Supernatural: The 20 Best Episodes

Ahead of the show's 300th episode, Juliette counts down the 20 greatest Supernatural episodes to date...

Supernatural

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Supernatural will be airing its 300th episode this month, a milestone very few shows of any kind reach, and even fewer genre shows. In nearly 300 episodes, of course, there have been some stinkers, and there have been moments of brilliance. Supernatural has done scary episodes, gross-out episodes, funny episodes, tragic episodes, tragically funny episodes and episodes set on its own soundstage.

Here are 20 of the very best.

further reading: Supernatural Season 15 Is Confirmed!

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Scoobynatural

20. Scoobynatural

By Season 13, inevitably some viewers had drifted away from the show, as people will when something runs as long as Supernatural has. “Scoobynatural” had a concept so enticing, it brought some of those viewers back (only out-performed in the ratings that year by the season opener). Not only was the idea of Sam and Dean in a Scooby Doo cartoon too good to miss, Supernatural also has an excellent track record in comedy episodes.

These can be hit and miss on most shows, but Supernatural’s comedy misses are few and the hits are plentiful enough that six of them are on this list. Viewers trusted the show to make this work, and that trust paid off – the episode is both very funny and touching, as all the show’s best comedy episodes are.

Best moment: Sam and Dean trying to explain to the Scooby Gang that no really, ghosts are real.

Quotable: “We’ve been stopping real estate developers when we could have been hunting Dracula? Are you kidding me?! My life is meaningless!” (Fred)

Watch if you like: Scooby-Doo, crossovers

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No Rest For The Wicked

19. No Rest For The Wicked

The writers’ strike cut season three short (yes, Supernatural has been going that long), which meant the planned story arc, in which Sam and Dean desperately tried to find a way to get Dean out of the deal he made with a Crossroads demon, also had to be wrapped up in fewer episodes than anticipated. The solution was truly shocking – they failed. Dean was sent to Hell and viewers were left with an image of him being tortured and screaming out Sam’s name. OK, no one really thought he was going to stay there for ever, but it was still a bold move.

Best moment: Sam joining along in a singalong to Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted’ with his brother, knowing they only had a few hours left.

Quotable: “Family don’t end with blood, boy” (Bobby)

Watch if you like: Dante’s Inferno, soft rock anthems

All Hell Breaks Loose

18. All Hell Breaks Loose, Parts 1&2

Like “No Rest For The Wicked,” this was a real game-changer for the show. Sam’s death and the deal Dean makes to bring him back set in motion just about every major storyline since. But these episodes don’t make the list just for that reason. They also make up a dramatic, satisfying season finale in which the bad guy of two years is dispatched, the Winchester men get some closure (this is most recent appearance of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as John Winchester, excluding voice-only) and the mythology gets a bit more development.

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Best moment: Sam’s first death. The regularity with which the Winchester boys die and come back to life is a long-running joke and has even been the focus of more than one episode over the years, so it’s easy to forget just what a huge, horrifying moment that first death is, back when they used to take it seriously.

Quotable: “That was for our mom, you sunnnuvabitch” (Dean, to Azazel’s dead body)

Watch if you like: The Hunger Games, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as John Winchester

Abandon All Hope

17. Abandon All Hope…

Season five was Supernatural creator Eric Kripke’s final season as showrunner, and it was written to be the final season of the show. The story arc followed the boys’ attempts to stop the oncoming Apocalypse and recapture the Devil himself, with the stakes getting higher and higher as the season wore on. “Abandon All Hope…” is a turning point, hammering home the seriousness of the situation by killing off half the regular supporting cast, after which the story became increasingly grim until our heroes faced an impossible choice in the season finale. It’s also the episode that introduces later regular Mark Sheppard as Crowley, King of the Crossroads Demons.

Best moment: Ellen staying with a mortally injured Jo as they sacrifice themselves to save the boys.

Quotable: “Your choice. You can cling to six decades of deep-seated homophobia, or give it up and get a complete bailout for your ban’s ridiculous incompetence” (Crowley)

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Watch if you like: Mark Sheppard as Crowley, tear-jerkers

further reading: A Supernatural Episode Road Map For Beginners

Nightshifter

16. Nightshifter

Sam and Dean spent much of the first few years of the series on the run from the law, despite having several police officers in their debt. This would continue until the police thought they were dead, only for the pair of them to turn up again, and the threat of jail time if they’re ever caught and identified has never quite gone away. This episode, in which a shape-shifter is carrying out bank robberies, really notches up the tension as they come to the attention of the FBI in the worst possible way, as well as observing the tragedy of a well meaning civilian caught up in something he doesn’t understand.

Best moment: The brothers escape to the tune of ‘Renegade’, by Styx.

Quotable: “We’re not working for the Mandroid!” (Sam, to Ronald)

Watch if you like: Bonnie And Clyde, The Lone Gunmen

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Death’s Door

15. Death’s Door

The decision to kill off Bobby permanently in season seven was controversial, to say the least, but it’s hard to deny his final episode as a living member of the team is a great one. Poor Bobby’s backstory is revealed to be even more tragic than we already knew it was, but more importantly, his bond with the boys and the reasons their relationship is so important both to them and to him are explored. It also prompts the show to explore a fairly obvious question – we’ve seen plenty of ghosts on the series whose bodies were burned, so even with hunters’ funerals, how is it we haven’t seen more beloved deceased characters return after death?

Best moment: Bobby giving his alcoholic father a proper telling off in his imagination

Quotable: “As fate would have it, I adopted two boys, and they grew up great. They grew up heroes” (Bobby)

Watch if you like: Bobby and Rufus, daddy issues

Dark Side Of The Moon

14. Dark Side Of The Moon

The earliest episode to acknowledge how often the boys have died and come back to life, “Dark Side Of The Moon” sets its cards on the table by abruptly killing them both in the first few minutes. We finally get to see what happens when you go to Heaven in the world of Supernatural, and it’s a little weird and oddly lonely (with the exception of “soulmates”, everyone is off in their own little worlds) but it’s a satisfying journey nonetheless. Not that Dean or Castiel would agree, as this is the episode in which they give up on searching for God, having been told He isn’t interested.

Best moment: Dean’s Heaven – playing with fireworks with Young Sam. It’s a truly joyful sequence.

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Quotable: “Gentlemen, I don’t mean to be a downer, but I’m sure I’ll see you again soon” (Ash)

Watch if you like: Family drama, nihilism

Supernatural Episode - Baby

13. Baby

The Supernatural team have always been clear that the Impala is the third main character on the show (sorry, Castiel) so this season eleven episode shifts focus to tell a story entirely from the car’s point of view. No, this isn’t a Herbie or Transformers situation – rather, the entire episode is shot from inside the car. What this means for the story is that we get to see different parts of Sam and Dean’s day – while they’re off investigating, we see the Impala get taken for a joy ride by a car park attendant, and Sam and Dean’s traditional emotionally-charged conversations are given a little more space to breathe. This is how you shake a show up while keeping its unique feel after eleven years.

Best moment: All of Castiel’s hilarious phone calls.

Quotable: “Never use Swayze’s name in vain, OK? Ever” (Dean)

Watch if you like: Classic cars, Bob Seger’s Night Moves

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Read our full review of Supernatural episode “Baby.”

What Is And What Should Never Be

12. What Is And What Should Never Be

Towards the end of season two, as the series started to grow in confidence, Supernatural started to do slightly more experimental episodes that took us away from the straightforward “Sam and Dean hunt a monster” set-up. The first meta-fictional episode was the fun “Hollywood Babylon,” while this was an early glimpse of an alternative timeline – or, rather, an hallucination of Dean’s under the influence of a djinn. The result was a fun “what if” scenario and a lovely penultimate appearance from Adrianne Palicki as Jessica, but it culminated in a truly heart-breaking moment for Dean as he confronts everything he, Sam, and their father have had to sacrifice in their attempts to help others, and is forced to choose life at the expense of happiness.

Best moment: Dean breaks down at his father’s grave.

Quotable: “Look, whatever stupid thing you’re about to do, you’re not doing it alone. And that’s that” (Sam)

Watch if you like: Alternate timelines, wishes gone wrong

The French Mistake

11. The French Mistake

In this episode, Sam and Dean are pulled into a parallel universe where they are the actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, the stars of the TV show Supernatural. The story takes the highest of high concepts and makes it work beautifully, including an appearance from Padalecki’s real life wife and former co-star Genevieve Padalecki and Misha Collins sending himself up gloriously. A joy from start to finish.

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Best moment: Sam and Dean trying to act. They are not good at it.

Quotable: “You married fake Ruby?!” (Dean)

Watch if you like: High concept comedy, Misha Collins

The End

10. The End

What better way to raise the stakes early in the season than to flash forward five years and reveal what the world will look like after the Apocalypse has come about? Funny and heartfelt in equal measure, this is a classic alternate timeline story with a twist. It is also a really important episode in the development of Lucifer as a character, here played with squirming intensity by Jared Padalecki, who gets to sit out most of the story while Jensen Ackles pulls double, only to come and steal the show at the end.

Best moment: The reveal of Hippie Future Castiel, who has taken a surprising attitude towards the end of the world.

Quotable: “When you get back there, you hoard toilet paper. You understand me? Hoard it like it’s made of gold. Cause it is” (Chuck – i.e. this advice is literally from God Himself. Hoard toilet paper, people)

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Watch if you like: Dystopias, toilet paper

Fan Fiction

9. Fan Fiction

The show’s 100th episode was an important moment in its then-current story arc, but it was the 200th that was really celebrated in style. Watching a girls’ school put on a musical version of the Supernatural story (the Kripke years) sounds like a terrible idea but they pull it off brilliantly, making an episode that is both funny and sweet. Most of all, though, this is just a treat for long-term fans, full of call-backs, references, and in-jokes, and that finally ties up a loose end from “Dark Side Of The Moon” in an emotionally satisfying way.

Best moment: The lovely cover of ‘Carry On, Wayward Son’ at the end of the show.

Quotable: “That is some of the worst fan fiction I ever heard!” (Marie, on hearing what happened after the end of season five)

Watch if you like: Musicals, subtext

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Don’t Call Me Shurley

8. Don’t Call Me Shurley

Supernatural is often kind of a grim show, it’s no secret. One of the pleasures of watching it is that, however crappy your life is at that moment, it’s not as crappy as Sam and Dean’s. There are occasional moments of satisfaction (like the killing of Azazel in “All Hell Breaks Loose”) and there’s certainly plenty of humour, but real, honest to Chuck, joy? That’s rare, and the best example (Dean’s Heaven) required both main characters to be dead. So there’s something really special about this season eleven episode, in which God finally comes back (and reveals that He has, in fact, been helping out on the odd occasion all along). The rest of the episode, in which Metatron makes the case for humankind to God, is a philosophical and meta-fictional treat as well, but it’s that conclusion that really makes it something to remember.

Best moment: Dean pulls his old amulet out of Sam’s pocket – signalling that God has returned.

Quotable: “You know what humanity’s greatest creation has been? Music. That, and nacho cheese” (Chuck)

Watch if you like: Philosophy, happy endings

Read our full review of Supernatural‘s “Don’t Call Me Shurley.”

The Monster At The End Of This Book

7. The Monster At The End Of This Book

“Don’t Call Me Shurley” would never have been possible without the episode that introduced Chuck in the first place, though back then he was nothing more than a cowardly writer and (apparently) reluctant prophet. Supernatural had done a few meta-fictional episodes by this point but “The Monster At The End Of This Book” was the moment they took it to new places, creating the fictional Supernatural universe within the Supernatural universe and allowing the show to explore fandom, fan fiction, fan conventions and fan musicals further down the line. The whole concept is a real treat for the show’s real life fans.

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Best moment: Sam and Dean discover online fandom and slash fiction.

Quotable: “They do know we’re brothers, right?!” (Dean)

Watch if you like: Fan fiction, meta fiction

Faith

6. Faith

This low-key season one episode may seem like an odd choice for the sixth best episode ever out of nearly 300. But there are two reasons for singling out “Faith” here. One is to highlight just how good Supernatural’s early ghost stories were. We could fill a whole list with classic examples of spooky tales done really well from the show’s early years (Dead In The Water, Bloody Mary, No Exit, Playthings, Roadkill – it would be a long list). “Faith,” though not strictly about a ghost, centres around a faith healer’s wife controlling a reaper. But “Faith” is more than a good yarn done well. It’s also the episode that showed what the series could be, as it started to deal with the deep and complex philosophical themes the show would later explore in more obvious, explosive ways. There’s also a great guest performance from Angel: The Series’ and Dexter’s Julie Benz, and because it’s such an early episode, the idea of Dean dying from something fairly mundane can still be taken entirely seriously.

Best moment: ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ is put to great use here as the reaper hunts down a jogger.

Quotable: “You better take care of that car, or I swear, I’ll haunt your ass” (Dean)

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Watch if you like: Theology, Blue Oyster Cult

further reading: How On Earth is Supernatural Still Going?

Mystery Spot

5. Mystery Spot

The best comedy episodes of Supernatural are not only side-splittingly funny (and they are), they also have a dramatic punch, an element of real drama behind the comedy. Mystery Spot is based around a twist on the Groundhog Day concept, in which Sam has to relive a day on which Dean seems doomed to die over and over and over again, unable to prevent it. Dean’s many, many deaths caused by all manner of strange things (just how did he manage fatally to slip in the shower?) are very funny, but Sam’s increasing difficulty in dealing with the situation, and then his terrible three months without Dean (this was the first time that had happened since the series began) bring sincere emotions to the table as well.

Best moment: Sam working out that the Trickster is behind everything.

Quotable: “OK, look. Yesterday was Tuesday, right? But today is Tuesday too” (Sam)

Watch if you like: Groundhog Day, Final Destination

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Supernatural Pilot Episode

4. Pilot

Not too many shows can claim their pilot as one of their best episodes. But Supernatural’s Pilot really is a great episode of the show. It kicks off the series’ major plot arc, of course, but it also introduces the show’s humour and heart. On top of all that, the Pilot also features a classic Ghost of the Week that’s spooky and sad and ghoulish, as all good ghost stories should be.

Best moment: Our introduction to Dean’s “mullet rock” music collection, including two classics from AC/DC (‘Back In Black’ and ‘Highway To Hell’, of course).

Quotable: “We got work to do” (Sam)

Watch if you like: Mullet rock, ghost stories

Swan Song

3. Swan Song

The episode that would have been the series finale, if the show hadn’t been renewed and taken over (first by Sera Gamble, then Jeremy Carver, now Andrew Dabb). “Swan Song” would have made a great finale as well – it’s thrilling, satisfying, tragic and funny all at once. The main reason it’s not higher on this list is that it is a little bit of a downer – if the series had actually ended there, there would have been a lot of Fix Fic out there online, sorting it out. Indeed, there’s one loose thread from the conclusion here that’s still dangling (Michael made a much later return, but what exactly happened to Adam? Is he still in the Cage?).

Best moment: The opening narration, describing how the Impala has always been the boys’ real home.

Quotable: “Hey! Assbutt!” (Castiel, to Lucifer)

Watch if you like: Supernatural. Honestly, this one is the conclusion to five years’ story-telling – don’t start here!

Changing Channels

2. Changing Channels

Is this the funniest comedy episode of Supernatural? It’s a tough contest, but the genital herpes commercial Sam is forced to star in might just give it the win. But “Changing Channels” is more than comedy. The reveal that the Trickster is actually the Archangel Gabriel in disguise really shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, and it brings a new dimension to the Trickster’s previous appearances (especially Mystery Spot) as well as a solid conclusion to this one. But really, the episode’s greatness lies in the fact that it’s just. so. funny.

Best moment: The Impala/Sam as KITT from Knight Rider.

Quotable: “Should I honk?” (Sam/the Impala)

Watch if you like: Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Knight Rider, cheesy sitcoms, Japanese game shows, adverts for genital herpes treatments

Lazarus Rising

1. Lazarus Rising

Having run for 14 years, Supernatural has gone through a fair few major upheavals and shifts that have sent the show in a new direction, and several of them are on this list (“All Hell Breaks Loose,” “Swan Song,” “Don’t Call Me Shurley”). Nothing, though, beats the appearance of real, possessing someone else’s flesh and blood, angels on the show. This was the episode that made Supernatural what it has become, for better or for worse.

But that alone isn’t the reason we’ve put it at Number 1 of 300 episodes. The episode is hugely emotionally satisfying – although Sam and Dean had both come back from the dead before by this point (Dean technically dozens of times) Dean coming back from being buried for months is undeniably huge. The series needed to show how much of a big deal this was, and they did. We immediately learn that angels are terrifying and that wherever they go, collateral damage follows (it’s easy to forget that the first thing Castiel does on this show is burn out an innocent woman’s eyes).

And then, we finally get to meet an angel face to face. Castiel, in his first appearance, is genuinely something to behold. The deep voice, before it became the subject of in jokes and deadpan comedy, was originally intended to convey gravitas and power, and it works. This is a force like nothing the boys have encountered before, and it is awesome in the classic sense of word – full of awe.

Later, of course, Castiel would become the third member of Team Free Will and one of the most important characters on the show, next only to Sam and Dean. Misha Collins has made the character funny and loveable and awkward and generally indispensable (we hope – he’s been killed off a few times but so far has always been brought back eventually). We wouldn’t change Castiel for the world and certainly don’t mean to suggest that it’s all downhill from his first appearance. Indeed, that later legacy is part of what makes this episode so special.

But really, it’s that entrance we can’t get enough of. We get shivers every time.

Best moment: Castiel’s entrance, of course. Though the rest of the episode is very good as well.

Quotable: “I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition” (Castiel’s first line)

Watch if you like: Castiel, angels

Honourable mentions:

There were so many great episodes we didn’t have room for here – “My Bloody Valentine” (gory and funny in equal measure), “It’s A Terrible Life” (a classic Angel Shenanigans of the Week story), “The Born-Again Identity” (Castiel’s return after it looked like they really had killed him off this time), “Houses Of The Holy” (the first references to angels on the show), “Everybody Hates Hitler” (a solid adventure during the course of which the boys discover the Bunker that has become their home), and “LARP And The Real Girl” (probably the best and most fun episode featuring fan favourite Charlie, played by Felicia Day) are just a few of the other greats.

Dis-honourable mentions:

We don’t want to spend too much time focusing on the negative, but we should probably acknowledge that, in 300 episodes, the show has occasionally got it wrong. Generally speaking, any time the show decides to feature dogs (the domesticated variety, not werewolves) the results tend to be less than excellent – “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits” is a real low point, and while many fans love “Dog Dean Afternoon,” we find it cringe-worthy. “Bugs” and “Route 666” (the one about the racist truck) are the two most often picked on by the writers themselves as examples of terrible episodes, though since both are from season one, they’ve long receded into most viewers’ long-term memories.