I wrote an article here on New Year’s Eve about how I’m dealing with Supernatural ending, because I’m still having lots of feelings about the loss of my favorite show ever, especially in the midst of so much stress – political and social upheaval and a raging pandemic. We need our comfort shows more than ever! One of the things that’s helping is going back to the beginning and rewatching from the start. In a way, it’s giving me new content, because watching those early episodes now is completely different with the perspective of knowing how the story plays out and how it ends. I understand Sam and Dean more deeply than I did when I watched these episodes for the first time 15 years ago. At the same time, I’m struck by how well they hold up and how truly ingenious the writing, directing, acting and cinematography was, right from the start.
Today’s episode rewatch is the third one that aired, and the first directed by Kim Manners, who would come to have such a significant impact on the show’s two young stars, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. ‘Dead In The Water’ is one of the most well known episodes, giving us some iconic scenes as well as some of the first memorable gag reel moments. The episode was written by Raelle Tucker and Sera Gamble, who would go on to be showrunner when Kripke departed at the end of Season 5 (and would also helm another of my favorite shows, The Magicians). So, let’s dig in…
The episode opens on a cabin that’s familiar to most fans, and I had to take a moment right away because I now realize that it’s a cabin that I think I’ve actually been to in real life – on one of the location tours given by Supernatural’s locations supervisor for many seasons, the one of a kind Russ Hamilton. I’m notoriously bad at remember things like locations, though, so somebody correct me if the ‘Russ bus’ never in fact visited this particular Vancouver cabin. At any rate, it’s striking, and beautiful in its own way. There is so much atmosphere provided by locations and set dec for Supernatural, making it so much memorable than it would be otherwise.
I don’t think, at the time I first watched this episode, that I realized that the show customarily opens with the guest stars of the week being attacked by the monster of the week, especially in the early seasons. But director Kim Manners does a great job of setting up the sense of foreboding even if you didn’t know something bad was about to happen. The family in the dimly lit cabin is a dad and a sister and brother, with no mom around – because many of the guest characters are parallels for the Winchesters in some way. The girl opts for a swim in the gigantic deserted lake, out there all alone, which seems like a terrible idea even if this wasn’t Supernatural. We see her from beneath, highlighting her vulnerability, as she begins to get scared, hearing unintelligible whispering all around her even though no one is there. Uh oh. It’s scary as hell even before anything happens thanks to Manners, and then whoosh, she’s pulled under.
The lake looks peaceful once again, no sign of the girl. Uh oh.
And then, customarily, the show pivoted to the Winchester brothers, in this case at the Lynnwood Motel, which I’m totally taking as a shout out to me even though I was entirely unknown to any of them at the time. Hindsight. Dean flirts with the waitress, who flirts back, understandably, and Sam cuts that right off with a “Just the check please.”
Dean sighs, put upon.
Dean: You know, Sam, we are allowed to have fun every once in a while. That’s fun.
In the midst of turmoil of all kinds and way more stress than most of us hoped we’d be enduring for long periods of time, our comfort shows are even more important. While Supernatural ended its fifteen year run in 2020, the show and its fictional characters are still very much my comfort show, so I’m going back to the beginning and doing a series rewatch from the pilot on – which could keep me busy for quite some time! It’s a way to keep the show alive for me and it’s also a brand new experience, because I’m now watching it through a very different lens than I did fifteen years ago – with the full knowledge of what will happen to these characters for fourteen more seasons. That’s therapeutic for me at a time when I need help dealing with the loss of Supernatural, and hopefully will be helpful to other fans who are also trying to deal. We also put a book out in 2020 about the end of Supernatural and the legacy it leaves behind, with chapters from the show’s actors and fans. We hope There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done and our previous book, Family Don’t End With Blood, with chapters written by Jared, Jensen, Misha and many other actors, will be a help in dealing with the loss too. You can find more information about those books at the end of this article, but for now, let’s go back in time to 2005.
The second episode of Supernatural. How I wish I could go back to that long ago time, when the show I would fall so deeply in love with had just started airing. When the question was, would the show live up to its intriguing pilot?
Spoiler alert: It did.
Wendigo is an iconic episode in part because it is the second one. The first one to be filmed in Vancouver after the pilot was filmed in LA. When Supernatural ended six weeks ago, Jared and Jensen reminisced in an interview about how they felt fifteen years ago when they set off to begin what would turn out to be a fifteen year adventure. The boys – because that’s what everyone would soon come to call them – made the trek north to Vancouver together, road tripping to their new workplace and starting the adventure together, as they would continue it for so long. It makes me emotional now, thinking about how excited and anxious they must have been, in their twenties and taking on the lead roles of a show that would rest on their shoulders.
You did good, boys.
Wendigo was directed by David Nutter, which probably helped maintain the momentum of the pilot and keep the continuity tight. The episode starts out just as scary as the pilot was, in the dark woods of Blackwater Ridge with a couple of clueless guys in a tent as something growls outside and shadowy figures move past the semi-transparent canvas. One of them is played by Cory Monteith, later to be famous on Glee, who is already gone, for real. The sense of how much time has passed since this episode hits hard just knowing that.
David Nutter does a great job of showing the young men’s vulnerability – how much more vulnerable can you feel, trapped in a tent that clearly won’t protect you and unable to see what’s coming for you from outside? We see shadows pass by outside the tent and I already want to start hiding my eyes. Nicely done, Show.
Meanwhile, Sam, looking unbearably young and adorable in a suit, brings flowers to Jessica’s grave. It seems like a tender and sad scene, then suddenly a hand claws its way up from the gravedirt and grabs for Sam. Pretty sure I screamed the first time I saw that. Early Supernatural really was like a 42 minute horror movie each week.
Chad Lindberg is one of the first Supernatural actors that I got to know well, way back in the early seasons of the show. When Kathy and I were researching and writing Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls, we sat down with Chad to chat one day at a very early convention, and immediately hit it off. In fact, in the middle of our interview, after we’d gotten into a deep discussion of fandom and why it’s so compelling, Chad jumped up and said “You have to meet my friends – they’re making a movie about the same thing you’re writing about in your book!”
That’s how we met Tony Zierra and Elizabeth Yoffe, the filmmaker and producer behind the film “My Big Break,” which starred Chad Lindberg and Wes Bentley among others. We partnered with them and Chad to screen the film and share our thoughts on fandom and stardom in multiple cities, which meant some wonderful dinners and a wild time on Bourbon Street and lots of great conversation. Some of our adventures with Chad are in the pages of one of our first books, Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls. On occasion, he’s even helped us out at convention vendor rooms and with impromptu livestreams!
So let’s just say, I really miss Chad! He contributed a chapter to the new book by the actors and fans of Supernatural that celebrates the legacy of the show, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, which was released in 2020. I hadn’t spoken to Chad since he put that chapter together, so we connected by phone near the end of the year.
Chad: Good to hear from you!
Lynn: OMG you too! When I talked to you last year about writing your chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, the world was a completely different place.
Chad: It certainly was. Every day continually astonishes me. And not in a good way.
Lynn: I know what you mean. I’m wondering, because you wrote your chapter a year ago and it’s about your personal journey with Supernatural and how it impacted you, how has your journey continued over the past year?
Supernatural ended six weeks ago, but the cascade of emotions its ending brought to its fans is still feeling pretty raw for many people, including me. One of the most difficult things for me is that my emotions are all over the place – I’m devastated about losing the show, missing it painfully, wishing I knew it was coming back, and dismayed at the fandom infighting that’s been happening for six weeks. At the same time, I’m excited about Jared’s new series and Jensen’s new role in The Boys and Misha’s new movie part – and happy for all of them that they’re being productive and sinking their teeth into new roles. (At least a big part of me is; there’s another part that just wants to be a two year old and stomp my feet and say NO you can’t move on from the characters that I love!)
It’s not that often that we have conflicting emotions about something that’s truly important to us, so we don’t have a lot of practice with it, and it can feel jarring. Supernatural was a television show, but it was so much more to so many people. So those emotions we’re processing are a big deal and it takes time to work through them. Maybe that’s part of why there’s still so much contention going on about the finale – it’s like a bad breakup that’s got some ambivalence around it. As long as you’re still arguing with your ex, is the relationship really over?
Whether the emotions that are lingering for you are sadness, grief, anger, or fear of more losses (combined hopefully with some anticipation for the new things coming our way), Supernatural fans head into the New Year with a lot to process. So I thought I’d do myself a favor and try to sift through my own conflicting emotions and not-always-rational thoughts here, and try to figure out some ways I can deal with those emotions and find as much joy as I possibly can in 2021. Sharing my thoughts and feelings here in the hopes that it might help you do the same.
So, what am I feeling? First and foremost, there’s sadness. Supernatural ending is a loss for me, and not a trivial one. Whenever you care about something deeply, losing that something hurts – and unfortunately there are no real shortcuts to get around feeling that pain. Instead, I’m allowing myself those feelings – telling myself that it’s okay to mourn. Whether you’re mourning the show itself or the death (temporarily anyway) of one or all of the main characters, those feelings are valid. Experiencing grief isn’t dependent on how you felt about the final episodes – we are ALL losing something important to us so we’re all grieving. Even if you loved the finale, you’re still losing the show and the fictional characters that enriched our lives and inspired us for a very long time. So, I’m reminding myself that my feelings are valid and letting myself feel them.
We all grieve differently and on our own timetable. For some fellow fans I know, avoidance and denial are still the most commonly used ways of coping. For me, I need to titrate my exposure to the things that make me feel that loss the most. I find myself alternately wanting to distract myself with other things, from work to zoom chats with friends or family, to little forays into the new things the Supernatural cast is up to, and then feeling pulled to sink back into Supernatural and remember why I’ve loved it so much and do some grieving. That might be with a tear-jerker of a finale fan vid, or a nostalgic one from 2007. It might be reading some fanfic that leaves me sobbing or indulging in some posts on Tumblr that are devastating yet validating in how much they ‘get it’. Whatever ‘puts me in my feels’ as we used to say back in the day. I need to feel it for a while, cry a few tears, and then I need to pull myself back out. Maybe by sharing what I’ve watched with a friend who I know will validate my feelings. Maybe by watching some gag reel videos or one of my favorite convention moments that will make me smile. Maybe by reading the actors’ words in Family Don’t End With Blood or There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, to remind myself that they love this show and these characters too, and that this has meant just as much to them.
As we grieve, it’s helpful to go back and forth between really ‘feeling it’ and then backing away and escaping and avoiding for a little while. Your brain knows you can only take so much before being overwhelmed, and tries to help you forget about loss and grief for a while as a coping strategy. I’m trying to relax and let the healing process happen, little by little by little. There’s always a part of us that’s reluctant to let go of our grief for something we’ve loved and lost, as though if we start just being happy again, that will mean we have truly lost it. That’s not true though – when you love something, that love doesn’t have to go away. It just gets integrated, but it’s always there to be celebrated. That was our reason for putting together There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, so we never have to forget and can hang onto something tangible to always remember how special this has been.
It’s not just sadness. I’m also feeling fear, and in a way, that’s more upsetting than the sadness. As humans, we all fear the unknown, and that’s what 2021 brings as far as the Supernatural fandom. For 15 years, this has been such an important community for me, one I’ve been happily immersed in. I could hop on any social media at any time of the day or night and find other Supernatural fans there and plenty of new posts and photos and content. I am perfectly aware that I’ve been spoiled in this fandom, with so many of the actors being active on social media and conventions happening so often and so many talented, creative fans putting out such amazing creations. It’s inevitable that this will change now that the show is no longer filming and there are no new episodes to conjecture about and analyze ad infinitum afterwards. No more behind the scenes photos from set or fans on filming locations or PR events. I worry every day that the Impala emoji that temporarily graces the show’s hashtags will have disappeared, knowing that – like so many things we wish we could hang onto – it won’t be there forever and there’s nothing I can do about it. I know that the fandom won’t disappear, but that will change too over time, as fans find other things to love and post about and create for. That’s as it should be, I know, but it also scares me. I tend to be a one-fandom-at-a-time type of fan, and that’s been Supernatural for a very long time. I don’t fall in love easily, in any sense of the word.
So far my strategies for dealing with the anxiety are mostly using a little cognitive behavioral therapy on myself, challenging irrational thoughts like OMG I’m gonna lose all my friends or OMG nobody will ever make a video about Supernatural ever again! I have to keep reassuring myself that while some changes may not be wanted, change itself is inevitable – and that this particular change isn’t as catastrophic as I sometimes start to imagine. Three zoom get-togethers with my fandom friends in the past week helped a lot to calm my catastrophizing. (At least temporarily – alas, anxiety has a way of creeping back in – and then it will be back to CBT for me!)
There’s also some anger and disappointment, as I know there is for many fans. For me, that’s not about the last episodes themselves – and I feel very lucky that they worked for me, because there’s extra anger and disappointment for those who didn’t like them – but more about the relentless arguing and infighting that the fandom devolved into post finale. All those feelings people are having are valid, but it’s been hard to see fans attack other fans or the actors or writers of the show itself. I know how proud Misha was of episode 18 and how proud Jared and Jensen were of episode 20, and they’re real people who are impacted as well. That said, one of the things that keeps us all sane is knowing that other people’s feelings aren’t our responsibility. So I’m trying to focus on my own feelings and leave others to their own as much as possible – we all loved this show for different reasons, and our own histories both with the show and in our own lives determine our reaction to the story, so of course those reactions are going to vary widely. That’s okay. Let’s just give each other room for our diverse feelings as much as we can, because we’re all dealing with lots of emotions.
And finally, there’s that incongruous feeling of anticipation – incongruous because I never feel it without it being tied up with simultaneous grief. I’m so happy for Jared, Jensen and Misha and their success in taking on new projects so quickly. I know in their business, that’s crucial, and I genuinely care about them, so I’m relieved. I’m so glad they’ll be on our screens again so soon and that they aren’t going to disappear never to be heard from again. That would be a whole other loss on top of the loss of the fictional characters and the show itself. I never watched Walker Texas Ranger, so I’m going into the new Walker without any preconceived notions. They seem to be very thoughtful in putting it together, in terms of representation and diversity not just in front of the camera but behind it as well. The teaser was not only beautifully shot but intriguing in the emotional arcs it sets up. And Jared is putting his heart into it. So I’m excited to see where Walker takes me. I’ve been watching The Boys since the start, because I usually love whatever Eric Kripke creates, and this show is no exception. I was already a fan, so Jensen joining the cast is super exciting and I cannot wait to find out what insane adventures Kripke and company have in store for Soldier Boy. I don’t know much about Misha’s new film yet, but it’s got a great cast, so looking forward to that too.
That’s all good. At the same time, the selfish part of me that isn’t ready to let Supernatural go keeps wanting to be irrationally annoyed with J2M for moving on and becoming some other character, and leaving Sam, Dean and Cas behind. It feels like some kind of weird betrayal, as though they should have given up acting for a year to mourn the character they left behind or something. Yes, I’m totally aware that this isn’t rational (and wouldn’t have been a good idea), but grief isn’t always rational. It’s emotional, and sometimes illogical, but that doesn’t mean you can easily talk yourself out of those less than rational feelings. My strategy here is to acknowledge that flash of annoyance as the understandable thing that it is, and then try to find some enjoyment in the pure anticipation of all these new things and to feel good about being happy for those three real people.
Which, I guess, brings me to the last thing I’m feeling. Gratitude. No matter how much sadness or grief or fear or anger I’m dealing with, underneath there is always so much gratitude. If I had never had this amazing, incredible, life-changing show to love, I wouldn’t be feeling any of those things right now. But I also would never have had the past fifteen years that have been full of so much joy and inspired so much creativity. Supernatural and its unforgettable characters enriched and expanded my life in countless ways and brought me experiences I would never have had otherwise. Friends I wouldn’t have met. Books I wouldn’t have written. Travels I wouldn’t have gone on. Inspiration I wouldn’t have had. I became more me than I’d ever been thanks to this show, and nothing can ever take that away. However Supernatural has changed you and whatever it’s meant to you, that’s here to stay.
There’s always the question of, do I let myself love this thing, knowing that at some point, I’ll have to let it go in one way or another? I’m so glad I took a chance on Supernatural and let myself fall head over heels. In spite of the pain of losing it, I’m so thankful I had something so special – and I fully intend to never forget it and to keep right on loving it.
My guess is that in 2021, while it may not be how it was in the 15 years prior, Supernatural and its actors and fans will still have something important to teach me.
Happy New Year, SPNFamily!
You can always remember Supernatural with There’ll
Be Peace When You Are Done and Family Don’t End
With Blood, links here or at peacewhenyouaredone.com
When some of my friends decided that the best way to cope with Supernatural ending and having no more new episodes was to just go back to the beginning and start a rewatch with the pilot, I honestly wasn’t sure I was emotionally ready to do that. I was still grieving the ending of this show that has meant so much to me for fifteen years, and just thinking about it brought a fresh round of tears every time my favorite fictional characters crossed my mind. Could I really go back and see where it all began? Remember a time when I had 326 episodes to look forward to and had no idea where the story would take Sam and Dean – and me?
It was one of those decisions that you make and then second guess immediately, but luckily for me I wasn’t watching alone – I was on a zoom call with three friends who share my love of the show and my grief that it’s over. Who wouldn’t make fun of me if I started to tear up or got emotional over a scene in the pilot that had a call back in the finale. Who get it. If there was any way to dare to do a rewatch, it was with these people. So we made drinks, chatted about the pandemic and the weather and life in general, and then we dove in.
Although I’ve been watching Supernatural from the beginning, I didn’t fall madly in love with it until the beginning of Season 2, and I didn’t start writing reviews until Season 8, so as long as I’m doing a rewatch, I figured I might as well catch up on those reviews I missed. The first seven seasons will be reviews with the benefit of hindsight, while the last eight will be fresh from a first viewing – but maybe that will be an interesting diversity of perspectives. So, from an emotional state still raw and grieving from the finale, here are my thoughts (and a whole helluva lot of feelings) about Supernatural’s very first episode, Pilot.
(Because these reviews are with the hindsight of the rest of the series, spoilers ahead up to and including the finale)
It took me approximately .5 seconds to get overwhelmed by emotion. Toddler Dean leans over his baby brother’s crib and gives him a kiss on the forehead, saying with so much affection, “Goodnight, Sam” and I am immediately thrown back to the finale, grown up Sam leaning his forehead to his brother’s as Dean says a final “Goodbye, Sam” with just as much love, after all these years and all they’ve been through together.
The first time I watched the pilot, this was just a tender scene, a happy family with a baby in a crib and a young boy in his father’s arms, everyone safe and warm and together. I had no idea what was to come, either in the next few minutes of that episode or in the next fifteen years. I had no idea how much the Winchesters would come to mean to me, or how excruciatingly painful it would be to lose them.
There’s such a sense of innocence now, watching the pilot – my own innocence reflected in the innocence of those two little boys, that short-lived peaceful moment before Sam and Dean’s happiness was shattered. From the first five minutes, Supernatural has never been a show about happily ever after.
I remember thinking that the Pilot was scary as hell too, as I sat in my dark living room watching with my three closest friends, one of whom had already decided Supernatural was the next thing we would all be fannish about. She was so sure about that, she brought VHS tapes of the show to our get togethers (yes, VHS videotapes. That’s how long this show was on the air). One of our foursome pronounced the Pilot “way too scary” and stopped watching halfway through; the rest of us stuck it out. Fifteen years later, that scariness still holds up. The show is so deliciously dark in the pilot episode, shot so beautifully, dimly lit by moonlight or flashlight.
We also get so much background in the pilot episode, although it takes barely any time at all to convey and at the time, we don’t realize just how devastating it will be to know what the Winchesters’ life was like before the event that changes everything. We get little glimpses that seem innocuous – toddler Dean’s love for his daddy, the family’s joy in new baby Sammy, John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) a loving father, the sheer normalcy of their lives with hugs and goodnight kisses in a nondescript house in suburban America.
We have no idea that we’re seeing the origins of the trauma that irrevocably shaped Dean Winchester’s life, yanking away his happy childhood and loving family at a time when he was just old enough to always remember, but not old enough to ever make sense of it without heaps of undeserved guilt and unacknowledged longing that would plague him almost his entire life.
Even 15 years later, knowing what’s going to happen, the opening sequence works to put you on edge – the ticking of the clock, the slowly spinning crib mobile, the baby monitor crackling and the hall light flickering. We don’t know what that means yet, but watching it now? It’s all I can do not to yell at Mary, “you know what that means!!”
At the time, we had no clue that she knew (and neither did the writers or Samantha Smith, whop played Mary, so her lack of suspicion about the flickering light seems logical then, but odd now – Mary grew up a hunter, we now know, so she might have been a little more alarmed). Even with that knowledge, the scene works so well, building up the suspense and letting the viewer know that something is just not right. And that terrifying moment after Mary sees “John” leaning over Sam’s crib and starts down the stairs, when she rounds the corner and sees the real John sitting in the living room watching TV and OMG THAT ISN’T JOHN IN SAM’S ROOM!
The pilot is brilliant in its rollercoaster of ups and downs, the look of terror on Mary’s face as she realizes someone else is leaning over her baby – and then John’s pov as he hears her screams and runs up the stairs, bursting into the nursery to find it quiet, Sammy in his crib. For a moment we sigh with relief along with him – even now, even knowing. John looks down at his son, Jeffrey Dean Morgan showing us all the tenderness that will soon be wiped away in John Winchester’s quest for revenge.