Supernatural Pilot: A Look Back At How This All Started Post Series Finale

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.

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In The Middle of Sociopolitical Turmoil: Here Comes Supernatural!

This has been a hell of a week. The US election happened on Tuesday and Americans (and most of the rest of the world) waited through constant anxiety attacks to find out who won as results trickled in. Everyone was on edge, tensions were high, and I really needed my number one comfort show, Supernatural. On Thursday, the third to last Supernatural episode ever aired in the midst of all this uncertainty and anxiety – an episode ominously titled ‘Despair’. True to Supernatural form, its third to last episode aired in the middle of unprecedented chaos and caused even more chaos, both in the fandom and more broadly in terms of anyone watching trending topics that night. In fact, #Supernatural not only trended, but #Destiel and #Putin trended – often in the same tweets. Who the hell had that one on their 2020 bingo card??

As Supernatural ends its run, it’s no longer the major player on Tumblr that it once was, but on Thursday all those 2012 Supernatural accounts rose from the dead en masse to comment on whether or not “Destiel Is Canon” with a mind blowing range of unironic celebration posts alongside an equally mind blowing array of shitposts and hilarious memes  making fun of the show for how that possibility played out. I admit I never thought that if Supernatural once again ruled Tumblr memes, it would be for making fun of a scene that was the opposite of intended to be funny.

But it’s been that kind of a week. I have mixed feelings all over the place that I still haven’t sorted out and the US Presidential election was just decided after 987 years, so I’m not likely to sort them out any time soon. Instead, I’ll try to dig into the entire episode, not just those three minutes, and see where it brought us, for better or worse.

The episode picks up right where 15.17 left off, Sam helping an injured Jack. Jack tells them all to leave him, for their own good.

Jack: I don’t wanna hurt you, don’t let me hurt you…

Alex Calvert is so good at making me feel for Jack, that plaintive ‘don’t let me hurt you’ going right to my heart. Dean has changed his tune completely, insisting passionately that they’re not gonna give up on him. Poor Dean must have whiplash with how the writers keep making him change his tune so often.

Billie appears, blaming them for her plan not working and then zapping Jack out of there to the Empty.

Which means we get to see Rachel Miner again, so yay. Jack promptly explodes, though, so boo. The explosion wakes everything up and makes a lot of noise and totally pisses it off. Enraged, the Empty attacks Jack, crushing his head.

Poor Jack, he’s been through a lot in the last two minutes.

Billie gives us some exposition about the Empty being pissed at her too for sending an explosive Jack there, and reminds us that the Empty can’t come to Earth unless it is summoned, which we already knew. And Sam reminds us what we figured out last week about Billie’s plan – that anyone who was resurrected will die, including Sam and Dean. Billie also is pissed that Sam took the God book and wants it back, refusing to return the maybe still alive Jack until Sam gives it to her. Sam finally goes to get it; instead of putting it in her outstretched hand, he drops it on the table instead. Sassy, Sam.

Billie underestimates the Winchesters for some reason and walks away to read the new portion of the God book, her scythe left behind and her back to the Winchesters. She zaps Jack back to them but insists he’s coming with her, since he’s still “useful”, and that’s when Dean has had enough. He grabs her scythe and attacks her, injuring her. She zaps herself out of there, leaving Jack (and her scythe) behind.

Lisa Berry can be very scary indeed and she proves it in this episode, telling the reapers in her library when she returns, clutching her shoulder, that “the plan has changed.”

Uh oh.

That night, neither of the Winchesters can sleep. Dean drinks in the dark, and Sam joins him.

Dean slides a glass and the bottle to his brother and they settle in, mirror images of each other. It’s a beautifully filmed scene from director Richard Speight, Jr. but melancholy as hell.

Dean: Sam, I’m sorry…about everything.

Sam: Dean, you don’t have to…

Dean: I pulled a gun on you! I couldn’t stop… we were so close to beating him… I couldn’t snap out of it.

Sam: Yeah, well, you did. And you’ve snapped me out of worse.

Dean: Mmm

Sam: You have.

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Sam is hanging onto hope for both of them, saying they’ll regroup. Somehow.

Dean raises his glass.

Dean: To somehow.

They clink glasses, drink together in the dark.

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