Supernatural hasn’t always had the best track record with its fandom. The show is about two cishet, white male brothers and their white-male-bodied, written-as-cishet angel friend, but its enthusiastic, mostly-female fandom has constantly reinterpreted the show as either a forbidden love story between two brothers (Wincest) or a star-crossed romance between an angel and a hunter (Destiel). This isn’t a unique problem—many shows with a primarily male ensemble cast have fans who ship one or more of the male characters together. However, the reaction to such shipping has been almost exactly the same across the board: discomfort verging on disgust. As New Statesmen writer Laurie Penny says of the BBC’s Sherlock, a show which is also about two white men:
The discomfort seems to be not that the shows are being reinterpreted by fans, but that they are being reinterpreted by the wrong sorts of fans – women, people of colour, queer kids, horny teenagers, people who are not professional writers, people who actually care about continuity (sorry). The proper way for cultural mythmaking to progress, it is implied, is for privileged men to recreate the works of privileged men from previous generations whilst everyone else listens quietly.
In short, it doesn’t seem to be fandom that these producers are uncomfortable with—it’s female fandom. Men can loudly proclaim themselves to be fans, geeks, and nerds in real life (J. J. Abrams, Mark Gatiss, Peter Jackson), and they can seek to recreate the stories they loved as children (Star Trek, Sherlock, Lord of the Rings). But when women want to recreate their own stories, they’re uniformly shamed for it.
Supernatural takes this general disregard for women even further—there’s hardly an episode where a (conventionally attractive) woman doesn’t die, and the main characters are misogynistic in both their dialogue and their actions. With this sort of background, it’s hard to believe that the 200th episode, meant to be an homage to the show’s fans, would be any good. Dean’s actor, Jensen Ackles, even gave an interview where he said “[The episode is a] bit of a throwback to the fans… some fans who may have had some interesting, objectionable ideas about the show, or maybe some complaints about the show, or whatever, might want to pay attention, ‘cause we might be calling you out on it.”
“Objectionable ideas” about the show? Given all of Supernatural’s history, it didn’t sound promising. Yet Supernatural’s 200th episode, “Fan Fiction”, succeeded in being an homage to its fans—and it also succeeded at legitimizing and celebrating female desires, something it has never done nor even shown the slightest desire to do in the past.
Spoilers for all of “Fan Fiction” below.
Supernatural has certainly long been aware of the existence of its female fans and their own interpretations of the show. All the way back in Season 4, Sam discovers “slash fans”, and he and Dean are equally disgusted by them. Next, in Season 5, they end up at a Supernatural convention where they again are disgusted upon discovering that the Sam and Dean cosplayers with which they’ve been working the case are actually gay and together. Of course, we can’t forget Becky Rosen, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed so-called representative of all the most disgusting female desires. Becky was an avid Sam/Dean shipper, and more than that, was soon revealed to be senselessly in love with an idealized version of Sam. Her online username is samlicker81, and in one Season 7 episode, she drugs and forces a brainwashed Sam to marry her.
To date, Sam and Dean’s behavior has been fully supported by the narrative—they are never called out for their thoughts about and reactions towards fans, and Becky is an unfortunate one-dimensional caricature of what a fan is, painted as such to show that of course any rational person would hate these fans. This attitude has even extended beyond the show to real-life situations. Supernatural has been dead set on rejecting and invalidating anything that might be construed as gay or even in the same general field as gay, and at past conventions they’ve ignored questions on Destiel or on Dean’s possible bisexuality. They’ve recently even kicked a Destiel shipper out of a convention. Supernatural thinks there’s only one right way to engage with their show, and that’s their way. There were no hints that “Fan Fiction” would be any different. Yet it was.
In “Fan Fiction”, Dean and Sam go to an all girls’ school to investigate the convenient disappearance of the drama teacher, where they discover that head theatre geek Marie and stage manager Maeve are putting on a play about Supernatural—the books by Carver Edlund. Marie, like J. J. Abrams, Mark Gatiss, and Peter Jackson before her, is a lifelong fan of speculative fiction—in her case, the Supernatural books. Now that she’s in charge of a production of her very own, she has written a play full of everything that Supernatural producers hate most: Sam/Dean and Dean/Cas.
Much of the episode is based around the dialogue between Dean and Marie, and it’s easy to see that the two are meant to represent Supernatural’s two warring factions. Dean, of course, is the mouthpiece for the producers; Marie, the fans. Dean’s forced to view the show through a female gaze for once, and, predictably, hates it. As Marie takes him through the set, he yells at the actresses playing Sam and Dean to step further apart because “they’re brothers!” and looks confused and annoyed upon discovering that the actresses for Dean and Castiel are in a relationship outside of the play. But Marie ignores everything that he has to say, and when Dean tells her the real version of the events after “Swan Song”, Marie just says “That is some of the worst fanfiction that I have ever heard!” Unlike the out-of-touch Becky, she knows the difference between reality and fiction, and when Sam and Dean say they are Sam and Dean, she and Maeve actually laugh them off.
In a usual Supernatural episode, this is where things would start going wrong. Marie and Maeve would end up dead, or they would fall for Sam and Dean, or possibly they’d fall for Sam and Dean and then end up dead. But in “Fan Fiction”, none of that happens. The Winchesters discover that a monster called Calliope, “the muse”, tunes into ideas that she finds particularly enticing, and she’s latched on to Marie’s version of Supernatural as her next target. She intends on waiting until the play is done to eat Marie. Marie’s frantic and wants to shut the whole play down, but Dean, surprisingly, convinces her to keep going. He tells her that her belief in her play—her fanfic—is the only thing holding Calliope at bay and keeping the rest of the school from her wrath.
Marie: This is all my fault. If I hadn’t written this dumb play, none of this would have happened.
Dean: Okay, well, first of all, the play’s not dumb.
Maeve: I thought you didn’t believe in this interpretation.
Dean: Yeah, I don’t. Like, at all. But you do, okay. And I need you to believe in it with all you got. So that we can kill Calliope and we can save your friends. Can you do that?
“Fan Fiction” goes miles above other shows that have tried to engage with their fandom—in one Sherlock episode, when two fans are sharing their conspiracy theories as to how Sherlock survived a fall off a building, it’s the male fan’s heterosexual fantasy that’s played all the way through, while the female fan’s homosexual fantasy is cut off and regarded as outlandish. Let’s not even discuss Teen Wolf’s various reactions to female fans and Sterek. In “Fan Fiction”, Sam spends a lot of time clearly showing that he’s okay with shipping via whining about how Samstiel sounds better than Destiel, and Dean—and the producers through him—explicitly endorse female fantasies as worthwhile and even as powerful.
Not only that, “Fan Fiction” again takes it a step further, because when Supernatural goes big it really goes big. Sam and Dean are soon separated by Calliope and must hunt for her as the play is being performed. The actress for Sam is stolen and imprisoned by Calliope, so Marie must step in and be both director and actress. Finally, as the show draws to a close, Marie-as-Sam is the one who stabs Calliope’s scarecrow monster through the heart, just as the real Sam is staking Calliope. This not only casts Sam as the unlikely hero of the story—a role he rarely gets on Supernatural nowadays—but it also casts Marie as equal to Sam, the heroine of her own story, the one she created.
Yes, after ten years of misogynistic plotlines, commentary, and fashion decisions, the writers of Supernatural finally showed that not only do they value female fandom, they also value female agency. It’s almost incredible how supernatural this moment was to me.
At the end of the episode, Maeve tells Marie that “the publisher” is here to see her, and when Marie excitedly asks said publisher what he thought of the show, the camera turns around to show none other than Chuck Shurley—a.k.a. Carver Edlund, the writer of the Supernatural books, and possibly the God of this universe. What does he think about the play?
So, in one fell swoop, Supernatural showed it was capable of respecting its female fans, their agency, their fantasies, and their desires. As an episode, “Fan Fiction” doesn’t fit into the narrative of the show at all—even a casual viewer of the show knows that this is not Supernatural’s usual attitude towards women, not to mention that Chuck is supposed to be off in who-knows-where and hasn’t been seen for the past five seasons. But as an homage to the fans, it worked perfectly. And for a fanbase that’s been increasingly alienated from the show’s misogyny, “Fan Fiction” was an uplifting reminder of why we love[d] to watch, remix, and engage with the show.
I’ll leave you with some words from Dean:
I know I have expressed some differences of opinion regarding this particular version of Supernatural. But tonight it is all about Marie’s vision. This is Marie’s Supernatural. So I want you to get out there and I want you stand as close as she wants you to, and I want you to put as much sub into that text as you possibly can. …Now you get out there and kick it in the ass!