So since I’m taking a few days off after finishing the zero draft of the latest novel, I’ve taken the opportunity to finally finish up season 5 of Supernatural. (I was quite a few episodes behind. I didn’t sleep last night–for various reasons–but I’m now fully caught up.)
Do not read what follows if you’re avoiding spoilers.
There’s a great deal of discussion and debate online as to whether there should be a season 6 (there will be, for those who haven’t already heard), or as to what the ending might have looked like if there wasn’t going to be one. And I’ve seen a lot of people say that, if you simply cut the very last shot (where it shows Sam outside the house), but leave everything else, that that’s the way the series should have ended.
To which I say, not a freaking chance. That would’ve been absolutely wrong.
Would it have been a powerful ending? Absolutely. But it’s not enough for a series to have a good ending (by whatever values of good you choose to use to measure). It also needs the right ending.
And ending the series with Sam in Hell and Dean struggling to live a normal life when all he wants to do is die, because he promised Sam he would, might be powerful, and it might be moving, and it might be well done, but it’s wrong.
Supernatural goes to some very dark places, as it should. The main characters hurt and suffer and grieve, and not everything comes up roses. But those dark places? Those losses? Those aren’t what the show is about; they’re the obstacles put in front of the characters so they can show us what Supernatural is about.
And what it’s about, ultimately, is the family bond between Sam and Dean, and how much they can accomplish when supported by that bond. It’s about the triumph of the Winchester family, not the destruction of it.
"But Ari, that bond is what allowed Sam to defy Lucifer and save the world! Surely that qualifies as a triumph!"
Well, yes, it’s a triumph. But it’s not the right kind to end the series on. See, while the world may be "bigger" than Sam or Dean, it’s not the world’s show. It’s the brothers’. And so far as they were concerned, no, leaving them both in Hell–one figurative, one literal–does not and cannot showcase or support what has been the running theme of the series since scene one of episode one.
Do Sam and Dean need a "happily ever after"? No, I don’t think that’d be appropriate. But they need more than they got here. They need, at the least, either the potential for happiness or an "And they kept on hunting long after the series itself ended" ending.
Anything less, no matter how powerfully done, is the ending of a different series than the one we’ve been watching.
(And BTW, rumor is that season 6 is going back to a more episodic format, like season 1. If so, I say "Bravo!" You can’t try to top the apocalypse, so the trick isn’t to try; rather, pull back and focus more on the characters in the aftermath. Have an ongoing arc, sure, but push it to the background, as a change from the past three years of arc-heavy seasons. I’m actually looking forward to a few good old-fashioned "monster of the week" episodes.)