TV reviewer Katie Young has a little squee over this week’s 200th episode of Supernatural – Fan Fiction…
Something very different this week, as Supernatural writes its own ‘fix-it fic’ and punches me right in the feels. I can’t even…
Cult TV doesn’t come much cultier than Supernatural. It’s been called ‘the little show that could’ and this week saw the transmission of the 200th episode. While it doesn’t pull huge viewing figures, and its key demographic is young males, Supernatural has been going strong for almost a decade largely due to its devoted and primarily female fan-base. You would be hard pushed to find a more loyal, passionate, vocal, creative and diverse following, and the cast, writers, producers, and crew all communicate readily with fans at numerous conventions throughout the year and on social media.
Full disclosure: I am one of those fans. I have been to conventions, taken photos with the cast, bought the mugs and t-shirts, written stories and articles on the Winchesters’ co-dependency. I cried every day for two weeks straight after seeing Swan Song for the first time, and I still find it difficult to watch. This episode was a love letter from the show to the fans, and for my money, it was absolutely perfect.
I spoke last week about how recalling seminal moments in the show’s history needs to be organic and done with feeling. I’ll admit, the trailer for this episode, with the Winchesters throwing their weapons in to the trunk of the Impala and announcing they have work to do as they did at the end of the pilot back in 2005, worried me a little. I’ve been a bit despondent of late, yearning for the show to create new classic moments rather than rehashing old lines for the sake of clumsy nostalgia. Out of context, using the rallying cry of wannabe hunters everywhere seemed a little lazy. Was this going to be painting by numbers fan-service?
I also have a complicated relationship with metafictional episodes. Changing Channels is one of my all-time favourites. I enjoyed The Monster at the End of This Book and The Real Ghostbusters, in which the brother attend a Supernatural convention and meet a gay couple LARPing as them. I loved Slash Fiction with its Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers nods. But I had real issues with The French Mistake, which I felt put faithful characterisation to one side for the sake of in-jokes, and the show’s representation of fandom via the character of Becky Rosen has always been a tad unflattering to say the least. In Season Seven, Time for a Wedding, it was downright misjudged, with Becky putting Sam under a love spell then kidnapping him and tying him to a bed when she was caught out. Many fans felt personally affronted at this portrayal of a fan (basically a crazed sex criminal in the making) and I can understand why.
But my fears this week proved unfounded because Fan Fiction was perfectly pitched and pushed the boundaries of TV in all the right ways.
The premise of Fan Fiction is a relatively simple Monster of the Week story. The boys find a case at an all-girls school, where an alcoholic teacher has disappeared without a trace. But when they arrive, the drama department is putting on a musical version of the Carver Edlund (aka the prophet, Chuck Shurley) Supernatural novels which depict the real events of Sam and Dean’s lives. A pupil also goes missing after she tries to quit the play, and while the boys initially think they are dealing with a tulpa, it turns out that the Greek muse, Calliope, is behind the vanishings, and the show must go on if they are to summon and defeat her.
This isn’t the first time Dean and Sam have encountered the notions of slash pairings and role playing, but this is the first time ththey’veransitioned from being freaked out to embracing fan culture, perhaps reflecting the personal journeys of writer Robbie Thompson and the cast themselves. Dean’s/Jensen’s look to camera when he’s told that there is some ‘Destiel’ in act two is playfully exasperated, as is his ‘why don’t you take a sub-step back there, ladies’ when told Dean and Sam stand so close together during moments of brotherly tenderness for ‘reasons’ and because ‘subtext’.However, there was so much detail, meaning, humour and emotion packed into this one episode, I barely know where to start. The montage of every title card at the opening was inspired as well as being impressive from a production management point of view (I am such a nerd). The delicious, lingering shots of the car (aka Baby, aka The Most Important Object in the Universe), Sam and Dean wearing single-layer sweaters to show off their impressive physiques, the setting being a school for girls, every detail screamed ‘We see you. We hear you. We accept you.’ It wasn’t subtle, but it was awesome.
The use of fan and internet parlance, and making the girls who play Dean and Cas a real life couple serves to highlight the diversity of the fandom, and the wonderfully irrational nature of a community where queer women read and write ‘Wincest’. Marie’s ‘well duh!’ when Dean repeats his questions from Monster at the End of This Book (‘they do know we’re brothers?’) is absolutely priceless, as is Sam questioning the accuracy of the portmanteaus for slash pairings (‘Sastiel? Samstiel?’) with clear traces of Jared’s easy-going humour. There’s even a shout out to robots and tentacles, suggesting Robbie has been lurking in the darker recesses of Livejournal! It’s really important to note that by the end of the episode, Dean has a complete change of heart. He fondly fixes Castiel’s tie, and tells the girls playing Sam and Dean to stand as close as the director wants them to. His ‘you have your version and I have mine’ attitude is the show fostering creativity, playfulness, inclusivity, and tolerance.
I think Fan Fiction can also be seen as the show holding up its hands and admitting that it fucks up occasionally, and almost asking for forgiveness. The reference to Sam hitting a dog in season 8, the brothers not recognising Adam’s character in the play, Marie’s cocked eyebrow when Dean calls her ‘Bitch’ as a reflex to being called ‘Jerk’ – these all called attention to past fan grievances and felt like wiping the slate clean. It’s no secret that many fans feel a sense of entitlement and are not shy about telling the creators when they are unhappy about aspects of the show, so all credit to Robbie for handling this prickly subject with humour and real affection. The fact that no one (except the monsters) died added to the sense of amnesty. The episode also firmly separated ‘canon’ and ‘fanon’ and asked the various factions of fandom to put aside their disputes and celebrate the fact that the show can be so many different things to so many people. It was lovely to see novelist and fan S.E. Hinton get an indirect mention as well.
The girls singing Carry on My Wayward Son as Sam, Dean, Mary, John, Adam and Bobby absolutely broke my heart, as did Sam’s song about Dean’s Single Man Tear and Castiel’s I’ll Just Wait Here. The design of the play itself was stunning, and I cannot stress enough how much I loved it as a device for bringing back old characters without actually bringing them back, and preserving the weight of their loss. Seeing that teenage girl in a fake beard get out of a wheelchair should have been funny, but it wounded me in ways having Bobby return in ghost form never could. It also made the impact of Chuck’s surprise appearance that much greater. Seeing Rob Benedict’s lovely little face on my screen again was such a treat. I don’t even care that it throws up all sorts of problematic questions for the plot!I smiled wryly and laughed to myself through much of the episode, and I really was not expecting the rush of emotion I experienced at the conclusion. I haven’t cried so hard or loved the boys so much since the end of Kripke’s five year vision, when Sam beat the devil and let the ground swallow him up. The return of the ‘Samulet’ after so long made me sob like a baby, and Dean’s insistence that he ‘doesn’t need a symbol to remind him how he feels about his brother’ had me clutching at my heart like a heroine in a Victorian melodrama. The fact that he hung it in the car to become a part of it, the only real home they’ve ever had, along with the toy soldier, the Lego and carved initials was so beautiful, and the perfect symbol of the boys rebuilding their relationship after everything that’s happened over the last few years. It isn’t hard to imagine that the very last scene, when it finally all comes to an end, will be very similar in feel, with the brothers saying ‘just the two of us against the world’ and riding off into the sunset.
In the years since the pilot aired, Supernatural has seen deaths, marriages, births, and its young co-stars grow into men with a real life brotherly bond. There have been well over one hundred conventions in nine countries (by my count) and demand for tickets keeps growing. Cast members who never even worked on the show together have become lifelong friends. Fans have created countless works of fiction, essays, songs, art, and videos. They’ve broken world records, pissed off NASA, raised money for charity and even helped Misha Collins rebuild homes in Haiti. Supernatural has inspired people, turned their lives around and even saved them in some cases. As Chuck said, not bad.
I think the secret of its success and longevity is best summed up by Calliope:
“Supernatural has everything. Life, death, resurrection, redemption — but above all, family. All set to music you can really tap your toe to. It isn’t some meandering piece of genre dreck, it’s… epic.”
Family has a very broad definition to the Supernatural fandom, and, to quote Bobby Singer, ‘family don’t end with blood.’ Family is the core of the show and the fandom. That’s why Supernatural is so much more than a TV series to its devotees and to everyone involved with the production. Ultimately it’s about love, support and acceptance. Finding someone or something to share this life with.
This episode reminded me of the friendship, inspiration and joy I’ve experienced since being a part of it, and it’s a shining example of just how transformative, brave and exciting good television can be. This is the show and the fandom I fell in love with. Take a bow everyone. We’ve earned that applause.