Supernatural: The Ultimate Road Show

Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padelecki) Winchester. Image courtesy The CW

I follow Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki, the stars of the show Supernatural, on Instagram. On Thursday, September 11, they both made emotional posts about filming the very last episode–the series finale. I teared up a little; I couldn’t help it. The show is seven episodes away from a last stand. I’ve decided I don’t want to take this trip alone; I want to take you along for the ride.

Supernatural‘s 15th season was well into its run when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Quarantine stopped the filming and the 15th season was truncated last spring. Five of the last seven episodes had been filmed but post-production on them was stopped; the last two episodes hadn’t even started shooting. All that work is done now. October 8 is the beginning of the end. The series finale is scheduled to air on November 19, with a series retrospective scheduled in the hour before.

ESO hasn’t covered Supernatural regularly until now. So before the series returns on October 8, for those who are curious, I figured I’d do a little bit of recap and introduction. Supernatural is the one of the longest-running shows on American television, a horror/dark fantasy epic 15 seasons long with one of the most impressive legacies of any TV show currently on the air. The show and its passionate fandom have spawned charities, support groups, and a broad community that has become family, #SPNfamily, to be precise. Supernatural is a four-time People’s Choice Award winner for Favorite Network Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Show. And, frankly, it’s just a helluva lot of fun.

To those of you who have been with the Winchester brothers from the beginning, please be patient while I get the newbies up to speed. If you’re new to the show and here to get the scoop on Supernatural, buckle up.

Note: I’ve worked hard to keep this as spoiler-free as possible (yeah, I know, after 15 years, what’s left to spoil? Humor me), so proceed comfortable in the knowledge the all the cool revelations the show has in store have been preserved as best as I can manage.

In the beginning…

When Supernatural first aired in 2005, it was a different world: the year of Hurricane Katrina, the year that Doctor Who returned to TV, and the year the word “sexting” was first introduced into the English language.

The series premiered in 2005, but the pilot begins in 1983. And in that year, we meet baby Sam and four-year-old Dean Winchester. One night, their mother Mary, impossibly plastered to the ceiling of Sammy’s nursery, dies in an explosion of flames. Her husband John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), unable to stop this bizarre tragedy, hands baby Sam to Dean and tells him to get out of the house. Dean runs as fast as he can, the weight of responsibility on his narrow little shoulders, his father following shortly after. The house is destroyed. John is left with an obsession: to understand how and why Mary died. Dean is left with the sense that Sam is his to safeguard, forever and always. And so begins the Winchester saga.

Saving people, hunting things: the family business

The storyline picks up 22 years later. Sam (Jared Padelecki) is at college. Dean (Jensen Ackles) shows up in his father’s meticulously preserved black 1967 Impala. He tells Sam that their father has been on a hunting trip and has been missing for days. Dean wants Sam to help him find Dad. We soon learn what John Winchester has been hunting: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and much more. It’s what he’s trained his sons to do as well. Dad always calls in when he’s working but, now, not so much. Sam tells Dean he’s quit the family business. He’s done spending nights on the road, going from town to town, washing monster blood out of his clothes; he’s in college and wants his own life.

Dean ultimately talks him into this one last hunt. They get into Baby, that magnificent Chevy, and take off. In the wake of further events, Sam decides to keep hunting–but why? Will they find their father? Will they learn how and why Mary met her fate?

Ever since, Supernatural has followed Sam and Dean’s adventures, traveling the country, investigating paranormal occurrences, saving people and hunting things–the family business. They have taken on demons, witches, ghouls, archangels, Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino), and even God Himself. We’ve met key figures in the Winchester story: their second father, the cranky hunter Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver); the crossroads demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard); the nerdy prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Bendict); the hacker-turned-hunter Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day); and most importantly, the angel Castiel (Misha Collins), among many others. (Don’t worry, SPN fam: I’ll get to Jody, Donna, Jack, Gabriel, Meg, and all the rest–eventually). Though originally intended for only a six-episode story arc, Cas eventually becomes the third Winchester brother in all but name. Each season has had its own story arc and its own Big Bad, whether a single individual or a group. The continuity and the lore of the series is deep and rich and remarkably consistent.

Sam, Dean, and Baby | The CW

One of the great things about Supernatural is that, through 14-and-a-half seasons, these characters have changed and grown. As the series goes on and the boys age, we see them making new choices and different decisions as their experiences color their perspectives. Through it all, Sam and Dean have come through for each other and for the people they love time and again. It’s that loyalty, that will to always keep fighting, that makes the show so special. As Bobby Singer says, “Family don’t end with blood.”

Where to start

If you’ve never watched the series before, the best place to start really is at the beginning. All 14-and-a-half seasons are currently available on Netflix. From the very first episode, the show lays down the backstory, lore, character history and motivations. Like many genre series, it takes a little time for the show to find its footing. But by the end of the first season, Supernatural reveals its heart and season 2 starts off with an emotional bang. There’s plenty of action, of course, and for the horror fans, there’s plenty of scream-worthy scares and occasionally some really graphic body horror. But there’s also a lot of fun along the way with episodes like:

  • “Monster Movie,” shot in beautiful black-and-white with a taste of classic horror films.
  • “Baby,” told entirely from the car’s perspective
  • “Scoobynatural” in which the boys fall into a Scooby-Doo episode
  • “Fan Fiction,” the 200th episode, featuring music and a lot of Easter eggs, that’s both a send-up and a love letter to fans and fan culture
  • “Ghostfacers,” a send-up of ghost hunting reality TV shows
  • “Lazarus Rising” in which the angel Castiel makes one of the most impressive on-screen entrances ever (although, I gotta say, Death’s entrance was pretty awesome, too)

If 14 and a half seasons are too many, start at the beginning of Season 4, when Castiel is introduced. Every season starts with a recap and you can try to pick up some of the threads from there, or you can read the season synopses on Wikipedia. You can also dig into the Supernatural Wiki to learn about the characters, the show’s lore, and more.

Plus: Supernatural in the media

Variety: How Supernatural Filmed Its Final Episodes During COVID-19
Inside of You: Jared Padelecki
Inside of You: Jensen Ackles

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.

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