One week from today, my favorite show will return from its winter hiatus, and I can’t wait. This return will be extra special, because of two things. One, it’s on my birthday – I suppose that’s only special to me, but it feels extra special because of the other thing. That other thing is the return episode will also be the “backdoor pilot” for a possible spin-off for Supernatural – Wayward Sisters.
What’s so special about that? The show has tried a backdoor pilot before, with the Bloodlines episode back in Season 9. That was a pretty spectacular failure – I adore this show, and I must confess even I didn’t like it. Largely because it didn’t feel like a Supernatural episode at all. There were no established characters who would transition to the new show, and the new characters seemed like they’d be more at home on Dynasty than on Supernatural. I couldn’t imagine Sam and Dean ever making a guest appearance – in fact, I was pretty sure they were secretly rolling their eyes at some of the newly introduced characters.
To the show’s credit, the overwhelming NO response to Bloodlines didn’t sour them on considering a spin-off. And they’ve learned from their mistakes. Wayward Sisters is different in a number of ways. First, it stars characters who are already established on Supernatural, and who fans already know and like (not every character is liked by every fan of course, but you can pretty much say that about any fictional character ever – there’s no such thing as unanimous liking and that’s okay). Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) has been a recurring character for some time, as has Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster) – both are fan favorites on the show and the actors are fan favorites on the Supernatural convention circuit too.
Also in the cast are Claire (Kathryn Newton) and Alex (Katherine Ramdeen), both of whom have been in multiple episodes of the show. In Season 13, we were introduced to Patience (Clark Backo) and Kaia (Yadira Guevara Prip), rounding out the cast. Instead of a bunch of characters we don’t know at all, this attempt at a spin-off utilizes characters who are already familiar to us as part of the Supernatural universe. That should make a big difference.
That’s not what makes Wayward Sisters special, though. Instead it’s the way the spinoff came about and the striking evolution that the composition of the show represents. Wayward Sisters, unlike its inspiration, Supernatural, is a cast of women. Don’t get me wrong, I think Supernatural has given us some amazing female characters over the years – the women of Wayward are some of them, but there are many more. The show was roundly criticized in its early days for the rarity of any episode passing the Bechdel test and for its use of the ‘fridging women’ trope to serve as inspiration for its tortured heroes. There has been evolution over the course of 13 years, in terms of cast and more slowly in terms of female writers and directors, but this is a leap forward, not a step. If the pilot flies, this is a show about women that, according to its cast, is committed not only to being told through the perspective of women, but to diversity of many kinds. That’s a lot of evolution for a little show on the CW.
That evolution is one of the unique things, but it’s not the only one. The other unique, maybe even unprecedented, thing about Wayward Sisters is the way it came to be. The idea for Bloodlines came from the usual places – producers, studio, network, showrunners, writers room. The idea for Wayward Sisters came from the fandom. And that really doesn’t happen. Fandom has all sorts of fabulous ideas, as anyone who’s been in a vibrant creative brilliant fandom like the Supernatural fandom knows. But those ideas don’t get heard, and even if they do, they certainly don’t get taken seriously to become reality! As Kim and Briana are fond of saying onstage at Supernatural conventions, “YOU. You did this.” And you know what? We did. And that’s pretty extraordinary.
I’m a psychologist who has researched and written about fandom for over a decade, and one of the things that has always fascinated me is the complicated relationship between fans and the production side, whether we’re talking actors or producers or TPTB. In many of my books, I’ve written that the fan/producer relationship in Supernatural is a bit more reciprocal than with other shows because of the frequency of contact at conventions and online and the barriers that contact breaks down. But that’s not to say the power dynamic isn’t still there and isn’t still lopsided. Yet here we are with a backdoor pilot that was conceived of by the fans and adopted by TPTB. Even the name is fandom generated, inspired by one line in a Supernatural episode (thanks @WaywardDaughtrs) – and while it didn’t get adopted exactly as fandom first used it, the important word was kept. Wayward.
Wayward has come to mean something to the Supernatural fandom – especially to the women of the Supernatural fandom. It became a rallying cry for many of us to be real with each other, to stop hiding who we really were and going along with societal pressures, to express ourselves even when what we wanted to say included anger or sadness or protest or unhappiness or unbridled enthusiasm or WHATEVER. It was okay to be “Wayward As Fuck” – in fact, wear a fucking tee shirt that announces that’s exactly what you’re gonna be! We bought WaywardAF shirts and wore them proudly, daring the rest of the world to call us on it and tell us we couldn’t.
It was as much Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster who started the Wayward trend as Jody and Donna – more, actually. Their courage in getting onstage and on twitter and showing us who THEY really were inspired many of us to do the same.
As the Wayward movement began, I was putting together Family Don’t End With Blood, a book about how Supernatural had changed many of our lives. At first, it was a book of fans sharing their stories. Then Jared said he also had something to say about how the show and the fandom had changed his life, so I asked the other actors if they’d like to write chapters too. Pretty much everyone said yes. At the time, Kim and Briana had been on a handful of episodes, but their characters had captured the imagination of the fandom. I’d had the pleasure of getting to know Kim at some conventions, so I knew she was articulate and passionate and damn, could she write! Of course I asked her to write a chapter, and when I got to know Briana, I knew she could write a kickass chapter too. Over the next year, they wrote about their experience on the show, and with the fandom. About finding the courage to be real, and the validation and acceptance they found with the SPNFamily. About being WaywardAF. In fact, that’s what Kim’s chapter is titled.
Because of the chapters that Kim and Briana (and Rachel Miner and Ruth Connell) wrote in Family Don’t End With Blood – about being Wayward – I feel like the book and the episode are tied together. That both aim to validate people by showing us our own perspectives and experiences mirrored back to us – which is so very, very important. Here’s a small bit of what Kim had to say in her chapter, “WaywardAF”.
I got to know the me I was through the fandom, and now I am becoming the me I want to be because of the entire Supernatural experience. And I’ve chosen to make this journey public, because it is a loving offering to everyone. I’m finding the core of it is truth. I think it’s easy to look at someone on stage and let the umbrella of their image or persona overwhelm who they are as a person. What’s more, when that person is you, it’s easy to believe you’re SUPPOSED to be that image. So Briana and I have made a conscious commitment to honesty. That’s where the Wayward came from. We are on our own path of loving each other and loving ourselves. In this world, we are told that’s not done. It is somehow disrespectful or dangerous to the status quo.
Know what? We think the status quo can make people pretty miserable.
Yes, it can. And that’s what Wayward is all about. I’m honored that Kim and Briana shared their own personal journey toward authenticity in Family Don’t End With Blood — it’s a journey that Wayward Sisters carries on.
Here’s a bit from Briana’s chapter.
When a person decides to become an actor, there can be a little voice inside her head that tells her she is trite. Vain. Perhaps slightly useless. It’s confusing to follow your passion and yet still feel like you have something more in you to give. A piece of you that’s not being fulfilled. I had reached the age where, as a woman, you are taught to start settling for what life hands you. And then I got Sheriff Donna. The role of Donna Hanscum was everything I could have dreamed of. From the beginning, she was a real woman: complex, with her light disposition but also her sadness and low sense of self. And the best part is, because I am playing this role and a part of this show, I’m honored with a platform from which to talk to others who’ve experienced what Donna did. I can be of service! Something I never thought I would be able to be.
The magic that has come into my life because of this beautiful, simple, and yet complex character is hard to describe in just a handful of words. One afternoon in an audition has completely changed my life forever.
Just like Supernatural, and the Supernatural fandom, has changed so many of our lives, mine included. There’s a feature on the Wayward movement in Family Don’t End With Blood too, because even a few years ago, we knew it was important. Not just to inspire a possible spinoff, but to bring fans together to make change in the world through charity projects and a sense of community.
As I think back on my going-on-thirteen years in Supernatural fandom and the books I’ve written about my own fangirl journey, the over-arching theme that runs through all the books is ‘don’t be afraid to be who you really are’. In other words, don’t be afraid to be WaywardAF! Love what you love, be passionate if you feel it, don’t let anyone tell you that you should grow up or move on or be more serious or find a new hobby or whatever the hell else people tell women who are fans of something like a genre tv show on the CW. Don’t fall for it like I did for a long time – as a psychologist and a fan, I now know there are plenty of good things that come from loving a tv show. The stories we tell have power; they shape who we are and how we see ourselves, and constrain or support the things we believe we can do and the people we believe we can be. They are important. Supernatural has an important story to tell; so does Wayward Sisters.
Check out the Wayward Documentary here. I was honored to contribute, and inspired by everyone else who did, including Kim Rhodes and Rachel Miner:
There are also plenty of good things that come from fandom. Especially this one. It’s not perfect, but no group of people ever will be. Nevertheless, I have met the most incredible people through this fandom and this show – and, as the chapters in Family Don’t End With Blood make clear happened for so many actors and fans, I also found myself.
One week until Wayward Sisters airs and we’ve been gearing up for that moment. I’ve joined my fandom friends @little_pop_work @eldwenne @Quest_Journals @zerbehunter @janet_gerard and @_Kingbooks_ to hold a #WaywardArtContest that has brought the most amazing, creative, inspiring submissions from all over the world. We announce the winners tonight on a @_Kingbooks_ youtube livestream! I also contributed to my friend Alana’s Wayward Documentary, which makes me emotional every time I watch it. Maybe these things have created a little spark of interest that might leave you open to seeing whether Wayward Sisters might be for you. I know I’m looking forward to seeing what Robert Berens, Kim Rhodes, Briana Buckmaster, Clark Backo, Kathryn Newton, Yadira Guevara Prip and Katherine Ramdeen have created for us – check back here for my episode review after it airs!
And no matter what, stay #Wayward.
You can read Kim and Briana’s chapters
along with all the other actors and fans in
Family Don’t End With Blood at the
links at the top of the page