I watched the milestone 300th episode of my favorite show of all time, Supernatural, with a horrendous case of the flu and no voice at all. I couldn’t live tweet and I didn’t have the stamina to read what anyone else thought of the episode, on twitter or anywhere else, so I missed a bit of the ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling that I relish when the Show has a special episode like this.

I watched it on DVR later that night, curled up under a blanket with lots of tissues (for multiple purposes) and a cup of hot tea with honey instead of the wine and cherry pie I’d been planning. It’s taken me almost a week to finally find the strength to sit down at a keyboard and write out my thoughts. But you know what? I was as emotional as I’ve ever been about an episode of this Show that consistently makes me VERY emotional. And that’s really saying something.

Now that I can think a little more clearly, I’ve come up with five reasons why this episode worked so well for me (and I think for most people), but to do the episode justice, let’s start at the beginning. I also have a few things that shouldn’t have worked so well, but those mostly got lost in the shuffle of OMG FEEEEEELINGS that characterized my viewing experience.

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Reason Number 1:

The emotional hooks start immediately – we’re vaulted right back to the start, the boys (babies!) uttering the iconic lines “Dad’s on a hunting trip” and “We got work to do.”  For someone like me who has been watching from the start, it meant everything that the ‘Then’ went all the way back to the beginning and reminded me of just how long this Show has been a big part of my life.

Then we’re rolling, and instead of guest stars of the week, we get to follow the Winchesters right away, so color me happy. Sam and Dean in a pawn shop searching for something specific, buying their way into the secret back room where the occult items are shelved. Sam surprised me by being the one to mess with an ominous looking teddy bear (it’s usually Dean who can’t keep his hands off things like that and Sam doing the eyeroll, though Dean does get his chance later with the dragon’s breath thingy).

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And then with a twist, it turns out the boys are tracking down the shop owner who killed a hunter and stole all this dangerous stuff. He makes the mistake of attacking Sam with a giant scimitar and threatening him with a speech that ends with “You’re a big boy…” so of course Dean kills him. That’s my Show.

Dean: They always talk too much…

I laughed out loud – or I would have if I was capable of making any actual sound. So this is going to follow the Show’s tradition of being a little self referential and a wee bit meta, and that makes me very happy indeed. The 200th episode, Fan Fiction, one of my favorites of the series, was more than a wee bit meta and I loved every minute of it. It seems fitting that the Show should give both its fans and its cast some wink wink nudge nudges in a milestone episode, and that’s Reason No. 1 that this episode worked for me. There were numerous call backs to previous iconic scenes, plus a whole bunch of Easter eggs scattered throughout, from items in past episodes to Family Business Beer signs. I loved every one of them!

Reason Number 2:

The boys head home in Baby, driving past the “Lebanon, Kansas” sign.

When the showrunners and EPs teased this episode at Comic Con, they mostly told us that the 300th would be an episode about the Winchesters and their home town. I was excited about this, as I told Bob Singer and Andrew Dabb at the time. It almost sounded like one of my favorite types of fanfic – the intriguing “outsider pov” fic, which paints a rich picture of my favorite characters through the eyes of someone else who doesn’t have the same perspective as we all do. I love the characteristics that are foregrounded by that change in perspective and the opportunity to see my favorite characters differently, perhaps even changing my own understanding of them. So I was looking forward to that aspect of “Lebanon” and the title certainly matched my expectation. I’ll make that Reason No. 2 that the episode worked for me, though it didn’t pan out to be quite what I was anticipating in this regard.

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We meet a trio of local high school kids who have apparently been studying the Winchesters for some time, and are a bit fascinated by the “mystery men” who live nearby.

Eliot (in the hushed tones that say he’s trying to impress his friends but is also a bit impressed himself): People say they’re brothers…

This leads into the local bar owner greeting them.

Bar owner: The Campbell brothers! The usual?

This tells us a few things. First, that Sam and Dean are regular enough customers to have a “usual”. Second, that they go by “Campbell”. That, of course, is their mother’s maiden name, so that makes sense.

This is an episode that was seen by some fans as following the tradition of subtle ship shout outs, much like the 200th, so there was some surmising that it’s also a call back to the episode that mentions the Campbell brothers, who were apparently not brothers but instead “very close” and living an “alternative lifestyle”. One could argue that the Winchesters’ life of hunting is every bit as alternative, or one could argue that it’s a wink wink nudge nudge about something else. Who knows, but I like it when the Show is subtle enough to let fans take it any way they want. If you hate the ship, there’s another explanation; if you love the ship, here’s a subtle shout out. Same with the Destiel maybes later in the episode. Whatever floats  your boat.

Anyway, Eliot (Cory Gruter-Andrew) has catalogued all four of the bunker’s residents, rather hilariously, as the Campbell maybe-brothers and  “their weird sidekick with the trench coat. And what about that kid with the dumb Bambi look on his face all the time?”

Meanwhile, new-in-town Max (Skylar Radzion) and Stacy (Zenia Marshall) are starting an adorable flirtation, so when Stacy admires the Impala, Max decides to “borrow” it to impress her. That means we get to see Dean’s face as his Baby drives by the window – because you can’t have a 300th episode without paying some homage to Dean’s love of his Baby!

They approach Eliot across the street, who responds with alarm and a “Please, I don’t wanna die!”

Jared Padalecki’s gift for comedy was much in evidence as Sam reacts with a stuttered “Die? Why would…”

I again laughed out loud (silently…)

Sam attempts to get the surly post office lady to tell him Max’s address, but she just looks at him like he’s a creep trying to get an underage girl’s address (puppy eyes definitely not working this time, Sam). Dean to the rescue, turning on that patented Dean Winchester charm and supplementing it with a gentle hand on top of hers, which immediately flusters her into telling him her mother’s address. (Not sure that’s very different, but I appreciate the attempt at hanging onto your ethics, post office lady).  What makes this scene so priceless is Sam’s disapproving scowl at what Dean’s doing, which again had me trying to laugh and more or less just making incoherent almost-sounds.

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We couldn’t have a milestone episode without a reference to Dean’s flirting skills either (though Sam’s puppy eyes would be quite effective with me, gotta say)

The Winchesters arrive just in time to save the day (and the local kids) from all the cursed stuff that was in Baby’s back seat, with Dean crooning an iconic “Oh Baby, Baby, please tell me you’re not hurt…”

But not in time to avoid confronting the clownish ghost of John Wayne Gacy.

Dean to Sam: This is like the best worst thing that could happen to you, Sam, serial killer…but clown…

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Score another reference to iconic Supernatural – Meredith Glynn and Andrew Dabb really packed them in there!

Eliot, Max and Stacy run back in to help, so they get an eye full of exploding clown ghost. Interestingly, instead of making up a story, Sam and Dean tell them the truth about who they are and what they do, and then ask them to keep it a secret so everyone else won’t freak out.

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This was a head scratching moment for me in spite of my love for this episode. I guess maybe we’re setting these kids up to be recurring locals or something, since Show seems hell bent on bringing in teenage regulars because god forbid a show on the CW be about people who aren’t sixteen…. The wisdom of that aside, two grown men telling a bunch of high school kids to keep a secret seems like a shady decision at best.

Thus ends the “Outsider pov” part of this episode. We didn’t get much of what I was hoping for in that aspect, and I almost wonder if originally this episode was supposed to be only about Lebanon and the locals’ perspective, but when Jeffrey Dean Morgan became available, we ended up with part of the original story and part the family reunion that became the heart and soul of the episode. It almost seemed like that’s what happened, but I suppose we’ll never know unless Glynn or Dabb want to share. Meredith? Andrew?

Back to the bunker, where Sam gets to be smart (throughout this entire episode, Sam gets to be the version of Sam I love most, Smart!Sam, as he figures things out time and time again). He realizes that one of the artifacts they have is the magic pearl that grants your heart’s desire – as in, getting Michael out of Dean’s head once and for all. Dean impulsively wants to do that immediately, and so he holds the pearl. Immediately the bunker goes dark, and we get some great music cues, and then there’s a shadowy figure there with them and a fight ensues.

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spn 1413 shadowy figure in winhesters bunker

We hear the familiar sound of a shotgun cocking, and Sam and Dean freeze and look up at who has them at gunpoint, their expressions astounded.

Dean: Dad?

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This was a beautifully done scene, but I have to digress to think about what it would have been like if the network hadn’t decided to spoil literally everyone for the return of John Winchester and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. I understand that from a marketing perspective it probably made sense, but I can’t help but ponder the incredible unprecedented emotional impact that scene would have had if nobody had known. Can you even imagine? I was already feeling pretty sick, I probably would have passed out. Maybe it’s a good thing I was spoiled along with everyone else! But seriously, imagine how that scene would have played if we didn’t know. I can’t help but be sad about that missed opportunity.

John Winchester looks as shocked as his boys, asking brokenly what happened to them (15 years…) and why Sam isn’t in Palo Alto, and then Dean realizes and asks John what year it is.

John: 2003.

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Me: Whoa.

Let’s think about that for a minute. It’s 2003. Sam and John have had their knock-down-drag-out fight that culminated with Sam leaving for Stanford and John telling him if he leaves to stay gone, thereby breaking everyone’s heart and kickstarting 6 million heart wrenching Stanford era fics on Archive of our Own.  Dean and John have started hunting together while Sam’s away. None of the things that have happened on the Show itself (other than flashbacks) have happened between John and his sons. That’s….pretty mindblowing.

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Very minor head scratch for the decision to let Jeffrey Dean Morgan look like 2019 Jeffrey Dean Morgan instead of what John Winchester looked like in 2005 when the show began airing, including keeping the gray in his hair and beard. He doesn’t in fact look like he did 14 years ago, but I don’t really mind hand waving that because clearly nobody was going to play John Winchester in this episode but JDM and so I’m cool with however that had to happen.

Sam and Dean catch their Dad up, mostly.

John: And now you live here, with an angel and Lucifer’s kid.

There’s mention of Henry Winchester (shout out to Gil McKinney!) and how happy he would be to know that John was there.

John is clearly moved by who his sons have become and how they have (literally) saved the world. Repeatedly.

John: (wistfully) I just wish I’d been there to see…

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The Winchester family theme (by composer Jay Gruska) starts to play, because of course it does, it’s not like I wasn’t already off the charts emotional or anything, and then John mentions Mary.

Sam and Dean: About Mom…

And then we hear (and John hears) Mary’s voice in the background.

Mary: Sam? Dean?

OMG the look on John Winchester’s face when he hears her. Look, I’ve raved a lot about the acting chops of the actors on this Show, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan knocked it so far out of the box in this episode, I can’t even put words to it. John absolutely breaks in that moment, his face crumpling, and we see the exact second he realizes.

John: (brokenly) M—Mary?

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All the kudos to Samantha Smith for this episode too, because she brought it every bit as much as the other three Winchesters did. Mary rounds the corner and sees her long-dead husband sitting there staring at her, the smile on his face so full of elation and love that it seems to knock her off her feet almost. They’re swept into each others arms and kiss, and Sam and Dean are transformed into two little boys, awkwardly reminding each other that they should leave and give their parents some privacy.

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Sam, again the smart one, tries to warn Dean that messing with time never goes well, but Dean is so heartbreakingly thrilled to have his entire family together that he can’t hear his brother. He begs Sam to stop and just let him have this, just one family dinner together.

Dean: It’s all I ever wanted, since I was four years old. Can you just give me that?

OMG my heart. Seriously, just shatter it into a million pieces, Show.

Ackles looks about four years old, in fact, so joyful is he at having his family back together again. A little boy’s dream, suddenly come true.

spn 1413 dean excited wtih sam to have family back winchester

This is a good time for me to say that Reason No. 3 that this episode worked for me is the incredible acting. These actors are always good, but all four of them elevated their game for this episode. And that, I think, isn’t a coincidence. After all these years, it would be understandable if any of them wanted to phone it in, especially Jared and Jensen. Instead, they have all grown to care about this Show and its fandom and each other so much that they’re doing the opposite – they all brought their A game and more to ensure that this episode was the celebration of the Show that it deserved.

Show was not done with breaking my heart yet, not by a long shot. Sam finds John in the library, and we get the scene that Jared Padalecki has said he’s been waiting for and hoping for, for over a decade. Sam and his Dad finally have a Talk. The last few episodes have really given Padalecki some incredible material to sink his teeth into, and he has stepped up to the plate like WHOA. In fact, he was in the Top Ten in Nielsen TV Talent Social Media ratings for this week, and the only actor who made the list!  And he was also Spoiler TV’s Performer of the Month! Give these guys incredible material, and they will SHINE.

As John and Sam talk, Sam brings up a memory from the past that Dean talked about in just the last episode — that time he and Dean tried to make “Winchester surprise” and it didn’t go so well. It was a reminder of the times that John Winchester wasn’t a good parent, when he left his sons to fend for themselves too often and lost his temper too often and probably scared the hell out of Sam and Dean sometimes. It’s something that’s hard for John to hear, because this John is still in the midst of all that and has never seen it from his sons’ perspective before.

Sam: Dean and I tried to make that once…

John: I remember. I screwed up a lot, didn’t I?

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spn 1413 john to sam i screwed up a lot didnt i
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This episode took a real chance and walked a fine line, trying to acknowledge the things that John Winchester did wrong and the very real trauma that caused his sons, while also trying to allow a one-time guest spot for Jeffrey Dean Morgan to be time enough to make some amends for all that. There was no way they could entirely do that justice, but the compromise this episode made did work for me.

Sam: That’s okay.

John: No, it’s not.

Sam eventually admits that yes, John did mess some stuff up, but says that when he thinks about his Dad now (and he thinks about him a lot – oh, my heart!), he doesn’t think about the fights.

Sam: I think about you dead, and that I never got to say goodbye…

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At this point, Jared is crying for real and so is Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And so am I. Real tears, rolling down my cheeks.  Because their tears? Just as real. Sam is so overwhelmed with emotion, he has to keep looking away from his father, a touch of realism that got to me every time it happened.

John: Sam. Son. I am so sorry.

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Here’s Reason No. 4 why this episode worked.

It’s great acting, no doubt about it. But it’s so much more. It’s a very real and much needed catharsis for these characters, and for these actors too. It’s a meshing of fictional story and real life that can only happen when a show has been on the air for fourteen years and its cast has become a true family.

I know some people questioned Sam’s ready forgiveness of his father, but everything about that was realistic to me. Sam knows that they probably don’t have all the time in the world, even before they get the proof of a temporal paradox. To him, his fights with his father are ancient history, and something he’s come to terms with over the twelve years that have passed since his father’s death. This is a Sam who has also come to terms with who he is and the role that his past has played in shaping him into that person. This is a Sam who wishes he got to say goodbye to his father.

What a gift, to have that person in front of  you again, and to be able to SAY those words to him. What a gift to hear his apology and see that he means it; to see his love and see that he means that too. Just to hear John call Sam “son” made me break into ugly crying, because Sam needed to hear that so badly. Does it make it all okay that John said he was sorry? No, of course not. But where Sam is right now, that was what he needed.

All three actors have talked about their wish for some sort of conversation to clear the air between father and sons before the Show ends. Ackles perceptively said at one of the Rome conventions a few  years ago that he understood that at a young age Dean thought hunting with his dad was more interesting than a normal life, but later he realized that his childhood had essentially been stolen from him, and hoped Dean would one day have that conversation with his father. We know Dean still thinks about those days, from his conversation with Sam in the car in the last episode. But when it comes to actually having his father right there with him, it’s not anger that Dean and Sam feel for John – and I think that’s probably realistic. It doesn’t excuse all the things John did to his sons, it’s just that in this moment, they are sons whose lives have been defined by loss, clinging to the only conversations they will ever get with their father.

It struck me too, in a real life sense, that Jared and Jeff (and Jensen) are in such different places than they were back when Jeff was last on the Show. They are fathers themselves now, and that changes your perspective on what it means to be a dad and what it means to be a son. I can’t help but wonder if some of that incredible, overflowing emotion that both Jeffrey and Jared brought to this scene was enriched by their personal understanding of what it means to be a parent. How hard it is, how imperfectly most of us do it, and how easily we can hurt the children who depend on us.

I think Jeffrey Dean Morgan needed John Winchester to say he was sorry, and for Sam and Dean to hear it and believe it. He’s talked about how much a part of his life this Show has remained, and how difficult it has been to have the story of John Winchester go on without him, sometimes in directions he didn’t agree with. Getting to show the softer side of John and letting viewers really see his love for his sons and for his wife set something right for Jeff, and I think some of his emotionality was about that catharsis.

Sam stops Dean as he’s heading out to buy groceries for Winchester Surprise.

Sam: Dean, hold on. You were right. You want some company?

The smile on Dean’s face could have warmed the entire planet.

Of course, as Smart!Sam predicted, their messing with time has already changed things. Dean’s back on the FBI Most Wanted list (call back to the iconic early seasons FBI poster) and Sam is a law firm genius giving TED talks on the benefits of eating kale (wink wink to Misha Collins’ love of that particular vegetable) and decrying the value of hobbies — or having a family.

Wait, what?

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spn 1413 smart sam giving a ted talk in black turtleneck

That right there was enough to convince Dean that they have to change things back. Much like in “What Is And What Should Never Be”, Sam not valuing their family bond is the game changer for Dean. Life is literally not worth living if they’re not brothers. This is the message of so many episodes, from “The French Mistake” to “WIAWSNB” to this one.

Shallow shout out to Jared in black turtleneck and glasses though.

As soon as Smart!Sam puts out his temporal paradox theory, we see just how messed up the timeline has become. Zachariah (the wonderful Kurt Fuller) appears in Lebanon to investigate a shift in the space time continuum, along with a super serious version of Castiel, who is essentially there to murder everyone if they don’t provide information.

Zachariah: Come on, Constantine.

Castiel: I don’t understand that reference.

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Me: Nice call back, Show!

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Other than the incredible catharsis this episode provided on multiple levels, the take-away from “Lebanon” is a celebration and a reminder of the evolution of its beloved characters. The next scene shows us, more subtly than the Winchesters’ story line here but no less vividly, the evolution of Castiel. I often miss the badass scary version of the angel who was introduced a decade ago, but here we get a reminder of just how scary that version could be (and how impressive). In a call back to his powerful introduction scene, Cas fixes the frightened Lebanon residents with a grim stare and announces:

Castiel: My name is Castiel. I am an angel of the Lord.

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spn 1413 casitel lit up i am an angel of the lord

Boom boom boom! The lights explode, just as they did in that iconic scene, and we see the shadow of Castiel’s wings unfold behind him. I love when the Show references its iconic scenes, so including this one was wonderful to see. I’ve missed you, Badass Cas!

Unfortunately, that also means that he blindly follows Zachariah’s orders and attacks the innocent townsfolk. When Sam and Dean burst in, they call out to Cas, but he coldly says he doesn’t know them.

Ouch.

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Dean killed Zachariah in the 100th episode, so it’s fitting that Sam gets to kill him in the 300th. Meanwhile, Cas and Dean have a bit of a reprise of their other iconic scenes where Cas beats the crap out of Dean and Dean tries to get through to him to convince him to stop – and succeeds by reminding Castiel that they’re family. It doesn’t work this time, but one could see it as a subtle ship shout out if one wanted to. And again, if not, it’s easily seen as not that at all.

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A bloodied Sam zaps Cas away before he can choke the life out of Dean, and the Winchesters race back to the bunker. They now realize that they need to change the timeline back before they too become their alternate selves, and in order that their version of Castiel returns and Mary doesn’t fade away.  It’s absolutely soul crushing that they can’t have even one family dinner that’s just a celebration, but tragedy is as much what this show is about as family, so Sam and Dean break the news to John and Mary.

John understands immediately.

John: Me or your mom, that’s not even a choice.

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The heartbreaking thing about that is that for Sam and Dean, it IS a choice. They have missed their father more painfully than their mother, perhaps, after having much more time with him. That’s not John’s perspective, and Dean doesn’t disagree with him, but we the viewers know what this is costing Dean to let his Dad go.

Samantha Smith is masterful as Sam tells Mary and she struggles to take it in. John and Mary had that kind of meant-to-be (literally) soul mate thing that makes them more to each other than most couples, and Mary’s agony at having to say goodbye to the husband she just got back is difficult to watch. Samantha Smith lets the tears overcome her, her voice breaking as she tries to do the right thing. Jared looks equally agonized, having to tell his mother that John needs to go back.

Dean and his father also get a heart-to-heart, and it’s every bit as emotional as John’s moments with Sam.

John tells Dean that he never meant for this, that his fight was supposed to end with John and Yellow Eyes. Then he says something that Dean Winchester has waited his entire life to hear. Something that seemed so out of character for John Winchester to say to his son that it was how Dean knew he was possessed and not himself back in Season 1, as heartbreaking as that is.

John: I am so incredibly proud of you.

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Dean’s face in that moment, as he hears those words. It heals something in Dean’s soul, something deep and profound and terribly broken. And Jensen Ackles lets us experience every second of that. It sinks into our psyches as it sinks into Dean’s, healing something there as well.

That’s Reason No. 5.

Not only was this episode cathartic for our beloved fictional characters and for the actors who play them, it was cathartic for us too. When something is healed in Dean and Sam, something is healed in me – that’s how important and how real these fictional characters are to me. I didn’t even know I needed that sort of healing until Show gave it to me on a silver platter.

John and Dean are letting each other see all their emotion on their faces onscreen, tears in their eyes.

John: I hoped you’d get yourself a normal life, a peaceful life. A family.

Dean: I have a family.

That was it, I lost it. I had mostly lost it already, but I really lost it there. That little piece of dialogue was so important, so critical. The reason this episode was so cathartic is because it showed us how far our favorite characters have come, and how okay they are with where they’ve ended up. You talk about character development and evolution? That’s it, right fucking there.

The Winchesters sit down to dinner, all four of them. Such a simple thing, but something that hasn’t happened since Dean was a hopeful four year old and Sammy was a six month old baby. Such a simple thing, but the embodiment of Dean Winchester’s fondest wish and heart’s desire.

It’s John, who plays head of household and sets the tone, giving all of them the permission to just enjoy the moment and not think of what’s coming next – to be grateful.  There’s cheers, and food, and music and a montage of the Winchesters like we’ve never seen them. Happy.

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“I’ve been too long on these islands, I’ve been far too long alone, I’ve been too long without summer in this winter home. Still if we can make the effort, If we take the time, maybe we can leave this much behind…Till it shines…” the lyrics say, as Mary and John share laughter and Sam and Dean are quintessential siblings telling stories about each other, complete with pointing at each other to punctuate them. It’s so beautiful that it’s painful, because we – and they – know it’s temporary and fleeting.

After dinner, in a scene of heartbreaking normalcy, Sam and Dean wash dishes. And Show manages to break me yet again. Sam laments that it’s not fair to get to have all this, just to have to throw it away, and Dean stops washing, asks Sam if he wishes things would be different?

Sam: Don’t you? Can you imagine — Dad in the past, knowing then what he knows now? I think it would be nice.

Dean: Yeah. I used to think that, too. But, I mean, look, we’ve been through some tough times, there’s no denying that. And for the longest time, I blamed Dad. I mean, hell, I blamed Mom, too, you know? I was angry. But say we could send Dad back knowing everything. Why stop there? Why not send him even further back and let some other poor sons of bitches save the world? But here’s the problem. Who does that make us?

The family theme begins to play again, and Dean turns to Sam.

Dean: Would we be better off? Well, maybe. But I gotta be honest — I don’t know who that Dean Winchester is. And I’m good with who I am. I’m good with who you are. ‘Cause our lives — they’re ours. And maybe I’m just too damn old to want to change that.

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spn 1413 dean winchester beat up face would we be better off

Sam’s face relaxes as he takes that in, agreeing with his brother.

I had no idea how much I needed to hear that until I did. Evolution. Not the kind of evolution that makes a character someone I don’t recognize or someone who is not the character I fell in love with, but the kind of evolution that makes sense. Sam and Dean are who they are, flaws and traumas and codependence and all, and I love them because of that. But over these fourteen years, they have moved from struggling against who they are and trying to be something else, to being genuinely and truly okay with who they are. From railing against their pasts and their parents to an understanding of what shaped them, and while much of that will never be “okay”, they can still value where they ended up – and who they ended up. That Dean openly shared with Sam that he’s okay with who he is was a gift to both of them; that Dean shared with Sam that he’s okay with who Sam is was beyond a gift to Sam, who will never have to wonder if he’s lived up to his big brother’s expectations ever again. They are good with who they are.

And so am I.

That was the catharsis for me, and I’m so grateful.

While it was shown differently, I think the call back to Castiel’s origin story on the Show, and the stark contrast to who he is now, was meant to be a similar testament to the character’s evolution. He has changed immensely, and sometimes I miss the original version, but this reminder also showed us the best part of those changes by comparison. Cas is no longer cold and unfeeling. He may not be as badass, but he’s also not the good soldier who just follows orders and thus does hurtful things. It’s a trade off, like all evolution, but it’s a good one. Castiel has learned to care, and has become his own “person” in the process. Like Sam and Dean, he’s come to terms with his own history and discovered who he is, even if that makes him a fish out of water no matter what universe he’s in. That’s part of his beauty, after all.

As Sam and Dean come to the understanding that they’re good with themselves and with each other, we cut to two clasped hands and for a split second I thought it was Sam and Dean holding hands and said “awwww” sort of out loud. Turns out it was John and Mary, but the edit definitely made a lot of people do a double take. Deliberate or not, brothers in arms or something else, take your pick, whatever floats your boat.

sam dean holding hands fake out john mary winchester instead spn 1413

The Winchester family theme plays as John and Mary say their goodbyes. His voice breaks again as he looks at her, smiling through his tears.

John: My girl. I love you so damn much.

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mary winchester kisses john hard spn 1413 lebanon

They kiss goodbye, and John turns to his sons.

John: You two, you take care of each other.

Sam: We always do.

SPn 1413 john winchester making sure sam dean take care of each other
sam winchester to john we always do spn 1413
dean winchester beat up face sad with john daddy lebanon

I was a puddle on the floor at that, at the deliberate call back to John’s life-defining order to Dean to “take care of Sammy”, his recognition that his sons are grown and that they now take care of each other. Another incredibly healing moment for Sam and Dean – for Dean to be relieved of any thoughts of that being a one way street, and for Sam to have their father’s recognition that he and Dean are equally responsible for each other. And an incredibly healing moment for me as a viewer, a testament to the fourteen years of evolution that I’ve been privileged to witness.

John: I am so proud of you boys. I love you both so much.

He embraces his sons, all of them openly sobbing. Jensen has tears flowing down his face as he holds it together just enough to say “Love you too” against his father’s shoulder. Jared is struggling not to lose it completely, pausing to wipe at his eyes and unable to utter a word, just nodding.

jeffrey dean morgan john hugs sam dean winchester spn 1413 sad tears
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sam winchester hugging daddy john with dean lebanon 1413
jensen ackles dean hugging jeffrey dean morgan and jared padalecki 1412

John goes back to stand with Mary, and nods at Sam, still smiling.

John: Sammy.

It’s permission, acquiescence, and a testament of faith in his youngest son.

john winchester to dean mary sammy 1413 lebanon
dean winchester looking sad with john spn 1413

Sam smashes the pearl, and Dean flinches like it’s a gun shot. It’s those small moments that make all this so heartbreakingly real, a call back to Sam flinching as the door slams and Mary leaves them, a call back to Dean flinching as Sam has to shoot Madison. Just like those times, it breaks me.

spn 1413 sam smashes pearl and mary leaves winchester edit
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dean winchester heartbreak as mary leaves sam spn 1413
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The timeline readjusts, and Max and Stacy hold hands as they walk down the street. Castiel returns to the bunker, alarmed at Sam and Dean’s bloodied and tear-streaked faces.

Cas: What happened?

Dean: Well, there’s a story…

It’s a small moment, but a reminder that this is a Cas who does care, and that feels good.

spn 1413 mary dean sam winchester looking up at castiel on stairs
spn 1413 castiel on stairs looks at mary winchester

Cut back to 2003, as John Winchester wakes up to his flip phone ringing in the Impala, her license plate KAZ2Y5 clearly visible. It’s Dean. Sam is at Stanford.

John: I just had one hell of a dream. No, it was a good one…

spn lebanon john winchester wakes up in impala baby 2003
spn 1414 john winchester just had one hell of a dream lebanon
Caps kayb625

And we wonder if anything from that dream will stick with John, just a subtle suggestion that his boys are destined to be great men. I don’t know, but in that moment, we can hope.

I want to add my thanks to writers Meredith Glynn and Andrew Dabb, director Bob Singer, and the incredible cast of this Show for never letting me down. I may not love every single episode that comes along, but when it counts, this Show always delivers.

Congratulations on 300 episodes, Supernatural!

Supernatural 1413 Lebanon

Summary

I’ve come up with five reasons why this episode worked so well for me (and I think for most people), but to do the episode justice, let’s start at the beginning. I also have a few things that shouldn’t have worked so well, but those mostly got lost in the shuffle of OMG FEEEEEELINGS that characterized my viewing experience.

Pros

  • The emotional hook pulls you in immediately
  • That Lebanon, Kansas sign scene
  • The acting was freaking incredible in this episode
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan returns for an emotional episode
  • Supernatural’s 300th episode!
  • Lebanon provided a much needed catharsis for the Winchester brothers with John
  • With Sam and Dean being healed, we as the audience got to heal with them

Cons

  • Please let the rest of the season be as great as the past several weeks have been.
  • (5)
Overall
5
User Review
5 (1 vote)
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Comments Rating 5 (1 review)

One Response

  1. Nikki March 23, 2019

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