The strains of perfectly harmonized voices in a classic prog rock intro. The rumble of a finely tuned engine. The liquid squish of Dean Winchester beheading a vampire. The music of Supernatural. The long road ended on Thursday night. Read on for an episode recap and commentary.
BEWARE: This post is super-charged with spoilers for the Supernatural series finale, “Carry On”. Haven’t seen the episode and you’re concerned about spoilers? Stop right here, get a slice of pie, and then go watch the episode on the CW app.
A life on their own terms
If you wondered what life would be like the for the Winchester brothers in the wake of Chuck’s departure, this episode begins with a glimpse of that sweet, energized, everyday life. Dean (Jensen Ackles) wakes up to Miracle, the shaggy dog he first discovered during “Inherit the Earth,” bounding onto his bed for an epic cuddle. Sam (Jared Padalecki) starts his day with jogging, laundry and reading. He and Dean share breakfast and Dean says he’s found them a case.
Turns out what he’s found is a pie festival. We watch as Dean brings a half-dozen slices of pie to Sam, who sits pensively on a nearby bench. They talk about missing Castiel and Jack. Dean encourages Sam to eat some pie; he’ll feel better. Instead, Sam smooshes a piece of pumpkin pie into Dean’s face. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time,” Sam says, with an impish grin. “I do feel better.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere, two masked killers attack a suburban couple and grab their kids.
Sam and Dean visit the crime scene. The officer on site tells them that Dad had his heart torn out and all his blood drained. Mom was left alive but her tongue was cut out. It’s definitely a Winchester special. Sam and Dean recognize the drawing of the attacker that the mother gives the police. Dean finds an entry in his father’s journal about similar killings forty years before. Vampires, they conclude. (Technically, vampire mimes, Dean says.)
On the case
They put together clues based on the journal entry and head to a home outside of Canton, Ohio to ambush the culprits. When two killers pull up outside of said home, Sam and Dean are already there. They kill one of the masked assailants and question the other (Max Montesi) to find out where the abducted kids are. It’s interesting, watching this scene. Sam and Dean are self-assured, dangerous, single-minded men, holding themselves in a way I feel like we haven’t seen in a very long time: confident, lethal, intimidating. This is classic Supernatural, the Winchesters saving people and hunting things. You don’t mess with these guys. And this vampire doesn’t. He explains that his nest nurtures the kids they take and then they “juice ‘em.”
Sam and Dean pull up outside a barn. They find the two abducted boys and free them, telling them to run. The Winchesters face down four masked vampires. Fight, fight, fight. They briefly encounter Jenny (Christine Chatelain), a vampire they’d met early in their career when she was still alive. Sam beheads her handily. More fighting ensues. At one point, one of the vampires tosses Dean away and we see, in the foreground, a sharp piece of rebar protruding from a wood column. Dean gets up to fight again and the vampire rams him into the rebar. We hear the spike go in.
Sam beheads the vampire but doesn’t realize that Dean has been impaled.
The Winchesters against their last adversary
When Sam turns to go find the kids, Dean tells him he’s not going. It’s only then that Sam begins to understand what’s happened. Dean explains that something’s in his back. Sam goes to Dean, at first wanting to help him off the spike, but Dean says he thinks it’s the only thing keeping him together. When Sam says he’ll go get help, Dean asks him to stay with him. And when Sam says they’ll find a way, Dean tells him not to, that summoning people from death always goes wrong.
Dean tells Sam he’s proud of him, that Sam is stronger than he’s ever been, and that he loves him. He hearkens back to the day when he went to get Sam at Stanford to go find their dad and admits he was afraid that Sam wouldn’t come with him. In the end, Dean asks Sam to tell him it’s OK. Sam tells him, “It’s OK. You can go now.” And Dean dies in Sam’s arms.
Richard Speight, Jr., who featured in the series as the Trickster/Archangel Gabriel and has directed several episodes, praised the scene on Twitter, and he’s not wrong. It tore this writer’s heart out.
Later we see Sam and Miracle, together, as Sam lights Dean’s pyre to the strains of “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits. We then see Sam and Miracle wander the bunker, bereft. Sam stops into Dean’s bedroom, sits on his bed and weeps as he comforts the dog.
Sam and Dean in the afterlife
And that’s when one of Dean’s phones starts ringing. On the line is a cop in Austin who says he’s got bodies turning up without hearts, and that Sheriff Donna Hanscum gave him this number. Sam pauses for a moment, deliberating. Should he go? Does he want to? And then he nods; there’s work to do. He leaves the bunker.
The scene cuts back to Dean’s funeral pyre, and suddenly we’re with Dean on an empty road, mountains on the horizon. He walks around a corner to discover Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) sitting in front of Harvelle’s Roadhouse, a cooler of beer by his feet. Dean’s confused; this is no memory he’s ever had. Bobby explains that Jack reorganized heaven. It’s not reliving your best memories anymore. Now family and friends are nearby. Heaven—the heaven Dean deserves—is being happy together with the people you love the most.
“So Jack did all that,” Dean says.
“Well,” says Bobby phlegmatically, “Cas helped.”
Dean smiles. It’s lacking only one thing, he says. Bobby explains that time moves differently in heaven. Sam will be along soon. And then Bobby says, you can have anything you could ever need, want or wish for, so what will it be? Dean surveys the area and there’s Baby, wearing her original license tags. He goes to her, strokes her long lines, and gets in. He revs her up and turns on the radio. “Carry On My Wayward Son” starts—“I love this song,” Dean says—and he takes off.
As the song plays, we see Sam’s life, walking with a toddler named Dean, obviously his son; playing catch with him with a woman in the background whom I assumed was meant to be Eileen Leahy, his girlfriend; Sam helping a teenage Dean Jr. with homework; an older, gray-haired Sam pulling the cover off of Baby to tearfully sit behind the wheel; and at last, in a hospital bed in his living room, oxygen tubes at his nose. A young man (Spencer Borgeson) sporting an anti-possession tattoo on his arm, sits on the bed. The young man is clearly his and Eileen’s son (bearing an astonishing resemblance to Shoshannah Stern, who portrayed Eileen). He takes his father’s hand and tells him it’s OK, he can go now. Sam puts his other hand over Dean Jr.’s and closes his eyes.
Baby pulls up on a bridge and Dean gets out to look at the vista. He smiles, turns, and finds Sam there. They look at each other, hug, and then stand at the railing of the bridge, together again.
After a fade out, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles take a moment to thank the fans for 15 years of love and support. They are surrounded by other cast and crew who all wave as the camera pulls back. We hear the director say, “And cut!”
That’s a wrap
And so ends fifteen years, 327 episodes, of Supernatural. Viewers have watched Sam and Dean—and Padalecki and Ackles—grow from boys to adults on screen. The Winchesters have battled everything from werewolves and vampires to Lucifer and God himself, taking down every monster thrown in their way. In the process, they became not just righteous, formidable warriors but principled, loving, compassionate men as they did so. They befriended the warrior angel Castiel, who changed them both and who loved Dean without reservation, and co-mentored a son, Jack, who took over the throne of heaven. They protected and saved the world over and over again, and took us along for the ride in a ’67 Chevy Impala big enough to carry us all.
Together with creator Eric Kripke’s vision as well as Robert Singer and Andrew Dabb’s guidance, they forged American pop culture mythology. And while the show’s reach may not be as broad or as far-reaching as, say, Star Trek’s, to a smaller, passionate audience its impact will be just as important and just as enduring.
Speaking of fandom, the episode is unsurprisingly controversial. While the promise for the Winchesters has always been peace when they are done, no one has ever agreed on what that peace should have looked like. Should it have been white-picket-fence lives for Sam and Dean (which Dean had briefly earlier in the series and which, frankly, he didn’t look like he enjoyed)? Or maybe that ever-elusive law degree for Sam, a Butch-and-Sundance-style exit for the brothers together, or a mutual declaration of love between Dean and Castiel? Should Dean have died at all? Should the producers have closed the series with “Inherit the Earth” instead of “Carry On”? (They could have. “Inherit the Earth” wrapped up a lot of loose ends beautifully.)
And who did Jared Padalecki piss off so badly that not only was his hairstyle throughout the 15th season awful, but his beloved mane became a scare wig of gray, pipecleaner hair in his dotage?
And these questions provoke others: What happened to Eileen over the course of “Inherit the Earth” and “Carry On”? After Sam’s clear devastation at her disappearance, his apparent amnesia about her only seemed to be alleviated come Dean’s death. (It’s not even clear that he remembered her, for the only image we have of Sam’s wife is a blurred brunette standing in the distance as he plays catch with his son.)
And lastly, righteously I ask, where the hell was Castiel in the final episode? As the third lead character of the series and one of the reasons Supernatural continued to be successful, his absence was a major sore point for viewers across the board, whether or not there was a romantic conclusion between him and Dean. To have him mentioned in passing only twice was a disservice to Misha Collins who portrayed him, and to fans who have loved him for a decade.
Unless you’re the show’s producers, none of these questions will ever get answered. They are unlikely to get more specific publicly than they already have. Nor will we ever really know what the finale might have been like, had Covid-19 not interfered with the production schedule and the availability of potential cast members. For myself, I believe that some of these problems could have been satisfactorily addressed in dialogue in some fashion. It’s not like Dean’s epic drive in Baby was so vital to the story that it couldn’t have been edited down to make space for a few satisfying words in lieu of actual character appearances. The thought of what might have been makes me sad.
The producers, writers and cast said publicly that they knew they couldn’t please everyone. They did, however, try to best serve the core story: of two brothers whose mission was saving people and hunting things, the family business. And in that respect, they succeeded.
Janna Silverstein is a writer and editor, an all-round professional nerd living in Seattle with two cats, a really big TV, and lots of books. With the conclusion of Supernatural, she will continue as an at-large writer for the ESO Network, covering a variety of media on a weekly basis.