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 14!
Season 14 (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.
We skip all the way to episode 10, totally missing most of the Ma’lek box, the big bro hug in "Prophet and Loss", the entire Asmodeus arc, and most of Dean’s struggle with Michael.
Dean locks Michael in a mental construct of a walk-in bar freezer, but doesn’t think it will hold him forever.
Cas worries that Jack has burned off part of his soul.
Billie tells Dean that all of the books about his final death have changed to the same story, and hands off a copy for him to read and made his decision.
Probably one of the best episodes of all time, in my opinion. Sam and Dean find a magic pearl that grants the ‘heart’s desire’ on the wisher. Dean wants to use it to get Michael out of his head. Instead, John shows up circa 2003.
He is stunned to find his grown sons still hunting, Sam no longer in California, both of them living in a ‘secret bunker with an angel and Lucifer’s kid’. Then Mary walks in and they have a tender reunion.
John tells the boys how proud he is of them.
He and Sam patch up the hard feelings between them.
Of course, it can’t last. Turns out that pulling John through time has changed everything and will rewrite the timeline.
They agree to one family dinner before they have to send him back.
Meanwhile, the Zachariah and Castiel from the revised timeline show up and start smiting people.
Dean and Sam have a heart-to-heart while drying dishes, and Dean tells Sam that he’s okay with who he is and who Sam is, and he wouldn’t want to use the pearl to rewrite their lives. ‘Because our lives, they’re ours.’
Then John has to go.
He tells the boys he loves them.
Their expressions are priceless.
Sam and Dean cry very differently.
Sam smashes the pearl,
John disappears and wakes up from a ‘dream’ in 2003.
[Editor's Note: Tears streaming down my face as I illustrate this episode testifies to the immense power of the family reunion in "Lebanon". Truly, an essential episode.]
This whole plot thread struck me as one big forced error. Jack disintegrates Mary because she’s bugging him about killing Nick. Mary’s got no room to be squeamish or righteous after all she did with the BMOL, and considering that Nick intended to bring Lucifer back, and all that Nick has done, Jack has every reason to kill him outright.
Mary suddenly sounding like she’s ragging on him for not doing his homework doesn’t make sense. but we’ve also had several instances where Jack could make people levitate and hold them still if he didn’t want to hear them. He’s done that without disintegrating them. So why would he be angry enough to vaporize her instead of just doing the floating thing?
I don’t think he would have—if they hadn’t needed to force the plot thread of a wedge between him and the boys.
Snarky comment—if we’d have seen all the fond moments with Mary that happened in this episode throughout her run on the show, instead of her constant departures and betrayal, maybe we’d have liked her more.
Jack breaks out of the Ma’lek box (that wasn’t explained in any of the ‘essential’ episodes, so the drama is lost on the viewer). He’s angry and levitates Sam, Dean and Cas, but doesn’t Thanos snap them. (For far more provocation, so why did he react like that to Mary? Oh yeah, forced error for drama’s sake.)
He runs, distraught, trying to figure things out. Angry at being lied to by Sam and Dean, Jack stops everyone in the world from being able to lie, with disastrous consequences.
Chuck shows up in the Bunker with a solution—the Equalizer, a soul gun that can kill anything (and also kills the shooter). Chuck says he can’t fix Jack and killing him is the only way. Cas points out that Billie told Dean that the Ma’lek box was the only way to stop Michael and she was wrong or lied.
Dean plans to use the gun to kill Jack—and that will cost him his life. Sam confronts him and says he won’t back his play, that he can’t lose Dean and Jack after all they’ve already lost. Chuck delays Sam, knowing Dean is going after Jack. Sam barely makes it in time, as Jack kneels, ready to accept his punishment.
Dean refuses to shoot.
Chuck is enraged that this wasn’t the Abraham and Isaac ending he wanted, and smites Jack.
Dean tells Chuck to go to Hell. Sam gets the gun and shoots Chuck in the shoulder, taking a similar wound himself.
Chuck says ‘Story’s over. Welcome to the End,’ and Thanos-snaps them. Sam, Dean and Cas find themselves in a dark cemetery with zombies and ghosts rising, and the monsters they destroyed returning.
Snarky opinion—The idea of all the monsters they killed coming back was forgotten pretty early in season 15. Wouldn’t it have also meant the Alpha Vampire and every werewolf and rougarou as well as Lizzy Borden and John Wayne Gacy? It was a bad idea that just wasn’t workable. Presumably, everything that came back got sucked down to Hell when Rowena sealed the rift, but as a plot thread it never really made much sense.
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
"Stranger in a Strange Land"—Michael!Dean is up to no good, Sam is searching for Dean and organizing the AU hunters in the bunker, AUBobby tries to teach Jack how to fight without his powers. Cas get suckered by a power-hungry demon. Sam leads the mission to rescue Castiel and declares there will be no new king of Hell. We meet Sister Jo. Nick is in the dungeon and Jared portrayed Sam’s fear of Lucifer’s vessel very well. Sister Jo calls Sam to make a deal.
"Gods and Monsters"—Nick is hunting his family’s killer, Michael wants to make deals with vampires and werewolves, Sam frantically hunts for Dean and Jack tries to visit his grandparents. Nick kills his old neighbor. Dean shows up and says Michael abruptly let him go.
"The Scar"—Sam tries to figure out what Michael is up to, Dean deals with the aftermath, they chase down Dark Kaia to get her spear. Jack is coughing blood. Dean confesses to Sam that he remembers some parts of Michael’s possession.
"Mint Condition"—A fantastic MOTW involving geeky collectibles, a haunted keychain, a vicious Thundercat action figure, and a murderous audioanimatronic masked killer from a horror movie. ‘Time to slice and dice!’
"Nightmare Logic"—Another MOTW with a Djinn. Michael is recruiting a monster army. Dean feels guilty.
"Optimism"—Sam hunts a Musca (fly creature) with AUCharlie, while Dean and Jack hunt a necromancer. Decent MOTW.
"Unhuman Nature"—The boys try to cure Jack, who is fading, while Nick tracks down those responsible for his family’s deaths. Jack and Dean go on a road trip. Nick decides he liked being Lucifer and his prayer wakes something in the Empty. Sergei’s ‘cure’ doesn’t work, and Rowena can’t change Jack’s condition.
"Byzantium"—Jack dies and goes to Heaven, but Heaven is being overtaken by the Empty. Cas, Dean and Sam try to figure out how to save him. Sam calls in Lily Sunder, and she says she can work a spell to bring Jack back in exchange for her being able to go to Heaven when she dies. Jack revives but his soul is powering his body and can be depleted. Doing the magic kills Lily, but Anubis says she redeemed herself and can go to Heaven.
"The Spear"—Garth infiltrates Michael’s uber-werewolves, but gets caught. Cas and Jack bond. Jack still doesn’t have powers. Michael retakes possession of Dean and snaps Dark Kaia’s spear. Lots of Die Hard references and Michael does the Thanos snap to activate his army of monsters.
"Damaged Goods"—Dean has Michael locked in the simulacrum of a beer cooler in the mental construct of Rocky’s Bar in his mind, but he knows it won’t last long. He tells Sam that he’s going to visit their mom but wants some private conversation and leaves Sam to do research after a strange hug. Then he stops by to see Donna like a farewell tour. Mary realizes something is wrong and calls Sam. Meanwhile, Nick is still trying to figure out why Lucifer picked him. Sam confronts Dean about the Ma’lek box that Billie has convinced Dean is the only solution to get rid of Michael. Dean tells Sam he’s doing it with or without his help and Sam reluctantly agrees.
Snarky opinion—This is another forced choice that makes no sense. Why did they trust Billie when she’s had it out for them (and especially Dean) for a long time? Why would anything you can build in a shed—even with magical wardings—hold up to the pressure at the bottom of the ocean from outside and the power of an archangel from inside? Why won’t Dean listen to Sam, who actually *was* locked in a box with two archangels for eons? If the Cage can be opened, why would the Ma’lek box be impervious? This was a flimsy plot device for some mid-season angst, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
"Prophet and Loss"—Sam drives with Dean toward the coast with the Ma’lek box in tow, doing everything he can to talk Dean out of killing himself. He interests Dean in a ‘final’ case, a series of odd murders that seem tied to Biblical plagues. Meanwhile Nick escapes from the hospital after having been shot by Dean and goes looking for Lucifer. It turns out they have a malfunctioning Prophet of the Lord, and Cas suggests it’s because Donatello is still technically alive. The killer prophet kills himself. They go to see Donatello, who is in a coma on life support, intending to take him off his life support, but Cas is able to heal him and Donatello suddenly rallies and wakes up. Sam argues with Dean about giving up on family and on them, and swings a punch. Dean pulls him into one of the best bro hugs in the series’ history, in an incredible performance by both Jensen and Jared. Sam gets through to Dean finally, and Dean agrees to give up on the Ma’lek box—for now. But he tells Sam that if they can’t solve things another way, they’ll have to use the box. It’s a dark and violent episode, but worth it for the bro hug at the end.
"Ouroboros"—MOTW with a gorgon who eats human organs. Rowena helps them stop the monster, but Michael breaks free from Dean’s mind-prison and kills Maggie and many other of the AU hunters, then possesses Rowena. Jack defeats Michael and absorbs his grace, powering back up. One of the best moments is Cas’ speech to Jack about how briefly humans live compared to the two of them, but that the memory remains. (I think we all heard that and suspected it was a signal about the series ending.)
"Peace of Mind"—Dean takes Jack to talk with Donatello. Sam and Cas check into a case with missing people and sudden deaths. They find a town that is a weird 1950s throwback, and Sam gets pulled into the magic, taking the place of one of the men who was killed. Cas snaps him out of it and the mayor admits his role in creating the magical town. The mayor’s daughter psychically traps him within his own mind before he can harm anyone else. Back at the Bunker, Jack believes he is doing the right thing killing the gorgon’s pet snake so it can go to Heaven.
"Don’t Go Into the Woods"—Sam and Dean head out to investigate mysterious deaths in a state park, leaving Jack to ‘guard’ the Bunker since they are uncertain of his powers and Cas is elsewhere. Jack goes out for supplies and ends up with three townie teenagers, whom he tries to impress - with disastrous results. The monster in the park is a Kohonta, and together with the sheriff, they are able to destroy it. They explain to Jack that they’re worried about his powers. Jack doesn’t tell them what happened while they were gone.
"Game Night"—Nick kidnaps Donatello, Cas tries to get help from Sister Jo to find Chuck. Dean captures Nick. Mary stays with Jack at the Bunker while Sam, Dean and Nick go to rescue Donatello. Nick gets out of his cuffs and fights with Sam, bashing his head with a rock before escaping. Nick flees to a cabin where he does a ritual to bring Lucifer back from the Empty. Jack and Mary arrive and Jack stops Nick, roughing him up before killing him, which freaks Mary out. She sends Jack to save Sam, which he does. When he returns to the cabin, Mary is cold and judgmental toward him, and won’t let up to give him time to think. He yells at her and she vanishes.
Snarky Opinion—this is a HUGE forced error. (See my comments on "Absence" above.) Mary had absolutely no right to get self-righteous on Jack after all she did with the BMOL (she’s not the pearl-clutching type), and Nick/Lucifer didn’t deserve the sympathy, after everything he/they did. Jack’s sudden lack of ability to control his emotions didn’t cause him to dematerialize Nick, but we’re supposed to believe he just killed Mary without meaning to? It’s a set-up for future conflict but was poor writing and out-of-character behavior.
"Jack in the Box"—Dean is inconsolable after Mary’s death and angry at Jack. Cas gets bamboozled by Dumah, who wants to manipulate Jack into smiting heretics. Cas kills Dumah with an angel blade. Sam prays to Jack and gets him back to the Bunker, where they trick him to get Jack into the Ma’lek box. Lucifer taunts Jack inside the box, making him realize Dean and Sam betrayed his trust. Jack breaks out of the box and faces down his three ‘fathers’.
Snarky Opinion—He dematerialized Mary for nagging him, but Jack has enough control that he doesn’t kill Dean, Sam and Cas for lying to him and trying to bury him alive? This was inconsistent and just plain poor writing.
Key Songs that Were Included:
"Nihilism"—"Searchin’ for a Rainbow" by The Marshall Tucker Band
"Lebanon"—"Til it Shines" by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band
"Moriah"—"Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas, "God Was Never On Your Side" by Motörhead
Key Songs that Were Excluded:
"Stranger in a Strange Land"—"Shot Down in Flames" by AC/DC
"Gods and Monsters" & "The Scar"—no music
"Mint Condition"—nothing notable
"Nightmare Logic"—no music
"Optimism"—"Stayin’ Alive" by The Bee Gees
"Unhuman Nature"—"Let It Ride" by Bachman Turner Overdrive
"Byzantium"—"Please Call Home" by Allman Brothers Band
"The Spear"—nothing notable
"Damaged Goods"—No Time by The Guess Who
"Prophet and Loss", "Ouroboros", "Peace of Mind" and "Don’t Go Into The Woods"—nothing notable
"Game Night"—"Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head" by BJ Thomas
"Jack in the Box"—no music
Check out the full season 14 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 15!
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!