From Route 666 to The Apocalypse: Ranking the episodes of Supernatural, Introductions and Episodes 126-117

With summer upon us, I’ve been working on all sorts of summer-y features. I’m doing the classic series re-watch posts and hashing out various Emmy-related things to go live soon. But the summer wouldn’t be complete without a ranked list of an entire series’ episode catalog. Last summer, I took on both The Office and Smallville. To kick things off this summer, I’ll be making my way through all 126 episodes of one of my favorite series ever, Supernatural.

Throughout its six years on the air, Supernatural has had a substantial amount of good-to-great episodes, which made this list difficult to compile. However, like any long-running series, Supernatural has aired its fair share of missteps, problem children and downright horrible episodes. These things happen. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing all the series’ episodes, albeit briefly, in list form. From #126 all the way to #1. I know the Supernatural fan community is large, proud and loud, so I hope there is some quality discussion about what made each of these episodes good, bad or Route 666,” so yeah, tell your friends!

A few things before I get started with the first handful of episodes: First of all, this list was made with my personal biases, tastes and thoughts in mind. I like to think about television more critically than the quote-unquote “general viewer,” but when it comes to something like Supernatural, I’m also a massive fan. I like certain characters, plotlines and seasons more than others, and I’m certain my list will reflect that. If you disagree, feel free to tell me why, but I’m certainly not presenting this list with some sort of scientific formula. This is how I see the series and these episodes, that’s all.

Secondly, the schedule is still fairly fluid right now. I’ve done all the rankings already, but writing even short paragraphs about each episode takes longer than one might expect, so I cannot promise that I’ll be posting an entry each day for six straight days or something like that. I’ll try to keep them coming regularly, and perhaps the time in between each post will allow for more comments and discussion. Stay close to me on Twitter if you want to know when the next batch is posted.

Without further ado, let’s begin our foray into Supernatural‘s history, starting at the very bottom with episodes 126-117.

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126. “Route 666” (S1): You know what is really odd? Every time that I do a long, winding list like this, I always know which episode is going to be at the very bottom. With Supernatural, it is no different, as “Route 666” has to be the most obvious choice for everyone in the fandom. The series has used the vengeful spirit a number of times throughout the run, but one embodying a racist truck is so unbelievably and embarrassingly off-base and tone. I see how this might have seemed like a good idea in the writer’s room (dipping into Dean’s past, discussing “race”), but the execution of it is awful. This is honestly the only time in the series’ run where it felt like I was watching a direct-to-DVD horror movie. When I watch season one on DVD, I rarely make it through this episode. I just…can’t. Hilarious side-note: This is the highest-rated episode in the series’ history.

125. “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” (S6): From the series’ earliest season to its latest. When you’re a series that balances so many different tones and moods on a regular basis like Supernatural, sometimes, the balancing act is eventually going to go wrong and you’re going to fail miserably. “Mannequin 3” is one of those times. Having Dean re-visit his quasi-familial issues with Lisa and Ben in an episode that also sees the brothers fight, you guessed it, mannequins and dummies, is probably not the most intelligent combination. The case, with another vengeful spirit making people pay for their crimes, was OK, but Dean’s personal issues dragged this one down to unspeakable depths. The montage of Lisa and Ben, including scenes from like four minutes previously, is definitely the worst moment in the series’ history.

124. “Bugs” (S1): Unfortunately, there are going to be a number of season one episodes here at the bottom. Not all of this episodes are exceptionally terrible, but “Bugs” most certainly is. Again, this feels like one of those episode templates the series had to do in the beginning, because dammit, bugs are creepy. I can’t totally put my finger on what it is about this episode that makes me hate it so much, but it is mostly the self-seriousness of it all. If the series did this episode in season four, it would have been very different and perhaps hilariously awesome. But as it is, “Bugs” lacks much humor or levity and when you’re highlighting bugs, it seems smart to include some of that.

123. “Fallen Idols” (S5): This episode uses Paris Hilton in literally the best way anyone could have ever used her, but she’s still Paris Hilton. The episode’s conceit is compelling and probably would have worked better with more adept Horrible Famous Person in the role. Despite a nice ending where Dean finally tells Sam that he also had a role in jump-starting the apocalypse, this one relies too much on a terrible performer and obvious House of Wax jokes to really make much of an impact. It is most definitely season five’s worst outing.

122. “Wendigo” (S1): It is hard to truly knock this episode, but that doesn’t really mean it is any good. Second episodes are always problematic and often terrible, and “Wendigo” comes close to the latter. The series was obviously still figuring out what it wanted to be and it ultimately had more to offer than traditional, weekly horror stories. This episode overworks to reintroduce John’s journal and all of the series’ big plot-points, a trademark of misguided second episodes, and the relationships with the week’s victims are a bit on-the-nose as well. But hey, second episodes are tough.

121. “Metamorphosis” (S4): It’s weird, so many of these bad(ish) episodes are bracketed off by a good scene at the beginning or the end. Take this one, for example. “Metamorphosis” features the solid sequence at the beginning of the episode with Sam and Ruby torturing a demon and Dean’s viewing of it and even includes a great brother-on-brother violence bit. However, the rest of the episode is dreadful. The episode tries to make some sweeping connection between the week’s villain and Sam, but it is mostly too obvious and not developed enough. There are a number of severely gross-out scenes in this episode as well, but a few fine scenes do not make a quality 40-minute episode. The worst of the series’ great fourth season.

120. “Malleus Maleficarum” (S3): When I was doing my research on this episode, I was shocked to see that it was written by Ben Edlund. His episodes are almost always fantastic, but there is very little in this one that you could even point to that would suggest its Edlund-ian. The Desperate Witch Housewives feels too familiar and easy, and there isn’t much else too this effort apart from the solid ending where Ruby informs Dean that she actually cannot help him out of his terrible deal. This one isn’t offensively dumb or bad like the ones below it, it’s just not good either.

119. “The Benders” (S1): Based on the subject matter and influences, Supernatural was and is still bound to produce some episodes that feel familiar and obvious — “The Benders” is one of those. I recently re-watched the episode and it is slightly better than I remember, but the “man is the most dangerous monster of all” nonsense has been done to death that it is hard for this episode to bring anything of novelty or originality to the table. The Benders are relatively spooky, but this feels similar to “Bugs” in that it lacks a sense of humor or fun to the proceedings. I know that this is far from a “fun” situation, but the episode doesn’t have much of the later seasons’ wit or dark, gallows humor.

118. “Family Remains” (S4): Apparently, I dislike it when the series goes to two wells: vengeful spirits and disturbing human stories. Each conceit finds its place in the bottom 10 twice and I didn’t even think about that when crafting the list. In any event, “Family Remains” is much darker than “The Benders,” but it works slightly better because of the terrible, dire circumstances Dean and Sam find themselves in while it takes place. This is another episode that isn’t especially awful, but something has to go here.

117. “Playthings” (S2): Yay, creepy ghost children! This episode has a solid atmosphere, but is tonally awkward and messy throughout. Sam’s drunken stooper feels mostly out-of-place and there are definitely too many “haha, the brothers are gay!” jokes for one episode. This is honestly the only truly bad episode of season two and it separates two very solid stretches of episodes. In a 22-episode production schedule, these things happen. Unlike some of the episodes below it on the list, I never skip this one on a DVD watch, but its glimmer of entertainment value and my laziness don’t necessarily equate to an episode worth talking about in any regard whatsoever.

So it has begun. What are your thoughts? Sound off below!

Season breakdowns:

S1: 4
S2: 1
S3: 1
S4: 2
S5: 1
S6: 1

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5 thoughts on “From Route 666 to The Apocalypse: Ranking the episodes of Supernatural, Introductions and Episodes 126-117

  1. Of your 10 worst Supernatural episodes, 5 of them are in my 10 worst too. Bugs, Route 666, Playthings, Metamorphosis, and Family Remains. The Benders just barely misses my list. Though I highly disagree with Wendigo and Malleus Maleficarum and Fallen Idols was far better than I anticipated, I would put Mannequin as one of the worst episodes in season 6. However, it was vastly overshadowed by the complete suckage that was The Third Man. The pacing was dreadful, the plot was lame and probably the best word for it was boring. I’m used to having an off episode or two but I’ve never had an experience in Supernatural before that I was so bored that finishing the episode was a chore.

  2. I cannot disagree with your rankings, but for some reason I always have to watch ‘Bugs’ (barring the horrible ending). I think it has something to do with Kim Manners being such a great director.

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