Last year I wrote a long and emotional post for Jared Padalecki’s birthday, remembering (fondly) some of my favorite moments with him over the years. That was his last birthday as Sam Winchester, so I had all sorts of feelings about that fact – and so did he. Nobody knew what 2021 would bring, either in terms of Supernatural being at an end or whether or not we’d still be living in a pandemic-impacted world. They hadn’t yet started filming the final episodes of Supernatural, and we didn’t know how Jared or Jensen or Misha would do afterwards, or how any of us would feel about that big transition. It was frightening, to be honest, to think of giving up these fictional characters that have meant so much to so many of us for so long. And for them, to make such sweeping changes to their lives after being in a routine that worked for so long, working together to film the show and traveling from city to city on weekends for conventions.
(No, this is not just an excuse to put some of Kim Prior’s gorgeous photos of equally gorgeous Jared at conventions in here…)
Fast forward to now – 2021 and the show did finally manage to wrap up, in a way that felt satisfying to its cast and crew despite the pandemic’s restrictions. We’re still living in a pandemic-impacted world, unfortunately, but the other unknowns are clearer now. Jared isn’t Sam Winchester, though it’s very clear that Sam will always be in his heart, but it’s been wonderful to see him thrive on a new show and create a new character in Cordell Walker.
Today was a big day for fans of The Boys and Supernatural – and all fans of Jensen Ackles! After he teased that there would be a reveal of his new character Soldier Boy’s ‘supersuit’ today, just about everyone in the fandom was glued to their social media this morning. I had a dentist appointment, but I confess I kept my phone in my pocket on vibrate, knowing that if it started blowing up, I was missing the big reveal – it actually turned out to be a pretty good distraction for the dental work!
Shortly after I got home, the big reveal happened – and yes, my timeline exploded. And it felt SO GOOD! As a Supernatural fan for the past 15 years (and The Boys for two), I’ve really missed my timeline going nuts over some new information or new photos. There’s nothing that brings fandom together more than having something new to savor, and today was all about that. Fannish differences were put aside and everyone just squeed together over finally seeing Jensen suited up as Soldier Boy.
First we got one photo, with some backstory from articles in Variety and Entertainment Weekly. The suit was designed by Laura Jean “L.J.” Shannon and concept artist Greg Hopwood. Shannon called Soldier Boy the original bad-ass and said her goal was “to highlight a bygone era of overt masculinity and grit.” So they included “an all-American quality grounded in a military soldier’s practicality with a heavy dose of old school cowboy swagger.” Shannon also commented on the casting that they were counting on to do the suit and the character justice: “We knew that the actor had to have Steve McQueen looks and chops with a John Wayne attitude — luckily Jensen Ackles embodies all of that.”
Damn right he does!
LJ Supersuits, the suit designer, posted an additional close up on their Instagram and sent another wave of euphoria and excitement through the fandom, with this message:
“LJ Supersuits presents SOLDIER BOY. This suit was an incredible team effort that required hours and hours of research, planning, and detailed craftsmanship to get it right. We always start with the concept art, and Soldier Boy’s concept was created by @greghops, along with all of his hard surface sculpting. The concept then gets translated into a physical suit by our incredible team. We are so proud of how epic Soldier Boy is and couldn’t be more excited for @jensenackles to take on this character and The Boys Season 3!! Suit sculpting by @cce_inc”
I wasn’t sure I’d do a happy birthday post for my favorite characters this year. Supernatural ended nearly six months ago, and that means the Winchesters haven’t been on my TV screen. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been in my heart, where I’m fairly sure Sam and Dean will live forever. So even though I can’t watch new episodes, in my heart Sam Winchester is having a birthday, and I want to celebrate!
Over the course of fifteen years, Sam became a beloved character to so many of us, thanks to Eric Kripke who created him and Jared Padalecki, who brought him to life. I was fascinated by Sam and Dean from almost the beginning, and over time, through good times and bad times, that fascination only grew. So here’s a post full of reasons of what I love about Sam Winchester, from the start to the finish (at least temporarily, because I’ll hang onto the hope that we’ll see the Winchesters again in time…) Instead of not doing a post at all, I got entirely carried away and took a trip down memory lane, reminding me of all the reasons Sam is special to me.
One of the reasons Sam Winchester is so inspiring as a character is because he’s been through the kind of trauma and loss that would have most of us flat on our backs and unable to put one foot in front of the other. The first losses come when he’s just a baby – his mother, his home, and his father too – still there but no longer the same man or the same father to his young sons.
Twenty years later, Sam’s at school, with goals and aspirations, kicking ass on the LSATs and planning his future with Jessica. And disaster finds him again, Jessica burning on the ceiling just like his mother did.
The boys hit the road. So young and pretty, so many challenges yet to come.
We experience Sam’s empathy and his strength early on. We’ve followed him on quite a journey in just one year, from the boy who struck out on his own to the boy almost as bent on revenge as his father, and finally to this – the young man who understands that there are things more important than revenge, including his love for his family. Sam goes against his father in a completely different way here, with Sam and Dean on the same page about family and reconnected with each other.
I got to know fellow academic and fan Nicholas Yanes when he interviewed me about Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, and the process of putting those books together with the Supernatural actors. We share an appreciation of that show, so I was excited to hear that Nick and colleague Kyle Moody have just published a new book on another fan favorite television series – Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal.” I had a chance to ask Nick and Kyle a few questions about the book and the series and its creator, at a time when Bryan Fuller is being discussed quite a bit in fandom at large.
Here’s some information from the press release description of the book Hannibal For Dinner: Essays on America’s Favorite Cannibal on Television –
Bryan Fuller’s and NBC’s Hannibal only lasted for three seasons, yet it became a critical darling and grew a ravenous fanbase that remains active five years after the show ended. Hannibal is the very definition of a cult show, one that only grew in stature after its unfortunate cancellation. Even when placed in context with Thomas Harris’s popular novel and Academy Award-winning film series, Hannibal stood out as a singularly artistic experience. When it arrived back on Netflix in the United States in 2020, it shot into the Top Ten and immediately sparked discussion of a possible cast reunion and new seasons. Fortunately, academics had already spent years writing scholarship linking Hannibal to changes in television production, mythological interpretation, food culture, and pop psychology, and now there is an edited collection that combines academic and insider production perspectives. In the wake of the show’s return to popularity through Netflix streaming, Hannibal for Dinner includes interviews with writers and producers of the show as well as academic essays that explore the Hannibal franchise – “its evolution, creatively bold risks, mythology, a culture of killers, and how to be an entertaining host when having friends over for dinner. (Well, the last one is a joke for the Fannibals.)”
I like a book that isn’t afraid to include some in-jokes!
Based on the character from the novels and films, Fuller’s version of Hannibal has been called “unique, weird, beautiful and grim.” The show follows the evolving relationship between FBI investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). USA Today covered this new book and called the show a darkly comedic horror thriller that some viewers have also interpreted as a twisted love story, saying the show is “all over the place in the best way possible” with grotesque imagery that is simultaneously visually appealing. They also called it visionary story telling at its finest, lauding the show’s ability to find beauty in the macabre, with some of the most depraved scenes also awe-inspiring spectacles.
The show is controversial because of its unique ability to combine the grotesque and the beautiful and for the relationship between Will and Hannibal that USA Today recognized as the love story at the heart of the show. It’s the kind of morally complicated relationship that fans love to “ship” and to explore in fanworks. Add to that a “tragic, ambiguous and beautiful” finale and you have the ingredients for a passionate fandom – and some controversial ships.
Series creator Bryan Fuller has been vocal in pushing back against the show’s fans being shamed for their shipping preferences or for expressing creativity in their fanfiction, fanart, etc. In a twitter back and forth with some who took issue with certain fanworks and attacked the fan creators, Fuller responded with a now viral tweet:
I’m not disgusted by Art. I’m disgusted by cruelty. I’m disgusted by hate. I’m disgusted by those who would shame others for expressing themselves creatively.
I asked editors Nicholas Yanes and Kyle Moody about that twitter exchange and other aspects of the controversial show, and how those are addressed in the new book.
Can you talk a little bit about Fuller’s attitude toward fanworks, and how that has influenced the fandom and the way ‘Fannibals’ interact?
Yanes: In the chapter “Empathy for the Audience” by Nicole Wild, which is one of the many great chapters in Hannibal for Dinner, Wild discusses how the actors and creators of Hannibal often appreciated fanworks. The people behind Hannibal enjoying fanworks has been documented widely. This mindset helped create the Fannibal community we have today. The reason being that it was not fanworks versus the show; instead, it was fanworks being seen as an extension of the show.
With Fuller’s approach to Hannibal’s fan community, Fannibal fanworks are not seen as competition but as another form of ‘engagement.’ After all, for a group of people to take the time to write, read, and share fan fiction [and] erotica, then they are going to take the time to watch a show and encourage others to watch it as well.
Is Fuller’s attitude a reflection of themes in the show itself, explicitly pushing boundaries of what is “okay” to depict even in fiction?
This is an odd anniversary to commemorate, but it’s an important one. It sounds melodramatic, but two years ago today my life changed significantly when I got the news that Supernatural was ending. If you haven’t ever been a passionate fan of a show or a film or a book series or a band, you may not understand. If you have, you probably do.
Two years ago today, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins told the SPN Family that Supernatural was coming to an end after fifteen seasons, with tears in their eyes and real emotion in their voices. I still have trouble watching that little video message, but I’m forever grateful that they cared enough to tell us themselves.
So on this March 22, two years later, I thought I’d share what I wrote in the Introduction to the book we put together to remember how special Supernatural will always be, with chapters from the actors and the fans about what Supernatural has meant to them, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done.
I’m just as emotional looking back on that day now as I was when I wrote this…
There are certain experiences that happen in our lives that we will never forget. Psychology even has a term for the memory created by this kind of experience: a flashbulb memory. When something happens that shakes our world especially profoundly, the brain encodes that moment differently, and more vividly, than it does our everyday memories.
Back in the day, a flashbulb was a cube that sat on top of your camera and went off to illuminate a scene you were capturing with a photo, freezing it in time forever (it’s now just a light on your smartphone). Our brain, when it records a flashbulb memory, does something similar: it freezes the important, sometimes upsetting moment in time forever. The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the emotions of that moment are all preserved deeply. The memory doesn’t fade like other memories, or lose its emotional intensity. Instead, it remains as clear and vivid as if it happened yesterday. We remember the clothes we were wearing, 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.
Most often, flashbulb memories are about world-changing events like September 11 or shocking personal news. But they can also be things you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes, something is so important to you that the news of its impending loss hits hard enough to freeze the moment in time. I think that’s what happened to me on Friday afternoon, March 22, 2019, the moment I found out that Supernatural would end after its fifteenth season. That might seem like an odd thing to be preserved forever as a flashbulb memory, and it’s certainly not equivalent to world-changing events, but that’s not how our brains work. When something is important, it’s important. And for many people, myself included, this little television show that lasted for fifteen seasons is personally and emotionally important.
When I first heard the show was ending, I was volunteering 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 that 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 by to tell me what Family Don’t End with Blood and Supernatural have meant to her.
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 had been waiting for that news and anticipating it and knew it was coming sooner rather than later. 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” T-shirts and she had bright red hair and a bag with the protection symbol on it. I can see it like it’s a photo frozen in time—as brightly as if lit by a flashbulb—and I can hear Kim’s voice and her words like she just finished talking, even though it’s now many months 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, before they even started speaking, there was no doubt in my mind. Jared, Jensen, and Misha are extraordinary in how open they have been with their fans, and I could see all the emotion they were struggling to contain before I ever hit play to listen to the message. I am forever grateful that I got to hear it from them.
Things are different in the Supernatural fandom than they were two years ago. I’ve been dismayed at the animosity and bullying toward other fans that sometimes seem worse now than when the show was actually airing, something I have to admit I didn’t expect. But I’ve also been encouraged by the kindness and support that most fans continue to show for each other. And I love that the Supernatural cast have made it clear that their love for the show and for their characters and for the fandom is not going anywhere.
While a global pandemic has made it impossible for most of us to see our fellow fans or the actors, with conventions and concerts all on hold, I’m grateful for all the zoom panels and Instagram lives and interviews and every other piece of content we’ve gotten from the cast that I miss so much. It eases the loss and makes me feel like we’re all in this together. I’m grateful for all the myriad fanworks that this incredibly creative fandom puts out there to share, from the prettiest gifs to the most heartbreaking youtube videos to fanart and fanfic that can make me cry or smile all day. I’m grateful for every playful bit of fun I run across and every supportive bit of conversation. It reminds me what fandom – especially this fandom – is all about.
I’m grateful for everything and everyone that keeps the SPNFamily alive. And I’m still hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Supernatural.