I still remember how shaken I was by this episode. It was Season 2, the show was on the verge of being cancelled constantly. We didn’t know for sure what its future was, and that made the ending of this episode unbearable as Sam died in his brother’s arms. I remember just sitting on the floor and sobbing, and then being unable to stop thinking about it all week as we waited for Part 2, the season finale. It wasn’t the first time the Show ripped my heart out, but it was the first time I couldn’t shake it off with a reminder that this was a television show and not real life, that Jared Padalecki was out there living his best life in spite of just having watched Sam Winchester die, and everything would be fine. It didn’t feel that way.
And that is damn good story telling.
This is a Sera Gamble penned and Kim Manners directed episode, which should tell you alot about how incredible it is. The THEN reminds us of the Winchesters’ tragic history, Mary burning on the ceiling setting her boys off on this dangerous road they’re still traveling. The Yellow Eyed demon and the special children that were chosen for something still unknown – Andy, Ava. The warning that there’s something big brewing, enough to frighten a scary man like Gordon. Bobby’s warning that a storm is comin’ and Sam and Dean are smack in the middle of it.
Sam’s scared, wondering if maybe this is the YED’s plan, that they’re all…
Dean: What? Killers? Give me a break!
Refusing to believe that about his little brother. They find sulfur at Ava’s house, know that the demon has been there.
Sam: You can’t run from this — and you can’t protect me.
That, right there, is Dean’s worst nightmare.
Dean: Damn it Sam, this whole thing is spinning out of control!
The impala pulls up to a café in the middle of nowhere, an example of the brilliant location scouting of Russ Hamilton and set dec of Jerry Wanek and the amazing collaboration that Supernatural was. Most of this episode’s outdoor scenes (which is most of it) are filmed on dark rainy nights, puddles and mud on the ground and raindrops glistening on Baby’s sleek black metal. It sticks in the boys’ hair, on Bobby’s battered cap. It’s beautiful, but it adds to the sense of tragedy that’s coming, and Kim Manners takes advantage of every moment of it.
Sam goes inside the diner and Dean reminds him not to forget the extra onions. It’s a few glorious moments of the brothers being brothers, Sam arguing that he’s the one who will have to ride in the car with Dean’s extra onions and Dean grinning smugly.
Dean: Hey, see if they’ve got any pie – bring me some pie!
He settles back in the seat, murmuring what will become a Supernatural-ism – “I love me some pie”
Sam scoffs as he goes inside. A few of the simple pleasures that the brothers enjoy on those long drives, a random cafe in the middle of nowhere that might have some home-baked pie. An opportunity to annoy your brother by eating lots of onions on your burger, or an opportunity to bitch at him if he does.
Supernatural excels at setting you up with a feel-good scene, all warm and cozy, and then suddenly turning everything ominous and dark in a heartbeat. There’s static on the radio suddenly, the rainy night now seeming dangerous – and when Dean looks up at the diner, he can’t see anyone inside now.
The season finale of The Winchesters was called “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” a nod to the fact that it’s some kind of ending even if we don’t know what kind yet or how final that ending might be. If it doesn’t get picked up by the CW, which seems unlikely as it’s not picking up many scripted shows, Chaos Machine has said they will shop it to other networks and streamers, so who knows what will happen. Showrunner Robbie Thompson, in his finale week interviews, made it clear that it was their goal and priority to deliver a solid season ending that could work if the show went forward and also work if it did not – which is no easy task, I’m guessing!
The Supernatural fandom has a lot of big feelings about endings.
I know I do, and most of my fellow fans and fandom friends do too. I loved the series finale of Supernatural and feel protective of it when misinformation about it gets passed around. So I’m sure that plenty of people will feel protective of the ending of this show as well. I’m sure too that, like OG Supernatural, emotions around this finale will be mixed.
Some of my closest friends didn’t love the Supernatural series finale because they had a very hard time with Dean dying, and for some of those people somehow this episode of The Winchesters felt healing. I confess I don’t entirely understand why, since Dean was just as “alive” at the end of Supernatural as he was at the end of this episode, which is to say not alive at all but very much existing, as Jensen said to me long ago, on another plane of existence. This episode didn’t change that; Dean was happy and at peace at the end of Supernatural, and he was more or less the same at the end of The Winchesters. In fact, one could argue he had more peace at the end of Supernatural than at the end of The Winchesters, after finding out about Chuck’s fail-safe plan instead of believing that he and Sam had defeated Chuck, peace when you are done, end of story. But if some people felt they needed healing and they got it from this show, I am all for it! Most of us are very motivated to get back to some kind of equilibrium when it involves something we care deeply about, and if you can figure out a way to do it, go for it.
For fans who ultimately found Supernatural as Kripke created it too dark, The Winchesters may have felt healing in that sense too. It was a 2023 show, with a more diverse cast of characters and hunters who aren’t averse to therapy or meditation to try to cope with their anger issues and trauma instead of enacting them and periodically taking them out on other people unintentionally. In a sense, Robbie Thompson wrote a sort of fix-it fic for those aspects of Supernatural, with an ending that parallels 15.19 instead of 15.20, with John and Mary driving off into a hopeful new life, as Sam and Dean did at the end of 15.19. I didn’t need a fix-it fic; for me, ‘Carry On’ was the ending that made sense and felt right for a show that was a 42 minute horror show, dark and disturbing and sometimes hard to watch but ultimately incredibly inspiring. Its heroes were flawed and nuanced and not black and white, ever, and they lived through tragedy and always kept fighting. I felt – feel – incredibly grateful that we got the bridge scene after the barn, a far more happy ending than I ever thought we’d get on Supernatural. But I can see why people who didn’t feel that way about the finale could have found The Winchesters healing, like the best fix-it fics are undeniably healing. Again, if it feels that way to you, please revel in it and feel better. Fandom itself will certainly be the better for any healing that brings.
For me, I felt a mix of things as I was watching, and still do now after taking a week to let it all digest. I was entertained for sure – I’ve said in my last few reviews that the show seemed to be finding its feet in terms of its look and timing – and I felt relieved that my tentative theories about what was going on were mostly correct. (I’m protective of Supernatural canon, so while I trusted Robbie and the EPs to be protective also as promised, I still felt a sense of relief that this was indeed an Alternate Universe John and Mary who we were getting to know this whole time, which made the inconsistencies nothing to do with canon and everything to do with this not being OUR John and Mary.) The cast were all able to bring their characters to life in a way that made them unique and provided enough backstory so that we felt like we were getting to know them – and they are all delightful in real life.
I’m still a bit confused about the progression from the pilot to the finale, since it started out sounding like Dean was trying to figure out his own parents’ past (not another world’s John and Mary) and that their epic love would save the world – it turns out that Baby sort of saved the world (again) with some help from all the characters plus one Dean Winchester. Most of us pretty much knew that Dean Winchester would make an actual appearance in this episode. Anyone who has ever met me knows that I love Dean Winchester like I love breathing. I can’t wait to have him and more Supernatural back on my some-kind-of screen again and more of the adventures of Sam and Dean. We didn’t get alot of Dean in The Winchesters, though intended or not, Dean’s appearance was a big part of why many people tuned in – but we got more in the season finale than in any other episode. I think because I was satisfied with how Supernatural turned out, I didn’t have a burning need to see Dean in this show, and thus his appearance in the pilot didn’t feel like relief, it just felt like having an old friend back for a bit. Without Sam, it also didn’t feel like Supernatural, so the pilot gave me a confusing Dean, the story left intentionally murky about what he was up to and why.
The rest of the season gave us Dean Winchester bits of narration as he (we now know) added to the hunting journal that I don’t think we ever saw him keep on Supernatural but he apparently did – it seems a bit more like a Sam thing to do, but hopefully this AU John and Mary benefited from it. (ETA: Apparently we did see Dean have a journal back in Season 1 episode 18, which I totally did not remember!) I still have questions, but by the end of this episode it did feel like Dean Winchester himself was on my TV screen, albeit not in an episode of Supernatural. That was the intention for this show, to stand on its own two feet and introduce a new cast of characters that would hopefully intrigue fans enough to keep going – and Robbie has said that if that happens, it won’t be the Dean show, but the newly minted hunters in this AU world who will ‘carry on’. The show’s future is still up in the air, but I think the show succeeded in creating some memorable characters in this world’s Mary and John and Carlos and Lata (and Millie and Ada too). It doesn’t hurt that the cast is absolutely lovely – it was a pleasure meeting many of them at New York Comic Con for interviews and at a recent convention.
So what actually happened in this episode? A LOT. Phew. We start off earlier in 1972, as John buries his friends after serving in the war, traumatized and unsure where he belongs or what he wants to do.
He sits down in a bus station, looking lost, and a mysterious man approaches and gives him an envelope – who John calls “Sir” because he’s clearly older than John himself.
Me: Jensen Ackles?!
I still can’t rewatch the episode and see that as Dean Winchester, it looks too much like Jensen. (I’m not quibbling, because the reason he needed the long hair and beard is, I’m guessing, to return to playing a character that I’m really freaking excited about! And yes it’s Heaven, he’s dead, he probably can look however he wants, so there’s no canon issue, but I still can’t see that person as Dean Winchester of Supernatural no matter how hard I try). But I’m okay with it, and the merchant marine lighthouse keeper Ernest Hemingway Robert Redford look, unsurprisingly, totally works for him.
(It worked for Redford too…)
He gives John the letter from his father and disappears; we see him looking down on a confused John from the balcony.
The plan worked, as John buys a ticket back to Lawrence, Kansas. And then the show pulls off a well-kept secret as we pan out and see none other than Bobby Singer standing next to Dean-who-does-not-look-like-Dean.
Bobby: We’re not supposed to meddle with things, ya idjit!
The penultimate episode of The Winchesters’ first season was what Supernatural used to call a ‘Monster of the Week’. The open is frankly terrifying, two guys out to have a good time – at a closed carnival at night? Uh oh.
Not-very-happy guy finds a ticket, hears music that his friend doesn’t, and heads right toward the creepiest looking carnival tent you can imagine because of course he does. Limbo’s Hall of Happy – and here he is, Limbo himself, waving and beckoning the guy to come right on inside. WHY, DUDE? Who would follow a clown that looks like this???
First he’s trapped in a hall of mirrors (look, those things were terrifying when I was a kid – not fun!) and then confronted with Limbo and his own face in clown makeup staring back at him. Somehow he manages to smile anyway and AAAHHHHH I am totally with Sam Winchester and his fear of clowns!
Kudos on a truly creepy scary opening, The Winchesters!
‘Tears of a Clown’ is a classic song that makes a good episode title. Dean Winchester narration kicks off after that.
Dean: Hunting’s a dishonest business. You gotta lie all the time, about who you are and what you do. But the hardest lies aren’t the ones you tell other people, they’re the ones you tell yourself.
Yes, that was a predictable ending to that sentence that I spoke right along with Dean, but it is something that Sam and Dean learned the hard way. It’s also, as I’ve written before, a big theme of this show. Who are you? Is reality what you think it is?
John and Mary are pretty good with the musical aliases, just as their sons will be. (It is so confusing that this is a prequel, and that John didn’t know any of this in the OG show, constantly making my head hurt!) Even Karen Carpenter got a shout out here, very 70s.
John is channeling his inner Dean Winchester (I know, I know, it’s gotta be the other way around), snapping at Mary when she questions if he’s okay after he was ‘overly aggressive’ with apparently more than one person. He just wants to put what happened with Kyle in the rear view, but Mary’s not so sure that’s possible. I am still not totally sold on the John-has-anger-issues thing – we don’t see a lot of it, and just hearing about it isn’t as convincing. I can understand the John has PTSD thing more, and perhaps anger is one of the things that he’s dealing with as a result, but I wish we saw more than we have. I imagine having only 13 episodes to get to some revelations in the next episode has made things more compressed than they wished they could have been.
It’s kind of a tradition to wish one of my favorite actors a happy birthday here. For many years, this was a good time to thank Jensen Ackles for bringing to life my favorite fictional character, Dean Winchester – and I am still and forever grateful for that and always will be. Over the past year, he’s brought to life not one but two other characters, and voiced Dean again, released his third record, and had his first live Radio Company show. Not to mention a worldwide publicity tour for ‘The Boys’ and tons of conventions. It’s been a busy year for Mr. Ackles!
I will always wish for Supernatural to still be on my TV or streaming screen, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed those other characters he’s made so memorable. So I think a little celebration of Mr. Ackles’ past (very productive) year is in order this year for his birthday post.
First up? Soldier Boy. Soldier Boy was a revelation – I had already been a big fan of ‘The Boys’, so having Jensen join a show I already loved felt almost too good to be true. To have him portray a character as nuanced and unhinged as Soldier Boy? Utopia!
Wakes from a deep slumber indeed – we were all wide awake when that happened!
We got to see a whole other side of Jensen on ‘The Boys’ (no, I’m not talking about that first very naked introduction) – Prime Video allowed Soldier Boy to curse the way Dean Winchester probably would have, and to indulge in all sorts of things we didn’t get to see Dean do either. I will also be forever grateful for that amazing super suit and the fact that Kripke thought that long hair would help differentiate Soldier Boy from Dean. Please, universe, let the long hair stay forever!
I half fell in love with Soldier Boy despite the truly awful things he says and does thanks to Ackles showing us his vulnerability and trauma alongside his being an asshole. (So much so that my next book will be a deep dive into that show).
Soldier Boy is not dead and will be back at some point, so we all have something to look forward to when that happens!
I’ve had the privilege of talking to Jensen in depth over the past year about his experience on The Boys, and I’m thrilled that it was a challenge (which he welcomes) professionally. I’m also thrilled that it gave him exposure (no, not that scene again…) beyond what even a wildly popular show on the CW could provide. He shone on the press tours for The Boys, and I loved watching people discover him and his talent for the first time!
Then we got another intriguing character in Sheriff Beau Arlen in ‘Big Sky’ – and more of the long hair I’d like to stay around forever! (I happen to know that Danneel loves it too, so come on Jensen, listen to us!)
I’d watched a little of Big Sky in the first season and enjoyed it, but wasn’t as excited about it as The Boys. Sheriff Beau really grew on me, though – along with the fascinating character of Donno – and I found myself missing the show when it wrapped, still not knowing if it will get another season.
Beau was the character who I think was closest to Jensen himself, especially since he got to play a father (Soldier Boy’s biological son didn’t really make him a father) for the first time. It was interesting to watch him portray that, knowing what an important role that is for Jensen in real life. It brought out a softness and at the same time a fierce protectiveness in Beau that made the character so much more interesting than I expected him to be – and I feel like there was still a lot more to find out about him when the season wrapped!
Kudos on making us all fall a little in love with yet another character, Jensen!
We also get to hear Dean Winchester (and see him every now and then) on The Winchesters. It doesn’t feel like having him back in the same way as it would if Sam and Dean were truly back and it was Supernatural, but I’m interested in what that show is setting up and hoping it paves the way for just that, without changing any of the canon I so cherish. Fingers crossed.
(And it’s been a bonus to watch that show’s young stars come into their own – watching Drake Rodger and JoJo Fleites experience Jus In Bello con last weekend was joyous).
I got to chat with the cast and EPs Jensen and Danneel Ackles and showrunner Robbie Thompson at New York Comic Con last summer, which was extra wonderful because I hadn’t had a Danneel or a Robbie hug in way too long. It was wonderful to have a chance to ask some questions about the prequel, and it was lovely to meet Drake and Meg for the first time.
And that velvety suit was lovely too. And soft.
And that’s not even all – there have been other acting projects too, and Chaos Machine has been out there pitching new deals. But it’s not just acting and producing that have made the past year stand out for Jensen.
The past year has been a pivotal one for Ackles in terms of one of his other talents (is there anything he can’t do??) – I don’t think he can really say anymore, in his self deprecating way, “Oh I’m not really a musician.” Pretty sure that ship has sailed, Jensen! I was incredibly fortunate to be at Radio Company’s first live concert in Nashville in December and it was crystal clear that Radio Company can be stacked up against all the other successful bands out there and hold their own. Ackles was a rockstar, truly, and I don’t think I stopped grinning the entire show. Actually I’m pretty sure no one did.
I was at that long ago convention when Jensen sat onstage with a guitar after the ballroom had mostly emptied out and played a song for us, a little haltingly, as we sat on the floor, rapt. I was at the first little meet and greet/concert with Jensen and Steve at the Nashville convention when they played for twenty or so people – he told me how nervous he was after and asked how it had been. Seeing him blossom into a bona fide rockstar had me so emotional at the Analog show that I’m surprised I didn’t just sob my way through it.
Radio Company’s new album dropped last week and has already been at the top of the country charts. I’m not even a huge country music fan, but its smooth harmonies and catchy tunes get stuck in my head in the best of ways. And Jensen’s voice will never not be addictive. Congrats on crossing over into true musician category, Jensen.
The year has also seen tons of conventions. I wondered, when Supernatural ended (still sobbing…), if the conventions would continue for only a short time – I feel so lucky that they have kept going! Whether I’m fortunate enough to be there or watching from afar like I did with JIB last weekend, it’s wonderful to be able to ‘see’ them and hear their thoughts so frequently throughout the year.
Yes, it’s a job for them, but it’s also something they clearly enjoy and I’ve written many times about how it’s made the relationship between the actors and the fans a little bit more reciprocal in the Supernatural fandom than in others. That has carried over to Walker and The Winchesters (and soon to Gotham Knights I’m guessing), because these actors know their fans so much better than most actors do.
Jensen and Jared and Misha and the gang were in Rome last weekend (in their coordinating jackets) and will be headed to Atlanta shortly – I won’t be able to be there to celebrate with them unfortunately, but I’m sure the fans who are there will make it a special con weekend for the birthday boy. Somebody give him a birthday hug from me!
Sometimes he still looks about ten years old.
Happy birthday, Mr. Ackles.
May the next year be as exciting for you as this one was – and here’s hoping for more of all three characters you brought to life this past year – and more of whatever other exciting new things you have planned!
Last week’s episode of ‘The Winchesters’ starts right off with the Dean Winchester narration.
Dean: Being a hunter means always being on the move. And no matter how hard you plan, no matter how hard you work, at a certain point we all run out of road. It’s what we do at those crossroads that define us.
The crossroads certainly defined Sam and Dean’s lives in multiple ways – literally, and at those points where a hard decision had to made, one that would impact other people too (or maybe even the whole world). Is Dean facing one of those decisions again?
Back to the story, John shows up at the club house covered in blood, Mary asking in shock where he’s hurt. John echoes his eventual son (or is that really Sam echoing his dad….never mind…brain hurts…) in Born Under A Bad Sign, one of my favorite episodes.
John: It’s not my blood.
At least he doesn’t turn out to be possessed by a demon! But yes, he’s in alot of danger…
He is pretty traumatized by what happened to Kyle, and feels extra guilty because he was a friend/one-time-date of Mary’s. Millie, of course, much like her eventual grandson Dean, believes her son no questions asked and helps him escape.
In a common horror trope (because it’s endlessly terrifying, playing on our very human need to be able to predict when there’s danger around us), there’s no way to know who the Akrida are controlling – which Lata suddenly remembers could be rectified by Maggie’s magic bracelet that can pinpoint anyone harboring a dark secret or “being a monster”! Why Lata didn’t think of this before and why Maggie kept it hidden is a mystery. I mean, that could be handy, right? Carlos and Lata head off to search Maggie’s room for it, with a reminder to John from his meditation guru (aka Lata) not to forget to do his breathing exercises.
Lata later: He hasn’t meditated in weeks.
Fandom (and echoed by Drake Rodger on twitter): Most terrifying thing about this episode: John hasn’t meditated in weeks omg!
Mary to John (just as all Winchesters say when they’re in serious trouble): Hey, we’re gonna figure this out.
Lata and Carlos find some old photos of Maggie and Lata on their way to see Alice Cooper (I would have picked Bowie or Mott the Hoople or Lou Reed, but to each their own). And within a minute that photo and the resulting conversation quickly clues Lata in on where to find the bracelet. I really wish these kids had to struggle a bit more!
It’s in a box of Toastettes that’s Maggie’s private stash (in the rat poison box which seems like a terrible idea – hopefully she washed the box really really well!) I would say they must be super stale by now when Carlos eats one, but if they’re anything like Poptarts they apparently last forever).
The bracelet is supposed to uncover your enemies’ hidden secrets, but unfortunately it immediately clasps itself around Lata – and some totally scary shadow monster locks them into the house and blows out all the lights. I do like that the show is learning how to be scary with the less is more rule.
They find out from the lore books (that are locked in there with them luckily) that if someone wears the bracelet who is harboring a dark secret of their own, the bracelet will force them to reveal it – or the shadows will consume them.
Carlos (incredulous): You have a dark secret? What, like overdue library books?