The Future Of The 'Supernatural' Fandom Is Female
Men might have brought them together, but women are keeping them there.
Imagine you're part of an enormous family with millions of members spread all over the world. Despite the distance, you're tight-knit, even if you don't see each other in person often. You chat, you share updates on everything from job promotions to the local weather to strokes of bad luck, and bond over mutual interests. You can't measure that support, but you know it's there because you feel it all the time. This is the essence of the Supernatural fandom, and after speaking with its members, I'm convinced it's the strongest collective in pop culture.
The Shakespearean phrase "though she be but little, she is fierce" has never been a more appropriate description, though I only encountered that ferocity for the first time at Comic-Con San Diego 2017. Even after standing in line for hours outside Hall H (some had set up tents and slept in line overnight), fans managed looks of excitement and positivity as they entered the Supernatural panel. To repay them for their dedication, the network put on the show of shows. Much to the shock of the audience, Kansas (yeah, that Kansas) appeared on stage to perform the series's unofficial theme song, “Carry On My Wayward Son.” The concert was followed by a personal video message from the Supernatural cast and a frank, intimate Q&A. I'd never seen such a heartfelt exchange between cast, crew, and fandom.
Against all odds, The CW series has made it to its fourteenth season. Long ago, cast members Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins let viewers into their lives, and fans have repaid them tenfold. Between Ackles' 2017 campaign to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief, Collins' nonstop activism (he founded Random Acts in 2009 to encourage "random acts" of kindness), and Padalecki's ruthless transparency about his battle with mental illness, it seems the guys have a real stake in humanity. Much like their characters, they don't shy away from the hardest parts of living. When they get involved, they work tirelessly to get the message out and embody their causes. This is one of those unique casts who treats its fanbase like family and its values like the gospel, and fans feel that.
However, no series is immune to the times, and fourteen seasons is a very long span. The show has run more than a decade, and even hardcore fans know it's aged. They love Supernatural and respect its cast, but they also recognize it as what it is: a show that started in 2005 with a history of putting its female characters last. So, like any resourceful group, they came up with a solution: Wayward Sisters, a spinoff inspired by Supernatural's strongest female characters, Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) and Sheriff Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster). Alongside Jody's adopted daughters — Claire Novak (Kathryn Newton), Alex Jones (Katherine Ramdeen), and Patience Turner (Clark Backo) — and a Dream Walker named Kaia Nieves (Yadira Guevara-Prip), the women challenged evil forces and cared for kids whose lives were turned upside down by supernatural tragedies. Following a Tumblr-born "Wayward AF" campaign that swept fanfic forums and conventions, the movement (originally Wayward Daughters) spread to Supernatural's stars and showrunners and, eventually, a show was born.
In my effort to get to know the fandom, I send a message to the Twitterverse. One Jody Mills account (@MillsSheriff) retweets my message and before I know it, I'm coordinating in-person meetings. At the Bayfront Hilton next to Comic-Con San Diego 2018, I sit down with Erin, a five-year veteran of the fandom. She's traveled from Arizona to see the Supernatural panel and I'm honored she's taken time out of her Con to chat with me. In December of 2012, Erin bought the show's first six seasons at a pawn shop as a distraction from her ailing health.
"I fell in love with the show and immediately started a Tumblr with fan art," she recalls. "Then I figured, well, I should probably go over to Twitter, so since March of 2013 I've been on Twitter. That month, I also found out I had stage 3 cancer. The family helped keep me alive and it's been helping to keep me alive."
In addition to cancer, Erin suffers from depression, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder. She identifies with Sam (Padalecki), she explains, because the character deals with similar issues. She describes the actor like a brother when she shares concern over his mental health — battles she, too, has fought and continues to weather.
"That's when I was like, 'Oh, no, this show is gonna ruin my life. It's so good,'" she laughs.
Michele tells me the show couldn't sustain the fandom without its stars. She recalls an event when Collins gave donuts to fans who were waiting in line. Later, she paints a picture of a typical Supernatural convention: Collins, Ackles, and Padalecki travel everywhere from Hawaii to Spain to meet their fans and listen to the same questions over and over again. Despite the stress of travel, limelight, and repetition, they never seem to develop the jadedness one would expect.
"Any time we're not really happy with the show, we have the support of the actors to get us through that rough patch," she says.
Though the conflicts of the characters are also hugely impactful.
"The fandom is hugely LGBTQ and people of color and I think it's because these boys are going through hell all the time — their version of hell — and they're always fighting no matter what, like the Always Keep Fighting campaign that Jared started," she says. "People who are going through their own version of hell in real life really identify with the boys and their inability to give up. Even when they want to give up, they don't because they're so attached to each other. It brings out something in people who have been through really hard times in their life."
But even when the conversation begins with Sam, Dean, and Castiel, it ends with Jody — and Rhodes. Through her fearless support of her character, the show, and the fandom, Rhodes has become their hero.
"Kim Rhodes has been a fan favorite since her very first episode. I mean, she's always been beloved," says Michele. "She's one of the [actors] that we were like, don't you dare lay a finger on her, we love her so much. They built her presence over the years, but I think it was by accident. They started sending kids to Jody because they couldn't take care of them. They could barely take care of themselves."
Penned by two of the fandom's favorite Supernatural writers, Robert Berens and Andrew Dabb, Wayward Sisters was introduced as a backdoor pilot in Season 13. Shortly thereafter, Berens announced The CW was not moving forward with the spinoff.
"The CW has decided not to proceed with a series order for Wayward Sisters," he wrote via Twitter. "Honestly — I’m heartbroken. I’m confused. And, at least for the moment — I’m angry. Seeing Jody, Donna, Claire, and Alex step it up to icon status, while overseeing the genesis of Patience and Kaia, was an unalloyed joy."
"It breaks my heart to say this," Dabb added, "but CW has chosen to pass on Wayward Sisters. We love these characters, and have spent almost two years trying to make this show a reality on the network... but there are some fights, sometimes, you can't win."
Rhodes seems to have similar feelings when I reach out to her. I ask her why she thinks the series wasn't picked up. "I don't know," she responds. "And that's a blessing."
"I often try to 'make sense' of things that hurt," she continues. "I think if I have a reason why, it will somehow make it easier to bear and prevent it in the future. But the reality is, I’m just hurting. I don’t know why it happened. I do know that I’ve had a lot of disappointments like this, but this was the first time I had such support and love to help me through. I do think we would have seen something happen by now if it truly had a life. We gave it our best, but there are things beyond our control."
What she shares next cements her status as a figure of inspiration, strength, and badassery.
"I would say ask yourself what you truly want out of [Wayward Sisters] and make THAT bigger," she expresses. "A vibrant, vocal support system? We still have it. Make it more. An example of non-traditional and inclusive heroism? We still have it. Make it more. A chance to embrace ourselves and where we are as individuals and a community? We still have it. Make it more. A f*ck ton of raucous, even if silent, crazy love? Oh. We got that. So letting a TV show go or not is up to you. But we don’t NEED it. We got us. And we are Wayward As F*ck."
I also contact Buckmaster, but receive this response: "Unfortunately Briana will not be able to give the interview due to not being at liberty to comment and a very busy convention schedule."
If the network wants its most beloved universe to live on, it has to give the fans a win. Supernatural didn't ask for a fierce, feminist fandom, but as Erin puts it, they were lucky enough to get one. "When they brought the Wayward girls, I immediately identified with Jody," Erin explains. "And then Donna came along. And I was like, we have to have this show. After being involved in this fandom for so long, and knowing all these people and knowing the fans and knowing the cast, we need this show about powerful women who don't need men to save them."
Unsurprisingly, when I reach out to the fandom via Twitter, I end up with a mailbox full of articulate responses. As I scroll through my inbox, I see three words repeated over and over again: representation, inclusion, equality. With Wayward Sisters, fans thought they'd finally gotten a show that represented them. Sure, it would have been one of the scarce shows on TV without a male lead. And, yes, it starred women over 40. But they supported it with everything they had, and if they could keep Supernatural on the air for this long, surely they could support the cast's female counterparts in the same way.
"The fandom is so different from when the show first started," Michele says. "I feel like Wayward Sisters is an evolution. It's a more inclusive, diverse version of Supernatural and we're ready for it. It doesn't mean we love Supernatural any less, but it's very much a product of its time. Though it's gotten better, it's been very sexist. It's very heavy-handed with the macho-ness. This is the next step: Supernatural is never really going to give us what we want. We've been looking for representation. Give us Wayward so we have a chance to grow outside of that and change the universe."
So far, that hasn't been the case. After the network's statement that the show wasn't "creatively" up to par (Another Vampire Diaries spinoff called Legacies was a safer bet), the movement seems to have stalled. It's the fandom alone that has kept Wayward's stars in the conversation and made sure its characters stay alive in the hearts and minds of viewers. There's an online store that sells Wayward merchandise, a documentary in its honor, an art gallery that displays portraits of the show's most prominent faces, and thousands of handles dedicated to keeping Wayward around — and it makes sense. The fandom is the Wayward Sisters. They fight their demons and take care of their own and lift each other up when there's no one else listening.
In the end, if Wayward Sisters doesn't come to fruition, the show's spirit will live on in the women who fought for it. They'll lean on each other and mourn the loss of the show — their baby — not unlike women have looked to each other for support forever.
And maybe that does the show justice in a way the network never could.