Supernatural’s penultimate episode had many fans raising eyebrows, even through their tears.
This week, the CW aired the second to last episode of Supernatural’s final season, “Inherit the Earth.” It’s been a tough run, with the Winchester brothers going up against God himself. And Chuck didn’t make it easy for them: the season was filled with twists, turns, and false starts. Every time the Winchesters found a plan to defeat Chuck, it fell through.
This latest episode was no different. The writers set up three different possible solutions, only have each one ripped away minutes after it was introduced. That uncertainty certainly keeps viewers on their toes, but is totally exhausting. In Supernatural’s final season, there was a struggle to balance nostalgia, suspense, and most important of all, pacing.
Setting up the Final Season
Before we dive in, it’s important to remember that making a television show is no easy feat. Actors only have certain availability, there’s a constricting budget, and a deadline that needs to be met. And this year, show runners had even more hoops to jump through because of the pandemic. Scenes needed to be altered for the safety of the cast and crew, and editors needed to be on their game to piece together the best story they could.
Unfortunately, Supernatural’s final season suffered from story problems from the start. At Season 14’s end, Chuck opened up a chasm to Hell and pronounced that it was time for “the end.” Early previews of the last season pronounced that every spirit the Winchesters had ever fought was back on Earth, and they’d have to fight their past to move forward. It was an exciting storyline, which allowed the return of characters such as Kevin Tran, Bloody Mary, and Constance Welch—the Woman in White from Supernatural’s pilot episode.
The first twist came in just the third episode. With some help from Rowena, the Winchesters manage to close the chasm to Hell and put most of the spirits back inside. Belphegor, the demon who had been setup as a new manipulative villain, was swiftly taken out by Castiel before any lasting damage could be done. And as the credits rolled, I remember thinking, “Where do we go from here?”
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
What followed was a series of half-hearted plans to take out God. First there was a spell the Winchesters got from Michael, involving myrrh, cassia, rockrose, and a Leviathan blossom. But Sam gets cold feet at the last minute, believing that trapping Chuck will lead to a universe where he and Dean kill each other. Chuck is able to heal his wounds, destroy the Winchesters’ spell, and go off to explore the other worlds he created. All in all, this arc lasted two episodes.
Then in Season 15 Episode 11, Jack returned and we learned that he was being coached by Billie through a series of trials that would make him strong enough to take out God. Unfortunately, Billie wasn’t very forthcoming with information about the plan. She only gave Jack one task at a time, and refused to explain to Sam and Dean how the trials were helping.
The Winchesters help Jack with the trials for six episodes before it’s time to take on Chuck. But there’s another catch. They discover that the plan is a suicide mission for Jack, and that with Chuck out of the way, Billie intends to take over as the new God. She wants to right the universe to factory settings, with everyone who’s meant to be dead gone, and everyone who travelled in from another universe erased. With the lives of their friends and family on the line, Sam pleads with Dean to stop the plan.
This didn’t make any sense to me at all. It’s a lot easier to kill Death than God; the Winchesters have already done it once. But Dean agrees to reconsider the plan that’s already in motion. This frustrates Chuck, but allows Chuck and Billie to both go free while Jack slowly combusts from the power he’s consumed.
“Inherit the Earth”
This brings us to the final episode. Jack exploded (briefly) and came back without powers. Castiel has sacrificed himself to take Billie off the board, but Chuck is still more powerful than ever. He’s erased every other being from the planet and left Sam, Dean, and Jack to wander the world alone and think on their sins. With no one on their side, the Winchesters are grasping at straws to save the world. And we’re on the clock.
For two minutes, they try groveling. But Chuck assures them it’s too little too late, and he much prefers that they suffer in solitude.
For one minute, the plan is for Michael to read the end of Death’s book about God. Unfortunately, he can’t open it.
For four and a half minutes, Lucifer returns and it seems like he and Michael will team up to take on their father, finally brothers at last. Then Lucifer reveals he’s actually working with Chuck, and a minute and a half later, Michael manages to kill him.
For two minutes, it seems that Sam was able to translate God’s book and there’s a spell that will defeat Chuck—a different one from the spell Michael mentioned earlier in the season. At the last second, we find out the spell failed because Michael betrayed the Winchesters to earn his father’s favor.
Chuck then spends one and a half minutes punching the Winchesters before finally, the real plan is revealed…via flashbacks and voiceover from Sam and Dean. Apparently they anticipated that Michael would betray them, so they made up the story of the spell in Death’s book as a trap. Jack has been absorbing scraps of celestial power for the last three episodes, which has made him strong enough to fight God.
This explanation is three minutes long.
The Price of the Plot Twist
So why does it matter? Taking down God was never going to be easy. If they’d found the right plan right off the bat, that would have been unbelievable. It makes sense that they’d need to try a few different things before something worked. It makes sense logically, but as Chuck says in this episode, “As a viewing experience, it’s just kinda…meh.”
In Supernatural’s final season, the goal was always constant—stop God—but the path the Winchesters would take to get there had so many turns, it was easy to get lost. Often, things changed so quickly, there was no time to build any real suspense or belief. And when fans don’t believe a plan is actually going to work, you risk losing their trust.
Take the first plan, for example. Sam and Dean discover a spell that can trap God, just like the Darkness was trapped before Season 11. That seems like a good idea in-universe, but as fans, we know there’s more than ten episodes left in the season. There’s no point getting invested in the effort because it’s certain not to work. On top of that, Jack didn’t return until eleven episodes into Supernatural’s final season, and it was obvious to most that he would be a key player in stopping Chuck. So any problem solving that happened before his return didn’t hold much weight.
When the Winchesters up-ended their second plan, I was surprised, but also confused. Billie was clearly the less powerful opponent, and the lesser of two evils. Adding her as a mega-villain so late in the game just felt like a sloppy way of upping the stakes and dragging out the ending. The same could be said for the montage of plans Sam and Dean try in the finale.
Supernatural’s final season wanted to keep us on our toes. It was supposed to keep us in suspense, keep us guessing as to how the real fight would go down. But the show delayed that gratification for so long, that when the explanation finally came, if felt weak and cheesy at best.
The writers didn’t develop this final battle. They didn’t build up to it in any satisfactory way. Instead, after a blur of plot devices, they handed the audience an explanation and expected them to accept it. I’d been wondering about Jack’s growing powers for three episodes, only for them not to be addressed until the last second. Michael had some great character development earlier this season, the faithful son finally turning against his father, only to have that thrown out for shock at the end. Only it wasn’t a shock, because apparently Sam and Dean guessed his true nature the whole time.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the end result. Having Jack take God’s powers and rule in his stead feels right. Having Chuck wither away as a plain old human, powerless and forgotten, is extremely gratifying. Most importantly, watching Dean reject Chuck’s characterization of him as a killer. He choose to let Chuck live instead of exacting his revenge and rage, which made me proud and overly emotional.
The end of the episode was good. But the path we took to get there was not. When I think back on the other episodes this season, I don’t feel excited or fulfilled. I just think of how much time was wasted on one offs and cameos, when we could have had a really compelling story about facing fifteen years’ worth of history.
What Could Have Been
When I was falling asleep after the episode, I thought about the different plots it took us to get here. I thought about what I really wanted from the end, and whether or not there was anything the writers could have done differently. I keep coming back to the first three episodes: Sam and Dean facing off against all the spirits and monsters they’d killed in the past.
Part of me really wishes they’d stuck with that plot line. Watching Sam and Dean tackle old problems in new ways would have been really interesting. Sure, wendigos were all the rage back in Season 1, but now the Winchesters have toppled gods. It took two seasons to defeat Azazel. In Season 12 we took out a Knight of Hell in a single episode. I would’ve liked Sam and Dean having the opportunity to see that development in a stark light.
Maybe I was spoiled by the end of Season 11. I liked the idea of all the realms of Earth coming together to defeat a villain: the demons, the witches, the angels, the humans. With Rowena ruling Hell, Cas being one of only a handful of angels left, and all those spirits brought back, I would have liked to see all of Chuck’s creations unite against him. Not just the Winchesters.
But that’s not my call. There are budgets and schedules to consider. And at its heart, this show has always been about the Winchester brothers. Like Chuck’s always said, endings are hard.
The final episode of Supernatural airs next Thursday, November 19, at 8/7c on the CW.