10-List: Essential Supernatural Episodes

I recently finished watching every episode of the CW series Supernatural.

I’ve gone on record as saying I’m not a fan of binge-watching television shows. Even when I’m watching a long-running television series such as The West Wing or Shameless, I prefer to watch no more than two episodes per week. Circumstances sometimes change those plans, like when I found out The West Wing and Hell on Wheels were leaving Netflix this month, making a little binge-watching necessary.

For a while, I committed to watching three television episodes per day: one before work; one during my lunch break at work (I’m not antisocial, really, just alone); and, one during the evening. I was watching twenty-one individual episodes per week, minimum, whether the shows were 30-minutes or an hour. This was the way I watched my way through all of the Star Trek series, from TOS through Enterprise.

These days, I only plan for two episodes a day, or fourteen per week. I almost always watch more, but there’s less pressure. Yes, it’s self-applied pressure, I know, but pressure nonetheless.

When I began watching Supernatural, I was already thirteen or fourteen seasons behind. I developed a more ambitious viewing plan so that I would be completely caught up by the time the final season, the show’s fifteenth, aired. By the way, when I began watching the series, they had not yet announced that Season 15 would be its last. My plan was to watch at least five episodes of the series per week. While this still wasn’t technically binge-watching since I didn’t watch all five episodes in a single sitting, that’s a lot of one series to watch each week.

When you’re absorbing that much content from the same series in a single week, your enjoyment of the show takes a hit. At least, that’s been my experience. As I had done previously with all of the Trek series, I maintained a spreadsheet as I watched Supernatural, giving each episode a rating of 1 – 5 after I watched them. Those episodes that scored at least a 4 were those I considered to be “good” to “great.” Any episode that scored less than 3 was “no está bien.” I believe I would have scored some episodes higher if I hadn’t been watching five a week. Familiarity breeding contempt, and all that stuff.

Even if I may have been grading a bit too harshly, I still ended up with forty-one episodes in the good-to-great range. With the bell curve in mind, you would expect a similar amount in the less-than-average range, but only nine episodes scored less than a 3 while I was watching. Maybe I wasn’t scoring as harshly as I thought. Or—and this is what I really believe—Supernatural was a pretty good series that rarely disappointed, and most of the episodes were at least “okay.” Even my least-favorite seasons had some great episodes (well, except for Season 3 and, unfortunately, Season 15).

This 10-List includes those ten episodes, from the larger list of forty-one, that I would consider essential viewing to understand what the series was all about. What I would honestly recommend is watching the entire series. Maybe not five episodes a week, but you know what your tolerances are. But, these ten episodes will certainly give you a taste of what the series offers.



Pilot” — Yeah, the pilot episode spells it all out pretty clearly. The family business. The relationship between Dean and Sam. The traumatic back story. The ghost story that provides the plot of the first episode is a familiar one, but the show’s take seems fresh.

Devil’s Trap” — This episode was the Season 1 finale. It includes the first appearance of Bobby Singer, another hunter, a friend of John Winchester, and a person who in, many ways, becomes more important to the Winchester brothers than their father. As the viewer becomes aware that there is a network of hunters in this fictional world, the overarching story being told becomes broader and deeper.

In My Time of Dying” — On my spreadsheet, I noticed a trend of the good-to-great episodes being clustered around seasonal premieres and finales. As I compiled this essential 10-List, I tried to keep that in mind. I didn’t want the list to be entirely made up of cliffhanger endings and cliffhanger resolutions. “In My Time of Dying” is the Season 2 premiere, immediately following “Devil’s Trap.” This means I’m breaking my own rule early here. After much consideration, however, I included this episode because it sets up what becomes a recurring theme in the show: the willingness to sacrifice everything to save your family. ‘Nuff said.

Jump the Shark” — This episode is placed towards the end of Season 4. It’s the one where the Winchester brothers discover that John Winchester fathered another son that they never knew about. They also discover that he was a different kind of father to this son. This story also reinforces another recurring theme: the attraction of a normal non-hunter existence.

The French Mistake” — This is a fun episode. One that the kids would call meta. The fifteenth episode in Season 6, the Winchester brothers find themselves in an alternate dimension, where they are actors in a television series named—you guessed it—”Supernatural.” The actors seemed to have fun playing fictionalized versions of themselves. We’ve played around with the idea of other dimensions before this episode, especially Heaven and Hell, but this story posits the existence of even more dimensions, which becomes an important part of the show’s mythology later on.

Death’s Door” — By the time we made it to this episode, the tenth in Season 7, both Dean and Sam have literally been to Hell and back in the series. We even got to see Dean plucked from his grave by the first appearance of an angel. Okay, we saw the angel handprint on Dean’s body after he emerged from his grave, at any rate, and we’ve been introduced to Castiel, whose hand left the print. This episode reinforced another series trope that I often hated: the death of an important character. Death isn’t always necessarily the end in this series, but it still stings.

Do You Believe in Miracles?” — Yes, another series finale. Episode twenty-three in Season 9. Dean dies, again, and is resurrected by Crowley as a Knight of Hell. This will kick off a series of episodes in which Jensen Ackles, as Dean Winchester, gets to act like a total bad guy for a while, the way Jared Padalecki did when Sam didn’t have a soul.

Baby” — The fourth episode of Season 11. Another “fun” episode. Baby is the 1967 Chevy Impala that is the Winchesters home away from home in the series. Let’s face it, this entire series is one road trip after another, mainly in the Midwest. This entire episode is shown from the perspective of the car itself. I’m not saying that the story of the episode is that important to the mythology of the series itself, because it’s not. But, from a storytelling perspective, it’s impressive.

Stuck in the Middle (With You)” — Stuck in the middle of Season 12, this is Supernatural’s big Quentin Tarantino homage. I am a huge QT fan. There is no way this wouldn’t have made my 10-List.

Lebanon” — This final “essential” episode is the thirteenth in Season 14. I think of this as the Winchester family reunion show. It doubles down on recurring themes such as family and loss, and it is an episode with all the feels, which is slang the Internet told me just yesterday I was too old to use. But, it does. Not just some of the feels. All the feels.



So, there it is. I haven’t posted my review of Season 15 yet, although you may have noticed that no episode from that season made this list. That’s not a mistake.

Saving People. Hunting Things. That’s the Family Business.

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