Any show that runs for as long as Supernatural has will have a glut of fantastic episodes to recommend. For this reason, favorites lists have always been hard for me and my favorite episodes can change based on my mood or the day of the week. My top five episodes of Supernatural were particularly hard to pick. In the end, I had to go back to my tried-and-true method of picking favorites: Which episodes have I watched the most? If I can watch an episode multiple times over the course of several years, there must be something there that I’m responding to. Join me below as I pick apart my top five episodes of Supernatural and the reasons why you should enjoy them too.
Changing Channels (5×08)
The third (and second to last) appearance of the Trickster finds Sam and Dean Winchester grappling with a variety of television genres, rather than their usual demons. The fun of “Changing Channels” lies largely in the brothers’ continued annoyance with both the Trickster and the television shows themselves, especially Sam’s reluctance to participate in a herpes commercial and Dean’s hatred of procedural cop shows. Dr. Sexy, M.D., also known as the Grey’s Anatomy parody, is also great fun because of Dean’s insistence that he’s only a casual fan of the show when he clearly knows everything about it. What makes the episode great (besides the credits), however, is the way it ties the Trickster episodes into Supernatural’s overall mythology by revealing that the Trickster is really the archangel Gabriel. Not only does it provide a twist ending to the episode, but it also paves the way for “Hammer of the Gods,” another great episode later in the season that features Gabriel.
Hollywood Babylon (2×18)
Saving people and hunting things is what the Winchester brothers do best, and in “Hollywood Babylon” they’re at the top of their game. With just enough meta-jokes to make it fun and watchable but not grating, the episode sends up Hollywood and provides a solid ghostly tale. The best jokes come when “Hollywood Babylon” doesn’t shy from the fact that Supernatural is often as ridiculous as fake-movie Hell Hazers II, and it’s great when the producers question why the ghosts would be afraid of salt and shotguns. But the best part of the episode has to be Dean’s complete fascination with everything about the movie-making process. After all, that’s what makes him “one hell of a P.A.”
Bad Day at Black Rock (3×03)
One of the funniest episodes of Supernatural, “Bad Day at Black Rock” starts out with something of a misdirect, introducing the episode that follows as “serious business” by referencing the Winchester’s ongoing feud with Gordon Walker. Luckily, the episode doesn’t let this dark territory drag it down, gaining steam when Sam first picks up the cursed rabbit’s foot. From there, it only gets better when Sam loses the foot and has a run of bad luck that probably shouldn’t be as funny as it is because of just how miserable it makes him. The best moments include Sam tripping outside the diner and later losing his shoe down a storm drain and Dean’s magical, apparently Batman-esque takedown of the bad guys. “Bad Day at Black Rock” is also notable for adding Bela Talbot to the cast, but whether that helps the episode or hurts it depends on who you ask.
What Is and What Should Never Be (2×20)
By all rights, this episode probably shouldn’t work as an episode of Supernatural. For most of “What Is and What Should Never Be,” there’s no supernatural element in sight, Sam and Dean have nothing in common and it’s not even that funny. But the episode does work, in large part because of what never having to be a hunter means for Dean and the rest of the Winchester family. For both Dean and the audience, it’s a glimpse at a world that was never meant to be, but it’s a world that’s fun to visit. My favorite part of the episode is Dean’s absolute joy at getting to mow the lawn, and the fact that it’s set to a raucous version of “What A Wonderful World” definitely doesn’t hurt. Unfortunately for Dean, this fun world can’t exist without the deaths of hundreds of people that the Winchester brothers would have saved. The episode ends on a horribly fantastic moment of ambiguity as Dean wonders whether all the Winchesters’ sacrifice and pain has been worth it.
Mystery Spot (3×11)
I’m a sucker for time loop episodes, especially ones that reference the ultimate time loop movie – Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. The first half of “Mystery Spot” is fairly typical time loop episode fare, but it gains a lot of ground by playing to Supernatural’s strengths. The boys both get several memorable lines (“Yesterday was Tuesday, right? But today is Tuesday, too.”), and their brotherly relationship is at full force in Dean’s initial disbelief but eventual acceptance of Sam’s predicament and in Sam’s growing frustration with both the time loop and Dean. But the real genius of the episode kicks in about halfway through when it essentially abandons the time loop trope. Sam finally makes it to Wednesday, but when Dean dies for real, the episode suddenly gets serious and uses the trope to explore the relationship between the brothers and what could happen to Sam with the fulfillment of Dean’s deal with the Crossroads Demon. Any episode that manages to combine the supernatural element of the week with the brothers’ relationship and throws in a healthy dose of mythology is all right with me.
With eight seasons under Supernatural’s belt and one of the most outspoken fan bases out there, any list that purports to be the top five Supernatural episodes (even a personal favorites list like this one) is bound to inspire debate. Have a suggestion for an episode that you think belongs on the list? Hit the comments below!