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.)
The EW article suggests that the ‘Essential 75’ is a good ‘refresher’ for fans, and a primer for those who haven’t watched the show but want to see what the fuss is about. Even EW admits that ‘essential’ to the main plot isn’t the same as ‘best’. Both statements are true. I cringe when I think about anyone who isn’t already very familiar with Supernatural watching this selection of episodes and thinking they’ve got the essence of the show. So much of the emotion and backstory got left out in this list in favor of tracing the ‘plot’, that while it’s a nice reminder for those who know the show well, it lacks the depth and resonance of what makes Supernatural so heartrendingly special.
On the other hand, there’s no bad excuse for a recap/rewatch, so come on the journey with me! Start with Season 1's episode choices, then join me in looking at the picks for season 2!
Season 2 (Show runner: Eric Kripke)
"In My Time of Dying" (IMTOD)
It’s interesting to compare the John Winchester of this episode with his portrayal in "Devil’s Trap" and "Lebanon" years later.
The reaper is different (Tessa) than the old man that we saw in "Faith", or that we’ll see in some later episodes. I love Dean’s comment when ghost-him knocks over the water glass that he ‘full-on Swayze’d that thing.’
‘fate is out of my control’ (Tessa).
“You always have a choice—you can roll over and die or keep going’ (Dean).
‘We were just starting to be brothers again’ (Sam).
Another ‘you can’t kill death’ comment.
Also, ‘you can’t save everyone’ and the fear of becoming the thing you hunt (which later proved true for both of them). I loved the ‘mystical talking board’. I guess Parker Brothers wanted too much money for ‘Oiuja Board’! Note—that is a HUGE hospital room Dean’s in, just saying! (They don’t even give you that big a room in the maternity ward!)
Gotta love the details in the house and sets, and Dean’s awesome driving.
Bobby’s comment about them fighting like an ‘old married couple’ is true, especially when Sam’s answer is a very pissy: ‘Fine’! There is definitely some bleak humor in the old Marine shooting his neighbor, named Mr. Rogers, and also in the scene where he and Dean keep guns trained on each other while Dean is driving. The sobering point was how quickly the humans become okay with killing each other.
Of course, we see Dean unwilling to kill Sam, and his ‘Who says I want to’ comment about the weight on his shoulder. We also hear them talk about visiting the Grand Canyon—I’d love it if they get there before the finale!
It was sad to see how good it was between them as brothers before he starts to tell Sam what John said in the hospital.
And of course, that fence scene made me think of the awesome story that Lynn Zubernis tells in Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls about going looking for that location on a trip to Vancouver!
I’m guessing this was included for the early appearance of Trickster/Gabriel. I also enjoyed Bobby’s ‘tough love’ in telling them to get their heads out of their asses, and we saw the sibling relationship fraying and then getting solid again.
This seemed to be an odd pick to be ‘essential’. While it’s meta and fun, it isn’t hugely important for advancing the season arc. There were, however, plenty of in-jokes, like the comments about maybe seeing one of the stars from Gilmore Girls (Jared’s former show), that the weather is ‘practically Canadian’ (when the show is shot in Vancouver), that Dean is ‘one hell of a PA’ and that the PAs are ‘kinda like slaves.’
There was also a shout-out about executive producer McG (who is an extra in one scene). The tension between the scriptwriter and the director about script changes becoming central to the murder plot is a nice meta turn, and we hear Dean use the term ‘Yahtzee’ to signal a breakthrough, which is a catch-phrase that gets dropped somewhere along the line.
"What Is And What Should Never Be"
I noticed the guitar in Dean’s home with Carmen, something that means so much more now, with Jensen’s music. It was interesting that when the djinn gives Dean his dream, he gets his mom back but not his dad (just as Amara does many seasons later).
The wish to go back to a childhood home is very poignant. He also gets his ‘apple pie life’ and it’s not enough—foreshadowing the end of season 5! I loved his comments about how he and Baby were now ‘civilians’. Can I also point out that Dean definitely did not know how to use a lawn mower! Watching him eat his sandwich reminded me of the animated Dean in "Scoobynatural". The bitch/jerk comments were another reminder of what was missing in this supposedly ‘perfect’ dream world.
I thought it was worth noting that Sam still has Dean's back in the djinn world, despite the rift between them.
"All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1"
This episode starts with a normal diner and Dean’s wish for pie, and all goes horribly wrong. Poor Andy—“I woke up in friggin’ Frontierland.” Ava and Jake use the goodness of Sam and Andy against them, which is to me true evil. Sam finds the knife which Jake later uses to kill him, and he’s the one who gives it to Jake.
This is the episode where we lose Ash and the Roadhouse.
Did you see the monkey statue that shows up in so many other bar scenes throughout the series? Sometimes Supernatural is tone-deaf on sensitive issues—the lesbian girl gets killed, and the Black guy cuts down the lynching victim.
On the plus side, we have the epic brother scene at the end!
"All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2"
We get an awesome recap, and in Dean’s heart-wrenching monologue.
Now I keep thinking about Jensen’s con story about Jared crying from the eye that wasn’t facing camera, and Jensen trying to take long enough to make Jared pass out from holding his breath.
Let’s take a moment to admire Dean’s driving! Bobby dishes up tough love.
Ellen survived because the bar ran out of pretzels—but where is Jo? Sam empties the clip into Jake, and the demon stirs doubt with his ‘100% Sammy’ comment. Let’s also appreciate the awesome special effects here with the hell gate. Why didn’t John hug Sam like he hugged Dean?
This episode also serves up the iconic quotes: ‘there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you’ and ‘we’ve got work to do’.
Episodes Deemed Not 'Essential'
"Everybody Loves a Clown"—Sam’s fear of clowns; we meet Ellen, Jo and Ash and the Roadhouse; Dean melts down and hits the Impala with the tire iron.
"Bloodlust"—gave us Lenore and Gordon, as well as Dean’s epiphany about everything that’s supernatural not necessarily being evil - something important for his relationship with Sam.
"Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things"—The plot is less important than Dean’s meltdown after John’s death and his guilt over his belief that John made a deal to save him - ‘what’s dead should stay dead’. There’s a great bromoment on the side of the road, and Dean opens up about his guilt.
"Simon Said"— fleshes out more about Azazael’s ‘special children’.
"No Exit"—Jo hunts the ghost of serial killer HH Holmes with the boys, and we get more back story about Ellen and the Roadhouse.
"The Usual Suspects"—Monster Of The Week (MOTW) episode with a vengeful ghost.
"Crossroad Blues"— sets up the crossroad mythos for S3.
"Hunted"— gave us an introduction to Ava and more about Gordon and the Roadhouse, and that awesome scene where Gordon tries to kill Sam with the explosives.
"Playthings"—Another MOTW episode with a creepy child ghost, hoodoo and a doomed sister.
"Nightshifter"— was iconic with its music choices, the introduction of Agent Henriksen and shirtless Dean.
"Houses of the Holy"— sets a larger arc tone with questioning the motives of God and those who claim to serve him.
"Born Under a Bad Sign" (BUABS) and "Heart"— set up so much about Sam’s character that I hated to miss. Without BUABS, the confrontation with Meg lacked full impact.
"Roadkill"—An interesting take on the ‘ghostly hitchhiker’ legends.
"Folsom Prison Blues"—Agent Henriksen shows up again, complicating a MOTW killer ghost case inside a prison.
Woot! The music problem is fixed and from Season 2 onward, Netflix has the same awesome music as the DVDs!
Other than ‘Bad Moon on the Rise’ in IMTOD, some of the best songs happened in episodes that weren’t part of the ‘Essential 75’. For as memorable and tense as "Croatoan" was, did you realize there is no music in the episode at all? We miss out on the iconic Robert Johnson blues songs without "Crossroad Blues", miss "Renegade" by Styx in "Nightshifter", and miss "Silent Lucidity" in "Heart". Those are big omissions! Check out the full season 2 music list.
I found myself looking up fan fiction on Archive Of Our Own (AO3) season by season as I watched the episodes on the ‘Essential 75’ list. Some of the fan fiction was ‘case fic’ which provided extra adventures. But many of the stories were ‘fix-it fics’ that filled in gaps, tied up loose ends or corrected canon inconsistencies, and some were the ‘missing’ conversations that we know in our hearts had to happen between Sam and Dean that we didn’t see on camera. (To find stories by season on AO3 search ‘Supernatural Season X’ and fill in the number.) I really enjoyed augmenting the seasons with the ‘extra’ stories—and don’t forget that the official tie-in novels also fit into the season timeline!
So....what are your thoughts on the episodes that EW chose? Do you agree or disagree that they were the most ‘essential’ to convey the plot? What would you have done differently? What important things were in the episodes that got left out? Share your comments below, then keep going with season 3!
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.
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!