Okay, I love(d)* Supernatural. I acknowledge that I tend to filter out a lot with it because of that love. The show’s about two brothers, Dean and Sam Winchester, who hunt evil. This has pretty much always been their life. Female representation on the show tends to be as victim of the week – though those victims are often very resourceful and smart and strong in their own, limited rights. I’m not here to talk about the victims of the week, though. I’m here to talk about Mary Winchester, dead mother and impetus for the guys’ hunting lifestyle.
Background for those unfamiliar: prior to the start of the show, when Dean was four and Sam six months old, the mother of the family, Mary, was killed by something supernatural (known because John, Mary’s husband, found her pinned to the ceiling of Sam’s nursery, bleeding and then swallowed by a fire). After this John became bent on finding the thing and avenging Mary’s death. As they grew up, Dean did what John said (hunted), and Sam balked, and eventually became estranged from both John and Dean.
22 years after the event, the thing that killed Mary popped up again. John disappeared to find it on his own, and Dean retrieved Sam from Stanford to help him find John. They don’t find John in the weekend Sam allotted to devote to the task, so he went back to school. Except then Sam’s girlfriend Jessica met the exact same fate as Mary, thus driving Sam to rejoin the hunt permanently.
So Mary is the classic woman-dies-to-progress-the-man’s-storyline, and so is Jessica. Mary, at least, appears to have sacrificed herself for Sam. Jessica was just in the way, apparently.
To be honest this never really bothered me as much as it should have, specifically about Mary. (Jess is another story.) Mary appeared on screen for maybe five minutes at the very beginning, but I somehow always saw her as a fleshed out character. She was as real to me as she was to John and Dean (can’t say the same for Sam, since he was just a baby). It was unfortunate that we never got to meet Mary for real, that her character was essentially seen only through her male survivors’ POVs, but I accepted their interpretation of her and liked her as a character I could never have access to any other way.
But then they did it to her again. Several episodes into S1, Dean and Sam went back to their hometown of Lawrence, KS, because Sam suddenly started having visions. In this case, that something bad was going to happen to the new owners of their childhood home. The visions were correct – the house had a poltergeist, which they attempted to banish. The first attempt failed and Sam ended up trapped in the home. Enter Mary, whose spirit appeared to the boys. She took the time to offer Sam an apology for something that wasn’t explained and then attacked the poltergeist and effectively killed her undead self in ultimate sacrifice.
Understandable, sure. Noble? You betcha. But it also played right into the trope, this time with feeling.
Now, on top of the angst that caused for Dean and Sam (my main reason for loving the show so, actually), I immediately wanted to know more about Mary. The apology intrigued me, because until that point there seemed to be nothing for which she’d have to apologize for, save being dead the boys’ whole lives, which wasn’t her fault. I got the sense Mary was indeed the sacrificial lamb, even while I overlooked the problematic message in that, but the regret she showed in that mere half-second made me wonder what it was all about.
Fast-forward a year and a half or so later, and we learn that Mary walked into Sam’s nursery the night she died and ran smack into the thing that killed her. And she recognized it, acknowledged it in a way that intimated she knew very well what it was. They haven’t yet explained what her connection was, but now there is implied guilt. Not only did Mary give her life (twice!) for her family, but she was apparently somehow complicit in the evil things that happened, or was at least aware of them. I cannot decide if this is more interesting or appalling to me, and probably won’t be able to until the story plays out more.
So at the end of the day I’m left rather torn. On the one hand, Mary’s a complex character in her own right and I like her for her. On the other hand, everything we see about Mary is actually only important to Dean and, mostly, Sam.
*I say loved, because I adored S1, really liked S2 and S3 is not working for me for reasons I don’t think I should go into here, but I retain hope they’ll turn it around.