When Supernatural airs the eagerly anticipated conclusion to the saga of the Brothers Winchester on Thursday, Nov. 19, the WB-turned-CW series will bid adieu after a truly impressive 15 seasons. The massive and occasionally unwieldy body of work that Supernatural leaves behind has something for every flavor of fan. Creepy ghosts? Check. Sexy vampires? Check. Not-so-sexy vampires? Check. Monsters of the week? Meta rabbit holes? Goofy parodies? Check, check, and check.
The most enduring element, however, and the one that certainly draws this crazy, beautiful, dysfunctional fandom together, has to be the epic love story of Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles). Theirs is the bromance that has been at the core of Supernatural's soul from the very beginning, back before we even knew their story was being manipulated by Chuck (Rob Benedict), aka God, who claimed they were his "favorite show." While a few friends — Bobby (Jim Beaver), Castiel (Misha Collins), and Jack (Alexander Calvert) — endured season upon season, eventually claiming their own place in the family that don't end with blood, it will be Sam and Dean in the end, just like it was in the beginning. Friends come and go, but Winchesters are forever.
Now, Sam and Dean's relationship is not always pretty, and it can be argued that it's not always healthy — heck, I have argued that it's not healthy — but it certainly makes for compelling, if somewhat repetitive, storytelling. How many times are Dean and Sam going to fling themselves into certain death all for their brotherly love of one another? How many times will the one left behind drag the other out of literal Hell, whether he likes it or not? And how many times will one brother turn evil? The storylines are cyclical. We've seen these things happen again and again, and yet we keep coming back, because even though Supernatural has told the same story quite a few times over the last 15 seasons, Sam and Dean do grow — or at least change — as a result of their experiences.
When Meg (Nicki Aycox) possessed Sam in Season 2's "Born Under a Bad Sign," both brothers were on the same page — Meg possessing Sam was a Bad Thing. It had to be fixed. It was horrific, an unquestionable violation, and a few episodes later, both brothers were found to be sporting their iconic chest tattoos to ensure something like that never ever happened again. Being possessed by Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) in Season 5 was different though. It was still a violation, still a horror, but one that Sam invited upon himself as a necessity to save the world, and one that Dean supported — albeit with extreme reluctance — as the right play. The Winchesters are big damn heroes and this is what big damn heroes do.
And then came Gadreel (Tahmoh Penikett). It was another violation, another horror. But unlike a sacrifice for the greater good, taken willingly and accepted by both brothers as a vital sacrifice that they had no choice but to make, Gadreel entered the picture in a moment of sheer panic. Dean manipulated Sam because of his own personal desire for Sam to live. And Sam did live, but he was horrified and hurt, while Dean said he'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
It's OK to tell the same story, as long as you're not actually telling the same story — and isn't that what all of Chuck's endless variations of the Winchester are in the show's final season? The Sams and Deans from the alternate universe who end up murdering each other are not telling the same story as our Sam and Dean. Nor are the displaced hipster Sam and Dean. Or Squirrel Sam and Dean. And yet they are, because there is something so fundamentally Sam and Dean about Sam and Dean that no variation is any less compelling than another.
But in order for any of these stories to fundamentally work, it has to be Sam and Dean at the center. There is a lot that can and has been explored in the relationship between Dean and Castiel, but it will always be second to the original bond that began, and that will end, this show. Dean and Castiel have grown together in complicated and intriguing ways, but there is something to be said about the fact that theirs is not the relationship that Chuck has fixated on again and again, particularly if Chuck is meant to be a meta stand-in for the numerous writers that have come and gone from this series over the years.
For 15 seasons, we have not been able to look away from Sam and Dean's hard-to-define relationship. Is it love? Is it lust? Is it codependency wrapped up in floofy hair and flannel? Maybe. At the end of the day, it's fiction, and fiction is beautiful because it lets us climb to all kinds of heights and crawl through any number of depths far outside of our own experiences.
The epic love story of Sam and Dean is a prism at times, and a mirror at others. We can see what we want to see, or we can see something more. We can see ourselves reflected in their story, in small ways here and there, or we can see nothing of ourselves and just appreciate a thrilling adventure, a gripping gothic horror, or a spooky mystery. But after all these years, the supernatural aspects are not what is so magical about Supernatural. Yes, it may be the thing that drew eyes initially — I like a good ghost story, and some of those early WB promos were rife with the promise that Supernatural was going to be sexy and scary — but that's not all the show was when it began, nor is today. Sometimes Supernatural is rather silly. Sometimes it's repetitive. Sometimes it becomes mired in its attempts to tell new stories after all this time. But in the end, there is always Sam and Dean in the center of it all, the point of the compass, guiding this series home.
Supernatural's series finale airs Thursday, Nov. 19 at 9/8c on The CW. An hour-long retrospective, Supernatural: The Long Road Home, will air prior at 8/7c.
In honor of Supernatural coming to an end after 15 seasons, TV Guide presents Winchester Week, a celebration of Sam, Dean, and the entire SPN Family. Find out how the stars feel about saying goodbye, look back on the best episodes and moments, and join us in sending the Winchesters off in style.