One of the first things I did when I got to San Diego Comic Con this year was check out the press preview for the Amazon Prime activation for some of their highly anticipated new shows. I was especially excited to get a taste of the new show, ‘The Boys’, based on the comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. The show flipflops our usual expectations for a superhero show by taking a no-holds-barred look at what happens to superheroes once they succumb to the lure of fame and fortune and power. (And if you think that’s a handy dandy way to look at the very same dynamics in our own real world, you’re absolutely right).
The show seems to be all about the gray, so nothing is black and white, but the good “guys” (who are not all guys) are the mere humans trying to fight back against flawed superheroes and the multi billion dollar organization that essentially manages their social media presence. It’s ‘the boys’ versus ‘the supes’ and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun. I was also intrigued because I fell in love with one of showrunner Eric Kripke’s first “babies”, Supernatural, and have watched all he’s done since. I love the way he isn’t afraid to go meta or to weave in sometimes surprising combinations into one show, from the violent to the irreverent to the heartwarming – and the heartbreaking. So I was excited to experience a little bit of The Boys!
The activation took you inside the world of The Boys and right into a case, as we all teamed up to help some of ‘the boys’ crack a case and figure out what ‘the Supes’ are up to no (no good clearly). One of them had crashed a car right into an electronics shop, so we combed through the rubble for clues while ‘the boys’ used the F word more times than I may have ever heard in the space of fifteen minutes! It was high energy, gritty, dirty and did a great job of portraying the feel of the show. It also threw us all when one of ‘the boys’ suddenly turned on a guy who we thought was a guest just like us and freaked out about him filming on his phone.
The boy: Are you a supe??? Are you??? Why are you filming, huh?
He threw a punch and the guy fell to the floor, obviously bleeding, and a few people in our group actually gasped out loud because they didn’t realize he was part of the activation. Well done, Amazon Prime!
After I attended the press conference for ‘The Boys’ (and was thrilled to be able to ask showrunner and Supernatural creator Eric Kripke a question!) I jogged over to Ballroom 20 to catch the panel. (I seriously do not want to walk for a week once Comic Con is over…)
I didn’t actually start out intending to go the Agents of Shield panel; I tried to go to the Farscape reunion panel. Farscape has been off the air for quite a while, over a decade I believe, so I don’t think Comic Con expected a large crowd. They put the panel in Room 7AB, which is not one of the giant rooms. Much to their surprise, fans lined up around the corner and down the hall and looped around again and again – in other words, there were WAY too many people to fit into 7AB. I was one of those hapless people. They let me in to snap a few photos with my phone, so I got a quick glimpse of the cast and the packed room, but I only had my phone so it was more like photos of some blurry little heads at a table. Alas. I think I did recognize Ben Browder and got to hear him tell a bit of what was clearly an amusing behind the scenes story, but then I was compliant with the “take a few photos and move on” directive and had to do just that. Ah well.
So, I ran back down to Hall H and caught the Agents of SHIELD panel instead.
Agents of Shield made its last appearance in Hall H of Comic Con, and it was an emotional panel for both the fans in the audience and the actors on the panel. They started out with a heartfelt thank you to the crew, who are always indispensable to the success of a show. Then they played a compilation video of each of the first six seasons of the show, with both emotional and kickass highlights of each. Fans reacted with applause as they relived some of their favorite moments, and then the actors weighed in too, sometimes giving some insight into their own memories of filming those moments.
The actors were emotional about the show ending. Jed said that they were right now filming the last episode and it feels like they’re going through the same thing that the characters are going through – their last mission.
Another cast member quipped, “the dragons look great…” and everyone laughed, but I think that joke was needed to break the sudden wave of emotion that swept through the hall as everyone thought about that.
Clark Gregg thanked the fans and his fellow cast.
Clark: For this incredible ride that has changed all our lives.
There was the sense in the room that everyone was grateful, and wanted this last chance to express that gratitude. They recognized and thanked one of their producers, Gary Brown, in the audience, who has been critical in keeping the show going, and they each looked back on their time with the show.
Clark: In the early days, it felt like every week we made a mini movie. We made lifelong friendships, became family.
Maurissa Tancharoen: At the last table read this week, they put our first sides in them.
She started to tear up as she spoke, and her fellow cast members got emotional too. They clearly respect and care about each other a great deal.
I’m at San Diego Comic Con right now, on the day of one of my favorite people’s birthdays – Jared Padalecki. But that’s okay, because he is too! Last year I got to give him a birthday hug the day after his birthday, also at Comic Con. This year, who knows if I’ll be that lucky – but either way, I wanted to tell him how much he means to me and to so many others.
It’s been an emotional year for the SPNFamily, for the fans and for the cast. As Season 14 was nearing its wrap, Jared, Jensen and Misha announced that the next season would be Supernatural’s last. To say that the news sent shock waves through the fandom would be an understatement. But it was a complicated decision for the actors as well, and one that left them almost as emotional as we all were. I’ve talked with all three of them a bit about it since, but even that day, it was clear that – like with so many complex and sweeping decisions – there was ambivalence and mixed emotions. Sometimes even when you’re the one making a difficult decision, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a painful one to make.
So, as the actors head back to work for the final season, I think this will also be an emotional birthday for Jared (and for the other actors as theirs come along). It will be the last birthday that happens while Jared is still Sam Winchester. The last that happens when Supernatural is still filming and still on the air. The last time Jared’s birthday will happen in the midst of the actors holding court in giant Hall H for thousands of fans or being shuttled back and forth from press room to press room and party to party. Like most of the things that will change with the Show ending, that means some things will be better next year. He can spend his birthday at home with the kids, or halfway around the world on an exotic vacation, or anywhere he damn well pleases. He can take the time to kick back and enjoy what he has and what he’s done, and plan for what he’s yet to do. There won’t be PR to do and make up to wear and clothes styled for him; he can wear jeans and bare feet and however much facial hair he wants.
At the same time, there’s a lot of loss associated with the ending too. Because the show – and the fandom – the SPNFamily — has changed these actors’ lives. Not just a little, but a lot. It’s what so many of them, including Jared, wrote about in Family Don’t End With Blood. I honestly didn’t realize, before I put that book together and read what the actors wrote about how important this Show and this fandom has been to them, not just us. Those changes won’t be erased, but the unique and powerful symbiotic relationship that allowed them to happen will change. Losing Supernatural will be a major loss for all of us, on both sides of the fence.
I’ll still be a Supernatural fan, because that’s part of my identity now that I cherish, and I’m sure many of you will too. But Sam Winchester’s life will be put on pause (this is me being optimistic). If the character really is gone, that means we won’t find out anything new about him. We won’t be able to follow his evolution and argue about whether or not it makes sense or does the character justice. We can look back, but we can no longer look forward. And that’s different. Similarly, Sam will be frozen in time for Jared too. Always an important part of his life and his identity, but Sam himself won’t have a [fictional] life to live out. He won’t get any older; he won’t grow and change. He’ll be frozen in time at 38 while Jared moves forward, instead of the two of them evolving in lockstep all these years. He’s so right, he’ll always have Sam, but it will be different.
(Of course, since I’m an optimist at heart, I’m hanging onto the hope that we WILL get more of the Supernatural universe at some point. Maybe there will be a Supernatural movie….or a Netflix mini series… we’ll have to wait and see. And cross all our fingers and toes. And keep telling Warner Bros how badly we want it. We’re good at that.)
For the actors, the changes as a result of the Show ending are if anything even bigger than for the fans. I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve left a job that I loved, it was traumatic to say goodbye – even when I was moving on to something that I’d chosen, something that in some ways at least was better. They are all so close, such a supportive little community, working together and traveling together and experiencing the world together. They’ve quite literally grown up together. I have no doubt they will stay close, but it won’t be quite the same as having morning coffee together every day and running lines and making incredible television.
Things will change; it’s part of life, but some years bring more change than others. So I hope that this birthday is one that Jared can cherish – that he can relish the craziness of Comic Con and the phenomenon that is Supernatural taking over the gigantic Hall H one more time this weekend. I look back on the darkest time in his life, the one he wrote about in his chapter when he almost gave up and didn’t keep going, and I look at how far he’s come and who he is now. Running marathons, facing his demons, unashamed – proud even – to seek help when he needs it and to encourage others to do the same. What he wrote, and what he has said in panels, has inspired so many people. What a legacy he’s built in 37 short years!
I hope he knows that the fan support that he wrote about in his chapter, that helped get him through those tough times and shaped the man he’s become, isn’t going anywhere. It may not feel as immediate or as all encompassing after next year, but it will be there. None of us who have been changed and inspired by this little Show and this SPNFamily – and by Jared Padalecki – are going to forget that.
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/