Most TV series that exceed one season try to include an Easter egg here or there as a tribute to their loyal fans. Some even keep a character around longer than expected because of audience reactions. With Supernatural, the creators took this idea to the next level by creating entire plotlines for the Winchester brothers based on their fans. This choice creates an intimate connection between the series and the audience, making the viewers feel like they are as strong an influence on the show as are the producers.
One example of this concept occurs in the season six episode “The French Mistake.” While running from an angel, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) are transported into another reality in which they are actors named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, who perform on a TV show called Supernatural. Sound familiar? The title of the episode refers to the end of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, in which characters brawling in the Western comedy break the fourth wall, literally, and disrupt a movie musical being made called “The French Mistake.” The episode is similarly riddled with behind-the-scenes shoutouts to the fans, with even the creator of the show, Eric Kripke (portrayed in the episode by Micah Hauptman), getting his time in the spotlight with a slow-motion death scene in the rain.
Not only does this episode include plenty of Easter eggs, but it is filled with self-mockery. And no one is spared; not the show itself, not the actors, not the producers, and not even the fans. For example, Dean makes a withering comment about how producer Robert Singer (portrayed in the episode by Brian Doyle-Murray) shares a name with a major character, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver). The lead actors also get their share of embarrassment; a clip of a young Ackles on the soap opera Days of Our Lives is shown, and Padalecki’s involvement with PETA is spoofed through the presence of an alpaca living in his backyard. As for the fans, their ridicule comes with every time the brothers ask each other who in their right mind would watch this show.
But having one episode about the real world wasn’t enough. Starting with season four’s “The Monster at the End of This Book” (a nod to the classic meta Sesame Street book), the producers introduce a plotline in which Sam and Dean discover a book series entitled “Supernatural” that describes their entire lives. The writer behind the books, Carver Edlund (a mix of two of the series’ main writers, Jeremy Carver and Ben Edlund), is actually a prophet named Chuck (Rob Benedict) who is destined to write the new Winchester gospel. The fans of the book series, which is a cult phenomenon, represent the actual fans of Supernatural and give the fans a chance to be part of the show.
This storyline isn’t over after one or two episodes. It stays present throughout the rest of the series, with a fan convention in season five and a musical adaption of the books in season 10. It even leads to one of the major plot twists where it turns out that Chuck isn’t just a prophet; he’s God. This twist gives the producers a chance to show their appreciation for the fans even more. If Chuck was created for the sake of a fan-based plotline and it turns out he has been God, who is essential to almost every aspect of the show, then the fan-based plotline is the most important one in the entire series.
Yet with all of these moments dedicated to the viewers, none of them occur outside of the show’s realm of possibility. Every time that Supernatural gives a shout out to the fans, the producers incorporate it into the show’s lore to make it accessible for viewers. After all, with storylines devoted to time travel and returning from hell, the brothers traveling to another reality is nothing too unexpected. As for having a prophet make a profit off of their story, this plot just combines two of the show’s favorite things: irony and biblical references.
Also, each of these fan-based episodes is a major turning point in the show’s overarching plot. In “The French Mistake,” for example, the brothers realize that they would rather live in a reality with demons and monsters than in one in which they hate each other. In “The Monster at the End of This Book,” it is revealed that the season’s main villain, Lilith, is willing to stop her quest for unleashing Lucifer onto the world if the Winchesters stop trying to kill her. This twist is essential for the season four finale in which Lilith’s death actually unleashes Lucifer. Because these episodes aren’t just throwaway moments, it reinforces the idea that the fans have a strong influence on the series, and that their contributions have value.
The heart of Supernatural is family, and these plotlines confirm that the fans are an important part of that family. And with next year’s season 15 to conclude the Winchester saga, we can only expect another episode dedicated to the fans to embrace this connection one last time.