February was a banner month for the long-running television show Supernatural – the show aired its 300th episode! That is a rare achievement for any show, but unheard of for a genre series airing on the CW. Expectations for the landmark episode were high as the 300th approached. Would the show be able to live up to all that anticipation?
This was the third milestone episode for Supernatural so far. While the 100th episode of Supernatural, Point of No Return in Season 5, didn’t necessarily stand out as something special, it was a pivotal episode in that season, ending with Dean and Sam choosing to have faith in each other and to “keep on fighting,” reiterating the main themes of the show. That episode also featured a mostly lost family member in half brother Adam, and the nefarious Zachariah as the villain Dean gets to satisfyingly kill.
The 200th episode, a milestone that no one who worked on the show ever expected it to reach, was an unabashed love letter to the fandom, written by one of my favorite writers, Robbie Thompson. With his deft touch, the episode managed to be an acknowledgement of some of the diverse segments of fandom and an affectionate validation of the ships whose devotees don’t always get along in real life, including Destiel and Wincest and Sastiel. The episode also manages to sum up what has allowed Supernatural such longevity, in the words of the goddess Calliope.
Calliope: Supernatural has everything. Life, death, resurrection, redemption — but above all, family. All set to music you can really tap your toe to. It isn’t some meandering piece of genre dreck, it’s… epic.
That really does sum it up. The theme of family, by blood and otherwise, is prominent, and the episode ends with Sam and Dean once again re-affirming their faith in each other and their determination to always keep fighting, even hanging the replica of the Samulet in the Impala as the boys drive away. The only “musical episode” of the show so far, Fan Fiction stands out as one of the most well known episodes. Love it or hate it, few fans are ambivalent about the episode. As you can probably tell, I’m in the “love it” camp.
With the 100th and 200th episodes each attempting something different to mark a milestone, anticipation was high for the 300th. Was the show able to live up to fans’ hopes? There wasn’t unanimous agreement (is there ever in this fandom?), but I’d say yes.
The original idea for the 300th episode was to take one of the most popular tropes from fanfic, the outsider POV, and create an episode from the perspective of the Winchester brothers’ neighbors, the residents of Lebanon, Kansas. The showrunners shared that idea with those of us who were at Comic Con, and I was excited to see some fanfic come to life on my favorite show, because ooooh. Somewhere along the line, however, the plan for the 300th episode changed somewhat as Supernatural managed to pull off something that fans have been clamoring for since Season 2 – the return of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as John Winchester!
To say that fandom lost its collective mind would be an understatement. The CW spoiled every single fan for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s return to amp up viewership for the episode, which was a shame even if it’s understandable, but even that didn’t undercut the emotional impact of Papa Winchester’s return. The moment he looked at his grown-up sons and haltingly asked, “Sam?” “Dean?” and Dean looked up with a shocked expression and asked in a trembling voice, “Dad?” most of the fandom was too busy sobbing into their tissues to think about how incredible that moment would have been if we didn’t know it was coming. Perhaps the CW was just worried about fans’ wellbeing – it’s entirely possible some of us would have had a heart attack if John Winchester had appeared without warning.
“Lebanon” was a mostly well-written episode from Andrew Dabb and Meredith Glynn despite some confusing veers away from established canon (and the fact that John Winchester from the year 2003 inexplicably looks a lot older than he did when the series began airing in 2005) but that’s not what made the episode memorable. Instead, it was the emotional impact of someone beloved returning after a long absence, for both the fans and the actors who play these iconic characters.
Supernatural is unique for the unusually close relationships that have been fostered over fourteen years. The cast and crew are unusually close, since most of them have been around since the beginning. The cast and the fans are unusually close, since they have come face to face at hundreds of conventions over the years and gotten to know each other as human beings more than is generally possible. The actors themselves are also unusually close, especially those who started working together in the early seasons. Jared and Jensen’s friendship is the stuff of bromance legend (and fanfiction delight), and their friendship with Misha Collins has brought real world partnerships for change as well as brought out all three of their teasing sides (and more of that fanfiction). Jeffrey Dean Morgan became good friends with Jared and Jensen in the show’s first seasons, and they have remained close over the years. In fact, Jensen and his wife Danneel fixed Jeff up with his wife, Hilarie Burton! Needless to say, that meant that it wasn’t just fans who were over the moon about Jeffrey Dean’s return. The actors themselves were just as excited and just as emotional, and that showed in their incredible performances.
Jared and Jensen have both said that they’ve been playing Sam and Dean Winchester for so long that they don’t need to call up sad thoughts from their real lives in order to get emotional onscreen. They know and love their characters, so they know what Sam or Dean would feel in that moment, and they just let that genuine emotion flow. I think that’s why when you see Sam or Dean tear up, it always looks organic and real. That’s why it breaks your heart into a million pieces.
For this episode, add in Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s strong emotions about finally being back on the set of the show that brought him lifelong friendships – and the love of his life and mother of his two children. The characterization of John Winchester has varied over the years, and I’d be the last person to say that he was a good father to his sons much of the time, but I do think that under these (literally) impossible circumstances, Sam and Dean’s anger at their dad would likely be overcome by the joy of seeing him again after such a long ago and life-altering loss. For Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who has often said that his view of John Winchester is of a father who loved his sons, having a chance to apologize to them and just hug them again seems to have meant a lot. His tears and the love that shone through seemed as genuine as Sam and Dean’s (or Jared and Jensen’s).
The other member of the family, whose death started the entire series and whose resurrection has been a source of fannish contention, is of course Mary. I have mixed feelings about her as a parent as well, especially in recent seasons, but Samantha Smith has also been around from day one and has spent a great deal of time with Jared and Jensen both on set and at conventions all over the world. She too is invested on a personal level as well as a professional one, and her tears seemed just as real. For Mary, the joy of seeing her soulmate again was heartwarming to experience, and her heartbreak as she had to let him go equally heartbreaking.
All four actors brought their A+ game to this episode, and that made up for any inconsistencies and head scratching moments in the script itself. There was a nice call back to the 100th episode as a long-lost Winchester returns and Zachariah appears again – and gets killed by a Winchester again – but what most fans will remember about the 300th episode is that fandom got something we have wanted for a very long time. And so did Sam and Dean.
If that’s not the best way to celebrate 300 episodes, I don’t know what is!
Caps are by @kayb625 except two from the CW