Note, 7/2/09 – Please note, this list is very outdated. I did this during the Season Three Hiatus. I know it needs to be expanded to a top ten and updated with season four episodes. In the meantime, enjoy what I thought back then.
Here we go. I’m placing my head on the proverbial chopping block and waiting with defiance for the guillotine to fall. In other words, I’ve made my “Best Episodes of Supernatural” list, and I’m ready for the cavalcade of dissent.
In pouring exhaustively through the remaining 54 episodes that didn’t make my worst list, I found seven met my lofty standards. My judgment involved looking at scripts that delivered all the perfect elements needed for Jensen and Jared to take their craft to new heights, a story with a blueprint that let the entire crew go beyond their wildest imaginations, and a plot that sucked us in from the beginning, holding on tight until the very last shot, leaving us tattered and screaming for more. Picking the seven was easy. Ranking them was impossible.
While I still sob profusely over Sam dying in Dean’s arms, “All Hell Breaks Loose” doesn’t make the cut because it’s uneven in its entirety. While “Faith” is an outstanding tear jerker, parts of the episode didn’t live up, like the terrible villain Sue-Ann Le Grange. The pilot won’t be on this list either, because as outstanding as it is, it’s meant to introduce a premise. The show has come too far since then.
Now that the ground rules are in place, the list can begin, in order of best to the absolute greatest.
#7 – Nightshifter, Season Two
Why? This episode is storytelling at its finest. We’re sucked in from the word go, with the cut into the normal opening by a live news story, as the camera zooms into none other than Dean Winchester delivering a hostage in a bank standoff. Yep, that grabs my attention!
Action episodes often have pacing issues, but not this one. It builds up slowly, with each scene adding to the tension of an out of control hostage situation involving an unhinged gunman, a phantom shapeshifter, the trigger happy SWAT team, the FBI, and Sam and Dean caught right in the middle. We are left guessing the entire time until it all comes together with the best ending of the series.
Ron, in some great guest casting, is a lovable nut job who knows something evil is lurking, but no one will listen, so he takes matters into his own hands. He and Dean form a great bond, and we share his excitement when he finds out he’s actually right, minus the incorrect conclusion about the “Mandroid”. Also involved is the fantastic Agent Henriksen, the tough FBI agent determined to capture the lawless Winchester brothers (great Bonnie and Clyde reference). Henriksen’s phone conversation with Dean, in which he insults John Winchester, is a brilliant back and forth montage in which Dean’s voice is holding firm, but his edges are cracking through his facial expressions. That exemplified the fantastic directing, editing, writing, and of course acting that dominated this episode.
The Standout Moment: The ending. It also tops the best use of classic rock in the series too. With the slow opening of Styx’s “Renegade” in the background, two swat team members close in on the Impala in the garage. We soon learn it’s Sam and Dean, who’ve escaped the bank, and during the beats of the song our very stunned heroes take in the gravity of what just happened. Dean summarizes it best. “We are so screwed.” Cue Tommy Shaw’s yell, and we have a winner as the Impala peels away. Best”¦editing”¦ever.
#6 – Devil’s Trap, Season One
Why? Season one had many rough spots, but by this episode it clearly found its footing. As a season finale it didn’t disappoint, starting where “Salvation” left off, but with ten times the drama. Dean barely holds everything together as Sam and John are ready for self-sacrifice, and does everything in his power to deliver the message sacrifice isn’t an option. In the end, Sam gets the message, leading to a family dilemma like none other.
Jensen is phenomenal in this episode, starting with what is still the greatest of all exorcisms and the introduction of the best supporting character ever, Bobby Singer. Every scene involves loads of intensity, raw emotion, and somehow works a lot of plot into 40 minutes, not to mention a cliffhanger (the Impala!) that all but assured this show’s spot in the new CW lineup.
The Standout Moment: In the cabin, when Dean figures out John is possessed. When the clue is daddy says he’s proud of him and not mad, it’s heartbreaking to see Dean pull a gun instead of believe it’s real. John asks Sam to believe him, but Sam firmly stands behind Dean, trusting his brother completely. That’s a message sent several times throughout the series; Dean is the only person Sam believes in. That scene right there proved Sam’s point from the pilot, they aren’t the Bradys.
#5 – A Very Supernatural Christmas , Season Three
Why? This is where I should have a five way tie for first place. This episode was so good, so memorable, that for it not to be higher tells us how much this show has blessed us with greatness. This episode falls here by default because the episodes above it have greater character defining moments.
This is one of the best written episodes of the series. An exhaustive amount of detail goes into creating the Anti-Christmas, and for some reason, over the top works in its favor. Considering the outrageous villains, the decked out sets, the carefully constructed scenes and camera work that brings out some pretty vivid images, a simple premise is what sells us the most. It’s Dean’s last year, and he wants a Christmas celebration with Sam, who’s still too traumatized by empty Christmases past. Watching Sam set aside his gloominess and honor his brother’s dying wish, that five minutes captures the Christmas spirit way better than any of those entire crappy Hallmark specials that air every year.
The Standout Moment: There are so many, and while the touching Winchester Christmas gift exchange at the end comes close, I’ve given the prize to the entire scene of the Pagan Gods and their perky delivery of extreme torture. That scene is very memorable, contains the best dialogue, features the best villains of the series, and somehow makes my spine tinge from both extreme horror and laughter. It’s demented, and we love it.
#4 – Born Under A Bad Sign, Season Two
Why? Duh, evil Sam. Need I say more? This episode is a huge turning point in the series. Jared and Jensen have been great together since day one, but apart, Jensen has clearly been the standout actor, that is until this episode. Jared finally reaches Jensen’s level, taking a page from his co-star’s rule book on facial acting. When one of them is at their best it’s a treat, but when both of them get to excel, it’s a fan’s Holy Grail.
The angst is off the Richter scale from the very beginning, with a frantic Dean on the phone, unable to find Sam. When he does find him, bloody in a motel room, that kicks off the epic struggle depicting what happens when brother is pitted against brother. Jared gets to take Sam outside his box with spectacular results, giving us jaw dropping, blood curdling yet delicious scenes, especially the near sexual assault of Jo Harvelle, the teasing over the real story behind Jo’s dad and John, and the malevolent grin after he thinks he’s killed his own brother. Who didn’t love possessed Sam kicking the crap out of Dean after the failed exorcism?
Jensen had a lot of great material to work with too. Dean’s worry over saving Sam yet hatred for the demon deliver plenty of conflicting emotions and rough edges that only Jensen can pull off. These two play out their conflicts with the most explosive of results, fantastic lines and all (you wouldn’t want to bruise this fine packaging).
The Standout Moment: The scene in the motel room, after they find out Sam killed Steve Wandell. A despondent Sam tries to use those “dewy eyes” and a crushed heart to tearfully convince his brother he must be killed. He even goes as far as to put the pistol into Dean’s hand, taking in a deep whimper while waiting for his doom. Dean, finally forced into the “killing Sam” dilemma, takes a long reflection and decides he can’t do it. “I’d rather die.” Even if the scene ended there, I’d still be stunned. But for Sam to pick up the pistol, making it look like he’s going to kill himself, and instead turns around with evil glare and whacks Dean in the head, all of a sudden we have a whole new drama!
#3 – No Rest For The Wicked, Season Three
Why? Dean died and went to hell, of course. The entire season built up to that one moment, leaving us guessing about to Dean’s fate up to the very end, and Kripke didn’t cop out. The end result was every bit as gut-wrenching and tragic as we imagined. No, it went beyond that.
Ah, but I’m judging a whole episode here. Unlike season two’s uneven finale, this is angst ridden perfection from beginning to end. From the opening shot of hellhounds chasing Dean, we get an intense hour of Sam and Dean barely holding it together as time runs down. Sam is especially desperate and willing to do anything, but Dean stops him from crossing the line and chooses to go down fighting. Watching the fear in their eyes for the entire episode, their knowledge that the outcome is likely going to be bloody, their absolute heartbreak over having to live without each other, well, I’m still a mess. Everything is on the line, and both Jensen and Jared hit new acting heights conveying how vital the outcome is.
The Standout Moment: The last ten minutes. There’s hope as they take refuge from the hounds, but Ruby is really Lilith, and Dean is done for. The hounds in graphic, horrific fashion maul Dean to death and wow did the props crew go all out with the squirting blood. Sam can only watch and scream, helpless as the final blow is delivered. Lilith goes for Sam next but no, she can’t harm him. He’s immune! Fantastic acting and directing collide as the camera pans upward to Sam’s devastated face when he sees his dead brother on the floor, and never cuts away as he kneels down to cradle Dean and weeps. No one does crying better than Jared. But wait, another pan through Dean’s vacant eye shows him chained in Hell. Psych! Happy summer hiatus everyone.
#2 , What Is and What Should Never Be , Season Two
Why? The question should be, why isn’t this number one? Not enough can be said of the greatness of this episode, and it’s all because of Jensen. The script is written in such a way where it isn’t rich in dialogue but high on emotion, so plenty of latitude is given for nonverbal, deeply poignant reaction shots and Jensen easily delivers the best acting of the series. No, he even gives Hugh Laurie a run for his money.
My heart is crushed by the end, because poor Dean finally has everything he’s ever dreamed of, and has to let it go. But that wasn’t all. He and Sam have a deeply fractured relationship, and everyone (except Carmen) sees him as a deadbeat, but he’s happy anyway because his mom is alive and Sam has Jess. We learn a lot about Dean Winchester and his need for family, and we love him eight hundred times more.
The Standout Moment: Aside from every bit of Dean reacting (with perfection) to the life he always wanted? The critic in me says the scene at John Winchester’s grave. Dean is the only one speaking, and boy, does he rip our hearts to shreds. This is the most honest, the most vulnerable, the most open we ever seen Dean, and I believe those tears are real. My personal favorite scene though is the pure, unadulterated joy that Dean experiences in mowing that Technicolor lawn, complete with thick green grass, brilliant flowers, and even garden gnomes! He waves at the neighbor with a cheery hello, and gets a skeptical “are you drunk” wave in return. It’s the funny and sad that makes this show great.
#1 – Mystery Spot, Season Three
Why? I’m going to get a lot of crap for this choice, but I stand by it with deep resolve. There’s only one reason why this is number one. It’s not only the best written episode of the series, it’s one of the best written episodes I’ve ever seen on television. Why? Exposing the dark inner layers of Sam Winchester is already daunting task, but to do so with a Groundhog Day premise that’s been done many times before but manages here to present something wildly different, its a work of genius. Every bit of this episode goes far beyond anything this show has given us before.
For such a difficult, fragmented plot, with lots of twists and turns, and plenty of very funny and very tragic moments, the directing has to be flawless. Given the fact it’s Kim Manners, he delivers. The special effects are stellar, for it takes some huge creativity by everyone to realistically show Dean meeting his end in a number of gruesome and even cartoonish ways. The sets again were over the top goodness, for the Mystery Spot, the diner, and pink flamingo motel room are tacky personified. Even the choice of music, torturing poor Sam every morning with Asia’s “The Heat of The Moment” is delightfully treacherous.
This episode goes far beyond the character examination it was tasked. It’s extraordinarily inventive, very fast paced, loaded with crisp dialogue and gives us a number of repeatable elements that are unique enough to where it never gets old. Who thought catching hot sauce over and over again could be so entertaining? The Trickster’s presence is the only way this outrageous time loop could be plausible, and he makes his repeat appearance as a villain this time far more riveting.
This is easily Jared’s best performance to date, and we are left very impressed with how far he’s come. Each day Sam’s anxiety builds to painful levels, and after over hundred of days of watching his brother die it all takes a disturbing toll. When Sam finally has to live without Dean, he’s not a grieving or sorrowful brother, he’s a sociopathic killer who’s lost all his humanity while hell bent on revenge. In other words, it’s the resurrection of John Winchester. That Sam is more frightening than any of the monsters on this show.
The Standout Moment: I want to say every single scene, but I’ll go with the final one. Sam wakes up to find its Wednesday, and after six long months, Dean is alive and well. Sam’s not either excited or relieved, just broken. He gets up and swallows Dean in a huge hug. “How many Tuesdays did you have?” “Enough.” As they pack and leave the motel room, Sam is clearly devastated, for Dean might be back, but for how long? He knows life without him can still happen, and he can still lose himself as a result. His final bleary eyed gaze into the motel room before turning out the light says it all, all is not well. This is easily one of the most heart crushing endings in this show (behind the Sam dying and Dean dying parts).
Honorable Mention (Only available on this blog site): In My Time of Dying – Season Two
I love this episode, but in trying to figure out why it didn’t measure up to the seven listed here, I would say that the pacing wasn’t as even. The drama was there, the acting was incredible, but somewhere in between John summoning yellow eyes and Dean waking up, it fell flat. The end picked back up again, but that one break was enough to push it back behind the others. Also, I didn’t feel enough true angst and heartbreak from Jared, not like “Mystery Spot” and “No Rest For The Wicked”. Season three really set the bar high.
That’s my two cents, and thank you all for bearing this moment of self indulgence. Fire away, and let your opinion be heard. Tell me how full of it I am. Or tell me what episodes I missed and why. Or tell me I’m right. Anything to get through the hiatus (still sobbing!).