Gather ‘round my wayward sons (and daughters), it’s time for a tale we like to call Supernatural. Once upon a time (Sept. 13th, 2005 to be specific) there were two brothers: Sam and Dean Winchester, who had lost touch with each other until Dean (Jensen Ackles) broke into Sam’s (Jared Padalecki) college living quarters and revealed their father (John Winchester played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had gone on a hunting trip and had not returned. Sam was less than thrilled to see his brother but agreed to team up “just to find dad”. Spoiler alert, they do not find their father by the end of the episode, and in fact, Sam’s super-hot girlfriend (The Orville’s Adrianne Palicki) winds up dying in the same way their mother (Mary Winchester played by Samantha Smith) did – which is shown in the episode’s opening flashback. Thus, kicks off the greatest American road trip/Scooby-Doo mystery of all time.
Now, it’s 14 years later and somehow Dean’s “baby” has not yet died, but a lot of other characters on the show have. As fans would say: let’s look at the road so far…Up until Season 3, Supernatural followed the pretty cookie-cutter playbook of your standard sci-fi/fantasy network show – it was a literal “Monster-of-the Week” type deal. Also, much like most sci-fi/fantasy network shows it had an overarching storyline that was designed to draw the viewer in and keep them coming back to see if dear old dad was ever actually found. He was, and he died, but then Sam became something of a demon, and Dean sold his soul to Hell, and well…everything hit the fan.
See, Dean’s banishment to Hell at the end of Season 3 leads to a doozy of a reveal in Season 4: Angels exist! Where have they been this whole time? Turns out they didn’t want to get their hands dirty until God took off and the Apocalypse became a real threat. And here’s when Supernatural really hit its stride. Season 4 establishes the foundation for the main lore of the series. Concepts like God, the different choirs of Angels, Milton’s depiction of Lucifer, and of course the Apocalypse ground the show in Judeo-Christian beliefs. But, even with this backbone, Supernatural remains flexible – allowing for other religious mythologies to make cameos (this happens more often in later seasons). Season 4 also introduces the characters of Castiel (Misha Collins) an angel who will eventually grow into a series regular and fan favorite, Adam Milligan (Jake Abel) revealed to be an illegitimate son of John Winchester who will play an important role in the upcoming Apocalypse storyline, and Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict) a “prophet” who is later revealed to be SPOILER God – the main antagonist of the upcoming 15th season. It is a wonderful season and feeds perfectly into Season 5, which was supposed to be the final season.
Why? Well, because while Season 4 focuses on Sam, Dean, and the angels trying to prevent Lilith (played by both Katherine Boecher and Sierra McCormick) from breaking the last seal and releasing Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino, and briefly Bellamy Young and Jared Padalecki) from Hell, Season 5 deals with the fallout of their ultimate failure. The angels double down and fully commit to the idea of the Apocalypse – which Supernatural defines as the archangel Michael (played by both Jake Abel and Matt Cohen) doing battle with his baby brother Lucifer using Sam and Dean as their vessels (human host bodies). Because being used by Michael and Lucifer means one of them will kill the other, Sam and Dean are naturally not cool with this plan. One notable introduction this season is Crowley (Mark Sheppard) one of the all-time great antagonists of the series who will later become an ally. Season 5 covers the ideas of free will vs determinism, family obligation, and the life of one to save the many, all while peppering in the fun, tongue-in-cheek humor that Supernatural will keep dishing out well past its expiration date.
Seasons 4 and 5 are, in my opinion, the best ones of the series. I believe it’s because these are the only set of seasons with a very clear plan that plays out beautifully and ends sublimely. It’s even got a cliffhanger to set up for what should have never been a sixth season.
Ah, but Season 6 came, and then 7, and 8, all the way up till our present Season 15! Along the way we’ve seen the show really take full advantage of that biblical pandora’s box Season 4 opened:
- In Season 6 we met Eve (portrayed by both Julia Maxwell and Samantha Smith) – Mother of All – monsters, that is. She’s itching to stretch her creative legs, and it does not bode well for Sam, Dean, or humanity as a whole.
- Season 7 saw the boys fight God’s first creations the Leviathan. It does not end well.
- Season 8 had Dean and Castiel spend some time in Purgatory before escaping, and then having Team Free Will try to close the gates of Hell once and for all (this led to Castiel unwittingly kicking every angel out of Heaven).
- In Season 9 the boys tried to undo the closing of Heaven mess (which leads to a whole slew of angel-based problems with one Knight of Hell thrown in for good measure) and succeeded only to have Dean become a demon thanks to the Mark of Cain.
- In Season 10 said mark was removed only to accidentally release The Darkness (Emily Swallow) onto the world.
- Season 11 was a pointless fight against The Darkness (aka Amara – God’s older sister who was none too pleased about being locked away) which ended with God and Amara making nice (Amara specifically thanks Dean with a Mommy-back-from-the-dead gift) and leaving Earth to spend some quality time together.
- Season 12 came back to a more grounded story when the boys traded blows with the British Men of Letters, but didn’t forget its biblical roots bringing back our old friend Lucifer (who managed to father a son – hi Jack!), and tested some theoretical physics theories with the discovery of an apocalypse alternate reality (which was way worse in depressing nature to the one glimpsed in “The End”).
- Season 13 bounced between Apocalypse World and ours, revolving around Mary, Jack (Alexander Calvert), Castiel, and Lucifer, with Alternate Michael (Christian Keyes) in a final showdown against Prince of Hell Asmodeus (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) care of Dean Winchester’s meat-sack (their words, not mine).
- Season 14 was mostly concerned with getting Michael out of Dean’s body, and Jack dying from the loss of his grace in the previous season; a matter which was resolved but left Jacky boy without a soul, Mary dead (care of soulless Jack), and God beyond pissed off at the Winchesters.
Which brings us to Season 15, where God appears to be fully intent on killing Sam and Dean along with the rest of the world. Finally, the actual apocalypse!
Now, fourteen years is a long time for a show to be on the air, and I would argue way too long (I believe the perfect length for any series is between 5 and 7 seasons max). But, to its credit, one of the reasons Supernatural has lasted 15 seasons is because it never pretends to be more than what it is. It also knows how to have fun. While the first five seasons are fairly serious (with season 4 kicking off the real core of what the show is), the next 10 contain some real gems.
See: “Frontierland”, “The French Mistake”, “Death’s Door”, “As Time Goes By”, “Bad Boys”, “Fan Fiction”, “Baby”, “Just My Imagination”, “Scoobynatural”, and “Lebanon” (the 300th episode of the show which reunites Sam, Dean, and Mary with patriarch John).
This is why I continued to watch even when I thought season 5’s finale should have been the series finale. Fun fact: It was supposed to be! Yes, as I mentioned earlier, Supernatural had a plan. A well-paced, finely acted, and perfectly executed five-season plan that ended with Sam (acting as Lucifer’s vessel) and Adam (the other, other Winchester acting as Michael’s vessel) locked in the Cage in Hell, and Dean free to live a hunter-free life. But, network execs want ratings and writers like to feed their families, so here we are facing Season 15.
Before concluding this recap, I’d like to point out some of my favorite storylines over the decade and a half of the series’ run, and some I wasn’t so thrilled about.
The Apocalypse: Once the show figured out what it wanted to do, the apocalypse storyline really started to take off. This is hands down my favorite storyline of the series, and, as mentioned earlier, it leads to the main mythology the show will follow for the rest of its run. You’ve got Zachariah (Kurt Fuller) fucking with the boys in his never-ending quest to get them to play their parts; Ruby (portrayed in Season 4 by Katie Cassidy, and Season 5 by Genevieve Cortese) fucking with Sam (literally and figuratively) to get him to kick off the whole shebang – mind you, the entire Sam drinking demon blood and having demon powers shtick seems to disappear when he gets pulled from the Cage, why? Not sure. That I know of the series never fully explains this; and the Archangels (Michael, Lucifer, Raphael, and Gabriel) taking center stage every chance they get! Anytime Gabriel is in the show – regardless of the storyline – he is a welcome breath of fresh air. Even Lucifer proves to be an unpredictable monster with layers, depth, and seething rage. Michael doesn’t have much of a personality in our world, but he’s plenty pissed in Apocalypse World. But overall: They are just awesome. This storyline introduces some of my favorite characters including Death (Julian Richings), Crowley, The Trickster/Loki/Gabriel (Richard Speight Jr.), and Ellen and Jo (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal respectively). OK – so, Ellen and Jo are introduced in Season 2, but they SPOILER die honorable hunter deaths in service to the cause of preventing the Apocalypse which is why they deserve to be here.
The Men of Letters: It was interesting to think of the Winchesters as fantastic hunters, but that they are legacies in a much larger society of hunters is pretty nifty! This storyline also gave the production team an excuse to stop using random hotel rooms and set the boys in a central location, not to mention having a library of information at their disposal (even though they still wind up using the internet most of the time). Earlier in the series the only history we learn of the boys regards their direct Mom and Dad, but The Men of Letters storyline allows us a glimpse further up the family tree. Weird that it was John’s and not Mary’s (given her hunter heritage), but what can you do? Besides, the sorry excuse for a season that was 6, looked into Mary’s side of the family a little. Regardless, this storyline ties directly in with another one I enjoyed…
The Knights of Hell – specifically, Abaddon: Alaina Huffman plays a very kick-ass lady demon who presents the boys with a real challenge. As an added bonus, she gives Crowley a run for his money, which is always nice to see. She’s the one responsible for the near extinction of The Men of Letters, and the reason that Dean seeks out the First Blade, which leads to…
Mark of Cain: Hands down an awesome storyline that not only provides the usual Sam and Dean fighting against all odds to save one another from what should be inevitable doom, but also explores the truth of Able and Cain (Timothy Omundson). Also, also it introduces us to Rowena (Ruth Connell)! Crowley’s mom is an ancient and powerful witch brought in to try and remove the mark from Dean, but proves herself capable of great character development in the seasons that follow. In addition, this storyline marks (pun intended) the return of Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day), an old friend who sadly doesn’t survive to see her efforts pay off.
The actual antichrist: Hi Jesse Turner (Gattlin Griffith), we miss you. Season 5 introduced the concept of the Anti-Christ in an episode entitled “I Believe the Children are Our Future”. My biggest disappointment was that once the season ended, and they go more into the religious lore, they never circled back to this. They went so far as to create Jack – Lucifer’s son, even though the episode explains that the A.C. isn’t the devil’s spawn as the bible tells. Ah well, would have been cool to see what Jesse looks like all grown up (though the fan wiki does point out that since Lucifer was killed Jesse might not have any powers, as the devil was the source of them).
Eve: The 6th season was split into two parts, one, was Sam returning from Hell and joining up with their grandfather (who was supposed to have died) Samuel Campbell (Mitch Pileggi) in a hunt for Alphas (of each monster kind, respectively). Sam’s missing soul is an interesting and reasonable story for the opening of the season but the second half where Eve – the Mother of All monsters – shows up feels ultimately like a step backwards. Purgatory, the Alphas, Eve trying to make new monsters (looking at you Jefferson Starships!), and Castiel working with Crowley; turning against Team Free Will in order to become God, no thanks! Not to mention this storyline leads to…
The Leviathan: The end of Season 6 sees Castiel going power-hungry. It backfires and releases beings from Purgatory known as The Leviathan – God’s first creations which are terrible monsters that just eat, and eat, and eat, and eat…you get the picture. It’s a storyline I was never a huge fan of, and the only real pay dirt here is Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) SPOILER dying for the cause. We get to see Bobby’s backstory thanks to this detour, learn how even an honorable man like Bobby can turn into a vengeful spirit, and watch the boys finally deal directly with a huge loss in their lives. Plus, up until the stupid Apocalypse World storyline, Bobby stays dead once his spirit is released.
The War for Heaven: Any storyline involving the civil war between the angels is stupid to me. This is mostly because when angels finally show up in Supernatural, they are pretty fucking awesome. Yes, dicks to be sure, but powerful dicks with a clear agenda and no fucks given. These storylines do them no service. Oh look, angels are just like humans! Lost without God, and petty without Heaven. Ug. I’ve never been a fan of humans trying to humanize divine beings. The whole point is that they are DIVINE. If I wanted humans, I’d watch Desperate Housewives. The few bright spots in this mythological exploration are Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) and later on Donatello Redfield (Keith Szarabajka). Kevin becomes a fan favorite and an integral part of Team Free Will, while Donatello is just a bit of a nice joke thrown in for all the atheists watching. Anything having to do with Metatron (Curtis Armstrong) or that stupid time Sam was possessed by the angel Gadreel (Tahmoh Penikett) – lying and saying he’s Ezekiel is trash. Pure trash! In fact, it’s a dumpster fire that spreads and winds up SPOILER killing poor Kevin!
The Darkness: Can we all agree that this whole storyline was a complete waste of time? I mean…honestly, nothing against the idea of God having a sister (I think that’s pretty cool actually), but just the way this whole plot gets executed is stupid. The reveal that Chuck has been God this whole time is nice, and Amara’s anger at being screwed over by her little brother makes sense, but she’s still the first major celestial creature in the entire universe – you really think Sam and Dean can beat her!? Not to mention her weird relationship to Dean due to him inadvertently setting her free (which he doesn’t even do by the way, Rowena does!). Just no. And finally, this storyline bleeds into one of the WORST storylines in this series history…
The British Men of Letters: Mary Winchester is back, all is well, right? Nope! Because at the end of last season we found out about The British Men of Letters. I was thinking, ok…maybe we’re trying for spin off number 3 (since Bloodlines and Wayward Sisters clearly didn’t take), but no. No, they decided to fully commit to a British version of The Men of Letters who, for some unknown reason, only now deign coming to America as a necessary thing to do. This storyline almost broke me, I’m not gonna lie. It was so pointless and horrible – with Mary and Arthur Ketch (David Haydn-Jones), and let’s not forget Lady “Toni” Bevell (Elizabeth Blackmore), ug…it was just…ug. You might be noticing a pattern with the storylines I hate because the next one directly follows this one as well.
Apocalypse World and Jack: So, while all the British Men of Letters b.s. is going down, Lucifer is running around jumping from host to host, trying to find a good fit. In the process, he manages to father a son – hi, Jack! Jack’s birth leads to the discovery of Apocalypse World. A rift in space-time that envisions a version of Earth where Sam and Dean were never born and the Apocalypse happened. Michael fights and kills Lucifer but when God doesn’t return to pat him on the back for a job well done, he has a full-on meltdown and resolves to destroy the world to spite his absentee father. This does provide an interesting theory about how God might see the worlds he creates (drafts that he keeps abandoning in order to create more perfect versions) – it’s also a nifty explanation for the idea of parallel worlds! However, with that said, Apocalypse World is really just an excuse to bring back some friends from the dead – Hi Bobby, Kevin, and Charlie! Granted, they don’t all stay alive, and of course, they are slightly different versions of themselves, but still. Jack, is just an annoying storyline because of how been-there-done-that it is. The literal spawn of Satan turns out to be a pie-eyed innocent who doesn’t know his own strength and wants to be a good guy. One brother wants to kill him while the other wants to steer him in the right direction, why does this sound familiar? Oh right, because this was already done with Jesse Turner (see the section about the actual antichrist earlier)!
My hope is that Season 15 is a return to form for the show. An honorable send-up that gives the fans the finale they’ve been patiently waiting for. Who knows, maybe it’ll even circle back to some of those loose ends it never got around to clearing up: Jesse, Sam’s demon powers, how exactly Castiel got Sam out of the Cage, Amy Pond’s (Jewel Staite) son Jacob (Lyova Beckwitt) – see “The Girl Next Door”, Dean’s vampire bestie Benny Lafitte (Ty Olsson), and of course Adam – who is already confirmed to be appearing in the upcoming final season. Granted, finales are notoriously difficult. Add to that the fact this show already had a finale, and you’ve got quite the challenge.
Yes, fans can be cruel. They love, but they love intense, still, Supernatural has taught its fans to be lenient. To relax, have fun, and savor the journey. Most importantly, it’s taught the fans to remember that driver picks the music while shotgun shuts his cakehole, and let’s face it fellow naturalists…we’re just riding shotgun on this magical mystery road trip.