Reactions were mixed when it was announced that a Supernatural prequel was in the works, set to focus on Sam and Dean’s parents in their younger days. The beloved CW series had become a pop culture juggernaut by the end of its fifteen-year run in 2020 and many of the ‘SPN Family’ were definitely clamouring for more, but this choice of spin-off just seemed odd. At least two attempts had been made during the show’s lifetime to launch a spin-off, both of which never eventuated, so this is the first lucky candidate to actually make it to the screen.
What has many fans confused, however, is the fact that John and Mary Winchester’s lives were pretty well documented over the course of Supernatural. Through time travel, flashbacks and more, the show’s lore came to encompass a fairly thorough history of the Winchester parents. All of which was immediately contradicted by the first trailer for The Winchesters. The one thing to assuage fans’ fears was the involvement of Dean Winchester himself, Jensen Ackles, who serves as Executive Producer on the new series, along with his wife, Danneel Ackles.
Obviously, everyone involved with the production is aware of fan concerns and it’s addressed by Dean’s narration (which is thankfully sparse) early on, assuring us that even if we think we know the story, there might be a few surprises. Given this assumption that the audience is fully up to date with their Supernatural lore, the pilot episode wastes no time in getting down to business. After a cold open that has some spooky Indiana Jones vibes, we cut to young John Winchester (Drake Roger) arriving in Lawrence, Kansas, fresh from the Vietnam War. He’s barely stepped off the bus before he quite literally bumps into a young Mary Campbell (Meg Donnelly). From there John is almost immediately thrown into the deep end, having his first demon encounter within the episode’s first ten minutes.
Supernatural’s greatest strength was its casting, with Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles crafting very believable chemistry as brothers, Sam and Dean. Likewise, this show is destined to be made or broken by the strength of its leads, and given that those roles have been previously portrayed by fan-favourite actors such as Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Matt Cohen and Samantha Smith, they were always going to have big shoes to fill. It’s a challenge that Roger and Donnelly handle pretty well, although it’ll take time to determine just how well exactly.
Roger’s John is much gentler and sweeter than what we’re used to seeing, although he’s still plagued with PTSD and haunted by (metaphorical) ghosts from the war. Donnelly’s Mary however is definitely painted with the same brush as the Smith version of the character that fans are accustomed to. As a pair, they work well together, although there’s not a whole lot of chemistry between them just yet. That’s not a bad thing though, as it keeps things believable. It would have been easy to go overboard in shading them as destined for one another, having them cast long, melodramatic looks at one another and the like. But thankfully things are kept pretty restrained and realistic, without any forced romantic foreshadowing.
The plot of the episode, and probably the season, takes some recognisable cues from its parent series, with both John and Mary searching for their fathers (Mary even has a line reminiscent of Dean’s iconic “Dad’s on a hunting trip” line). It could be seen as self-plagiarism, but family has always been one of the major themes of Supernatural, so it makes sense. There’s also a lot of recognisable lore that’s integral to the plot, but nothing that should surprise anyone familiar with John and Mary’s backstories.
Importantly, it never feels forced or obnoxious. There’s no pointless fan service (save for a few paraphrased lines); no random cameos or references (although there is a nice but subtle reference to the late Supernatural producer, Kim Manners). Every reference or piece of lore is in service of the plot. Not to worry, though; this show isn’t made exclusively for Supernatural fans, with the writers making sure to explain everything quickly and effectively as the story goes along, should there be any newcomers in the audience.
It’s not all just a rehash either, with original ideas and plot points being introduced, which are clearly establishing the arc for the season. Speaking of which, it might be a bit concerning for some to see that John and Mary look set to face an apocalyptic threat, the kind of Sam and Dean tend to deal with. We’ve seen how most hunters have typically dealt with small-scale threats, and we watched with pride as Sam and Dean grew into fighting bigger and bigger threats, so it feels kind of odd to think of their parents tackling their own apocalypse. Still, we’ll have to wait to see exactly how well that all plays out.
Apart from John and Mary, we’re also introduced to the show’s supporting cast, all in pretty organic ways. First up there’s John’s mum, Millie (Bianca Kajlich), another in the long line of Winchesters who are at their happiest when working on cars. She may not be a hunter, but she’s strong and resilient, having had to deal with her husband disappearing and her son shipping off to war.
Next there’s Latika (Nida Khurshid), who’s more book-smart than hands-on and still gets nervous at the thought of going into the field. Carlos (Jojo Fleites) is the wise-cracking, overconfident hunter of the group, who has a history with Mary. Finally, there’s Ada (Demetria McKinney), an occult bookstore owner who could hold a key to figuring out the whereabouts of Mary’s father. Time will tell how well they’ll all develop, but first impressions are good all round.
All in all, things are off to a pretty good start. If you can get past matters of continuity and canon and judge it on its own merit then you’ll find that it’s an enjoyable romp with a lot of promise. It has plenty to please Supernatural fans, but it doesn’t go overboard and remains accessible for a wider audience. The characters have potential and some interesting seeds have been planted for things to come. And yes, continuity will always be the elephant in the room, but it’s pretty obvious that there are plans for that to be addressed somehow. Whether you think it’s something that should have been tampered with in the first place, well that’s a matter of opinion. But for now, let’s just try to forget all that, enjoy the show for what it is and appreciate some more time with the Winchesters.
They’ve got work to do.
‘The Winchesters’ episode one premieres on BINGE today