While most people think about food this time of year, I contemplate the end of the world. This is partly a Catholic thing, as we’re heading into Advent. While the four Sundays of Advent technically begin the new liturgical year, the readings for those weeks always center on the end times.
I always thought it odd to begin with a focus on the future ending, when Christ will come again, before we look to the past to celebrate His birth. Yet as I’ve lived and grown and experienced cycles of birth and death, beginnings and endings, it makes more and more sense.
What better way to appreciate a beginning than after we’ve experienced an ending? It’s like re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone right after finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Or watching the first Dr. Who episode with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor after watching the episode where he is reborn as the Eleventh (though tearing oneself away from Matt Smith can be difficult).
I experienced this, once again, just last Thursday. One of my all-time favorite shows, Supernatural, ended after fifteen seasons. It started in 2005, and for those who don’t know, explored the adventures of monster-hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester.
My oldest daughter was not yet two years old when Supernatural began. With a rapidly developing and very attentive little mind in the house, I didn’t feel comfortable watching a show about monsters, ghosts, demons, Lucifer and hell even if it did have heaven and angels. Our house was, more or less, all Wiggles and Disney Junior all the time. Her sister arriving in mid-2006 ensured we would be a kid-programming household well into the next decade.
So I didn’t start watching Supernatural until 2015, a few years after Netflix started streaming the show. After having binge-watched ten seasons in about a year, waiting every week for a new episode was torture. I could see why early viewers might have walked away after season six. The commercial interruptions and the week (or weeks) between episodes made the bad episodes almost intolerable and even the good episodes slightly annoying.
Yet I kept watching because there was something about Sam and Dean. They were archetypal heroes, and the writers knew it. I can’t name all the stories they drew on. Cain and Abel. Loki and Thor. Lucifer’s fall. Michael the Archangel. The prodigal son. Death. Damnation. Sacrifice. Sam, the rebellious younger brother trying to walk away from the family business and Dean, the older brother who’s Dad’s “good little soldier.” Dean who would sacrifice anything for his little brother; Sam who resents his brother’s willingness to give all. Sam who sees everything—even monsters—in shades of gray; Dean who sees everything as black and white, us and them, monsters and humans.
The best part of the show is that neither brother is ever 100% right. Loyal Dean heroically follows in his father’s footsteps hunting monsters. Sam heroically fights alongside Dean even as he longs for a normal life. Dean’s sacrifices for Sam are matched pretty evenly by Sam’s for Dean, and as seasons pass the audience—and characters on the show—start to wonder if the brothers are a little too willing to die for each other. Sam’s ability to see nuance sometimes saves the day, and sometimes plunges the world deeper into chaos. Dean has to soften his hard line against monsters when they turn out to be more helpful and supportive than humans.
And then there is practically a series-long plot line with God that explores issues of free will . . . but I won’t tell you when it starts because I don’t want to spoil it.
Yet I don’t think it spoils anything to admit I cried during the final episode. Supernatural has been causing pain for its characters and audience for long enough to know it was not going to leave its fans unscathed.
But when I heard their theme song, “Carry On My Wayward Son,” for the last time, I cried so hard I almost threw up. I haven’t cried that hard since . . . okay. I cried a lot during this summer because of Covid deaths, riots, politics, and general 2020 awfulness. But the level of crying I did over the last episode of Supernatural rivaled Titanic, the Vincent Van Gogh episode of Doctor Who, a major character death in an early Harry Potter book, and my first real literary cry – the death of a beautiful character in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry series.
I once described Kay’s character deaths as icepick through the heart moments. Such scenes leave me gasping for air, but are really such little things when they’re not running me through. Supernatural’s finale was an icepick through the heart moment.
The morning after the finale I wasn’t doing too well. I had this horrid cloak of sadness weighing on my shoulders. But I told myself: liturgical cycle, baby. I queued up Supernatural on Netflix and watched the pilot episode for maybe the fifth or tenth time. And not only did the cloak lift, I felt good. I saw things in the beginning that echoed beautifully with things in the end. I remembered things from the end that I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t gone back to revisit the beginning. Everything made more sense when viewed in that ending-then-back-to-the-beginning cycle. Nothing seemed that bad. It brought hope.
Which is, after all, what faith is all about, right? Hope. And where does that come from? One of the places it comes from is that endless cycle of endings and beginnings, revisiting our stories again and again–finding new meanings in the beginning every time we contemplate the end, and new meanings in the end every time we look back at the beginning.
So as we head into Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, the holiday season, and the end of what was, for most people, a truly horrific year, perhaps we can find hope. And I wish all of us good endings, and good beginnings, and cycles of each that stretch on for much more than fifteen seasons.