As I was looking for a way to pass the quarantine summer 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 of their selection process. Music also plays such a big role in Supernatural, so I 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 and let’s have a look at the road so far!
Season 1 (Show runner: Eric Kripke)
For me, this is pretty much a perfect episode. I love how even this early, Jared and Jensen move around each other, touch each other, inhabit each other’s personal space just like brothers, like people who have lived/worked in tight quarters. Already, their chemistry together is believable. When Dean smacks Sam up the back of the head on the bridge? Genius!
Some interesting quotes, “You can’t kill death” and “You can’t play God.” Oh, those words will come back to haunt them! Then there was, “It’s hard to believe in something so much and have it disappoint you like that.” Ouch!
Plus, “If you’re going to have faith, you can’t just have it when the miracles happen—you have to have it when they don’t.” Wow—what a set up for the future!
The blood red hotel room walls intrigued me. Also, the altar with the bones reminded me a lot of the supposedly real Voudoo altars I’ve seen in New Orleans.
This episode took place in Hibbing, MN. I would have loved for Sam and Dean to have run into that same sheriff at the sheriffs’ convention in "Hibbing 911"! Did we ever see Sam and Dean in full State Police uniforms again? Where did they get them? I loved Dean bonding with the boy who heard the ‘monster’ over Godzilla! “Never do that again—go missing like that. I’m not looking for you.” Oh, Dean—if you only knew!
In this episode, we get an early glimpse of Bobby and Rumsfield (his dog), plus different traps and an alternate start to the usual exorcism litany. I love the gritty, industrial backgrounds and blond Meg.
Plenty of the ‘brothers’ theme’ music in this one. Some quotes to ponder: “I have a Yorkie upstairs and he pees when he’s nervous.” What is it with Dean and Yorkies? And some foreshadowing—“I’m gonna be the one to bury you.” Ouch!
A note about music: Season 1 is the only season where the music on Netflix differs from what was broadcast and what is on the DVDs due to rights negotiation. You can compare what played in the two places. Because of that difference, the music on the Netflix version is underwhelming—it lacks the pop culture associations that come with famous songs, and frankly, the less famous music just isn’t as good. If you have a choice, watch the DVDs!
Episodes Deemed Not 'Essential'
I find the choice of ‘essential’ episodes to be as much about what wasn’t picked (and maybe why) as what was. I agree that what was included gives us the strong bond between the boys, the complicated relationship with John, the basics about Yellow Eyes and the ‘special children’, enough to worry about what John made Dean promise and Sam’s future/abilities, and the core personality traits of the brothers. Some of those were Monster of the Week (MOTW) episodes that didn’t have a big arc contribution, while others did help us better understand Sam, Dean and their relationship.
"Wendigo"—a MOTW that helps establish that the boys hunt real monsters.
"Dead in the Water" and "Bloody Mary" — Monster of the Week episodes
"Phantom Traveler"—Dean on a plane with a demon, and a clue that their father might still be alive.
"Skin"—The first time we see a shape shifter, and Dean ends up wanted for murder, plus an insight into Sam’s old college friendships.
"Hook Man"—MOTW with a spooky urban legend.
"Bugs"—MOTW in a cheesy horror movie way.
"Home"—The boys return to the house in Lawrence, and we get important back story, meet Missouri Mosley, see Mary’s ghost, and realize John is actively dodging Sam and Dean.
"Asylum" and "Scarecrow"—skipping these means we don’t get the complicated push-pull of Sam and Dean’s relationship. There is so much in each episode that builds the history/relationship between the boys that skipping these episodes feels wrong.
"Route 666"–Okay, we can skip the racist truck, but we also miss Cassie, and interesting insight into Dean’s years without Sam.
"Nightmare" — Max Miller and the beginning of the ‘psychic kids’ arc, and Sam’s one use of telekinesis.
"Shadow"—Meg shows up with daevas, forcing a confrontation with John and the boys.
"Hell House"—The first Ghostfacers episode.
"Something Wicked" — Important insight into Sam and Dean’s childhood
"Provenance"—The haunted painting is MOTW but we also see Sam caring about someone new.
"Dean Man’s Blood" and "Salvation"— starts to build the Colt story arc and play into the season finale.
So....what are your thoughts on the episodes that EW chose? Do you agree or disagree that they were the most ‘essential’ to convey the plot? What would you have done differently? What important things were in the episodes that got left out? Share your thoughts in the comments below, then keep going with season 2!
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!