Welcome to the Supernatural spinoff – following two failed backdoor pilots, this series isn’t a horizontal move through the franchise, instead, it’s a lateral one. While many might have thought a future tale would have been cool, executive producers Jensen Ackles and his wife Danneel Ackles decided to explore the past. This is strange given the tale of John and Mary Winchester’s romance had already been explored in the “mothership” (as Jensen lovingly refers to Supernatural) series. But, this is Supernatural, and any seemingly non-canonical issues can be explained away with the use of angels and memory wipes.
Let’s run down some of the canon fodder that will need to be cleaned up:
- First off, while we never see how John and Mary meet in their premiere episode “In the Beginning”, we do learn that John has no idea Mary is a hunter. And, although he finds this out through the episode a death and a revival result in a memory wipe for both him and Mary.
- John is a returned Vietnam vet who runs a garage with his friend. In this pilot, the garage is owned by his mother Millie (Bianca Kajlich), who took up the duty after her son illegally joined the war two years prior.
- Mary Winchester, while resurrected and later a member of the British Men of Letters, never actually believed the secret society was real. She was always taught it was a myth. The Winchesters’ Mary, however, discovers the Men of Letters thanks to John
- John, for that matter, also never learns of the Men of Letters – while in this pilot episode he receives a letter from his father with the symbol of the Men, an explanation (of sorts), and a key to their bunker.
Outside of this, the episode is a decent pilot. It introduces us to our main romantic leads: John Winchester (Drake Rodger) and Mary Campbell (Meg Donnelly), along with two other series regulars. Latika Desai (Nida Khurshid) and Carlos Cervantez (Jojo Fleites) are welcome changes to the casting of the previous series.
I watched Supernatural for the entirety of its fifteen-season run and for the most part the cast was largely white, mostly straight, and mostly male. The Winchesters is already proving itself a progressive show by simply having two female regulars right from the get-go! JoJo’s character Carlos has been described as sexually-fluid, and both Jojo and Nida are people of color. To be fair, this does seem to be standard operating procedure when it comes to prequels – you’ll notice die-hard Star Wars fans being angered by the sudden inclusion of BIOPICs in their new shows and movies. I don’t think Supernatural fans will feel quite as slighted since the old series did have instances of inclusion throughout its run: see Charlie Bradbury the openly gay hacker girl, Kevin Tran an Asian prophet of the lord, and a variety of black and Hispanic hunters/witches who all (generally) helped the boys out – sorry Sterling K. Brown but you’re the exception, not the rule! But this is by far a step up as these characters are clearly series regulars and not just one-off, special guest appearances, or occasionally reoccurring players.
In terms of story the pilot does a good job of setting up our potential season arch – finding Samuel Campbell, and possibly a longer series arch – the Akrida, a brand-new baddie never before seen in the franchise. Though that depends heavily on if the show is picked up for a second season. And, while it plays around with the core lore, The Winchesters pilot doesn’t do so in a disrespectful way. Maybe John and Mary learn about the Men of Letters way earlier than they ever do in Supernatural, and maybe John discovers hunting a lot sooner than following the death of his beloved wife in 1983, but I’m willing to see where this goes.
Overall, I give this pilot a B+. Is it the best pilot I’ve ever seen? Decidedly not, but it isn’t the worst, and though it’s deviating from the source material story-wise, it’s also deviating in a way that really matters: casting! I’m instantly happy to see two women as regulars, with Ada Monroe (Demetria McKinney) as a possible reoccurring character of color in a franchise that, again, was heavily (as Rick Sanchez put it) “missing the mark on diversity”.