Supernatural came to a close last night, allegedly*.
(*It’ll take the heat death of the universe swallowing us all whole before I believe it.)
To answer the biggest question fans might have had coming out of last week’s not-a-finale finale: No. Jack (Alexander Calvert) did not will the world’s monsters away when he Jack ex machina-ed all life back into being. Existential oblivion need no longer be in the offing, he evidently decided—but like, vampires are totally still cool.
On the one hand, this is good news. It was nearly impossible, after Team Free Will finally beat Chuck (Rob Benedict) in last week’s almost-series-finale, to imagine Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) going on to any kind of life that didn’t revolve around hunting. Sure, at various points over the years, they’d each said they wanted to take a stab at regular-dude life, but regardless of the extent to which their story was revealed this past season to have been the result of Chuck/God obsessively pulling their narrative strings, they’d also each grown into men too driven by the need to keep everyday people safe from monsters to ever really be able to give hunting up.
On the other hand, it’s actual nonsense. Jack walked away from “Inherit the Earth” with the promise that he would work to make the world a better place than Chuck/God left it. But leaving behind whole nests of vampires—and not just any vampires, but knockoff Juggalo vampires whose M.O. is invading the homes of young families, killing and/or de-tonguing the parents, and kidnapping the kids to keep around as well-fed “juice boxes” for the next couple of decades—I dunno, man, whatever “better” is, that just seems … opposite.
The most generous explanation of this oversight is that when Jack absorbed Chuck/God’s Light, he also absorbed Amara’s (Emily Swallow) Darkness, ultimately leaving him to embody, in his own words, balance—we just have to take it as read that, in the universe of Supernatural, balance necessarily means monsters. (One might argue that a world full of plain old humans would be monstrous enough, but let’s leave thoughtful consideration of that point to whatever brotherly muscle car epic might come next.) And so, Sam and Dean are left with a world full of monsters still to hunt, and the ultimate free will with which they might choose to do just that. Plus (also thanks to Jack), one very good dog.
And that’s how the final episode started off: Sam and Dean, still on the hunt, their very good dog in tow. Sam has his sunny morning runs; Dean has his whole rashers of bacon. And forgot the 14-year tradition of running a clip show of the boys’ most harrowing moments set to Kansas’ “Carry On” to set the mood for their next final showdown. God’s dead; the brothers’ most important work is done. The soundtrack to the Winchesters’ happy mornings now is Van Morrison’s “Ordinary Life.” And does that ordinary life include pie? Oh, you bet it does.
Fifteen minutes in, Akron’s annual pie festival proves to be the most action the boys have seen in ages. Dean is in (figurative, but only barely) heaven; Sam’s just happy to see him happy. There’s a nod to the dual holes Cas (Misha Collins) and Jack’s absences have left behind—Sam, oddly, more broken up about both than Dean appears to be—but in general, they’re settled enough to accept that those sacrifices literally bought them the world, and that the best thing they can do to honor both memories is to relish living in it.
And then the not-Juggalo vampires attack a family just outside of town, and the boys are donning their not-FBI suits to investigate (this time moonlighting as Agents Kripke and Singer, in a nod to series creator Eric Kripke and series EP Robert Singer). There’s a final two-against-too-many fight, a surprise cameo from a one-off vampire no one would have recognized had Dean not called her out, and then, not even half an hour in to the episode, Dean dies, impaled on a piece of rebar sticking out right at chest-level from a post in the middle of the barn they’d been fighting in.
His death isn’t immediate—in fact, he gets seven long minutes to give Sam some beautiful final words, and to make it clear to both him and the audience that this is really happening. (“Tell me it’s okay, Sammy. Tell me it’s okay.” / “Dean, it’s okay; you can go.”) Still, it comes way earlier in the episode than seems at all reasonable, and leaves Sam (and their very good dog) alone way longer than most people will enjoy. (Not for nothing, but the Sad Sam morning montage that parallels the sunny opening one is still not set to “Carry On.” This time around, it’s instead “Brothers in Arms,” by Dire Straits.)
Cut to Heaven, where Dean has obviously ended up. There’s Bobby (Jim Beaver), sitting on the porch of Harvelle’s Roadhouse, last seen burned to the ground in Season 3. Heaven’s no longer an endless hallway of people locked in their happiest memories, Bobby explains—Jack, with Cas’s help, fixed that. Instead, everyone they’ve ever loved is living their best eternal afterlife, The Good Place-style, Bobby’s old buddy Rufus and his lady shacked up over that ridge, he gestures, Sam and Dean’s parents living together over that other one. “Heaven’s what it should have been all along,” he tells Dean. “Everyone happy, everyone together. It ain’t just Heaven, Dean; it’s the Heaven you deserve. And we’ve been waitin’ for ya.” And Sam? He’ll be along, in time. That’s just how life—and death—goes.
And so Dean is finally given room to just be, for once in his many lives/afterlives. No monsters to fight. No demons/archangels/cosmic powers to face down. Nothing but him, Baby, and the open road. And that’s when we finally get the Kansas drop we’ve been waiting for, “Carry On” blaring out of Baby’s radio as Dean turns the ignition, diegetic for the first time … ever. And as Dean takes off on his hard-earned joyride, the camera cuts back to Earth for one final montage, following Sam as he sets up a place for himself in the world with a wife (blurry), a son named Dean (not blurry), and a long, long life that apparently treats him so well, his body’s only eventual concession to old age is brassily graying hair and slight astigmatism. (Truly, the man ends up with the tightest, youngest-looking skin of a creaky old retiree I’ve ever seen.) And then he dies, his final exchange with his son mirroring his final exchange with Dean, and then there he is in Heaven, standing between his brother and Baby, in the middle of a bridge, in the middle of nowhere. And then he and Dean have become Jared and Jensen, and they’ve turned to the camera to thank the fans for fifteen incredible years. And then the drone camera pulls back, and there’s the rest of the series’ final season crew, crowding around them on Heaven’s bridge, waving to the fans as off-screen, we hear Robert Singer yell “CUT!”
I urged, a bit earlier, settling for the most generous explanation behind why Jack might have left vampires behind when he remade the world in Sam and Dean’s image. Fandom, however (in case you’re new to the, uh, whole Internet), is generally disinclined to settle for the most generous explanation of anything having to do with their favorite stories coming to an end. And, in case that fourth-wall-breaking address in the episode’s final minute didn’t tip you off, the Supernatural fandom is more passionate than most. Suffice it to say, uh … the fans did not walk away happy.
Not, it should be noted, about how the season’s enormous “let’s fight God” arc went down in the series’ penultimate episode. (Honestly, the fact that Team Free Will ended up winning the war in basically a single episode, their master plan coalescing off-screen and being sprung on the audience, Ocean’s 11-style, at the same moment it was sprung on Chuck, was extremely funny. Sure, it felt a bit like rushed/clanky writing—what a waste of Adam/Michael! What a waste of Dean making peace with Jack at last as they made their final plan! What a waste of Betty the Reaper!—but at the same time, taking God down with such a banal Hail Mary was just hilarious. You were a petty, small man, Chuck. You never deserved the big finale. Die, as they say, mad about it.) No—what the Supernatural fandom has come out of the finale so mad about is, ironically, the fact that no one involved seems to have gotten what they deserved.
Dean deserved a better death—just about everyone live tweeting (and/or tumbling) declared—and a better life, hanging out with his dog, before that death came. Cas deserved a better resolution, as did Eileen (Shoshannah Stern), as did everyone else left alive after Jack willed the world back into being. Dean and Cas deserved a reunion, of any kind, whatsoever. Everyone deserved a happier ending. And the fans, most of all, deserved so much more respect than they were given.
There’s a lot to unpack here, including the fact that “Dean deserved a better death” seems to fundamentally misunderstand what it is the show was not at all subtle about saying by letting him go out on his own terms, fighting the fight he was always going to fight, and getting as a reward a Heaven Jack and Cas designed specifically with Dean’s eternal peace and happiness in mind. Aside from Dean living just as long a life as Sam did, and dying in old age like Sam did, it’s hard to imagine what kind of death people saying Dean deserved he might have been happy with. I mean, Dean had died 112 times before this episode (thanks, TV Line), in both the most mundane and most epic ways possible. Nothing could have topped any of those deaths, and without God writing the script of his miraculous survival, fight after fight after fight (see: “The Heroes’ Journey”), the odds of him stumbling into death in the course of a brawl with a whole vampire nest were always going to be high. As for the kind of life Dean deserved, after Cas sacrificed himself to make sure Dean survived long enough to take down God, well … Dean survived long enough to take down God, and honestly, Sam aside, what kind of life for him was there ever going to be, if Cas wasn’t there?
Now, Cas also not showing up to greet Dean in Heaven was … disappointing. But with production of this final stretch of episodes having been interrupted, famously, by the pandemic—which was still raging when they finally worked out a plan to get filming done in time to get the series wrapped for good (?) this fall—I’m inclined to extend the team a lot of grace. It would be foolish, obviously, to try and guess how much the series finale was affected by COVID. But it would be just as foolish to think that the episode we ended up getting was exactly what writer Andrew Dabb and the rest of the Supernatural team originally had planned. In a perfect world, one without a global pandemic putting a hard limit on the number of extraneous bodies a production might bring on board, it’s easy to imagine what this episode might have looked like: Might there have been a final buzz through Hell to see Rowena (Ruth Connell), perhaps, or a farewell jaunt through the Midwest to see Jody (Kim Rhodes), Donna (Briana Buckmaster) and Claire (Kathryn Newton)? Might there have been room for a real happily-ever-after for Sam and Eileen, or a finale hunt with Garth (DJ Qualls)? And that’s saying nothing about what Heaven might have looked like, had it been safe enough to bring back not just Cas, Jack, Mary (Samantha Smith) and John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but also Kevin (Osric Chau), OG Charlie (Felicia Day), Jo (Alona Tal) and even Adam (Jake Abel), none of whom died easy deaths, all of whom fans would have found more satisfying to see than some random vampire lady from Season (checks notes) 1.
Obviously we’ll never know if any of that was ever in the cards for “Carry On,” but considering how short the episode ended up being (after accounting both for the enormous ad breaks and for the fact that it ended four whole minutes before its broadcast hour was even up), it’s likely something got cut, and just as likely that something was something that would have involved more bodies congregating in a COVID-era production than was safe. And I get it—for a show all about family and togetherness, that’s a tough break. (Now, that Sam went out and had only one kid, after being so deeply shaped by his bond with Dean? That I’ll call shenanigans on.) But like Dean told Sam, in his genuinely great dying monologue, “What it all came down to was, it was always you and me. It’s always been you and me.” Honing the focus down to just Sam and Dean, together and alone, might have been the best choice they could have made after 15 sprawling seasons, pandemic or not.
That said, one of the greatest strengths of the fandom that’s formed over the past decade and a half has been its ability to imagine a bigger, richer world beyond the show’s notoriously conservative canon borders. Already, fanfic writers on AO3 have pieces up that fix the lack of #Destiel resolution, while fans on tumblr are working through their frustration by reminding themselves that the series officially wrapping up (*again: heat death of the universe before I believe this is actually true) means its story is in fans’ hands now. More visible fans, meanwhile, like YA author Courtney Summers, have managed to process their feelings at warp speed, concluding that “nothing short of Dean & Sam going on forever” would have been satisfying, and the best thing she can do is thank the show for the memories it gave her along the way. (What ultra-famous fan Stacey Abrams might think about the finale, we’ll have to wait and see—she spent her Thursday evening dropping in on the latest Verzuz battle to help get out the Special Election vote.)
However you ended up feeling about the finale, the fact of the matter is, Sam and Dean have officially fought their last fight (*or HAVE they?) Television will evolve; the world will move on. But the legacy of the love those brothers had for each other, that will carry on.
The first fourteen and a half seasons of Supernatural are available streaming on Netflix. The last six episodes, including the finale, are streaming (for now) on cwtv.com.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.