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.)

The EW article suggests that the ‘Essential 75’ is a good ‘refresher’ for fans, and a primer for those who haven’t watched the show but want to see what the fuss is about. Even EW admits that ‘essential’ to the main plot isn’t the same as ‘best’. Both statements are true. I cringe when I think about anyone who isn’t already very familiar with Supernatural watching this selection of episodes and thinking they’ve got the essence of the show. So much of the emotion and backstory got left out in this list in favor of tracing the ‘plot’, that while it’s a nice reminder for those who know the show well, it lacks the depth and resonance of what makes Supernatural so heartrendingly special.

On the other hand, there’s no bad excuse for a recap/rewatch, so come on the journey with me! Start with season 1 and follow the links for each season until you  join me in looking at the picks for season 5! 

Season 5 (Show runner: Eric Kripke)

 

Essential Episodes

"Sympathy for the Devil"

I loved Chuck’s conversation with Becky, that ‘it’s all real.’ Let’s just say that ‘clavicle’ isn’t a particularly sexy word! I did have to laugh at the description of the apocalypse with hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters all hitting at once—it sounded a lot like 2020!

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Bobby gets possessed, tells Sam to ‘lose my number’ and then stabs himself to get rid of the demon and becomes paralyzed. (There are some great fix-it fan fictions about Sam’s reaction to Bobby’s comment before Bobby gets the chance to clarify.) 
We get Nick’s backstory (I never realized before that this is why Nick always wears a wedding band, even as Lucifer.) Dean finds out he’s the Michael Sword, and Cas is a badass, giving them the rib sigils. Have you ever noticed that the women in Supernatural wear really ugly nightgowns? Does anyone who isn’t a grandma wear that style? Maybe it was to de-sexualize them, but geez costume people, there are other options! Lucifer says ‘I don’t lie’, but we know now that he does twist, withhold and manipulate the truth. I love Dean’s comment about having ‘a GED and a give ‘em hell attitude’, and Bobby making a point of telling Sam that he isn’t cutting him out.

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But I’m always disappointed in Dean for what he says to Sam in the parking lot at the hospital, even though I know it sets up the season arc.



"Good God Y’all"

Bobby’s in a wheelchair, Cas takes the Samulet to look for God, and the boys head to River Pass to help Rufus. Trust is such an essential element in this episode. Ellen notices the tension between Sam and Dean. They face off with War, to get the first of the rings.

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The conversation at the picnic table is heartbreaking, especially since Sam is trying to deal with the issue and Dean lets him go.

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But as someone else once pointed out, Dean offers Sam the only thing he really has—the Impala—despite the rift between them, and he still calls him ‘Sammy.’



"The End"

Such an iconic episode, with so many quotes. “I’ll just wait here then.” “The voice says I’m almost out of minutes.” Rhonda Hurley. “Pick a hemisphere.” “We’re all we’ve got. We keep each other human.” “We make our own destiny.” “Hoard toilet paper.”

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Sam wants back in, Dean is bitter and refuses. I laughed at the footage of Dean outrunning the zombies, knowing that when they shot it, Jensen outran the crew and had to reshoot! Jensen definitely knocks it out of the park playing both roles, with his non-verbal communication as well as his delivery.

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Something I noticed this time was how much Jensen’s non-verbal communication was deliberately out of sync with what he said when he told Sam to stay away, and then when he realizes that in the End!Verse, Sam and Dean never reconciled. We definitely see Dean’s grief over splitting up, no matter what he actually says. Of course, Stoner Cas was a memorable addition.

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Rewatching this now not only made the concern about toilet paper seem very relevant, but it also made me think of all of Chuck’s alternate universes.

Samifer

Jared turns in a stellar performance as Lucifer—let’s just all agree not to let him wear white suits!



"Changing Channels"

Supernatural has a habit of doing ‘funny’ episodes that punch you in the gut.

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I loved the spoofs of all the other TV shows (including their then-timeslot competitors, Grey’s Anatomy and NCIS), and Gabriel’s reappearance. But there was definitely a cruel edge to the things Gabriel put them through—especially Sam. This one pushed hard on accepting destiny, and the boys pushed back.


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"Abandon All Hope"

Nice touch there, as Crowley watches footage of Nazi propaganda films to ‘relax’ in the evening. Sam hit it on the nose with “Since when have we done anything smart?”

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The pre-battle photo made my heart hurt. Jo gets to be a badass.

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“Kick it in the ass” meant so much. The look between Sam and Dean that communicated everything without words. Meg and Cas are always good together.

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Lucifer certainly did his best to phrase his story to parallel Sam’s. This episode was a big emotional hit.



"The Song Remains the Same"

Destiny is the theme, and the show delivers. The get-together with Sam and Dean, John and Mary is awesome—especially riding in the car and arguing in the weirdest family road trip ever, with John threatening to turn the car around.

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Plenty of family moments and family music in this one. Loved the scene with Sam and Young John. “Who the hell does that to a kid? What kind of irresponsible bastard....” The show really knows how to hit hard! Dean warns Mary yet again about getting out of bed the night Azazel comes for the baby, but it doesn’t change anything. We got some good quotes in this episode, with “I don’t understand that reference” and “Six degrees of Heaven Bacon.” Michael’s speech was chilling, talking about being the ‘good son.’

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Dean came right back with “I gotta believe I can choose what I do with my unimportant little life.” I caught a canon inconsistency with Michael talking about how much ‘random choice’ brought John and Mary together, but later we find out that the Cupids were ordered to make it happen.

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And we get Team Free Will—“One ex-blood junkie, one dropout with six bucks to his name, and Mr. Comatose.”



"Point of No Return"

Skipping around with the EW list of episodes makes some of the character decisions even harder to understand than usual, including Dean’s decision to say ‘yes’ to Michael. Bobby’s speech about the bullet is fantastic, as is Sam’s confrontation of Dean in the hotel room. Adam says they are ‘blood, not family’ which hits home.

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It hurt to hear Dean tell Sam that he didn’t believe in him. That was hard to accept, even when watching all of the episodes, but even harder without that continuity.

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Cas and Dean have an epic fight, and we get Zachariah’s “psychotically, irrationally, erotically co-dependent” quote. But in the end, Dean comes around.

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“I didn’t want to let you down. If you’re grown up enough to find faith in me, the least I can do is return the favor. Screw destiny.”



"Hammer of the Gods"

This one makes me wince. I guess it served to answer the question of why other pantheons didn’t step in to stop the Apocalypse. On rewatch, it feels very culturally insensitive, despite the humor. But, moving along with the highlights, the ‘hello my name is’ badges were a nice touch, as was the creepy hotel getting a magical make-over. The Ghostfacers clip and commercials were interesting. I liked Dean defying the gods in order to save people.

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Gabriel had some great lines, and the argument between Gabriel and Lucifer was epic, as it deserved to be. Gabriel’s reason for siding with humanity, that they were ‘flawed, but trying’ made a key point. Gabriel’s choice of a Casa Erotica DVD to convey how to beat Lucifer was classic. Viewing this in 2020, Pestilence seemed very familiar!



"Two Minutes to Midnight"

The smarmy vaccine pharma bro also seemed a little too ‘ripped from the headlines’ watching this episode in 2020. Had to love the nod to Firefly with the ‘Serenity Valley’ nursing home. We had some more iconic moments—Cas saying he took a bus, Bobby kissing Crowley and Crowley keeping the selfie (‘why’d you have to use tongue’).

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I hadn’t picked up on the four horsemen also being brothers, although we didn’t really get more backstory. Meeting Death in the pizzeria was also a brilliant moment, as was his so-mo walk from the car to the restaurant and his car. Death also stops Dean from using the scythe, which makes you wonder how Dean managed to ‘trick’ him in Season 10. Death’s talk about how many galaxies there were and the insignificance of people echoed many of Chuck’s later comments in seasons 14 and 15. Death says he will reap God, and “God will die, too” which seems especially meaningful now that we’re mid-season 15.

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Death makes Dean promise to let Sam go, and Bobby presses about whether Dean is worried more about “losing, or losing your brother?”

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So much set-up in this one episode, and Julian Richings turns in an amazing performance as Death.



"Swan Song"

So many feels! The voice-over from Chuck about the Impala, as well as Sam and Dean having their conversation by the car at Bobby’s were so well-done.

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Dean saying “I’ll back your play” and then admitting that it goes against everything in him. Then Sam makes him promise not to try to get him out, and to go find Lisa and live that “apple pie life.” Notably, Dean doesn’t promise on the “not looking” part, and there is a tie-in book about his efforts to free Sam.

The focus goes back to their childhood, the army man in the ashtray, the lego blocks in the vent, their initials scratched into the trunk lining.

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This was some genius writing, and it carries through the rest of the series. Dean looks so hopeless, and the understanding between the brothers closes some of the wounds that were opened earlier in the season, like they always do. We got some great camera work in the scene with ‘Samifer’ with the broken mirror, and Jared did an amazing job conveying the difference between Sam and Lucifer.

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I loved Cas’ line about “Imbibe copious amounts of alcohol and wait for the inevitable.” (Some of these episodes just hit close to home watching them in 2020!)

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Loved Chuck’s comment about how Sam and Dean would sit on the hood of the Impala and watch the stars, and that they were “never, in fact, homeless.”

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Of course, Dean shows up for the showdown, all three Winchester brothers together. “Well, I ain’t gonna let him die alone.” Interesting that Lucifer proposes just “walking off the chess board”, but Michael insists on the fight. So many memorable moments. Cas’ “Hey, Assbutt” and Molotoving Michael.
The fight between Sam and Dean, but Dean doesn’t fight back, “It’s okay, I’m here, I’m not gonna leave.” Then the montage of memories as Sam seizes control as so beautifully done.

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Sam’s look of acceptance and throwing his arms open wide was heartbreaking. Chuck’s wrap up is classic Supernatural, all about choosing family.

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Showing Sam under the street light was a great way to signal that the end wasn’t really the end.

I’m glad the show didn’t end there, but it was one hell of a ride!



Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List 

"Free to Be You and Me"—Sam as ‘Keith’ and the hunters who attacked him, finding out he’s Lucifer’s vessel. (So much fan fiction about this gap before they reunite.) Dean takes Cas to the brothel. The confrontation with Raphael.

"Fallen Idols"—a MOTW mostly notable for Dean telling Sam that they both started the apocalypse and that they shouldn’t focus on the vessel issue, but rather work together.

"I Believe the Children are our Future"—a MOTW that stands out for Jessie, a cambion/antichrist half-human/half-demon with apparently limitless power who vanishes and is never referenced again. I’d love to see him show up in the fight against Chuck in season 15!

"The Curious Case of Dean Winchester"—another MOTW with a witch who steals years from people’s lives when he plays cards with them, and nearly kills Dean and Bobby. What is it with entities giving Sam STDs?

"The Real Ghostbusters"—this is the Supernatural convention episode, which also turns out to be a MOTW  as well as Sam and Dean confronting more of Chuck/Becky and the legacy of the Winchester Gospels. It’s always interesting to see the boys from the perspective of outsiders, which usually also makes them see themselves differently. That definitely happened with Dean and the two LARPers who reminded him how wonderful it was to have someone who cared enough to be willing to die for him. Then Becky reveals that Bela still has the Colt.

"Sam, Interrupted"—a MOTW set in a psychiatric hospital with a wraith and a former hunter. No big contribution to the arc, but Dean coaxes Sam to stick with him and hunting, and Sam confesses to being angry all the time.

"Swap Meat"—A clever MOTW body swap with little arc contribution other than Sam saying that normal sucks and Dean not entirely convinced.

"My Bloody Valentine"—The episode with the Cupids and the fourth Horseman. We get a canon inconsistency about Heaven arranging via the Cupids for John and Mary to get together, when Michael (in an earlier episode) talked about how much randomness had to align to manage that. I always thought it was unfair that Dean didn’t put a salt circle around Sam in the bathroom when he locked him up, which let the demons get to him—and then everyone blamed Sam. Sam was totally badass stopping the demons, beating Famine and saving Dean and Cas. Then it’s back to the panic room to detox, and while Dean is visibly showing his concern, he’s also not really as supportive as I’d like to see. Instead, we see the emptiness Famine taunted him about.

"Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid"—The dead come back to life, then turn into demons, including Bobby’s wife and Jody’s husband. Good backstory on two important characters.

"Dark Side of the Moon"—Sam and Dean get shot by hunters Walt and Roy, go to Heaven, and see scenes that deepen the rift between them. Dean comes away sure Sam doesn’t value their family or brotherhood. Sam seems confused by the scenes from his past, but not as upset as Dean. Fan fiction explicitly tackles the idea that Zachariah manipulated the scenes to drive a wedge between Sam and Dean. (I was glad to see Walt and Roy die bloody in season 12’s raid on the BMOL headquarters.) Ash tells them they are soulmates who share a Heaven. Joshua rescues them from Zachariah and tells them that God knows about what’s going on and chooses not to intervene. When they return, they remember everything. Dean tells Cas that God doesn’t care and drops the amulet into the trash. (Something fan fiction also addresses in detail.) This is a major break between the brothers, and a loss of faith in God, and Dean’s loss of faith in Sam, so I really am confused that it wasn’t considered to be ‘essential’.

"99 Problems"—The plot with the fanatic religious group and the Whore of Babylon is forgettable, but Dean has lost faith in Sam and in their ability to stop the Apocalypse, and goes to warn Lisa, telling her that he would love to settle down with her but that bad things are going to happen. The skipped episodes show Dean’s descent into nihilism, which makes his decision to say ‘yes’ to Michael make more sense.

"The Devil You Know"—Backstory to the showdown with Pestilence and the confrontation later with Brady. We find out Brady was possessed at Stanford and that introducing Sam to Jess was a way to assure he’d be ‘motivated’ to be manipulated by Azazel. There’s important information here, so it’s also an odd one to skip.

I went into more detail about the skipped episodes this week because I felt like many of them held important content. Skipping them made the emphasized episodes less dimensional and made the characters harder to understand/sympathize with.

Music

Key Music in the Included episodes:

"Spirit in the Sky" in "Good God, Y’all"

"Do You Love Me in The End" during the machine gunning of zombies

"Knight Rider" theme song in "Changing Channels"

"O Death" in "Two Minutes to Midnight"

"Carry On Wayward Son" in "Swan Song"

"Rock of Ages" (Def Leppard) in "Swan Song"


Key Music in the skipped episodes:

"Simple Man" in "Free to Be You and Me"

"Rock and Roll Never Forgets" in "Swap Meat"

"Knocking on Heaven’s Door" in "Dark Side of the Moon"

No music at all in "Sam, Interrupted"; "I Believe the Children are our Future"; "My Bloody Valentine"; or "The Devil You Know".

Full music listing

 

Bonus Round

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 in the episodes got left out? Join the discussion below, then keep going with season 6!

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 reviews and discussions of each episode!