Sam, Dean, and Castiel: Supernatural’s holy trinity. They are the men around whom the series revolves and they’re the ones we hear about and we love. But the fact is that Supernatural is full of bad-ass women.
I don’t want to do some kind of countdown: that’s been done. I want to talk about the women in the series whom I especially admire. But first, because I know I’ll get flack if I don’t mention them them . . .
Yes, yes, they’re great–I know
Demon Meg (Rachel Miner) is fun, with her snark and her crush on Castiel and her chaotic evil-to-neutral alignment. I’m even kind of infatuated with her particular enunciation; there’s something about the way she talks that I find luscious to listen to. (Fan-nerd admission: Maybe this is my kink. I had the same reaction to Paul Michael Glaser in Starsky and Hutch; something about the way his mouth wrapped itself around words just totally turned me on. Not to mention those beautiful blue eyes. And that crooked grin . . . But I digress.) Her character arc is fun and she’s entertainingly evil.
Ellen and Jo Harvelle (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal, respectively) are great. Confident, committed hunters, they are the first women in the series to build relationships with the boys that are in any way meaningful. But I always found them a little predictable—not as people but as the sort of characters we often see in fiction of this kind: hot, bad-ass women who first show up in tank tops, carrying guns and plenty of attitude. They are of a particular type. For myself anyway, I felt like the writers weren’t trying hard enough to do something new with them. I liked them, sure, but I didn’t find them truly special.
As for Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day) (because how can one not mention Charlie?), she is, of course, completely awesome. In many ways, I recognize myself (as do many fans) in Charlie. She’s a delightfully self-aware nerd, a genius hacker (I’m not but, as someone who works in high tech, I admire her technical chops), smart, resourceful and sassy as hell. She eventually becomes the younger sister Sam and Dean never had.
Yes, these are all bad-ass women. But there are women in Supernatural who particularly appeal to me as a woman of a certain age. They’re characters I have never stopped admiring and who have become integral to the series over the long haul. I want to talk about them because, as far as I’m concerned, they haven’t gotten nearly the press they so richly deserve.
Missouri ain’t just a state; she’s a powerful psychic and old acquaintance of Sam and Dean’s father. A strong woman confident in her abilities—which span telepathy to precognition and spellcasting—Missouri navigates the world with a kind of serene and mildly amused presence. She sees so much and knows how to deal with it. But once she senses trouble, her mien turns serious and purposeful. She drops into the series in Seasons 1 and 13, not quite the constant presence that other women in the series are, but she makes an impression. I love her for her self-assurance, her comfort with herself and her belief in others.
Sheriff Jody Mills
Jody starts off as the sheriff of Sioux Falls, South Dakota—capable, competent, apparently in the position for quite some time before she encounters Sam and Dean. That means she’s an accomplished career officer, well known and—given her longevity—well-liked in her community. By the end of the episode in which she debuts, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” she’s learned the hard way about the world of monsters. She loses her husband and son in one fell swoop to a zombie outbreak. By the next time we meet her, she’s taken it all in stride and she knows Sam, Dean, and Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) for who they are. This is a woman who takes no crap and gives no quarter.
But she’s also got a kind heart and a lot of love to give. As she shows up again and again in the series, we see her taking on a sometimes-motherly role for Sam and Dean. She becomes a hunter in her own right, mentoring a small pride of young women turned hunters. She never loses her edge but neither does she lose her empathy. And that’s why I love Jody: she’s seen the world at its darkest and taken what it’s dished out, but she always keeps love at the center of the work.
Sheriff Donna Hanscum
Our first meeting with Donna is as an officer helping Sam and Dean investigate a murder (“The Purge”). She doesn’t seem particularly special. Even when we see her later as a guest at a health spa where she’s trying to lose weight, she seems to be sweet, competent but relatively clueless.
The next time we see her (“Hibbing 911”), she’s the welcome-committee-of-one at a sheriff’s retreat in Hibbing. Donna is relentlessly, almost obnoxiously cheerful, but a little squishy when faced with her patronizing ex-husband. By the end of the episode, she has beheaded a vampire and earned Jodie, Sam, and Dean’s respect. She’s made of sterner stuff than her cheerful exterior would suggest. As Rick says in Casablanca, it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Donna and Jodie, Sam and Dean will meet again and again.
As the series goes on, Donna never loses her charm, but her edges are sharpened. She digs into the hunter’s life, integrating it with her day job even as she tries–only partly successfully–to integrate it with the day-to-day business of living. (I still mourn Supernatural: Wayward Sisters, the spin-off that might have been, featuring Donna, Jody, and Jody’s adopted daughters.) Donna’s got an optimism that I admire. She wears her uniform as easily as her dazzling smile. Everyone who meets her underestimates her and that’s a tool she uses to good effect over and over again.
Yeah, this one took me some time. At first, I found Rowena, a beautiful centuries-old witch, primarily annoying. Her vanity, her hunger for power, pissed me off because she was obviously cunning, obviously smart enough to plan for nearly every contingency. She didn’t need to be evil. Her envy, her greed just made me want to smack her.
But as Supernatural continues and she evolves, what we see is a more complex character emerge. I think it’s fair to say that the death of her son unexpectedly shakes her, and her experiences with Sam and Dean change her. It takes time, but when she starts letting the boys in, her redemption arc begins. When she finally shows the kind of magic that is she not only truly capable of but willing to do despite its effects on her, I found myself feeling like I had underestimated her. And that’s Rowena’s power as a character: she’s deep enough that there’s always another surprise waiting to be revealed.
I have great respect for Mary Winchester. I know that there are plenty of fans who disagree with me. They feel that, after her return to life in Season 11, her choice to take some time away from her sons to adjust to the new world and to join the British Men of Letters was a betrayal. But what I see in Mary is her struggle.
Thirty-three years pass between the time she dies and the time Amara (Emily Swallow) brings her back to life. Mary is a woman trying to find her place in the world, first as herself, then as a hunter and a mother. The infant and the little boy she loved when she died were gone; in their place were men who looked familiar but weren’t the children she knew. Her husband is dead. The world is strange, with telephones that fit in your pocket and computers the size of coffee table books. So even though her sons would have it otherwise, she takes some time away to figure out who she is—who she wants to be—in this strange new world.
Mary, Mary: Is she, in fact, contrary?
Is it wrong that she doesn’t put her boys first? I don’t think so. If she had stayed with them in the bunker rather than stepping away to figure things out, she would have been trapped by the expectations of what Sam and Dean thought she should be. As a mother, she would work to meet those expectations. But that wasn’t what she needed, and she knew she’d be no good to anyone until she had her head in order.
Is it wrong that she joins the British Men of Letters? I think it was a bad choice but I don’t think it was evil. Her intentions were good, even if they were misplaced. The MOL made a good pitch to her and she bought it. She also paid for it in ways she couldn’t have expected.
Ultimately, she joins the family business. She’s a hunter of phenomenal ability; no wonder the MOL wanted her. Mary Winchester can take care of herself. In fact, she takes care of herself so that she is capable of taking care of others. That’s smart. That’s strong. That’s bad-ass. And that’s what I appreciate about Mary.
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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. She’d love to send Charlie Bradbury all the books she has contributed to or edited.