This is an odd anniversary to commemorate, but it’s an important one. It sounds melodramatic, but two years ago today my life changed significantly when I got the news that Supernatural was ending. If you haven’t ever been a passionate fan of a show or a film or a book series or a band, you may not understand. If you have, you probably do.
Two years ago today, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins told the SPN Family that Supernatural was coming to an end after fifteen seasons, with tears in their eyes and real emotion in their voices. I still have trouble watching that little video message, but I’m forever grateful that they cared enough to tell us themselves.
So on this March 22, two years later, I thought I’d share what I wrote in the Introduction to the book we put together to remember how special Supernatural will always be, with chapters from the actors and the fans about what Supernatural has meant to them, There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done.
I’m just as emotional looking back on that day now as I was when I wrote this…
There are certain experiences that happen in our lives that we will never forget. Psychology even has a term for the memory created by this kind of experience: a flashbulb memory. When something happens that shakes our world especially profoundly, the brain encodes that moment differently, and more vividly, than it does our everyday memories.
Back in the day, a flashbulb was a cube that sat on top of your camera and went off to illuminate a scene you were capturing with a photo, freezing it in time forever (it’s now just a light on your smartphone). Our brain, when it records a flashbulb memory, does something similar: it freezes the important, sometimes upsetting moment in time forever. The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the emotions of that moment are all preserved deeply. The memory doesn’t fade like other memories, or lose its emotional intensity. Instead, it remains as clear and vivid as if it happened yesterday. We remember the clothes we were wearing, or exactly what we were doing or thinking, or who we were talking to. We remember our initial shock and then the moment when our emotions kicked in.
Most often, flashbulb memories are about world-changing events like September 11 or shocking personal news. But they can also be things you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes, something is so important to you that the news of its impending loss hits hard enough to freeze the moment in time. I think that’s what happened to me on Friday afternoon, March 22, 2019, the moment I found out that Supernatural would end after its fifteenth season. That might seem like an odd thing to be preserved forever as a flashbulb memory, and it’s certainly not equivalent to world-changing events, but that’s not how our brains work. When something is important, it’s important. And for many people, myself included, this little television show that lasted for fifteen seasons is personally and emotionally important.
When I first heard the show was ending, I was volunteering at the Project Fancare table at Lexington Comic-Con, surrounded by copies of Family Don’t End with Blood and fellow fans. Project Fancare is a nonprofit that gives fans a forum to talk openly about how television and film and books and all sorts of fandoms have helped them get through tough times, and why that’s a good thing. I had just finished talking to a woman who stopped by to tell me what Family Don’t End with Blood and Supernatural have meant to her.
As the woman walked away, my friend Kim leaned over and said softly in my ear, “You need to take a break. Take your phone and go to the bathroom and watch the video that Jensen just posted.”
That’s all she said, but instantly I knew. I knew from the genuine emotion in her voice, and the concern for me that I could hear there. I knew because there’s a part of me that had been waiting for that news and anticipating it and knew it was coming sooner rather than later. My stomach instantly fell and my brain kicked into survival mode, blocking all my emotions and making me feel oddly calm even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t. I can vividly see the table in front of me, the books spread out there, and the woman walking away. She was wearing one of the first Represent “Always Keep Fighting” T-shirts and she had bright red hair and a bag with the protection symbol on it. I can see it like it’s a photo frozen in time—as brightly as if lit by a flashbulb—and I can hear Kim’s voice and her words like she just finished talking, even though it’s now many months later.
I stood in the alcove by the bathroom in the giant convention center and pulled out my phone and found the video—and as soon as I saw their faces, before they even started speaking, there was no doubt in my mind. Jared, Jensen, and Misha are extraordinary in how open they have been with their fans, and I could see all the emotion they were struggling to contain before I ever hit play to listen to the message. I am forever grateful that I got to hear it from them.
Things are different in the Supernatural fandom than they were two years ago. I’ve been dismayed at the animosity and bullying toward other fans that sometimes seem worse now than when the show was actually airing, something I have to admit I didn’t expect. But I’ve also been encouraged by the kindness and support that most fans continue to show for each other. And I love that the Supernatural cast have made it clear that their love for the show and for their characters and for the fandom is not going anywhere.
While a global pandemic has made it impossible for most of us to see our fellow fans or the actors, with conventions and concerts all on hold, I’m grateful for all the zoom panels and Instagram lives and interviews and every other piece of content we’ve gotten from the cast that I miss so much. It eases the loss and makes me feel like we’re all in this together. I’m grateful for all the myriad fanworks that this incredibly creative fandom puts out there to share, from the prettiest gifs to the most heartbreaking youtube videos to fanart and fanfic that can make me cry or smile all day. I’m grateful for every playful bit of fun I run across and every supportive bit of conversation. It reminds me what fandom – especially this fandom – is all about.
I’m grateful for everything and everyone that keeps the SPNFamily alive. And I’m still hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Supernatural.
Next up in our Supernatural Spring Break celebration week, another chat with one of the Supernatural actors who made their way into our hearts – this time while dressed as Dracula. Todd Stashwick is a genre favorite actor from so many of my favorite shows, as well as a bona fide fan himself. We met over a decade ago at an early Supernatural convention, and I was so taken by his understanding of fandom and passion for all things geeky that we included that chat in our first two books. When I put together a book to celebrate the legacy of Supernatural as it was ending, I knew I wanted to ask Todd to write a chapter – and I’m glad he did!
At the end of last year, the online There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done book club for that book invited him to drop in and answer some questions about his chapter and the show, and I’m glad he did that too. Here are some excerpts from that discussion, that I was happy to join in on also.
BC: So glad you could join us. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided on what would be in your chapter?
TS: Kind of you to say (smile). Thinking about the long road you all traveled down, and looking back at the fact that you all found commonality of experience through the show got me thinking about fandom as a whole and what that means to me. So I reflected back to what I believe lit the fuse of being “fan” in myself. How we don’t “become” fans, we notice that we are, we find ourselves innately drawn to certain stories, characters, and franchises because it answers some need inside of us. It connects us to other people. It gives us a tribe.
BC: I adore that you have a long history of being a fan of so many things! My husband is a huge Star Wars fan, but I never experienced that kind of community until SPN.
TS: It’s also not restricted to sci-fi/horror/fantasy. My mother in her 70’s attended Downton Abbey parties. We seek like-minded souls.
BC: When you wrote in your chapter that “We are tribal creatures who use mythology to come together and understand ourselves” – that really resonated. So true!
Lynn: Yes, that is so much what fandom – ANY fandom – is about. We seek like-minded souls, and finding them validates us and feels incredibly satisfying. It’s like a primal need, for belongingness.
TS: Mythology is a way to analyze ourselves, our culture, explain the unexplained, wrestle with death. It gives us a metaphor to understand ourselves. Mythology gives us an escape. It’s really fun. And horror allows us to field-test fear without consequences. Like a roller coaster, we tempt fate, death, and come out okay.
Lynn: Yes – and Supernatural has both mythology and horror. No wonder it’s so compelling. People always ask me, how did you choose who would write chapters in the book? A decade ago, I sat down with Todd in the green room at a convention, and was so taken with how deeply he understood fandom that I never forgot it – something he said, “television is our campfire” resonated with me so much I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I knew I was going to ask him to write a chapter in the last book about Supernatural and its legacy.
TS: It’s (TV is) just an extenuation of our oral traditions.
BC: I also think it’s so wonderful that someone who is such a fan themselves, and who has such an appreciation for fandom itself, played the shapeshifter enamored of classic monster movies, and with such pathos. We very rarely see a villain on SPN, especially those with a humorous bent, evoke such a sympathetic response. I think that moment is one of the reasons it has endured as a fan favorite (for me at least).
TS: It’s what drew me to the role, the high melodrama and the quiet fragility.
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.
It’s no secret that Davy Perez is one of my favorite Supernatural writers. If you read my episode reviews regularly, you’ve heard me say that more than once, and he’s the only writer who wrote a chapter in the new book There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural, all about his journey as a writer and his experience on the show. There’s an online book club that’s currently reading Peace, and they’re inviting the contributors to join in their discord chat when they’re discussing that chapter. I pop in when I can, so I joined them when Davy’s chapter was the topic of conversation – and so did he!
It was Davy’s first time using Discord, so the only emoji he could find to try to express himself was the watermelon – which has remained the Book Club’s favorite emoji and is now used for all kinds of positive expressions in Davy’s honor.
The book club always has great questions and Davy had some great answers, so I’m sharing them here with the rest of the fandom (with Davy’s permission of course).
BC: What was it like to write an episode for Supernatural?
DP: I used to watch a lot of shock horror (in the) 80’s and kinda channeled that.
BC: How much influence did the network or the studio have on the writing?
DP: The network and studio give notes, but don’t mandate or dictate anything. They are more there to
guide you toward the ideals that they want the show to always be (striving) for. The writers/producers are still in charge of the story in the end.
BC: You said in your chapter that you had only watched a few episodes of Supernatural when you were hired, so you were not overly influenced by what had come before and had fresh takes on the characters and story line direction.
DP: In general, writing an episode is a lot like doubting yourself every step of the way (while also having
to) believe in your own genius. Also, specifically with SPN and with any show, you always do the work, from beats on the cards, to outline, to then just working on the scenes. I aim for an act a day when
(working) on a script. I actually found that whenever I watched an old episode, I found inspiration for
bringing something back, or looking at something from a new angle. I was hired to bring in fresh ideas, for sure, but I like innovating from existing stuff vs. just fabricating from thin air.
BC: What do you think have been your most significant contributions to the characters’ development?
DP: My most significant contribution might be either the glasses or the sweaters (in Mint Condition and American Nightmare).
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!