The Supernatural season 12 premiere “Keep Calm and Carry On” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the show is in safe hands under new boss Andrew Dabb — but we kinda figured that was gonna be the case. Here’s why.

Supernatural returned to our screens last Thursday with “Keep Calm and Carry On,” a rock-solid start in which longtime screenwriter and brand new showrunner Andrew Dabb was able to declare his intentions loud and clear.

The season 12 premiere, picking up straight off of the back of the season 11 finale, smoothly coasted the story downhill from the world’s biggest possible stakes — extinguishing God, the Darkness, and the entire universe — to a quieter, more personal aftermath. It was light on action, leaning into dialogue and drawn-out moments of character introspection, correctly presuming that this is what we need and care about right now. This is Supernatural: The Dabb Generation.

Andrew Dabb has not yet reached pop culture household name status — civilians may know creator Eric Kripke, former showrunner Jeremy Carver, who’s headed up several other shows, the legendary Ben Edlund, whose Supernatural episodes are admittedly elevated to another plane of existence, and maybe Robbie Thompson, who’s known for pulling off some of the show’s most unusually meta episodes.

But Dabb — who started on the show with writing partner Daniel Loflin in season 4 and went solo during season 8 — has been the show’s most consistent, loyal writer. If Thompson was the one in that room fighting for the integrity of the fans — a kind and important move, and one we won’t forget — then I’m betting Dabb’s been the one fighting for the integrity of the characters.

I guess it’s only natural: Dabb is credited on the most episodes out of any writer on Supernatural, ever, and he’s the only one who’s been consistently writing since Kripke’s era. Former colleague Adam Glass called him the heart and soul of the show when congratulating him on the new season, and when I marathoned the show, nine times out of 10 I could correctly guess, from the opening Winchester interaction, that I was watching a Dabb episode, because it instantly settled in my mind as just… realer. Everything that he’s done feels just that touch more invested and truer to life. Maybe he’s just writing what’s closest to my personal vision of Supernatural, but like, he’s the showrunner now, so, score.

Now, anyone who knows anything about television writing knows that individual episodes of a show like Supernatural aren’t written in a private bubble by the writer credited. The stories are hashed out by the writer’s room as a team, with the showrunner helming the arc and sometimes breaking down every scene. The credited writer just fills in the gaps. Big things in any given episode are less likely to be the choice of an individual.

But it’s always been the little things — not the plot, but the way someone expresses or reacts to the situation they’re put in, no matter how convoluted — that tell me who the writer thinks these characters really are and what a show is really about. And the clearest message that I’ve taken away from Dabb’s tenure on Supernatural so far is that he wants Sam and Dean to be happy.

From seasons 4 to 10, this was a more incidental factor of his episodes — little indulgences, nerdy obsessions, casual conversations — a rich inner life for Sam and Dean which didn’t involve hunting on the brain 24/7. But the entire 11th season, which, rumor has it, Dabb headed up in all but name while Carver was developing Frequency, featured an ongoing thread of the boys curious and hopeful about a future beyond dying in a blaze of glory — several conversations pondering what it might be like to settle down with another hunter, Sam putting away a retirement home pamphlet as #lifegoals — and hints that the toxic Winchester codependency will be dismantled or at least become a lot more functional.

The apocalyptic issues between Chuck and Amara — “I hated you for needing something that wasn’t me” — and their ultimate need to figure out how to love each other healthily are a pretty obvious parallel about the problems Sam and Dean have faced in the past, and I’m keenly interested to see if Dabb plans to help them come to a better place with each other, one that isn’t all or nothing.

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In the season 11 finale, the least traumatic season closer in Supernatural history, also written by Dabb, presumably to set up his season 12 arc, Sam and Dean finally got the whole self-sacrifice thing right. They broke the “I’m gonna save you instead of the world” cycle that’s perpetuated the show’s drama for the past decade, and ultimately, they were divinely rewarded for this growth and bravery. Dean still made his choice — a Winchester dying for our sins isn’t new — but this time, facing God and the Darkness, it proved to be an unnecessary one. There was no big boom — Dean saved the universe through conflict resolution, was saved in turn, and gifted with the return of his mother.

Going into season 12, Sam and Dean are, for the first time, without their extra-fancy designer brand of emotional baggage. No one’s done something that the other is going to be mad about for the whole year. Even Cas isn’t a victim of this — Lucifer may be free thanks to him, but Dean instantly forgives it and explains his unconditional love rather than hounding him for his mistakes, as he may have done in the past.

Despite Sam being, well, an actual prisoner right now, they’re actually kinda… free. Free of the whole “we’re responsible for ending the world” thing. The chain that started with the death of Mary Winchester, that forged link after link: the hunt for Yellow Eyes looping into Dean’s demon deal, into Lilith and Lucifer and the Leviathans and Purgatory, into the chances the tablets and trials offered which they couldn’t go through with, into the destruction of Heaven and the Mark of Cain which released the Darkness — that chain has now been broken. And Mary Winchester lives.

Nothing in Supernatural’s season 12 premiere felt like meta or fanservice, and yet it made dreams come true. That’s Dabb’s greatest gift: he crafts these incredibly naturalistic, special moments that don’t feel over-indulgent — Dean proving his identity to his mother by reciting her life story; the evidence that his taste in books and music comes from her, not John; his reunion with Castiel; the unspoken revelation about some parental back seat action in the Impala — and it feels like he does it because these are the kind of moments that he cares about these characters getting to have.

Dabb’s signature interpretation is already coming through loud and clear in season 12 – his Dean is usually expressive, nostalgic, easily enthused and vulnerable, and he’s particularly soft when dealing with Mary, because of course he is, and his Sam often tends to be a more sarcastic and chillingly competent badass, a quality Jared Padalecki gets to show off in the premiere. Sam, captured by Lady Toni and presuming Dean to be dead, is tough as nails in the face of torture, suffering both physical and mental duress from captors who don’t quite know what to make of his resilience.

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Now that Dabb’s calling the shots, I don’t expect the show to turn into a stakeless sitcom with an all-you-can-eat pie bar, but I do have high hopes that in the end, everything’s gonna be alright, and that along the way, the boys might get a few more reasons to smile.

The season 11 finale introduced the British chapter of the Men of Letters, and while they clearly have some issues in their upper management, they have a supernatural solution that seems to work, and they want to shape the American hunting network the same way. Now, they’re currently the bad guys, so I predict that our heroes may poke some holes in their practices, but if some of them really do turn out to be allies, this may be the start of a more permanent solution. I wrote last month about how the show needs to end with the guys getting an unexpected win that lifts their burden at last — could this be a part of it?

“Keep Calm and Carry On” almost feels like a second pilot — at the very least, it’s a clean slate. Look, I know there’s gotta be a catch somewhere, but right now, Team Free Will has: no secrets, no communication problems, no beef with each other, no beef with Heaven, no beef with Hell, a home, a powerful set of allies, a potential resource to stop the supernatural, and their mom back. Yeah, some old British dudes think they’re criminals, and Lucifer is like, around, but even he didn’t seem hell-bent on active malice when we last saw him. I’m fascinated to see what kind of conflict the show will tackle without regressing to old issues.

Mary’s the real question mark there, whether her resurrection has any unnatural consequences. I pray to Chuck that she’s allowed to live, and remains a permanent addition to what’s now officially an ensemble show (given the implication of the “and Misha Collins” billing upgrade in the new opening credits.) It sounds unlikely, given Supernatural’s track record, but I trust Dabb to pull it off — I don’t think he’s in the business of recycling the same brand of dead-mom manpain. Ruth Connell and Samantha Smith both did this year’s Comic-Con press room alongside the four male leads — the first time any actresses have participated in promoting the show on that scale — and, infectious as she may be, if Rowena can be an ongoing lead character on this show, so can Mary.

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Given what Andrew Dabb has been able to contribute to Supernatural so far on an episode-by-episode basis, my faith in what he can do with the top job is currently astronomical. He’s seen the show through each of its three previous showrunners, and has borne witness to every hit and miss over the past eight seasons. He clearly has his own ideas about when the show’s at its best, and has stuck subtly but closely to his characterization guns no matter what circumstances the Winchesters face.

I’m thrilled that someone with with such a deep investment and such a satisfying interpretation is now the one actually guiding the long game, and I’m pretty sure he’s got our backs, but if you need a reminder of what he’s been responsible for in the past, here are 12 more Andrew Dabb episodes that prove he’s Supernatural’s greatest asset.

‘Yellow Fever’

Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin’s first Supernatural writing credit, during season 4, featured a ghost sickness that killed people by literally scaring them to death. This episode is the first of many that supernaturally strips away a coping mechanism and has Dabb show us what lies underneath a Winchester’s outer shell.

When Dean is infected, his rising anxiety goes from adorable to heartwrenching as Sam and Bobby work together to put the ghost to rest. It’s implied that Dean was affected because he was someone with a history of using fear as a weapon, a hint at the show’s upcoming reveal that Dean tortured souls in Hell. “Yellow Fever” also includes the iconic “Eye of the Tiger” scene, a moment which was, just for the record, the only thing I knew about Supernatural for an extremely long time.

Best Moment: Dean’s panicked “You know who does that? Crazy people!” monologue in which he calls out how annoying he knows he is, how awful their lives are, and basically tries to quit hunting.

‘After School Special’

John Winchester sucked as a father and the show knows it. It’s hammered home even more in Dabb’s next episode, “Jump The Shark,” but the subtext of this one is still that John sucked and never gave his kids a chance at happiness.

“After School Special” includes flashbacks to a high school that Sam and Dean once attended for a month. In present time, the boys investigate a vengeful spirit at the school, but in the past, we learn more about how they grew up engaging with their dad, each other, and the world, including a teacher who inspired 12-year-old Sam to rebel against the life forced upon him and a girl who sees straight through 16-year-old Dean and calls out his toxic and performative posturing.

Best Moment: Amanda, Dean’s would-be hook-up, calling him on his bullshit: “You spend so much time trying to convince people that you’re cool, but it’s just an act. We both know that you’re just a sad… lonely little kid. And I feel sorry for you.” I mean… damn. That’s the kind of character assessment that usually only gets addressed that bluntly in fan meta.

‘Sam, Interrupted’

Sam and Dean check into a psychiatric hospital in order to help a mentally unstable old hunter buddy who’s worried about a string of suspicious suicides. The monster of the week turns out to be a wraith, but when their first attempts to hunt seem to prove that there’s no monster to be found, they start to question if they really have cracked.

Under the effects of the wraith’s poison, Sam is outwardly aggressive and a danger to himself and others, whereas Dean is insular and terrified, inventing a doctor to talk to about his problems with drinking, sleeping and anxiety. The wraith’s poison amplifies what’s already there, so when the boys are victim to it, what we see is Sam and Dean’s inner psyche turned up to 11. It’s validating to me that this is what Dabb thinks they’re like, as opposed to some other writers who seem to see Dean as the tougher and Sam as the more vulnerable of the pair. I’ve always read them Dabb’s way, another reason I’m stoked that he now has creative control of the show.

Best Moment: A heavily sedated Sam questioning whether Dean is really still sane, and promising to love him regardless. Boop!

‘Dark Side of the Moon’

Shot dead by in their beds by fellow hunters and sent to Heaven, Sam and Dean discover what it’s like up top for human souls who are deemed worthy — an endless loop of lingering on the best memories of their lives. However, whereas all of Dean’s memories that we explore revolve around Sam or his mother, Sam’s involve being alone and with other people’s “normal” families, which causes friction.

As Cas attempts to guide them out, they learn more about the concept of heaven, with some help from old familiar friends, and we learn more about the long-game that Supernatural was playing in regards to God deserting his creation, a story which culminates in season 11.

Best Moment: Dean’s memory of a childhood breakfast with Mary, which he acts out vulnerably in front of Sam, including his only “I love you” in the show to date and Sam’s discovery that John and Mary had marital problems.

‘What’s Up, Tiger Mommy?’

This episode combines the best of both worlds. In Dean’s purgatory fantasy flashbacks, he reunites with Castiel (“nice peach fuzz!”) and the pair share their first proper hug, and a pretty desperate conversation about praying to each other and protecting each other and all that intense stuff, with Dean laying down the bottom line — he’s not leaving this place without Cas.

In the real world, Sam and Dean take Kevin to see his mother, who joins them on their quest to retrieve the demon tablet. The four of them end up in a confrontation with Crowley at an auction for supernatural artefacts, and Kevin calls Dean out about how he basically ruins lives. Mrs. Tran is an absolute gift of a character — hilarious, hard to please, pragmatic — and I love that this ultimately minor player was so richly crafted. I would watch her spinoff.

Best Moment: Mrs. Tran’s utterly devastating take-down of the pawn shop dude who sold the demon tablet. BAMF. I love how delighted Dean is by her.

‘Trial and Error’

“Trial and Error” would be on this list purely for the establishing scene of Dean, a not-so-secret homebody, settling in to the Men of Letters bunker, decorating his room, cooking in his own kitchen, literally, in his own words, “nesting,” so pleased to have a home at last.

But this episode manages to cleverly combine a monster of the week case with the overarching plot of the season, when a family who all made demon deals inadvertently gives the brothers an opportunity to kill a hellhound – the first of three trials that would allow the undertaker to seal the gates of Hell forever.

Best Moment: As much as I wanna say the opening sequence of Dean being a domestic goddess, the correct answer is every interaction between Sam and Dean in regards to the trials. This is my favorite Winchester moment ever, and Sam’s choice — doing the trials because he actually wants to survive, whereas for Dean it would be a suicide mission — is a very clear indicator to me, that Dabb, like Sam, sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

‘Road Trip’

In which Crowley assists Cas and Dean to get Gadreel out of Sam and Dabb proves that Supernatural can be done properly as a legit ensemble show. “Road Trip” was the best example of utilizing all four leads — Sam, Dean, Cas and Crowley — as allies that the show had done up to that point, and that storytelling quality is necessary as the show moves forward, if we want characters other than Sam and Dean to remain inexpendable. (I’m talking about Mary, here, please don’t kill Mary.)

This episode packs so much in and yet feels perfectly balanced, the dialogue is perfect, it’s plot-heavy yet features perfect comedic moments (Castiel’s car!) and Gadreel’s arc hints at some interesting canon about the personal ties between angels, a factor sure to be important if season 12 follows through with its promised Cas backstory. Sam and Dean’s break-up at the end is also hugely telling, as Sam blames Dean for not letting him die and calls out how unhealthy their relationship is, something that Dean doesn’t quite grasp yet.

Best Moment: My heart says Dean apologizing for kicking Cas out of the bunker, but my head knows it’s the confrontation between Sam, Crowley and Gadreel inside Sam’s mind.

‘Stairway to Heaven’

Serving as crucial set-up for the season 9 finale, Castiel’s attempt to save Heaven by leading an army against Metatron begins to fail when Metatron sets up angelic suicide bombers proclaiming that their violent acts are done in Castiel’s name. This episode gives great perspective about just how unusual Cas really is — most of the other angels truly are missing the ability to practice free thought, sheep desperate for a shepherd (“They like to hear me say their names.”) and it leaves the as-yet-unanswered question of why Cas has always been different hanging in the air.

Meanwhile, the First Blade and the Mark of Cain are giving Dean an unquenchable thirst for killing, and Cas’ cultish followers do not feel super comfortable about their leader’s relationship with the Winchesters. After Dean inadvertently slays a brainwashed would-be bomber, Metatron frames Cas in front of all his followers, causing the flock to desert Castiel when he won’t punish Dean as a show of loyalty to them.

Best Moment: Duh. Cas will choose Dean over Heaven, Hell, or anything else in the universe every single time, even when Dean is a hair’s breadth away from becoming a demon. Because he’s in love… with, er, “humanity.” Dean’s whole Mark-of-Cain corrupted, Jaime Lannister-eqsue “there ain’t no other men like me” bit was also pretty great.

‘The Things We Left Behind’

I love it when shows remember to think about the off-screen damage that the heroes may leave in their wake, and six seasons after we first saw her, Dabb catches us up with Claire Novak, the daughter of Jimmy Novak, Castiel’s vessel whose soul is now in Heaven. Claire, abandoned by her mother and deeply troubled by the events of her childhood, has been living in foster families and group homes and when Castiel tries to help her, she has him pose as Jimmy to get herself signed out of the system.

She then robs and runs away from him, returning to a shady foster-father who’s been grooming her to undertake crimes that would carry less punishment if charged as a minor. Cas and the Winchesters show up just as Claire is being sold to a loan shark by her dodgy “dad,” and though they save her, Dean uncontrollably ends up slaughtering everyone else present — all human — as the Mark of Cain takes control of him once more.

Best Moment: Without question, it’s Team Free Will lining up at the bar drinking whiskey and telling stories about the past. This is the first time that the Winchesters have helped Castiel with a genuinely personal problem, and I love that the episode takes this moment to breathe and talk about fatherhood and what it means — even World’s Greatest Dad John Winchester doesn’t come off too badly, an impressive feat. Plus the mental image of teen Dean sneaking into CBGB is too good to be true, except it is true, because Dabb is a gift.

‘Inside Man’

Season 8’s “Hunteri Heroici,” Dabb’s first solo episode, proved that he could excel at writing perfect Sam and Castiel interactions, a relationship that often falls to the wayside compared to Cas and Dean. “Inside Man” takes that a step further, a masterclass in mixing up the show’s standard relationship dynamics, as Sam and Cas go behind Dean’s back and visit a psychic in order to recruit Bobby, up in Heaven, on their secret quest to save Dean from the Mark of Cain against his will.

As Bobby sneaks Cas into Heaven in order to kidnap Metatron, setting free every other Bobby Singer along the way in order to cause confusion, Dean and Crowley commiserate over some drinks about their inability to kill each other and all the trouble that Rowena’s been stirring up. It seems that even the King of Hell can benefit from a little of the patented Bobby Singer “family don’t end in blood” real-talk.

Best Moment: “They’re surly, I repeat the Bobbys are surly!”

‘Beyond The Mat’

This episode, co-written with writers’ assistant John Bring who’ll continue to work under Dabb in season 12, explores the rarely seen, desperately cherished moments in which the Winchesters admit to being burnt out and take a godforsaken break from hunting to go pursue an activity purely for personal pleasure or fulfilment. After reading an obituary, Sam and Dean take a day’s drive in order to attend the funeral and tribute match for a wrestler from the low-budget touring circuit their dad used to take them to see when they were kids. Of course, while they’re on their little wrestling fanboy trip, they find a case there — one of their old heroes has been making demon deals.

Winchester vacations are few and far between — they’ve rested, yes, but season 2’s “Hollywood Babylon” may be the last time we saw the boys genuinely take time out for a leisure activity — so for anyone who cares about the brothers grasping at opportunities for happiness, this episode is a gold-plated diamond-encrusted four leaf clover.

Best Moment: Dean geeking out. Dabb’s a big, big proponent of nerdy!Dean — for all that Dean likes to rib Sam, Sam isn’t actually all that geeky, he’s just knowledgable. Dean’s the one who acts obsessive about his interests, and Dabb includes this element in his episodes a lot — it’s the reason that season 6’s “Frontierland” is also a huge favorite of mine.

‘Alpha and Omega’

I hesitate to use the phrase “game-changer,” but the season 11 finale was Supernatural’s biggest since Castiel raised Dean from perdition in “Lazarus Rising.” On paper, it sounds massively overblown — bombing God’s sister, the Darkness, with souls in order to restart the sun — but at its heart it’s a personal conflict which is de-escalated and solved through communication. Who knew that was possible on this show?

The brothers’ co-dependence, which has ruined the world several times already, is a problem that’s clearly important to Dabb, as season 11’s success kind of hinges on them growing out of it, and the team dynamic throughout the episode — Sam, Dean, Cas, Crowley, Rowena and Chuck — is fantastic. The family who gets drunk at the end of the world together stays together, tbh.

Best Moment: “You know the drill. No chick-flick moments, come on.” “Yeah, you love chick-flicks.” “Yeah, you’re right, I do.” How’s that for full circle? This is a Dean who knows that he doesn’t need to posture any more, and, heartbreakingly, knows that he doesn’t deserve to die, however, both he and Sam face the end with a healthy acceptance. At last. If I didn’t already trust Dabb with creative control of the show, this scene would have sold me on him 100%, because it’s so telling about how he views the Winchesters and what he wants for them.

‘Supernatural’ airs Thursdays at 9/8c on The CW

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