A swan song is a farewell. Swan Song is also the name of Led Zeppelin’s record label. That’s so Eric Kripke. Nothing has ever been as it seems with his scripts and “Swan Song” is no exception. The episode took on the ambitious task of closing out a mushrooming mytharc in one fell swoop and has sparked plenty of fervent fan debate. In other words, mission accomplished.
This is not an easy fandom to please. Eric Kripke went into this season five closer with the hardest task a creator and showrunner has to face. He had the pressure of trying to satisfy one of the most outspoken fanbases in the world. What he delivered was nothing short of a miracle. This episode is Kripke’s love letter to all those fans that have stuck with him this long and taken his pet project farther than anyone ever thought possible. It’s also for those fans that have constantly been a pain in his side demanding closure.
Chuck the Prophet, who is known to be the voice of Kripke being interjected into the story, couldn’t have said it any better. “Endings are hard. Any chapped ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end but you never can. The fans are always gonna bitch, there’s always going to be holes, and since it’s the ending its all supposed to add up to something but I’m telling you they’re a raging pain in the ass.” That sounds like projecting to me, but no one has earned that right more. No one has deflected more hits for so long. No one else though loves the fans more.
Out of all his scripts, “Swan Song” was written with the most heart. Kripke wanted to deliver something memorable, something the fans would cherish for years to come. He’s approached all his scripts like that though. The fan experience has always been a priority, but he also had an epic tale to share. I don’t know of anyone who has done a better job of maintaining that balance of staying true to the story while keeping fans actively engaged.
I had the immense honor in March to write an article in Variety for the “Supernatural” 100th episode feature. I went into that piece with the idea of exploring what made Eric Kripke’s relationship with this fandom so unique. The focus ended up falling on “The Real Ghostbusters.” I got to ask Mr. Kripke the burning question, what inspired him to write such an offbeat episode about the main characters attending a fan convention for books about their lives? He started first by giving credit where it was due, because this man couldn’t be more proud of his team and all they’ve contributed.
“The idea for “The Real Ghostbusters” came from our brilliant and talented writer’s assistant, Nancy Weiner. She’s the one who first came up with the notion of a ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ writer who was detailing the boys’ adventures in a series of books, which ultimately evolved into our Prophet Chuck character. And she came to me with a simple concept: if there’s fans of the books, they might have a Supernatural convention. And the attendees could LARP– live action role play– as Sam and Dean. And the episode just took off from there. Because obviously, we were well aware of the real-life Supernatural conventions, and how ardent and passionate the fans are, and that seemed like too good an idea to pass up.”
Considering conventions are a fan’s shrine, breaching that territory was indeed a bold move. It worked though. I remember attending the Salute To Supernatural convention in Chicago right after that episode aired. It was Rob Benedict’s (Chuck) first fan convention and he found comparing that experience to the fake one that just aired very surreal. For him, it was indeed a “Stranger Than Fiction” moment. He was in awe though how gracious and welcoming the fans were and actually found the “fans” in the episode more intimidating. His praise of Kripke was high as well, for he loved how someone would be bold enough include the fans in the story. Plus filming the episode was a lot of fun, especially all the one liners included at the end. There were about twenty of them in the script. Kripke wasn’t sure what lines would make the final cut, but they filmed them all anyway for some were bound to please the fans.
When writing that episode, Kripke relished over the opportunity of turning things around for the fans. “As Ben Edlund and I were breaking (The Real Ghostbusters), we got more and more excited. It allowed us to make fun of ourselves…. to parody some of the more absurd elements of the show (which believe me, we’re aware of), but also gave us a way to let our main characters see their lives from a new angle– from the point of view of the fans themselves. For example, the fans enjoy watching our main characters’ lives, but the main characters themselves view these exact same lives as tortured, painful, and certainly not entertaining.”
What a unique point of view that was! Sam and Dean learned fans are crazy, over-the-top in their role playing, but at the same time have a lot of heart and strive to be heroes too. Just as the German fan though, despite having an intensely loyal love for “Supernatural,” when given the chance fans will speak out. I’ve shared stories with other media folks about how we run into the same issue when asking “Supernatural” fans for questions for upcoming interviews. Often there are good questions, but fans also send strong commentary and critical feedback to pass along. It’s often not kind. Fans feel they’re a vital part of this show and know they aren’t just watching a TV show. They’re engaging in a total fan experience. It’s rather unconventional compared to most shows.
Then again, this show has always been about being unconventional and going large. Kripke did after all take on a team that conformed to his offbeat way of thinking and propensity for grand plotting, not to mention tackling the intense emotional element. Lucky for us, this is the same team that will be driving the new direction forward in season six.
Kripke closed his comments with what I think is a most fitting observation about his work in general, not just the one episode. It’s about taking risks. “Ripping down the fourth wall, and exploring some of the uneasy issues and conflicts that arise between fictional subjects, their creators, and the fans who enjoy the work, has been great fun for us, and something most shows don’t get the opportunity to do– because they’re generally not as insane or stupid as we are.”
I’m sure its no secret to Eric Kripke that we fans are pretty insane ourselves. At this moment we have no idea what role he will play in the continuing story. I hope he at least continues to write for no one is more committed to delivering a great story. Even though he once described his relationship with the fans as “tempestuous,” he’s never given up trying to deliver something extraordinary and entertaining. He’s well aware that fans drawn to this show are curious, inquisitive, passionate, loyal, and have plenty of hours in a cubicle each day to ponder details.
No matter what happens in the new chapters forward, thank you Eric Kripke for not only your boundless energy and total commitment in sharing your grand vision with us, but doing so with knowledge that we fans can be pretty intimidating at times. We just hope this doesn’t end up being your “Supernatural” swan song.