I was speaking to a friend of mine about why the Season 13 finale of Supernatural was so devastating for fans of the show and about why the show has endured for so long. It made me realize that the answer to both of those questions came down to two things: family and choice.
From season one of this show Sam and Dean Winchester have been longing for family and normalcy, and, from episode one, that longing has been denied over and over again. Whether it was losing their mother Mary at infancy, Sam’s fiancee Jessica in the same way as Mary, or their father John at the beginning of Season 2 what little family they had was torn from them, repeatedly.
However, something funny started to happen along the way: the Winchesters gained a family of choice. Starting with Bobby, then Jo and Ellen, then Castiel, little by little Sam and Dean went from two orphans whose lives had been the focus of Heaven, Hell and Beyond to having a family filled with people who loved them, called them on their respective nonsense and yet always had their backs. Yes, they lost some of them along the way (Ellen, Jo, Charlie, Kevin, Crowley, and Benny’s deaths all still hurt, so much), but the relationships they built, the unlikely family they made was strong, strong enough to carry them through several apocalypses and then some.
Then season 11 rolled around and Dean, after spending the entire season being stalked by The Darkness, stopped the end of the universe through love and compassion. It was one of the most beautiful moments in the show’s history and both Dean and the viewers were given a gift that no one saw coming: Mary returned. Though John was likely never coming back, Mary’s return was a welcome one, and though it had its ups and downs (and whoo boy were those downs really down) it was still worth it to see Sam and Dean get to know the woman whose life and choices changed their entire family’s fate. Mary was flawed, she was a warrior, she was funny and kind and so very much like Dean, in the same way that Sam was so much like John, that it was startling. She wasn’t perfect, but what parent is, and watching her reconnect with her now grown children, figure out her place in this changed world and earn the forgiveness that she needed for the things that she did, and didn’t do, was difficult to watch but truly engrossing.
When the Winchester family gets destroyed again Sam and Dean gain a child in the form of Jack. What could’ve been a Cousin Oliver moment for the show instead deepens both the show’s mythology and its characters as it explores what it means to be a parent. Dean has to face the same choices that John did when Mary died: dealing with a super-powered child and the loss of a spouse; Jack’s presence also forces Sam to face his own buried trauma of being marked as inherently evil before he could even walk while outside forces fight to control him. All of this on top of losing their mother, again.
Yet, because the Winchesters are like the phoenix they rise once more as the multiverse is officially brought into the shows mythology and we see how some choices, no matter how bad they may seem initially, truly do make all the difference in the world.
We spend this season in a world where Mary’s choice, to make the deal with Azazel that saved John’s life and allowed Sam and Dean to be born, never happens and it is a world that’s utterly and completely destroyed. The human population has been reduced to a few scant survivors, the demonic, animal and supernatural population even less than that and all of them are being hunted by this universe’s version of Michael the Archangel. Michael, who’s gone insane with the loss of his family and the misguided notion that ‘purifying’ the world will somehow bring God back, is an unstoppable force. Instead of protecting the creation he’s been left with he chooses to destroy and terrorize. It’s sad, ugly and brutal because he could be so much more and so, so much better.
When the Winchesters realize what’s happening they do what they always do: they fight. That choice, to save others and bring hope to a dying world, yields unexpected rewards: over the course of the season they gain back most of the family they lost with the returns of Mary, Charlie, Bobby and Gabriel; they also build on the family they already have with Jody, Donna, Claire, Alex and Patience; and gain new, truly unexpected, allies in Ketch and Rowena. Though problems arise: in the form of Lucifer, the king of denial and the blame game, and Michael, determined to bring his version of peace to our world, things seem like they might, finally be coming to the end. The Winchesters, for the first time in a long time, look forward to the future. A future in which they can retire, as a family, because the world is safe.
It’s here that the ultimate choice – or rather lack thereof – comes into play. The choices that the characters have made throughout the season, particularly those of Jack and Sam lead directly to Dean’s actions in the finale. Jack, whose mother is dead and, though he is loved by Sam, Castiel, and Dean, knows they don’t fully understand what he is and what he’s capable of, seeks out Lucifer, his biological father. Jack, who is in the body of a teenager but is only a year old, who can’t really understand evil, who only wants to be good, falls for Lucifer’s lies and manipulations. Sam, who sees exactly what’s going on and is terrified for Jack’s safety and well being makes a choice that he shouldn’t, not trusting that the boy he helped raise will choose wisely. All of it leads to Dean making a choice that eight years prior he refused: he says Yes.
This decision is brutal. We know the hell that Dean went through to not become the ultimate vessel of Michael and the suffering and death that came from that decision. We know, after seeing Castiel trapped in his own mind by Lucifer, what awaits Dean when, because there was no doubt he would, Michael breaks his word to let Dean have control. Yet, we – and Castiel – know that for Dean there really was no choice. Lucifer had kidnapped his son and his brother. Unlike eight years ago this wasn’t about taking Lucifer down, it was about saving his family and the world from what Lucifer, who would gladly bleed out his own child for power, would do hopped up on Jack’s grace. Dean’s choice was taken from him the moment his family was and it hurt.
The staying power of this show is in the questions it asks: What would you do to protect your family? How far would you go to save the world? How much is too much to give up for the greater good?
Book Of Lore
- Before all hell broke loose we found out that Rowena and Charlie are road tripping across America causing ‘ginger’ trouble as Bobby puts it and I really hope we see what that looks like.
- Speaking of Bobby, he and Mary seem to be working towards something like a relationship. I’m here for it.
- I’m deeply pissed that they brought Gabriel back to kill him again. Deeply. Pissed.
- Michael!Dean is going to be in for several surprises because Dean Winchester
- Will not go quietly into that good night fam and
- Was chosen of Death, not Michael the Archangel, so…
- Expect some battles at the center of the mind.
- On another note, how many of you think the last two episodes were a Xanatos Gambit by Michael to get Dean the whole time? Especially after that ‘I know exactly what you are’ statement?
- Lucifer’s punk ass is dead. Means Hell’s got a slot open for a new ruler. I wouldn’t get too comfy Michael.
- We’ll be doing a Supernatural rewatch throughout the summer so join us and use the hashtags #WaywardSisters and #SaveWaywardSisters and let the @TheCW know we want our ladies.
Supernatural forces its characters to really look at what family means, good and bad, and to count the costs of the choices they (and we) make.
Hopefully, in Season 14, the cost won’t be too high.