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 6!
Season 6 (Show runner: Sera Gamble)
"Weekend at Bobby’s"
Jensen’s first episode as a director. A slice-of-life piece around Bobby. This is Soulless Sam territory, and Bobby’s made his deal. We see Bobby doing research and getting hit on by his neighbor, Macy, who brings him peach cobbler. It’s the first mention of Garth, and we see Bobby’s phone bank. Rufus shows up and needs to bury a body.
Bobby puts a lamia through the neighbor’s wood chipper. Crowley complains to Bobby about his job. Bobby yells at Sam and Dean. Oddly, Sam and Dean fly all the way to Scotland to burn Crowley’s bones.
"The French Mistake"
One of the best meta episodes, with a lot of humor and wonderful in-jokes. Balthazar zaps them into an alternate universe as a distraction, but the angels finally follow. Fan fiction has given us plenty of stories about what the ‘real’ Jared and Jensen did while Sam and Dean were swapped with them! Of course, Sam and Dean keep on hunting, trying to get home.
Sam and Dean use ‘Jared’s’ high-limit credit cards to buy the things needed to work a spell, and everyone on set figures they’re smuggling drugs. So many iconic moments! “It’s an alpaca, dumbass!” “Hola, Mishamigos.”
“You married fake Ruby!”
Of course, there’s also the murderous angel who comes looking for them, AU Misha’s death, the shootout on set, and Sam’s realization that they’re not even brothers in this world. This is one episode that never gets old.
"The Man Who Would Be King"
This episode is all told from Cas’s point of view, and his monologue breaks the Fourth Wall. There’s a lot to unpack here, as Cas shows what’s been largely hidden up until now, working with Crowley and lying to Dean.
Given what the ‘essential’ list skips, we get glimpses of Eve, the Campbells and the Alpha Vampire in this episode, without context. Cas talks about learning ‘how to stand up, what to stand for, and what generally happens when you do.’ There’s confirmation that Cas freed Sam from the Cage, but without his soul (and knew it)—but no real explanation of why he would do that, or why he didn’t try to fix it. We see the angels convincing Cas to lead them. ‘Freedom is a length of rope—God wants you to hang yourself with it’, and ‘Explaining freedom to angels is a lot like explaining poetry to fish.’
He does manage to stop the apocalypse that Raphael wants to restart. Dean tries to be loyal, while Soulless Sam is so frighteningly blank. We see Cas’s self-image—angel, whore, friend, betrayer, the ‘angel of Thursday’. He references ‘hubris’ as his downfall several times.
Cas starts a civil war in heaven, wants to ingest all the souls in Purgatory to gain strength, and betrays Dean’s trust. Sam asks if Cas brought him back soulless on purpose, and Cas never answers. Dean begs him to stop, but Cas doesn’t listen.
"The Man Who Knew Too Much"
Notice how it was so hard to enter and exit Purgatory (and Hell) at first, and later people just stroll in and out? Cas has broken the ‘Great Wall of Sam’ as a *distraction*. (Yes, I know Cas tries to atone later, but I’m still salty about this and him letting Sam out of the panic room in S4. It just seems like too big of a betrayal.) When the episode starts, Sam doesn’t remember who he is. He realizes that he’s missing chunks of time.
We watch Sam re-integrate the other parts of himself, whom he encounters as other Sams, showcasing Jared’s acting skills. The creepy candle-lit version of Bobby’s house is chilling, and Sam encountering his most broken self is heartbreaking, especially when he has to kill that version with the demon knife in order to remember. “I’m not leaving my brother alone out there.”
Meanwhile, Cas kills Balthazar, and sets himself up as the ‘New God’ as an alternative to Raphael. He ignores Dean’s pleas to stop. Sam still manages to show up in time for the big fight. Cas tells everyone to bow down and profess their love.
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
Four episodes out of the entire sixth season were included, and that left out way too much for what we did get to be coherent. We skip most of Soulless Sam, the Lisa and Ben story line, the angel issues with Balthazar and Raphael, all of the Campbell arc, the Alpha Vamp, Eve, and the backstory of the Leviathans and Purgatory. There’s way too much essential information, character development and world building that got glossed over or completely omitted.
"Exile on Main Street"—Sam comes back and we learn about the Campbells. We find out Sam’s been back from Hell for a year, why he didn’t contact Dean and that Dean never gave up trying to get him out. Without this, a lot of the season doesn’t make sense.
"Two and a Half Men"—Sam and Dean deal with a shapeshifter and a shifter baby, plus the concept of the Alpha. Sam doesn’t seem like ‘100% Sammy’—early indications that he’s soulless. Dean is afraid for Lisa and Ben’s safety. Lisa ends up telling him to go, for now, and Dean returns to hunting.
"The Third Man"—Mostly Monster of the Week (MOTW), although with some of the Balthazar and Raphael storyline, and more confirmation that Sam isn’t himself.
"Live Free or Twihard"—This episode focused on the Alpha Vamp and really uncovered more about the Campbells and Sam without a conscience, especially when he lets Dean get turned. Yes, Sam knew there was a cure, but he couldn’t be positive it would work, so we see a ruthless streak devoid of his usual loyalty. Vampire!Dean puts Lisa and Ben in danger. Dean is cured, but he remembers that Sam let him get turned.
"You Can’t Handle the Truth"—Gabriel’s Horn of Truth forces some reckoning. Lisa tells Dean she knew their relationship was over when Sam walked back in, and that she can’t continue like this. Sam is able to lie to Veritas because he’s soulless and admits to Dean that he thinks he needs help even though being ruthless makes him a better hunter.
"Family Matters"—Cas confirms that Sam doesn’t have a soul. Sam and Dean go on a vampire hunt with the Campbells against the Alpha, but it all goes wrong. Turns out that Samuel has been working for Crowley to find Purgatory, and that Crowley brought Samuel and Sam back to life. Crowley forces Sam and Dean to help him capture creatures if they want any chance to reclaim Sam’s soul.
"All Dogs Go To Heaven"—Mostly a skinwalker MOTW, but important because Sam has been weighing the pros and cons of being soulless and still wants to get his soul back.
"Clap Your Hands if You Believe"—Mostly a fey/leprechaun MOTW, but it did give us the ‘fight the fairies’ GIF and Sam turns down a chance to get his soul back from the leprechaun.
"Caged Heat"—Crowley wants monsters to find out how to open Purgatory. Demons want to free Lucifer. Cas tells both Sam and Dean that getting Sam’s soul back is a bad idea, and Sam changes his mind about wanting it.
"Appointment in Samarra"—Dean gets to be Death for 24 hours, is supposed to learn a lesson about destiny, and stops Soulless!Sam from killing Bobby to work a spell Balthazar said would retrieve his soul but was really to screw them over. Death makes Dean choose between Sam and Adam, and then retrieves Sam’s soul and ‘installs’ it, also erecting the Great Wall of Sam. Given how pivotal the issue of Sam’s soul has been in this season and the next, this episode seemed ‘essential’ to me.
"Like a Virgin"—Sam regains his memories of being soulless and wants to atone. They go up against a dragon that is kidnapping women, then steal a manuscript that has instructions on how to open a door to Purgatory and raise the ‘mother of all things’. (Okay, so Purgatory is such a huge part of seasons 6-7, how is it that Sam doesn’t even consider that Dean might have been zapped there at the end of season 7? Why doesn’t Sam use this spell to re-open a door? I hate when writers ignore canon to create angst and defy logic!)
"Unforgiven"—Soulless Sam’s past starts to catch up with him when he and Dean are lured into a trap in a town where Sam and Samuel hunted an Arachne. Not only did one of the victims Soulless Sam left for dead survive, but now he's also an Arachne who is hunting down every woman RoboSam slept with in town and also turns them. Wow. Taking the ‘bad luck of Sam’s lovers’ to a new extreme.
"Mannequin 3: The Reckoning"—A young woman’s ghost haunts mannequins and then the Impala, which tries to run over Dean. Ben tricks Dean into coming back due to an ‘emergency’ that isn’t real. A MOTW with some weird tangents.
"And Then There Were None"—Sam and Dean encounter Eve (the Mother of All), run into Samuel and Gwen, and hunt with Bobby and Rufus. Rufus, Samuel and Gwen end up dead, thanks to the “Khan worm” and Bobby lives through being infected. A MOTW that goes off the rails. The whole Mother Of All was an uninspiring storyline in itself, except as a set-up for Purgatory (remind me again why when they spent nearly two years looking for Purgatory and trying to send Leviathans back to Purgatory that it never occurred to Sam that Dean might end up there?)
"My Heart Will Go On"—The Fates get angry when Balthazar stops the Titanic from sinking to avert Celine Dion from ever singing her famous song from the movie. Changing the past sends ripples through the present, including having Ellen and Jo still alive with Ellen married to Bobby, and Dean drives a Mustang. One of the more random episodes in the series, almost an in-joke to the cast/crew.
"Frontierland"—Not only was this a fun episode (‘That poor horse’), but it also laid out the whole legend of the Colt and Samuel Colt. The gun looms so large in the Winchester mythology that skipping its origin story feels wrong. Dean gets to play a gunslinger as they hunt a phoenix for its ashes to stop Eve. They fail at the last second, but then a package arrives with Sam’s left-behind BlackBerry and a bottle of phoenix ashes (but not the Colt itself).
"Mommy Dearest"—Eve says she is defending her progeny, who are being captured/killed by Crowley. She also creates vampire/wraith hybrids, which Dean dubs ‘Jefferson Starships’. Dean kills Eve by ingesting some phoenix ash, which burns her when she bites him. Cas kills most of the hybrids, but then they find others killed by what appears to be demons. Cas led them to believe Crowley was dead. Eve was one of the most underwhelming ‘big’ monsters—not very scary, convoluted motivation, not much time devoted in the season arc, and a not-very-memorable death. I’d understand skipping this if the Purgatory element wasn’t so crucial to this season and the next, with ramifications that also play a major role in season 8. So as ‘meh’ as the episode was, I think it leaves too big of a hole to skip.
"Let it Bleed"—Lovecraft, Purgatory, the betrayal of angels and demons by angels and demons. That’s the mostly forgettable stuff. But this episode explains why Dean permanently left Lisa and Ben and had Cas wipe their memories. Lisa and Ben got left out almost entirely by the ‘essential’ list, which not only makes Dean’s later behavior harder to understand, but also the whole ‘mirror’ of Sam’s relationship with Amelia in season 8, which is a prime motivator for the emotional energy of that season.
Key Songs that Were Included:
"Weekend at Bobby’s"—Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler"
"The Man Who Knew Too Much"—The Rolling Stones, "Play with Fire"
Key Songs in Skipped :
There is no music at all in "The Third Man", "You Can’t Handle the Truth", "Family Matters", "Caged Heat", "Appointment in Samarra", "Unforgiven", "And Then There Were None", which is a lot of episodes to have no music. Here are some of the other notable songs we skipped:
"Exile on Main Street"—Bob Seeger, "Beautiful Loser"
"Two and a Half Men"—Deep Purple, "Smoke on the Water"
"Clap Your Hands if You Believe"—David Bowie, "Space Oddity"
"Mannequin 3: The Reckoning"—Nazareth, "Love Hurts"
"My Heart Will Go On"—Blondie, "One Way or Another"
"Mommy Dearest"—Jefferson Starship, "Miracles"
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 7!
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!