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. 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.
Season 3 (Show runner: Eric Kripke)
"The Magnificent Seven"
The episode recap pushes a lot of T & A—not what the show is about, folks! We see once more that taking out the garbage is dangerous, since apparently so many people die or are abducted while doing so. Is it just me, or did the cloud of escaped demons look a LOT like the Darkness in Season 11? I loved watching Sam and Dean clear rooms back to back, moving so in sync with each other.
The Isaac and Tamara characters bothered me—Black people get killed a lot on this show, and there aren’t many to begin with. Then we meet up with Ruby 1.0 and get to see Bobby in a suit.
I did have to laugh about Sam getting into the backseat of the Impala and smashing Dean into the dashboard as he folded the seat forward—such a typical sibling thing to do. We also got a dose of fate vs. free will, and ‘we’re going down together.’ There’s some really awesome cinematography with Sam and Dean in the candlelight fighting the demons, and then Ruby saves them.
Sam’s comment ‘so now I live, and you die’ sets up the rest of the season. There’s a warning about how Dean became ‘twisted and broken’ after John’s death. We’ve seen fixated, obsessed Sam in the six months of hunting the Trickster in "Mystery Spot"—season 4 should be no surprise that Sam goes too far. Foreshadowing—the light at the end of the tunnel is hellfire - and we get Dean’s iconic comment, “let’s kill some evil sons of bitches and raise a little hell.”
"Bad Day at Black Rock"
We needed a lighter episode!
Lots of physical comedy, and the gif-famous moments of ‘I lost my shoe’ and ‘I’m Batman’.
I like Bela as a frenemy, and I would have liked seeing more of her in a helpful adversary role, much like what Crowley later becomes. I wish we could have explored more of John’s storage units, and seen what was in them. I wonder if they ever cleaned the Castle Storage unit out and moved things into the MOL bunker?
So much here!
I loved the touch of realism in the diner with those plastic flowers in the planter by the door, something that rang true for those of us who have been to that kind of restaurant! The beginning is a perfect set piece in how we meet all the key players in the diner and on the sidewalk. How many times did they have to re-shoot that sidewalk scene?
Sam goes into analysis mode early on. We get the memorable flamingo screen in the bathroom, and some great lines that live on in memes: ‘clowns or midgets’ and ‘dingo ate my baby crazy’, ‘does this taco taste funny to you’. Sam goes through four of the five stages of grief (never acceptance) and gets stuck on anger/murderous rage. I love how Dean believes him about the loop, and backs his play. Sam tells him, “I’ve lost you twice and I won’t do it again.” Oh, Sam, if you only knew what’s coming! There’s a lot of lost Sam time in canon—the 100+ Tuesdays plus six months hunting the Trickster (restored to the Wednesday after all the Tuesdays), plus the year he was with the Campbells between season 5 and season 6 and the year Dean was in Purgatory, which is nearly three years of off-screen elapsed time in canon. Good thing we have fan fiction to fill in the gaps!
Sam gets intense and scary as the tension rises, so his transformation in season 6 and seasons 9 and 10 shouldn’t be a surprise, not when he’s set on saving Dean (it also makes his decision not to look for Dean in season 8 all the harder to understand.). We don’t really notice the Trickster’s character in the diner until almost midway, after which he becomes more visible in the camera shots. And of course, we get the ‘duet’ (You’re being childish!) as Dean challenges Sam’s account of the day repeating itself.
I love that over the course of the day-that-never-ends, Sam observes the secret lives of all the people in the diner. When he goes to do the ritual, we see that Sam without Dean is willing to burn down the world. Did he really know it wasn’t Bobby? I hope so...but there was always a chance Sam was wrong, and Sam was willing to take that chance to save Dean. Without Dean, Sam is dark, driven and cold—going ‘all full metal jacket’ as the Trickster says. We get the warning, “Dean’s your weakness—it’s gonna be the death of you.” And my favorite line, “Whoever said Dean was the dysfunctional one hasn’t seen you with a sharp object in your hand.”
For those who were as confused as I was, here’s a good explanation of the ‘Travis Bickel in a skirt’ comment. So much to unpack in one episode!
Of course the Ghostfacers are the reality TV version of the Winchesters. Interesting that we skip the 1.17 ("Hell House") episode that introduces them in this list of ‘essentials’. I love the idea of the murder house—it’s such a Winchester-worthy location. Kinda perfect that the Ghostfacers shoot their introduction in a garage, so opening the door knocks over the set. Of course, we know who is doing the drive-by with the engine rumble and the music! My question—who leaves furniture in abandoned houses? I do love that we get to see Sam and Dean actually swearing (and getting bleeped) because you know they do! Much as I liked Corbett, his arc bothered me. Yes, lots of people die on Supernatural, but in particular, the show does fall prey to the ‘bury your gays’ trope. There’s an excellent discussion of ‘Edbett’, if you're interested. I’m not really sure why EW deemed this to be ‘essential’, but then again, I’m not a big Ghostfacers fan.
"No Rest for the Wicked"
More Ruby 1.0 in this episode, and she’s very convincing. Sam is in scary determined mode like we saw in "Mystery Spot"—“I don’t care what it takes.’ Dean points out Ruby could be working for Lilith (which turns out to be right).
Ruby says what Lucifer often does later on, “I never lied to you” (but lies can be omission and misrepresentation). Of course, we get a repeat of the key theme: “You’re my weak spot and I’m yours. What we’ll do for each other, how far we’ll go.” That’s pretty much the theme of the show. And the vow once again is made to ‘go down swinging.’
I love Bobby in this episode, with his ‘do I look like a ditchable prom date’ comment,
and the iconic line, ‘family don’t end with blood’. We also hear Dean admit that ‘Bon Jovi rocks on occasion’ and see Sam and Dean singing ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ in the car—which is so heartbreaking. I do love the holy water sprinklers! I found it interesting when Ruby says, ‘you can’t just flip a switch’ (about Sam’s powers) when Ava had said exactly the opposite. (Then again, Ruby was probably already planning to trap Sam with drinking blood. She didn’t want him to know that he ‘didn’t need a feather to fly’.) Dean saying, ‘Remember what dad taught you, remember what I taught you’. *sob*.
Another iconic episode.
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
"The Kids are All Right"—Introduces Lisa and Ben
"Sin City"—Notable for lore on the Colt and demons
"Bedtime Stories"—Sam trying to get Dean out of the deal
"Red Sky at Morning" and "Long Distance Call"—MOTW
"Fresh Blood"—Sam kills Gordon, and the iconic scene with the brothers talking by the car at the side of the road, when Dean tries to teach Sam how to fix the Impala, and Sam focuses on it meaning Dean will be gone.
"A Very Supernatural Christmas"—To me, this one is essential, not only because it has become so iconic, but also because of the brother dynamic and the impact on Sam of Dean’s deal.
"Malleus Malificarum"—Insight into Ruby’s human past
"Dream of Little Dream of Me"—Sam and Dean face their nightmares
"Jus in Bello"—The Henriksen episode, and more reasons why Sam felt he could trust Ruby
"Time is on My Side"—Doc Benton’s organ-stealing immortality, and Bela’s deal comes due.
Key songs in the included episodes:
—“I Will Not Be Moved” in Magnificent Seven
—“Heat of the Moment” in Mystery Spot
—“It’s my Party” in Ghostfacers
—“Carry On my Wayward Son” in the recap
—“Wanted Dead or Alive” in No Rest for the Wicked.
Key songs in the skipped episodes:
—There is no music in "Bedtime Stories", "Jus in Bello", "Long Distance Caller" or "Time Is On My Side"
—We miss Sam and Dean singing their own ‘interpretive’ version of "Silent Night" in "A Very Supernatural Christmas".
See the full music listing.
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 4!
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!