I was bopping around the Internet the other day when I came across the “what could have been” section on Supernatural’s TV trope page. “What is this?” I thought. “It is real world impacts on the SPN stories,” I realized. It was all pretty fascinating! So fascinating I knew I had to ask the person who knew most about what goes on behind the scenes of the show… Jensen Ackles! Unfortunately the court order is still in effect so I had to use my editor signal and summon the person who knows the second most about what goes on behind the scenes, our own site-overlord, Alice Jester! So we had a sit down to discuss rumors and story possibilities about what could have been (and if this proves popular enough, submit more rumors you’ve heard and Alice & I will do another one).
1. Before the disruption of the Writers Strike, Sam was going to break Dean’s deal with Lilith before the end of S3. Additionally, the introduction of angels to the series was only conceived of during the Writers Strike.
Alice: True and true. The original intent of season three, before they had to change plans because of the writer’s strike, was that Sam would save Dean, but he would use his powers to do that and it would cost him his soul, not to mention Sam and Dean’s relationship. Because of the strike though, Sam’s arc was pushed to season four and the entire focus of the episodes left became focused on Dean’s deal. They decided to send him to Hell just because everyone expected he would be saved.
Nate W: That’s fascinating and further proof of just how skilled Kripke & his crew could be at turning adversity into art. Such a storyline could have been interesting but I think we can all agree that it wouldn’t have been as interesting and captivating as what resulted in S4. Now I had heard and known from several sources that angels were a late addition to the SPN universe and there was no original plan for them (though thankfully the writers left the way open). It’s tough to imagine how season 4 might have been then as so much of the first episode depends on the mystery of Dean living again. The reveal of the requirements of the first seal is also a masterstroke in writing as it brings into relief everything that had happened in the previous seasons and tighten the story perfectly. I know I’ve complained about S3 before, but did the writer’s strike end up saving S4 and S5 as well as Kripke’s arc as a whole?
Alice: When they went into season four, Kripke and company seriously thought it would be the last season. The CW was in serious financial trouble and they believed that the parent companies (CBS and Warner Brothers) would pull the plug if things didn’t turn around. Kripke had a packed full season planned where they would come out full throttle and close out the whole story as they envisioned. When “Lazarus Rising” premiered to record high ratings and things turned around slightly for the CW (they really couldn’t go any lower than the strike season), season five became a serious reality early on in season four. They actually ended up re-planning season four early on and pulling stories back so they could accommodate the arc through season five. Season four became what was intended in season three, Sam’s long slow decent into darkness and a serious rift growing between the brothers.
The whole story about the introduction of the angels is in Supernatural: The Official Season Four Companion . Kripke had that epiphany during the break between season three and season four. He was desperately looking for a way to expand and twist their mythology. He realized that in the scope of the universe, they were only showing the evil side, demons, not the other side, which are the angels. You know, yin and yang. He showed up to the writer’s room on the first day of season four and said “angels.” Actually, he say, “Okay guys, angels…but they’re dicks.”
NW: Yep, that’s where I read it (as I have all the companions ;)).
2) Gordon was going to find out the events of “Born Under a Bad Sign” and gather a few hunters to help him kill Sam Winchester/The Anti-Christ but Sterling K. Brown was only available for two episodes in Season Three so that idea had to be scrapped.
Alice: True, that was intended for season three. Although, it didn’t necessarily have to be Gordon. They also thought they would use buddies of Steve Wandell. The story never materialized though, again because the writer’s strike ruined a lot of the potential stories. They really thought “Jus in Bello” was the season ender. When the strike ended and they were told to create four episodes fast to close out the season, they had to scramble with ideas that were already in production before the strike, which were mostly filler. There wasn’t much time to throw other ideas together. They lost six episodes because of the strike.
Nate W: Fascinating, because “Jus in Bello” is one of my favorites from S3 and so it just maintains the standard that SPN always has pretty stand out season finales. (Yes I know I complained about “Sacrifice” but I won’t deny that it is better than the average episode and MUCH better than the worst of them) I’m also impressed by the 4 episodes they cranked out. Well “Long-distance Call” is a kind of “whatever” MotW but Ghostfacers maintains the SPN “let’s experiment with what we can do in TV” standard and I like the questions “Time is on my Side” raises and examines. Plus also that episode directly ties into the first SPN comic series (Origins) meaning that however much they might want to throw out the SPN “expanded universe” the show runners can’t fully ditch the first comic (and yes I know the comic contradicted the show at first but it was fixed and updated for the tradepaperback so that means there’s no more excuses, it’s perfectly canon).
Do you think S3 would have been improved with 6 more episodes or is improved as much as it can be being trimmed down? Does this give us some reason to hope that in the future, a SPN with a reduced episode run could tell better stories?
Alice: I think S3 would have been better if they had known upfront that they were only getting 16 episodes. The season got off to a super slow start because they thought they were getting 22. That really hurt when the season finally had momentum in the middle only to have it blown apart by the strike. I LOVED Ghostfacers, but that was the wrong episode to come back with after a long strike. The fans wanted more mytharc especially after “Jus In Bello.” I’m grateful we got four episodes, but aside from “No Rest For The Wicked” they were all weak for closing out a season. They stand well on their own though.
3) Originally, in Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (as in John Winchester) was going to appear as Dean’s worst nightmare and Jason Voorhees was going to appear in Sam’s dream. But neither were available so Sam had an Erotic Dream about Bela and Dean’s dream became even more depressing; canceling out his assertion of self-esteem while he was saying it.
Alice: Sort of. I hadn’t heard about Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but I definitely heard about Jason Voorhees. Although Jason’s a character, not an actor, they couldn’t get the rights to use the character. I don’t think they got very far with using either of them beyond the original pitches. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” was always intended as a “nightmares coming true” kind of story, but that evolved to dream sequences when the episode was being built out. The episode was especially changed because of the looming writer’s strike. Sera Gamble started writing it and Cathryn Humphries had to finish it because Sera was pulled to write “Jus in Bello,” which was being tagged as a potential season finale. Cathryn wrote that scene between Sam and Bela as a place to have fun. They wanted a funny, light scene to counter the seriousness of Bobby and Dean’s situation.
You want another fun tidbit about “Dream a Little Dream of Me?” Jared threw his back out during filming. That’s why he filmed those scenes at the end on the ground. He was in a world of hurt.
Nate W: Oh no, poor Jared! I admit that I’m glad this turned out this way because I was never a fan of how “anti-John” a lot of stories began to turn in later seasons. Part of me thinks this arose from being unable to get JDM for more filming and especially from his absence in “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” I won’t say John is a perfect father, but could I do any better under the circumstances he faced? Lately it seems like the writers have realized the picture they painted of him and began to turn things around a little with the boys recounting a positive memory of him in “the Things we Left Behind.” I hope with Mama back on board in the next season she might paint a few more positive recollections of her late husband so we can go back to the ambivalent, complicated figure we once had. What kind of show/character would we have had JDM been more available to guest star?
4) In “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester”, where ghosts blame the boys for their deaths, Sera Gamble tried to get Jessica Moore (Sam’s ex-girlfriend) instead of Ronald (Nightshifter) but it fell through. Thank God it did, though, as her angrily blaming Sam for her death would have probably reduced everyone to tears.
Alice: True, for the most part. Sera Gamble tells the whole story about wanting to bring Jessica back as a ghost stalking Sam in Supernatural: The Official Companion – Season Four for this episode. Although, it wasn’t made clear who ended up being written in instead Jessica. Its possible Ron was always intended to be part of the episode, but maybe not.
Nate W: I will have to go double check my companion for this story tonight! My guess would be that “meg” was the replacement (no, not because she’s also a blonde chick that was interested in Sam) as Ronnie was a lovable character that the fans would connect with and his death is one that the boys would have cause to feel the most guilt for, whereas Meg was much more of a “what choice did they have” situation. Plus Jess would have called strongly back to the revelation in “Bloody Mary” that Sam felt guilt because he had visions warning him of Jess’s fate.Who would you pick as the ghosts who should have haunted the boys in that episode?
AJ: Definitely someone more personal to Sam and Dean. Dean would have been Mary, while Jess was perfect for Sam, and I would have probably kept Meg and Henriksen for fun. Henriksen especially gave us some closure for his demise in S3. The twin girls haunting Bobby were cool because they introduced some backstory on Bobby we didn’t know. Plus, we already saw the dead wife in S3.
5) Jensen Ackles could have been cast as Sam, as that was the part he originally tried out for and he was the favorite until Jared Padalecki auditioned, at which point they decided to switch him to Dean. Though he says his interpretation of the character was pretty much the same as Jared Padalecki’s.
Alice: Jensen Ackles was the very first one cast. He got on because he was known by one of the producers from “Smallville.” He read for the part of Sam and Kripke thought he was perfect! But then Jared had his audition and suddenly Kripke realized he was perfect too. He thought that Jensen would make an even better Dean, and he was right when the two read together. They were an ideal match. The rest as they say was history.
Nate W: That’s weird because I could have sworn in a magazine it said that Jensen and Jared had both tried out for DEAN and it was Jared who had switched to Sam. However it happened (and I’ll defer to you), you are right about history. Now what if they gave us an episode of a “flipped universe” where they had the Js switch roles for an episode? Your basic “mind switch” plot would probably be the impetus but I could enjoy an alt-reality episode examining this too. What do you say, Alice? Audience? Should we get an episode where Jensen plays Sam and Jared plays Dean?
Alice: That’s exactly what “Swap Meat” was supposed to be, but logistically they couldn’t make it work. Given how poorly that episode turned out, I say no body swap for the brothers. It’s been done.
6) Season 6 was originally planned to be very different from what ended up onscreen. The realization that Sam had lost his soul and the brothers’ attempts to get it back were planned to be the main arc, but fan backlash forced the writers to conclude it halfway through the season, and Castiel being the Big Bad was only thought of at the last minute as a replacement.
Alice: False. The intent was to run all season with Soulless Sam and from day one they knew Castiel would be the Big Bad. Jared and Jensen both had a hard time with the Soulless Sam storyline, especially Jensen. This is from Bardicvoice’s Supernatural: The Official Companion for Season One when Jensen was asked about Soulless Sam:
He added it had been really hard for him to play Dean with soulless Sam, because after building a relationship not just with the actor but with the character for five years, it was difficult to have that relationship severed, but still be working with the same person while the character was so totally different. He said it was a testament to what Jared was doing in playing soulless Sam because he was great in the role, but at the same time, he wasn’t playing the character Jensen was used to working with. He admitted having struggled with it, even calling down to Sera and the writers and producers to say he was working way out of his comfort zone and didn’t know what was going on, that he didn’t have the tools any more that he was used to having for the past five years. He said he was very relieved when he read the script where Sam was getting his soul back, because it meant he could go back to playing Dean the way he was used to playing Dean. He said it was difficult, but it was a good storyline.
Yes, there was fan backlash, but a good chunk of the season was already shot and planned before season six even premiered, so fan backlash had little to do with the choice to change direction. The decision to restore Sam’s soul at midseason was due to everyone realizing behind the scenes, partially because of Jensen and Jared’s discomfort, partially because it wasn’t working creatively, that it was time to end that storyline. They were ready to run with the Crowley, Castiel, and Mother of All stories as intended, just with Sam having a soul. As for Castiel, one small reason his story was held back at the early part of the season is because Misha and his wife had their first child at the beginning of season six. The mystery about the souls was always planned.
NW: Interesting and that does explain a lot I had suspected about S6. It’s pretty clear the writers had no real idea what exactly being “soulless” entailed. A good character is one that people should be able to imagine a minor change to and then extrapolate from there who the person would be and how he/she would act. While Sam would be missing “half” of himself without a soul, he should have still been recognizably “Sam” instead of just “a new character acted by Jared Padalecki.” If anything it seems like Jared & Misha should have switched. Let Sam be absent for much of the season with Dean & Cas figuring out a way to get him back. What do you think would have made the season stronger or weaker?
AJ: I like season six episodes individually, but when they all were put together, it was kind of a clunky mess. The slow start of the Soulless Sam story line was annoying as hell and not worth the reveal in episode freaking seven. The Campbells’ story and the return of Grandpa Campbell was a total waste. Why did Sam end up killing him? Because they realized they had no story for him? Mother of All had a great ending, but the whole story in general was patchwork. Balthazar was a great character and didn’t deserve the end he got. The awesome Sam story in the finale was watered down by the whole ridiculous Castiel and Crowley outcome (Cas as the new God?) and DON’T get me started on the atrocious story of “Let It Bleed.” I still refuse to watch that episode! Having said that though, Ben Edlund was freaking brilliant the whole season and did the best work of his storied career. “Clap Your Hands if You Believe,” “The French Mistake,” and “The Man Who Would Be King” are some of the series best. Sam and Dean got to do their awesome Western and one of my personal favorite episodes to date is “Unforgiven.” I think the season would have worked if they had brought more focus to the stories and stopped trying to do so much. It was short attention span theater.
7) Jess was originally going to survive the pilot; the studio wanted her to either become a hunter herself or be revealed to be a demon.
Alice: True! The whole thing was confirmed in Supernatural: The Official Companion for Season One . Kripke decided that her being alive wouldn’t work and decided to kill her off instead, even though the studio really wanted the actress as part of the show.
Nate W: Whoa, another tidbit I forgot from the companions. (Maybe I should sit down and reread them). Given what we’ve seen from the actress in Agents of SHIELD, I think she could have held her own quite easily in the show. Hmm… what if the spinoff was of an alt-world where Sam died and Jess went on the road with her sister/friend? It does also make one wonder, what if the actress had stayed for at least a few more episodes and THEN had her killed off?
Alice: Honestly, the story worked with her dead and coming back in Sam’s nightmares. One of the best parts of season one for me.
8) Missouri Moseley was originally going to be a major character, playing Bobby’s role in the plot. The actress was unavailable, so the character Bobby Singer was created.
Alice: True! Eric Kripke told that story during the second Paleyfest for Supernatural in 2011. Again, from Bardicvoice’s Paleyfest panel report:
NW: Neat! I always kind of liked Missouri and would like to see her come back (as far as we know she’s still alive). It does give new interpretation to watch the SPN anime since Missouri does have a bit more role in there. Could the anime have been more true to Kripke’s original vision? Think we ever might see her again? Does anyone want to?
9) Anna was supposed to replace Castiel and become Dean’s angel guide, with Castiel being killed off by Alastair in “On The Head Of A Pin”. She was also supposed to be his endgame love interest.
Alice: I’m not exactly sure how firm that plan was. It was one pitch. The original plan was Castiel was only to be in five to seven episodes and be killed off eventually. Once the dailies came back for “Lazarus Rising” they were very aware that they had something extraordinary with Misha and the angel storyline. They realized he would be a huge hit and they were right. After the record ratings of “Lazurus Rising” and the buzz, suddenly the studio was making plans for Misha to be a season five series regular! As for Anna and Dean, it just never evolved. The chemistry and/or story potential wasn’t there to run with a romance beyond the sex in the Impala. In fairness, they didn’t run with a Sam and Ruby romance either. Just some really weird fetish stuff!
Nate W: Well I like it because I’m a bit of a Dean/Anna shipper (but Lisa is ok). This doesn’t mean I wanted Castiel removed from the show but interesting things could have been done with both; I certainly wish Anna had left the show in a different way, fighting with the Winchesters instead of against them. I mean, what if she went back in time to kill Azazel instead of the young Mary & John? Wouldn’t THAT have been an interesting episode where the boys have weigh the fate of their greatest foe? (plus explain why Azazel targeted Sam at 6 months instead of Dean?) It could have been sweet if Swan Song ended with Castiel restored to power and Anna abandoning hers again so she could live out life. Maybe we got the best S5 possible, but it does make you wonder whether a few changes would have improved or worsened the season, or just made it a very different flavor altogether. Maybe we can get some djinns to show us these alternate seasons? I’ll trade a couple pints of blood for that.