Ever wonder where all these great Supernatural episode titles come from? I did, so I decided to go through season-by-season and find the pop culture references associated with the episode titles. The first season was a bit tricky as you’ll see because most of the episode titles are simply a reference to the monster of the week. But as the seasons go on, there are plenty of tasty pop culture treats that I think you’ll find interesting! And if you’re a wikipedia dork like me then this is kinda like heaven.
Where it all began!
Named after the MOTW, the wendigo is a large part of the folklore of the Algonquian-speaking tribes of the northern United States and Canada. It is believed that the Wendigo is a cannibalistic supernatural being that was, at one point, a human. That’s interesting, but the main thing we learned from “Wendigo” is to never go camping in the north woods without a huge bag of m&m’s. Or Sam and Dean for that matter!
1.3 “Dead in the Water”
This is a common idiom meaning “a situation that has stalled with no action being taken” (dictionary.com). Of course, in the case of this episode we know it was a bit more of a literal translation.
1.4 “Phantom Traveler”
Named after the MOTW, the phantom Traveler is believed to haunt a road, train station or airport associated with their death.
1.5 “Bloody Mary”
Named after the MOTW, she (I still can’t even say her name) is a ghost or witch featured in western folklore and is said to appear in a mirror when her name is called three times and scratch out your eyes. Some believe that the folklore is based on Queen Mary I who suffered many miscarriages and false pregnancies. Whether or not these miscarriages were self-induced is speculated, but legend has it that she was driven mad by the loss of her children.
Named after the MOTW, this is our first encounter with a shapeshifter who slips his skin when he changes form.
1.7 “Hook Man”
Named after the MOTW, there are many versions of this classic urban legend but the basic gist involves a young couple parked in some secluded area, often referred to as “Lover’s Lane”. They’re usually doing something their parents wouldn’t approve of when they hear a scratch at the door of the car. There are many variations of what happens next, and I’m sure we’ve heard them all, but like many other urban legends, the hook man is meant to teach a lesson about the dangers of sexual promiscuity.
Named after the MOTW, in this episode the bugs were part of an ancient curse performed by the original inhabitants of the land.
Named after the boys trip back to their childhood home in Lawrence, KS after Sam has a psychic nightmare about the home’s new owner.
Named after the haunted asylum that is the focus of this seriously creepy episode.
Named after the MOTW, but this is not your typical scarecrow! “Dude, you fugly.”
The boys visit a faith healer after Dean is accidentally electrocuted on the job causing permanent damage to his heart. The episode is probably less literally named for its theme of faith, or lack-there-of.
1.13 “Route 666”
Now renamed U.S. Route 491, Route 666 is a north-south highway in the United States. Many people call Route 666 “Devil’s Highway” because of the Christian belief that the number 666 is the “Number of the Beast”. The high fatality rate and the satanic connotation associated with the highway lead to the rumor that the highway is cursed.
“Nightmare” is a 1981 horror movie starring Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith and C.J. Cook. A mental patient plagued with vivid nightmares of his violent childhood escapes from the hospital and goes on a killing spree. I’m not sure how intentionally related these two titles are but you’ll remember that this is the episode where Sam is having psychic dreams about Max who is on a little killing spree of his own.
1.15 “The Benders”
The episode title comes from the story of a family of serial killers. (Who just happened to be from Kansas, by the way) The family, better known as the “Bloody Benders”, owned a small store and inn where they would lure wealthy patrons and kill them.
Named for the MOTW, the Da?va, which is a demon of darkness represented in the episode in the form of shadows.
1.17 “Hell House”
Hell Houses are a phenomenon that began in Dallas, TX in the early 90’s. These houses were used as a contemporary fire-and-brimstone sermon. Tour guides, dressed as demons, lead visitors through the house. Each room depicted various “sin-related” images; date rape, school massacres, botched abortions, the torment of the damned in hell, etc.
(From Alice – This must be the torment of the damned in Hell part)
1.18 “Something Wicked”
“Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a 1962 novel by Ray Bradbury. The story is about two young boys who encounter a mysterious traveling carnival in their town. What they don’t know is that the cryptic carnival leader, Mr. Dark, lures victims in by offering them a chance to “live out their secret fantasies” (sounds a bit like a crossroads deal to me) and in return, they are bound in service to the carnival.
The Word Provenance is taken from the French word Provenir meaning “to come from”. It is often used to track ownership and location of an object much like the haunted painting in this episode.
1.20 “Dead Man’s Blood”
Named for the poison used against a nest of vampires in this episode. Just as a side note, this is also the first time we learn about the colt.
Named for the town of Salvation, IA where there appears to be a string of nursery deaths similar to the one that killed Mary Winchester. Less literally, salvation appears to be a main theme of the episode itself.
1.22 “Devil’s Trap”
Named for the symbol used on the inside of the Impala’s trunk to keep demons away from the colt and later used to trap demons. Less literally, the title of the episode comes can be taken from the plot. Meg kidnaps John and is keeping him hostage in the Sunrise Apartments. Sam and Dean discover that it’s a trap when they arrive and find the building crawling with demons.
So there’s season one. Like I said, lots of MOTW references but there were still some pretty interesting pop culture references too. So, did I miss anything? Is there some hidden gem-of-a-reference that I overlooked? Let me know because I would hate to miss one!
(Coming up next week, Season Two Episode Titles. They get a lot more interesting!)