Supernatural just closed out its 11th season with an episode that proves an idea that’s fairly unpopular in the Age of Binge: Sometimes it’s totally worth it to marry a show and stick with it week-to-week through good times and bad.
Supernatural, of course, is a relic of sorts from a much different time. When the show premiered in 2005, there was no such thing as Hulu, Netflix didn’t stream and the very network on which it currently airs, The CW, didn’t even exist. But even as TV changed, it stayed.
It wasn’t always pretty — hey, who doesn’t have a slow season or two out of 11? — but especially in the current season, the show has seemingly made it a priority to reward those who have taken the time to enjoy the slow burn. A prime example of this was the return of the “Samulet” a few episodes back — a storyline 8 seasons in the making.
Going into the finale, we knew the boys were in for yet another epic battle — this one against God’s cranky sister Amara, who threatened to let her brother die and the sun’s light burn out for good. As much trouble as they were in, it also felt almost too familiar. When Dean prepared to sacrifice himself by volunteering to be a Soul Bomb and handed the keys to his beloved Baby to a weepy Sam, it was hard not to feel déjà vu — maybe even a little bit apathetic about it all.
Someone would save them. Someone would swoop in. Or someone would die and someone would bring them back next year.
Neither of those things happened.
In a welcome twist, they actually saved themselves. Dean talked Amara into mending the fences with God and the two had a friendly reunion that left Amara thankful. Dean had given her back her family. “I want to do the same for you,” she said.
Just moments earlier, the boys had exchanged parting words at their mother’s grave, so it wasn’t a total surprise when Mary Winchester popped up in the closing minutes. Still, actually seeing the boys’ long-dead mother reappear in the flesh — not as a ghost, not as a flashback — was as emotional as it gets.
That’s not to say, of course, that Mary Winchester’s return didn’t have an impact on those who binged the show in one month or joined the party several seasons late. Of course they did. But for those who watched her get scorched to death by a yellow-eyed demon in her son’s nursery 11 years ago, her return made more than a decade of fun and harrowing adventures with two brothers feel so incredibly satisfying. It was a full circle moment that promises to turn the boys’ lives upside down in Season 12 and just the fuel the show needs to continue this wild journey another season.
Rare is the show that can deliver that kind of payoff. And these days, rarer is the show that will ever have the opportunity to do so.
With so many TV options, it’s easy to give into a desire to quit any show because it breaks up a couple you root for, kills a character you love or simply hits a snag in the storytelling. You quit one show, you move on to another; that’s your right as a TV viewer.
But looking at Supernatural at age 11, everyone who stuck it through the occasional awkwardly bad episode, continuity error, or flat spin-off attempt, should feel good about their investment. Because at the end of some rocky TV roads is a moment that carries the emotional weight of almost a dozen years of storytelling. That’s a feeling that really can’t be duplicated — sorry, binge watchers.
I know this to be true because I watched 6 seasons of Mad Men in a little more than a month last year, hoping to catch up before the end. It was satisfying and it was good, but my memories were nothing like those of some of my friends, who’d been through breakups, job moves and other major life moments during the show’s run. I envied that emotional connection they had to the show that had been their escape for so many years.
So as God recovered from the brink of death and the sun began to once again shine brightly in the Supernatural season finale, the show proved it’s nowhere near letting its own light fade away. In fact, it’s burning brighter than ever.
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