From Route 666 to The Apocalypse: Ranking the episodes of Supernatural, Episodes 25-1

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. Remember, 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.

You can find all the entries in this list right here

Well here we are at the end of this admittedly too-delayed and too-long journey. It’s been nearly a month and nearly 10 posts, but I have finally finished my ranked list of Supernatural episodes. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the list as much as I enjoyed compiling it, extended breaks and all. I’ll be curious to hear any and all thoughts you folks have on the top 25 episodes. Thanks again for reading.

25. “Tall Tales” (S2): The series’ turn towards more tonally diverse stories was one of the deciding features of Supernatural season two and “Tall Tales” is a big part of that new layer to the series’ narrative. The introduction of the Trickster is hilariously awkward and biting and this episode’s various stories clash, but patch together beautifully. I love Bobby’s frustrated reaction to the events of the case when he learns of Sam and Dean’s in-fighting.

24. “Weekend at Bobby’s” (S6): Telling stories from a long-running supporting character’s perspective is not an original premise. But enacting the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with Jim Beaver’s Bobby Singer is one of the best ideas the series’ production staff has ever had and it resulted in the strongest episode of season six’s first half.

23. “Abandon All Hope” (S5): I really liked the season four mid-season finale(s), but “Abandon All Hope” kind of blows those two episodes out of the water. It brings us the first appearance of the glorious and villainous Crowley, the last living appearance of Jo and Ellen and the brothers only substantial physical showdown with Lucifer. Even though there was never a moment where I thought Lucifer would actually be stopped by the Colt, this effort almost had me considering the possibility, which is a benefit of its tense and moving atmosphere.

22. “Bad Day at Black Rock” (S3): Sup, another Ben Edlund episode? “Bad Day at Black Rock” is one of the most purely funny episodes of the series’ first three seasons and there is obviously nothing wrong with that. This episode fully embraces the absurdity of the impact a cursed rabbit’s foot could have on the lives of all people who come into contact with it. The sequence inside the apartment of thieves who steal the curse box is one of my favorite Supernatural moments of all-time. “Rock” is also important for its solid introduction of Bella, who did ultimately kind of suck, but works as a mouthy antagonist here.

21. “My Bloody Valentine” (S5): One of the great innovations of Supernatural‘s later seasons is how the series’ writing staff figured out how to balance standalone and mythology stories within the same episode. So often in S4-S6, episodes would start one way and ultimately be revealed to be about something much larger and more important. “My Bloody Valentine” is no different with its initial focus on people creepily eating each other and the hilarious “Cupid” and the later reveal focusing on Famine’s role in the Apocalypse. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it is to manage two or three wildly different tones within one episode, but Supernatural is damn good at it at this point.

20. “The Monster at the End of This Book” (S4): “Monster” is yet another episode that not too many series could pull off, but Supernatural does it masterfully. Somehow, all it takes is for Sam and Dean to react incredulously for 20 minutes and then slowly get over it for it to be completely believable that a prophet of the lord was tasked with writing the books of Sam and Dean in terribly-sold, somewhat unpublished form. The meta-references to the series’ failures (“Bugs!”) and fandom, the introduction of Chuck and the patented tonal transition make this one of season four’s strongest episodes.

19. “Croatoan” (S2) and 18. “Jus in Bello” (S3): This episodes aren’t really substantially linked thematically, but their structural similarities always make me think of them as a quasi-pairing. Both “Croatoan” and “Jus in Bello” trap the brothers inside tight spaces with very little obvious hope for survival, which is a solid conceit that creates both internal and external dramatic forces for the Winchesters to deal with. Moreover, these efforts do a wonderful job of balancing the standalone “case” with larger mythological concerns, creating intense, action-packed episodes that also have their eyes on the bigger picture. I have always been partial to “Jus in Bello” because of its furthering/conclusion to the Henriksen story and that gut-busting cliffhanger reveal with Lilith. In fact, if this were just a list of my “favorite” episodes, “Jus” would be much further. This is not to discredit “Croatoan,” though. It is a very fine episode that raises compelling questions about Sam’s special-ness and abilities and includes a decent cliffhanger of its own.

17. “The End” (S5) and 16. “In the Beginning” (S4): Earlier in the list (god knows how long ago, really), I expressed some disappointment/boredom with the series’ insistence on traveling through time/space/universes/whatever in the later seasons, and we basically have this two episodes to blame for those later missteps. And despite my problems with other episodes, I freaking love time travel stories and will admit to really liking these episodes. Dean’s dual journeys to the past and an alternate future succeeded in providing sobering looks into points in time we hadn’t previously been privy to, but also in delving out useful information that recontextualized previous seasons and served as the catalyst for future episodes. “The End” is a bit gimmicky, but still very effective in its execution of the Terrible Future conceit, while “In the Beginning” showed us all sorts of good stuff about Sam and Dean’s parents. I’m disappointed that Sam didn’t have much of a role in either of these episodes, but it’s something I can get over because they’re so great anyway.

15. “Born Under a Bad Sign” (S2): Another fantastic season two episode here. Although season two did a solid job of exploring the vast resources of Yellow Eyes and his plans for the various other special children around the country, it was nice to have “Born Under a Bad Sign” remind the brothers and us at home that most importantly, horrible things could happen to Sam at any moment. This episode gets some nice mileage out of the quasi-amnesia structure and the shock and horror on both brothers’ face when they realize what Meg did inside Sam’s body sets the stage for some of the terrible things that Sam later does on his own account that makes Dean so angry.

14. “Lucifer Rising” (S4): This is a weird episode. A good episode, but a weird one. It rings a bit hallow to me that Sam and Dean would reunite so quickly after their major confrontation in “When The Levee Breaks” and this effort falls victim to some deterministic storytelling, but it does take some legitimate gumption to FREE LUCIFER FROM HIS CAGE. At the end of season three, the series subverted expectations and sent Dean to hell. Here, I imagine people assumed the series would mix it up again, but instead Supernatural followed through with yet another massively dark and depressing ending. All season, the series promised that if X, Y and Z happened, Lucifer would rise. Well, they did and he did. It’s deterministic, but mostly wonderfully so.

13. “Mystery Spot” (S3): The mark of a great series is shown when the writers can implant an obvious narrative device, framework or gimmick from another major popular culture text and it still seem fresh. “Mystery Spot” is a more fatalistic version of Groundhog Day that features a gaggle of humorous ways for Dean to die, but it’s still supremely enjoyable. This is yet another episode that manages the tonal differences of dark comedy and depressing drama and another episode that uses the Trickster very well. One of the best Supernatural episodes to just randomly watch.

12. “Changing Channels” (S5): Turning the Trickster into the archangel Gabriel is most definitely the best retcon the series ever created. The development fit naturally into the narrative as it was constructed and provided Richard Speight some great material to work with. Moreover, the reveal of Gabriel’s true identity created one heck of a button to what was a previously widely different episode focused on parodying some of television’s most popular programs and genres. “Changing Channels” is both pure fun and important for the overall mythology, a hallmark of a great later season episode of Supernatural. The opening title sequence is top-25 worthy alone.

11. “In My Time of Dying” (S2): This is a grower of an episode. When I watched it live the first time in 2006, I felt a bit cheated that John Winchester was gone. After all that time spent on the search for him in season one, it seemed slightly anti-climatic to have him die this early in season two. However, with hindsight and 100-plus more episodes of Supernatural knowledge in my mind, “In My Time of Dying” becomes much more integral. Not only does this episode kick off one hell of a season, it begins the endless cycle of self-sacrifice within the Winchester family and includes a compelling look at the role of death and reapers that plays a larger role in later seasons. Plus, it’s just damn sad and moving to say goodbye to John, which is probably where some of my frustration and disappointment came from in the first place.

10. “No Rest For the Wicked” (S3): I mentioned this a few episodes up there, but the dire, bleak results of the season three finale still seem risky and awesome a few years later. Sure, Supernatural could promise that Dean was going to hell all they wanted, but it seemed like there was going to be a way for him to get out of it at the last-minute. “No Rest For the Wicked” ropes the audience in with a seemingly solid Winchester plan that ultimately goes nowhere, leading to Sam’s makeshift showdown with Lilith and Dean being torn up by hellhounds. Dean up on the rack, screaming out for Sam while he’s trapped down in the pits of hell is still the series’ best cliffhanger.

9. “On the Head of a Pin” (S4): As you know, there are a lot of great things about Supernatural’s fourth season. But one of the things I loved the most about that season is how it never held back from letting the series’ narrative weight start to push down onto Sam and Dean. I think a lot of this comes from the writing staff figuring out how to tightly plot a season that balanced the standalones with the mythology episodes, but no matter the reason, there was rarely a point in season four, especially the second half, where Sam and Dean’s years of history, problems and dysfunction were suffocating them and causing all sorts of undue stress. “On the Head of a Pin” is a great reflection of all that, as it manages the series’ angel-related stories very well while still focusing on a supremely important, intense character beat for Dean. We learned more about the angels and about Dean’s time in hell, but most importantly, we learned more about Dean himself.

8. “The Man Who Would Be King” (S6): Again, season six is not without its problems, especially in the way the writers’ managed its various arcs, plot-points and narrative developments. But “The Man Who Would Be King” made a lot of strides in covering those problems up thanks to another well-written episode from Ben Edlund and a fantastic performance from Misha Collins. I still think some of this information or more clear hints could have come earlier in the season, but tracing over Castiel’s thought process while he decided to team up with Crowley and become someone who spouts off things like “by any means necessary” was surprising, moving and thoughtful. Neither the plots before it nor the aftermath of this episode in the ones after it were as good, but “King” still deserves a spot very high on this list for reshaping the season’s arc while covering some of the series’ biggest thematic pinpoints.

7. “Lazarus Rising” (S4): It’s definitely an arguable point, but this feels like the most important episode in the series’ run. Prior to this, Supernatural was coming off a strike-induced shortened season that lacked some overall drive and the series’ appeared to have little place to go with its narrative. This episode changed all that with Dean’s return from hell and the introduction of the angel Castiel. In a lot of ways, this feels like the second pilot of Supernatural, one thatreintroduces the returning characters and emphasizes the new one(s) and the arriving changes to the world. Eric Kripke had previously vowed not to include angels in the story and either he’s a good liar or someone smart convinced him to go a different route. No matter, it paid off and Supernatural was never the same and in my opinion, much better, for it.

6. “A Very Supernatural Christmas” (S3): Supernatural and Christmas don’t inherently go together, but the series’ production staff does a glorious job of enforcing its thematic and aesthetic will on the world’s most famous holiday. The procedural story with the pagan gods is very well done, especially the little details like the deadly Christmas tree branches. But it is the flashbacks to a past Christmas that makes this episode an all-timer. Supernatural‘s casting director did a great job with finding younger versions of Sam and Dean so that the focus on the past story fits seamlessly into the episode’s structure without problems. The final scene and the information about Dean’s necklace make this an easy favorite. With Dean’s deal about come up, this was the perfect time to do an episode like this.

5. “The French Mistake” (S6): Ben Edlund’s skills have been much-celebrated throughout this list, but what’s a top-five of Supernatural episodes without some love for season six’s meta-madness episode? From its first mention, “The French Mistake” sounded like a wonderful idea and somehow, it totally lived up to expectations. The in-jokes, the physical comedy from Jared and Jensen and the generally insane level of commitment to an episode that very, very few series could ever pull off: it’s all tremendous. Interestingly, this episode actually succeeds on two levels, as both a 42-minute high-five for all the die-hard fans and a relatively standalone story with a fairly consumable baseline premise. I know many people who haven’t watched the series in a while or at all who totally dug — and mostly understood — this episode.

4 and 3. “All Hell Breaks Loose” Parts One and Two (Both S2): Although I prefer season four to season two, the earlier season’s finale is the better offering. “All Hell Breaks Loose” does a wonderful job of answering so many of the first two season’s questions while simultaneously raising massively important new questions that eventually became the engine for seasons three, four and five. The creepy mood of the abandoned town Azazel drops all the special children in is underrated amid Sam’s “death,” Dean’s deal, Yellow Eye’s execution, the final moment with John and the opening of the door to hell. The first hour is more emotionally complex, but season two has a number of fist-pump-worthy moments that are just as praiseworthy. I go back and forth on which episode I prefer more, so it seems useful to just consider them as one whole. They have the same title after all.

2. “What Is and What Shall Never Be” (S2): It’s sort of difficult to remember so many years later, but for the first season-plus, Supernatural wasn’t an entirely “dark” series. Sure, it had a dark, horror-tinged premise built around two characters who watched their mother burn alive when they were children, but the episodic, standalone concerns kept Sam and Dean’s situation from being too depressing or suffocating. By the end of season two, this was no longer the case. “What Is and Shall Never Be” goes to great lengths to not only show how important Sam and Dean are to the world, but to show how ultimately unfortunate their lives are to be if — and when — they choose the hunting lifestyle over something more promising and optimistic. Watching Dean react to his “new” life is such a treat, but the last third of the episode when he starts to recognize that he can never, ever have this kind of life is severely moving. It’s sad and depressing, but the sacrifice he makes is justified and well-executed in this Kripke-written and -directed episode.

1. “Swan Song” (S5): I know that this was a divisive episode and really, for good reason. I also know that it created some problems for Supernatural when it wasn’t actually the series finale as it was basically intended to be. But “Swan Song” somehow manages to be the perfect culmination of five years of narrative and character development while still staying true to the series’ framework. Like any rationale person, I would have loved to have seen a proper Apocalypse or a major blow-out fight between Lucifer and Michael, but I adore how the series worked around it with a tremendously heartfelt and moving episode that focused on the series’ most important thing: the relationship between Sam and Dean. The focus on the car was surprisingly effective and useful and those final 10 minutes were wrenching. I liked a lot of season six and will continue to love this series, but it is hard not to imagine really loving Supernatural going out on a high-note like this one.

There you have it folks. Thoughts?

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “From Route 666 to The Apocalypse: Ranking the episodes of Supernatural, Episodes 25-1

  1. Hi…
    wow! Great post. Thanks a lot for the deep and profound analysis of the episodes of the great show ‘Supernatural’ This is really a great work to rank the episode considering different aspects of the episodes. I appreciate it.

  2. Now that i readed this. Season 3 was similar to season 6 in that they didn’t knew what do do, the demon storyline had served his term and the same with the angel storyline. And season 2 and 5 they kind of worked like series finales….

    So now in season 7 is like pilot part 3, no more angels… no more demons just Crowley.
    And now we have the next big thing the Leviathans… I hope this season will be good to silence those who complain and those who says “the 5 season plan”, that was a lie it was a 3 season plan and no angels at all…

  3. Thanks for your Supernatural articles!
    I am a UK viewer, so I am a bit behind… I am half way through my S6 box set that arrived this week.
    Having bees sceptical about extending the series beyond 5, I am so glad they did now…
    I still love this show so much. If I try and say why, I guess in other shows, the characters change but the world rolls on, but the Supernatural world is gradually peeled back revealing unexpected and mysterious layers. Nor will it keep from infecting the souls of our characters. Dean, Bobby and always
    Sam, have these mysteries planted in them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s