Supernatural comes to a close with a moving finale that feels familiar while still managing to be unexpected and suspenseful. Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean Winchester, and Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam Winchester, take a very good story and make a great series finale. Just as it was in the beginning of Supernatural, “Carry On” is a story of two brothers and what’s meaningful to them—saving people, hunting things, and family.
With the season story arc concluding in the previous episode, “Carry On” provides closure to the entire 15-year season. An ending of this magnitude is not an easy task, but one done elegantly by showrunners Andrew Dabb and Robert Singer, who are credited with writing and directing the episode. Ackles and Padalecki have been asked countless times how they’d like the series to end, and the expectations of the fandom are high. At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, when asked how satisfied the fans will be with the conclusion, Dabb responded, “The things we have in mind, about 30 percent of people will be really happy.” He may have underestimated the impact of the show’s finale, because “Carry On” embraces the fundamental elements of Supernatural while turning down a new road. The adoption of a dog probably should have signaled where the story was heading, but they still managed to surprise us.
After having vanquished God in the previous episode, the Winchesters return to the bunker. They engage in the mundane daily tasks we rarely see—Sam jogging along the water, Dean brushing his teeth, Sam doing laundry in an ancient machine, and Dean washing the dishes – while Van Morrison’s “Ordinary Life” plays in the background. They continue to look for cases, taking them to a pie celebration. They find themselves on an old-fashioned monster hunt culminating in a well-choreographed monster fight. Supernatural pulls out some of our favorite props that echo the Winchesters’ history, including the green cooler, John’s journal, and the weapons cache stored in the trunk of the Impala. And Sam takes off his shirt one last time, just for the fans.
Setting the stage
The cinematography of Supernatural is known for making the most of light and shadow, and filming outdoor scenes more frequently that most scripted shows. In “Carry On,” most of the scenes outside the bunker take place outdoors in some very striking settings. Rather than settling for a diner soundstage for Sam and Dean to look at a map, the moment is beautifully set with the Impala in a sunny field, showcasing both Baby and the light-filled environs. The culminating scene takes place in a barn where the light streaming through the boards form distinctively patterned shadows, courtesy of Director of Photography Serge Ladouceur. It’s these moments of beauty and brightness interspersed with subdued light and shadow that underlie the emotional tone of the scenes.
One of our favorite moments of “Carry On” is when Sam and Dean drive up to the barn and go to the trunk. Not only because Dean is sad that Sam won’t let him use the ninja stars, but because as they get out of the Impala, the sound of a train can be heard in the distance. It’s been a sound effect Supernatural has used since the early seasons, and one that feels like part of their middle-American roots. “Carry On” is also accentuated with musical cues. The melody associated with the Winchester brothers tugs at our heartstrings. Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” heightens a sense of loss, while Kansas’s “Carry on Wayward Son,” the signature song of the series, helps everyone to do just that.
The Winchesters experience moments of genuine joy and quiet sadness throughout “Carry On.” They may finally be free of God directing their story, but they are missing loved ones. It’s a serious episode interspersed with a few fun moments that include memorable agent names, comedic lines, and pie. Apparently there would have been appearances by more familiar faces in the final episode, but pandemic altered those plans. The greater focus on the Winchester brothers generates depth, creates more space to absorb their performances, and reflects the spirit of their first season. As Dean tells Sam, “When it comes down to it, it’s always been you and me.”
Padalecki performs with such strong emotional expression, you can experience what Sam is feeling simply by watching his face. At the climax of “Carry On,” Ackles makes us forget what he’s done before, giving us fresh appreciation for his considerable talent. The episode required a great deal of acting with limited dialogue, so that when they did exchange words the actors had the benefit of a well-written script.
Supernatural creates a beautiful farewell in “Carry On.” While telling the story of Sam and Dean Winchester, the episode also seems to be helping the audience to let go. In a moment rarely seen in television, Ackles, Padalecki and the cast of Supernatural take a few minutes of airtime to thank the fans of the series—proving again that just as fans are passionate about Supernatural, the cast and crew feel similarly about the fandom. Carry on.