Supernatural returned from its festive break this week, but with Sam and Dean trapped in The Bad Place, it was down to the Wayward Sisters to step up and save the day. Four years after the ill-fated attempt to launch Supernatural: Bloodlines, current showrunner Andrew Dabb and executive story editor/supervising producer Robert Berens penned a second back-door pilot focussing on the show’s female secondary cast.
It’s not hard to see where Bloodlines went wrong. A show centered around various warring monster dynasties might have had legs had it leveraged audience interest in high-profile cases from the Winchesters’ long and storied history of hunting, perhaps following the ones that got away. But instead, the pilot introduced a raft of new characters with no previous attachment to the brothers or the show’s rich mythology, and as a result made it very difficult for viewers to summon interest.
Having learnt from that mistake, The Powers That Be have taken their steer from the fans for this second bite at the cherry, which relies on established characters and relationships, and goes some way to redressing the balance in terms of putting women front and centre. Indeed, while Supernatural‘s most ardent fanbase is largely female, its key demographic is still young men, and accusations of misogyny have dogged the show since its earliest days. It’s not hard to see why. Women have largely been victims, their violent deaths nothing more than a case of the week or motivation for our heroes. Or they’ve been fleeting love interests and one night stands, obsessive stalkers like Becky Rosen, or monstrous like Ruby. There have been recurring female characters such as Ellen and Jo, but historically they have met sticky ends, and caused much division amongst the Supernatural fandom.
Jody Mills (portrayed so deftly by Kim Rhodes) has had unprecedented staying power. First introduced as the local sheriff of Bobby Singer’s hometown, Sioux Falls, and wife and mother of zombie victims in Season 5’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, Jody has miraculously survived nine seasons, and gone on to become a hunter and surrogate mother to several young women. A kind of gender-swapped Bobby, she has become a friend and confidant to the Winchesters, and a firm fan favourite.
Having taken in the sullen and traumatized Claire Novak, orphaned daughter of Castiel’s vessel Jimmy, and ex-vampire Alex, Jody has recently also given sanctuary to Patience Turner, the psychic granddaughter of the late Missouri Moseley, and maintained a friendship with Sheriff Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster), who was introduced as something of a comical figure back in Season 9’s “The Purge”. Along with troubled dreamwalker, Kaia, this unconventional family unit took it upon themselves to rescue Sam and Dean from the monster-filled alternate universe in which they found themselves when their attempt to find Mary Winchester went pear-shaped.
Portals between worlds are a relatively new feature in Supernatural, and while Sam and Dean were brought back to their own dimension by the end of the episode, the reason for their brief diversion is now clear. The door between Sioux Falls and The Bad Place was open long enough to let some nasties through, and Jody and her posse are going to be kept busy tracking them down, should their show get greenlit. But was there enough meat on the bones of this story to warrant a series?
Let’s start with the positive! It’s never a bad thing to see stories about women, driven by rounded female characters. This rag-tag bunch are people we’ve come to know and care about as part of the Supernatural universe, and Jody Mills is more than capable of carrying a show of her own. The dynamics and performances in “Wayward Sisters” were compelling enough to hold my interest through a Supernatural episode in which Sam and Dean were only on screen for a couple of minutes, tops.
However, there were problems with this as a pilot. Firstly the score was pretty dismal. Aside from the rocky pre-titles numbers, the incidental music made this feel like a Lifetime Movie, and anything which feels specifically marketed for women in this way makes me cringe a bit. Similarly, while Dabb and Berens’ last co-written episode, “Red Meat”, was one of my favourites in recent years, and Berens especially is capable of writing smart, nuanced dialogue, here the conversations felt less than authentic. Much of this was down to the characterisation of Claire Novak, who basically has the same arc in every episode she’s in. I guess she’s supposed to resemble a young, female Dean Winchester, but her development seems permanently stunted. Her constant desire to strike out alone, much to Jody’s chagrin, only to realise she needs the support of her adoptive family after all, is an oft-played tune at this point. She doesn’t ever seem to learn from her mistakes, and this is something which would need to be addressed going forwards.
I was also slightly uncomfortable with the scene in which Kaia and Claire bonded over their scars. I appreciate there was a need expedite their friendship developing in order for Kaia’s loss to affect Claire so much, but once again we’re left with a dead WOC, whose complexities and layers have been left unexplored to make way for a revenge plot, and there was definitely a hint of sexualisation as the girls revealed their flesh to one another, which felt more like a source of titillation than a burgeoning queer romance.
These are issues which I have no doubt could be mitigated by making sure there are women behind the camera as well as in front of it, and that those women come from a range of backgrounds and experiences. It seems churlish, after all, to criticise a vehicle for a predominately female cast, and I have no doubt that Wayward Sisters has the potential to be great. Devotees don’t watch Supernatural for the monsters. They have stuck with the show for over a decade because essentially it’s about Sam and Dean, two people who love each other as much as it’s possible to love someone. It’s about humanity, and by centering Wayward Sisters around a new family unit of characters we care about already, the creators have already won the first battle. What remains to be seen is whether this spin-off can find a distinct voice of its own, and step out from the shadow of its beloved big brother.
Final Grade: C
+ Some good one liners such as Donna’s explanation for why she’s tooled up to the max, and Dean’s annoyed ‘tastes like lizard.’
+ Genuinely intrigued to see where they’re going with the rift between Earth and The Bad Place, as the creatures there look more Godzilla than American folklore.
+ Although Kaia met an untimely end, at least Yadira Guevara-Prip is still around for the foreseeable.
– I understand the temptation to play the nostalgia card, but Jody echoing Dean’s line from the pilot draws attention to the lack of Winchesters. While Bloodlines was too far removed from the Supernatural verse, I worry Wayward Sisters is too entwined in it.
– Claire’s VO placed us in her POV, and I’m not convinced she’s the right character to carry the new show.
– It could be argued that Sam and Dean’s gawping at the crazy big monster got poor Kaia stabbed! It does annoy me that guys who used to be so invested in the sanctity of human life now seem a bit oblivious when they’ve just got someone killed. And lest we forget, Dean pulled a gun on the poor kid in the last episode!
What did you think? Are these sisters doing it for themselves doing it for you? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter.