Lists

Supernatural: The Top Episode in Each Season

I hate to risk turning the blog into “We Minored in Supernatural,” but I love this show, I’d been planning some kind of retrospective list for a while, and what better time to look back than the airing of its 300th episode and recent Season 15 renewal? I assume the 300th episode, entitled “Lebanon,” which promises the return of the long-deceased John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, leaving his barbed-wire wrapped bat behind), will serve as both a love-letter to the series and a grim examination of every mistake that continues to haunt Sam and Dean Winchester.

That’s as it should be. Supernatural is a show that’s more about mistakes and consequences than victories, and there’s barely a character that hasn’t called out Sam’s and Dean’s (as well as Castiel’s) ill-advised mixture of martyrdom and sibling/ family related myopia. Characters willing to destroy the world for the sake of a few is the show’s bread and butter, for better or worse, and there are few characters that live up to the “noble failure” label more than Sam, Dean, and Castile.

With all that in mind, I decided to pick what I think are the best episodes of each season. Granted, some of these choices were tougher than others. Picking a favorite from Season4 took a lot of thought. Picking something from season 7, on the other hand, really boiled down to, “what are the good episodes here?” This means some fan favorites didn’t make the cut, so I’ll try to rationalize my choices as much as I can, but really, it’s favorites. You can’t get more subjective. I’m more than prepared for comments that begin with statements like “How could you not pick…,” but it doesn’t really matter. When I’m in the mood to just watch a bunch of random Supernatural episodes and bask in the glory that is the Sam, Dean, and Castiel, these are the episodes I choose.

Note: I’m not covering Season 14 since it’s still in progress and my favorite episode is still TBD, but I will say I’ve been kinda loving Season 14.

So, without further adieu:

(Spoilers Below)

Season 1: “Bloody Mary”

Season 1 really focuses on monster-of-the-week stories, with only a bare-bones over-arching narrative. “Bloody Mary” tells a mostly standalone story but adds a bit of world building. The premise is simple. Someone says “Bloody Mary” three times into a mirror, she appears and kills whoever has a death in their past. Bloody Mary looks appropriately creepy, with the series culling from Asian horror imagery that was the trend at the time, and the death scenes are grimly effective. It’s the climax, however, that gives the episode its punch.

In the end, Mary comes for Sam, still grieving the death of his girlfriend at the hands of the demon who had also killed his mother, and we learn a twist in Sam’s backstory. Sam had dreamed of his girlfriend’s death months before it had happened. He hadn’t told her, because he just wanted to think he could really escape the demon and monster hunting life that consumed his family. Sam’s prophetic dreams would come to dominate the next couple of seasons – remember when he was the series’ focal point, rather than Dean? – but this is the first time we see that there might be more to Sam than meets the eye.  

Season 2: “All Hell Breaks Loose, 1&2”

So, I have to admit something here. When I want to watch a Season 2 episode, I tend to put on “Croatoan,” which features a demon virus that plagues a small town and forcing the uninfected to take shelter in a clinic. It’s the first of many impressive Romero homages the series attempts. It’s weepy, pathos-laden Sam and Dean conversation is also an emotionally-devastating highpoint. However, I recognize Parts 1 and 2 of “All Hell Breaks Loose” are the better, more important episodes, as they set the stage for the rest of creator Eric Kripke’s 5-year plan. Part 1 culminates with Sam dying in Dean’s arms, while Part 2 focuses on both Dean’s deal with a demon to resurrect him and the war with the infamous Yellow-Eyed Demon. Sam and Dean have died so many times now that it‘s practically a running joke, but this was the first time it had happened, and it’s shocking and devastating. Ultimately, “All Hell Breaks Loose” signaled Supernatural had the potential to be one of the most compelling genre shows on the air, and it remained that way for quite a while.

Season 3: “Mystery Spot”

“Rise and shine, Sammy.” Come on, how could you pick anything else? This episode may be a series-best, not just the best of Season 3. The episode’s tonal gymnastics are impressive on their own, shifting from playing Dean’s time-loop deaths for comedy (“Do these tacos taste funny to you?”) before turning on a knife’s edge and shifting its focus to Sam. It’s final moments portray Sam, who knows Dean will be dragged to Hell within a few months, slowly losing his soul in his quest to resurrect him. Ultimately, that’s the running theme of the entire series, distilled into one episode. Sam and Dean have an almost symbiotic relationship, and both will destroy themselves if it means saving the other.

Season 4: “On the Head of a Pin”

Season 4 remains my favorite season. Picking an episode to serve as its representative was a daunting task. Do I pick “Yellow Fever,” which features Dean screaming the most glorious of high-pitched screams? How about “Wishful Thinking,” with its “Life is Meaningless. Signed T. Bear” suicide note? How could I not pick “The Monster at the End of this Book?” It gave us Chuck and serves as a road-sign for the meta-comedy in which Supernatural continues to excel. The season premiere? The season finale? I considered all of them. As it is, I choose “On the Head of the Pin,” because it finally reveals why Castiel worked to pull Dean out of Hell and that angels can not only be grim and humorless but actual antagonists. Mostly, though, this is the episode that begins Castiel’s evolution from an arrogant, distant side character to a full-time member of Team Winchester. Toss in a bunch of Dean character-building moments, and you have one of the most perfectly realized episodes of the series.

Season 5: “Swan Song”

When Eric Kripke conceived of Supernatural, he had a five-year plan in place for its narrative. “Swan Song” represents the culmination of that plan, and it’s a perfect farewell to Kripke and his vision. Had this been the end of the series, it would have felt both emotionally and narratively satisfying. Whether it’s Sam’s acceptance that he must become Lucifer’s vessel, his ability to briefly regain control and hurl himself (and Lucifer) into the cage, or the idea that Dean might possibly have the normal life he always wanted, “Swan Song” represents everything Supernatural does best, and even now, it’s difficult to watch it and not get a bit misty-eyed.  

Season 6: “French Mistake”

The episode takes its name from the moment in Blazing Saddles when the film’s characters crash into a musical movie being filmed on another set, a fun, goofy example of fourth wall breaking. It’s an appropriate allusion since this episode finds Sam and Dean thrown into a world where they’re actors named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles on a past-its-prime genre show, working with an actor named Misha Collins, who tweets all the time and behaves like a stereotypically vain actor. It takes major gumption to blow your show’s mythology apart, knowing you’ll have to go back to taking it seriously the next week, but that’s what makes “French Mistake” so much fun. It takes a gleefully audacious premise, charges ahead with it, creating a fantastic episode along the way.

Season 7: “Death’s Door”

Season 7 is the season I almost never revisit. It’s missing Castiel for much of its run and the Leviathan remains the show’s least engaging main villain. Honestly, I’ve probably revisited “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magical Menagerie” more than any other episode of the season, but choosing “Death’s Door” as the season’s best didn’t take a lot of pondering. It’s the episode in which we say goodbye to Bobby (I know, I know, he does come back, but it’s to the episode’s credit that his return doesn’t rob this of its emotional gutpunch). If he hadn’t come back, “Death’s Door,” which sees Bobby battling both a Reaper and his own psychological demons, would have been an emotionally satisfying send-off for the character who served as the Winchesters’ surrogate father figure.

Season 8: “Sacrifice”

Season 8 is a bit of a mixed bag, but damn it if “Sacrifice” doesn’t totally work for me. Whether it’s Crowley monologuing about Girls and Band of Brothers, one of the many (but still affecting) conversations between Sam and Dean, as Sam expresses his regret at disappointing Dean so many times, Dean reminding Sam that he’ll loves Sam too much to put anyone else front of him, or that final image of angels falling from the sky, “Sacrifice” remains one of the series’ best finales, despite capping off a semi-uneven season. Season 9 may not live up to the potential “Sacrifice” promised, but it doesn’t really matter. It blew apart almost all of the show’s mythology, resulting in an agonizing wait for its resolution.

Season 9: “Heaven Can’t Wait”

God, I love this episode. I mean, come on, Castiel sings “Believe It Or Not” to a baby. What’s not to love? Beyond that, though, I’m a sucker for Castiel. He’s become such a lovable character, purely good character, and Misha Collins plays him so well. An episode focusing strictly on his struggles adjusting to mortality was always going to work for me. Crowley calling Hell and being put on hold serves as a delightful bonus, but really the episode works because human Castiel is just as endearingly awkward and good-natured as angel-Castiel has become. Forcing him to work at a gas station, trying to high-five disinterested people, thinking he’s been asked on a date when he’s really just a babysitter, makes for a strong comedy. However, the episode also points out that Castiel’s guilt and grief over his part in casting the angels out of Heaven, meaning his geniality masks a lot of pain, and the episode effectively focuses on both facets of Castiel’s character. It’s another episode that demonstrates how effortlessly the show can shift tones without causing emotional whiplash, an accomplishment for which it doesn’t really get enough credit.

Season 10: “Fanfiction”

When Supernatural reached its 200th episode, it decided to celebrate in the only way that makes sense: an all-girls school putting on a musical, fan fiction version of the Supernatural novels. Whether it’s “Castiel” singing about Dean’s “single man tear” or a company rendition of “Carry On, Wayward Son,” the execution is both likably goofy and completely sincere, which is a pretty good description of Supernatural itself. You really can’t ask for a better series love letter than this.

Season 11: “Don’t Call Me Shurley”

Okay, so stop me if you’ve heard this one: God and an angel walk into a bar.

What sounds like the setup for a cliché- ridden punchline actually reveals itself to be one of Supernatural’s best episodes. Much of it unfolds like a two-man play, with Chuck (revealed to be God) and Metatron sitting in a bar, discussing the burden of being a creator, His disappointment with His creations, and Metatron’s attempts to point out God’s cowardice in choosing to hide rather than help. It’s so beautifully scripted and acted, with both Curtis Armstrong and Rob Benedict wringing out every last drop of comedy and pathos from their characters.

Season 11 was a nice return to form for the show after a couple of weaker seasons. Amara, eventually revealed to be God’s sister, was one of the series’ best antagonists, and it features a remarkably consistent, high-quality collection of episodes. However, “Don’t Call Me Shurley” was the episode that got me back into the show after I’d left it behind years before. By the time God was singing “Fare Thee Well,” on a poorly-lit stage, while Metatron reads the final draft of His memoir, looking on in despair, I was back under Supernatural’s spell. So, yeah, this episode is pretty much perfect.

Season 12: “Stuck in the Middle (With You)”

Season 12’s quality comes in fits and starts, with some episodes working and some not. The season’s biggest issues tend to revolve around trying to make the British Men of Letters more interesting than they actually were and the return of Sam’s and Dean’s mother, Mary. Her presence messed with the show’s rhythm, throwing the well-established rapport between its characters off-balance. Beyond that, it seemed as though the show had no idea what to do with Mary once she returned, as it would almost go out of its way to kick her out of as many episodes as it could. Having said that, “Stuck in the Middle (With You)” features Mary back on the team, hiding a few secrets (I guess Sam and Dean have to learn it from somewhere), and the episode excels as a giddily experimental, Tarantino homage, full of disordered narrative strands, and a truly menacing villain. It’s also a brilliantly tension-filled episode, with a seemingly mundane plan going wildly off the rails, and each reveal indicating how much worse things are for our lead characters than was previously believed. It doesn’t really contribute much to the season’s over-arching narrative, but it’s definitely the season’s best.

Season 13: “Scoobynatural”

If you asked me to rank the seasons of Supernatural, Season 13 would be fairly near the top. A season this strong this late in a show’s run is a remarkable achievement. There are several episodes I could pick, including one of the show’s strongest season finales, but really how could it be anything but “Scoobynatural?” It’s just too funny an episode, too loving an homage to the Scooby-Doo cartoon, too committed to its inherently absurd premise to be anything but an absolutely giddy delight. Whether it’s the deliberately primitive animation style,  Fred’s existential crisis when he realizes he’s wasted his life thwarting real estate schemes when he could have been hunting actual ghosts, or Dean’s attempts to hit on Daphne, the episode is one of the show’s funniest and another shining example of how well Supernatural handles episodes no other genre series would even attempt.

What about you? What would be your picks for best episode per season? Let me know in the comments.

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9 comments

  1. Hope you don’t mind offering my own list…not in a “how could you pick” more in a “good choice but I liked” way…

    1. Provenance
    Bloody Mary comes close, but Provenance freaked me out way more, plus, I kind of liked how Sam starts to get over the dead of Jessica. And the episode is particularly well directed. That is especially obvious in the party scene. They show how Dean and Sam don’t really fit into that environment with a few really well-placed visuals, and then go all out in showing how differently they react to this fact. Honorable Mention to “Something Wicked”, which does an excellent job providing the background for the dynamic between Sam and Dean.

    2. Crossroad Blues
    I frankly never quite got why the Croataon concept is to popular. But then, I am not into zombie movies and I tend to think more along the line of how something fits in the overall narrative. It is tempting to pick the season finale, but it somehow always felt like a waste of good characters to me. But I love Crossroad Blues, because I like the whole concept behind the demon deals, and how they managed to put the groundwork for the finale without it even occurring to me that this was what they were doing.

    3. Mystery Spot
    Full agreement there. To this day one of their best episodes. Jus in Bello was another candidate though.

    4. Lazarus Rising
    Without a question. I simply was very impressed with the way they set up Castiel’s entrance. It is one of the few episodes which provides a good mystery with a truly game changing solution.

    5. Changing Channels
    I know, I know, but I don’t think that Swan Song is executed quite as well as this episode. It has everything, humour, drama, a big revelation (yes, I am a sucker for those), and it somehow manages to make the previous appearances of the Trickster even better in hindsight.

    6. The Man who would be king
    What can I say, this is the episode which kind of rescued the whole season for me. And I admit, I am not overly found of The French Mistake. It gets a little bit too cute with its own premise for my taste.

    7. ….
    Honestly, there is not one single episode in this one I can honestly say I love.

    8. As Time Goes By
    Maybe I should reconsider knowing what they did with the Man of Letters later on, but as a start, this was a great concept. And it laid the groundwork for the bunker which I feel really added to the show. Honorable mention to Goodbye Stranger – I especially love the sequence towards the end, with Castiel on the bus.

    9. Road Trip
    Heaven Can’t Wait always depresses me a little bit too much. Road Trio is kind of an odd choice, but I honestly enjoy watching Crowly at work, and his little “election speech” towards the end.

    10. Fanfiction
    One of the few Musical Episodes out there I completely enjoy!

    11. Don’t Call me Shurley
    This is one of my favourite episodes overall, so there was no doubt that I would agree with you on that one. Honorable mention to “Just my imagination”, which is one of my favourite stand alone stories.

    I hated season 12, and have kind of mostly dropped the show in season 13 (in I kind of have seen the episodes but there was so much which angered me about the season I have little desire to revisit it. There is exactly one episode which stood out to me in a truly positive way and that was “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox”. I loved the story, I loved seeing more of the hunting community and I loved the newly introduced characters (which then got wasted the next episode they turned up in which convinced me that it was time to consider the finale of season 11 the end of the show…take away the last three minutes and it is kind of perfect, Dean finally breaking the pattern and instead of solving a problem with a bomb or a deal, something is solved by talking it out.

    1. Quite a few of your picks were runners up for me. I considered “Provenance,” “Lazarus Rising,” “Changing Channels,” and “The Man Who Would be King” for my list. “Man who Would be King” was really, really close to making the cut, but I think I watch “French Mistake” more. They were really close calls. I do also like “As Time Goes By”, but I think the later Men of Letters stuff really colors how I rewatch that episode (which isn’t the episode’s fault, I know). “Asa Fox” is also a good S12 episode, as is “Regarding Dean” and “Lily Saunders Regrets.” I think that’s the name anyway. It’s the one about a woman who’s killing angels, but we don’t find out the real reason until later in the narrative. I’m not a S12 fan at all, but I think 13 is pretty strong. 12 tried my patience, and I ended up binging 13 on Netflix and was surprised by how much I liked it.

      1. Oh, yeah. I do too. I know that character got some flack, but I always thought she had pretty good reasons to resent Castiel and the show (plus the actress) handled her really well

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