Carry On: Thoughts on the ‘Supernatural’ Series Finale

Well, fam, here we are for the last time.

This is the final review of the final episode of Supernatural, and my feels are very turbulent and conflicted about the ending. I couldn’t sleep after watching the finale, so most of this was written on my phone in the middle of the night because apparently, even after all these years, Supernatural still has the power to keep me up all night. 

Spoilers ahead, my friends. Big, giant, spoilers. 

The Most Brief Of Summaries

Supernatural — “Carry On” — Image Number: SN1520C_0272r.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Jared Padalecki as Sam and Jensen Ackles as Dean — Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

There is no conceivable way I can discuss the finale without posting spoilers, so again, there be spoilers ahead. 

The finale lights up on the boys adjusting to life post-Chuck. It’s a sweet, domestic view of life in the bunker without the threat of an apocalypse over their heads (Dean has a dog!), but, of course, that quickly changes when they go on a hunt for a nest of vampires. After saving two young boys, Dean loses a fight against a barn (okay, okay, I tried not to let the snark in but I couldn’t help it) and receives a fatal wound.

From there, it’s a sobfest as Dean recognizes that he’s not going to make it and says his goodbyes to his brother. I’m not going to lie: it hurts a lot. After fifteen years of the boys braving heaven and hell to stay by each other’s sides, we know, for sure, that this is the end for them.

Sam carries on, and it’s hard to watch. He’s sad and alone, to begin with, but as time skips forward, we see him married and with a son named Dean. He keeps the Impala, and while he never stops missing his brother, he lives a long and full life (with, we assume, Eileen and a little bit of hunting).

And Dean? He finds peace, in a specially-made heaven, which, according to our Bobby, was crafted by Jack and Cas, WHO IS NOT IN THE EMPTY.

I’m not crying; you’re crying.

Supernatural — “Carry On” — Image Number: SN1520C_0193r.jpg — Pictured: Jared Padalecki as Sam — Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Long Road Home

Before I dive into the more technical assessment of the episode, I would like to say that my opinion of the lead actors, supporting cast, and crew are in no way diminished by this ending, even though my feelings regarding the plot are very conflicted. They have always been the heart of the show, and to create what they did during a global pandemic is nothing short of amazing. The issues that I will lay out in this article are, as they have always been, with the inconsistent writing and missed opportunities that have consistently plagued Supernatural. The show cannot get out of its own way, and while the performances and technical aspects may be astounding, the writing is what holds it back from being truly and exceptionally great…and just leaves it at “alright.” 

This is not a new problem to the show, and definitely not a new thing for me to write about (see Exhibit A, B, C, etc.) The difference, this time, is that there is no do-over. No next season to get it right. This is the end of the road, and well, did the writers get it right? Well, in my opinion, not exactly. It’s certainly not the worst send-off I’ve ever seen (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*), but it’s not the best either. 

There were some things I loved about the episode. I loved the domesticity we saw at the beginning. I loved the dog. I loved seeing familiar faces and homages to the show’s roots. 

Unfortunately, relying on nostalgia to sell the ending is a trap that many shows have fallen into, and one that Supernatural is now guilty of. With the culmination of the big narrative arc in last week’s episode, the show (and the Winchesters) finally had the freedom to do, well, anything. Dean could have gone to college, or applied for a job outside of hunting. Sam could have grown a beard or learned how to microbrew beer. Anything big, or small, was fair game at this point—yet the show runners decided to return to SPN’s roots with a MOTW-type episode, choosing to ignore 15 seasons of lore and universe-building and instead rely on something simple to wrap up the story.

In theory, it could have been brilliant. There is a technique in writing called a “full-circle ending” in which you have characters end up in a place or situation similar to where they started. If executed correctly, it gives the audience a sense of fulfillment by recognizing the journey and development of the characters, but also feeling relatable and familiar. (A good example of this is The Good Place, in which a character says a line at the very end that appeared at the beginning of the show. A bad example of this is the entire final episode of HIMYM). By returning to its MOTW roots, Supernatural attempted to give us a full circle ending, but as this tweet so eloquently put it:

After 15 seasons, the formula of the MOTW episode is engrained in our minds: boys find a case, boys investigate the case, boys get in fight with bad guys, emotional brother moment, close out on boys sharing beers. My issue is not with the choice to use MOTW to tell the story, but in the execution of it. By attempting to keep that same formula, but condense it enough to still show us heaven and scenes from Sam’s later life, it feels rushed and sloppy. (And I’m not even going to touch Dean getting killed by a barn…)  

The condensed MOTW formula is the kind of inconsistent writing that, sadly, I’ve come to expect from Supernatural. You will have moments, or episodes, that are brilliant, and then you have some that just…aren’t. Due to the rushed nature of the first part of the episode, Dean’s death feels accidental, and it’s an “oh, I didn’t put that in the script but sure let’s keep it” kind of accident. By not giving us any time stamps or sense of “carrying on”, we do not know how much time Dean had between defeating Chuck and dying, so it very much feels like he doesn’t get to enjoy the freedom that he fought so hard for.

Supernatural — “Carry On” — Image Number: SN1520D_BTS_0461r.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Behind the scenes with Jensen Ackles — Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

As someone who has studied the craft of writing extensively, and written a LOT, I know how hard it can be to get the ending right. You’re never going to make everyone happy (unless you’re Schitt’s Creek), and with a show as big as Supernatural, you may never get to wrap everything up as neatly as you’d like, and though the second half of the episode was heartbreaking and bittersweetly beautiful, I could not help but notice the missed opportunities, namely the obvious missing characters. What broke my heart the most was the emptiness of the episode: Sam was alone at Dean’s funeral; Dean only saw Bobby in heaven. While I know that COVID-19 robbed us of their original intended ending for the show (damn you, 2020), I cannot help but wonder if Sam could have gotten a text from Eileen, or Dean could have heard the voices of Castiel or Mary. The show may have started as two brothers against the world, but it ended with the Winchesters having a full and loving found family—a family that was very sorely missed at the end. That sense of emptiness and loneliness, particularly for Sam after Dean’s death, is something I hoped would never be the ending for the Winchesters.

In the end, the show has always been carried by the actors, and not the writing. Even though I disagree with the structure and pacing of the episode, I must admit that I SOBBED during the death scene and every scene after. Jensen and Jared know these characters better than any writer will, and their performances actually sold me a little bit on the ending (okay not the barn murdering Dean because that will never not be stupid). The love that they have for this show and the Winchesters is palpable; and as always, it is hard to deny that even while I’m a hysterical mess at the sight of Sam alone and sad, or of Dean saying goodbye to his baby brother, this show and these boys have shaped me in profound ways for my entire adult life. It was hard, very hard, to say goodbye.

Was it the ending I hoped for? No, but maybe that’s life post-Chuck. There’s no cosmic deity watching out for the boys, and if Chuck hadn’t been meddling all along, maybe this is how it would have ended long ago. Maybe part of the Winchesters returning to normal is returning to a world where horribly stupid shit happens for no reason. There’s no big destiny, no master plan: sometimes you just get a crap deal. If the year 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life is unpredictable, and messy, and sometimes really goddamn sad. But you carry on, and as Sam and Dean showed us many, many times over the past 15 years, sometimes that’s the bravest thing you can do. 

I have long argued that a creative work’s meaning is derived from three things: authorial intent, the text itself, and the audience’s interpretation. In “Inherit the Earth“, we saw the Death of the Author, and the removal of that authorial intent from Sam and Dean’s lives.. So, here at the end, these are the things I know to be true:

  1. Sam marries Eileen.
  2. Castiel lives free of the Empty and, with Jack, crafted a Heaven especially for Dean.
  3. Dean spends eternity at peace surrounded by people who love him.

The author’s work is now done; the text is finished. All that’s left now is audience interpretation, and you know what? With those three facts, we can interpret the ending in almost any way we choose. This is how we carry on the story of the Winchesters.

For the record, my interpretation of what comes next is that Dean and Castiel spend eternity together; Sam and Eileen are reunited in heaven with their son; and Jack? He shows up for Charades on Fridays. This is the ending that I choose.

Carry on, SPN Family. Carry on.

-The Collectress

P.S. If you haven’t watched the finale and are wondering if you should, I can say that the second half is definitely worth it.