Get Ready for the Premiere of The Winchesters!
The big day is finally here – tonight is the premiere of new series (and prequel for Supernatural), The Winchesters. For the #SPNFamily, it’s been a long, lonely time without the “saving people, hunting things” story we came to know so well, so there’s a lot of anticipation, and all sorts of strong emotions, surrounding tonight’s pilot episode.
New York Comic Con was a whirlwind Winchesters-focused weekend that resulted from a last minute decision to trek to the Big Apple – because yes, we really are that passionate about all things Supernatural. We being Lynn Zubernis (of MovieTVTechGeeks and Fangasm) and Laurena Aker (“Nightsky” of The Winchester Family Business). After covering the original Supernatural series (or, as Jensen Ackles likes to call it, the “mothership”) for the past decade and a half, we were eager to immerse ourselves once again in the Supernatural universe, so the last two days were a frenzied blur of planes, trains and automobiles followed by panels, press rooms and lots and lots of people at Comic Con. But, finally, we are excited to share with you our first impressions of this highly anticipated prequel in the same way we experienced it – together.
As longtime fangirls and writers about Supernatural, we’re transcribing for you the exact morning-after, Starbucks fueled, adrenaline pumped conversation we had as we unpacked both our personal (emotional fangirls) and professional (analytical reviewers) reactions to The Winchesters. Obviously no spoilers here for the episode itself. Instead, we’re sharing the evolution of unfiltered initial reactions to evolving deeper understandings of what it meant to finally see a piece of Supernatural again.
To set the scene, The Winchester pilot premiered to fans in the largest ballroom at New York Comic Con, the Empire Stage. While not as gigantic as San Diego’s Hall H, the Empire is nevertheless really, really big, so it was exciting to watch it fill up with Supernatural fans eager to reenter the world we’ve been missing for the past two years. To amp up the anticipation, the hosts blared the music that the reunited SPNFamily immediately recognized as the instrumental music cue on every Supernatural DVD. Apropos for the screening of a new episode! Soon enough, the house lights dimmed, and we slumped down in our second row seats to crane our necks (ouch!) at the giant screen that was looming over us (“immersed” in Supernatural in every sense of the word now!) Cue: The Winchesters!
Lynn: I think I went into watching this new series with a little more trepidation than you did, right?
Nightsky: Absolutely. I’ve been excited about this show since it was first announced. I had a few unspoken reservations based on the pre-screening promotions, but I unreservedly believe in Robbie Thompson’s abilities as a writer, so I was determined to stay optimistically hopeful.
Lynn: I wasn’t really blown away by the trailer or the teasers either, so I was more cautiously optimistic.
Nightsky: I was greatly relieved when the trailer was re-released with music. “Carry On” and Supernatural background music made it more relatable. So, given your concerns about the series, what was your first impression of the pilot?
Lynn: I was pleasantly surprised. I liked it even more than I expected to, particularly after having a chance to chat with (series stars) Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly in the press room and seeing what big fans of Supernatural they are. I was especially blown away by Drake Rodger’s acting – his character is someone I’m interested in, over and above knowing he’s John Winchester. What about you?
Nightsky: Even given the small part of me that was secretly worried about the hippie vibe in the trailer, I can honestly say I loved the episode. I’m completely invested in Drake as John Winchester and totally bought into John’s relationship with his mother. The pilot immediately delivered a depth of story that I didn’t expect. I was actually in tears when a certain familiar musical instrumental (that I won’t name to not spoil it for others) underscored the emotional scars in the Winchester family.
Lynn: I know, I was sitting next to you! I didn’t actually cry during that cue but yeah, that got to me too. And I also believe in Robbie Thompson and have missed his Supernatural writing ever since he left the show. They did a great job depicting John’s relationship with his mother, and Bianca Kajlich did a fabulous job bringing Millie to life even with the short amount of time she had onscreen. We knew so little about John’s mother in the original show, so that’s a cool thing to be able to explore more.
Nightsky: She gave a very emotional performance portraying the complexities that had developed over the years between the two people left behind by a loving father/husband who seemingly abandoned them.
Lynn: The quintessential theme of Supernatural – secrets, trying to protect the people you love, the aftermath of doing whatever it takes to make that happen, etc. I recognized all that in John and Millie’s loving but fraught reunion. What was your reaction to the other characters?
Nightsky: I was pleasantly surprised by Mary. There was more to her than is typically depicted in a 19 or 20 year old young woman on television. I feel her character was teased rather than developed in the pilot, though. We saw more of who John is than Mary, but, like John, I’m intrigued enough to want to get to know her as she gradually lets both him and the audience see more of who she is as a person.
Lynn: Agreed, agreed. I didn’t get much of a feel for her from the trailers other than ‘badass’ and maybe a little ‘smartass’ but not what was underneath. In the pilot, we start to get some clues of the emotional turmoil that Mary and her family have gone through. Her relationship with her parents is as complex and fraught as John’s, it seems, but in a different way. But I agree, we don’t get to see inside as much with her in the pilot, perhaps because she’s more closed off than John anyway.
Nightsky: Now that you say that, I believe it was intentionally written that way. I didn’t realize it while watching the episode. She is a more closed off person than John. They even acknowledged to each other how open and unguarded he is versus her, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t get to know her as easily as him. That was actually very skillfully portrayed.
Lynn: Right, she’s more closed off, so we the audience doesn’t get to know her deeply as quickly. We’re in the same boat as John.
Nightsky: Oh, right, good job Robbie!
Lynn: We’re sending you kudos, Robbie, hope you’re hearing them…
Nightsky: Rounding out the Scooby Gang, the first surprise was learning that I’ve been pronouncing Latika’s name wrong. They pronounced it LAH-ti-ka, but I’ve been saying La-TEE-ka in my head.
Lynn: Me too!
Nightsky: Latika won me over immediately. She has a sincerity that I instantly related to. A quiet researcher, fiercely loyal to friends, totally afraid of horrors and scary things so she hangs back when the others charge into dark, damp, scary places. (Come to think of it, she’s a lot like me…)
Lynn: But she does ultimately dive in, facing her very understandable fears! I liked her too, though I don’t have a real feel for her yet. She’s a contrast to Mary for sure, and a bit of a callback to Sam Winchester with his intellect and his love of books and research.
Nightsky: Which makes sense, because I always related more to Sam than Dean in Supernatural, as the researcher and the deep thinker.
Out of the four of them, I’m not yet sure about Carlos. The hippie in him doesn’t immediately speak to me, as someone who lived through the 70s and didn’t jump on the flower power peace train the first time around. But I’m reserving judgment because I recognize him as a manifestation of pure Robbie Thompson creativity. I want to see how Carlos balances his Woodstock chill attitude with the tragic hunter realities of his past.
Lynn: There’s a real dichotomy with those two things in Carlos that’s only just hinted at in the pilot, but I’m intrigued by the character – partly because, like you said, it’s one of those original characters that sprang from Robbie Thompson’s big brain (like Supernatural’s Charlie) and that usually turns out to be a character I like. I also was alive in the 70s, but I love the whole hippie vibe – I used to call myself a wannabe hippie because I wasn’t old enough to go to Woodstock but I definitely dressed the part and LOVE that 70s aesthetic. That said, I worried about that in the teasers, Carlos was a bit over the top, and I still worry about that a little. I want to know the real Carlos, underneath the “Jimmy Janis etc” hamming it up.
Nightsky: Past first impressions, what surprised you the most about the pilot?
Lynn: I think how much I got drawn into John Winchester’s story. He’s sort of the audience point of view for the pilot, as he discovers this whole new world of hunting and also some new things about his father and his own past – and Drake Rodger made me really feel all John’s emotions. From the PTSD-like flashbacks of Vietnam to his mix of curiosity and revulsion about hunting, to his need to ‘save people’, I started to believe him as a character. That was unexpected. Fandom has a conflicted relationship with John Winchester as played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (and Matt Cohen) on Supernatural, since we see him both as a hero to his sons and as an emotionally compromised father who at best neglected them at times. But this is a different John, not yet shaped by the tragedy that awaits him later but already impacted by abandonment, violence and guilt. What about you?
Nightsky: I was surprised by two things. First was the music. It was as much a part of the story telling in the pilot of The Winchesters as it was for Supernatural. It emotionally drew me into the story viscerally the same way the first episode I ever saw of Supernatural drew me into Sam and Dean’s lives. The second surprise was the tone – the believability of the hunting dangers they faced repeatedly throughout the pilot. I was worried there was going to be a campy silliness to the show, but the intense situations were cinematically true to Supernatural. Until we started talking about it, I didn’t realize that the tone of the show was my greatest concern. I think the trailers were aimed at a younger more general audience, and I was afraid the Supernatural veterans wouldn’t recognize the story as part of the Supernatural universe. Now that I’ve seen it, it’s truly part of the story. Not as heavy, but we have to allow that this was one episode and it needs time to unfold to the depth and the darkness and emotional weight that developed over 15 years and 327 episodes of tragedy with Sam and Dean.
Lynn: Yes, I totally agree on that second one especially. Calling them the ‘Scooby gang’ and the teasers really highlights the playfulness that is sometimes there, just as it was at times in Supernatural, but they definitely didn’t shy away from when “shit gets real”. I was on the edge of my seat a few times with the suspense honestly! It was well done. And it did feel like Supernatural to me too, something I was also concerned about. It’s not the same, certainly not in one episode, but the tone matches, and the characters feel like they could fit into that world.
Nightsky: Part of the challenge this show will face is whether the Supernatural fans will give it enough time to tell its unique story. It is not a continuation of Sam and Dean’s story, so we can’t expect it to pick up where ‘Carry On’ left off emotionally or psychologically. We have to give this enough time to win us over on its own merits. It’s a part of Sam and Dean’s story, but it’s their parent’s lives, not theirs. We’re all a product of who our parents were before we were a part of their lives, but we rarely understand the world they lived in or who they were before us. We have to explore that piece of John and Mary’s development to more fully understand who Sam and Dean became as people.
Lynn: And I think that is a challenge. I won’t deny (because not a single solitary person would believe me) that I really, really, REALLY want a continuation of Sam and Dean’s story. It’s what I love so passionately about Supernatural and I am not ready to give them up or hear the last of their story. But this is a different story that precedes and informs theirs. I’m looking at it as something different while still fervently holding out hope for an actual reboot!
Nightsky: I agree. I feel we’ve been metaphorically holding one collective breath waiting for the continuation of the Supernatural story. But after seeing the pilot, I feel I need to let go of that long lingering breath and patiently let this story fill out Sam and Dean’s lives. We’re all aching to have Sam and Dean’s story continue. But this is taking a step back and filling out the universe so that the next time we see Sam and Dean, we have a fuller appreciation of the family history that made them the complicated tragic heroes we love so much. We need to take a new, deep breath and let this story unfold.
Lynn: I don’t think anything will help me let go of my longing for more Sam and Dean – it’s never going to go away, but having seen the pilot, I think I can thoroughly enjoy this story while I’m waiting. Enjoy it as a separate thing, which hopefully will mesh with OG Supernatural smoothly enough that if – when – the reboot happens, this will enrich that. It entertained on its own terms, and I’m looking forward to more.
We haven’t yet talked about an obviously important part of the pilot – Dean Winchester’s narration. We’ve all seen that scene in the trailer when Dean stands beside the Impala writing in a journal, determined to untangle some mystery about his parents’ history, so we all knew he’d be appearing sooner or later in the pilot episode. When he did, a loud cheer went up from the audience, excited to have such a beloved character finally back onscreen. There were call-backs to OG Supernatural throughout the pilot episode, some overt and some subtle – all of them instantly picked up on by the fans. Seeing Dean and Baby was the biggest call-back of them all, though. We both had complicated reactions, which we hadn’t realized or talked about before this morning.
Nightsky: It touched that part of me that’s in suspended anticipation of seeing Sam and Dean together again but, to be honest, it didn’t quench that need. I loved seeing Dean and I believe this prequel is strengthened by Jensen agreeing to be in it. It’s a testament to how much Supernatural still means to him, but I didn’t have as strong an emotional response to his scene as I expected.
Lynn: Yes, exactly! It did touch me, but it also left me feeling longing instead of satisfaction. It…it’s complicated!
Nightsky: It’s the purgatory of waiting for them to be reunited. If Dean’s in Heaven waiting for Sam, we share his emptiness of waiting for his brother.
Lynn: And maybe that’s just as intentional as keeping much of Mary a mystery. Is Dean waiting for Sam, or has something happened that threatens his brother getting there somehow? We don’t know, but I hope we get an explanation rather quickly.
Nightsky: You know, I was going to avoid going there. It’s kinda painful to acknowledge how much we miss them. But as an actual psychologist, you went straight for the jugular!
Lynn: And now we’re both laughing and crying simultaneously and need to take a break to get tissues.
Nightsky: Nope, I’m not paying you for a therapy session!
Lynn: That’s okay, I’m crying too, so I’d just have to pay you right back.
Nightsky: That’s why I liked the music so much, because the music was OG Supernatural. If I closed my eyes, I was back with Sam and Dean.
Lynn: Except Sam wasn’t there, and I miss him. But if Sam’s not there, I suspect that Dean misses him too.
Nightsky: That’s also why I was so happy with the tone of the pilot. It meshed seamlessly with the mothership. So, happily, I’m bought in enough on the John and Mary and friends story to want to invest in the backstory of Sam and Dean. It all still comes back to Sam and Dean!
Lynn: Always. Okay, we’re both all in on The Winchesters!
[A little behind-the-scenes insight: At first, Nightsky didn’t want to share her reactions to seeing Dean again because the emotions were very mixed. Lynn wasn’t sure either, for the same reasons – and it felt too BIG. We had very different reactions to Supernatural’s finale, one loving it passionately and one disliking it just as fervently, so our conflicting reactions to seeing Dean again weren’t based on that, but rather on what we have loved so much about the show over the years.]
Let’s finish up by giving one quick reaction to the panel. What did you enjoy most about the panel following the screening? (EPs Jensen and Danneel Ackles and showrunner Robbie Thompson were joined by Meg Donnelly and Drake Rodger, with panel moderator, the adorable Damian Holbrook).
Nightsky: The most memorable moment in the panel was, of course, the surprise announcement that Tom Welling will play Samuel Campbell. I loved him decades ago in Smallville. I can’t begin to envision him as Samuel, which is a fascinating tease. How are they going to bring him to life as a younger version of the gruff, jaded Samuel that we knew? Tom is so experienced and talented that his mere presence onscreen will instantly expand the Supernatural universe. I look forward to seeing the impact he’ll have on the tone of this show.
Lynn: I look forward to him being a pre-Mitch Pileggi, because that’s also hard to imagine! I loved that moment during the panel when Jensen was so excited to make the big reveal onstage, and to introduce his old buddy Tom to the Supernatural family. One of the best things about live events like Comic Con is you never know what’s going to happen, and huge announcements come out of nowhere and just knock everyone out, and it’s glorious! I guess Samuel won’t be a villain character in this time, so it will be interesting to get to know him a bit more.
Nightsky: Which will maybe touch back to his Clark Kent secretive, larger than life, wholesome family man persona.
The second thing that struck me about the panel was the brilliance of Robbie Thompson. It was clear he has this whole story laid out in his head in articulate detail. He understands the emotional resonance of the story, the foundation of its canon, and the need for the characters to drive the story. I was totally willing to trust my emotional investment in Supernatural to him after hearing him fluidly and confidently answer every question thrown at him.
Lynn: It’s no secret that both of us have loved Robbie for a long time, so I sort of felt a little like a proud mum watching him step up to the plate and be every bit the impassioned confident showrunner that he’s become for The Winchesters. I was literally sitting there glowing with pride listening to his great answers – and I do feel reassured that he’s going to do his very best to make The Winchesters a show that will mesh with the mothership and pave the way for yet more Supernatural. And that makes me very happy!
Don’t miss the series premiere of The Winchesters tonight on the CW! And look for our press room interviews with the cast and producers of The Winchesters for even more backstories on bringing this show to life!
Stay tuned for Nightsky’s continuing report on The Winchesters Pilot and Supernatural at New York Comic Con!