“I did not think this would be the day. But it is. And that’s okay.”
As Dean Winchester says, it was always going to end this way for him. Going down fighting is the Winchester way, after all. And it’s almost never the times you expect—the big, world-shaking, everything-on-the-line battles are too crucial, too full of their own significance, to allow for the death of one of the Winchester brothers. (Especially since God was always pulling the strings, until now.) No, it had to be a random case, just another trip to rescue some people and kill some monsters. Eventually, one of those monsters would get lucky. This was that day. But the creatures didn’t kill both of them. Sam Winchester had to watch his brother die. What’s more, he had to lie—he had to say it was okay. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, the long view where you can see an eventual reunion in heaven, it’s just fine. But for us mortals, forced to go on living? Nah. It’ll never really be okay.
At its best, the structure of “Carry On” mirrored the experience of grief felt by anyone who’s unexpectedly lost someone close. One day, things are completely normal (and just to help drive home that point, the Van Morrison song “Ordinary Life” played over the opening montage of the brothers’ new daily routine); the next, the person you love is dead. It’s to Supernatural’s credit that it made us sit with the weight of that loss. First, all of the third act was given over to the slow, quiet death of Dean Winchester. Realizing he has mere minutes to live, Dean tells his brother everything he can: How much he loves Sam, how proud he is of his younger brother, and how he’s always looked up to him. (And not just literally, this time.) It’s raw, and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s heartbreaking, the way death should be. Yes, Sam gives him permission to go. But that permission is for Dean; Sam isn’t actually ready to let go, and there’s no reason he should be. On a show that spent multiple seasons treating death far too lightly, this one hurt.
And then, we come back from commercial break, and there’s no respite. There’s just the empty space where Dean used to be. Sam burns his brother’s body, of course, and takes time to soak in the weight of the loss. But the next morning, Sam awakes, and in the transition from those first groggy moments of consciousness to remembering where he is and what happened, the younger Winchester has to take in the pain of Dean’s death all over again. There’s still the morning routine, the breakfast, the dog… but it’s been drained of life, of comfort. The very things that once brought succor now torment him. It’s the ultimate cruelty of a loved one’s death—they go, and here we are, stuck, having to carry on.
But carry on, Sam does. What else could he do? He promised his brother that it would be okay, that he would keep fighting the good fight, no matter what. So when the call comes through about some bodies found with their hearts removed, Sam does what a Winchester does. He heads out to investigate. But this isn’t just the next case after an irredeemable tragedy. Even before he takes one last look around the Men Of Letters’ compound, it’s clear Sam will be moving on. The memories here are too intense, like an exposed nerve that gets poked every time the toaster pops up, or Sam passes Dean’s room. Staying there would be like entombing himself in the past, in the grief of Dean’s death. So he does what hunters do; he hits the road.
Leaving an audience trapped in the immediate aftermath of tragedy would be far too harsh of a conclusion, though. Supernatural doesn’t want to leave us with a bad taste in our mouths, so it then pivots to hope. With Jack installed as the new God, heaven has been righted from the disaster it had become. Bobby is free once more, and the afterlife is no longer just reliving good memories; it’s the creation of whatever you want. Dean arrives, and there’s a sense of quiet acceptance, a peace granted to the sibling who was always too angry, too passionate, to allow anything so reassuring as peace to enter his spirit. Even still, there’s really only one thing Dean truly wants. So he goes for a drive—one that takes him exactly as long as it needs to for the entirety of Sam Winchester’s life to pass by.
Turns out, Sam chose to embrace life; to have a significant other, a son, a new world of love and affection to help fill the void left by his brother’s passing. There are plenty of reasons to choose life over grief, emotion over numbness, but perhaps one of the most profound is because the only reason any of us are here is because others brought us into this world knowing that, best case scenario, they would have to die while we carry on. To not live after they’ve gone would be a betrayal of their memory. Dean Winchester reminded Sam of this in his final moments, and the episode leans into the reality of trying to live a full life while simultaneously offering the hope of something after. Call it a fantasy, call it faith—Supernatural has never seemed terribly interested in organized religion as anything but an institutional obstacle to our better angels—cross-cutting between Sam’s life on earth and Dean’s afterlife joyride was a way to highlight the idea that all any of us can hope for is peace in death. For the Winchesters, that meant being with each other.
The episode as a whole couldn’t be simpler: Life is awkward, and funny, and often pretty silly (welcome to the 43rd annual Akron Pie Fest), and then you die. But during the time you have, you try to make it mean something. Supernatural was about watching Sam and Dean fight the good fight, time and again, hopefully with a few wisecracks and some nice sight gags. It rarely got terribly deep, save for a few installments here and there. Mostly, it was about providing some of that comfort I mentioned above: watching two earnest but fallible men try and try again, sometimes failing, but always picking themselves up and getting back to doing what they hoped was the right thing. That usually meant lighthearted adventure, sometimes with some scares or interpersonal drama thrown in for good measure (okay, maybe a little too much brother-against-brother squabbling in those middle seasons), but always with an eye to action. Admirably, it maintained a commitment to monster-of-the-week storytelling even during the most convoluted of season-long arcs, as though reminding us that life is mostly just a process of getting through the day, or the week, or month, so we can be here for the next one. That it ended with an emotional gut punch feels true to that spirit of workaday drive. Supernatural won’t be remembered as one of the all-time great series, but it should be remembered as a damn good one. This is the day it ends. And that’s okay.
- Poor Dean—he never got to use that throwing star.
- “You know what this is? Mimes. Evil mimes.”
- We’re going to allow the cutesy pie smash in Dean’s face, only because Sam’s wanted to do it for a long time, and this is the end.
- The third act really was quite heartbreaking.
- Fourth act, too.
- If you’re curious, the song playing during that montage of Sam grieving was Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms.”
- I liked the callback to “Agent Bon Jovi.” Those earlier seasons really didn’t work very hard to give them believable false names, did they?
- If you’re curious (I certainly was; I had to go back and look it up), Jenny appeared way back in season one’s “Dead Man’s Blood.”
- Wow, 15 seasons. I hope you all enjoyed watching however much of it you did. I was ride-or-die from the start, and I’m glad I got to check in with reviews a few times during these final seasons to hear what you all were thinking. It ended on a pretty high note, comparatively. So pour one out for Supernatural. They killed a lot of monsters.