It seems like Supernatural's Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) have been saving people, hunting things and keeping the family business going forever now. But it all began on Sept. 13, 2005, when the Winchesters took their first ride in the Impala together. In honor of the drama's 10th anniversary, Joyce Eng and Sadie Gennis decided to look back on where the brothers' road began.
"Pilot" synopsis: Sam Winchester is pursuing a career in law when he receives a visit from his estranged brother Dean, who tells him that their father John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had gone missing. In order to track down John, Sam is forced back into a life of hunting the supernatural, something John trained the brothers to do after their mother Mary was mysteriously murdered 22 years before. During the search for John, Sam and Dean discover a Woman in White, Constance, who haunts the roads and murders unfaithful men. After putting the ghost to rest, Sam returns to Stanford to resume his normal life with his girlfriend, Jessica (Adrianne Palicki), only to discover her being killed in the exact same paranormal manner as his mother. Determined to find the demon that killed both his girlfriend and mother, Sam rejoins Dean and becomes a hunter again.
Sadie: I haven't watched the Supernatural pilot since it first aired 10 years ago, but this is actually your first foray into Sam and Dean's world. What was your initial reaction to the episode?
Joyce: Wow. Not in a good way or a bad way -- just wow. I am completely indifferent toSupernatural and had no expectations going into this. I can see why people got immediately hooked on it, but at the same time, I was in denial that everything was actually happening. It'd be one thing if a lot of the stuff was a wink-wink-nod-nod, but you know they were totally serious. And talk about an anvil of heavy-handedness. "This show is about dark forces, so let's literally make everything dark all the time!" If you want beautifully composed shots in darkness that play with light, watch Daredevil. It's just surprising that David Nutter was at the helm, but I'm sure you loved that X-Files shout-out.
Sadie: The writers always knew Supernatural would be compared to The X-Files, so they made sure everyone knew they were in on the joke too. It was just great to go back to this first episode and see so many little in-jokes -- like the X-Files references and bitch/jerk -- began in the pilot and have recurred for the past decade.
Joyce: It's fun to see how that's true for many long-running shows, which probably explains why they last so long. I also liked that the easy rapport between Jared and Jensen was already there in the beginning, even if their acting was rough around the edges. I winced every time Dean was given comic relief duty.
Sadie: I hate to agree with you, but Dean's jokes were pretty bad. He just seemed like such a stock character in this episode, as opposed to the lovable, selfless - and at times even dorky - guy Jensen helped him become over the years. You can see little seeds of the nuanced characters both the brothers would later evolve into, but there's not a lot of interesting character development for either of them in this episode. It really was Jared and Jensen's chemistry that carried the entire episode. And let me tell you, they only get better from there.
Joyce: I am sure everything is pretty much old hat to them by now, but they were very convincing as brothers right off the bat and played off that sibling rivalry dynamic well, even if it's a retread of one trying to follow in dad's footsteps and the other "rebelling" by wanting a normal life. And I really don't know much more about John and their #daddyissues going forward, but like with much of the pilot's exposition and writing, they were as subtle as Kim Kardashian on Instagram about it.
Sadie: I will say, the lack of subtlety is part of the charm of Supernatural. Normally, Sam and Dean are dealing with so much - a monster-of-the-week case, a larger ongoing threat and tons of emotional issues and baggage - that it can be a relief when they just lay certain things out straight. But there are times when I wish Eric Kripke & Co. took a few more cues from Buffy's monster-as-allegory form of storytelling and character development.
Joyce: Yeah, it doesn't hold a candle to Buffy, but it doesn't seem like it's trying to, which is fine. The "woman in white" case was basic and straightforward, and whatever that purple rip in the time-space continuum that engulfed Constance was is one of the funniest things I've seen all year.
Sadie: If only they had been going for comedy there! I was kind of surprised to see that this was the case they gave the brothers for the pilot. Some of the cases they do, particularly in the early seasons, are honest-to-God creepy. Or they'll take a story everyone knows and give it a fun twist. And then, of course, there are the famous bottle episodes, where Supernatural is actually achieving comedy on purpose. What I'm trying to say is, don't think that this episode is at all indicative of what the series is. It hits all the broad strokes, but lacks that special je ne sais quoithat really makes Supernatural, Supernatural. But even without all that, I still remember why I was excited to watch the second episode after seeing the pilot.
Joyce: I can't say I feel the same way, but I totally understand why you and a lot of people did. When the episode ended, I was rolling my eyes that they had to fridge Jess to make Sam join Dean in demon-hunting, though you knew it was coming from a mile away. In my personalSupernatural canon, Dean killed her to have baby bro all to himself.
Sadie: Part of loving Supernatural is having to swallow the show's atrocious treatment of women. The only females we see in the whole episode are 1) Sam and Dean's mother (RIP) 2) Sam's lover (RIP) and 3) Sam and Dean's hunting target, a vengeful lover and mother (RIP). Oh, and don't forget those two goth girls whom Sam and Dean only interviewed about their knowledge of the men in their lives, because screw the Bechdel Test, right? But the most depressing part of all of this is the fact that you can put on a new episode of Supernatural and see that not much has changed in the past 10 years when it comes to the show's latent misogyny.
Joyce: It's sad to see that it's been there since the beginning. The fact that the most three-dimensional female character was someone who was already dead is troubling, and even then, Constance was just a spurned angry chick who started killing people. I didn't mind Jess that much, mostly since we knew next to nothing about her, but as I understand, almost every woman the brothers have a relationship with gets offed. As a fan, why do you think they're doing this? Is it as simple as an "if it ain't broke..." thing? Are they afraid to write for female characters?
Sadie: Whenever the show faces criticism - whether that be about gender, sexuality or race - they tend to point to whatever token recurring character is still living at the moment as proof that they're diverse. Charlie (Felicia Day) was often held up as an example of how the series does feature positive examples of women and queer people. Of course, now she's dead. It's upsetting because I honestly think that the people who make Supernatural don't see the issue with this, because they aren't listening to their fans, critics and the general changing attitudes of pop culture. If a show doesn't evolve with the times, it begins to become dated and stale. And that's what's happening with Supernatural. It's one thing to look back on an episode that aired in 2005 and see such a heteronormative, macho, white-washed show. But current episodes that feature the same lack of diversity look terribly antiquated compared to what other television shows are doing right now. As someone coming into this with completely fresh eyes, how do you think this pilot would have been received had it aired this year instead of in 2005?
Joyce: Well, the scares would be hilarious for the wrong reasons. I can see it taking heat for being reductive and predictable, but at the same time it's a pilot, so it would get a temporary pass at the moment. It is a fun, addictive hour with two dishy leads, so I have no doubt it would be just as successful now as it was then, especially when you look at The CW's recent slate. Supernaturalwas a departure for the dearly departed WB back then, which still boasted 7th Heaven, Everwood, Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill, and arguably ushered in the age of witches, vampires and zombies, oh my!
Sadie: That's the thing: Even though I have my issues with the series politically, there are reasons I've stuck with it all these years and all those are all evident in this pilot. So, if I had the option of going back, I'd do it all again.