One day in a djinn’s warehouse, Dean Winchester sacrifices his own happiness to get back to his brother.
Less than a month later, that same brother dies in his arms.
One day in Detroit, Sam Winchester saves the world.
Two years later, he lies broken and dying on a psych ward.
One day in Heaven’s green room, the angel Castiel falls from Heaven to stop the apocalypse.
Five years later, he has been betrayed by everyone he knows, and has become a human living on the street.
Supernatural paints a grim picture of the rewards of heroism. Very occasionally, the brothers get smiled at, thanked. More often, they end up losing someone they love. Trying to help people has got so many of their friends killed- Ash, Pamela, Ellen, Jo, Bobby, Sarah, Frank, Eleanor Visyak, Kevin, Charlie, Jimmy Novak, and others (ahem, Death). The Winchesters and Cas have died multiple times. Yet the message of the show is still to keep fighting, no matter what- even after they’ve been beaten down so many times.
‘So you’re saying having a soul equals suffering?’ Soulless Sam asks Dean.
‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.’
‘So you’re saying suffering’s a good thing?’
‘I’m saying it’s the only game in town.’
The reason the Winchesters keep making these choices, keep doing the right thing despite the personal cost, is because they simply do not see another option. This is not always the case- citing Sacrifice and Brother’s Keeper, where the personal cost is just too high in the face of what they’ve already given. But usually they do the right thing even knowing that it will cost them.
Why, then, do they choose to do these things? In many churches, the message is that you must do the right thing because if you do, you will be rewarded, and if you don’t, you’ll be punished. I’d argue that Supernatural’s message is, if anything, more moral- that we shouldn’t do the right thing because we’ll be rewarded, because we probably won’t, but that we should do it because we just should. Because it’s the right thing to do.
But why is it?
The Winchesters have a different moral code to, say, the archangel Raphael, or to Zachariah. Angels like this go by destiny; Team Free Will were thus dubbed for a reason. They want to make people happy.
In Hammer Of The Gods, Gabriel says, ‘Oh, I’m loyal. To people. Because they are better than us.’
‘They are broken, flawed, abortions,’ Lucifer returns.
‘Damn right they’re flawed. But a lot of them try. To do better, to forgive. And you should see the Spearmint Rhino.’
You could say that the message of SPN is encapsulated in this exchange. Angels may be perfect and people may be flawed, but people are able to try and do the right thing. And in the end it is people who win Cas’s loyalty- and Gabriel’s, Hannah’s, Samandriel’s, Balthazar’s, and even Gadreel’s.
And it’s worth noting that Gabriel, Gadreel, Samandriel and Balthazar are all dead. Cas has died multiple times. But they’ve changed things. They’ve fought to help people- fought against fate, sometimes literally-