Socially, we’re conditioned to ask the basics when we meet people. You know, the small talk questions: Where are you from? What do you do? How many siblings do you have? Eventually, we progress into the hard-hitting ‘getting to know yous’ of relationships, even if it’s reading someone’s words.
Favorite song? Favorite book? Favorite movie? The thing is, people sometimes lie.
Whether they mean to or not. No one’s favorite book is Anna Karenina; it’s just not. You can respect the book, but it’s not your favorite; you don’t revisit it regularly, it’s not a comforting blanket you burrito yourself inside.
For example, my favorite song, book, and movie, respectively, are: “Just What I Needed” by The Cars, “Death Comes as the End” by Agatha Christie, and “A Few Good Men.”
Have I heard better songs? Sure, as one of my best friend’s husband once said: “‘Just What I Needed’ isn’t even Ric Ocasek’s favorite song.” Have I read better books? Absolutely. Are there better movies?
No. And I will fight you.
My point is: sometimes I think that society, or in this case fandom culture, makes us feel as though we should choose things that we may like a lot but also simultaneously live up to some arbitrary social standard or norm, as our favorite. In Supernatural fandom I often see the same few episodes held up as universal fan favorites; episodes like “Yellow Fever,” “Changing Channels,” “The French Mistake,” “Swan Song,” and “Baby.”
Maybe these episodes are your faves, but they aren’t mine; not even close. I’m not even talking about the episodes I think are the all-around best or the most quintessential (we’ll get into that in another article). I mean these don’t even make my top ten, they aren’t my go-to episodes, the ones I’ve watched the most, the ones I’ll watch out of sequence just because I want to relive the entire thing on a random Tuesday afternoon. In fact, one of those example episodes is in my bottom ten.
So, which out of over 265 episodes, are my favorites? I’ll tell you not because I’m telling you that I think these are the best episodes and that you should agree (again, that arrogance will come in another article), but because I think this is a fun introduction. A way for you all to get to know me.
Sin City – I’ll admit that “Sin City” isn’t the best episode ever penned, the quips are heavy-handed, and the plot is simplistic. Honestly, it’s kinda middle of the road, but that’s what makes it re-watchable without the emotional hangover of “Mystery Spot” or “Fresh Blood” (Besides, we’ll get into those episodes in a later article.
What “Sin City” does have is a great supporting cast: we get to see Katie Cassidy finally start to her get bearings playing Ruby 1.0, we get a great scene at the beginning where Sam and Dean are such bratty, yet lovable surrogate children to Bobby, we meet and mourn Richie, the perv with a heart of gold, (I mean, he’s basically Dean (Jensen Ackles) without the suave or skill), and we cozy up in a basement with Casey the bartender demon who is insightful, witty, and deadly, but her quid pro quo with Dean gives us a good dose of classic cocky Dean Winchester who is also a scared little boy underneath it all.
Bonus, we also get the rare unicorn that is goofy, chagrinned Sammy as he backs his way out of Trotter’s office. And anyway, if you don’t catch yourself saying “I make a mean hurricane” every time you look at the Red Lobster drink menu you are living your life wrong.
Ask Jeeves – now, I’m going to stop you before you tell me that Fan Fiction is the best episode of season 10, because it’s really, REALLY not. It’s arguably in the bottom three of the season.
“Ask Jeeves,” however, was a perfect play on the movie that inspired it (which is one of the best movies of all time, again, I will fight you) and was another episode overflowing with a great supporting cast with fantastic comedic timing. For an episode that was primarily a loose tie-in to the release of the Supernatural Clue game it could have gone so wrong, but instead, it went so very right.
The soundtrack is stellar, the jokes and pop culture references are on point without being concussion-inducing anvils, and the mystery itself is background to the story without being disappointing. “Ask Jeeves” is a comedic romp with a nice little hit of Winchester family feelings; it’s a bread and butter Supernatural episode. Besides, Dash hunts pheasants. He. Hunts. Pheasants.
Caged Heat – This is an ensemble style episode done right. We get one of the best interactions between Sam/Dean and a demon to ever grace the show (props to character actor Conrad Coates for delivering, “I know you’re speaking, I see your lips moving, but I can’t understand what you’re saying ’cause I don’t speak little bitch,” because that line is a mouthful) and from that we slide seamlessly into Meg getting the drop on the boys and Sam turning it on her in the blink of an eye because he now understands her calculating nature so well.
Speaking of calculating, Sam using the the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark to lure Castiel to him is a perfect segue into their mutually soulless tête-à-tête (full disclosure, season 6 Castiel is my favorite version of Castiel). We also get Meg taking on a pack of hellhounds, Dean threatening Samuel, Sam (Jared Padalecki) biting into his wrist to draw a Devil’s Trap with his own blood (that bloody grin is everything), Dean rescuing Meg from demon Christian.
Then we get the brothers and Meg working in tandem against Crowley in perfect harmony, the fake-out Crowley death that we only later find out was all a set up between Crowley and Castiel (Misha Collins) who were working together all along.
It’s an episode that works on your first watch, yet is even more brilliant in retrospect.
Night Shifter – Okay, I’ll be up front, season 2 is not only my favorite season of Supernatural but one of my favorite seasons of television. Period. Even its weakest episode is still so damn good, but if I have to choose one to go on a list that is based on simple re-watchability, I have to hand it to this one.
Meet conspiracy theorist Ronald Resnik; he’s that character that every procedural or genre show needs at least once a season; the one who is wholly unqualified, but still tries to be the hero. Not for the glory, but because lives are at stake and the right thing has to be done.
We laugh at Ron and his mandroid ideas; Dean praises him, Sam shuts him down, both do it because he’s so close yet, oh, so far from the truth. And when Ronald gets shot (which while tragic, is gorgeously directed and edited) your heart breaks for both Dean and Ronald. You also get exactly that Sam wanted to keep him deep in the dark because the hunter life is nothing but pain and death.
Speaking of impactful characters, we also meet Agent Henriksen in this episode, a character that is a perfect example of an outside POV of the Winchesters. His description of them being “dangerous, smart, and expertly trained” is so important because he doesn’t know what they really do, yet he understands who they are on a fundamental level, and while he wants to lock them up, he fully respects them as adversaries.
This episode is cinematic; it literally feels like a complete movie. It’s beautifully shot, every actor brought their A-game (Dean’s little forehead punch when he hangs up with Henriksen is one of those tiny, silent details that makes a moment a moment).
We get great dialogue (“I like him, he says okeydokey,” “its robot skin is so lifelike;’ Sam’s long-suffering “we’re not working for the mandroid!;’ Henriksen’s breakdown of the Winchester family that could have been clunky exposition but was instead just a smooth reminder of who they are with bonus (“yeah, I know about Sam, the Bonnie to your Clyde”).
But if all that wasn’t enough, there’s also arguably the most iconic Supernatural moment and one of the top three musical cues of the show: Sam and Dean in stolen SWAT gear sneaking to the Impala while “Renegade” plays. I’ve seen this episode more times than I’m willing to admit, and I get chills at that moment every single time.
Shadow – Yeah, I know, this is out of left field, but hear me out, because I think this episode is woefully underrated.
First of all, we get a tiny peek into the Weechesters by way of Dean reminding Sam of his high school drama years. Not only did Dean remember Sam was in “Our Town,” he clearly went to the play to support his baby brother.
We also get smart Sam AND Dean in this episode. Dean by way of visualizing the Daeva pattern in the victim’s blood and Sam using the flare against the Daeva shadow demons.
Speaking of the brothers being brothers, there’s a lot to take in during this episode. Starting with them running into Meg and Dean being hurt by Sam telling her about their fight, but as soon as Sam reassures him that he’s with Dean by choice, not force, Dean slips right into teasing, wingman big bro mode.
Add to that the subtle nod of trust we can infer by way of Sam taking Baby for his stakeout while Dean researches. This is an episode that on the surface is a basic hunt that ties into the now growing cohesive season throughline, but it’s actually all about family.
There’s the brothers’ dynamic and the way their bond has solidified since “Scarecrow”, however, we also get to see Dean’s vulnerability when Sam naively thinks that this could be it, the end of it all, the catalyst back to “normal”, whereas Dean just wants his family together, hell or high water.
There’s also the fact that no matter how you as a viewer personally feel about John Winchester, the demons know that he’s never far behind his boys; he’s always watching, always protecting them in his own way. And, of course, we get to see a full Winchester reunion complete with damp eyes, manly hugs and choked up voices.
John Winchester saying, “hey boys”, the brothers saying “yes, sir” at the same time (this episode has two instances of Winsync Winspeak); John’s unspoken apologies; Dean’s face while Sam and John hug; Sam being the one who wants them all together, and Dean being the one to understand that they can’t stay with John. John mirroring Sam’s earlier words to Dean about letting go. All of this will always make me emotional.
This episode also has one of my favorite horror tropes, one that Supernatural has unfortunately pulled away from in recent years: it’s creepier when you don’t see what’s after you, like the great Steven Spielberg once said about “Jaws,” what’s scariest is the “fear of the unknown.” The mechanical shark forced Spielberg’s hand, and a crazy tight budget forced Eric Kripke’s, but it worked; the shark is terrifying because you don’t see it until the end, it’s the anticipation.
It’s the same with the Daeva being shadow demons and later in seasons 2 and 3 with the hellhounds. Unfortunately, in recent seasons we’ve now seen hellhounds, and, well, they were scarier when all we had were torsos shredded by invisible claws and our imaginations.
And as much as this episode was packed to the brim with Winchester family fat to chew on, they aren’t the only family. We find out that Meg is doing what she does for family as well. The overarching theme of Supernatural takes form in this episode; human, demon, ghost, or ghoul, it’s always about family in some way.
So, like I said when we started this, my intention isn’t to say these are the best episodes of Supernatural, merely that these are my top 5 comfortable sweatpants episodes. So, did any of your favorites make my list? Did I make you want to re-watch an episode you don’t think much about as much? Let me know.