Supernatural started out as a rather simple show: Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) hunted the deadly and dangerous, in the name of their father and deceased mother who was killed by a yellow eyed demon. Or, as Dean famously said. “You know, saving people, hunting things. The family business.” The early seasons were a “moment in time,” and a delight of mixed comedy and horror, a series that somehow was able to be amusing, frightening, sexy and emotionally driven. That was before the boys’ depression and Dean’s alcoholism, before they’d lost nearly every friend and ally they’d made, and before the death of Sarah Blake (Taylor Cole). Certainly things had started going down hill before Sarah’s death, but her loss exemplified the change within the series.
Sarah was introduced in the first season. She appeared in a typical monster-of-the-week episode, “Provenance.” Sam and Dean were looking into a haunted family portrait; anyone who purchased it and hung it in their home turned up dead. Sarah worked for her father’s auction business, which had procured the victims’ belongings upon their demise. From Sarah’s introduction, she was well suited for the boys, and Sam in particular. She was smart, strong, emotionally open and truly human (and most importantly of all, Dean shipped it). Her father turned his nose up at them (I guess he didn’t think much of buyers wearing jeans and flannel), but Sarah saw more to Sam. Sam took Sarah out for a date, where she charmed him with how down to earth and kind she was. She also shared that her mother recently passed away, and while she spent time grieving, she was ready to start anew. Having lost his own mother years ago, and recently his girlfriend, Sam seemed to understand every word. It was like she read his mind.
Sarah got involved with the case due to a feeling of personal responsibility. As Sam and Dean tried to determine how to destroy the painting and its curse once and for all, Sam and Sarah waffled with their future. Sam insisted that he couldn’t lose another person he loves; Sarah argued that she could die at any time, so they should be happy. It was an interesting mesh of philosophies. Sam seemed to believe that living a long life was preferable, even if it was lacking in joy, while Sarah wanted to seize the moment and live life to the fullest even if it was short. In the end of the episode, after Sarah’s knowledge helped the boys solve the case, Sam and Sarah shared a kiss before he left her. They both knew he’d probably never call, but the knowledge that Sarah would be out there, alive and happy, seemed to give Sam and the series hope. Sam and Sarah were a moment in time, too. And it should’ve ended that way.
In the eighth season’s “Clip Show,” seven seasons and nearly ten show years later, Sarah came back into Sam’s life. Crowley, the King of Hell, was killing people that Sam and Dean had saved, effectively undoing their work and diminishing their success. Sam and Dean realized that Sarah was next, and arrived while she was still alive. As Dean tried to prepare the room to stop all manner of death scenes, Sam and Sarah talked about the life they could’ve had. Sarah admitted she waited for Sam for a few years before marrying and having a daughter herself. When the time came, Sam and Dean couldn’t find the hex bag Crowley had hidden within the room, and Sarah suffocated to death before their eyes. Her daughter would be without a mother, too.
Sarah’s death matters within the context of the show. Sam and Dean have always fought for the greater good, to save those that can’t save themselves, and rid the world of potentially deadly monsters. That’s what the show was built on. Sam and Dean can’t have a normal life because of their job, but everyone they save gets to live out their lives in peace. Sarah’s return and murder is a shift in the narrative. Sam and Dean can’t save everyone. Sam and Dean can’t always defeat the monsters. Sam’s resistance of the relationship he could have had with Sarah is for nothing. Sam’s loneliness and sacrifice mean nothing, because after so many years of isolation and focus on the job, he has nothing to show for it. Not only has he given the better part of his life to hunting monsters, but he hasn’t been able to save the one he loves. Sarah’s initial purpose was to help Sam overcome the death of Jessica, and to propel him forward, committing him to the job. But what started out as character development for Sam has shifted into an exhausting game of torture. Sam and Dean can’t have anything they want. It appears to be their destiny to lose everything, until death is the only happy ending.
It’s telling that a series which once began with two brothers doing the right thing has changed to two brothers doing the only thing they know how to do. There’s no choice anymore, and no rhyme or reason for the events that occur, because no matter how hard they fight or try to win, the Winchesters never win. At the end of “Provenance,” Sarah wondered why the spirit in the painting would kill so many people. “Some people are just born tortured,” Sam said. It’s oddly fitting that Sam is one of them. While not every story has to have a happy ending, every show should have a purposeful ending. And if Sam and Dean have already failed at what they set out to do, what is the point of Supernatural going forward?