Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Supernatural, Revisited

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The end of a beloved television show usually inspires a mix of bittersweet emotions – sadness, nostalgia, and deep appreciation. This is interesting because it often doesn’t matter if the show was good or not, but rather how the audience member experienced it and how they remember feeling about it. Such is my reaction to the end of the CW’s Supernatural, which finished its run a whopping fifteen years after its premiere in 2005.

Many fans of Supernatural have mixed feelings about the show similar to my own, but my relationship with it is rather unlike those fans, I think. You see, I have watched Supernatural since its first episode aired in 2005. I was a day one fan. I liked it “first.” I loved the show before it was cool.

Now, this experience (and cringey mindset) isn’t unique on its own, except that I was eight years old when my dad introduced the show to me, my brother even younger. My dad was a horror fan and he wanted his kids to be, too, so he had my brother and I watch scary movies and horror-related content throughout our entire childhoods. Supernatural was a big part of that and perhaps the most significant show of my adolescence, except for maybe Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another household favorite.

Some of my most vivid and enjoyable memories I have with my dad is of him corralling my brother and I on Thursday nights for another delightfully scary episode with Sam and Dean. Every week at eight, the three of us were cuddled together on the couch with the lights dimmed as Jensen Ackles narrated “Previously on Supernatural…” As if we needed a reminder. We tuned in every week to watch the brothers get a good scare and have a good cry in the Impala.

An integral part of our ritual was when my dad would scoop us ice cream during a commercial break about halfway through the episode – intermission, as he called it. My brother and I would lean against the counter, watching intently as my dad lopped each scoop into our bowls. For a while, my brother insisted on looking over each bowl and claiming the one he decided had just a bit more ice cream. Little brothers are like that.

Growing up, I was a Sam girl, but re-watching Supernatural as an adult has made me much more sympathetic to Dean’s character, probably because I’m an older sibling myself. At eight, I didn’t yet understand the complexities of older siblinghood, as demonstrated in season one’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” In the episode, the brothers investigate a shtriga (or, a vampiric witch) that steals children’s life force, and we learn through flashbacks that this same creature preyed on Sam when they were young.

This is one of the series’ best episodes, in my opinion, because it brings the scares and the sentimentality. As a kid, I was terrified of the visual gag where the creature’s spindly hand blends in with the tree branches outside an unsuspecting child’s window. Watching this evil creature slip into a young kid’s bedroom while they slept, I thought, Hey, I’m a kid! I sleep!

Scary stuff.

I loved it, though. My dad’s “training” was working. By introducing the spooks and scares to us a little at a time, he was raising us to be demented and fearless – or, more simply put, he was raising horror fans.

Watching “Something Wicked This Way Comes” as an adult is an entirely different experience. The monster is scary, yes, but the gripping part of the episode is Dean’s flashbacks to watching over a young Sam while their father is away on a hunt: Dean surrenders the last bowl of Lucky Charms to his brother even though he hasn’t had any yet. Dean sneaks off to an arcade for some time alone and this has a nearly fatal consequence for Sam. Dean bears the ugly looks from his father for failing to protect Sam, his most important job, and this guilt carries over into his adult life.

Supernatural does an excellent job of conveying this in Sam and Dean’s relationship throughout the series. Dean lives his life the way his father expects because the burden of being the older child has made him all too familiar with following orders. Sam challenges his father’s authority and forges his own path, unaware that he was able to form his individuality because of Dean’s vigilant watchfulness. My brother and I, now grown, are not unlike this.

At eight years old, I didn’t yet know any of this and just thought Sam was cute. Sam Winchester was one of my first big crushes, not that I let on to my dad and brother. Outwardly, I was indifferent. Privately, I was in love.

The two-part finale of season two involves Sam being killed and Dean selling his soul to bring him back to life. After the first part aired one Thursday and I witnessed my love being stabbed to death without knowing he was coming back next episode, I rushed upstairs to tell my mom all about it. I struggled to get through the story without my voice breaking. “Are you crying?” she asked me. “No!” I said and fled the room.

Years later, a season 4 episode called “After School Special” had me hooked as soon as the previews aired after the previous episode. I looked forward to Thursday all week, much more so than usual, because this episode featured Sam and Dean investigating their old high school, and so flashbacks were involved, with Colin Ford portraying a younger Sam. This version of the character was just as dreamy and much more age appropriate. I was in love, again.

I didn’t love the episode just for the cute boy, although that was definitely a factor. I was now eleven and thrust into a new school, so I identified with Sam’s insecurity over being the new kid and his struggle to make friends. I was popular at my old school but here, I floated through the halls, unimportant and unnoticed. However, as hard as my school life was, I still had Supernatural nights with my family, much like Sam still had Dean through every new school.

Sixth grade was a tough year for me, but by its end I had befriended a girl who would later become my best friend, and finally settled in. I even began to move on from Sam and other fictional crushes to real boys in my class, though they may as well have been imaginary given how little we saw or spoke to each other. I continued to watch Supernatural through all this, delighting in both the scares and the laughs, such as the famous “Mystery Spot” episode, where Sam is stuck reliving the same Tuesday over and over, and the post-credits scene where Jensen Ackles performs “Eye of the Tiger” atop the Impala.

Thursday nights remained the same, even as my parents divorced. The judge even allowed my dad to come over Thursday nights after he had moved out so we could watch the show together. The fifth season was airing by this time and we believed it to be the last. When the final episode, “Swan Song,” aired, it was emotional for all of us. As it turns out, Supernatural would continue for ten more seasons, but that episode was the end of something special for our family. We three never watched Supernatural together again.

As I aged, I made and kept close friends that helped me understand a common theme in the show – family don’t end with blood. I bore new responsibility over my younger brother that gave me a small taste of what Dean experienced in his deeply traumatic childhood. This made “Swan Song” even more gutting because I understood Dean’s grief and feelings of failure when Sam sacrificed himself to save the world and his older brother, who sacrificed so much for him already.

At around fifteen, I discovered that Supernatural was booming with popularity online and I was jerked back into the show via the rabid fandom. At that point, it had been years since I’d watched the show, even though I knew it was still airing. It simply wasn’t the same without my dad and brother.

I believe Supernatural was meant to be watched with others, thanks to my upbringing, and luckily for me, the enthusiastic online fans filled that role. I re-watched the entire show in order to catch up with everyone else and eagerly engaged in conversation with other fans for the very first time. I had never before talked to kids my age about Supernatural because when I watched it, I was between eight and twelve, and during most of that time I was in Catholic school. None of my friends were allowed to watch things like that, so I assumed my brother and I were the only kids in the world who loved Supernatural. How happy I was to be wrong.

Naturally, I grew older and moved on from Supernatural once again. I tuned back in occasionally for special episodes (namely the musical and “Scoobynatural”), but during my late high school and college years, the show rarely entered my mind.

That is, until this past year, when Supernatural finally ended and I inevitably used it as an excuse to get nostalgic and reflect on my past. I have started my next (and possibly final) re-watch of the show and as I write this, I’m nearly done with season one.

Supernatural may be done, but I’m not done with Supernatural.

Image Courtesy of The CW

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