What follows is my purely speculative take on possibilities for season six of Supernatural. I have absolutely no inside track on the show; all I’m going to do here is weave the gossamer threads of my imagination with ideas spooled out of interviews with Eric Kripke during the last half-year to produce a nebulous tapestry of what might be in the end of season five and the new course of season six. I’m also going to look back for perspective to things we’ve heard from Kripke throughout the entire run of the show. If you want to avoid any potential for possible spoilerage based on interviews Kripke has already given combined with my guesses and questions, do not click on the cut-link to read the rest of this post. Otherwise, click and come on in!
I’m going to start this off by saying that seasons five and six may be totally different from what I’m spinning here, and that would be just fine by me. This is not my story to tell: it belongs to Eric Kripke and Sera Gamble and Robert Singer and the Winchester brothers. I’m a fan, here, not an author. I’m just an observer, not part of the story or of the creative team behind it. I have no right to the Winchesters and I’m not entitled to have their lives turn out the way I might choose. While I comment on them and do occasionally enjoy abusing them in fanfic, I didn’t create them, they aren’t my characters, and I don’t know their futures or any more of their pasts than we’ve been shown. And that’s as it should be.
If you still want to keep on reading, just bear all that in mind and don’t take this discussion too seriously. In other words, if you hate it, don’t bash me about it; just shrug it off as indigestion and go elsewhere. And if you happen to like it, for heaven’s sake don’t invest in it and blame me later for destroying your enjoyment when it doesn’t play out this way! Just enjoy this for what it is: moonspinning.
Before I start, let me say I love Supernatural, and I love Eric Kripke. I particularly love his enthusiasm, his humility, and his generosity. What’s not to like about a guy who rubs his hands in glee not as a theatrical gesture, but because he literally can’t contain his delight; who cheerfully gives credit for some of the show’s best ideas to the others on his team who came up with them; and who goes out of his way to track and respond to fans’ concerns? I had the great joy of meeting him at the L.A. convention in 2008 for a grand total of about a minute, just long enough to thank him for Supernatural and get a picture taken with him, and I’m grateful. I always will be.
In a gloriously long, chatty interview with Mo Ryan of the Chicago Tribune posted back in August 2009, Kripke had this to say about season five and the series as a whole (please pardon the really long quote!):
And people online, they get furious – alternately furious and upset – or they throw their arms up because they think we're focusing on one brother or the other, and some people are Sam fans, and some people are Dean fans. And in my mind, anyway, you know, they're both on completely equal footing because the story is about the two of them being intertwined. For me, the story is about, "Can the strength of family overcome destiny and fate, and can family save the world?"
If I had a worldview, and I don't know if I do, but if I did, it's one that's intensely humanistic. [That worldview] is that the only thing that matters is family and personal connection, and that's the only thing that gives life meaning. Religion and gods and beliefs – for me, it all comes down to your brother. And your brother might be the brother in your family, or it might be the guy next to you in the foxhole, it's about human connections.
What you'll find as the mythology of the season unveils, it's this massive, Byzantine mythology of angels and demons and what they want and their destinies for the world. But it's basically about two red-blooded, human brothers giving them all the middle finger and saying, basically, "Screw you; it's our planet. If you want to have a war, pick another one."
Sam and Dean won’t give in to destiny. Even if by some bizarre twist of the story they willingly say “yes” respectively to Lucifer and Michael (which I personally still don’t believe they will), it’s not going to play out the way the angels expect. That pre-scripted angelic brother throwdown will get a Winchester makeover.
Sam and Dean will do – something – that puts the apocalypse back in the box. Given the way this show has always woven its story into the background fabric of our real world, I fully expect the dénouement of the season to avert the end of the world with the vast bulk of the world none the wiser. Oh, there will have been some freak storms, accidents, viral outbreaks, and insufficiently explained weird phenomena scattered around that killed a fair number of people, but nothing that the majority of the population would ascribe to a close brush with extinction. Hunters will know the truth, and some of the civilians caught in the skirmishes will have been exposed to it, but apart from the confused vocal religious fringe, no one else will say, “Hey – did you catch that apocalypse going by?” Maybe it will still be left out there to happen sometime in the future, or maybe the Book of Revelation gets edited out of divine scripture – doesn’t really matter. The last chapter will be closed and left on the shelf for the time being, perhaps to await the heat death of the universe. And the world will go on much as it has up to this point.
Sam and Dean will teach Heaven and Hell about the importance of family, love, compassion, redemption, and forgiveness. Without Hallmark card moments, thank you very much. I think arrogant angels may get their comeuppance. I don’t know whether God will be in his Heaven and Satan in his Hell, or whether all the decks will get shuffled and humanity will be told to make its own way while father God moves on to other things and Hell acquires a new hierarchy (Zachariah would look good down there, don’t you think?). All I’m sure of is, free will and human connection are going to matter a crapload more than any prophesied destiny.
Sam and Dean will go on. Even if they sacrifice themselves in the process of shutting the box on the apocalypse, the brothers will somehow be around again when the dust settles. (As I firmly believe they would have been even without the season six renewal, by the way: no way to my mind is the story Kripke has been crafting all along going to end in the death or final breaking of the brothers. No going down in a blaze of futile glory. Why do I think that? See the Kripke quote above. Also think of how he has sometimes grinned at the thought of maybe doing a film feature once the series ended. Hard to do that if you permanently killed off or rendered irredeemably evil one or both of the Winchester brothers.) Good and evil will both also still be around, and even if most of the escaped demons are returned to Hell along the way, there will still be people to save and things to hunt. And the brothers will be brothers, jerk/bitch and all. I would bet money that last bit won’t have been accomplished by some cosmic reset button wiping out the trials and travails of the past five years, either – that’s a cheat I can’t imagine Kripke and his writing team resorting to, not after all their care and investment in developing the complexity of these characters. Everything that happened will still have happened, with all that means for our two heroes. A compassionate force might blur some details a little to make them more livable – Dean’s forty years of torment in Hell comes to mind – but I’m sure the brothers are going to remember all they did to and for each other, the good and the bad. And they’ll be the stronger for it, but also finally comfortable enough to tease each other again.
In a January 15, 2010 interview with USA Weekend Who’s News (scroll on down when you get there; the site doesn’t let you link to individual stories), Kripke fielded a couple of questions about the then-potential season six:
If there’s a sixth season, how do you top the apocalypse?
Well, the trick is to not go big but go intimate – at least those are the initial conversations we’ve had [if the show is picked up for a sixth season]. We always set up this five-year storyline, because in my heart of hearts, I just never imagined we’d actually go five years, much less beyond. We are going to climax the storyline and really wrap up the story of Satan and Michael and the apocalypse. The big question is, how do you follow that? We look at this as a unique challenge but also an opportunity to really launch a new storyline next year. We’re almost looking at it as the sequel to a movie. Rather than as a lot of genre shows do as they get on in years, becoming so convoluted and almost collapsing under their own mythology and getting to the point where you just can’t follow any of it anymore, we’re really looking forward to the opportunity of just sweeping it all clean and starting over with something else. We talk about returning to a stripped-down version of the show that’s almost similar to season one, in which the mythology was just as simple as finding their father and finding something that’s really personal and meaningful to Sam and Dean. One of the things that’s hard about the end of the world is sometimes it’s hard to have your characters emotionally connect with it, because it’s so big. But if their emotional storyline for, say, season six is to save a loved one, then that’s something you can really understand and get behind and actually have some really emotional storytelling that takes you through a lot of the scary episodes.
So you think about what you’ll do in the next season — how about who you’ll do it with? We don’t know yet if Sam and Dean will survive the end of the world. Are they in your plans?
Oh, absolutely. The one thing I can say is there's no Supernatural without Sam and Dean. If they’re not driving the bus, then I’m not sure there’s a bus to drive. Maybe they’ll survive this year and maybe they won’t, but we’re at the point where, hilariously, death on our show for our main characters has now basically become an inconvenience. [Laughs] Even if they don’t survive, they’ll certainly be back for a season six. I just don’t know how to tell this story without Sam and Dean.
And I love the very idea of it. I want to see the writers play with what happens after you’ve saved the world (and no one knows it). How do you make ordinary life matter again, after you’ve lived the extraordinary? How do you readjust from the epic to the normal? (Well – as normal as life would ever get for a hunter ...) In particular, and most relevantly for me, how do you come back to relative civilization after you’re been raised to and embroiled for years in a brutal, horrific war, and how do you relate to people who can’t ever imagine what you’ve been through and what you’ve done?
Giving the brothers a personal cause to invest in to bring them back into the world seems exactly the right approach to me. I could see the knock-down, drag-out fight at the end of season five leaving them almost the last men barely standing with a virtually pyrrhic victory that cost them nearly everything they had but left them knowing and supporting each other – and then I could see them picking themselves up again to go to the aid of a friend, maybe one hurt by that war. (Bobby, perhaps? Castiel become human? Don’t know, won’t guess …) And while they embark on that quest, saving everyone they meet along the way, as ever, I could see them rebuilding themselves. As that continues, I could also see them starting to question whether there’s another way to live; whether hunting has to be all there is, or whether it might be possible to have and enjoy the trappings of a normal life while still helping the people no one else could help. Could Dean ever learn to control his obsessive need to save everyone enough to find a balance in his life with the other things he’s wistfully begun to desire despite always believing he couldn’t ever have them? Could Sam learn to forgive himself enough to feel he didn’t need to hunt as penance for the rest of his life and rediscover other dreams, other ways to help people, even if they aren’t the same as the older dreams he lost?
I think that could make a very satisfying concluding arc to the Winchester brothers’ story, allowing plenty of opportunity for struggle and conflict (and horror and gore!) along with humor and brotherly bonding. A quest structure framework for their primary mission would provide lots of options for standalone adventures along the way even as they all figured into the overall emotional arc of the brothers’ post-apocalypse/war development. And for those folk worrying about things going romantic or Pollyannaish – I’m not saying that story has a sappy happy ending with white picket fences, 2.5 kids, and weekend hunts in place of ball games. It could break in all kinds of ways, and some of them could break my heart. But I would be very content at the last if I could see Sam and Dean in my mind’s eye continuing on somehow in lives I could still picture after the series ends.
All Good Things Must Come To An End
A number of people oppose the idea of season six precisely because Eric Kripke has long spoken of having a five-year story to tell in Supernatural, and they want to see it go out on its pre-planned high note. They fear it will lose momentum and direction and drop in quality as time goes on until it becomes a painful embarrassment, and they understandably don’t want to see that happen. I don’t want that either, but I also don’t think it’s doomed to happen if the show goes on to a sixth season. I do think it unlikely the show would continue for a seventh season, for reasons I’ll explain as this goes on, and I believe this team could pull off a single season story arc to bring things neatly to a satisfying close.
I think many people are putting too much emphasis on Kripke’s five year plan, especially since (a) it didn’t even exist in the beginning; (b) Kripke himself has laughed that he said that because he never actually expected to make it to five seasons; and (c) the series has constantly reinvented itself over its run, all the while never straying from Kripke’s vision of how he ultimately wanted it to end. Let me explain.
I don’t think I ever heard Kripke talk about a five-year story arc until February/March 2008, when they were shooting strike-shortened season three. In earlier interviews – for example, in a TVGuide.com interview posted on October 19, 2006, early in season two – Kripke referred to wanting the show to be a “six/seven year player,” while expressing concern about whether it could pull the audience numbers it would need to do that, particularly after moving from the WB to the then brand-new CW. During the CW Winter 2007 Press Tour in January 2007 (scroll down to the transcript), midway through shooting season two, Kripke said they had started with a two-and-a-half or three-year plan of the mythology reveals they wanted to have, and were cruising along on schedule. In an interview with IFMagazine.com on January 25, 2007, Krikpe and Singer talked about having enough urban legend material to easily run for five or six seasons. In the beginning of season three, during an interview posted September 28, 2007 with TVAddict.com, Kripke said they always had a rough outline of the show’s mythology, usually about two seasons’ worth, and that at the time they knew the story through about the mid-point of season four. The epic mytharc clearly was an always-evolving thing, and the “end after five seasons” idea definitely wasn’t part of the original vision.
The show we’re watching now bears very little resemblance to the story Kripke set out to tell in the beginning. He’s told the tale of the show’s creation in dozens of interviews and at the March 2006 Paley Festival appearance, so those facts are not in dispute. He set out to make a horror story anthology exploring American urban myth and legend. When his initial premise of a Night Stalker, Kolchak-style reporter being the engine to introduce the stories got shot down during his pitch, he followed up with the other framing idea he’d jotted down just before the meeting: making the narrative characters a buddy team, better yet, a pair of dissimilar brothers roving the country. He came up with the horrific image of Mom burning on the nursery ceiling to set them up with a personal reason to know about and hunt the supernatural, but when he wrote that scene, shot the pilot, and started shooting the series, he had no more idea than the rest of us how or why she died that way, because it didn’t really matter to what he wanted to do. The brothers and their classic car were just meant to carry us into the stories, not to become the story.
Kripke admitted at the Paley Festival panel and in many interviews since that Robert Singer, the experienced writer/director/producer Warner Brothers insisted Kripke team with since he had no track record in television production, was the one to point out around the fifth episode of season one that the real story was the relationship between the brothers, and the show started to hit its stride about halfway through the first season as the brothers’ issues began to dominate. From that point on, the brothers’ story became the core of the show. In that Mo Ryan interview, Kripke talked about the gradual transition between early seasons, saying they used to start breaking the stories by talking about the monster they wanted to use, and then instead started with what they wanted to put the brothers through and found a monster plot that would let them do it.
I’d love to get the chance someday to ask Kripke and Singer to walk through when and how each of the various elements of the central mythology we’ve all now come to take for granted – Mary having been a hunter who made a deal for her husband’s life, Sam having been fed demon blood as a baby as the outcome of that deal, the reason for the whole setup being to produce a fitting vessel for Lucifer to occupy on his escape from Hell, the brothers confronting the apocalypse – actually developed and made their way into the show’s writers’ bible. That mythology didn’t really start to develop in a significant way until season two, and we know it kept changing as time went on. For example, in a BuddyTV.com interview posted on February 5, 2008 during season three, Kripke credited Ben Edlund with having come up with the idea that all demons were once human, with all that would mean for Dean’s journey to Hell. As late as the first Supernatural Creation convention in L.A. in March 2008, Kripke noted the show had about a 15-page bible describing the overall story arc, and said he always knew as part of it that we wouldn’t see Lucifer. That was the same occasion he said we’d never see any of that sappy Touched By An Angel stuff in his show, but did allow that if there were down and dirty versions of angels, then maybe … He laughed that he’d learned never to say “never,” however, and that stood him in good stead when he and the team came up with the idea of hard-nosed Book of Revelations angels during the hiatus between seasons three and four. That obviously changed the season four game plan in dramatic ways, and also altered the season five plan to include Lucifer. Creation is a continuous, organic process, and nothing demonstrates that better than the way Supernatural has constantly grown and changed since Kripke conceived the original idea.
I don’t dispute that in the last couple of years Kripke came up with a specifically defined arc to close the whole apocalypse storyline at the end of season five and wrap up the massive mythology the show has developed over its run. I think there were several things in play there. One was undoubtedly Kripke’s often-voiced statement that he never wanted the show’s mythology to collapse of its own weight, or to become so dense that viewers couldn’t join the show at any point and have a good time watching even without understanding all the intricacies of the past. Kripke has always been good about giving enough answers to enough questions to keep his viewers satisfied, even as he came up with new questions to tantalize their minds. Another contributing factor in the plan, I believe, was Kripke’s own contract terminating after five years; I don’t think he wanted the show to continue without him, perhaps departing from his vision, and he began to sow the seeds well in advance to encourage people to accept the show’s end when it came. I can appreciate him, as its creator, wanting it to end on his terms and on his watch. I approve. And I’m delighted Kripke is sticking to his guns and promising to wrap up the epic apocalypse story with the end of this season.
At the same time, I was not dismayed to hear about the show’s renewal for season six, not when I heard Kripke and Singer would still be actively involved and that Kripke’s replacement showrunner would be Sera Gamble, a trusted member of his team from the entire run of the show. As I indicated above, I see a lot of potential for where the story could go in season six because I don’t think ending the apocalypse ends the story of the Winchester brothers. My point is simply that, notwithstanding its most recent arc, the show has never really been about the apocalypse. It’s never been about angels or demons or God. Only recently – as in, just before season four – has it even incorporated angels, so it was never really about the brothers becoming the earthly avatars for a showdown between Heaven and Hell in the forms of Michael and Lucifer.
Kripke has said from the very beginning that he’s always known the final scene of the series; that he knew precisely how the entire show would end even before he shot the pilot, and that the show has always remained on course to bring about that final scene. I believe him. And knowing how the show has grown and changed over time, what that means to me is the final scene has never had anything to do with Heaven and Hell, Michael and Lucifer, demons and angels. It’s always been about the only ones who really mattered: very human brothers Sam and Dean being there for each other and for us, saving people and hunting things.
I think we’ve actually seen variations on Kripke’s prophesied final shot twice already, on the two occasions when Kripke most feared he’d never get the chance to tell all the stories he wanted the Winchesters to share with us. And I’m betting we’ll see it twice more: once at the end of season five, and then at the end of the series, whether it happens as I expect at the end of season six, or later. And I’ll love it as much then as I do now, if it’s what I think it is: Sam and Dean tossing weapons into the Impala’s trunk, acknowledging to each other that they still have more work to do.
I said earlier that I don’t expect the series to continue beyond season six. My reasons for that are mostly practical ones. We’ve known for a while that Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles were signed to contracts for six seasons. Continuing beyond that contract term would require new contract negotiations, no doubt requiring substantial salary increases if the actors were even interested in continuing. Beyond creative fatigue, one of the main reasons most established shows don’t typically go on and on is simply that they become too expensive as production costs – including salaries attractive enough to retain key people who could otherwise move on to other lucrative opportunities – keep going up. Unless the show is also bringing in higher audience numbers justifying charging more for advertising space to bring in higher revenues, the increased costs outstrip the anticipated return, and the network doesn’t consider the additional investment worth it. And while the producing studio can make additional money from DVD sales and merchandise licensing, the network typically doesn’t share in those. New productions are always cheaper to pursue, and the CW is the smallest and most cash-strapped of the broadcast networks. I also think all the producers, writers, and actors agree that going out on a high note would be preferable to being zombified. For Jensen and Jared, there are additional concerns. Working in Vancouver nine months out of the year takes them out of contention for other roles and new creative challenges, and keeps them far from home. They need to consider new opportunities and different career directions once their current contract commitments expire.
I would like to see a planned end for Supernatural, a high water mark that all the cast and crew could work toward. We know now that won’t be season five, but if the production takes the practical course and decides in advance it will be season six, that could re-energize everyone involved, solidify the story arc, and produce a resolution that would make us all smile through our tears. I could invest in that.
And in the meantime, we’ve got work to do.