In celebration of one of our favorite Winchester’s birthday, we’re looking back over Season 14 and how far Sam has come – and at the incredible acting of Jared Padalecki that has brought Sam to life so vividly and made us all fall in love with him. Every guest star who has ever been on Supernatural has talked about their surprise to find that the leads of the show, even after all this time, are not just “phoning it in”. That they care so much about this show and these characters that they “bring it” every single time – even when it’s someone else’s coverage.
At this point, they’ve talked about how it’s not exactly like acting anymore – they know these characters so well, they can just become them. And it shows.
So on Sam Winchester’s birthday, here’s a look back at Season 14 entirely in screencaps – which tell the story of Sam’s emotional journey and of Jared’s incredible acting talent.
Early Season 14 found Sam grieving the loss of his brother, possessed by the archangel Michael and lost to Sam. Hence what the fandom lovingly dubbed the ‘beard of brotherly grief’. On a totally shallow level, Jared looked hot like FIRE – but on an emotional level, he made it achingly clear that Sam was in incredible pain. It shows in his every expression, in the look in his eyes, in the way he carries himself. My heart broke for him.
Jared can portray pain like nobody else – physical pain, the way he did so authentically in Red Meat, and emotional pain, as he’s had to do for much of this season.
In the midst of his own grief, Jared also showed us the empathic side of Sam. Sam Winchester has a tremendous ability to put himself in other people’s shoes, no matter who they are. He’s done it with Rowena, and thus has developed a sort of bond with her. He’s done it with Jack, creating a closeness and making Sam a father figure to Jack.
In one early episode of this season, he even reached out in empathy to Nick, understanding all too well what it means to have been possessed by Lucifer.
It clearly cost Sam so much to do that — Nick was wearing Lucifer’s face, bringing back all of Sam’s own trauma and PTSD — and Jared shows us every bit of that, without a word needed. A flinch, a fleeting expression, and we know.
Sam having to confront his brother, knowing it was Michael and Dean was trapped inside, was clearly painful for him too. There wasn’t even any dialogue about it, but just one look – and you knew.
There’s a psychological phenomenon that happens when we have an experience that shakes our world so much that our brains encode it as a “flashbulb memory”. It’s an old term, and some of you have probably never seen a camera with a flashbulb, but back in the day it used to go off and illuminate a scene you were capturing with a photo, freezing it in time forever. That sort of memory is so important, and often so upsetting, that it too is frozen in time forever in our brains. The sights, the sounds, the emotions of that moment. It doesn’t fade like other memories, or lose the emotional intensity that was there when it was encoded. Instead, it remains as clear and vivid as if it happened yesterday – we remember the clothes we were wearing when we heard the news, or exactly what we were doing or thinking, or who we were talking to. We remember our initial shock and then the moment when our emotions kicked in.
Usually we think of flashbulb memories as things like the moment you found out about a world-changing event like 9/11 or you got the news that a loved one passed. That’s the level of importance. And yet, I think I may have had one on Friday afternoon – the moment I found out that Supernatural would finally end a year from now. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not making the ending of a television show equivalent to those horrific circumstances, but that’s not how our brains work. When something is important, it’s important. Especially emotionally important. Our brains don’t judge. And for many people, that little television show that lasted for 15 seasons is personally and emotionally important.
I’ve seen quite a few posts essentially saying “what the hell is wrong with these people that they’re grieving a TV show, get a life!” There are lots of posts from fans whose family and non-fannish friends are dismissive of their sadness and critical of them for grieving a television show. Sometimes these people mean well, but let’s face it, they really don’t understand. Luckily, there’s a lot of support in the fandom community, in all its various forms. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that Supernatural is so important in the first place. Yes, fans are incredibly sad to be losing Sam and Dean and Castiel, the fictional characters who mean so much to us. But it’s more than that. Supernatural created a family over these past fourteen years. It’s where many fans found their best friends, their support systems, the people who finally “got” them. It’s where they felt like they belonged, maybe for the first time. That is powerful. Life changing sort of powerful.
When I was putting together Family Don’t End With Blood, it was originally going to be a book written by just the fans. We would all share our stories of how Supernatural and its characters and actors and fan community had changed – and literally saved – our lives. So there are thirteen chapters in that book written by fans that describe how important the show has been, from helping a fan get “sober for Sam” to battling cancer, from leaving a cult to having the courage to change who you are and go after who you want to be. Testaments to the way their lives changed when they became involved in changing others’, through Random Acts or GISHWHES, volunteering for a charity or even starting one. Over the years, I’ve heard thousands more. It’s not the only show or film or book that has changed lives, but thanks to its unprecedented fourteen years on the air and hundreds of conventions, Supernatural has had a greater impact than most.
That Family Don’t End With Blood turned out to be a book written by the Supernatural actors as well as the fans is an indication of just how unique and powerful the phenomenon is. Because it’s not just us who were changed by the show. It’s not just us, in fact, who have had our lives saved by the show and the fandom. It’s the actors who bring the show to life too. And unlike many who work in a judgmental industry that demands perfection, these actors felt close enough to their fans to want to share that – in an actual book that they wrote themselves. That’s extraordinary. Jared, Jensen, Misha and so many other Supernatural actors opened up and wrote about how their lives have changed – finding the courage to pursue things they’d always wanted, finding the validation to become who they really are, surviving a life-threatening stroke, and even finding the support to get up and “always keep fighting” when one of them was at the point of wanting to stop. I don’t know another television show whose actors have been that real with their fans, or another show that has changed its cast’s lives in such a powerful way.
But as I often say when talking about the book, these are not your ordinary actors. It says something so important about Jared, Jensen and Misha that when the decision was made to end the show after next season, they told their long-time crew the news first, the people who are like family to them and whose livelihoods depend on this show. Then they took to social media themselves, recording a video for the fandom explaining that the fifteenth season would be the last. Although all three were clearly struggling with their own emotions, they wanted their fans to hear it from them. It’s the same reason they wrote Family Don’t End With Blood in their own words, because this is too important to telegraph through someone else. I respect the hell out of them for making that video.
The impact of this show doesn’t stop there, however, with the fans and the cast. Over the past few days, actors who have been on the show once or twice or have not been on it at all have weighed in on social media with messages of respect and support, thanking Supernatural for being the exemplary thing that it is and inspiring everyone in the industry. The BC film industry itself weighed in, with gratitude for what the show has done for that industry and Vancouver, including huge financial benefits and providing a talented and hard-working crew with a job they could count on for fifteen years – and one they could love. Journalists from many of the publications that cover fan-favorite shows also shared their own stories of how Supernatural has impacted them; for many, the show was responsible for them entering the field, and for some, it was a personal support over the years just like it has been for many fans.
It’s been four days of shock and grief for the Supernatural fandom as we all start to cope with the impending loss in our own ways. Fandom, ever brilliant and creative, immediately began expressing our intense emotions with art and photos and graphics and heartfelt posts.
Who made a deal, that the show Kripke originally planned to end after Season 5 will go exactly ten seasons longer?
Fans looked back at recent episodes, and wondered if the words were prescient.
“Humans burn bright, but for a very brief time. And eventually they’re gone, even the very best ones, and we have to carry on.” – Castiel, 14×14, Ouroboros
There were clips of Rob Benedict as Chuck, singing that soulful version of “Fare The Well” that now takes on new meaning.
There were gifs and screencaps of that pivotal scene where Sam finds out that Dean made a deal to save his life, and that he’ll go to hell for it – that scene that made so many of us realize just how different and special this show was. The first time I saw it posted on Friday, it hit me like a gut punch.
Fans reached out to other fans, offering a safe place to talk, a shoulder to cry on, whatever support might help. Within the fan community, there was instant understanding that this was an important loss that people were facing, and that it wasn’t something to be dismissed or ridiculed.
Then, as fans began the inevitable process of grief adaptation, they began to look back with gratitude on what Supernatural has given each of us and to celebrate the remarkable accomplishment that this little show has been. The hashtag #SPNGaveMe immediately sprang up on Twitter, and fans started sharing all those life-changing things that Supernatural brought to their lives. Some fans said that they had pulled out their copy of Family Don’t End With Blood to re-read the words of the actors and the fans that memorialize for all time just how special this show and its fandom have been. All over social media, fans reached out to other fans with support and comfort and empathy. I saw many posts from fans of other shows who had never even seen an episode of Supernatural, but as fellow fans, they understood the depth of this loss and reached out with sympathy. As always, fandom took care of each other.
I did my own looking back, my own assessment of what #SPNGaveMe and why this Show is so special to me. I’ve written six books about the show that trace my own journey with Supernatural and how the show and the characters have inspired me and changed me, but I don’t think I’ll ever have enough words to truly describe how profoundly this little television show has changed my life. I found my voice – and myself – through this Show and this fandom. I found courage I’d never had – to speak up, to be real, to change jobs, to call myself a writer and get published. I found friends who have challenged me and supported me, and who I’ve traveled the world with and had the most amazing, life-changing adventures. I’ve had to open my eyes to my own blindnesses and biases and start to make progress in putting them aside. I’ve learned that I can be criticized and not fall apart, and sometimes even learn from that criticism! I’ve gone from being the painfully shy girl who once failed geography class because I literally never spoke the entire time to giving panels at San Diego Comic Con and all over the country – and actually enjoying it! I’ve gone from someone who was too anxious to travel on my own to someone who has navigated airports and train stations and bus stations all over the world – because seeing my fellow Supernatural fans and this cast was just that worth it. The mantra of the Winchester brothers and the Show to “always keep fighting” has been my mantra too, and it has made all the difference.
I am, quite literally, a different person than I was in 2005 when this little Show began.
And that makes the announcement of its ending very important indeed.
So where was I when this flashbulb moment happened?
I was sitting at the Project Fancare table at Lexington Comic Con, surrounded by copies of Family Don’t End With Blood and fellow fans. Project Fancare is a nonprofit which gives fans a forum to talk openly about how television and film and books and all sorts of fandoms have helped them get through tough times, and why that’s a good thing. I had just finished talking to a woman who stopped to tell me what the book and the show had meant to her, which I will never get tired of hearing.
As the woman walked away, my friend Kim leaned over and said softly in my ear, “You need to take a break. Take your phone and go to the bathroom and watch the video that Jensen just posted.” That’s all she said, but instantly I knew. I knew from the genuine emotion in her voice, and the concern for me that I could hear there. I knew because there’s a part of me that has been waiting for this and anticipating it and knew it was coming sooner rather than later. I knew because my stomach instantly fell and my brain kicked into survival mode, blocking all my emotions and making me feel oddly calm even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t. I can vividly see the table in front of me, the books spread out there, and the woman walking away. She was wearing one of the first Represent ‘Always Keep Fighting’ tee shirts and she had red red hair and a bag with the protection symbol on it. I can see it like it’s a photo frozen in time like a flashbulb, and I can hear Kim’s voice and her words like she just finished talking, even though it’s four days later.
I stood in the alcove by the bathroom in the giant convention center and pulled out my phone and found the video – and as soon as I saw their faces, there was no doubt in my mind. Jared, Jensen and Misha are extraordinary in how open they have been with their fans, that’s why they wrote FDEWB after all. I could see all the emotion they were struggling to contain in their faces before I ever hit play to listen to the message. And I am forever grateful that I got to hear it from them.
Within minutes, my phone blew up with people wanting to know if I was okay or wanting to express their own shock and sadness. My fandom friends texted and tweeted and posted and called. My family members, who do understand now that this is important to me, reached out too, checking on how I was doing even if they don’t truly understand why the loss is so deep. I reached out to some of the cast too, who were as emotional as I was feeling. I did a panel with Ruth Connell the next day, so I was able to share with her in person, for which I felt lucky. Even in the midst of grief, there was a sense of “we’re all in this together” that was comforting, even if we might have wished we weren’t in this particular something right now.
It’s four days later as I write this. We are all trying to find the coping strategies that work for us now. Make sure you do so without shame – not everyone will understand how people can grieve for a television show or for fictional characters who don’t exist or for friends you’ve never met in person, but that grief is real because the loss is real. There’s research in one of my books about how we get the same emotional satisfaction from spending an evening with our favorite fictional characters as we do having dinner with family or close friends. Fictional characters play a role in inspiring us and fictional stories are a way of making sense of (and possibly rewriting) our own life stories. Friendship can transcend the physical and online communities can be amazing sources of support. All of that is real, and all of that is healthy. If you’re struggling with a way to cope with fear of losing those things, do what every single person who wrote a chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood advises – tell someone, talk about it, and get some help. There are resources at the end of this article, and don’t be afraid to use them.
It’s also helpful to remind ourselves of the important thing that Supernatural’s very own “dad” posted after the news broke. Eric Kripke, who created this show and these characters, was the empathic father figure on Friday who reached out to tell us all that what he’s most proud of is the family created by his show – and that family is not going anywhere.
Things will change, but not everything. We may not gather together to dissect the latest episode or argue amongst ourselves about which way canon “should” go, but we will have fifteen seasons of rich and nuanced and fascinating adventures to keep watching and keep talking about. As with all fandoms, a lot of what my SPNFamily friends and I talk about on a daily basis doesn’t even have anything to do with Supernatural – we talk family stresses, job challenges, kid questions, politics, that awesome thing we found at Target – whatever! They are the people I can reach out to for support, no matter what the problem.
Fandom friends become forever friends, and the friendship is all the richer for that amazing show that brought us together. Ten years from now a bunch of us will say hey, let’s all watch the Pilot, or The French Mistake, or All Hell Breaks Loose, or the Finale. And no matter where we are in life and who we’ve gone on to become, we’ll all pause and be reminded of all the ways that Supernatural changed our lives. Maybe we’ll get a little teary and reach for the tissues, and maybe we’ll share some hugs as we dab at our eyes, either virtual or in person. Because we’ll always have this in common, and we’ll always “get it”. Nobody can ever take that away.
For now, I’m gonna cherish every single moment I get to spend with the Winchesters and Cas and company for the next year, stock up on tissues, and remember to be very very grateful for this Show and all it’s brought me.
To Write Love On Her Arms: twloha.com
Random Acts Crisis Network: randomacts.org/crisis-support-network/
All of us here at Fangasm are especially proud to be pitching in with a charity auction to help Jared and Gen Padalecki raise money through #RunPadsRun for Dream Big, an organization that provides girls from low income households with the equipment and program fees that are necessary to participate in sports and physical activities. Many young women want to participate, but their economic situations prevent it. Uniforms and equipment are expensive, and so are the soccer and volleyball camps, dance classes, sports clinics and gymnastics classes that allow young women to excel in their sport of choice.
Why is this so important that the Padaleckis are running the Boston Marathon to raise money for the cause? With my psychologist hat on, I decided to find out – and it turns out the research is pretty compelling.
Multiple large-scale studies over the past decade have found a gender gap in youth sports, with girls from urban and low income environments the most impacted. Historically, sports have been an area in which women’s participation is sometimes limited, including access for racial minorities, GLBT+ persons, and women and girls. Girls have faced resistance to their participation, and women’s sports have often been devalued.
This year’s Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans was the gift that just kept on giving for Supernatural fans. Our very own Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) was crowned King by the Krewe of Bacchus, making him Bacchus LI (51) and introducing him to a whole new group of people who probably have never heard of that little CW show he’s on. I have a feeling that Supernatural came away with lots of new fans, because Ackles seems to have charmed the entire city of New Orleans.
With his customary humble attitude, Ackles made the traditional visit to the local Children’s Hospital, joyously tweeted about by several teenagers and nurses who were beside themselves that Dean Winchester himself was right there in the lobby. From his first appearance as he stepped off the bus and was greeted with a high school band that then amusingly followed him around playing the whole time, Jensen seemed as thrilled to be there as others were to have him there. He tossed doubloons with his face on them into the air and grinned his way through interview after interview, expressing his gratitude for such an honor and thanking wife Danneel for having the idea and helping make it a reality.
When the first photos appeared online of Ackles in his Bacchus regalia, the fandom lost its shit. Not gonna lie, some people were worried that no one could really pull off the sort of traditional over the top garb that Bacchus wears, but guess what? Ackles did. Boy, did he ever!
I never knew I had a thing for Jensen in white tights and boots but there you go.
It wasn’t just the outfit though. From the moment he climbed up on that float and began to toss beads and doubloons to the screaming crowd, Jensen looked every inch a real king.
Tell me this isn’t the benevolent King Ackles greeting his loyal subjects. With beads.
Along with much of the fandom, I watched the various livestreams of the parade, amused by the commentators who clearly weren’t sure who he was (but at least had done their homework, unlike some others…) When their livestream on Facebook began, one said “Oh wow, someone is watching from California.” Pause. “Oh someone is watching from Maine.” A second later, “OMG someone is watching from Australia!”
May I introduce you to the SPN Family, lovely commentator?
Jensen himself looked entirely in his element up on that float. He fist bumped when they paid homage to Supernatural with ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ and some other classic rock, and burst into giant grins when he saw someone holding up a Supernatural-related sign. Plenty of SPN Family made the trek to New Orleans and braved a very rainy day to make sure that there were lots of people cheering Jensen on.
Ackles enjoyed every moment, and got so into it that by the time they neared the end of the parade route, he was dancing on top of the float!
That same exuberance carried over to the party celebration after the parade, where Jensen joined the DJ to rile up the crowd – and did more of that dancing he’d been doing all weekend. I saw several experienced Mardi Gras partiers say that they have never had the reigning King leave the VIP area and just party with everyone. Not surprising to anyone who knows how down to earth he is though, is it?
I saw a post on twitter that commented on how much Jensen has “come out of his shell” and how comfortable he seemed being in the spotlight at Mardi Gras. The post compared this weekend to the chapter Jensen wrote in Family Don’t End With Blood, in which he talked about his struggle to overcome his anxiety and especially his fear of speaking in front of other people. He credits the SPN Family for helping him feel more comfortable with that — and I guess Mardi Gras weekend really shows how far he’s come!
Here’s an excerpt from Jensen’s chapter, about how the fandom has changed him:
Before this experience, even at family events, I was anxious. I remember at my brother’s wedding, when I had to give a toast, I was so nervous it was like I had cottonmouth. I couldn’t even speak! I remember thinking, What’s wrong with me? I was already a professional actor by that time, so I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just get up and give a toast. It was like Bizarro Jensen!
…The first awards ceremony that I had to do. I was so nervous I felt like I was just going to pass out right on the stage. Even though I knew the lines—and they were on a teleprompter! It didn’t matter. I felt like I was about to faint just trying to do that.
…Fast-forward to ten years later. Supernatural, and my experience with fans and doing conventions, has changed that for me. And it’s because of the interaction between us… It’s because of the flow of love between us. We get so much energy from you. It’s fuel. That back and forth of emotion between us is fuel for me. And that emotion is genuine; it’s real. That makes all the difference….That comfort has carried over. You see, you’re not strangers anymore. You’re not strange to me. Of course, we’re all a little strange—and we take the little bit of strange in each of us and mix those little bits all up together, all of us, and that’s why we love the relationship we have. You’re family. And you’ve changed me.
I thought of what he wrote as I watched him hold court and toss beads and give interview after interview and shake his ass as he partied, a gigantic grin on his face.
It felt so good to know that we have been a part of his journey, a part of why he’s now able to be a King of Mardi Gras and enjoy every minute of it. Nobody deserves the honor more than Jensen, and I love knowing that we helped him get there.
Ackles is back at his day job now filming Supernatural, and castmate Jim Beaver has already joked that he’s refusing to take his “sparkly suit” off, so that means all is back to normal on that show I love. But really, can you blame him?
I’m just waiting for Creation to announce “Bacchus Photo Ops” with King Jensen because hey, sign me up!
Party on, Mr. Ackles!
Source credit on video (www.instagram.com/p/Bul5OlancWE)
The past several days have been a whirlwind of articles and videos and spoilers and lots and lots of excitement about the little show that, for much of its existence, few people had ever heard of. And yet, despite those years of flying under the radar, sometimes happily, Supernatural is about to air its 300th episode – and going into its 15th season! As I scan through article after article in mainstream publications from Variety to USA Today to EW to TVGuide and everything in between, I’m astounded by what a wild ride this has been and how far this little show – and its fandom – have come.
I remember being similarly astounded when the 100th episode was about to air, feeling so proud of the show and its cast and crew and fans for hanging in there and achieving such a milestone. I remember being over the moon when the 200th episode aired, blown away by both the number of episodes I’d watched over the years and by the episode itself thanks to Robbie Thompson’s genius. I cried a lot as the beautiful haunting version of ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ played and the Winchesters looked on (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles just as emotional as the rest of us). I didn’t think at either of those times that there was much chance of making it to episode 300 – but Supernatural has surprised everyone from day one.
For those of us who have been watching in ‘real time’ since the start, the longevity of the show has made it more than just a favorite television series. If you love Supernatural and are part of the SPNFamily like I have been for many years, the show becomes a touchstone for all the important milestones in your personal life as well. I discovered the show thanks to a few close friends, and made more lifelong friends through online fandom and conventions; I’ve traveled the world with these people, collaborated on creative projects, squeed over favorite episodes. More importantly, these people have been there at the times when I wasn’t squeeful; they were there when I was sad and hurt and angry and scared. The friends I’ve made through this show and this fandom are the people I know I can turn to no matter what.
I write a lot about that benefit of fandom, the community that we all find in fandom and how important and life changing that can be. What’s also impactful about this show is that when you love fictional characters with all your heart and soul, they become very real to you. (Not in the delusional way, my psychologist self is yelling in my ear, but in a healthy and adaptive and helpful way). When you love them, they’re an inspiration and a validation and a comfort to you when times are tough. This show itself is a comfort, and a reminder to many of us to “Always Keep Fighting” even when it’s difficult.
I’ve had a lot of tough times in the past fourteen years, as we all undoubtedly have. My love of this show and its fandom community helped get me through those times when my children were struggling and my heart was breaking not knowing how to help. Through the stress (and frankly terror) of changing jobs and daring to do things I’d always wanted to do, like writing books and actually trying to get them published. Through the insanity of the tenure track rat race and the unrelenting stress of constantly having to prove yourself that is still part of it. Sometimes it was enough just to have the escape of watching a new episode, or revisiting a favorite old one that feels like a warm blanket and never fails to soothe me. Sometimes it was reaching out to fandom friends or just sharing my feelings or reading fic for three hours to de-stress – or maybe writing it myself. Supernatural has always been there for me, in so many ways I can no longer count them.
One of my toughest losses in these past fourteen years was losing my dad. My mom died long ago, and my dad was my rock. He was my biggest cheerleader while I put myself through grad school with three jobs and later when I said I wanted to write books – on a television show he’d never seen. It didn’t matter; he was behind me all the way. I got the call that my dad had unexpectedly passed away when I was at a Supernatural convention. I put down the phone and literally stepped off the airport shuttle and into the con hotel, numb and in shock. It seemed like the worst timing possible; in fact, it was the best. I walked into the arms (literally) of the most supportive group of people on the planet. Friends took my hand and helped me stay calm. Creation staff brought me ibuprofen and literally walked me to my seat and kept checking on me to be sure I was okay. The actors who play the characters I adore heard the news even though I didn’t tell them, and one by one they came over to tell me how sorry they were and to give me a hug. One of the worst days of my life is wrapped in memories of feeling loved and taken care of, because I happened to be immersed in the Supernatural family.
I’m grateful. Grateful for everything this show has given me over these many many years. Grateful that the actors and the fans trusted me enough to help them write a book that told their stories of how the show and the fandom had changed their lives too. Writing Family Don’t End With Blood was a labor of love, and I know somewhere my dad is smiling that it’s dedicated to him and that its sales benefit the work of Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse. Grateful for the amazing friends I’ve made and the stories I’ve been privileged to hear and learn from and the fictional characters who will forever be as real to me as you can get – and as cherished.
I wish I could thank every single person who has kept this show going for 300 episodes – the most dedicated and talented crew in the business, the most eloquent writers, the hard-working producers and staff behind the scenes, the CW and WB and everyone else who didn’t give up, the most passionate fandom in the universe (with all the good that brings and sometimes a bit of the not-so-good too) and the Best. Cast. Ever. For never phoning it in, for never giving up, for never not caring. Someone said early on that this Show is lightning in a bottle – and they were so right.
There have been so many moments over the years – these are just a few that the most fabulous con photographer ever happened to snap. Thanks Chris Schmelke.
Happy 300th episode, Supernatural. And many many MANY more.