Winchesters – SPN Spin off

You knew this was coming…

(my ramblings that is)

So this dropped.

You want the quick of it? “Could be a good prequel to S8+. Not really a prequel to S1-5.” Also I’m not thrilled that a former Marine is shown to be incompetent at fighting. Learn to build your characters up without tearing others down.

Now the long of it.

There’s a good reason making art is compared to raising children. Both involve pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into something you hope is beautiful, something that is going to make the world a little bit better by bringing joy to other people’s lives.

The big difference is that art is also a business. It’s why being a salesman for your own work means you end up going just a little bit crazy because it means having to watch the world reject your kid  in the worst ways possible over and over and over again in the hopes that you can find that little sliver of fans that will really love them.

So let’s say I want to make this great new story about monsters hidden in society. Let’s call it… “American Monsters.” The problem is, I’ve got to try and sell it to a new audience which has no reason or desire to even like it. Now what if I called it… Grimm: Another City? Why then I have a ready made fanbase who are at least more inclined to give my story a shot than they were when it was wholly original.

Still putting that label on my story means that expectations are going to come with that audience. If I were to change the title to say… Supernatural: Bloodlines, then the expectations for my story are going to change, along with the potential audience. The title I pick for my story involves implications about characters and continuity and worldbuilding. If I am not willing to play by the rules and setups involved with one title, then it is my responsibility as a storyteller to change the title to a more fitting one. Either a place it does belong, or invent something new.

This isn’t just a long complaint about continuity. The continuity around Mary/John was basically wrecked in the S8 episode introducing Henry Winchester. I can use my own finale fan fiction to watch this show as “one of Jack’s writing projects” as far as continuity is concerned.

I don’t even hate the idea! Dean & Anna trying to make a married life around hunting and the struggles therein were some of my favorite scenes to write. I like the idea of a hunting couple coming together through it all. I’ve suggested in the past that SPN’s best spin-off idea would be one involving ages past. There is a lot of rich potential here for a solid, decent show.

A truly timeless work will be multifaceted such that a wide variety of fans will be able to find a wide variety of stuff to enjoy, to the point that you can’t really boil it down to “just” one aspect. Quality worldbuilding will help you set up and execute captivating plots. Well done plots will challenge beloved characters and give them opportunities to shine. It’s all interconnected forming a feedback loop system which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Works with enduring, wide-ranging fandoms endure because they are so rich fans can find something they love in it. One fan my love the world and setting of the story. Another prefer the characters. And yes I do include the original Supernatural in this.

What do we get from the trailer for our new series? Well the worldbuilding looks kind of thin. The basics of a plot seem to be in place so there is some hope there. But then we get the characters.

Previously I have written about what it really means to have “flawed” characters. (part 2) To sum it up: What does the character lack at the start of the story which they should gain by the end of it? (Musicals will make this obvious with an “I want” song.) From the trailer, I have a pretty good sense of what John Winchester lacks and is seeking. What does Mary lack? What is her flaw? From the trailer the answer seems to be: nothing. She’s a perfect, actualized human being who wants for nothing beyond the basics and has no need of anybody in her life. So then… where is my interest?  What is she getting out of all this? Why should I care about her or her story? From what we knew in the show, there’s plenty of possibilities for Mary Campbell in a prequel. Is any of that going to be in here? Is any of that going to be explored?

There’s a trend I like to call “cargo-cult writing” by which people seem to believe that if they can copy the form of something (“put in the trope”) then they will get the same function. “Supernatural had a car driving down the highway. If we have a vehicle driving around, that will make it like Supernatural!”

I’m sorry, but that’s not how it works. It wasn’t the car driving down the highway that made SPN, it was the characters and moments INSIDE the car that made it work. They had a need of a function – character interaction – and adopted the form from what was available: driving the car. You can shove your characters onto the road but that doesn’t automatically make it work. You’ve got to dig deeper, get to the inside of the car, the heart of it all.

The trailer shows me that there is a lot of copying of the forms from Supernatural, but doesn’t show me enough of the function. Where’s the heart? Where’s the core of it all? I know the story is supposed to end in marriage, that it should all be a grand romance. Where is the love? What do these two people get from each other that they can’t get from anyone else?

Believe it or not I kind of want this to work. I guess in a few months we’ll find out if the show runners were able to sell the idea – to find that heart and core of the show and bring it to life – or if it was all an empty shell.

16 thoughts on “Winchesters – SPN Spin off

  1. I’m in the cautiously but enthusiastically optimistic camp who welcomes the opportunity to explore characters who fascinated me but whom have long been neglected, like Millie, and to finally give John more of a voice within his own setting. Too often he is judged and harshly so, on preconceived notions. This is the show I wanted, I got lucky it ticks many of my boxes in terms of what I wanted to know, so it made the trailer a pleasant experience for me.

    The trailer was trying to compete with standard CW shows, it was designed to showcase a check list of expectations to bring in a target audience. Did it suffer because of that, did it provide a skewed view? We’ll see

    However. It had a sense of warmth, humour and an energy to it, a hopeful feeling fitting with the fact John was new to this, he was young, naïve to hunting and very much the good man Mary repeatedly defended over the years. Was some of it a bit too comedic and a bit slapstick? Yeah a little, perhaps, we didn’t get too much of the conventional SPN gloom and doom but it felt purposeful, like The Winchesters was through the musical elements, the costuming, the lighting and color filters, etc proudly proclaiming its own identity as a stand alone. Which I’m gonna be honest, I liked..
    It’s set within the Universe of Supernatural, but it isn’t the same book. I think in that respect it’s an honest trailer, it’s not trying to mislead..

    Is there work to do? Absolutely. I didn’t think Mary was perfect, she was fiercely self assured to the point of arrogance, which is familiar within the final performances of Sam Smith’s Mary in the mothership, but there was definitely room for improvement. My enthusiasm isn’t blinkered.
    The location settings looked good, but as you rightly pointed out, it needs heart. I think that’s where Dean’s presence comes in, he’s going to be the thread that binds this together.

    It hasn’t gone down well in some parts of fandom, Dean taking this solo journey, but his story always had gaps in it, only Sam’s story was told in full within show. Dean’s more mercurial and there are gaps in his journey where this could fit quite neatly without rocking the Mothership too much. Inevitably some things perceived as canon may not apply here. Until we have to get the reason for and the timeframe of Dean’s journey to make sense of this, it’s hard to know what to make if it .

    I’m keeping in mind this story is a passion project, it’s not being run by stranger’s . I trust the custodians to serve the Mothership and treat it with respect, in return they have my open mind. A lot of criticism has been thrown at The Winchesters based on very few facts.
    Some will not like it, for diverse reasons and I can respect their feelings. It’s fact we all look for different things, even in the same show and if that preference isn’t served we are a very vocal fandom, but the optimist in me hopes others can find something to like.
    The one thing I do have confidence in, there’s no way whatsoever this show could change enough of what went before to change how I ultimately feel about the characters it touches on. It’s simply expanding what we know, it has, in terms of story telling a finite ultimate end.

    • Excellent points. My instinct is that this “dean narration” portion would be during his alone time pre-season 1.

      I mean conceptually by continuity (especially if you read the early comics) the key factor of John & mary’s life is that they were boring and normal. There was not much to say about it because it was ordinary – that is what was supposed to be so tragic and heartbreaking about SPN. That what happened to them could have happened to any of us. Upending all that… eh like I said, I could shut off my continuity brain and give it a shot if it’s good enough.

      Absolutely. I didn’t think Mary was perfect, she was fiercely self assured to the point of arrogance, which is familiar within the final performances of Sam Smith’s Mary in the mothership, but there was definitely room for improvement.

      Well… John in the trailer is very obviously not Jeffery Dean Morgan’s John Winchester. Yet I’m fine with that because JDM is supposed to be John at the end of his journey. So I can believe this John has a ways to go and will grow into the man JDM would play.

      Same with Samantha Smith’s Mary. She is supposed to be at the end of her journey. Just from the trailer, part of me is wondering where she supposed to go. First impression is that she’s the same, there’s no real place to go. Maybe I’ll be wrong. I’ve watched a few romances lately and I’m in a mood for a sappy story of two lovers against the world. The trailer just didn’t grab that heartstring yet. (and I’m an easy mark, a simple AMV can make me sob like a baby)

      But like you said, I’ll be here and will give them a fair shot. Good to know you’ll be around for the same. 😉

      • That Mary got out of hunting, had a family who’s lives were bulldozed by her past catching up was one of the core elements that made the show relatable and helped make John and Mary’s actions and reactions more sympathetic. Everything that came after Henry’s arrival started to unravel what kept the show grounded. I agree, with that said, once the door was open, I just couldn’t help but want to peek. It was a story I didn’t know I even wanted.

        The romance of our protagonists isn’t coming over as romance so much as competition presently! A little too much girl power perhaps?

        The animé was beautiful, I’m not big on romance but the quality of the writing is so strong, perhaps because they cannot depend solely on actors to make up for any lapses or the extras that live action actors provide? It keeps the focus tight and writing sharp, writers for live action should study the work of anime writers, because it truly is an art form. Thanks for sharing and we can compare notes on The Winchesters in the upcoming season!

      • Haha, fantastic, you really can’t beat a good comedy chase sequence to keep the mood light 🙂
        ( In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve got the sense of humour of a kid and I’m a Monty Python fan)

      • lol as someone with the complete monty python series on DVD I’m hardly in any position to judge you 😉

        Now if we’re talking comedy, then you would probably enjoy Kaguya: Love is War which sounds like an extended Monty Python sketch. (the top boy and girl at Japan’s elite school love each other, but are obsessed with making the OTHER person admit it before they do – it is hilarious)

      • Now that sounds exactly like me! Thanks.

        One other thought occurred to me while doing chores. Part of the negativity springs from a place of love, The Winchesters is not the show that some hardcore fans wanted. What some( probably all ) wished is that we got Supernatural season 16/17 thru 25 to season whenever, regardless of where this would ( and has ) ultimately taken us in terms of unraveling because letting go is hard. We’re protective of that show, fiercely so and any threat to that will be counted, even if the only threat is fear of change.
        The Winchesters is exactly that, it’s change. The fear of that change will only be calmed with more information and time getting to know the show and these characters to reassure the mothership is at all times respected and what canon remaining isn’t irreparably changed .
        Change is scary, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

        I’m not even sure I’m articulating this well, but I hope you get my drift.

      • Yeah I get your drift. Heck my first fandom was Star Trek so I know how well fans react to “change.” 😉 I can still remember the days when DS9 was hated (I was one of those people at first) but now looking back, it’s deeply beloved and very often considered the best series. To any spin-off runner I would tell them: make sure the show and writing is the absolutely best that you can possibly make it, and make sure you show love and respect to the mothership. This doesn’t mean you can’t challenge it, but just that you should do so from a place of love, and not “just because.”

        (but then i’m the crazy guy who said SPN should have changed protagonists)

      • So much wisdom in your words Nate. There’s so much potential to give us what we want in a way we don’t expect.

  2. The WFB editors have asked me to post this to the site. Their comments and yours have clarified to me that I may have come off more harsh than intended. I’ll endeavor to make it clearer at the end that I’m cautiously optimistic.

    Still you also bring up a good point – that maybe the challenge of working with drawings challenges the writers of anime to keep their craft honed and tight. I was going to make a recommendation but if you’re not much for romance I guess not… 😉

    The romance of our protagonists isn’t coming over as romance so much as competition presently! A little too much girl power perhaps?

    Maybe. Like I want to compare it to one of my favorite anime, Full Metal Panic (watch it here for free). In that show, Sousuke has been a soldier all his life (literally since he was like 6) to the point he’s now one of the best fighters in the world. (This works because he’s supposed to be a member of the most elite force on the planet – like one of his squad mates is the greatest sniper in the world and another is a tactical genius.) Well he gets assigned to guard Kaname who is the alpha of alpha girls in her school – tall, beautiful, smart, she’s adored by everyone.

    What brings them together and works so well in the show is that… well Sousuke needs her to show him how to behave in a school (civilian life is completely foreign to him), while Kaname needs him because… well psychotic terrorists want to kidnap her (because anime reasons). They end up forming a great comedy act and romance because of that interplay. (It becomes something of a running gag when you hear Sousuke say “understood” because it means he has not.)

    (the show also had a sequel series focused far more on the comedy, like this episode where Sousuke and Kaname have to sell bread)

    I’m kind of hoping that something like that could be used here, where John & Mary help each other out with their weaknesses.

    I mean from everything we know it makes sense that John would be our fish-out-of-water character to structure the story around for Mary & friends to introduce things to. Yet the trailer doesn’t give much of a sense of what he’s supposed to bring to the group. Heck from the fight sequence we are shown, the trailer makes it appear like John is a detriment to them and they would be better off without him. Again, not something you’d really expect from a Marine that just got out of service. I’m hoping the show will have him contribute in some way but the trailer hasn’t shown that yet. 😦

    • That framework from Full Metal Panic sounds like the type of thing which could work so well for The Winchesters, have each giving the other something they need. In the Mothership show if you study each on their own merit, in effect they were both most definitely Alpha’s .

      If it helps in any way, my take on John, solely from within the mothership, was that Mary did have something that gave him some balance, in the same way Dean and Sam balance each other and that was why his perception and ideals became skewed. Mary was his stone number one. How was always a bit vague.

      What was definitely missing from the trailer as you say, was
      any clues of what does John bring to the table? Mary brings the kick ass and the knowledge. Capable and self contained. Again referencing the mothership, perhaps John was the Sam to her Dean? Having been caught in the Vietnam conflict Mary pointed out he’d retained his kindness, yet he must have seen a lot of crap, he can’t help but have been affected by it on some level. Perhaps John’s attitude and outlook in the seventies were more a case of him figuratively and deliberately holding back, determined to do better and be better because he never wanted to unleash that beast again? It also( and this is conjecture) may go further to explain why Dean responded so well to John and went searching for Sam when John took off to regain his anchor?

      For her part Mary in the Trailer seems cynically way too sure of herself, to make a visual parallel I’m thinking along the lines of Dean pre meeting Lenore or post purgatory, Uber focused, not really hearing what Sam was saying, not seeing that road leads, that whilst trying doing good, you compromise self which could ultimately lead to loss of humanity?

      I honestly didn’t think you weren’t positive in your thoughts here, you take stuff you observe, break it down, roll it around in your mind a bit, put it into the context of good story telling, what works for you( or not and why) If you want my two cents (and I really hope I’m not offending?) from loitering around your blog which extends way beyond Supernatural, I know you have an objective process which is very much a two way street, you’re open to bouncing ideas, for those not familiar with your process it may help them to understand your process if you catalogue and quantity the positives you took away more specifically, because often it’s easier to be more vocal about dislikes as they’re easier to identify, generally driven by a gut emotional response and my goodness,
      Dean and San will forever beget emotional responses, we’ve lived with them so long in our lives.

      My positive reactions to The Winchesters is very much driven from a place of getting to explore something I hoped and wanted for a long time, so it’s easier to be positive and remain (somewhat) objective.🙂

      Anyway, good luck with posting to WFB and by all means recommend the Romance if it’s anime, I’ll happily spend time in that world with an open mind, never say never until you’ve tried it right?🙂

      • No offense taken. 🙂

        Yeah one of the reasons “Scarecrow” is such a good episode (and comes at the right moment) is that it helps crystalize why Sam & Dean need each other and how well they compliment the other. You may not have realized it consciously at first, it wasn’t super obvious, but it was there.

        I think there could be something there with maybe John reminding Mary about the importance of “saving people” when it comes to the family business. Certainly when you think about stuff in the show like Dean’s graveside talk it hints that maybe John was always just a bit more driven to save than kill. Heck he even gave up the Colt to save Dean rather than take his shot at Azazel. So maybe they will go with that? (It would be fitting for a Marine as well.) I would like it if they did. Maybe they’ll give us that hint in the next trailer.

      • Yes, yes, exactly. You get me so well , though you said it in a less long winded way!
        I know Robbie had some misses, but his hits , like Baby and Mint Condition, showed eloquently he does get all the fundamentals of who the brothers are, what they mean to each other and yet how different they are and he does some beautiful character building within those episodes, it takes some thought to give Baby a voice and understand her pov. and Dirk the hapless but loyal friend is fully three dimensional and memorable, the way Ronald Resnik was. I think Robbie’s capable of giving some decent layers to Mary and John and he does care a lot about the characters in the mothership. I’m hopeful.

      • One last random thought…John said it in the trailer, when he’s with Millie , he says “Saving people, hunting things, Mom, this is what I was born to do” and the parting shot is John’s ” As long as there’s a Winchseter alive, there’s hope”
        His mission statement, it’s right there, the one he passed to Dean.

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