As I was looking for a way to pass the quarantine doldrums, I saw Entertainment Weekly’s list of what it considered to be the 75 most ‘essential’ episodes of Supernatural, leading up to Season 15. Since any excuse for a rewatch is a good excuse, I figured I’d not only invite my Supernatural “Team Free Will North Carolina” (TFWNC) Facebook group to join me, but I’d also recap my thoughts on which episodes Entertainment Weekly (EW) chose, which ones they skipped, and what was left out. Music plays such a big role in Supernatural, so I also noted which iconic songs were included and which were missed in the skipped episodes. Reporting on all that turned into quite the project, and The WFB was kind enough to let me share it here! (My snarky opinions are my own and don’t reflect those of The WFB.)
So come on the journey with me! Start with season 1, then follow the links until you catch up with us in season 8!
Season 8 (Show runners: Jeremy Carver and Robert Singer )
Snarky Opinion—Two big pet peeves of mine are canon inconsistency when canon is inconvenient, and ‘forced errors’—characters who make obviously dumb choices so the writers can maneuver them to the desired outcome without bothering to make sense.
For most of season six and all of season seven, Purgatory has been a major focus—letting the leviathans out, fighting Eve/Mother of All, and sending Dick Roman back. So *why* when Dick, Dean and Cas all disappear together wouldn’t it occur to Sam that if Dick went to Purgatory, maybe Cas and Dean did, too? Not to mention opening another door to Purgatory in the first episode of season 7. Surely if Purgatory is the junk closet for monsters, Sam would have thought to at least check there?
Going into season eight, would Sam just give up on Dean? That’s not only out of character and ignoring canon, but it’s also a forced error—something illogical done just to create an obstacle. A simple sentence—“I thought you were in Heaven and I wasn’t going to ruin that for you”—could have avoided the whole coming angst-fest in season eight.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Dean returns from Purgatory, and resurrects Benny with the soul embedded in Dean’s arm. Sam and Dean reunite, but Sam doesn’t explain how bad off he was without Dean, and Dean jumps to conclusions, feeling jealous and replaced.
I like the fan theory that the Amelia arc was supposed to be a hallucination (note the soft focus photography and golden hues at first) and then at some point the writers changed their minds and made it real. (Sam’s only very recently gotten over having the Wall broken, then the stress of losing Kevin, Dean and Cas all at once makes this plausible.) Sam doesn’t help his case much in how he talks about ‘finding something’.
I agree with the head canon that Sam was strung out and hitting the dog and finding Amelia saved his life. When Dean died (both in “Mystery Spot” and for Dean’s deal), Sam went off the rails, both self-destructive and reckless, and nearly ended the world. Dean seems to have conveniently forgotten, and Sam’s not really acting in character. I never saw any chemistry between Amelia and Sam, and really disliked the way she shamed and bullied Sam into taking the dog without even asking if he could afford a dog or had a place to live. We also glimpse Kevin under Crowley’s control, and Dean checks in with Benny but wants his space.
“Trial and Error”
We skip from episode 1 all the way to episode 14, which is a big jump.
Kevin is living on the houseboat, translating the tablet. Sam and Dean are in the bunker (which we’ve skipped how they get there) having made up with each other, and Dean gets his memory foam mattress (“It remembers me.”) Dean also proves he can cook (“I’m nesting. Eat.”).
Sam has great hair and sideburns. The real focus of the episode is a dysfunctional rich family the boys suspect made a demon deal that is now coming due. They need to ‘bathe in the blood of a hellhound’ to complete the first of three Trials in order to close the gates of Hell. Dean insists he should do the Trials, sure it means whoever does them will die.
Dean doesn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Then he tells Sam how much he wants him to get out of the life, get a wife, have kids and grandkids. (Say what? After all the angst we endured in the first several episodes when Sam to all appearances started to do that? Did the episode writers watch the first half of the season?) As it turns out, multiple deals were made by family members, for unlikely reasons.
Sam ends up killing the hellhound, and gives Dean his “I see a light at the end of the tunnel and if you come with me, I can take you to it” speech. A great bro moment.
Skipping from episode 14 to episode 23 leaves a lot in the dust. Jody is on a date with Crowley (she doesn’t know who he is), and he tries to kill her.
Heaven is looking for Cas, Metatron is back, and Kevin is feeling very sorry for himself. Sam and Dean capture Crowley to do the third Trial. Cas needs a Cupid’s bow, so he’s trying to help a bartender get laid. The brothers take Crowley to an abandoned church to do the ritual. Sam starts out confident, “It feels like we’re gonna win.” Dean unhelpfully lists off a litany of (apparently unforgiven) transgressions Sam has made over the course of his life as his biggest failures (including losing his soul, which totally wasn’t Sam’s fault). Cas is working with Metatron to find the angel tablets, and Dean goes to help him, telling Sam to ‘finish it’ in eight hours. They pull Kevin back in to translate the angel tablet. I did like when Crowley admonishes Sam for having a nip of whiskey as he’s between giving the injections and Sam asks ‘what show you have you been watching’? Cas and Dean confront the Cupid, Abaddon shows up and beats up Crowley—Sam sets her on fire.
Crowley turns in some memorable lines like “I deserve to be loved” and “Where do I start to even look for forgiveness?” Naomi comes to Cas and Dean and warns them about Metatron, as well as telling them that Sam will die if he finishes the third Trial. Dean demands that Cas take him back to the church. Dean tells Sam he’ll die, and Sam’s heartbreaking answer is, “So?” Dean says he can’t do it without Sam. “You can hardly do it with me,” Sam retorts.
We then get two of the best bro speeches in the series, with Sam revealing that his ‘greatest sin’ was all the times he let Dean down (which clearly hadn’t been forgotten or forgiven), and asks who Dean will replace him with next. Dean’s speech that there is no one he would put in front of Sam is equally heartbreaking.
Sam stops the Trials, Kevin tries to run away, and angels fall from heaven.
Episodes Excluded from the ‘Essential’ List
Since three episodes made the EW list and 20 didn’t, there’s a lot here to cover. If you were already very familiar with the series, the ‘essentials’ are a fun reminder, but for new viewers or anyone who isn’t intimately familiar with the missing episodes, there is too much missing for the included episodes to make sense and have the full emotional impact.
We miss almost the entire explanation of the tablets and how Kevin comes into being a prophet, as well as Metatron’s backstory and the background on the angel wars. All of those are arcs that last into future seasons, so skipping them makes other episodes mean a lot less.
“What’s Up, Tiger Mommy?”—Complicated episode about trying to get the demon tablet, but it does set up the tablets as well as introduce Linda Tran.
“Heartache”—Interesting Monster of the Week (MOTW) episode where the donated organs of a previously immortal Mayan end up killing the recipients in strange ways. Sam wants out of hunting once they close the gates.
“Bitten”—Another MOTW about teenagers who become werewolves, and their found-footage recount of what happened. Dean lets one of the werewolves live, as long as she doesn’t kill anyone.
“Blood Brother”—Benny’s back and having vamp trouble, so Dean ditches Sam to help Benny and lies about it. Sam keeps researching but remembers how he met Amelia and they realized they were both drifting after losing people they loved. (Snarky comment—Then why would you want to ditch the person who meant so much to you after they came back for someone who was only a substitute? This is one of those forced error, out-of-character things that really bugged me.)
“Southern Comfort”—Dean and Sam team up with Garth over a haunted coin that makes people kill those they hold a grudge against. Sam is angry about Benny and Dean is angry about Amelia. When Dean gets possessed, he lists off everything he hasn’t forgiven Sam for and nearly shoots him. Garth saves Sam and is able to destroy the coin because he doesn’t hold grudges. Sam threatens to kill Benny, and we find out Garth used to be a dentist, which oddly enough becomes important in season 15.
“A Little Slice of Kevin”—Kevin and his mom are trying to use the tablet to close the gates of Hell while demons and Crowley are after them. Sam and Dean are chasing down strange disappearances, and Cas mysteriously returns from Purgatory. Naomi tries to recruit Cas to work for the angels and spy on the Winchesters.
“Hunteri Heroici”—A fun MOTW about a man with dementia whose latent psychic abilities are manifesting Looney Tunes-type scenarios in the real world and people are getting killed. Sam has flashbacks about Amelia (still the focus on how they were both broken and are a mess together, not the best footing for a relationship) and recalls when she got word her husband was alive. Cas is being recruited/used by Naomi.
“Citizen Fang”—Citizen Fang is part of the Sam-hates-Benny/Dean-hates-Amelia bro wars. I thought Benny deserved better, vamp or not. (I would have been okay if Benny ate Amelia—that would have been an interesting twist!) Sam had been all ‘why’d you have to kill Amy’ and then he wants Benny’s head on a pike. This is also when Dean pulls the dick move of texting Sam as if it’s Amelia needing help, while he goes to help Benny. Sam goes back to Texas and realizes Amelia didn’t send the text. (Also Sam’s dick move about having mentally unstable Martin watch Benny.)
The whole premise of Sam and Amelia being together is that they were both devastated by losing someone they dearly loved, clinging to each other to get by. Then the two people they ‘dearly loved’ show back up, and they’re ready to ditch them for each other? Huh?!
“Torn and Frayed”—Bro wars continue as Dean’s mad at Sam for siccing Martin on Benny, and Sam’s mad at Dean for faking that rescue text from Amelia. Meanwhile, demons are torturing angels. This episode, like “Citizen Fang”, hits both my pet peeves by seeming to ignore canon and long-standing character traits, as well as creating forced errors. Sam has a whole-life history with Dean, but one year with Amelia and now he might not want to go back with Dean, although Dean’s death devastated him? Amelia had some length of history with Don, grieved his death and felt lost without him, but suddenly she might love Sam more? Plus, given Sam’s over-active conscience, do you really see him seriously considering breaking up Amelia’s marriage? (Or sleeping with her like he does when he *knew* Don was back?) Sometimes I wonder if the writers have even watched the show. Dean tells Benny to hide and keep his nose clean, but they’re through. Sam chooses Dean over Amelia. One of my personal least favorite episodes.
“LARP and the Real Girl”—Technically a MOTW and funny episode, with Charlie! Strange deaths lead Sam and Dean to a Live Action Role Playing community who hail Charlie as their queen. The deaths turn out to be evil fey magic, Charlie is involved with the good fey queen, and they break the curse. Dean gives a Braveheart speech,, and we see Sam and Dean in LARPing costumes.
“As Time Goes By”—Henry Winchester travels through time and ends up helping Sam and Dean fight Abaddon. Turns out he was Men of Letters, making the boys legacies, entitled to the collected knowledge and resources of the MOL. They go looking for a missing item, and find the key to the Bunker. Abaddon shows up, Henry is willing to trade himself for Sam, he shoots Abaddon and Abaddon fatally wounds him, explaining why Henry Winchester ‘abandoned’ his wife and young son, John. A canon consistency point—Henry tells Sam and Dean that the bunker is ‘the safest place on earth, impervious to any entry without the key and protected from all evil.’ In future seasons, however, everyone from Lucifer to Gadreel to Metatron, MOC!Dean, Demon!Dean and Dean!Michael have no problem getting in.
“Everybody Hates Hitler”—Great MOTW episode involving the Nazi Thule seeking occult objects and unlikely hero Aaron Bass and his golem. I always hoped we would see more of Aaron and his golem, and wanted to learn more about the Judah Initiative.
“Man’s Best Friends with Benefits”—Unsatisfying MOTW with a witch who is being set up for murder because another witch covets his sexy female dog familiar. Cringe-worthy sexist and racist overtones.
“Remember the Titans”—Prometheus dies every day and comes back to life because he was cursed by Zeus (who apparently hadn’t been permanently killed by Lucifer at the Elysian Fields motel in season 5). Prometheus and Zeus die. MOTW plus Sam’s not dealing well with the effects of the Trials.
“Goodbye Stranger”—a MOTW episode wrapped around the angel tablet and the angel wars. Naomi wants Cas to kill Dean. Cas crosses paths with Sam and Dean on a case about demons. Turns out Cas was torturing Meg for information (so much for Megstiel). Sam and Meg have a heart-to-heart and Sam confides to her about Amelia (why are we still beating this dead horse?). Crowley kills Meg. Cas finds the tablet.
“Freaks and Geeks”—MOTW with vampires. Krissy shows up along with two friends who are hunting the vamps suspected of killing people close to them. Turns out another hunter was killing humans and framing the vamps to get Krissy and her friends into hunting.
“Taxi Driver”—To complete the second Trial, Sam has to save an innocent soul from Hell. He forces a Reaper to help him get into Purgatory, where there’s a ‘back door’ to Hell. (Really? We find out about this now?) Sam rescues Bobby and confides that he didn’t look for Dean when he was in Purgatory (and we are still beating that same dead horse). Since Crowley killed the Reaper who was going to get Sam out, Dean gets Benny to help him. Benny says he fit in better there anyhow, and sacrifices himself to help Sam and Bobby get out. Dean doesn’t burn Benny’s bones to allow for possible resurrection. Sam agrees Benny was a good guy. (Note—Bobby’s soul then goes to Heaven. This contradicts a new ‘rule’ introduced in season 15 that souls that have been to Hell can’t go to Heaven.)
“Pac-Man Fever”—A MOTW with Charlie hunting a djinn. Lots of good backstory on Charlie (guilt over her mother being comatose from a car accident Charlie thinks she caused).
“The Great Escapist”—Crowley kidnaps Kevin to get the demon tablets, Naomi is after Cas for the angel tablet. Metatron shows up.
“Clip Show”—The boys find a film in the bunker about the third Trial, curing a demon. Cas is looking for the angel tablet, and it comes with Trials of its own. Sam and Dean decide to turn Abaddon human and reassemble her from where they buried her parts (really bad idea). Big surprise—she escapes. (Another one of those forced errors. They seriously couldn’t use a low-level demon?) Crowley is killing people Sam and Dean have saved until they agree to give him the tablet.
Key Songs that Were Included:
“We Need to Talk About Kevin”—”Man in the Wilderness” by Styx
“Trial and Error”—”I Touch Myself” by Divinyls
“Sacrifice”—”Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot (Crowley’s ring tone) and “Changes” by David Bowie (as Sam applies the cure to Crowley)
Key Songs that Were Excluded:
“What’s up Tiger Mommy?” — “The Devil’s Chasing Me” by Reverend Horton Heat
“Heartache”—”Good Love Gone Bad” by Jamie Dunlap and Scott Nckoley
“Bitten”—This episode had nine credited songs, but none were standouts (at least to me)
“Blood Brother”—”In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg (whistled by Benny)
“Southern Comfort”—”Fell on Black Days” by Soundgarden
“A Little Slice of Keven”—”We Gotta Get out of This Place” by The Animals
“Hunteri Heroici”—”Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9 by Ludwig van Beethoven
“Citizen Fang”—”Born on the Bayou” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Torn and Frayed”—”Kathmand”u by Bob Seger (which I now think of as ‘the Purgatory song’)
“LARP and the Real Girl”—”China Grove” by The Dolby Brothers
“As Time Goes By”—”As Time Goes By” (on John Winchester’s music box)
“Everybody Hates Hitler”—”Get Thee Behind Me Satan” by Ella Fitzgerald
“Man’s Best Friend with Benefits”—nothing notable
“Remember the Titans”—no music (must have used all their budget in “Bitten”)
“Goodby Stranger”—”Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp
“Freaks and Geeks”—nothing notable
“Taxi Driver”—no music
“Pac-Man Fever”—Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves (Charlie, of course!)
“The Great Escapist”—”Spanish Flea” by Herp Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
“Clip Show”—no music
I love to search Archive of our Own (AO3) for fan fictions by seasons and read them along with rewatching the episodes—plenty of fill-in, fix-it, and extra adventures!
So….what are your thoughts on the episodes that EW chose? Do you agree or disagree that they were the most ‘essential’ from the season to convey the plot? What would you have done differently? What important things were in the episodes that got left out? Join the discussion below, then keep going with season 9!
Written by Gail Z. Marin
Formatted and Illustrated by Nightsky
A version of this recap was originally posted in Supernatural TFWNC Facebook group. Article contents have been edited for clarity and to better fit with The WFB.
Original Concept: Entertainment Weekly’s Supernatural Binge Guide
Read through “The Top 100 Favorite Supernatural Episodes“, as ranked by The WFB and several other Supernatural fan sites, for a different overall view of Supernatural as series!
Want to read more about the ‘essential’ episodes? The WFB’s Episode Guide links to our recaps, reviews and discussions of each episode!