree and that space seems so incredibly barren, even though that’s how it is for eleven months out of the year anyway? It’s like that feeling, but it’s been going on for six months now – I haven’t even had the heart to remove it from my DVR recording options. It’s a big hole to fill; this wasn’t something I got into halfway through its run or something – I have watched it since it premiered in the fall of 2005. It’s insane to think of how much my life has changed since I first sat down to watch these two guys jump into an Impala to tackle monsters and ghosts. While Supernatural has been on, I’ve moved across the country, met many of my heroes thanks to this very writing gig, had a child who is now almost old enough to watch this sort of stuff, lost all but one of my grandparents, released a book… hell I even owned (and finally got rid of) an Impala of my own! I can barely even recall my day-to-day life before Supernatural entered it, so it’s understandably kind of strange to be talking about it in the past tense.
If anyone else is struggling with the same feeling, I have some good news: the Blu-ray bonus features have actually helped me inch closer to that “acceptance” stage of grief. There are not one but two lengthy retrospectives about the show’s journey and subsequent end (one of which aired on the CW prior to the finale), and Padalecki’s contributions even appear to be coming from the set of Walker, his new show that he had lined up before they were even finished shooting the season, as if to remind us that they’ve moved on (Ackles has also lined up a gig, on The Boys). We see some shots of the bunker set being torn down, of longtime director Robert Singer calling a *series* wrap after filming the final scene of the finale, and a number of other odds and ends that reaffirm that, for the first time in the CW’s entire history*, there will be no Supernatural on the fall schedule.
I’m also slowly accepting that there might not be anything to take its place, genre-related or otherwise. The show may have just ended, but it’s a relic of a different era of television, before streaming services, binge-watching and all the other things that dominate the landscape now. Everything from the number of episodes (20-22) to the concept itself is something that isn’t likely to be replicated again; most scripted seasons of television stick to ten to thirteen episodes now (even the networks are dialing things back to around sixteen), so for a show to hit 327 episodes it would need to run for at least twenty years, maybe even closer to thirty. Netflix rarely even lets anything get to a fourth season, let alone enter the double digits, so the likes of Stranger Things won’t be around long enough to make that kind of impact.
Plus, the binge model that most streamers prefer means the communal experience of watching a show “live” and tweeting out your reactions is something that will happen less and less as each year passes, which in turn will reduce the dedication of the kinds of fanbases that keep shows like Supernatural on the air as long as they are. The bonus features show photos of some then-teenaged girls who were watching the first season and were still getting together to watch it every week now that they’re adults, something you can’t really do when an entire eight-episode season is dumped out at once. The only things that have a chance of outlasting it – or even coming close – are anthology shows that can constantly reinvent themselves with new casts and storylines, but by their very nature they can’t form those same kinds of bonds with their viewers.
So it was with a heavy heart that I added this final season to my collection, slightly saddened that I now know for sure I won’t need to add more space on the “Supernatural shelf,” which I have been adding to across four apartments (and at least as many TVs) now. It’s been a constant for most of my adult life, and now it’s over, with nothing on the horizon that looks likely to take its place. For fifteen years, I’ve had this preternaturally consistent show waiting for me on my DVR, waiting to amuse me for an hour by combining a number of my favorite things (classic rock, monsters, enemies teaming up to fight a common threat) into one cozy little comfort blanket. Now that it’s gone, I can’t even dream up a potential show to take its place, because even if serialized network shows like this weren’t a dying breed, I’m only a handful of birthdays away from those networks deciding I no longer matter, anyway. I’m more likely to find time to rewatch the entire series than to find another that can be part of my relaxation rotation for as long as it has. It’s a sobering thought, but the silver lining is that it’ll just make the show even more special in my eyes as I get older.
Goodbye, Supernatural, and thank you for being my entertainment anchor for the past fifteen years.
*As TV trivia junkies know but younger folks may not, the show premiered on what was then the WB network, prior to a name-change and merger with UPN that gave us the rebranded “CW.”