I have a number of different callings. And I think it’s possible to be called away from things I have been called to in the past. There are goodbyes as well as hellos in our callings. Because a calling doesn’t have to be for a lifetime.
— Barbara Brown Taylor, The Path Made Clear
Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins announced that the 15th season of Supernatural would be its last on Friday, March 22, 2019, at 4:45 PM EDT. It’s now 8:22 AM EDT on Friday, March 29, and I’ve just now figured out what I want to say about the ending of the television show that has defined my adult life.
It was clear from all three actors’ red, puffy eyes (not stage makeup, not this time) and Jared’s and Misha’s inability to say more than a couple of words at a time that this announcement was even more heartbreaking for them than for us—even though it was their decision. It was their choice to end the show that has meant so much to so many millions of fans around the world in order to move on to the next stage of their lives.
Their announcement utterly shocked me at the time. I heard the news at the end of a workday, and when I walked into the restaurant where I met my mom for dinner, the first thing she said upon seeing my face was, “What happened? Did somebody die?” For the rest of Friday into Sunday night, I broke into tears several times, as more and more heartbreaking stories, photos, and tweets started showing up on my social media timelines. I spent most of the weekend cuddling Dean Winchestbear and trying to figure out just what the hell I was going to write about it in my blog. None of the angles I tried worked out the way I wanted them to. I needed to narrow the firehose spray of thoughts and feelings and ideas down to a trickle, and I didn’t have any clue how to do that.
Until I picked up The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose by Oprah Winfrey at my local library on Thursday the 28th. I took it to work with me to read during my downtime, and after a handful of pages I stumbled upon the quote at the top of the page. And instantly, I realized what I needed to say.
I discovered Supernatural during the summer of 2006, during the hiatus between seasons 1 and 2. I had just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and I was in the process of transitioning from part-time seasonal work to my first full-time, paid-leave-and-benefits, grown-up job. I ran across a number of screencaps of the series on a now-defunct TV recap website and decided I liked the looks of Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Baby, AKA the ‘67 Chevy Impala. When the next rerun aired on the WB, I tuned in. The episode I saw was “Faith,” and as someone who wrote an entire Master’s thesis on hurt/comfort fanfiction, it was the best possible introduction to the series. It’s like it was taken directly out of my brain.
I was instantly hooked.
I caught up on the series through BitTorrent and the remaining reruns, and I bought the DVD set the day it came out in September. 1I still have it. It’s so old that the only subtitles are in languages other than English. It came with a bonus disc of the show’s first Paley Television Festival panel with Jared, Jensen, Eric Kripke, Kim Manners, and Bob Singer (I believe). I showed it to every single friend I had, and made them show it to their friends. I converted my girlfriend, my best friend, her boyfriend (now husband), and all of their friends to fans by the summer of 2007. I was elated when I discovered that my academic idol, Henry Jenkins, was also a fan.
I bit my nails through the second season finale until the 3rd season renewal was announced. I drank a 6-pack of hard cider and wept when Dean Winchester went to hell in May 2008, not long after my (and Sam’s) birthday. I was stunned, and thrilled, when he clawed his way out of his grave in “Lazarus Rising.” I started writing fanfic in 2008 and also began grad school at the local Penn State branch campus. In 2009, I went to my first 3 Supernatural conventions and for the first time, I felt like there was a place in the world where I truly belonged, where I was an insider rather than an unwanted interloper. I wrote a paper about the cons that was cited as a source in Lynn Zubernis and Kathy Larsen’s book Fandom at the Crossroads. 2Which put me in the same source list as Henry Jenkins, and when I tweeted my excitement, he tweeted me back. It was pretty much the highlight of my academic career. I wrote a paper about masculinity in Supernatural and its hurt/comfort fanfic and delivered it at the National PCA/ACA Conference in San Antonio, which was the first time I ever got to experience Jared and Jensen’s home state for myself. 3 And I was shocked at how small the Alamo physically is compared to the legend surrounding it. It seems positively tiny.
And then, “Swan Song” aired in May of 2010. The very first love letter, this one to Baby, The Boys, and the show itself. I cried for hours after it ended. It truly felt like the end of an era. Ever since then, nothing about Supernatural has seemed quite the same as it did in those first five seasons. Even though there are later episodes that I truly love (I would not want to live in a world where “Baby” was never made, believe me}, after season 5 ended, I kind of fell out of love with the show itself and fell more in love with the fandom and culture surrounding the show. While I still talk about the show on Twitter daily, buy all sorts of Supernatural merch, and go to cons when I can afford them, I am rather indifferent to any given episode. The only post-script seasons I watched live were the end of 9, all of 10, the first half of 11, and the first two-thirds of 14. I’m currently three episodes behind (non-sequentially, though) on season 14, although I bought a Season Pass on iTunes, so they’re on my Apple TV, ready to go whenever I am, which is…not quite yet.
It’s become clearer and clearer to me over the past three years or so that I’ve been called away from the actual show Supernatural and called to the idea of Supernatural. The episodes, I can pretty much take or leave — although I do adore Jack the Nephilim and think he’s a wonderful addition to Team Free Will. What calls to me is the Twitter threads of funny GIFs; the videos of Jensen as Bacchus LI at Mardi Gras; the gag reels; the con panels on YouTube; the charity campaigns for Random Acts, the Birthday Party Project, TWLOHA, and others; the Embracelet charms from Stands; the photo ops; the Plushienatural rewatch podcast that I do with my TFW-counterpart plushie bears; the Instagram stories of J2M and their adorable children; etc etc etc.
It’s losing all of those things that’s breaking my heart right now. While they may not cease entirely when production stops, I’m sure they will slow down quite a bit. And I think that’s what’s going to hurt the most.
Whether the #SPNFamily, which truly does feel like a giant, worldwide extended family, will remain interested in the show at the same level once it ceases production, I can’t say. I do know that Supernatural will likely continue to stream online and play in syndication for many years to come, which means that there will be new fans discovering the show long after it stops producing new episodes. And with so many young (age 25 and below) fans forgoing cable and antenna television entirely in favor of streaming, Supernatural may be able to maintain its place in the pop cultural zeitgeist well into the future. Between Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, AO3, fanfiction.net, Wattpad, and the many Supernatural blogs, fan websites, and YouTube channels, fans new and old will be able to connect with one another all across the virtual world for as long as the internet exists. So it’s certainly possible that the fandom will remain just as vibrant and active as it is now for a long, long time.
It’s also possible that the cast will continue to do the conventions for decades as the casts of the various Star Trek shows have. Original Trek has been off the air for almost 50 years now, and Next Generation ended over 25 years ago, but their cast members still do at least a couple of Star Trek cons every year. And I think it’s possible that Supernatural cons will begin to decrease in price after the conclusion of the broadcast run. I’m not sure it will happen right away, but I do think it’ll happen eventually. The cast, especially Jared, Jensen, and Misha, genuinely love to take part in the cons and meet their devoted fans, and I doubt that will change after the show ceases production. I think, if anything, they’ll enjoy the con experience even more because they won’t be getting that validation on a daily basis from their coworkers or the press.
But clearly Jared, Jensen, and Misha now feel called to expend their limited time and energy on pursuits outside of Supernatural. All three of them have families who live in the States, children who will only be 2 or 5 or 7 or 9 years old for a very short period of time which can never be revisited once it has passed. Misha has Random Acts, Jared has Always Keep Fighting and his marathons and San Jac Saloon, and Jensen has the Family Business Beer Co. and his new bed and breakfast in Texas. These callings may not be as public or as accessible for us fans as Supernatural, but they are worthy callings just the same.
We can’t expect a calling as physically and mentally grueling as a stunt-heavy weekly television series shot in a foreign country thousands of miles from homes and families to last “for a lifetime.” If we can step out of our own perspectives, our own pain and suffering, to look at their perspectives and their pain and suffering, I think it’s pretty evident that it’s time for them to move on. It’s time for them to say hello to the callings that bring them closer to their families and their dreams.
And, at least for me, I feel that I am being called to expand my interests and my identity beyond simply being a Supernatural fan. Supernatural has literally been the cornerstone of my adult identity for as long as I’ve considered myself an adult, but in the fifteen years since Supernatural premiered, I’ve:
- gotten a Master’s degree in American Studies,
- held 2 full-time jobs,
- held 8 different part-time jobs,
- retired on disability from full-time work,
- been hospitalized for depression on an inpatient basis twice,
- been hospitalized for depression on an intensive outpatient basis four times,
- bought two used cars, and
- been awarded Social Security Disability for depression after an 18-month waiting period.
That’s a lot of life to have lived! And that’s not even going into the fun stuff, like making social media accounts for Dean Winchestbear–one of which (Instagram) currently has over 1,600 followers, starting my own Supernatural podcast with him and his furry brothers, and getting our photo taken with Jensen Ackles himself at the Pittsburgh con in 2018.
So, I honestly think that I’m being called to focus my energy and attention on a new pursuit: The Fangirl’s Guide to Happiness. And yes, I do reference Supernatural in almost every post, and I don’t plan to change that. But I do plan to begin expanding my identity beyond merely “adult Supernatural fan and plushie companion.” Just as I hope that Jared, Jensen, and Misha continue to expand their identities beyond “(soon-to-be) former stars of the long-running CW show Supernatural.”
It’s time for all of us to say hello to a new calling. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take our time saying goodbye to the old one.