Does Supernatural have a problem with Mary Winchester?


Photo Credit: Supernatural/The CW/Jack Rowand Image Acquired from CW TV PR

Why does fandom bristle at Mary Winchester?

Mary Winchester is a subject of consternation in the Supernatural fandom. Before her resurrection back in the finale of season 11, we only saw Mary in glimpses: aflame on the ceiling of Sam’s nursery; in a few one-off, time-travel episodes; briefly, as a ghost; and in Dean’s fondest, djinn-juiced dreams. Mary, we hardly knew ye. CLEARLY.

Mary, quite contrary

Imagine dying as a young mother, only to be blipped back to life some thirty-odd years later, to an unfamiliar world. Your sons are grown men—strangers—and living the very life you’d hoped to save them from. What now?

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I think this is where the writing of Mary’s character and fandom took a sharp divide. As much as Amara thought Dean needed Mary’s return, in classic SPN fashion, she didn’t end up being the sandwich-making, hug-giving Mother of the Year from his memories. Or really, from the audience’s last recollection of her, either. Suddenly, we have this humorless, closed-up woman who instead of making an earnest attempt at getting to know the men her sons have become, escapes into … hunting?

I’ll admit, as a mother of three teen sons myself, I had a tough time getting my brain wrapped around Mary’s behavior. We don’t want to believe she’s the sort of person who can’t face the music in terms of confronting tough emotions, that she would dart off to “find herself” in the dangerous work she once abandoned, into the arms of a dubious co-worker. (Ketch, Mary? Seriously?)

Is Mary relatable?

But then the friend who suggested this article recounted instances where mothers she knew lamented feeling a loss of self among the trials of parenthood. And that, I relate to. There’s a necessary selflessness we experience as mothers—putting home, husband and family first, before (or in place of) our own identities. It sometimes takes a Herculean effort to keep your head above water and find time for your own personal happiness and health. That’s not to say we don’t feel great joy in our job as parents. WE DO. But we can also feel like the Mommy Machine, drowning in laundry, housework, parent/teacher conferences, and the list goes on and on.

We’re not even considering mothers who have full-time jobs outside of the home. I am in such awe of women who can juggle this. As my sons age into self-sufficiency and I find I have time on my hands again, I also find that I’m not quite sure who I am anymore. Where do I fit?

Photo Credit: Supernatural/The CW/Dean Buscher Image Acquired from CW TV PR

This is where Mary finds herself. In the blink of an eye, she went from young mother, to a widow with thriving, adult sons who arguably don’t need her. She is faced with suddenly having to reconstruct her life and figure out her place in this foreign family, in this baffling new world. Does she look at Dean and see an echo of her past self? Is she bursting with guilt over the deal she made, bargaining with baby Sam’s life?  Overwhelmed by grief over her dead husband? Is she mortified by the current state of American politics? (Okay, I had to throw that in there.)

I don’t know why it surprised me that she chose to fall back on the career she was once very, very good at. As a hunter, Mary knows exactly who she is. She was raised in the life, and if she hadn’t fallen in love with a handsome, dark-haired Marine named John Winchester, she would still be in it (providing it didn’t kill her first).

Is there hope for Mary?

Mary has been done a great disservice by the show’s writing, plain and simple. I feel like there was some decision up the food chain to make Mary a cipher, to string the audience along, puzzling wtf is up with this new iteration of a hallowed character. I have to wonder if the fact she hasn’t been written by a woman (unless you consider the writing team of Brad Buckner/Eugenie Ross-Leming) to be the reason Mary isn’t connecting with the largely female SPN fandom.

Samantha Smith, who plays Mary and has appeared at several Supernatural conventions, is not unaware of her character’s plight.

But it’s not too late to resuscitate Mary Winchester’s reputation! We already know and love her bad-ass ability to kick monster (and human) butt; now, she has to confront the most difficult challenge of her second life: her sons. Fact of the matter is Supernatural, the horror roadshow procedural—wherein two brothers traipse across the country in a muscle car, hunting monsters—became bigger than the sum of its parts when creator Eric Kripke recognized the lightning-in-a-bottle that was the Winchester family dynamic. And that theme has evolved into the show’s current dogma, “Family Don’t End With Blood”. This is the show’s bead and butter. It’s what has given The Little Show that Could 13+ seasons and a die-hard fanbase.

They need to dig into Mary’s noggin and leave the obtuse characterization behind. Show us scenes solidly from her POV. Let her open up and be vulnerable. But most of all, we’re hungry to see her interact with her sons and explore where they all stand with each other. Not only will we learn a lot about Mary, we’ll unpack the baggage that both Sam and Dean have been carrying around their entire lives. (Let’s put a pin in that topic for now; there’s a whole other article about the differences between how Mary relates to her two sons. The show has touched on Dean’s mindset quite a bit, but we’re owed more from Sam, besides a spontaneous outburst in a counselor’s office.)

It’s not going to be easy writing. The Winchesters are infamous for burying that stuff deep. No chick-flick moments and all that hooey. But I have faith in you, show. You can do it. You’ve just gotta try.

Next: #WCW: Mary Winchester, the prodigal mother

Will Mary get the chance to make amends with her boys next week? Will they free her from Outside, Overthere? Leave your thoughts on one of tv’s most complicated moms in the comments below.

Supernatural’s season 13 midseason finale airs Thursday at 8/7c on The CW.