Supernatural's Showrunner Knew They Were Stretching The Plot

Over the course of 15 seasons, multiple showrunners, two different television networks, and more apocalypses than a single universe can handle, "Supernatural" was constantly hunting for ways to reinvent itself. When the series first started out in 2005, its premise was as simple as could be: two monster-hunting brothers set off on a cross-country road trip to find their father and take down all the bad things that go bump in the night. About five seasons later, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) were caught in the middle of a war between Heaven and Hell.

The final episode of that fifth season concluded the story that series creator Eric Kripke originally set out to tell: a tale of two brothers dyeing the universe to save one another. And then the show continued for 10 more seasons. You can probably imagine the crisis this must've caused in the writer's room, especially with Kripke departing at the same time: after tackling a biblical apocalypse in season 5, where was there left for "Supernatural" to go? It turns out the answer is long and packed with possibilities.

Go big or go to hell

There's more than enough folklore and monsters in the world to fill 15 23-episode seasons of "Supernatural" with gruesome monster-of-the-week content. And on the off chance that they might run out, there's always the option of sending the Winchesters into a completely different world. As the seasons go on, Sam and Dean take trips to Heaven, Hell, and everywhere in between — I'm talking Purgatory, Oz, and even an alternate dimension where they become actors on a TV show called "Supernatural." And that's just the tip of the meta-iceberg. Don't even get me started on the musical episode.

Week-by-week story's were never the problem — the real struggle was each season's overarching plotline. What would be the Big Bad or Big Dilemma that the Winchesters inevitably had to face in the finale? After the end of the Kripke era, "Supernatural" decided that bigger was better. How could they trump a biblical apocalypse? With a new apocalypse, of course! And then another one after that! (Wow, the market for shows about siblings accidentally kickstarting multiple apocalypses is really booming.) By the time "Supernatural" hit its eleventh (!) season, going bigger required lots of creativity: the season's big-bad was Amara aka The Darkness aka God's pissed-off sister. And with Amara in the picture, this also meant it was time for the show to introduce the Lord himself (spoiler alert — his name is Chuck and he does a killer open mic act).

This leaves us with one glaring question: where could "Supernatural" go from there? How could they possibly go bigger than God?! The answer is simple — they didn't.

Supernaturals new era

Returning for the 12th season officially made "Supernatural" the longest-running show in CW history — but it also marked big changes for the series continuation. After serving as showrunner for four seasons, Jeremy Carver stepped down and Andrew Dabb stepped up to helm the ship alongside Robert Singer, who had a hand in shaping the "Supernatural" story since the very start. Dabb had been with the series since its fourth season — so between them, they'd seen their fair share of apocalypses and cosmic disasters, and when it came time to plan for season 12, they made a crucial decision that would completely alter the course of "Supernatural": to refocus the story on smaller family drama. Back in 2016, in the lead-up to the 12th season, Dabb explained their decision to Entertainment Weekly:

"Every time we do a big world-spanning story, we feel we're really stretching our show. What our show was designed to be and I think functions best as is smaller personal stories with a genre twist."

"Supernatural" began as a very personal tale: two estranged brothers on a road trip to track down their father. So the eleventh season set them back on that family course by reuniting them with their newly resurrected mother, Mary Winchester (who died in the series pilot).

"At the heart, the dynamic of the show is unchanged in that it's always going to be about the brothers, it's always going to be about the family they've put together. And Mary doesn't so much upset that as complement it. When she comes in, it's family through another lens."

Demons, angels and parents, oh my!

For Sam, season 12 marked his first real chance to meet his mom. Per the pilot, she died when he was 6 months old and has loomed over him since. Padalecki was especially excited about this development for his character: "I think Sam has glorified mom so much in his head," he told EW. "It's almost like a blind date and Sam's already in love with the person he hasn't met yet. It's been fun for me, after 240-something episodes, to have a brand-new facet of Sam's personality to play."

As for his brother, Mary's return marks yet another opportunity for Jensen Ackles to shine while Dean handles his emotions poorly. "There are very faint memories that Dean has of mom. Those memories have, in my opinion, been embellished over the years. Memories can evolve over time as you need it to relate to your own life," Ackles said. "To have her back now, he's pulling all these memories up, and obviously he's a different person now. He doesn't have the relationship with her that he had as a child because he doesn't really even understand that relationship."

And just like that, the show was back where it started: two brothers, an impala, an estranged parent, and endless buckets of family-fueled angst.

Getting back to the basics

The twelfth season of "Supernatural" ended up functioning like a soft reboot: the series shed its cosmic skin to zero in on the Winchester brothers. There was plenty going on all around them, of course: they face off against a network of British hunters and Lucifer reenters the picture by possessing a rock star and enacting his grand master to ... get a woman pregnant (he might've watched "Rosemary's Baby" one too many times). But all that being said, refocusing on the family element revitalized the series and made the Dabb-era the best stretch of "Supernatural" since Kripke's original five-season arc.

The next couple of seasons keeps this going, emphasizing the importance of Winchester's relationships with one another and the network of friends and hunters they've established over the years. Castiel (Misha Collins) becomes even more core to the show's DNA, and the 13th season introduced Jack Kline (Alexander Calvert), a Nephilim child that the three men essentially raise together. It's three men and a baby, except that he has the power to end the world and their goal is teaching him to control his abilities, use them for good, and do no harm in the world. In the end, the final season sees them facing off against *checks notes* yup, they fight God. So no, the cosmic elements and the need to keep getting bigger never completely fade — but thanks to the twelfth season, family remained at the heart of the show. And honestly, what's bigger than family?