It’s sometimes difficult to remember a time before Supernatural was on TV. It’s equally difficult to believe it was once a bubble show or that it was relegated to the historic Friday-night death slot following the conclusion of creator Eric Kripke‘s original narrative arc in Season 5. Now in its thirteenth season, the WB-turned-CW drama starring Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki is the longest-running live-action American fantasy series in TV history. And as long as both Ackles and Padalecki remain interested in the family business, the CW remains interested too.
However, despite the Winchesters’ stubbornness in the face of death, nothing lasts forever; there will eventually come a day when the boys decide to pack in their angel blades and rock salt and drive Baby off into what many fans hope will be a heavenly sunset. The good news for The CW is, Thursday’s backdoor pilot “Wayward Sisters” gives the network its best chance yet to keep the Supernatural name alive and make its long-held spin-off dreams a reality.
Drawing its name from Supernatural‘s unofficial official anthem, “Wayward Sisters” unites recurring characters Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes), Claire Novak (Kathryn Newton), Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster), and Alex Jones (Katherine Ramdeen) with new characters Patience Turner (Clark Backo) and Kaia Nieves (Yadira Guevara-Prip). Together they embark on a mission to save Sam (Padalecki) and Dean (Ackles) from the dangerous new universe they were thrust into while attempting to find their mother (Samantha Smith) in the midseason finale.
Claire, a young hunter and the daughter of Jimmy Novak, the human vessel the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) first possessed when he was introduced in Season 4, is eventually successful in saving Sam and Dean, but the cliffhanger ending reveals a second portal to the other world is still open and that a woman who looks exactly like the now-deceased Kaia has traveled through to our heroes’ world. For The CW, this means a wealth of storylines to explore immediately should it order a full series. Unfortunately, the potential series will still face an uphill battle to win over the hearts of Supernatural‘s biggest fans.
After all, it’s not the first time The CW first took a swing at a Supernatural spin-off. In the 2014 episode “Bloodlines,” the show introduced an entirely new roster of hunters and supernatural creatures who came into conflict in Chicago. The backdoor pilot was deemed a failure and eventually wasn’t picked up to series, something its writer and current Supernatural executive producer Andrew Dabb recently told TV Guide was likely due to timing and a similarity to the then-recently launched CW drama The Originals.
But while the similarities to the The Vampire Diaries spin-off were certainly present, the truth is, the biggest issues plaguing Bloodlines were an unfamiliar cast, a storyline that was too far removed from Supernatural, and a startling lack of the show’s trademark humor. It remains to be seen whether Wayward Sisters will be able to deftly employ that last one, but the potential series at least features characters many fans know and might even care about. Its permanent setting in Sioux Falls is an obvious departure from a key part of Supernatural‘s narrative structure, which involved the Winchesters traveling from city to city each week as they eliminated supernatural threats, but limiting the narrative of Wayward Sisters to one area might actually work in the show’s favor, since it separates it from the epic narrative of Sam and Dean and their loaded charge of saving the world.
The most-pressing challenge for Wayward Sisters will likely be to find a new narrative hook for some of its characters. If the series can move beyond familiar beats to explore new territory — something that could be difficult, because Supernatural has also struggled over the years to find new ways to explore its characters — the possibility exists for the show to find an audience, provided fans can find it in themselves to care about characters who aren’t named Sam, Dean or even Castiel.
The potential series would eventually be forced to leave the extended saga of the Winchesters and Team Free Will behind to follow this formidable group of women as they come together to form an unconventional family and take on the supernatural creatures lurking in and around Sioux Falls. Although the brothers will likely make appearances throughout the show’s run, it will largely stand on its own, something that will allow the series to hopefully tell intriguing stories from new perspectives, but something that could also put it at a disadvantage. After all, the main reason Supernatural remains successful 13 seasons in is the Winchesters themselves and not necessarily the stories the show is telling.
While many long-running series (though certainly not all) experience some form of cast turnover that allows them to remain fresh, Supernatural has managed to succeed without bringing too many new characters along for the ride. The show is a perfect blend of complex mythology, procedural elements and humor and this has allowed it to create a deep well of narrative possibilities through which to explore Dean’s anger, Sam’s daddy issues, and the brothers’ increasingly unhealthy codependent relationship. But at this point, the series also rests squarely on its leads’ shoulders to the extent that Supernatural is powered by Ackles and Padalecki’s deep off-screen friendship. It may be difficult to convince some of the show’s fans that the stories of Wayward Sisters‘ talented women — women they may like a great deal — are worthy of their time too.
It’s true Supernatural hasn’t always devoted proper time and care to its female characters or even given them the arcs they deserved, but Wayward Sisters is the show’s opportunity to take steps toward redeeming itself for these shortcomings. The groundwork has already been laid as characters like Jody and Donna and Claire have revealed themselves over multiple appearances on the series to be multi-dimensional characters with fascinating stories to tell. They’ve become empowering representations of complex women for a fanbase that is predominantly female, and the possibility of an entire series featuring those same women holds immense potential if done properly.
At the end of the day, though, there’s obviously no guarantee that Wayward Sisters will be ordered to series or even find success let alone tell intriguing stories. And given the backlash Supernatural has received over the years for its treatment of female characters, there’s a certain amount of apprehension that comes with an all-female spin-off, especially one without any women currently attached to it behind the scenes. But it is refreshing to see these fierce women get some much-needed time in the spotlight. And if nothing comes from it, well, at least The CW tried.
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8/7c on The CW.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, one of The CW’s parent companies.)