Over at the agony booth the Horror Guru posts what he believes are the ten best episodes of Supernatural – at least during the Kripke era (not a bad video – you should check it out, though that jester needs to die). Of course he is completely wrong so leave it to SPN’s #1 fan to straighten him out.
Of course one difficulty of SPN is that it can span a wide range of styles, from the pants-wetting horror of episodes like “Bloody Mary” to the pants-wetting humor of “Tall Tales”. You could host a whole oscar-level ceremony just handing out awards for the show’s different moments, the best episodes according to different grades, etc. This can make breaking down a top 10 list of this series difficult as comparing any two episodes can be like comparing an apple to an orange.
So I’ve done this scientifically. In the tradition made popular by the X-Files, all episodes of SPN can be divided between “Monster of the Week” (MotW) episodes and “Myth Arc” episodes. Now some clarifications: Yes, SPN is good about not wasting any of their time, using MotW shows to usually further character development and growth so sometimes it can seem difficult deciding whether a MotW counts as an Arc episode or not. My definition of an “arc” episode is one that critically furthers the main plot arc of the season or show as a whole. such that you can’t remove the arc elements from that episode without ruining it. Thus, episodes like “the Real Ghostbusters” don’t count as arc since they only have a closing minute devoted to said arc. What you’ll also notice is that there are trends between the lists. Mostly, this is a fault of grouping. Seasons 1 & 2 had far more MotW episodes than arcs while seasons 4 & 5 were the reverse.
All straight? Good, so let’s get to the our two top five lists! (also, spoilers ahead)
Kripke Era’ top 5 Monster of the Week Episodes
#5) Houses of the Holy – Before angels showed up for real SPN gave us one of the more thoughtful portrayals of faith and religion in a series. It also gave us a unique insight into the boys as their views on God is a logical and organic outgrowth of their characters. Especially in these kinds of work, the big ‘G’ question looms over many proceedings and why a character might be atheist yet encounters ghosts every day is often a head scratcher. Yet the they pull it off with Dean and it does make sense, as well as his later moment of doubt in the episode.
#4) Hell House – Yeah I have to agree with the horror guru here. It has excellent humor, great moments of “brotherly love” between the boys, and a real growth of their characters. Plus it is one of the more memorable monster twists and one of the first “oh crap” faces when the boys realize their guns are useless. The show should bring back some of their prank wars, give them some more time off.
#3) A Very Supernatural Christmas – What Guru said and similar to the previous episode with its humor and horror. Except this time the bros are more heartwarming than treacherous. Damn near makes one cry every time.
#2) Nightshifter – Alright, last one I agree with. Running more on suspense than horror, this episode is actually one I consider a great “gateway” for new fans to see what the show is all about as you don’t need to know much to grasp what’s going on and what’s up. The guest stars do a spectacular job adding surprising amounts of nuance and depth. It’s pretty much SPN’s version of the Thing on a TV budget and with instead of hostile weather, we have hostile FBI. An episode that hits all the right notes and hits them perfectly.
#1) What is and What Should Never be – But in our number one spot is… the world that almost was. The Lotus-Eater Machine is a common trope that pretty much every show has to go through if it runs long enough. Heck I think they’ve done it in every Star Trek series (but since I refuse to acknowledge Enterprise I can’t say for sure). SPN makes a fairly bold move of doing this old tradition early in its run, but late enough that we viewers can see the main differences between what is and what could be. They also bucked the trend by having the illusion be realistic with plenty of flaws and far from perfect. Quite like life. Although Dean got the chance to shine in this episode (and really, Jensen did exceptionally well here) Sam did get some meta-growth in this one too. Finally, what puts this at the top of this category (and always ranks it high for me on any grade) is that message that first drew me to Supernatural: do the right thing, no matter how hard it is or much it sucks.
Kripke Era’s top 5 Myth Arc Episodes
#5) The Song Remains the Same – Yes I have my problems with this episode but… what can I say, it provides the single best and most complete picture of the Winchester family we’ve ever seen. We see the horror Mary feels at knowing what happens to her sons and we see that there was probably nobody as hard on John as he was. The family rallies together, fights smart and we finally get an appearance by Michael. For all the flaws in this episode, the best parts of it are so good, it pushes the whole thing into the top 5.
#4) Lazarus Rising – After the crap that was season 3, the premiere of 4 was like a cool glass of water to a man trapped in a desert. The atmosphere, the framing, everything hit perfectly. The mystery and slow build to Castiel’s revelation, and that God is in the SPN universe – and has work to be done – knotted up the stomach and punched it with more impact than the previous finale. The phrase “holy shit” has never been a worse pun, nor more appropriate.
#3) Jus in Bello – Looking back it’s chilly how much this episode foreshadowed the end of the series. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the Third Option trope as anyone but… it has reached the point of over-saturation in our culture. Some days there isn’t a third option. Some days even that option sucks as much as any of them. This was one of the first time I can remember seeing a media work where said 3rd option doesn’t pan out (depending on how you count Wrath of Khan). This was a time where the brothers won, but it was a dirty win and far from perfect; a sign of how their eventual defeat of Lucifer would happen. Besides I’ve made no secret that I was a big fan of Victor Henriksen – I’d put him in a spin-off show if it were up to me and this episode was part of the reason. Part of what made him a great character is that he was an antagonist that thought he was doing the right thing. Once the bros proved they were legit, we saw a man that was ready and willing to become a hunter (how different is it from an FBI special agent?) because he wanted to make a difference; to do the right thing. He could have been the Winchesters’ best human ally, alas Lilith got to him first.
#2) Changing Channels – As far as myth arcs go, definitely agree with the Guru on this one. (I refuse to agree with that jester, he needs to DIE!) The Trickster was an awesome character played magnificently by Richard Speight Jr. The alternate title sequence. The barrage of references. Dean’s “guilty hobby”. Top it all off by a revelation that nobody saw coming yet tied everything together perfectly. Sitcoms rarely make me laugh that hard (although the show the Good Guys did – seriously go check it out on Netflix).
#1) All Hell Breaks Loose: Part 2 – This? This is Supernatural’s equivalent of “Best of Both Worlds [part 1]”. Dean – all alone – breaking down and making a deal that, while stupid, was believable as an outgrowth of his character. Azazel pulling off step
26 4 of his plan. I could gush about this episode for hours but instead I’ll focus on two things that draw me to it every time. First: John’s moment of crawling out of Hell on his own and saving his boys as well as giving them a “I’m proud of you” look. Badass yet heartwarming. Second: Azazel’s temptation. It’s rather ironic that while Hollywood always wants to talk about “shades of grey” and “complexities” they really do have a simplistic view of right/wrong. It’s a frequent claim that “evil seduces” but when was the last time you saw the side of evil in media actually seducing anyone? It’s usually hamfisted with a slinky vixen purring “sleep with me” (as if fornication made you instantly wicked) or just the bad guy yelling at the target as if to badger them into submitting to evil. (Well I understand the Godfather is a good example, but I actually haven’t seen it yet.) No, this episode was the first time one really gets a sense of evil tempting someone. You can actually understand and see why Jake would end up helping out someone he hates. Ironic because three years later the show would flub it all with Sam & Dean being tempted by Lucifer & Michael. (Although with Dean they did sort of sell that temptation.)
Now just 2.25 seasons to go before we can start rating the post-Kripke SPN era. Though so far it’s looking more like a “episodes that sucked least” competition.