You've heard it before: Before there could be Dean or Sam Winchester (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, respectively), Mary Campbell and John Winchester had to meet and fall in love. And in order for that to happen, a lot of things had to be on their side, including timing and the at-least temporary distance of monsters. Or did it?
The CW's long-running, demon-hunting drama Supernatural revealed that it is Mary's side of the family who are hunters, while John is a legacy for the Men of Letters, a more academic organization designed to keep monsters far away so you don't end up having to engage in combat. It also implied that John only got into hunting after Mary was killed. But what if that's not the whole story? The forthcoming prequel spin-off (on the same network) titled The Winchesters delves deeper into Mary and John's backstory to show that when he gets home from Vietnam and meets Mary, he ends up quickly enmeshed in the world of the, well, supernatural.
In The Winchesters, Meg Donnelly takes over the role of Mary (from Amy Gumenick and Samatha Smith in Supernatural), while Drake Rodger steps into John's shoes (vacated by Matt Cohen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The show, which is narrated by their adult son Dean, starts in 1972, right after John gets home from war and meets Mary — and also begins to learn about his own lineage. Mary, meanwhile, has been toying with giving up the hunting life but finds she can't quit that easily, so she continues to fight the good fight along with some very special friends, as the trailer for the new show teases.
Although The Winchesters will be telling a longer, more fully fleshed-out story about Mary and John, that doesn't mean you should completely ignore what Supernatural already set up. The Winchesters is executive produced by Ackles, Danneel Ackies, and Robbie Thompson, who all worked on the flagship series and therefore know a little something (oh, OK, a lot) about canon.
To get ready for The Winchesters, Metacritic highlights the key Mary and John episodes of Supernatural to bone up on, in timeline chronological order.
The earliest the audience meets Mary and John in Supernatural is in 1973, when Castiel (Misha Collins) sends Dean back in time in this fourth season episode. This is before the two are married, and before John even has Baby. Dean is actually the one who cheekily recommends the 1967 Chevy Impala to the younger version of his dad here. The lesson of the episode is for Dean to understand that he really can't change the past, but in experiencing some time with his mother, his father, and his extended maternal side of the family (including his grandfather Samuel, played by Mitch Pileggi, and grandmother Deanna, played by Allison Hossack), he and the audience by extension finally understand why Azazel (Fredric Lehne) ends up in Sam's nursery years later. Azazel is on the loose in this episode, even possessing and killing Samuel, and also killing Deanna and John. And he tempts Mary with a deal: If she lets him perform a ritual 10 years later, he will bring John back to life. She agrees, not knowing she is sealing her own fate. Dean tries to tell her not to get out of bed on that fateful day in 1983 (because Azazel says no one will get hurt if his ritual goes uninterrupted), but because you can't change the past, it is an emotional plea that goes unheard. However, Mary claims she is swearing off hunting after this experience, though, as we know from the logline of The Winchesters pilot (and from subsequent episodes of Supernatural), that clearly doesn't go according to her plan.
During the apocalyptic arc of the fifth season, the show time travels to the younger Winchesters' marital home, this time in 1978, when Mary is pregnant with Dean. In the time since seeing Mary and John in the earlier 1970s, it appears she actually has given up hunting because this is the first time John learns about her family's business. Anna (Julie McNiven) and Uriel (Matt Ward) get sent back to their timeline to kill the couple before they can conceive Sam (because without Sam, the angels think Lucifer has no other true vessel), and Anna targets John first. Castiel ends up sending both Dean and Sam back in time to stop the angels, and they pretend to be Mary's cousins in order to sit down for a meal with the couple and, later, take up arms around her. As they prepare to take on the angels as a family, John is still getting up to speed about his wife's true origins and skills, and he ends up expressing concern over the fact that Dean and Sam had a father who would raise them in such a lifestyle. After Dean confesses the truth about who he and Sam really are to their mother, she, too, is concerned about their childhood, to which Dean has to fully come clean about what will happen to her in the future. But, by the end of the episode, Michael (Cohen, because the archangel is wearing John's meat suit at the time) wipes John and Mary's memories of the event, including the visit from their adult sons, the fight with angels, and (presumably) John learning about hunting in general.
Although Mary intended to give up hunting after her experience with Azazel (and after marrying John, from whom, in Supernatural, she wanted to keep her special skillset secret), this 12th season episode reveals she actually did dabble in hunting from time to time in the early days of her relationship and even motherhood. Dean was born in 1979, but in 1980 she saves a young Asa Fox (Jack Moore) from a werewolf. He grows up to want to be like her and follows in her footsteps as a hunter.
Dean and Sam are shot, of all things, by other hunters and in one of the crappy motels in which they stay when they are on the road. They end up sent to Heaven, where they have to follow a path through their memories, one of which includes Mary. Dean recalls something seemingly simple: A moment Mary was feeding Dean his lunch when John calls and they get into an argument over the phone. But the implications are monumental: Dean remembers it being a time John actually moved out of their home for a few days, and in the memory, Dean comforts his mother, which makes Sam realize how long Dean has tried to make things right within the family. This is a rare glimpse into the realistic sides of a marriage (any marriage, let alone one plagued by literal demons!) and proves even "epic love stories" have rocky parts.
The very first moments of Supernatural open in November 1983, six months after Sam was born and 10 years to when Mary made her deal with Azazel, as depicted in "In the Beginning." Azazel wanted to enter the Winchester home to drip demon blood into infant Sam's mouth, fortifying him and preparing him for the coming war, but when Mary finds him standing over Sam's crib, she tries to stop him, which leads him to fling her to the ceiling, where she is pinned and then burned. John, meanwhile, rushes into the nursery just in time to witness her death, which seems to trigger his own obsession with hunting supernatural beings. It is on one of those hunts, years later, that he goes missing, which causes Dean to trek to Stanford University to grab his younger brother for one more road trip (that ends up turning into more than a decade of saving people and hunting things).
In the show's landmark 300th episode, the Winchester family is fully reunited after Dean encounters a mystical pearl that allows a person to get what their heart most desires. In this case, that is all of his family together. The version of John that arrives is from 2003, while Mary is still on Earth from her resurrection (more on that below, we promise!). This is a little confusing for the Mary/John timeline, not only because they are from different time periods, but also because John, in 2003, was a year into learning he had a third son — and we'll get there, too, don't worry! His arrival provides some very important heart-to-hearts, including one in which Sam tells his father he loves him, the family gets to have one big dinner together, and both parties in the couple get closure with their deceased spouse. But his arrival also creates a temporal paradox that has to be reset, forcing him to return to his true time at the end of the episode, After that happens, he still has a memory of the event, though, which should affect how he carries himself going forward. He calls Dean to tell him about what he just experienced, which he equates to just a dream. Or does he? His reaction at the end, and how many supernatural oddities he has encountered in his life, may mean he knows more than he lets on.
Although this first season episode seems like just another case of the week at first glance, it ends up taking a very important and personal turn because Sam has a vision that a woman is trapped in the Winchesters' childhood home, which leads the brothers to drive back to Kansas. (The first season, by the way, takes place in 2005, the year the show premiered.) Once there, they meet the young widow and mother of two (Jenny, played by Kristin Richardson), and they also visit Missouri Moseley (Loretta Devine), a psychic who assisted John with his supernatural education after Mary's death. Missouri feels two ghostly presences in the Winchester house, one of which is trying to do the new family that lives there harm, and one of which turns out to be Mary. The ghost of Mary is the hero in this episode, commanding the poltergeist to leave her house. Meanwhile, not too many doors away is John, who is in town in the flesh, visiting Missouri but keeping his distance from his sons.
After the boys reunite with their father on the road in the first season, they hunt together from time to time, which puts a strain on Sam, who didn't want to be in this life in the first place and can't see where he and his father are alike because their paths so widely diverged. But this episode proves pivotal for some backstory, as, after a big fight, the father and son share some time alone in which he admits he wasn't really a father after Mary died because he was so consumed by grief and anger. That may be obvious, but hearing him acknowledge it is important. He also talks about starting a college fund for Sam when he was born, so clearly his parents wanted him to have an apple pie life.
After the explosive events of the Season 1 finale, in which John is briefly possessed by Azazel and then all three Winchesters are nearly killed in a car crash caused by demonic forces, John unknowingly continues the family tradition of making deals to save loved ones. Mary did that for him in the 1970s, and here, he does it to save Dean, who is in a coma as a result of the crash. John summons Azazel and sacrifices his life and his soul so Dean can live.
John has been dead for the better part of the year, but he swore vengeance on Azazel for so many years before that, that thankfully he gets his chance to put the demon in the box, so to speak. After spending that year in Hell, where every every month feels like a decade (at least, that's how Dean will later describe it when he returns from his own time on a slab down there), John comes topside temporarily to help his eldest son fight the demon that killed the woman they loved. Dean is the one to fire the bullet from the Colt that takes Azazel out once and for all, but John's assistance helps buy the time he needs to strap up. After John is able to complete his life's mission, he ascends to Heaven, where, presumably, Mary is waiting for him.
Mary died in 1983, and John was on the road a lot after, schlepping his two young sons all across the country as he tried to track down the demon that killed his beloved. But he was only human, and he ended up having at least one romantic relationship along the way. That was with Kate Milligan (Dedee Pfeiffer) in the late 1980s — because she gave birth to their son Adam (Jake Abel) in 1990. In this fourth season episode, the boys discover that — surprise — they have a half-brother, but he is now much older than 12. OK, so this one is a "key Mary and John episode" in the sense of, "Look what happened without her!" The boys only find out about Adam because ghouls call looking for John, find out he is already dead, and take their revenge on him (he had hunted them years prior) by killing and taking on the corpses of those he was close to, including Kate and Adam. At the end of the episode, the boys give Adam a hunter's funeral, but that still doesn't stop him from being resurrected down the road.
In the very special, highly stylized episode told from the point of view of the Impala, John returns briefly to warn his younger son about the Darkness, a.k.a. Amara (Emily Swallow). All he can tell Sam is that the Darkness is coming and the Winchesters are the only one who can stop her (naturally), which leads Sam to believe it may be a message from God. But by this point, angels are very much in the picture, and his father had ascended to Heaven, so perhaps it was just dear ole dad looking out for his boy one more time.
After a season of trying to bring down the Big Bad, Amara, the boys finally succeed. This time, it is not by force, but by forgiveness. Dean — who, you should know, is stuffed full of enough souls to light her up with the power of 10,000 suns if need be — ends up convincing Amara to talk to her brother, God (Rob Benedict) instead. After the two reconcile, Amara thanks Dean by plucking Mary out of her afterlife and placing her back on Earth.
Here is where things get really tricky: Mary is resurrected, but returned to a life she does not recognize. Decades have passed, her children have grown up, her husband has died. She is not the mother Dean remembers, nor is she fully the woman she remembers, given how the world moved on without her. She slips back into hunting life and even works with the British Men of Letters for a little while in an effort to find her new place. She takes some time away from her sons, which is hurtful to them, but she always proves her mama bear protectiveness, including tackling Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) into an alternate universe in the Season 12 finale, "All Along the Watchtower," in order to help them. Unfortunately for her, she is then trapped with him in that post-apocalyptic world for a chunk of Season 13. There she meets an alternate version of Bobby (Jim Beaver), who tells her in that his world, the Mary he knew never made a deal with Azazel, which meant Dean and Sam were never born and therefore could not stop the apocalypse, hence the gritty, desolate nature of the world. She also bonds with Jack, a.k.a. the nephilim, a.k.a the son of Lucifer and a human (played by Alexander Calvert), treating him as if he is another one of her sons.
Let's not bury the lede here: Mary dies, again. Jack has had a hard time adjusting to his abilities, let alone being alive at all after ripping his mother apart at birth and presenting as a full-grown man almost immediately after. Unfortunately, his emotions get the better of him again at the end of this episode. After killing Lucifer's meat suit Nick (who, it turns out, isn't a great guy on his own), Jack and Mary disagree on whether he really had to take such an action. He is concerned about what Dean and Sam may hear about what he has done, and he wants her to leave him alone, but she goes after him, determined to try to help. His powers spill out, effectively taking her out, although the screen goes black without seeing carnage.
Neither John nor Mary make a physical appearance in the series finale of Supernatural, but when Dean gets to the new and improved Heaven, uncle Bobby is waiting there for him, and Bobby tells him that his parents have a place together there. Finally we all know for sure that, even though their relationship wasn't perfect, they are getting a much deserved happy ending.
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