Over the course of 15 seasons, the creators of the show “Supernatural” have accumulated a fandom so big that their characters still trend on Twitter over a year after the show’s finale. Beginning in 2005 and ending in 2020, the series follows Sam and Dean Winchester — a pair of brothers who begin tracking and killing a variety of supernatural monsters to avenge the death of their mother. The brothers are played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, who were both featured in People’s 2020 “Sexiest Men.”
Even though “Supernatural” is arguably one of the most popular sci-fi fantasy shows, many have a love-hate relationship with the show and its writers. It’s a series that merits an all-night binge-watch and a strongly worded rant online. Perhaps if you love something enough, you’ll want to find ways to improve it. If the poor writing and lack of representation aren’t enough to infuriate its late-night Netflix viewers, what is it about “Supernatural” that SuperWhoLockians can’t get enough of?
— TV Insider (@TVInsider) January 4, 2022
One of the biggest strengths of “Supernatural” is its characters. Sci-fi and fantasy genres often focus too heavily on special effects, world-building and high-stakes action scenes to capture their audience’s attention. “Supernatural,” however, never loses focus on the heart and soul of the show: their revered characters. The effort that the writers and actors put into portraying authentic characters is evident in fans’ super obsessions.
The casting crew picked not only the most swoon-worthy actors but also the best possible people to play Sam and Dean Winchester. Viewers can’t help but feel sympathetic for Dean as he shoulders his family’s burdens and Sam as he desperately attempts to keep his head above the water. Throughout the course of the show, their strong brotherly bond is both their greatest weapon and fatal flaw. These brothers would go to the ends of the Earth to protect each other, even if it means sacrificing their own lives. People find themselves so drawn to the Winchesters season after season because of their tough outward machismo and soft inner core. It’s nearly impossible for the average fangirl to keep her composure as Dean sheds a manly tear.
“Supernatural” would not have had as much success without its secondary characters, especially Castiel. The awkward, husky-voiced angel of the Lord quickly became a fan-favorite after his dramatic introduction in Season 4. Viewers watch as his character develops from a rigid soldier to a selfless, loyal protector of the Winchesters. Other recurring characters — including Bobby Singer, the wise father figure; Crowley, the sarcastic King of Hell; and Jack Kline, the sweet and powerful Nephilim — were so highly revered that when they were killed off of the show, the writers were forced to give into fans’ demands and bring them back to life.
This brings us to the downsides of the “Supernatural” characters. Although some characters grow and develop throughout the series, Sam and Dean largely remain stagnant — dare I say one-dimensional. Time after time, they make the same mistakes, and they never seem to learn their lesson. For 15 seasons, the episodes follow an aggravatingly stale pattern. One brother does something bad, and the other brother has to go fix it. They fight, they go kill something together and then they make up over a beer before driving off into the sunset, somehow still solving nothing in their relationship.
Tracy, an editor for Therefore I Geek, has many unkind things to say about the characters of “Supernatural” and agrees about the lack of depth to Sam and Dean. “Each brother spends a lot of time (a ridiculous amount of time, actually) pouring his heart out to supporting cast members regarding his place in the world and his feelings about his brother, but there is no evidence in their actions to back this up,” she writes in her editorial. “There is no progress in their relationship.” Maybe her frustration is toward the brotherly bond simply showing its wear and tear. Surely this is intentional by the writers, who can hear the superfans angrily shaking their fists and shouting, “Hug it out!” or “Just make up already!”
For the first several seasons, “Supernatural” follows the conventional “case of the week” format that many other drama series have adopted. In each episode, the Winchesters reflect on urban legends and follow a trail of bodies to a historical supernatural creature, which has its roots in a wide variety of cultures and religions. This template provides some familiarity for the audience and gives the writers plenty of room to get creative. One might think that the writers would run out of ideas after 15 seasons, but they continued to bring originality to the show. In the coveted “Kripke era” — Seasons 1 through 5, which were written by Eric Kripke — the boys take on wendigos, werewolves, shapeshifters and even Bloody Mary herself.
As the show began to show its age, however, the writing got to be clichéd, unoriginal and predictable. After the end of the Kripke era, the show was originally supposed to end. The Winchesters stopped the apocalypse and trapped Lucifer in hell, and Dean settled down to start a family. New writers brought the show back to life due to popular demand, but one cannot help but notice the plot holes start to widen. The issue is that the writers failed to escalate the stakes of the plot. They attempted to do so by making the threats to humanity always bigger and badder than the last, but it proved to be overall ineffective.
Another reason why fans stopped enjoying the writing is that the plot held no risk. The main characters were so beloved that the writers could never kill them off. In the finale of Season 2, “All Hell Breaks Loose,” Sam dies — for the first time. Dean doesn’t get off the hook either, dying a total of 111 times throughout the series. Fans were outraged and broken-hearted when their favorites died, but they understood that the world of storytelling required the loss of some important characters.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, many of the characters who die throughout the series are brought back to life. Killing off a big character like Sam or Dean should be climactic, but it’s lost all meaning when it’s done too many times. What’s the point of watching the season finale if you know what’s coming? Of course, it’s going to be action-packed and dramatic, but where’s the thrill if you know that Sam, Dean and Castiel are going to make it through the other side?
Undeniably, the worst part about “Supernatural” is its lack of representation. The department that the show is most obviously lacking in is that of lead female roles. From the very first episode in 2005, viewers are drowned in the testosterone-filled atmosphere. Women in “Supernatural,” and many other shows, fall victim to “fridging,” which is when a character is underdeveloped, sexualized and abused for the sake of the plot.
“It’s a dangerous thing to be a female character, but it’s no easy feat being a woman in real life, either,” wrote Kelsi Karpinski in the Study Breaks article “Women in Refrigerators: ‘Supernatural’ and the Trauma of Female Characters.” “Using gendered violence and trauma as plot devices is problematic because they’re not just fictional themes — they are realities that women face every day.”
Women who somehow made it into the show found themselves killed off too quickly, including Mary Winchester, the boys’ mother, and the mother-daughter duo, Ellen and Jo Harvelle. The other female characters are either evil or hookups for Sam and Dean, and sometimes they’re both. What feminist fans really needed was a badass female hunter who didn’t exist only as a plot device, but alas, their desires were ignored.
Most noticeably, though, the show has a history of sidelining and killing queer characters. This was the case for the show’s first lesbian character, Charlie Bradbury, whose gruesome death solidified the “bury your gays” trope. “Supernatural” is infamously known for its queerbaiting, which is when the writers trick the audience into thinking that a homosexual relationship is forthcoming when it isn’t.
There is a lot of homoerotic subtext going on in the show. For instance, the writers continued to tease the idea that Dean and Castiel, whose chemistry was already strong, were in love; however, the writers never gave the audience any canon indications that there was a romantic attraction between the two — that is until the penultimate episode of the series where Castiel dies seconds after he professes his love for Dean. “Whatever motivations Supernatural might’ve had in killing the duo,” Screen Rant author Craig Elvy writes about the situation, “a gay relationship was introduced between two main characters, and nothing of substance materialized before both characters bit the dust.”
How To Watch the Show Instead
Whether you love it, hate it or fall somewhere in between, “Supernatural” is more than worth a watch. Fans of the show love it in its entirety, its ups and downs included. Although the title may give some the idea that it is intended to be scary, this show should be watched for its amazing characters, actor portrayals and humorously stale plot. It may be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. “Supernatural” permits its audience to focus on the attractive, manly characters doing manly and attractive things. Why not indulge in a little bad TV once in a while?