You know how they say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone? Or that you don’t know how much you love something/someone until you don’t have them anymore?
Yeah. It’s true. I’ve known for fifteen years that I was madly in love with Dean Winchester, but even knowing that, I truly didn’t know how much I was going to miss him when he was gone. I took for granted that I’d always be able to “see” him, that I could keep discovering his character and his story, little by little as time went on. I underestimated how wonderful it was to be endlessly fascinated by a fictional character and have the privilege of learning who he was, in bits and pieces and often-covered-up glimpses of the ‘real’ Dean Winchester, over the course of years and years and years. There was a reality to that discovery, in that it played out gradually, just like it does with people in our actual lives. And thanks to Jensen Ackles’ brilliant portrayal, there was a reality to everything about Dean Winchester that made him real to many of us.
That made him very hard to lose.
I thought that 2020 would be the last time I wished Dean happy birthday; I knew that he wouldn’t exist in the present by 2021. But right now I find myself needing to write about him again. It’s part of grieving the loss of something/someone important, that we want to hang onto our memories of them and remember why they were so important to us. I don’t want to forget him, not ever. And since fictional characters never needed our real-life validation, it doesn’t make any difference whether Dean ‘exists’ in the present or not – remembering him is for me. I miss him, and reminding myself of all the reasons why I love him helps me feel just a little bit better.
This could be a really long article if I tried to make an exhaustive list of what I love about Dean Winchester, so I’ll keep it short. Top five reasons why I will always love Dean Winchester.
One, I love his complexity. That’s due to Eric Kripke, who created him and wrote him for the first five seasons, and to Jensen Ackles’, who brought him to life in a way that was even more vivid than what was written on the page. It took me a whole season to fall for Dean Winchester; at first, I dismissed him a little as a stereotypical ‘bad boy’ type, a little too brash. Pretty on the surface but too stereotypical underneath. (Forgive me, I was only watching because a friend insisted, so clearly I wasn’t paying enough attention!) When Season 2 began, I suddenly realized that I had misjudged the show, and the brothers. I remember watching Dean, leaning against the Impala, break down and confide to Sam that he was not at all okay, tears glistening in his eyes, voice breaking. I let the papers I was grading slide to the floor and said out loud, “how did I not realize this show was amazing?” But it was also Dean, and Jensen’s willingness to show his character’s vulnerability, that made me fall head over heels for Supernatural.
We’re still all dealing with the final episodes of Supernatural as well as the reality of the show ending, which means a lot of sadness and loss, so I thought it would be a good time to start looking back and remembering all the things that made the show so special – and putting something happy on everyone’s timeline. So stay tuned for a month of new exclusive interviews, and join me as I return to the beginning of where it all started and begin a rewatch from the pilot – which means episode reviews with the benefit of hindsight now that the entire series has aired.
Supernatural wouldn’t have inspired so many strong emotions as it ended if it hadn’t been important to so many of us, and there’s a reason for that. A few reasons, actually.
Eric Kripke created some endlessly fascinating characters and cast some of the most talented actors around to portray them. The writing team has fluctuated through the years, but every season has had amazing episodes that are unforgettable. The crew became family with the cast since they all stayed with the show, many since the beginning, making its filming nearly seamless. And finally, the directing. Cast members like Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Richard Speight, Jr., Matt Cohen and Amanda Tapping took a turn at the helm with some wonderful episodes, and Supernatural also invited some other eminent directors to contribute to the show. One of those is Blair Witch director Eduardo Sanchez, who returned to direct the memorable episode “Last Holiday” in Season 15.
So, first up in our feel good Supernatural stuff leading up to 2021, my chat with Eduardo all about directing his last episode of the show.
(Below are some of the photos he posted to bring the fans with him on his last episode)
I first spoke to Sanchez a few years ago about the Supernatural episodes he’d already directed. I was fascinated by his insights about the show, so I was excited to know that he’d be back to direct Supernatural again in its final season. At the time, I was putting together a book of chapters from the show’s actors and fans with their feelings about what Supernatural’s legacy would be for them (There’ll BePeace When You Are Done). One of the fans who wrote a chapter, Tedra Ashley-Wannemuehler, wrote about an episode and characters that had a significant impact on her life – and it turned out to be Eduardo’s episode, The Chitters (also one of my favorites). Even more exciting, I had already asked the two actors who played the main characters in that episode, Cesar and Jesse (known as the “hunter husbands” in fandom), Hugo Ateo and Lee Rumohr, if they would like to write chapters for the book about their experience doing the show – and they both did. Their chapters and Tedra’s chapter bring so much insight into how that episode portrayed two gay characters and what that representation meant to each of them. I’m sure directors and actors don’t always know how influential, sometimes life changing, their work can be, but in this case I was thrilled to let Eduardo know. And yes, I sent him a copy of There’ll Be Peace When You AreDone after this chat so he could read those chapters himself.
We chatted this time over zoom in the midst of a pandemic, shortly after Eduardo’s last Supernatural episode, Last Holiday, had aired. Eduardo had some fascinating behind the scenes insights into the episode, directing in general, and doing it during a pandemic. (Included here are more of the photos he snapped to share his last episode with the fandom on twitter).
Before we delved into Supernatural, we both asked how each other how Covid was treating us.
Eduardo: I’m in New Orleans right now doing a tv show, the first one I’m doing since Covid started, and it’s so isolated. I went to visit a friend yesterday, and he’s part of the crew too, so we can’t really eat together. Part of the agreement we make is we won’t put ourselves in risky situations. He and I are both A level, which means if we go out, they have to shut down production and that costs money. But it’s the last season so we’re making the best of it.
We both agreed it was both scary and infuriating.
Lynn: We’re in a stressful time – which means we need art and media even more to get through! You’re doing a lot of last-season-of-a-series directing.
Eduardo: That’s true. The Supernatural episode was emotional for sure.
Lynn: It’s interesting that you ended up directing some episodes that were really important. The Chitters for sure, and this one was important too. It was a very emotional episode because everyone was aware that it was our last chance to see these brothers get all the things they didn’t get in their childhoods – holidays, birthdays, packed school lunches, grilled cheese sandwiches. When you got the script, were you thinking about that?
Eduardo: I didn’t think of it in that way when I read it at first, I thought it’s kinda like one of those episodes that could come at any time. Like The Chitters, there wasn’t much mythology or story arc in the episode. And I love those episodes because you can have a lot of fun and they’re not as heavy. I got the script right after I did a show called “Next” in Chicago, that [the weather] was really cold, and I read that it was all in the sound stage and I was so happy, because I thought, that’s gonna be sweet!
Tomorrow is the last day that Supernatural will be on the air. The last time I’ll wake up in the morning and think oooh there’s a new episode on tonight! The last moments I’ll get to spend with the fictional characters who have meant so much to me and the show that has changed my life. I don’t think I ever could have been ready for that, to be honest. And I know I’m not alone.
Whether you’ve been watching Supernatural for one year or fifteen, most of us are not what you’d call ‘casual viewers’. We don’t just watch this Show, we live it. Many of us found our closest friends here. We fell in love with the richly drawn and brilliantly portrayed characters, and they have been our inspiration for real life change and real life determination to keep on fighting whenever something threatens to knock us down. We spend alot of time here, immersed in the community that formed around the show, sharing thoughts and feelings and hilarious memes and heartbreaking confessions on every social media platform imaginable.
We all found our niche and our people, and we count on that support system every single day. All because of a little television show on the CW that drew us together. Even when we’re railing about its plot holes or inconsistencies or canon not going where we wanted it to go, Supernatural is the thing we have in common. The fact that we’re still railing and meme-ing and posting and stocking up on tissues makes it pretty clear that even after all these years, we’re passionate about this Show and its incredible cast.
Photo: Rob Hayter IG
The impact that Supernatural has had goes beyond watching a tv show. The theme of the show has always been one that fans have taken to heart and used as an inspiration in real life too. The Winchesters have never been traditional superheroes – they’re human, and their flaws and challenges have never been glossed over either by the writers or the actors. For fifteen years, Supernatural has showed us that ordinary people can make a difference, just through their determination. The Winchesters have lived the “always keep fighting” mantra – even when it means they’re often bloodied and bruised and beaten down — and showed us that we can too. When real life beats us down and leaves us bruised and bloodied, we can pick ourselves up like Sam and Dean did after God himself put them through a literal beating. Castiel taught us something similar – he may not have been human (for most of the show), but his journey mirrored the journeys of many of us as he fought to become himself and rebelled against forces conspiring to prevent that. So many other characters have also inspired us to be who we are, from Ash to Kevin to Bobby, from Charlie to Eileen to all the Wayward women letting us know we all can embrace our wayward too. Supernatural changed most of us in some way, for real.
And that means that knowing it’s ending is hitting us hard. I’ve had television shows end before and I’ve been sad – I remember gathering with friends to watch the last episode of the X Files back in grad school, all of us going out drinking afterwards to drown our sorrows. I remember watching the final episode of Buffy, and Angel, and then talking long into the night with friends who had been invested in those stories. This feels different. Somehow, although we all always knew that the show would end sooner or later, when it kept on going (and going and going) it started to seem like Supernatural would really never end. That we could keep on joking about it being the never-ending show and look forward to Jared and Jensen calling out “Sam! Dean!” gray-haired from their rocking chairs. That we’d always have this show to talk about and argue about and care about – and the vibrant communities within which to do that. I’m still having a hard time getting my head around the fact that tomorrow really is the last episode – it’s been a part of my life for so, so long.
It’s hard to believe, after all this time, that Supernatural will, in fact, end.
Every time I do manage to get my head around it, the realization hits me like someone just punched me in the stomach. You would think I’d be good at this – I’m a psychologist. I teach graduate courses on grief and loss, in fact. I should know how to cope for myself, right? Not gonna lie, I’m pretty worried about Thursday night. So I thought I would sit down and pull my thoughts together to remind myself how I can get through it – and how we all can get through it.
First, we need to allow ourselves to call this what it is. This is not just “a silly television show going off the air” – this is a real and genuine loss. Supernatural has been important to us, not just as a sci fi fantasy show we enjoy watching, but as a real life inspiration and a source of great satisfaction and belongingness. Losing it is going to hurt like hell. Allow yourself to frame this as a loss and accept that you’ll need to grieve that loss, just like any other. Don’t let anyone’s “oh get over it, it’s just at tv show” invalidate your feelings. The loss of the show itself is difficult enough, but secondary losses can be just as painful – the constant media coverage we’ve grown used to, with new photos and updates all the time, the vibrancy of the communities, the passionate conversation created every week around new episodes, the frequent conventions where fans meet not only the actors but other fans who have become forever friends.
Like everything else in life, the pandemic has made what would always have been a deep loss even harder to take. Many of us had planned to be surrounded by fellow fans when we watched the series finale – to be with people who also “get it”. The fact that Supernatural is ending in the middle of a global pandemic means that’s not possible for most of us. However, we can still pamper ourselves a little. Maybe that means a slice of pie ala Dean Winchester or wrapping yourself in a warm fuzzy blanket. Maybe that means having a zoom call open with your friends or staying on social media in between scenes so that you don’t feel like you’re watching alone. I’m hoping it will make me feel a little better to share in the communal expression of feelings that will be going on in every corner of the internet. Even if you’re watching “alone”, know that you won’t be – all over the world, the rest of the SPN Family will be watching too. When ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ starts to play for the final time, we will all tear up together. Every time you grab a tissue from the box(es) you have at the ready, know that you won’t be the only one.
Once we’ve made it through Thursday, give yourself time to grieve and permission to do that in whatever way feels right. We all cope with grief differently and there’s no right or wrong way to do that. Some of us are what we call “instrumental grievers.” We need to DO something in order to feel better. Organize a rewatch, put together a playlist of funny moments at Supernatural conventions, post your own personal tribute to the show. Plan a get together with other fans for once the pandemic lets us travel safely. Tweet your thanks to a cast member who inspired you or another fan who got you through a tough time. Celebrate all the things that Supernatural has meant to you.
If, on the other hand, you’re more of an “intuitive griever,” you need to feel your emotions and express them in order to grieve the loss. That means it will probably help you to share your feelings with other like-minded people. Talk about how you’re feeling in whatever community you feel comfortable in; the validation of ‘OMG I feel that way too’ really does help. If losing Supernatural is the icing on the cake in a year full of stress, do what Jared Padalecki has been candid about doing that helps him – make an appointment with a therapist. Most of us who are therapists have a broad understanding of loss and will understand what that loss means to you.
Here are a few coping strategies that are helpful when we’re grieving a loss that might help with this one:
Objects of connection. These are symbolic objects that help you feel connected to whatever or whoever you’ve lost. Wear your favorite piece of Supernatural jewelry or clothing. Make a scrapbook, physical or virtual, with photos that are meaningful to you – actors, characters, photo ops from cons, or fun times with fellow fans. Put your Pop Funko Sam, Dean and Cas where you can see them and smile. Construct a memory box that holds items that remind you of the show or of the experiences you had as a result of being a fan of the show. If you’ve collected way too many Supernatural tee shirts, sew them together into a quilt that you can snuggle up under as the weather gets colder. Whatever object lets you feel close to the show and remember it, keep it close and let it keep you connected to what you’ve loved.
We put together two books which include the actors’ feelings about the show in their own words specifically to help us stay connected to Supernatural and what it means to us as the show comes to an end. I guess you could say they’re objects of connection too. There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done and Family Don’t End With Blood are intended to be a reminder that this show has changed the lives of both its fans and actors. A reminder of the characters who have inspired us, and why they’re so important both to the fans who love them and the actors who brought them to life. Something you can hold in your hands and hang onto while you read their words and know that we were never in this alone.
Share your story. Especially if you’re an intuitive griever, sharing what the show has meant to you and what the loss feels like can be helpful in adapting to the loss. Write your own ‘chapter’ like the actors and fans did in the books; share it in whatever space feels comfortable to you. Writing is therapeutic in itself, helping us make sense of the loss and express whatever feelings are associated with it.
Resilient image. If the feelings of grief start to seem overwhelming, it can be helpful to create an image of resiliency that can remind us of the strengths and supports that we do have. It’s a way of self-soothing when our emotions are strong enough that we feel temporarily helpless and out of control. Create an image of a time and place when you felt safe, comfortable and in control even though there was chaos or danger around you. Maybe you’re in the Men of Letters bunker, running your hand over the names carved into the library table. Maybe you’re in the Impala, who always kept her boys safe in the midst of even a literal apocalypse. Maybe you’re wearing Dean’s leather jacket, or huddled beneath Castiel’s wings. Visualizing that resilient image when there are lots of emotions and stressors can be calming and comforting.
Ecotherapy. Being immersed in nature helps us make meaning of our life and our losses, making us more aware of the here and now and less stuck in our heads, and helps us experience our emotions more fully. Take a walk in the woods or on the beach. Notice the sun and the clouds and the wind and the smells and sounds around you. If it’s safe to go barefoot, dig your toes into the sand or the grass. If there’s a labyrinth near you, walk it. Being in nature makes us feel more connected, both to ourselves and to the rest of the world, so this can be especially helpful if you’re feeling some of that loss of community.
We’re a diverse community of fans, and we’re all going to grieve differently. We sometimes tend to think that everyone should process loss the same, and if someone doesn’t, maybe they’re not “really” grieving. But there’s no right or wrong way to grieve and no timetable for how long it takes each of us to adapt to a loss and for the hurt to lessen. Some people want to be distracted and move on as quickly as they can, maybe finding another show to love and another fandom to join. Others need to sit with their feelings for a while and just FEEL them before they can adapt. Both are valid ways of grieving a loss.
The hopeful thing about grief is that it doesn’t mean forgetting. We never forget the people and things we’ve loved, and we don’t need to stop loving them. They become part of us, cherished memories that eventually bring smiles. We can celebrate what the show has given us, how it’s changed us. The friends it’s brought into our lives, the courage that the story and the characters have inspired in us. The ways Supernatural and the SPN Family have kept us going and gotten us to where we are in life – to who we are in life. There’s a lot to celebrate and cherish about Supernatural and what it’s meant to all of us.
Most of all, know that you’re not alone. Even if you’re sitting in your living room watching a screen by yourself this Thursday evening, there will be people all over the world doing the same thing. People who love Supernatural, who have been inspired by its characters and its message. Whose lives have been changed by this little show and who are going to miss it when it’s gone – but who will keep on celebrating all the things it gave us for a very long time.
In the wise words of Castiel to Jack, about losing what you love…
Eventually they’re gone, even the very best ones, and we have to carry on. So what’s the point? The point is, that they were here at all and you got to know them. When they’re gone, it will hurt, but that hurt will remind you of how much you loved them.
Oh, we loved them. We’ll always love them.
And maybe, just maybe, as the final words of Jensen Ackles’ chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done remind us, “nothing ever stays dead on Supernatural.”
This video linked below kinda says it all… See you on the other side!
I’ve known Matt Cohen a long time. I was there for his first Supernatural convention a decade ago – I remember turning to my friend Kathy as we watched Matt try to hug every single fan he met and saying “this guy is a keeper.” I was thrilled when his reception at the cons ensured he would be invited back, eventually becoming one of the Karaoke Kings and an integral part of the Supernatural conventions all over the world. Matt was one of the first Supernatural actors I invited to write a chapter for Family Don’t End With Blood, because I knew he would have something inspiring and moving to say. I was right. The chapter he wrote is candid, insightful and very personal – it describes the way being on Supernatural has changed his life and how his relationships with his fellow cast members has changed him as well. It’s one of the chapters that makes me smile and tear up simultaneously (like all the best Supernatural episodes).
I was thrilled when he returned to the show again to play John Winchester, and perhaps even more thrilled when he became part of the final season of the show – not as an actor this time, but as a director. By then he had already made his own short film, Mama Bear, which he had directed and proved just how talented he was behind the camera, not just in front of it. I loved that film, so I couldn’t wait to see what he did with Supernatural.
I waited until his episode, Gimme Shelter, had aired last month, then we caught up by phone.
Matt: It’s nice to hear your voice.
Lynn: It’s been a long time.
Matt: Too long as far as I’m concerned!
(I think the entire SPNFamily feels that way at this point – we all miss each other! We caught up with family stuff, and how his son Macklin is doing with online learning (great) and then dug into the episode.)
Lynn: I was super excited that you got to direct an episode before the show ends. It seems so right and so special.
Matt: It certainly was special and I feel lucky. This show has given me everything at this point, and for it to give me my first hour of prime time TV directorial debut? I agree with you, it felt right. I felt like I was at home because I knew these people were going to do everything they could to not have me fail.
Lynn: For sure. You’re family.
Matt: And to me, that made me work harder than I’ve worked on anything my whole life, to make sure I could get them out on time and get everyone home and rested and then back to my set again and we could just knock this one out and keep on moving. And that’s exactly how it went. It was a special experience with the most remarkable crew I’ve ever worked with. They were there for me and I was there for them and it was just beautiful. Every day was emotional for me. When I wrapped every single day, I felt that this was part of my eight day goodbye to the show. And it was difficult, you know? I tried not to cry every night.
Lynn: I can’t even imagine how emotional it was for you, after all this time and this being such an incredible, life-changing journey. This was one of those quintessential Supernatural episodes that has a little bit of everything – humor, excitement, and emotion. All of them came together, but it was a complex episode. The emotional moments are probably my favorite things about the show – in this episode, like the scene when Castiel talks about his journey – finding a family, becoming a dad.
Lynn: It struck me that is so similar to what you wrote about in your chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood, about your own journey finding yourself and becoming a dad too. Misha [Collins] was so good in that scene. How did you feel about the episode’s story?
I don’t know why I ever entertained the thought that Supernatural might go out without all kinds of emotions and reactions, since the show has always inspired those in its fans – so why should its last few episodes be any different? The week before’s episode (Despair) brought intense and varied reactions and saw the loss of Castiel; this past week’s episode was very different but it somehow managed to engender varied reactions again. We didn’t lose any of the remaining three major players, however, and I’m still shocked about that. I had convinced myself, in an attempt to somehow prepare myself for the anguish, that either Sam or Dean or both were going to die in 15.19. I was so on edge I could barely think of anything else on Thursday (which makes work challenging) and I had my box of tissues and glass of wine at the ready. Slice of pie too, and fuzzy blankie, just in case. Not that any of that is going to be all that helpful next week, probably. But I was so convinced that we were losing at least one of them, that I spent most of the episode hyperventilating and hypervigilant, just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And then…. it didn’t.
Until the moment the credits rolled, I was half hiding my face behind my hands certain that something horrible was going to happen and take all the good feelings away. I sat there in shock for a good few minutes after, probably muttering out loud “is that… it?”
It was also confusing because this penultimate episode (forgive me, but everyone in this fandom is using that word because it holds special meaning to us and how often do you get to use it properly?) – anyway, this penultimate episode felt so much like the end. Like the series finale, not just the season finale. There were lots of “let’s just leave it right here, okay?” posts on Thursday night. This fandom does not get to have feel-good endings. It just doesn’t happen. Not as a season finale, that’s for sure. We’ve been so conditioned to tragedy befalling us if we let our guard down, I think there was a collective “HUH?” from all over the world when this episode ended and Sam and Dean were still alive – and Jack was… Well, Jack. But also, for all intents and purposes, God.
The writers of this episode are not fandom favorites, which also made me nervous. They’re known for episodes that have so much going on, it makes your head spin, and this episode wasn’t an exception to that. There were things that made me scratch my head, but they also managed to tie up a ridiculous number of loose ends in a relatively satisfying way, so I’m not going to quibble too much. Maybe I just desperately needed something that felt like a happy ending, because I’m willing to just let myself feel good about this one. There is only one more episode left, and I want to hang onto any good feelings I can find about my favorite show EVER, for five days longer.
Special kudos for the amazing music in this episode, which really enhanced the story and made me feel more than I might have. Christopher Lennertz and Jay Gruska have knocked it out of the park so many times for so many years, making Supernatural so much more powerful and emotional than it would have been without their talent and how much they care about the show. I’m so appreciative. This episode was Lennertz; the series finale will be Gruska.
How many boxes of tissues will I need when the Winchester family theme plays for the last time? I don’t think there are enough in the universe.
The episode picks up pretty much where ‘Despair’ left off, Sam and Jack realizing the world is empty as we see scenes of empty streets in cities all over the world, mournful music playing that makes the scene so much more cinematic than it would have been otherwise.
Dean drives up to join them, finding a shell-shocked Sam and Jack.
Sam: I couldn’t save anybody…
Jack: (looking stricken already) Where’s Cas?
Dean: He saved me. Cas is gone. Jack, I’m sorry.
Dean still looks in shock, barely able to meet Jack’s eyes, his jacket still bearing Castiel’s bloody handprint.
Jack gasps, heartbroken. Sam looks even more shocked and guilt-stricken than before. He calls people, getting only cell phone answer messages. That little detail seemed so real, like exactly what any of us would do, unable to believe that everyone is really gone.
The three walk down the deserted street, mournful eerie music playing, into a deserted diner with the beer tap still running, like the best apocalypse fanfic. (With a little homage to Jensen’s Family Business Beer Co)
The diner itself is called “Sammy’s” and it resulted in some amusing tweets about bringing all the boys to the yard, because fandom knows how to have fun even in the midst of an apocalypse.
Jack calls to Castiel, but gets no response. As he walks dejectedly by some plants and trees, they wither and die as he passes.
Sam can’t shake his guilt.
Sam: I did this. We didn’t give Chuck what he wanted, we tried to rewrite him and the whole world paid the price…
Dean and Jack disagree, and Jack is the one who speaks the message that will always be inextricably linked with this show for me.
Jack: You can’t just give up.
Always Keep Fighting.
The Winchesters do seem to give up, though. They meet up with Chuck and tell him he’s won, that they’ll give him what he wants.
Sam: We’re giving up.
Dean: I’ll kill Sam, he’ll kill me. We’ll kill each other. But first, you have to put it back – the people, the birds, Cas. You gotta bring him back.
They are willing, both of them, to sacrifice themselves to save the world – as they have always been.
Chuck really is sadistic, though. He doesn’t find that story ending as compelling as he thought, deciding to leave the Winchesters and Jack wandering through a deserted world, dealing with their overwhelming guilt.
Chuck: Knowing it’s this way because you wouldn’t take a knee.