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.)
Season 15 wasn’t included in the original 75 essentials list, but Entertainment Weekly later ranked all 327 episodes, so in keeping with their pattern for the other recaps, I took the five highest ranked season 15 episodes to be what they would have considered to be ‘essential’.
So come on the journey with me! Start with season 1, then follow the links until you catch up with us in season 15!
Season 15 (Show runners: 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.
"Carry On" (EW Rated #35)
Love it or hate it, "Carry On" ends this part of the Winchester story.
It gave us one of the most powerful (and heartrending) bro moments of the series,
gave Sam a bit of an ‘apple pie’ life, provided a Winchester to keep the name and legacy going,
and let us know that, thanks to Jack, Cas made it out of the Empty and helped remake Heaven.
That’s a lot for one episode, and while it didn’t make everyone happy, it was a solid piece of writing.
"Heroes’ Journey" (EW Rated #94)
I didn’t buy into the idea that Sam and Dean were helpless without Chuck’s ‘luck’.
They had trained as soldiers since childhood, so they should have retained the skills and abilities of top special ops fighters (like lock picking!) even without any extra divine help. I believe that Chuck was playing mind games. Since everything went back to Winchester kickass normal pretty quickly, I think this was a ‘clever’ idea from the writers that hadn’t been thought through. There were other episodes I would have ranked higher than this one. We didn’t even get the shirtless cage match we were promised!
But Garth did get his happy ending.
"Inherit The Earth" (EW Rated #102)
This was the episode that gave us the brothers driving off into the sunset together, a worthy season finale.
Sam and Dean’s defiance in the final fight with Chuck was epic. Michael kills Lucifer, and then Chuck later kills Michael. The book from Death’s Library about how Chuck can be killed turned out to be a total Maguffin. The logic on Jack siphoning off Chuck’s power was iffy...
(and how did they get the jump on Chuck if he was really omniscient), but leaving Chuck mortal worked for a punishment. For all the angst about Eileen and Cas in the previous episode, neither Sam nor Dean asks about them—or their other friends—when they see Jack again. (Huh?) Jack/Amara have restored everyone Chuck vaporized (except maybe the AU folks?) and they leave, promising not to meddle.
Dean gets to keep Miracle (the dog).
It wasn’t perfect, but it covered a lot of bases.
"Atomic Monsters" (EW Rated #127)
We got a stunning action sequence directed by Jensen of Sam dreaming alternate endings to their story, each worse than the last.
When Sam and Dean go to work a case, they find a teenage boy who has become a vampire and whose parents are trying to cover for him by kidnapping/killing local girls so their son can get into college. The boy goes willingly with the Winchesters, and Radio Company’s ‘Sound of Someday’ sung by Jensen plays in the background as Dean kills the boy. Chuck shows up at Becky’s house, she calls him on his crap, and we see that she has grown up and created a good life for herself.
Chuck tries out his terrible endings on her, and isn’t happy when she hates them. Then he snaps her and her family away, and continues to write. There was a lot of important stuff going on in this episode, feeding into the God-as-writer theme. The visuals/fight scenes were jaw-dropping. And I’m glad Becky got a redemption arc.
"Destiny’s Child" (EW Rated #129)
Searching for the Occultum drives the action in this episode.
We meet the AU Winchesters from Hunter Corp.,
Meg returns as the face of the Empty,
while Ruby and Sister Jo (Genevieve Padalecki and Danneel Ackles) conned each other.
Jack goes to Eden and gets his soul back. Those were great moments, even if the plot itself was somewhat rambling.
Episodes Excluded from the 'Essential' List
With season 15 being the last for Supernatural, it’s hard to believe ANY episode isn’t essential. But based on EW’s rankings, these are the episodes that didn’t make their Top Five.
"The Rupture" (EW #130)—So much happened! Rowena tries spells to pull souls back into Hell. Belphegor tricks Castiel into helping him retrieve Lilith’s Crook to call the souls, and betrays him in a bid for power. Elsewhere, Ketch refuses to betray the Winchesters and dies. Rowena has one spell left to pull all the souls into her dying body and throw herself into the Pit—but Sam has to kill her, which he does, heartbreakingly. That works, the fissure in the ground is gone, and most of the souls and demons are back in Hell (except for the ones that aren’t, whom we meet later). Dean is angry and takes it out on Cas. I thought this was a great episode on so many levels, and gave Ketch a redemption ending and Rowena a worthy send-off. Plus Alex Calvert played Belphegor to the hilt.
"Our Father Who Aren’t In Heaven" (EW #133)—Attempts to stop Chuck but Donatello with the demon tablet doesn’t work, so the boys go to Hell to find Michael and discover Rowena is the new queen. Michael—in Adam’s body—is topside, and it turns out that Michael & Adam have an arrangement which is much more equal than how AUMichael treated Dean. Sam and Dean trap Michael!Adam in holy oil and explain that Chuck is destroying all his worlds. Michael resists, even though both Adam and Cas ask him to listen and consider. Eileen gets captured by Chuck.
Snarky opinion—The whole Eileen piece felt contrived to me, especially the romance. Affection and close friendship with Sam, yes - but I just never bought into the romance, although I realize many others did and that’s totally okay. Can we all agree that a good hunter like Eileen wouldn’t get so easily tricked into a fake hunt? That felt like a cheat to maneuver a character into a situation without taking the time to make it believable.
"Back and to the Future" (EW #134)—Sam, Dean and Cas fight off zombies in the graveyard after Chuck brought back all the souls from Hell and monsters. Jack’s body wakes up, possessed by the demon Belphegor. Sam has a wound from the god-bullet, which causes him pain. Monsters from their past have arisen and are causing havoc. They get the citizens out with a false gas leak alarm, and Balphagor imprisons the spirits, but the bubble won’t hold forever.
Snarky opinion—The idea that all the supernatural monsters Sam and Dean had killed were brought back was unworkable. The writers seemed to figure that out after a couple of episodes, and then abandoned it.
"Proverbs 17:3" (EW #150)—Lilith shows up again to take the Equalizer god-gun, two werewolf brothers end tragically, and the boys realize Chuck is still pulling the strings and wants a brother-killing-brother ending. Lilith melts the Equalizer. Sam has nightmares about himself as Lucifer burning Dean, and of Dean with the Mark of Cain killing him with the First Blade. Dean is despondent. The fight scenes were really good, especially Jared’s reprise of Lucifer.
"The Trap" (EW #166)—Chuck imprisons Sam and Eileen in a casino, and makes her torture Sam. Chuck says that he masterminded Eileen’s return to have ‘eyes on the inside’ and he orchestrated the romance as well. Meanwhile, Cas and Dean go to Purgatory to retrieve a Leviathan blossom for a spell that might help them trap Chuck. Cas and Dean get separated, and only have a short time before the rift closes to get back. Sam withstands torture, so Chuck has Eileen ‘power down’ and shows Sam a version of the future in which everyone they love dies, Sam and Dean become vampires, and are killed by Bobby and Jody, which destroys Sam’s hope. In Purgatory, Dean prays a tearful apology to Cas, they find each other, and escape. When Dean and Cas find Chuck in the casino, Dean throws the new spell-weapon to Sam, who believes Chuck’s vision and smashes the weapon rather than bring about that future. His wound heals, severing his connection to Chuck. Chuck vanishes. Eileen leaves, and Billie wakes Jack up in the Empty.
Snarky opinion—I really hated the ‘Eileen as Stepford Wife’ concept, and thought it was disrespectful to her character to make her Chuck’s puppet. That was one more reason the romance never rang true to me (YMMV). The whole ‘Leviathan blossom’ trip to Purgatory was a Maguffin to create a reason for Dean’s emotional apology, because the journey itself made no sense and the ‘powerful’ weapon did squat. I know a lot of Chuck/Rob fans had elaborate theories on how maybe Chuck wasn’t really Chuck and were disappointed to find out that Chuck was really the Big Bad. I kinda liked the Winchesters-as-vampires, still going out like Butch and Sundance.
"Despair" (EW #167)—Definitely a watershed moment for the show, and an essential moment for Castiel. Jack’s a bomb, Billie wants to kill everyone—especially Dean. Sam rallies the AU survivors to a warded space, while Dean and Cas go up against Billie. Billie sends Jack to the Empty to detonate, which pisses off the Shadow. Jack comes back alive but without his power. Dean fatally wounds Billie, but she intends to get her vengeance before she dies. Cas finally tells Dean about his bargain with the Empty, and that he has discovered that true happiness lies in being and acknowledging, not necessarily having. He says ‘I love you’ to Dean, and that makes him radiantly happy. The Empty claims him and takes Billie with it, leaving Dean shaken but alive. Sam and Jack appear to be the only other survivors in the world.
"Raising Hell" (EW #200)—In my opinion, this was the weakest episode of the season because it raised and dropped so many threads. The souls from Hell, led by Francis Tumblety (aka Jack the Ripper) weren’t nearly as scary walking around in daylight, and their menace quickly fizzled after this episode. Ketch shows up and is supposedly hunting Belphegor (but sets that aside right away) and helps them hold off the ghosts. He gets injured, but Cas can’t heal him (why?). Rowena traps some of the ghosts in her crystal, but that apparently isn’t scalable (why?). Chuck and Amara have a spat. Kevin escapes Hell and chooses to stay on Earth as a spirit. Sam’s injury is largely ignored. Belphegor claims that souls that have been to Hell can’t go to Heaven (violating existing canon and clearly not true per the finale). It’s a hodgepodge of an episode that made me wonder if the writers had ever watched the show.
"Unity" (EW #215)—Another episode that was all over the place. Dean suddenly declares that Jack isn’t family (huh?) He’s irrationally obsessed with killing Chuck. Dean and Jack meet up with Adam-from-Eden and Serafina, and retrieve a rib, which Adam says will enable Jack to become a bomb to kill Chuck. Sam is opposed to Jack destroying himself. Sam and Cas use the Key to Death to get Sam into Billie’s library. She’s not there, and the Empty’s Shadow has been killing Reapers. Sam tricks the Shadow into letting him take the book on Chuck’s death. Amara and Chuck debate possibilities, and Chuck betrays her by absorbing her essence. Dean is so fixated on destroying Chuck that he pulls a gun on Sam (WTH?) and punches him to get him out of the way. Chuck teleports away, telling them that they’ve lost, and Jack begins to detonate. Dean’s out of character behavior didn’t make any sense, and even his apology in a later episode didn’t really make up for it.
"Last Call" (EW #234)—A Monster Of The Week (MOTW) episode that I really enjoyed. Dean goes off on a case, leaving Sam, Cas and Eileen in the bunker. Sam is sick from the Equalizer bullet, and Cas brings in a Russian shaman, Sergei. Sergei makes it worse, and now Sam is dying. Sergei says he can save Sam but he wants the Key to Death. Sam is seeing Chuck’s memories of other worlds. Cas threatens Sergei and Sergei heals Sam. Meanwhile, Dean runs into Lee, an old friend who was a hunter and now runs a bar. Lee gets Dean up on stage to sing. Dean’s been looking for missing people, and it turns out Lee is keeping the guilty monster in the bar’s basement. The monster gives Lee wealth as long as Lee feeds it. Now that Dean has figured it out, Lee tries to feed Dean to the monster. Dean gets away and kills Lee. When he returns to the bunker, Sam is recovering and tells him that Chuck is weak and they can win. Best part—Dean and Lee singing. Questionable part—Dean kills Lee after overpowering him—it’s rather a cold-blooded kill of a human, and seems out of character.
"Drag Me Away From You" (EW #242)—Another episode I would have rated much higher. Dean gets a call from an old friend to investigate an apparent suicide at a hotel where Sam and Dean stayed when they were kids. We get flashbacks from a monster hunt in the past when Dean thought he had destroyed Baba Yaga and saved Sam and their two friends, and get insights into the brothers when they were much younger. Dean realizes why the monster wasn’t destroyed and finishes the job for real this time. Billie also shows up and convinces him that Jack’s sacrifice is the only way to kill Chuck, which Dean hasn’t told Sam. Billie is manipulating Dean, and it seems out of character for him to fall for it so completely. It’s disappointing that he is—yet again—keeping a secret from Sam, and Sam is understandably angry when he finds out later. Despite those flaws, I really loved the flashback to younger Sam and Dean and the MOTW case.
"Last Holiday" (EW #256)—Another one of my favorites that I thought deserved a better ranking. After Sam and Dean have to reboot the bunker’s systems, they encounter Mrs. Butters who is a wood nymph. She’s an amazing cook; decides that Sam, Dean and Jack need to celebrate all the holidays; and fixes lunches for Sam and Dean when they go on hunts. She also makes Jack’s favorite milkshakes. Later, we discover that she was captured and mentally tampered with by Cuthbert Sinclair and the MOL. She’s been dampening Jack’s powers with her milkshakes, and when Dean won’t turn on Jack, she imprisons both of them. Sam tries to save them and gets caught and tortured by Mrs. Butters to try to change his mind about Jack. Dean and Jack break loose. Sam and Dean manage to convince Mrs. Butters that Jack can save the world. Mrs. Butters leaves for the forest and the bunker goes back on standby without her magic. Dean makes Jack a birthday cake, and Jack says he’s not sure he can kill Chuck.
Snarky opinion—Dean and Jack had an honest conversation, with Dean confessing that he was still angry at Jack, but working on it, and Dean still defended Jack and made him a cake. How did we end up just a few episodes later with Dean saying Jack wasn’t family? I *hate* lazy writer tricks and canon inconsistency!
"Golden Time" (EW #262)—Sam encounters Eileen’s ghost, and she says she escaped Hell and hopes they can help her get into Heaven. Sam repeats Belphagor’s comment about souls that have been in Hell not being able to go to Heaven, but agrees to help create a ‘soulcatcher’ to keep her from becoming a vengeful spirit. Cas handles a djinn case on his own. Meanwhile, a trio of witch sisters are trying to break into Rowena’s apartment. Rowena’s spell kills one of them, but doesn’t have an effect on Sam, who finds a spell to bring Eileen back to life. Sam, Dean and Eileen defeat the witch sisters. Sam works the spell and brings Eileen back. Dean is despondent thinking they can’t defeat Chuck, and Sam tells him that he thinks they can—but he needs his brother.
Snarky opinion—Although I wasn’t Team Sam/Eileen, I liked Eileen as a friend and ally, and was glad she came back. The show never addressed Belphagor’s comment, but clearly from the finale it was a lie since Bobby, Dean, John, and Sam had all been in Hell and were later in Heaven. That struck me as an unnecessary loose end that would have been easy to tie up.
"Gimme Shelter" (EW #269)—This felt to me like two potential episodes were squashed into one without having much to do with each other. Cas and Jack track strange deaths that lead to a storefront ministry. Dean says he and Sam are going to Atlantic City, and end up encountering Amara. They have a long conversation about Chuck, and Dean demands to know what her point was bringing back Mary. Amara says it was to show him that Mary wasn’t perfect and diffuse his anger, which obviously didn’t work. She refuses to help kill Chuck. Jack tells Cas about Billie’s soul bomb idea.
Snarky opinion—I thought the crime investigation could have been good but it ended up disjointed and made little sense. The whole soul bomb thing struck me as a do-over from season 11, and it wasn’t the best plot device the first time around. This episode was not the show’s best writing.
"The Gamblers" (EW #270)—I thought this deserved to be WAY up in the rankings as a very solid MOTW. Sam and Dean, still plagued by bad luck, hear of a bar in Alaska where it’s possible to change one’s luck. The brothers find the bar, and discover that luck can be won in a pool game, but most people don’t quit when they’re ahead and lose everything. Then the people who lost either die if they leave the saloon, or are trapped inside forever. The goddess Fortuna runs the saloon. Dean tells her that he and Sam are going up against God. Dean plays for the brothers’ luck and loses. Sam has discovered the plight of the others in the bar and plays for their freedom. He also loses. He and Dean intend to go after Chuck even without their luck. Fortuna lets all of the trapped players free, and gives back the boys’ luck, with a message that she didn’t think there were real heroes anymore, but they have restored her faith.
"Galaxy Brain" (EW #292)—Chuck takes over Radio Shed and imprisons the hapless clerk, watching on multiple screens as he destroys all his other worlds. Dark Kaia shows up and wants to go back to the Bad Place, and reveals that ‘regular’ Kaia is trapped over there and is still alive. Sam and Dean cross over with her to rescue Kaia, but Dark Kaia stays behind, knowing Chuck will destroy her world. Merle the Reaper shows up to answer Jack’s prayer, but Billie catches on, kills Merle and lectures Jack about following the rules. Billie reveals that God’s book in Death’s Library reveals how he can be destroyed. Chuck lets a meteor fall on the Radio Shed.
Key Songs that Were Included:
"Carry On": "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas, second version by Neoni, "Brothers In Arms" by Dire Straits, "Ordinary Life" by Van Morrison
"Heroes’ Journey"—"Clair de Lune" by Claude Debussy, "Let’s Misbehave" by Isaac Aaronson, and "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon
"Inherit the Earth"—"Get Together" by The Youngbloods, "Running on Empty" by Jackson Browne
"Atomic Monsters"—"Sounds of Someday" by Radio Company (Jensen’s band)
"Destiny’s Child"—"I Want You" by Savage Garden
Key Songs that Were Excluded:
"Back and to the Future"—"The Famous Final Scene" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
"Raising Hell", "The Rupture", "Proverbs 17:3"–no music
"Golden Time"—nothing significant
"Last Call"—"The House Rules" by Christian Kane, "Theme from the Dukes of Hazzard" by The Impalas featuring Christian Kane and Jensen Ackles
"Our Father Who Aren’t in Heaven", "The Trap", "The Gamblers"—nothing significant
"Galaxy Brain"—"Pop Tart Heart" by Louden Swain (Rob Benedict’s band)
"Last Holiday" and "Gimme Shelter"—nothing significant
"Drag Me Away (From You)"—"If I Didn’t Care" by The Inkspots
"Unity", "Despair"—no music
You can see the full list here: http://www.supernaturalwiki.com/Music_(Season_Fifteen)
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!
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!