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 12!
Season 12 (Show runner: Andrew Dabb and Robert Singer )
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.
"Keep Calm and Carry On"
Dean finds Mary, who doesn’t realize she’s been dead for 33 years and is still wearing the dead-mom-nightgown.
(Nice touch with the Mystery Spot billboard that Cas flies through like a comet from Lady Toni’s banishing spell!) Cas steals a truck to get home. Dean for some reason doesn’t try to call Sam. Toni gets a veterinarian to fix Sam’s leg.
Sam puts on a brave face ‘I’ve been tortured by the devil himself, so you’re just an accent in a pantsuit’, but he’s given up, believing that Dean is dead. Back in the Bunker, Mary sees the Impala, and Dean realizes every member of his family has made out in the back seat.
Cas and Mary bond over being outsiders, and Dean calls Toni, threatens her, breaks the phone.
The BMOL hitwoman goes after the Impala and kicks Cas and Dean’s asses. (Why are they suddenly bad fighters? Was it so important Mary was the one to kill her? This is one of those forced errors I hate.) Back with Toni, Sam appears to cut his throat, Toni goes to check and he doesn’t kill her when he gets the chance (another forced error) so of course she gets away and locks him back up again.
"Stuck in the Middle With You"
This episode was told out of sequence and scenes are repeated from different characters’ points of view. Directed by Richard Speight, Jr., it’s also an homage to Reservoir Dogs. Also, Jensen missed some filming time on this episode when his twins were born. I had some real issues with Mary in this episode.
She was willing to work with the BMOL after what they did with Sam, she lied to the boys and stole the Colt from Ramiel, placing them all in danger, and then didn’t use the Colt against Ramiel to try to save their lives.
Crowley appears and explains more about Ramiel, and we see how Crowley became the King of Hell. Crowley tries to talk Ramiel out of killing the Winchesters.
Cas is dying from the wound from the Spear of Michael. Sam kills Ramiel with the spear, and then Crowley snaps the lance and it heals Cas.
Inconsistency—if Azazel was a prince of hell like Ramiel, why did the Colt kill him if it couldn’t have killed Ramiel? Mary confronts Ketch and threatens him. Ends with Lucifer/Nick in Hell’s jail.
"All Along the Watchtower"
Cas and Kelly are at a house trying to build IKEA baby furniture.
On the rewatch, I liked Kelly better and Mary less—and I understood why Mark Sheppard wanted out. The Rift opens and Cas finds AU World with Bobby.
Kelly records her video for Jack. Cas is reading parenting books and taking an online doula class. Cas says he saw the future—a world without pain, hunger, war and want, that Jack would create. (Have the writers of season 15 forgotten this?) Jack is being born, Lucifer is after everyone, and the boys decide to explore the Rift now?
Running into AU Bobby, it’s a world where Sam and Dean were never born. Mary is with Kelly waiting for the baby. The idea of bullets made from angel blades sounded good—why not reuse that in the real world? Lucifer wants to smash Chuck’s toys.
Crowley sacrifices himself, Sam and Dean get out. Mary has the BMOL brass knuckles and punches Lucifer, he drags her into the rift and then stabs Cas.
Kelly is dead. Jack is born. (Oddly, her traumatic birth is bloodless. We knew she was doomed because she was wearing the sexless-mother-ugly-nightgown-of-doom).
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
"Mamma Mia"—Dean and Mary try to rescue Sam and get captured. Lady Toni plays mind games with Sam. Lucifer takes rocker Vince Vincente as his vessel. Rowena and Crowley try to trap Lucifer and fail. Mick and Cas rescue the Winchesters. Back at the Bunker, Sam tries to bond with Mary.
"The Foundry"—a Monster of the Week (MOTW) involving vengeful child ghosts which keep Sam, Dean and Mary busy, while Cas goes to look for Lucifer and Rowena. Mary gets possessed by the spirit of the murderer, which ends when the boys find the last body and burn the bones. Mary says she’s grieving losing her old life, takes her duffle and leaves. (Snarky observation—Mary fails spectacularly as a mother and a responsible adult. Part of being a parent means putting your kids’ needs above your own, so walking out on Sam and Dean to ‘find herself’ seemed like the height of selfishness.)
"American Nightmare"—Cas and Crowley team up to find Lucifer. Mary is in the wind. Sam and Dean investigate cases where the corpses appear to have been whipped and acquired stigmata. The trail leads them to a very religious family and they eventually find out that the family has imprisoned and tortured a daughter with psychic abilities, who projected her torment onto others unintentionally. Sam and Dean let the girl go, but Ketch from the British Men of Letters (BMOL) kills her.
"The One You’ve Been Waiting For"—Sam and Dean foil Nazi necromancers who are trying to resurrect Hitler. Dean shoots (new) Hitler.
"Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox"—Dean and Sam accompany Jody to the funeral of a hunter in Canada. Mary shows up, and had saved Asa as a boy, influencing him to become a hunter. Dean and Mary argue. A demon traps the others in the house and starts to kill them. Dean bargains with Billie to let him back inside. Another hunter confesses to having accidentally killed Asa and covered it up. They stop the demon and save nearly everyone, but they owe Billie. Even after all this, Mary can only spare enough time for her sons for breakfast. What a mom!
"Rock Never Dies"—As Vince Vincente, Lucifer is going off the rails, killing band members and causing havoc. A band member gets in touch with Sam and Dean, who arrive too late to save the band but do manage to save the crowd. They can’t best Lucifer in a fight, who is still angry with God, but Luci spares their lives and smokes out. Sam is very discouraged.
"LOTUS"—Lucifer has been hopping vessels, and tricks the president into making a deal. Ketch rescues the boys, but then doesn’t hang around. Turns out the president had a mistress, Kelly Kline, who finds out she’s pregnant. Sam and Dean team up with Cas, Crowley and Rowena to trap Lucifer. They think they’ve won, Crowley and Rowena leave, Cas takes off with Kelly, and the boys get captured hunching over the unconscious body of the president.
Snarky comment—this is a perfect example of forced errors. When do the boys ever hang around to get caught? Why didn’t Cas realize they were in trouble and zap them out of there? (Or Crowley and Rowena?) Why isn’t Ketch with them? To me, it’s lazy writing to have characters do something stupid and out of character just to manipulate them into position for the next episode. There are so many other ways they could have gotten to the same end while remaining logical and in character!
"First Blood"—Mick Davies is recruiting hunters. Mary is hunting, while sorta looking for Sam and Dean, who even Cas and the BMOL don’t seem to be able to find (?). Dean makes a deal with Billie to get them out, but it requires one of them to die afterwards. Billie warns of ‘cosmic consequences’ if they renege. Mary offers herself. Cas kills Billie with a speech about how the world needs the Winchesters. Mick files a report saying that Mary is interested in working with the BMOL.
Snarky comment—the BMOL are so high tech, but it took how long to find Sam and Dean? This is another forced error issue. Also, Dean spent 4 months/40 years in hell and Sam’s soul was there for about 180 years, and they both break to the point of being suicidal with three hots and a cot after six weeks just because of solitary? I found that really difficult to believe, especially after how long Sam withstood the BMOL torture believing Dean was dead. This seemed like manufactured drama. Also, Mary didn’t seem too invested in the search—some great hunter! If the BMOL wanted to recruit her, wouldn’t they rescue the boys to make all of them indebted? Mary must not have been too bothered by what the BMOL did to Sam since she’s interested in joining. And Billie is apparently, in retrospect, a big lying liar who lies, because what ‘cosmic consequences’ were supposed to happen and didn’t?
"Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets"—Cas is looking for Kelly Kline, Mary is off hunting. Someone is killing angels. They meet Lily Sunder who was once married to an angel a hundred years ago and had a Nephilim child, but other angels (including Cas) killed her husband and child for ‘breaking the rules’. She spent that century learning witchcraft so she could avenge her family. Now she’s getting her revenge. Cas and the boys learn that the angel he believed about the initial attack lied. Lily kills the other angels but spares Cas. (The fact that Nephilims exist proves that angels in human vessels are not ‘junkless’.)
"Regarding Dean"—One of the best episodes of the series, in my opinion. Technically a MOTW with a vicious family of witches. Dean gets cursed to forget everything, which will eventually kill him. Sam enlists Rowena’s help, and she has history with the bad witches. Dean’s gradual loss of memory starts out funny, then turns tragic. Sam and Dean have some great bro moments, and both actors knock the performance out of the park. Also, witch-killing bullets and a grenade launcher.
"Family Feud"—Sam and Dean investigate odd deaths which seem to be related to an old shipwreck and a recent museum exhibit about the wreck. It turns out that Crowley’s son, Gavin (who would have died in the wreck if he hadn’t been brought back to life in the present) is linked to the vengeful ghost, his girlfriend who died on the ship. Rowena sends Gavin back to stop the ghost, and also to get revenge on Crowley for killing Oskar. Meanwhile, Kelly Kline has ditched Cas and gets kidnapped by Dagon. Lucifer is in Hell’s jail (redirected by Crowley from going to the Cage), and is communicating with Dagon. Mary is hunting with the BMOL, lying to the boys, and having drinks with Ketch.
"The Raid"—Dean is angry when Mary wants them to consider working with the BMOL. Sam agrees to hear her out, while Ketch comes to talk Dean into doing a job together. Sam, Mary and the BMOL deal with the Alpha Vampire and everything goes sideways. Dean and Ketch arrive in time to help them win, and Dean says that he doesn’t like her choices but doesn’t want to lose her. Sam thinks Dean will come around on the BMOL.
"Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell"—Sam and Dean deal with a rogue hellhound, while Crowley and Lucifer vie for Hell. Dagon has Kelly Kline, and Cas goes back to Heaven to coordinate finding Kelly. Sam tells Dean he’s been getting leads on cases from the BMOL and that they have great tech that could make a difference. Dean reluctantly agrees to work with them unless or until anything seems hinky.
"Ladies Drink Free"—Claire Novak gets in over her head hunting a werewolf and nearly gets turned. Sam, Dean and Mick Davies follow and rescue Claire. She’s been bitten, but the BMOL have an experimental cure. The cure works, and Claire is saved. She insists on continuing to hunt alone, but calls Jody to check in. Sam and Dean decide Mick might be an okay guy.
Snarky comment—Is there a reason Claire was written to be entirely unlikeable? ‘Independent’ doesn’t have to mean surly and disagreeable—and reckless even by hunter standards. How many people’s lives did she endanger by taking on a hunt she couldn’t handle? And she apparently didn’t learn from her mistake.
"The British Invasion"—We see more of the BMOL, including a flashback to Mick’s time at their academy when he killed his best friend to prove himself worthy. Dagon has Kelly Kline, and is in communication with Lucifer, who is a prisoner of Crowley’s. Eileen is helping Sam and Dean run down clues to Kelly’s location. When Eileen accidentally kills one of the BMOL, Mick is ready to kill her but Sam and Dean persuade him not to. Eileen goes back to Ireland (which oddly puts her in Britain, and they’re the British MOL so I’m not sure how that got her *away* from them). Mary sleeps with Ketch. Dr. Hess comes to the US and says they need to turn the hunters or kill them. Ketch kills Mick.
"The Memory Remains"—Sam and Dean investigate a town with a yearly strange death and find a family that has bound Moloch and needs to feed the god. They stop the killings. Ketch has them under surveillance.
"The Future"—Dagon has Kelly Kline. Cas steals the Colt. Dagon takes it and melts it. When they confront Dagon, the baby powers Cas up enough to defeat Dagon. Cas now believes Kelly that the baby will be born good, and they go on the run together.
"Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes"—Max and Alicia who are friends of Mary’s ask for help after their hunter-mother disappeared. Mary is off helping the BMOL, but growing suspicious and uncomfortable with their methods. Sam and Dean investigate and find out that a witch needs to pass on her power and killed their mother, replacing her with a twig-doll. When Alicia is killed, Max accepts the deal and brings Alicia back to life as a twig-doll. Mary is captured by the BMOL.
"There’s Something About Mary"—Lucifer escapes. Mary is brainwashed by the BMOL and kills hunters. Eileen is killed by a hellhound at Ketch’s orders. The BMOL try to capture Sam and Dean, but end up leaving them to die along with Toni Bevell in the Bunker and turn off the ventilation. Mary helps the BMOL. Snarky comment—Sam held out against Lucifer himself, but Mary gets brainwashed by a bunch of Brits? We were given too little to like about Mary before they turned her bad, so it was hard to care. We really didn’t see much ‘good’ Mary until the recaps in her death episode. If we had seen more of that from the start, it would have made for a much more sympathetic and likable character.
"Who We Are"—Dean uses the grenade launcher to get out of the Bunker and turn the ventilation back on, saving them, but injures his leg. Sam rallies the hunters to go after the BMOL. Mary tries to kill Jody, but Jody outsmarts her. They bring her back to the Bunker, and Dean forces Toni to reverse the brainwashing, which requires him going into Mary’s memories while Sam leads the attack on the BMOL headquarters. Sam and the hunters destroy the BMOL base and Jody shoots Dr. Hess. Ketch interrupts the de-programming at the Bunker, but Dean has succeeded and Mary kills Ketch. The episode ends with a big hug with Dean, Sam and Mary. Snarky comment—-the warding on the Bunker doesn’t seem to be worth squat since everyone can get in so easily! Also, Mary offers a lame, self-centered excuse for all her actions, but the boys forgive her anyhow.
Key Songs that Were Included:
"Keep Calm and Carry On"—"Bad Boys" by April Wine and "Solitude" by Black Sabbath
"Stuck in the Middle (With You)"—nothing special
"All Along the Watch Tower"—"Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas
Key Songs that Were Excluded:
"Mamma Mia"—"Lost Angel" by Heart
"The Foundry—Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf
"American Nightmare"—nothing special
"The One You’ve Been Waiting For"—nothing special
"Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox"—"Roll On Down the Highway" by BTO, "Man in the Box" by Alice In Chains
"Rock Never Dies"—nothing special
"First Blood"—"If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)" by AC/DC
"Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets"—no music
"Regarding Dean"—"Broomstick Cowboy" by Bobby Goldsboro
"Family Feud"—"Play With Fire" by The Rolling Stones
"The Raid"—no music
"Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell"—nothing special
"Ladies Drink Free"—"Real Wild Child" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
"The British Invasion"—no music
"The Memory Remains"—nothing special
"The Future"—no music
"Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes"—nothing special
"There’s Something About Mary"—no music
"Who We Are"—no music
You can see the season 12's full music list!
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 13!
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!