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 this journey with me! Start with season 1, then follow the links until you catch up with us in season 7!
Season 7 (Show runner: Sera Gamble)
EW skipped all the way to episode 10, "Death’s Door", for its first pick of an ‘essential’ episode of the season. Don’t get me wrong—"Death’s Door" is an amazing episode, but there’s a lot of water under the bridge by the time you get to episode 10 and a lot of things don’t make sense without some of those threads.
We’re inside Bobby’s head as he’s dying. We see him with Sam and Dean, then the scene changes to him having a fight with his wife about not having children. He knows something’s not quite right, but he isn’t sure what.
Next he’s on a job with Rufus, and he keeps seeing a young boy. Then he spots a Reaper. Back at his house again, Sam and Dean are arguing Chuck Norris vs. Jet Li. Then back to the kitchen of Bobby’s childhood home, and out with Rufus again. Back in the real world, Dean is heartbroken and Sam looks scared. Bobby is starting to realize what’s going on, and he needs to tell Sam and Dean an important number.
Rufus takes on the role of psychopomp (guide to the realm of the dead) by showing him his best and worst memories, like the fight with Karen days before she died, and his abusive childhood. Then he remembers teaching Dean to play baseball. At the hospital, Dean almost punches the organ donation guy, and Dick Roman shows up to gloat. Sam is dealing with grief by being hyper-practical, while Dean wants to fight, and it’s stressful enough that Sam starts pressing his ‘Stone Number One’ scar (which if you’ve only seen the ‘Essential 75’ list won’t make any sense because we skipped that). Bobby traps the Reaper, who tells him that he ‘got handed a small, unremarkable life and you did something with it.’ Bobby doesn’t want to leave ‘his boys’, and we see him confront his abusive father as a child and shoot him, then get rid of the body. In the hospital, Bobby writes the number on Sam’s hand and says ‘Idjits’.
His last memory, ‘saved the best for last’, is back at his house just watching TV with Sam and Dean.
"The Girl With the Dungeons and Dragon Tattoo"
Sam and Dean are holed up in a cabin, Frank is dead (‘essential’ episode watchers never met him, so that isn’t going to make sense), and Bobby’s a ghost. The Leviathans are building a meat processing plant and a bio tech company to engineer the perfect herd—people as livestock.
We see Charlie be-bopping in the elevator, and get a look at smarmy CEO Dick Roman. Gotta love her comment about her tat, “I was drunk and it was Comic Con.” (So say we all!) And it’s Princess Leia straddling a twenty-sided die!
She needs to get inside to Dick’s office, past the security guard. Dean talks her through how to flirt with a guy, and watching Sam laugh his way through it all was fantastic. When it all goes wrong, Bobby helps them escape by breaking the glass and helping to fight Dick. Charlie looks so small in Sam’s arms!
Bobby helped them out, but he also possessed an unwilling host and he’s going vengeful. Dean calls Charlie ‘the little sister I never wanted.’
"Survival of the Fittest"
Crowley makes a deal with Dick Roman to keep Canada for the demons, and schemes against Sam and Dean. Cas is broken from his experience in the mental hospital (although since the whole Great Wall of Sam arc wasn’t really included in the ‘essential’ episodes, it won’t make sense to those who haven’t already seen it.)
Crowley double-crosses Dick, there are plenty of Dick jokes, and Bobby is helping fight the Leviathans, but as a vengeful ghost, he’s dangerous. Cas brings sandwiches ‘as a gesture of solidarity’. Meg crashes the Impala (which had been hidden by Frank to keep the FBI off their trail) into the Roman Enterprises sign as a distraction.
Sam saves Kevin and knows they blow up the lab to destroy dangerous research.
Then Dean and Cas fight Dick, Dick explodes, and Dean and Cas vanish with him. Crowley shows up with demons to seize Kevin, and tells Sam that ‘you are well and truly on your own.’
The episode ends with Dean and Cas waking up in Purgatory.
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
Since three episodes made the EW list and 20 didn’t, there’s a lot here to cover. If you were already very familiar with the series, the ‘essentials’ are a fun reminder. But for new viewers or anyone who isn’t intimately familiar with the missing episodes, there is too much missing for the included episodes to make sense and have the full emotional impact.
We end up skipping almost all of the Soulless Sam arc, the impact of Cas breaking Sam’s wall and Sam’s difficulty knowing what’s real thanks to Hallucifer—plus it skips ‘Stone Number One’ and the cut on Sam’s hand. In addition, it skips almost all of the leviathan arc, Frank Devereaux, and the Campbell arc as well as the tablet storyline with Kevin and all of Meg’s story. That’s leaving out a lot!
"Meet the New Boss"—Cas finds out that being God is harder than it looks as he smites angels and hypocritical religious leaders. Meanwhile, Sam is not okay after Cas broke the Great Wall of Sam. Appealing to Death for advice leads to an unsuccessful attempt to fix Cas.
"Hello Cruel World"—Sam hallucinates, the leviathans are taking over, and Bobby’s house burns down. Dean tells Sam to make him ‘Stone Number One.’
"The Girl Next Door"—The leviathans continue to take over, Sam encounters Amy - an old flame who is a kitsune - and lets her live but Dean kills her and lies to Sam.
"Defending Your Life"—Dean goes on trial for his life before Osiris, and the theme is guilt - of course, specifically Dean’s guilt over killing Sam’s kitsune friend Amy and lying about it. (Snarky opinion—this is a case of doubling down on a bad story decision to make it into a brother blow-up forced error.)
"Shut Up, Dr. Phil"—two feuding married witches (and Buffy alumni), and Dean still isn’t telling Sam the truth about Amy.
"Slash Fiction"—The leviathans impersonate Sam and Dean and go on a crime spree. Bobby and Jody discover that Borax kills the leviathans. They meet Frank Devereaux and hide the Impala. Sam and Dean get arrested, one of the leviathans impersonates Dean and tells Sam that Dean killed Amy. After Sam and Dean get out of all the trouble, Sam confronts Dean on the pier and walks out on him over lying about Amy. (Snarky opinion—After everything they’ve been through, doesn’t this feel like a real stretch for a brother breakup?)
"The Mentalists"—Sam and Dean are fighting with each other and have separated, but they independently go to Lily Dale, a town famous for psychics, to investigate unusual deaths. They meet up and Dean talks Sam into working together. Jealous psychics are killing each other off. In the end, Dean apologizes to Sam for lying but still thinks he did the right thing killing Amy. Sam says he finally agrees that killing her was right, but that Dean needs to stop lying. They leave town together.
"Season 7, Time for a Wedding"—Probably the most reviled episode in the Supernatural canon. Let’s see, we’ve got non-con, magical roofies, fan-shaming, negative portrayal of female fans, Sam gets violated again, all for some cheap laughs at Becky’s expense. (Thankfully, she got a redemption arc at the beginning of season 15, but this was a hurtful episode that sparked a lot of distrust of Andrew Dabb and his feelings about the fans.) On the plus side, we met Garth.
"How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters"—Bobby, Sam and Dean hunt whatever is causing strange deaths in town. Dean eats a turducken sandwich at Biggerson’s and has a weird reaction. Turns out it’s a leviathan plot to alter human DNA with adulterated meat, but Dick Roman shuts down the project because it’s drawing attention. Bobby gets kidnapped by the leviathans and still manages to break loose and go through Dick’s office. Sam and Dean come to the rescue, Bobby gets shot.
"Adventures in Babysitting"—A hunter’s daughter calls for help, Sam gets caught by a Vetala, and Dean and Frank Devereaux figure out the number Bobby wrote on Sam’s hand is a new construction location for Roman Enterprises.
"Time after Time after Time"—Dean gets pulled back into 1944 and ends up helping Elliot Ness fight monsters. In the present, Sam and Jody try to bring him back. Turns out Chronos is loose, and Sam and Jody figure out how to save Dean just in time. Dean and Elliot Ness together? Fun. Dean in 1940s men’s fashions? Memorable!
"The Slice Girls"—Dean’s sex life catches up to him and his hook-up births an Amazon daughter who needs to kill her father to gain power. Sam shoots her because Dean won’t, and tells Dean he understands about Dean killing his friend Amy and that Dean was right. Skippable.
"Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie"—We get some insight into why Sam hates clowns when we realize Dean used to drop him off at a clown-themed kid’s restaurant (like Chuck E Cheese). Sam and Dean investigate deaths by bizarre monsters, and discover that the kids at Plucky’s were encouraged to draw what they were afraid of to banish their fears. It turns out that the assistant manager is using Hoodoo to weed out people he thinks are ‘bad parents’ by turning the drawings real. Dean deals with the killer and saves Sam from the clowns. A solid Monster Of The Week (MOTW) episode with some character study for Sam.
"Repo Man"—Demon problems, Lillith, and Hallucifer. Skippable.
"Out with the Old"—An antique store with cursed objects, leviathans, some insight into Dick Roman’s plans, and Frank Devereaux goes missing.
"The Born-again Identity"—Sam’s wall crumbles, and he ends up in a psych ward. Dean looks for a way to help him and finds a faith healer named Emmanuel who looks a lot like Cas. He agrees to try to help Sam, and regains his own memories as they fight off demons. Cas remembers that he broke Sam’s wall, and takes Sam’s damage into himself to heal Sam. Meg agrees to stay behind and care for him.
"Party on, Garth"—Sam and Dean lend a hand to Garth, who is battling an invisible Japanese alcohol vengeance spirit. Oh, and Bobby is a ghost.
"Of Grave Importance"—A solid MOTW with the haunted Van Ness house, lots of vengeful ghosts, and a female hunter who has history with both of the boys.
"Reading is Fundamental"—We meet Kevin Tran and learn about the tablets.
"There Will be Blood"—A rather muddy episode with leviathans and the Alpha Vampire, and Bobby possesses a maid in order to go after Dick Roman.
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. For most of season six and all of season seven, Purgatory has been a major focus—letting the leviathans out, fighting Eve/Mother of All, and sending Dick Roman back. So *why* when Dick, Dean and Cas all disappear together wouldn’t it occur to Sam that if Dick went to Purgatory, maybe Cas and Dean did, too? Not to mention opening another door to Purgatory in the first episode of season 7. Surely if Purgatory is the junk closet for monsters, Sam would have thought to at least check there?
This just strikes me as ignoring canon because it’s inconvenient, when it wouldn’t take much to have it make sense. (Something about the blast or Crowley wipes Sam’s memory of Purgatory? Crowley lies to Sam and tells him that humans and angels can’t exist there? See—that’s not so hard). I write books for a living, and ignoring canon is a huge no-no. So I’m pretty touchy about it when it’s blatant and easy to avoid.
The second pet peeve is ‘forced errors’. To me, this is when writers make characters ignore prior experience or common sense in order to create a problem to solve. This also happens a lot when Sam and Dean don’t use their words and make assumptions, and it gets old with how often it’s used. The whole Amy Pond situation struck me as an unnecessary and somewhat out of character incident for Dean, who has been getting better about working with supernatural creatures instead of automatically killing them. And then lying to Sam about it? That seemed like engineered angst.
Key Songs that Were Included:
"Death’s Door"—no music
"The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo"—"Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves in Charlie’s iconic entrance/glass elevator sequence.
"Survival of the Fittest"—"Carry on My Wayward Son" by Kansas in the recap, "Vincent" by Don McLean, and "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf when Meg drives the Impala into the sign.
Key Songs in Skipped :
"Meet the New Boss"—"Slow Ride" by Foghat and "These Boots are Made for Walking" by Nancy Sinatra
There was no music in "How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters", "Time after Time", "Plucky Pennywhistle", "Repo Man" or "Of Grave Importance"
"Hello, Cruel World"—"Black Water" by The Doobie Brothers
"Defending Your Life"—"Down South Jukin’" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Slash Fiction"—"All out of Love" by Air Supply (to which Dean silently sings along)
"The Slice Girls"—"Worlds Collide" by Louden Swain plays in the nightclub, "Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC plays in the sex/murder scene
"Out With the Old"—"Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
"The Born-Again Identity"—"Wake up Little Susie" by The Everly Brothers
"There Will Be Blood"—"Why Can’t We Be Friends" by War
Odd musical footnote—this season used classical music in five episodes, which is interesting!
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 8!
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!