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.)
So come on the journey with me! Start with season 1, then follow the links until you catch up with us in season 9!
Season 9 (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.
Entertainment Weekly only chose four 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.
"I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here"
Sam is dying from the Trials. In his mind, he’s with Dean in the Impala, but in reality, Dean is holding vigil at his bedside and Sam is in a coma. Cas is mostly mortal and can’t heal him. The doctors can’t help Sam, so Dean prays to the angels. In Sam’s mind, he argues with Dean and Bobby about whether to keep fighting or let go.
Dean gets jumped by a hostile angel, and saved by ‘Ezekiel’, who says he is there to heal Sam. Angels attack the hospital. Dean asks Cas about Ezekiel, and Cas says that the angel by that name is a good one. Dean argues with Ezekiel about the idea of possessing Sam, knowing that Sam wouldn’t want it, and Ezekiel forces him to make the choice between possession and letting Sam die. In Sam’s mind, he’s ready to go with Death, and wants it to be final.
Gadreel appears to Sam in his mind as Dean and makes Dean’s ‘there ain’t no me if there ain’t no you’ speech. Sam changes his mind and says ‘yes’ to Dean (and therefore to Gadreel). Dean also resists Gadreel’s insistence that he not tell Sam, but Gadreel basically blackmails him with the threat of Sam expelling him and dying. Another great bro moment is the trunk-slamming and ‘we’ve got work to do’.
Additional memorable moments—Cas in his boxers at the laundromat and ‘I’ve got the King of Hell in my trunk’.
On the rewatch, it really struck me how careful Dean tried to be, given that Sam was dying and the hospital was under attack, about vetting ‘Ezekiel’ and his concern about Sam’s feelings, not only about possession but about Dean ‘needing’ to lie to him. This is where I take issue with the big ‘forced error’ of Season 9–the huge blow-up between Sam and Dean when Sam finds out.
Cas is human, Dean walks away from Sam out of guilt and anger over Sam’s reaction to finding out about Gadreel. An angel is using a televangelist to urge people to say ‘yes’ to angels, and a choir of female angels slaughter a bar full of motorcycle gang demons. Gadreel is holding Sam hostage to get Dean to do what he wants, including staying clear of Cas.
Sam notices that he’s missing time. Bartholomew, the angel behind the televangelist, wants to retake heaven. Metatron recognizes Gadreel, and pitches rebuilding heaven together.
Cas gets captured, then kills his torturer and steals his grace.
He discovers that Ezekiel died, so the angel in Sam isn’t who he claimed.
Gadreel kills Kevin using Sam’s body.
Crowley finds Dean in a bar and convinces him to go looking for the First Blade, ostensibly to stop Abaddon.
Cas is at the bunker with Sam, and tries to remove the grace Gadreel left behind in Sam. Crowley locates Cain’s hiding place, and Cain tells them that he trained the Knights of Hell himself.
Sam tells Cas that he’s angry because Dean made a major choice for him. (Why can’t people come right out and talk about having one’s will and body violated so the enormity of the actual issue is clear?) Cas refuses to kill Sam to extract all of Gadreel’s grace, because of what he learned when he was human about valuing life. He and Sam argue about Winchester guilt and martyrdom. Meanwhile, Dean doesn’t listen to Cain’s ‘warning label’ about the MOC, and takes the Mark.
At the end, he realizes Crowley played him.
"Do You Believe in Miracles"
Dean is locked in the Bunker dungeon (a ‘mirror image’ of Sam in the panic room) and is coughing blood (like Sam in the Trials). Metatron is making his move to become the new God.
Dean breaks out and confronts Crowley. Cas and Gadreel go to Heaven to try to enlist the angels against Metatron (his ‘Wookiee’ strategy explanation is priceless) and get captured.
Sam and Dean argue about going after Metatron, and after Sam insists that they go together, Dean agrees, then knocks him out to go alone. Gadreel uses his grace as a suicide bomber to break Cas out of Heaven’s jail so he can stop Metatron.
Sam wakes up and comes after Dean, just in time to see Metatron stab him. Cas destroys the angel tablet.
Dean brings up the whole ‘I wouldn’t save you’ misunderstanding, and Sam says, ‘I lied.’ Dean tells Sam, ‘I’m proud of us’ as he dies,
and Sam carries his body to his room in the bunker, gets drunk, and tries to summon Crowley. Crowley is already in Dean’s room, waking him as a demon.
Snarky Opinion—When push comes to shove, Sam will make just as bad or worse choices to save Dean as Dean does to save Sam. Sam arguably deals *worse* with losing Dean because while Dean becomes self-destructive, Sam burns down he world. (Think of Obsessed!Sam during the six months in "Mystery Spot" after Dean died and he was hunting the Trickster, and later being willing to drink demon blood, working with Ruby, and trying to kill Lilith.) Sam is also still guilt-ridden about not stopping Dean from going to Hell with his deal, and then not getting him out of Purgatory (or looking for him). Is it any surprise that Sam is again willing to pay any price and destroy the world (again) to save Dean and redeem himself by proving his devotion to his brother?
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
The abbreviated ‘essentials’ list not only takes the emotional impact out of Kevin’s death because we hardly meet the prophet, but it also makes the whole ‘angel wars’ arc and Metatron’s rise almost unintelligible. We just don’t see enough of the backstory with the tablets and the angel situation in the four chosen episodes for it to make any sense to someone who wasn’t already very familiar with the season.
"Devil May Care"—Ezekiel is possessing Sam, Dean kidnaps Crowley, Kevin is in the Bunker, and Abaddon is back.
"I’m No Angel"—Cas is mostly human, and being hunted by angels. Buddy Boyle is encouraging the faithful to agree to be angel vessels, and sends reapers after Cas. A kind woman takes Cas home and they have sex (twice)—then she turns out to be a reaper who tortures and kills him. Ezekiel heals Cas but it’s almost too much for his remaining grace. Cas is now completely human. Ezekiel blackmails Dean into making Cas leave the Bunker to keep him from revealing the possession to Sam.
"Slumber Party"—Charlie’s back, along with Dorothy from Oz and the Wicked Witch, who is trying to find a special key. The Witch kills Charlie, Ezekiel revives her, and together they stop the witch. Dorothy and Charlie go off to Oz. As Monster of the Week (MOTW) go, this was memorable and interesting, and it’s Charlie again!
"Dog Dean Afternoon"—Dean uses a spell to be able to talk to animals in order to get information on a series of bizarre murders. It also gives him dog-like behaviors. Turns out there is a crazy chef using an ancient spell to take on the characteristics of the animals that he eats. Another clever and humorous MOTW without a lot of season arc impact.
"Heaven Can’t Wait"—Cas is working at the Gas-n-Sip and thinks his co-worker is asking him on a date, but she really wants him to babysit while she goes out with someone else (I felt so bad for him!). Mercy-killing angels are running amok, unfamiliar with human emotions and killing people who are depressed but not really suicidal. Kevin’s having trouble decoding the tablets.
"Bad Boys"—Strong episode revealing some of Dean’s history when he was sent to a boy’s home for stealing food (to feed Sam). His memories are a counterpoint to a present-day haunting, which Sonny, the head of the boy’s home, called them in to solve. Dean had apparently fit in well and thrived at the home, but left to stay with Sam. This episode might not be essential to the season arc, but I thought it was essential to Dean’s characterization, and revealed more about the brothers’ bond as children.
"Rock and a Hard Place"—MOTW with the goddess Vesta using a church’s chastity program to find sacrificial virgins and punishing those who break their vows.
"Road Trip"—Gadreel is killing other angels (while in Sam’s body). Dean enlists help from Cas and Crowley to get Gadreel out of Sam. Sam’s angry for Dean allowing him to be possessed and lying to him. Dean says he needs to go hunt Gadreel alone, to atone for Kevin’s death.
"Sharp Teeth"—Garth is a werewolf, and married. Dean apologizes to Sam, but Sam doesn’t think Dean really understands Sam is truly angry. We get Sam’s unfinished ‘if you want to be brothers...’ statement.
"The Purge"—Sam and Dean go undercover at a health spa after reports that former visitors have died from having all the fat sucked out of their bodies. They meet Donna, and hunt the pishtaco monster. Back in the bunker, they argue and Sam tells Dean that he wouldn’t make the same choice for Dean if the situation was reversed.
Snarky Opinion—The whole rift between the brothers rests on Sam’s comment that ‘given the same situation, I wouldn’t’ and his unfinished sentence, ‘if you want to be brothers...’.
So let’s think about that. Season 9 Sam had already been possessed by Meg, then Lucifer, both of which were essentially psychic rape. So it makes sense that he had a strong revulsion to being ‘re-possessed’ (and Dean already knew he wouldn’t agree to it). This is before Dean experienced the Mark of Cain (MOC), or being a demon, or being possessed by Michael. He hadn’t had his will violated (yet). So why are we surprised when Sam says that he wouldn’t agree to let Dean get possessed to save his life? He didn’t say he wouldn’t save Dean—just that ‘given the same situation’ he wouldn’t make the same choice that Dean made for him. Next, the unfinished sentence. He didn’t say they weren’t brothers anymore. But there’s a different level of expectations and deep trust between being work partners vs ‘brothers’. So if Dean wanted to be more than just work partners, he needed to earn back the trust of being a brother. Okay—that took a paragraph to work through. But in the show, Dean goes off the rails and takes the MOC over it? This is the kind of forced error that drives me nuts!
"Captives"—Dean believes the bunker is haunted. They find out Crowley had Kevin Tran’s mom captive and free her. Cas has it out with Bartholomew. Sam and Dean are still fighting. Kevin is the ghost in the bunker, and he wants to go home with his mother. He tells the boys to work it out. At the end, they’re still fighting.
"#thinman"—A shadowy creature thought to be an urban legend appears to be killing people. Sam and Dean go after it, and run into the Ghostfacers. Ed says he made up the shadow creature to keep Harry from losing interest in the webcast, but it turns out someone else is really behind the monster. Harry splits up with Ed when he finds out Ed lied. Personally, I really hated the heavy-handed allegory between the Ghostfacers/Sam and Dean.
"Blade Runners"—Crowley and Abaddon battle for control of Hell. Dean seeks the First Blade from former MOL and occult collector Cuthbert Sinclair. (I would have loved to see Sinclair stick around longer as an enemy, and to have Sam and Dean return to raid his ‘collections’ and add them to the Bunker.)
"Mother’s Little Helper"—Dean struggles with the pull of the First Blade, Sam researches a case involving rage murders, and we get a flashback of what happened when Abaddon rose the first time.
"Meta Fiction"—Metatron tries to trick Cas into siding with him and leading an army of angels. Sam and Dean trap Gadreel, who eventually escapes.
"Alex Annie Alexis Anne"—A Monster of the Week (MOTW) episode where a nest of vampires is using a still-human hostage ‘sister’ as bait to attract victims. Jody rescues the girl and takes her in—this is the Alex who becomes part of the Wayward Sisters crew.
"Bloodlines"—Monster factions rule the Chicago Mob. A failed spin-off pilot and probably one of the least-liked episodes of all time.
"King of the Damned"—Cas’ role with the Angel Wars continues, as Abaddon tries to get Crowley to give up the First Blade. Dean kills Abaddon with the First Blade, but refuses to acknowledge its growing hold on him.
"Stairway to Heaven"—Angel Wars maneuvering between factions continues, Dean falls more under the sway of the First Blade, and Gadreel decides to switch sides.
Key Songs that Were Included:
"I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here"— "Who Do You Love?" by George Thorogood and the Destroyers
"Holy Terror"—"This Little Light of Mine" (I will never hear this song the same way again!) by The Melody Ministry Glee Club
First Born"—"Just Another Night" by Ian Hunter
"Do You Believe in Miracles?"—"Can't Find My Way Home" by Faith
Key Songs that Were Excluded:
"Devil May Care"—"Rockin' Down the Highway" by The Doobie Brothers
"I’m No Angel"—nothing special
"Slumber Party"—AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)", plus Mark Sheppard whistles "Over the Rainbow"
"Dog Dean Afternoon"—"I Want to Know What Love Is" by Foreigner
"Heaven Can’t Wait"—Misha Collins hums the theme from The Greatest American Hero ("Believe It or Not")
"Bad Boys"—Journey's "Stone in Love"
"Rock and a Hard Place"—no music
"Road Trip" and "Sharp Teeth"—nothing special
"The Purge"—"Up Where We Belong" by Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes
"Captives"—Billy Squier's "Lonely Is the Night"
"Blade Runners"—"Heroin" by The Velvet Underground & Nico
"Mother’s Little Helper"—"You're No Good" by Linda Ronstadt
"Meta Fiction"—Frankie Valli's "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)"
"Alex Annie Alexis Ann", "Bloodlines", "King of the Damned", "Stairway to Heaven"—nothing special
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 10!
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!