Last night my husband and I got into a long discussion when we both should’ve been working about the parallels between Supernatural and, of all things, Babylon 5, one of my all-time favorite shows.
Both were highly serialized shows that set out to tell a pre-defined story arc, though they were later extended. (Kripke originally envisioned five seasons for Supernatural, Straczynski wanted four for B5.) Both had writers heavily involved with their fanbase and the Internet. And, to the point we were discussing, both shows use their third season finale as a crux point, after which their “leader” protagonist is never quite the same.
For an entire season, John Sheridan is told, If you go to Z’ha’dum, you will die. The idea of Z’ha’dum, the place of Shadows, terrifies him, even as it intrigues him. He promises the woman he’s fallen in love with that he won’t go, he won’t let himself be drawn there. Yet, in the season three finale, he must go. He can’t turn away. And lo and behold: He dies. How it happens, and what comes next, is one of the greatest television payoffs I’ve ever seen.
I’m not saying Dean Winchester is Sheridan (they’re totally different character archetypes, for starters; Sheridan’s a general who at his worst buys into his own myth, while Dean’s a nurturer who at his worst could give a shit about everyone else but Sam). But Dean does spend an entire season living with the threat of Hell hanging over him. He does promise the person closest to him, Sam, that he won’t let Hell take him. And, of course, he ends up going anyway. And when he comes back, he is never, ever the same.
The way the first five seasons of Supernatural were told, IMO, owes a lot to Babylon 5, the first show to prove that a genre TV series on a smalltime cable network could tell a highly serialized story with a definite end point. I’d be very, very surprised if Kripke weren’t a huge B5 fan himself.