9:00 am EDT, September 8, 2016

300 ‘Supernatural’ episodes: Will they, won’t they, could they, should they?

It's really not jumping the shark if you never come back down.

The stars of Supernatural consider episode 300 their next big milestone, but could it be a potential ending spot for the show? And more to the point — should it be?

Sam and Dean Winchester of Supernatural are Entertainment Weekly’s Fall TV Preview cover stars, after the publication opened this coveted slot to a fan vote for the very first time. I mean, are you really surprised? The CW’s little monster show that could may only pull a tenth of the ratings of, say, fellow final-four contender The Big Bang Theory, but no one knows how to mobilize like fandom, and there’s no fandom quite like Supernatural’s.

The cover itself is a dream — a nice, natural shot that pays homage to the core elements of the show and that’s blissfully lacking the patented CW Smolder. There are bonus adorable Easter eggs (check inside the Es in “Entertainment”) and EW’s obviously got a ton of exclusives lined up about dozens of fall season premieres, Supernatural included, to feature in their special double-sized edition which will hit stores on Friday. However, one crucial tidbit that’s already been published online is a discussion of the show’s potential 300th episode, and whether this would be where they chose to call it a day.

When Supernatural returns on October 13, the season 12 premiere will mark the show’s 242nd episode, with the finale presumably putting the cast and crew at 264. The idea of 300 is still quite a distant one, but EW broached the subject with stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, and their answers, when juxtaposed with comments from executive producer Robert Singer and CW president Mark Pedowitz are… confusing, to say the least.

Will ‘Supernatural’ reach or culminate at 300 episodes?

Let’s break it down:

  • Supernatural’s about to enter season 12, helmed by new showrunner Andrew Dabb, a longtime staff writer elevated to the top spot alongside Singer after the departure of Jeremy Carver. It’s the longest running show in CW (or WB) history, but has not yet been renewed for season 13.
  • The party line at the CW has always been that if the stars are happy, and the ratings are stable – currently sitting on an average of around 2 million viewers for the past few seasons, though the show’s release on Netflix has brought in a huge new contingent of binge-watchers – Supernatural could keep going forever.
  • Mark Pedowitz, who has re-shaped the CW over the past few years into a home for progressive, critically-acclaimed, award-winning storytelling, has repeatedly joked about Supernatural outlasting his tenure at the network, and is “thrilled” with the current creative direction of the show under Dabb.
  • When EW asked the stars about the future or ending of the show, Ackles did not seem to be considering the end. “In a marathon, I keep my sights on that next mile, wherever that might be,” he explained, and 300 is just that next milestone that he’s focusing on. 300 episodes, if you do the math, would include a full season 13 and go part way into season 14 — two more seasons, at least.
  • Padalecki seemed more certain that 300 was the moment that he and Ackles might call it quits, and would be disappointed to finish earlier. “If we don’t make it to 300, I think Ackles and I will both be truly bummed,” […] “When we get to 300, I think Ackles and I will think it might be time to say bye. There’s a chance that changes, but we certainly do not take it for granted that we’re going to make it to 300.”
  • EP Robert Singer also seems to be seriously considering 300 as a theoretical ending point for the show, having thought about a shortened season 14 as an option for a complete series finale. “We talked about wanting to be able to know when our end was, and if it was to be, let’s say, 300 episodes, we could tell a 13-episode story.”
  • Finally, let’s throw this quote from Ackles into the mix: “I feel like if I ever show up to set and I feel like I don’t care, or if I feel like he doesn’t care, then that’s the canary leaving the mine. To this day, I have not really ever sensed that from myself or him. They’re paying us to bring that little bit of magic to what they wrote, and I still feel that magic today. The day that I don’t feel that magic will be a very sad day, and I hope that day never comes. I’d like to get to 300 before that day comes.”

So like, in summary, they totally want 300, but don’t necessarily expect to get 300, but the network doesn’t plan to cancel, but the stars want to do the show forever, but they might want to leave? Glad we cleared that up. All in all, it sounds like that they don’t have a specific ending in mind — Singer mentions not having a series finale idea yet — but it’s more a matter of, given their druthers, they’d rather be able to plan and control their ending, instead of getting played off before they get the chance to finish their big speech. Which is totally fair. They’ve earned that, I think we can all agree.

The lingering question remains: if this is how things stand, should 300 be planned as the series finale, even if the CW would potentially offer to keep renewing the show in the wake of the actual apocalypse? Should Supernatural stay a staple on our screens forever, like… you know what, there is literally nothing to compare it to. I’m not gonna try. Forget the CW, it’s the longest-running genre show in the history of U.S. television. What would Supernatural season 20 even look like? It’s hard to imagine endless seasons of these kind of stories. The brothers Winchester have already faced every single stake imaginable and somehow come through to the other side. How do you maintain that?

But Supernatural is a show that has reinvented itself many times already, under four different showrunners, while still remaining true to the same core premise – two brothers in a classic car protecting the world from secret supernatural threats, and the toll that lifestyle takes on them. Everything else about the show is pretty transient, and has been since day one. Bigger isn’t always better, stakes-wise, and as long as there are monsters in the world, Supernatural could potentially allow for a limitless exploration of Sam and Dean’s journey — because for all that some fans cite certain eras of the show as being more true to form, it’s not actually a procedural, it’s a character drama, and it really still is singing the same song it’s always sung, in the best possible way.

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Any show that’s been running for eleven seasons is going to have hits and misses, but one thing that this show has always done well is tying their season arcs into one another as a matter of cause and effect. Rather than wiping the slate clean every year after dusting a big bad, Supernatural snowballs — the hunt for the yellow-eyed demon that opened the series begat Sam’s death and Dean’s crossroads deal at the end of season 2, which begat the entire plot of season 3 with Dean sentenced to Hell, which begat the angels and apocalypse of 4 and 5, which begat Cas and Crowley’s plan in season 6, which begat the Leviathans, which begat Purgatory and its aftermath… you get the picture.

It’s all one chain of consequence, and far from being repetitive, I consider it one of Supernatural’s greatest strengths. If the show is to continue, it needs to be able to tell new stories that organically grow from the old – keep tying those threads together — and if it is to end, it should be with a recognizable and satisfying conclusion of that initial journey.

Season 12 may be just the beginning of a whole new era of Supernatural with countless stories yet to unfold. Andrew Dabb, a regular writer since season 4’s “Yellow Fever” whose episodes often noticeably explore the rich inner life of the Winchesters, is in the position to make it so. For starters, the season 11 finale re-introduced Mary Winchester, a mythical figure since the pilot. Providing she doesn’t immediately die again, there’s at least another decade’s worth of brand-new unopened baggage for our boys to unpack there.

Supernatural -- "Keep Calm and Carry On" -- SN1201a_0002.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Jensen Ackles as Dean and Samantha Smith as Mary Winchester -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Dabb seems to have a very balanced approach to the fandom, he wants to avoid the “nostalgia cycle,” he has a fascinating new mix of writers, and he has clear storytelling aims — who knows, he may have been sitting there for eight years jotting down ideas to use for a hazy someday. It certainly sounds like he’s been noting what’s worked and what hasn’t over the course of his three predecessors, what needs to change and what needs to stay the same. This all bodes incredibly well, in terms of keeping the show fresh and successful.

The current Supernatural creative team has the potential to breathe new life into an environment that’s had its fair share of well-documented problems. Everyone on board, cast and crew, seems super happy to be there and super enthusiastic about what is coming next — in more than just your usual required promo way. In fact, at San Diego Comic-Con, Misha Collins laid his cards on the table and told Hypable that in the past, every time he’s wanted something for his character the show has gone in the opposite direction — until now. That kind of candid criticism from a cast member is pretty darn telling, so it would seem that the approval is just as genuine. Supernatural may have a very long life ahead of it.

However, if the show is consciously coasting towards a stop — and I mean, if we’re talking about 300, that’s still three seasons’ worth of slowing down — excuse my mixed metaphor, but should those seeds be planted now? Quite a few shows these days end each season at a point where that finale could serve as a make-do series finale, just in case. Supernatural has never played it that safe. Say they did get cancelled. No one wants a standard SPN season finale – usually full of cliffhangers — to just be like, welp, that’s it, see you never.

Supernatural -- "Keep Calm and Carry On" -- SN1201b_0218.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Jared Padalecki as Sam and Bronagh Waugh as Ms. Watt -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Like Pedowitz, I’m extremely excited for Supernatural: The Dabb Generation, and I’d be happy to watch Sam and Dean forever if that’s legitimately how everyone involved wants to roll. But given the previously mentioned chain of consequence theme of the Supernatural story, if an end is coming — at 300 episodes, or sooner, or later — would a single season’s worth of warning even be enough for a show like this? Or — just like Eric Kripke set up his original story’s conclusion over five years, from day one – should Dabb’s entire tenure, starting now, be dedicated to putting the pieces in place for the best goodbye possible?

I want Dabb to feel free to do his thing — presumbly, as a storyteller, he’s here to start something, not to end it, but I wonder… Maybe this kind of plan is worth considering — to go out in a carefully crafted fashion, while everyone involved still fully feels the love. It isn’t as if it would be a “steering a sinking ship” slight on the new showrunner’s regime either — an honorable death is a very important thing to be responsible for. There’s a hell of a lot of trust and a hell of a lot of skill needed to provide palliative care.

Of course, then there’s the little matter of what a worthy ending to Supernatural would actually look like. Ackles and Padalecki have repeatedly insisted that they imagine the brothers going out in a blaze of glory — and maybe clean, natural deaths for both of them at the same time is truly the only way that either of them will ever get any rest, because they never seem to accept the loss of the other. It’s certainly an option, but if you ask me (no one did,) Supernatural needs to end with the Winchesters getting a win that they never thought possible — beating the system that they have been basically trapped in since childhood.

SUPERNATURAL  Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki photographed on the Supernatural set in Vancouver, Canada on August 23, 2016 Photograph by Matthias Clamer Hair: Jennifer Manton; Makeup: Trisha Porter; Wardrobe: Kerry Weinrauch; Props: Karolina Grant; Production: Susan Milne

The show has touched many times on whether one of the boys truly wishes for more than this provincial life, or whatever. They’ve both “gotten out” and we know it doesn’t stick, but there’s still something about that hardened acceptance of what their life has gotta be that upsets me. It’s not as if they’re psychopaths who relish in killing things. They do this because it’s what they have to do, and they sacrifice every want in the name of the greater need. So they’ve proven that they can never just opt out of hunting, but for me to feel good about the show ending, they need to pull off a final feat that no one ever thought was doable, which results in the reward of Sam and Dean’s load being lightened.

Whether that comes from a worldwide reveal about monsters, so that everyone on earth is more equipped to take care of themselves, or maybe all the bad beasties getting permanently banished back to their own realms — at Comic-Con, Ackles spoke about Dean’s desire to do something more “finalizing” about the supernatural eventually — the Winchesters are due the freedom and happiness that good men who do their duty to God and to their country earn but are rarely granted. These are pretty far-out theories, and they’re a bit reminiscent of the conclusion to Buffy, but look. I just really don’t want an ending that implies that the rest of their lives, which we don’t get to see, will be more of the miserable same.

“There’ll be peace when you are done.” That promise deserves to be fulfilled, or we’re all going to be really embarrassed that a Kansas song has been making us cry for a decade.

Supernatural season 12 premieres on October 13 with “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

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