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.)
So come on the journey with me! Start with season 1, then follow the links until you catch up with us in season 10!
Season 10 (Show runner: Jeremy Carver )
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.
Some villains could have stuck around longer—they had a lot of untapped potential. Others wore out their welcome. In Season 10, I would have enjoyed seeing more of Cuthbert Sinclair, the Styne family and the Thule. At the least, I thought they all could have sustained more than one or two episode’s worth of villainy, and left a lot of intriguing unanswered questions about what they’d been doing, whether they’d had an angle in the Angel/Demon War or had deals with Hell’s factions. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like Abaddon and Lucifer stuck around after their stories went stale.
Entertainment Weekly only chose six episodes as essential, so once again, we’ll have more to consider when we look at what wasn’t included, and inevitably, whole story arcs are missing or rendered somewhat less important or intelligible because of the missing information. That’s more than they picked from some seasons, but still leaves a lot of details in the dust.
Demon!Dean is tied up in the dungeon while Sam gets a priest to bless blood. Dean says he doesn’t want to be fixed (mirroring Soulless!Sam). It was amusing to see Dean keep getting splashed with holy water like a bad puppy. Cas and Hannah are still dealing with angel factions. Demon!Dean baits Sam over how far he’s gone to cure Dean. My head canon here is that after Sam’s ‘failure’ (perceived or actual) to look for Dean when he was in Purgatory, Sam will burn down Heaven and Hell before he disappoints Dean again. That includes goading a man into selling his soul. Dean points out that ‘the line between us and the things we hunted ain’t so clear.’ Cas shows up to help Sam, and Sam worries that curing Dean will kill him. They trade barbs about the importance of family.
Even Crowley gets into the act, saving Cas and telling him to go fix Dean. Dean stalks Sam through the Bunker.
Sam pulls the demon knife on Dean but can’t go through with it. Cas shows up to stop Dean from killing Sam with a hammer (the red shirt!).
Sam completes the treatments, and Dean is no longer a demon, although he still has the Mark of Cain (MOC). Afterwards, Cas stops to check on Dean. Remembering the awful things he said to Sam, Dean asks if Sam ‘wants a divorce’. Cas says, ‘It would take a lot more than trying to kill Sam with a hammer to make him walk away,’ and then admits it’s pretty screwed up to be able to say that. Sam gets food for Dean, and then intends to get drunk.
A high school drama department is doing a musical ‘interpretation’ of the Supernatural books by Carver Edlund when weird things start to happen. First, the drama teacher gets pulled away in the dark parking lot by a plant creature. Then another girl goes missing. It turns out that both the teacher and the missing girl were going to get the musical shut down. The monster is Caliope, the goddess of epic poetry, who intends to eat the director after the play. During the play, Sam and Dean tackle the scarecrow creature who is kidnapping people, sent by Caliope. Sam stabs Caliope and both she and the monster explode. The boys get a new perspective on their lives and relationship, seeing it through the lens of the musical, and we deal a bit with the Samulet (but not The Voicemail). Chuck shows up to meet the author and deems it, ‘not bad’.
One of my personal favorite episodes! So many in jokes. The Samulet (which Jensen didn’t want to wear anymore because it hit him in the mouth during stunts and chipped a tooth). It’s the 200th episode, and they are staying at the Highway 200 Motel in Room 200. Dean says ‘out there, hunting, it’s the only normal I know.’ And they trunk-slamming ‘we’ve got work to do’.
Of course, plenty more meme-worthy moments: ‘There’s no singing in Supernatural’, ‘You can’t spell subtext without s-e-x,’ ‘
Marie explains the never-seen Act 2 in which there are robots, tentacles and Dean briefly becomes female. Dean tries to tell her what really happened after the last Carver Edlund book, and she says it’s ‘the worst fan fiction I ever heard.’ Sam tries out different portmanteau words for Destiel, and Dean objects to a hint of Wincest (‘you know they’re brothers?’). Marie explains that the Samulet is a ‘symbol of their brotherly love’ and Dean says he doesn’t need a symbol to know how he feels about Sam, but takes the prop anyhow and hangs it from the mirror in the Impala.
Dean finally comes around and tells Marie “I want you to put as much ‘sub’ into that ‘text’”, telling her that she has her version and he has his—an interesting affirmation of fan fiction writers in real life. Of course, the songs live on, from ‘A Single Man Tear’ to ‘I’ll Just Wait Here’ and the high choral version of "Carry On Wayward Son." ‘Supernatural has everything—life, death, resurrection, redemption and above all, family.’ The infamous ‘BM scene’ (brotherly moment) I love the look on the boys’ faces when they actually seem to hear and apply Carry On to themselves.
Now if they’d just fixed The Voicemail!
"The Executioner’s Song"
It begins with Cain walking down Death Row and killing a prisoner, then disappearing. We find out that Sam loves to read true crime books about serial killers. Cas is torturing demons to find someone, while Rowena is playing mother of the king in Hell. Cain is killing murderers, or ‘cleaning up a mess’ as he sees it.
Sam is afraid Dean won’t be the same after the Mark of Cain (MOC) is removed. Cain tells Dean that he will eventually kill Cas and then Sam. Cain won’t take back the MOC.
Dean kills him and gives the First Blade to Cas. Sam remains hopeful, but he knows Dean is in big trouble.
It starts with a young woman showing up for a research study and having her eyes stolen, then killed. The killer jumps out of a high window and survives. Elsewhere, Sam has Rowena imprisoned to find a cure for the MOC. Sam was supposed to kill Crowley in repayment. In Shreveport, the Styne family is hunting down the Winchesters. Sam begs Charlie to decode the Codex and help Rowena remove the Mark.
He lied to Dean about destroying the Book of the Damned. Cas brings snacks to the dungeon. Dean knows Sam is lying. Dean gets jumped by two of the Stynes, kills one, imprisons the other. The Stynes deal in chaos, because ‘chaos brings fear, fear breeds desperation and there’s profit to be made in desperation.’ They are descended from the House of Frankenstein. The Styne prisoner escapes by ripping off his own arm. Charlie leaves the safety of the hidden dungeon, and the Stynes find her and kill her after she’s transmitted the translation of the Codex to Sam.
Snarky Opinion and Pet Peeve—Charlie is brilliant, and smart enough to stay off the Leviathan’s radar and avoid the US Government. The dungeon where she and Rowena were working had to be more than one room. WHY would she leave a safe place to go to a motel and then sit in front of the window? She wouldn’t. This was a ‘forced error’ by the writers to take a lazy shortcut to maneuver Charlie into a place she’d be vulnerable and it was implausible and out of character. The ‘cat fight’ between Rowena and Charlie also reinforced negative stereotypes that women—especially powerful women—can’t work together. Killing Charlie was also unnecessary and played into the ‘bury your gays’ negative trope that unfortunately Supernatural has done more often than not. The character could have been written out in many ways without killing her.
Sam and Dean burn Charlie’s body and the MOC makes Dean take out his grief on Sam with vicious words (‘it should be you up there’). Sam is clearly going to make up for not looking for Dean in Purgatory, even if he has to burn down the world. Sam: ‘What was I gonna do? Just watch you die?...Dean, you’re all I’ve got!” And “Of course I was gonna fight for you because that’s what we do.” Meanwhile, the youngest Styne doesn’t want to be a killer, Charlie cracked the Codex, Rowena insists that Sam kill Crowley in repayment. The Stynes break into the Bunker (How? It’s supposed to be warded against everything, but everyone seems to traipse through anyhow.) The older brother wants to burn the books (Why? Wouldn’t they covet the knowledge?) and the youngest balks.
Dean, with the help of the MOC, kills the entire Styne family when they take him prisoner, and then kills the two at the Bunker, even the youngest who swears he won’t cause problems.
Cas confronts Dean and Dean nearly kills him, then leaves.
Sam argues with Cas about the consequences because he won’t stop until he can save Dean, no matter what. Sam negotiates with Rowena, promising her anything if she’ll help. It’s obvious that the MOC is beyond Dean’s ability to control. Dean summons death and fixes him a meal in an old Mexican restaurant (in season 9 we had Sam ready to die and talking to Death, now we get the mirror image with Dean).
Dean lures Sam to meet him, then says he’s agreed that they both have to die. Sam begs Dean not to die (mirror of the reverse in season 9). Dean seems convinced that the ‘world is better without us in it’. Sam delivers an epic bro speech that ‘we are not evil’, and the brothers fight. Sam finally gives in, but delivers his second epic speech remaining hopeful that Dean will remember what it is to love even if he kills Sam, and shows the photos of them as children with Mary. “Sammy, close your eyes.”
Meanwhile, Rowena completes the spell by killing Oskar. Dean kills Death instead of Sam, Rowena’s spell removes the MOC, and that lets the Darkness out. As the plumes of Darkness burst out of the ground, Sam and Dean try to escape but the Impala gets stuck, and they are covered with the black fog.
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
"Black"—Sam looks for Demon!Dean, Cas and Hannah deal with angel problems, Demon!Dean sings Karaoke, and Cole kidnaps Sam.
"Reichenbach"—Sam escapes Cole, Cole follows Sam to find Demon!Dean. Cas and Hannah deal with angel problems. Cole reveals that Dean killed his father, Demon!Dean lets him live after beating him. Sam captures Demon!Dean and takes him back to the Bunker. Demon!Dean threatens Sam.
"Paper Moon"—-Monster of the Week (MOTW) with teen werewolves. Sam and Dean regroup after Sam cures Dean of being a demon. Dean still has the Mark of Cain (MOC). They let one of the werewolves live when she promises she won’t kill.
"Ask Jeeves"—Entertaining MOTW episode that plays out like a game of Clue.
"Girls, Girls, Girls"—Rowena shuts down a souls-for-sex racket and tries to recruit the sex workers to be witches. Cole tracks down Dean. Dean lets him live.
Snarky Opinion: I’ve always felt that letting Cole live was extremely out of character for Dean, given what Cole did to Sam and Dean having the MOC at the time, which would make him more prone to violence.
"Hibbing 911"–Donna and Jody meet at a sheriff’s convention. MOTW with vampires, and Donna learns that monsters are real. Worth it just for the interaction between Donna and Jody.
"The Things We Left Behind"—Cas breaks Claire out of a group home, she steals his wallet, rebuffs his attempts to help her, and heads back to the ‘friends’ she’s been staying with, who want her to rob a gas station. Crowley has to deal with Rowena back in his life and his kingdom. Clare is rescued from her skeevy friends by Sam, Dean and Cas.
"The Hunter Games"—Cas is still trying to make things right with Claire, who has the absolute worst taste in friends. Rowena is manipulating Crowley, while Sam is looking for a way to cure the MOC. Claire sets Dean up to get murdered by her new ‘friends’ as payback for killing the guy who sold her to his loan shark to be assaulted in order to pay off his debt (wow, gratitude) and only changes her mind at the last minute to warn Dean. Claire and Cas agree to stay in touch.
Snarky opinion—I understand Claire being troubled by her history, but to me the writers took that way too far into ‘unlikable’. She was mean-spirited, bad-tempered, disloyal, and didn’t care about anyone but herself. I wasn’t a fan.
"No Place Like Home"—Another Oz episode, with Good Charlie/Bad Charlie, a wicked wizard, and Dean struggling with the MOC. An excellent and clever MOTW episode—how can you not love Charlie and Oz!
"About a Boy"—Dean gets de-aged by Hansel and Gretel, and the MOC vanishes. In the fight against the two child-eating monsters, Dean reverses the age spell to save Sam, and the Mark returns. Another strong MOTW episode, great portrayal of young Dean, and some nice character insights.
"Halt and Catch Fire"—The ghost of a murdered man haunts the ones responsible for his death and hunts them down through electronic devices.
"The Things They Carried"—The Khan worm is back, along with Cole.
"Paint It Black"—A MOTW episode with a string of suicides that seem linked to a church. Turns out a nun’s vengeful ghost is behind the deaths, all of which had a pattern of betrayal. Crowley and Rowena deal with the Grand Coven.
"Inside Man"—Cas and Sam break Metatron out of Heaven’s jail to get intel on the MOC, and enlist Bobby’s help. Dean gets tracked by Rowena, and has a heart-to-heart with Crowley.
"Book of the Damned"—Charlie tracks down the Book of the Damned, which is in unreadable code. Dean runs into the Stynes, who are tracking the book. Dean orders Sam to destroy the book, and Sam lies about burning it, then enlists Rowena to help break the MOC.
"The Werther Project"—Good MOTW with a spelled box that contains the Codex and a curse that tricks those who open the box to kill themselves.
"Angel Heart"—Sam, Dean and Cas try to help Claire look for her missing mother, who has been kidnapped by a Grigori who feeds on souls. In the end, Claire agrees to go live with Jody Mills.
Key Songs that Were Included:
"Fan Fiction"—"The Road So Far", "I’ll Just Wait Here Then", "A Single Man Tear", and the choral version of "Carry On Wayward Son"
"The Executioner’s Song"—nothing notable
"Dark Dynasty"—no music
"The Prisoner"—nothing notable
"Brothers’ Keeper"—"Carry on Wayward Son" by Kansas
Key Songs that Were Excluded:
"Black"—"Heartbreaker" by Pat Benatar, "I’m Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred, "Imaginary Lover" by Atlanta Rhythm Section
"Reichenbach"—"Cherry Pie" by Warrant, "Hey There Lonely Girl" by Eddie Holman
"Paper Moon"—"Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon
"Ask Jeeves"—"Travelin’ Man" by Bob Seeger
"Girls, Girls, Girls"—nothing notable
"Hibbing 911"–"The Weight" by The Band
"The Things We Left Behind"—nothing notable
"The Hunter Games"—"Long Black Road" by Electric Light Orchestra
"There’s No Place Like Home"—nothing notable
"About a Boy"—"Shake it Off", by Taylor Swift
"Halt and Catch Fire"—"Take Me To Church" by Hozier
"The Things They Carried"—no music
"Paint It Black"—nothing notable
"Inside Man"—"The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers
"Book of the Damned"—"The Boys are Back in Town" by Thin Lizzy, "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who
"The Werther Project"—"I Saw the Light" by Todd Rundgren
"Angel Heart"—"Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" by Willie Nelson
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 11!
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!