The heart wants what the heart wants, no matter what the head says. Yeah, that’s one of the many takeaways I got from this milestone 300th episode, but this one rings most true as I start this review. Just like when Dean had a chance to fix his predicament but got what was in his heart, not in his head, I’m finding that in writing this review, I’ve got to bridge the fan girl in a full blown squee and my inner TV critic. Yeah, this is about to get interesting.
There’s so much to love in “Lebanon” for the full blown fan, and I’m certain that was the intent. They had to know that expectations were lofty, especially with the very special guest star. To say the 300th episode was largely hyped is an understatement. All the previews and leaked spoilers got fans into a wild frenzy. Fandom hopes and dreams were revived and suddenly long time wish lists resurfaced. Me, knowing what had to happen to pull off the “epic” episode of the ages that everyone had hoped, just didn’t think this writing team had it in them. Sadly, I was proven correct, but I left the episode satisfied anyway.
As a fan, I was blown away how easily Jeffrey Dean Morgan worked his way back into the fold as John Winchester. It was as though he never left. He hasn’t played that role in twelve years! The chemistry among the entire family was spot on and it felt warm and familiar. It was a cozy blanket on a winter day and we’ve had some pretty harsh winter days lately. It had me rushing back to the DVDs of the earlier seasons, fondly remembering better times when the story focused squarely on the brothers Winchester. It reminded me why I fell in love with “Supernatural.”
As a TV critic, the episode was a bit of a scattered mess, both in terms of plotting and editing. The teaser was in an awkward place, the first 13 minutes were weak and unnecessary, even though I got the point of the teenagers. Andrew Dabb at Comic Con in July talked about ideas he had for the 300th episode. He was leaning toward telling the story of Lebanon, Kansas and how the locals view these strange brothers in their classic car. That’s why I didn’t think the story of the teenagers to be all that odd. It was a bridge of present and past, young people who weren’t even around when Sam and Dean’s story began but now are a part of it. Their safety is possible because two brothers named Winchester chose to sacrifice their hopes and dreams for a normal life to save the world instead. It also echoes how a second generation of fans are finding “Supernatural,” ones that weren’t even alive when the show began.
But geez, why can’t that locals idea be its own episode? I’d love to see an old fashioned ghost story with crazy antics involving the town for an entire hour. It would be like “The Real Ghostbusters,” strange bedfellows who, in the end, earn an intense appreciation of one another. You know who would sell something like that? Robbie Thompson. (Bring him back!) Anyway, by trying to wedge the idea in this episode, it felt odd and out of place. Execution is where this episode had its biggest flaws, which has been a very common mantra with me for a while. The pacing could have been tweaked as well. Did so much time have to be spent on getting the story started before John Winchester showed up? That should have been the teaser!
This episode had another huge issue that I routinely have with Andrew Dabb scripts. He went to his often used TV trope to service a weak plot: dumb Winchesters. I mean geez, Sam and Dean would leave their car parked outside, presumably with the keys in it (a 14 year old can hot wire an Impala?), windows open and a box of priceless occult artifacts in the back then walk away? Then they would spend a lot of time hanging out in the liquor store reading a catalog of the artifacts they just obtained, knowing they were in full sight and reach of a bunch of curious teenagers, and not keep an eye on Baby? Are they that out of touch with reality? That instantly killed believability of the plot for me. I was hoping John would emerge right there and hit them up the side of the head for their stupidity.
Even though it took what seemed like forever to get to the pearl and the wish, once that happened, everything went great. Even though I knew it was coming, I squealed when John appeared. Sam and Dean’s reactions were priceless. The “catching up” conversation was fine for me too. How do you fill in 15 years in just a few sentences? I have a feeling that the whole talk was only a few minutes in when we joined. I know that a lot of people wanted more in the “filling in” part, but I’m betting that the brothers glossed over details like Azazel killing Sam and Michael currently inhabiting Dean’s head, probably choosing to go over the more heroic part of the cliff notes. That was evident by them not even mentioning that Mary was alive. Not convinced? Dean has a gift for brevity. Remember when he summed up five seasons in “Fan Fiction?”
So Sam came back from Hell, but without his soul, and Cas brought in a bunch of Leviathans from Purgatory. They lost Bobby, and then Cas and Dean got stuck in Purgatory, Sam hit a dog. Uh, they met a prophet named Kevin, they lost him too. Then Sam underwent a series of trials, in an attempt to close the Gates of Hell, which nearly cost him his life. And Dean, he became a demon, a Knight of Hell actually.
Yeah, to me, John’s catching up was like that. Also, do you think Mary popped in right then and there because of the pearl? Like she had a sudden urge to be at the bunker just because? Her sudden appearance was never explained, so I figured it was that. Wouldn’t it have been great though if she said she just had a feeling she had to be at the bunker, as if her life depended on it? But yes, I absolutely crumbled when John got tearful over hearing Mary’s voice, followed by the kiss. Fan girl meltdown number one. This was John’s big payoff, a chance to mend all those years of heartache in just a few seconds.
Speaking of John and Mary, wouldn’t it have been nice to see at least another scene or two between them? A talk about everything John did to raise the boys after her death? She did read his journal. I do wonder if such scenes existed but didn’t make it past the final script or cutting room floor. Those two had so much to catch up on and it’s a shame it all happened off camera when Sam and Dean were in town fetching supplies.
Fan girl meltdown number two, and it was something I’ve been dying to see with Sam since season two. My heart breaks every time I rewatch “In My Time of Dying” (one of my favorites) knowing that Sam had to go on after his last words with John were from a fight, never getting that chance to say goodbye or make amends. From what I remember, in twelve years he stated that regret twice. First was season two’s “Everybody Loves a Clown”:
About me and Dad. I'm sorry that the last time I was with him I tried to pick a fight. I'm sorry that I spent most of my life angry at him. I mean, for all I know he died thinking that I hate him. So you're right. What I'm doing right now, it's too little. It's too late. I miss him, man. And I feel guilty as hell. And I'm not all right. Not at all.
Then there was this hidden gem from season five, “The Song Remains the Same”:
He was trying. He died trying. Believe me. I used to be mad at him. I—I mean, I used to... I used to hate the guy. But now I—I... I get it. He was... just doing the best he could. And he was trying to keep it together in—in—in this impossible situation. See... My mom, um... She was amazing, beautiful, and she was the love of his life. And she got killed. And... I think he would have gone crazy if he didn't do something. Truth is, um, my dad died before I got to tell him that I understand why he did what he did. And I forgive him for what it did to us. I do. And I just—I love him.
Then there was this episode:
Dad for me? That fight that was a lifetime ago. I don't even remember what I said, and -- I mean yeah. You know what? You did some messed-up things. But I don't I mean, when I think about you and I think about you a lot I don't think about our -- our fights. I think about you I think about you on the floor of that hospital. And I think about how I never got to say goodbye.
So yeah, when Sam got to say these words this time, it was twelve years in the making. To think how long he held that inside! The release he must feel. Jared killed it and no wonder. Sam is engrained in his being after all these years and that had to be a deeply personal moment for him as well. It’s closure from a long bitter agony and yes, it’s very satisfying on all fronts.
Fan girl meltdown #3. Jensen got his big moment to shine too and it got me just as teary as Jared’s. Dean had his much needed closure. If you remember, all he ever wanted was his Dad’s approval. He finally got to hear his Dad is proud of him. That is really huge. We used to joke on this site that John’s parenting was so bad that in “Devil’s Trap” Dean knew John was possessed because he told Dean he was proud of him. Just, ouch! He needed this too and it comes at a very crucial time in his life. It gives him a reason to keep on fighting to the bitter end, just like his Dad did. Please let this be a big shot in the arm for Dean.
They almost got me in the goodbye scene, but it fell apart. Sure I was pretty drained by that point but I was still deeply moved all the way until John disappeared. Then he was gone and Sam, Dean, and Mary just stood there, gobsmacked about what happened? WHERE’S THE FAMILY GROUP HUG? Where was the tearful embrace showing unity and family love? Who thought this was acceptable? Fine, they were able to win me back in the closing scene. John remembered it all in a dream! Yeah, that led to fan girl meltdown #4. Damn you show.
Random Scribblings from the Red Headed Monster
There were just too many little bits to love and critique in this episode. Here are my favorites:
- Did you notice in the artifacts the Hand of Glory? As in from the ghost ship episode in season three? Oh wow, that’s quite an artifact to bring back given how spectacularly crappy that episode was. I mean, I still cringe thinking about it! Bela actually touched that thing!
- Dean shot the monologuing bad guy and said, “They always talk to much.” Ha! How many times have I made that compliant? Just awesome.
- Hell Hazers was playing at the movie theater. Aww, why not a whole Hell Hazers marathon?
- The post office lady was a Dean girl! I think it was Dean’s turn. Wasn’t the last time they did that gag it was a Sam girl? I never tire of them doing that.
- Hee, Sam had lighter trouble. Love to see that finally happening, a shout-out to “The Real Ghostbusters.” Dabb also brought up the clown thing again, this time taking the opportunity to mash up Sam’s fear of clowns with his fascination with serial killers. A serial killing clown! That’s funny. Something that good though, it could have been funnier.
- I’m thrilled that in their brief time together, Henry Winchester got a mention and John found out what happened to him. He had to be pretty proud to hear about the Men of Letters and that his sons are carrying on the legacy. Speaking of Men of Letters, I did love how Sam told John about the first time he saw the MOL bunker. That was such a great episode. Fond memories for all of us.
- Ah, the good ole temporal paradox. Someone has been watching “The Flash!”
- Okay, Steve Jobs Sam was hilarious, at least look wise. But how did he evolve to someone who rejected time for family and hobbies? So he didn’t marry Jessica, or they eventually split up? The price of success was basically everything? I can’t imagine that without hunting Sam would take that trajectory. That doesn’t make sense to me. The kale thing though? That’s a shoutout to Misha Collins, who has before touted the benefits of kale online.
- I did love the return of old “robo” Castiel, with wings! Oh how I miss angels having their wings. I could have done without the return of Zachariah, but hey, it was a very brief return and it least it was consistent with canon. Overall it was a fun trip back to season four Castiel, just this time without the internal conflict. Although, wouldn’t you think current day Castiel would have noticed the “disturbance in the force” so to speak? I was so miffed that he showed up at the end clueless about what happened. The angel inconsistency continues (AKA angel behavior fluctuating based on what services the plot best at the time.)
- Sam got to kill Zachariah this time! It’s a nice contrast to Dean killing him in season four. I’m also thrilled to see the return of the angel banishing sigil. They don’t use that enough.
I can’t assign an overall grade for this one. There are various episodes through the years that even though they weren’t the best, they offered enough comfort food where they are always prime for a rewatch. This is one of those episodes, and a very rare one for the later seasons. I’ll likely end up fast forwarding some scenes like I do with those others, but the strong scenes are epic enough where I can proudly proclaim this is a keeper. After all, the heart wants what it wants.