Warning: major spoilers ahead for the 300th episode of Supernatural**, called “Lebanon.”**
Supernatural hit a huge milestone with its 300th episode, and not many shows can boast lasting that long while keeping the same actors in the very thick of the action for the entire run. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles have been battling monsters as the Winchester brothers for 14 seasons so far, and a series lasting that long may begin to feel like there’s not much more that can be explored.
Well, Episode 300 has aired, I think it’s safe to say that there’s still plenty of life left in Supernatural. Here’s why.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve fallen in and out of love with Supernatural more than once over the years. Nearly a decade and a half is a long time to keep on top of a show, and I’ve enjoyed some seasons much more than others. In fact, there are a few arcs that I prefer to pretend never happened. But “Lebanon” proved to me that Supernatural is still very good when it’s good, and it delivered something magical (and tragic) in an hour of television.
“Lebanon” at first could have passed for any other fun but non-milestone episode, as the boys raided the pawn shop of a man who had murdered one of their friends to get his hands on Sarah Goode’s skull, as one does when it comes to the bones of Salem Witch Trial victims. They killed the guy and packed the Impala full of his magical and mystical artifacts. Just another day on the job!
After a minor crisis when a kid stole the Impala and accidentally unleashed the ghost of John Wayne Gacy (in awesomely ghoulish clown makeup) on a house full of teenagers, Sam and Dean returned to the bunker with their haul. One of the items was a magical pearl, which would grant the heart’s desire of whoever held it and wished. Dean had the honors of wishing on the pearl, with the intention that he wish himself free of Michael.
Instead, Dean went with what his heart has desired since he was four years old: the Winchester family together again. This meant that John Winchester, circa 2003, was yanked to the future, where he was shocked to see a grown-up Sammy and Dean looking seriously freaked out. After a romantic reunion with Mary and some conversations that have been more than a decade coming, the family sat down to have dinner together before John would have to return to his own time, his memory wiped of the happy encounter.
The boys had to send John back, lest they mess up the timeline permanently and become different versions of themselves. Dean would become a wanted criminal for his actions as a criminal, while Sam would become an internet celebrity known for his love of kale. It was a heartbreaking scene as Sam crushed the pearl, sending John back and wiping his memory. The whole family was in tears, and I’ll admit to shedding a few myself. Damn that temporal paradox!
Despite losing his memory of reuniting with Mary and seeing how far his sons had come, returning to a dismal life of hunting the Yellow-Eyed Demon, and (unbeknownst to him) facing certain death in just a few years, John did get a happy ending in “Lebanon.” He woke up in the front seat of the Impala, then answered his flip phone to tell Dean that he’d had a dream, and it was a damn good one. Aww!
Supernatural is, for me, at its best when it focuses on the characters and their relationships. The mythology continuity has its ups and downs thanks to things that can be forgotten and overlooked over the course of 14 seasons, but consistent characterization is where Supernatural can truly shine.
“Lebanon” showcased Sam and Dean and the relationship that has powered the series for all these years. They served up laughs before things got super heavy with the appearance of their father, and I was struck yet again by just how brotherly Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are in their roles.
Sam rolling his eyes when Dean flirts some information out of a middle-aged postal worker, Dean making fun of Sam’s love of serial killer history clashing with his hatred of clowns when they were taking out John Wayne Gacy’s ghost, the boys fleeing when their mom and dad started kissing… “Lebanon” truly felt like a family affair, and Supernatural can get mileage out of its family dynamics -- blood-related and chosen -- for years to come.
The throwbacks were part of the joy of “Lebanon,” and certainly something to smile about if you find yourself getting choked up when you think back to the big goodbye between John and his family. Speaking of which, Supernatural avoided going the easy route of bringing back Jeffrey Dean Morgan and delivering a jolly old Winchester family reunion.
The 12 seasons since John’s death gave him a bit of a bad rap, both as a father to Sam and Dean (and Adam) and a husband to Mary. “Lebanon” took the time to allow Sam and Dean to clear the air with their dad, and their interactions were a stark reminder of how the boys and the show have evolved.
The 300th episode didn’t pretend that John had been a wonderful father, but it showed that he truly loved his sons, and it allowed Sam and Dean to get some closure with how they had been raised. There were no shouting matches, and Sam revealed that he can’t even remember everything he and his dad said to each other in the big fight that resulted in Sam running off to Stanford.
Sam and Dean are adults now, for all that they make fun of each other and can get pretty childish. In fact, Dean in “Lebanon” is only 12 years younger than his father was when he died, and less than ten years younger than the version of his father from 2003. Neither of the boys are going to forget, but they forgave. Was this healthy emotional development? From Sam and Dean Winchester? Who would have guessed?
The performances from Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles were quite solid, especially since the actors playing their parents aren’t that much older than they are. Ackles perfected the art of the One Perfect Tear years ago, but it’s still effective.
“Lebanon” is also an example of Supernatural’s versatility. As executive producer Brad Buckner teased at the red carpet for the 300th episode celebration, this milestone was entirely different from those that came before. The 100th advanced the mythology in some game-changing ways, while the 200th was ridiculously meta in the way that only Supernatural can be.
Was the episode perfect? Well, I would have appreciated more of Castiel other than the temporal paradox version that beat the stuffing out of Sam and Dean until being blasted away, but there’s only so much time in an hour of primetime drama, and I wouldn’t trade the John Winchester scenes for anything. Besides, it’s always kinda awesome to see Castiel, Angel of the Lord, spreading his intact wings and glowing up his eyes to angelically kick some ass and take some names. And we saw Zachariah!
For me, this episode was an example of how good Supernatural can be when it’s good, and it makes me optimistic about the recent renewal for Season 15. There’s a lot of life in this series still if it can continue to deliver, and I have faith that the cast can tackle whatever the show throws at them. Jeffrey Dean Morgan may be done as John Winchester for a while, although he did reveal when he would like to return to Supernatural again.