As the end of the decade approaches, we’ve found ourselves reminiscing on 10 full years of fan culture. From blink-and-you-miss-it fandoms to those who stood the test of time, no one can argue that a lot has happened between 2010 and now. Almost the most shocking is the continued longevity of the CW’s Supernatural. The series will sadly be drawing to a close in 2020, but for now, let’s focus on what the past decade has brought to the show.
Supernatural first aired on September 13, 2005, leaving it’s fourth season to wrap and fifth to begin in 2010. Anyone familiar with the show will remember that season four brought about angels — something the show’s creator Eric Kripke was steadfastly against. However, toward the end of season three, viewers were getting bored. The same formula was feeling tired, so the writers sent Dean to Hell. Kind of rude, honestly, but it brought about the show as we know it now. If there’s going to be a Hell full of demons, it only makes sense to have a Heaven full of angels.
But first, let’s look at the inspiration behind the show, a book called On the Road by Jack Kerouac. This book put the idea of a life-long road trip in Kripke’s head and clearly, it never left. He altered the base idea of the book — three friends road tripping — and changed it to two brothers driving around hunting monsters.
While this sustained two full seasons, it eventually ran out of gas. Personally, I think this is due to removing the third character. Before season four, we had two main characters, Sam and Dean, with a recurring side cast, such as Bobby Singer, John Winchester, Ellen and Jo Harvelle, and Ash. John was scarce to say the least, Ellen, Jo, and Ash generally stayed at their hunter bar “The Roadhouse”, and Bobby, the character closest to the missing third, was cast in a different role. On the Road focused on three friends — three equals. While Bobby filled a paternal role in our protagonist’s lives, put simply, they were missing the third friend. This absence became more noticeable by the end of season three, leading the show to the brink of cancellation, which is where we pick back up.
The first angel introduced, Castiel, was meant to be a 3-episode test run. The character’s only initial function was to test how viewers reacted to the change of pace. Obviously, he was received well, and more Heavenly lore followed. In the 18th episode of the fourth season, “The Monster at the End of the Book”, we are introduced to Chuck, a perpetually drunk man who wears a bathrobe and is unnervingly in tune with the lives of the Winchesters. Castiel, now nicknamed “Cas” by the brothers, introduces him as a prophet and a prophet he stays until the end of the next season when his cryptic departure sent fan theories flying.
Going into season five, Castiel was a friend, filling the missing link the show needed from inception. He balanced the brothers well, able to handle a one-on-five sparring match but not an interview with a witness. Easy banter about pop culture was interrupted with Castiel’s dry humor and the brothers’ resulting exasperation with his naivete. The dynamic felt fresh and interesting with all three characters able to learn from each other and lean on each other, and with the show’s energy revitalized, it flourished through season five. This season saw our protagonists fighting off an apocalypse foretold by Heaven wherein the Winchester brothers allow the archangels Lucifer and Michael possess them and proceed to settle their differences, leading to an assumed death toll in the millions. Sam and Dean resist this fate despite pressure from all sides.
One unexpected voice comes in the form of the Trickster, a returning character from earlier seasons. In episode eight of this season, the Trickster throws Sam and Dean into “TV Land” to teach them a lesson about ‘playing their roles.’ After playing doctors, crime scene investigators, game show contestants, and spokespeople for “Herpexia” (an at-home remedy for genital herpes), Sam and Dean learn the true identity of the Trickster; he isn’t a Trickster at all, but the archangel Gabriel. Gabriel has since become a fan favorite, returning twice after his death. He provided yet another perspective into Heaven as the first archangel on the show who isn’t an outright villain, leading to one of the most entertaining subplots ever seen on Supernatural.
At this point, Kripke made good on the promise he made to himself; assuming Supernatural was successful, he would stick around for five years, then move on. With year five behind him, he did just that, changing his involvement in the show from showrunner to executive consultant. He left the showrunner position to Sera Gamble for the foreseeable future.
While the show felt Kripke’s loss in season six, the fanbase continued to grow. We rallied around the actors and characters, carved out small, but ultimately powerful, online communities and continued to thrive as the show found its footing again. This lasted through season six, aided by the presence of Balthazar, an angelic soldier who fought alongside Castiel before his tenure on Earth, until the decision was made to kill Castiel permanently at the beginning of season seven. After this decision was made, the show approached the brink of cancellation again. Fan engagement was down, the dynamic felt tired, and, frankly, it was missing the unique something that Castiel brought to the show both as a character and as an addition to the overall lore of Supernatural.
Cas was, and continues to be the viewer’s primary link to the fascinating Heavenly lore. Without him — and that window — the show ran dry once again. In episode 17 of season seven, Castiel was revived and with him, so was the show. Season eight saw Sera Gamble passing the torch of showrunner to Jeremy Carver and from there, the show’s statistics stabilized. Not to say there were never fluctuations, only that the risk of cancellation didn’t come up again until March of 2019 when the show’s stars announced their decision to end it.
Right about now, you’re probably thinking “Wow! This is cool and all, but why do I care?” Well my new friend, you care because angels brought about the show and fandom as we now know it. Not only did the lore enable greater stakes (God as the big bad, anyone?), those stakes allowed the show to continue feeling exciting. The fans continued enjoying the stories, the actors continued feeling passionate about their jobs, and somewhere in the process, a community formed.
This community, commonly referred to as the “SPN Family”, has dramatically changed lives around the world. We’ve built schools and orphanages, helped refugees in Lebanon, raised millions of dollars for mental health initiatives, and helped give people hope when they felt they had none. We enabled Misha Collins (Castiel) to start his charity Random Acts, the foundation that funded many of these projects. The catalyst for this relationship can be debated. Is it the friendship among the cast? The natural outcome of a show rooted in family ties? Or is it pure luck, something utterly undefinable? I’d argue it’s a combination of all of the above, as well as the example we see on screen.
The Winchester family is tight-knit and mostly chosen. We see Bobby as a father, Ellen as a mother, and Cas as a brother, despite none of these people having any Winchester blood in their veins. To be adopted into the group is an honor and not something to be taken lightly. A hunter’s life is brutal. It’s full of “pain, horror, and death” as Dean puts it. To be considered family by the Winchesters means being forgiving of each other’s transgressions (because there are a lot of them) and ultimately having each other’s backs when it matters. That’s the mindset of the SPN Family. When one of us falls, the rest are there to help them back up. At the end of the day, we try to make the world, or at least our world, better through love.
So, after all that talk of books and angels and herpes and charities, what does it matter? Why do you care? Why do I care? Well, I can answer one of those questions: put simply, I care because angels allowed something truly special to blossom into something magnificent. I care because this story grew with us, the fans who will soon outlive it and carry on the legacy of the wayward sons for the rest of our lives. All we needed were a couple pairs of wings.