“Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days…”
A lot of Supernatural fans regard those words as the moment they became well and truly hooked into the lives of Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles). Said by Dean to his brother, in the very first episode, it’s what brings Sam back into hunting and changes both of their lives forever. Since that episode, which aired back in 2005, Supernatural has gone on to reach 14 seasons, earning it the honour of becoming the longest-running American live-action fantasy series ever, and has already been renewed for a fifteenth.
Last week’s episode, ‘Lebanon’, was a very special one as it marked the 300th since the show started. Fans took to social media using the hashtag #SPN300 and a lot of the cast and crew who have worked on the show over the years also posted messages of gratitude and how honoured they felt to have been a part of this phenomena. Creator Eric Kripke also treated fans by tweeting out his original pitch for the show, but the most highly anticipated news surrounding the 300th episode was that it would see the return of John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the brothers’ father, who died back at the start of season two.
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Back at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, showrunner Andrew Dabb, who also co-wrote ‘Lebanon’ with Meredith Glynn, first teased the premise like this:
“The idea kind of floating around right now is Sam and Dean, for years, have lived in the bunker, [which] is in a place called Lebanon, Kansas, which is a real town, a very small town. (But) we’ve never actually seen Lebanon, Kansas, on the show. We’ve never actually seen what these people in this town think of these two guys who drive this muscle car through. The dry cleaner [must think], ‘They have a lot of blood on their clothes. What’s going on there?’ So it becomes: How do these people view Sam and Dean — with Sam and Dean’s story in there, too. “We think it could be a real love letter to the show, in what we hope is going to be a very heartwarming way — with murder. Heartwarming with murder.”
Although there were aspects of the interactions with the people of Lebanon that wasn’t the core focus of the episode. Whereas the 100th episode, Point of No Return in season five, simply propelled the storyline forward, and the 200th episode, Fan Fiction in season 10, felt like it was a tribute to the fans, this one was a tribute to family and to where it all began with all four Winchesters. Directed by the other showrunner, Robert Singer, who has also served as an executive producer since the first season, ‘Lebanon’ is both funny and heartbreaking, a perfect way to celebrate such a momentous milestone.
The plotline is a fairly simple one, the brothers end up in possession of a magical artefact that grants the user a wish, or more accurately their heart’s desire. Dean uses it in the belief that it will remove the Michael problem trapped inside his head, but instead, it gives him what he’s wanted since he was four years old. His family, whole and together. Of course, with it being Supernatural, nothing is ever that simple. John Winchester is pulled from the year 2003, at some point after Sam’s departure to college, to 2019 where he finds out just what his boys have been up to. That’s not the downside though, the issue is that in doing this it has caused a time paradox which means that reality is altering to one where John disappeared. This caused Dean to keep on hunting solo and is now wanted by the FBI, and Sam has become a high flying lawyer, channelling his inner Steve Jobs, and doing ‘TED talks’ about how you should eat kale and avoid distractions such as hobbies and family if you want to succeed in life.
A lot of the comedy in this episode comes from the reactions to this discovery, especially Dean’s glee that he’s still cool and Sam is a douchebag, but it also comes from the aforementioned interactions with the people in Lebanon. The local kids talk about the mysterious brothers who may or may not be murderers or something else entirely, and one of them, Eliot (Cory Gruter-Andrew), worries out loud that Sam and Dean might kill him when they question him about the theft of the Impala. Dean has a flirtatious encounter with a much older lady who works at the post office, and Sam has to deal with his number one fear: clowns.
There is also an unexpected run-in with the new reality’s Castiel (Misha Collins), who is exactly like he was when he first appeared in season four, rigid and lacking in all the pop culture knowledge he would gain having been around the Winchesters, along with his former boss Zachariah (Kurt Fuller), who was killed by Dean in the 100th episode. Although the encounter is short lived it was a nice throwback to the earlier seasons where angels were still scary and not as impotent as they seem now.
Where the episode truly excels, though, is with the emotional scenes, not just between Father and Sons but also Husband and Wife. From the moment John hears Mary’s (Samantha Smith) voice and chokes up saying her name tears were certain to be welling up in fans eyes. Although it’s seemed like the writers haven’t known what to do with Mary since her return, having her in this episode was fantastic. Both Samantha and Jeffrey had amazing chemistry in their scenes together, despite only having shared the screen in the pilot for such a short time, and you could believe that the two of them were the Cupid touched couple so often talked about in episodes past. When it’s revealed that they have to send John back to the past, otherwise they’ll become the new versions of themselves and Mary will cease to exist, the pain conveyed by Samantha is so tangible that you can feel what she’s going through, doubly so if you’ve ever lost someone close to you.
There are also very cathartic scenes between John and each of his sons. Firstly with Sam, John’s last memory of his youngest boy being the terrible fight they had before he told Sam never to come back. Sam gets to say the things to his Father that he was denied upon his father’s death, and again the acting between Jared and Jeffrey caused very real emotions. It was a conversation that was never likely to happen but finally being able to see it was a thing of beauty.
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Equally the scene between Dean and his father resonates powerfully. John tells Dean how proud he is of him but how he never meant for any of this to happen to either him or Sam. He hoped that they’d have a normal, peaceful life, perhaps families of their own. Dean replies that he does have a family. Again the acting was superb and seeing Dean be able to talk to his father as almost an equal rather than a subservient soldier was equally satisfying.
The family dinner that they all get to share brought smiles and happiness to the forefront, but it was bittersweet because of the goodbye that was to follow. Tears flowed freely as the four Winchesters had to say goodbye, hearing John say how proud he was of his boys and telling them both to take care of each other, rather than ordering Dean to watch out for Sam, was something they, and the fans, needed to hear. The group hug ensured that no dry eyes were left watching the rest of the scene that ends with John disappearing, in what looked a lot like the same golden light he vanished in at the end of season two.
It is also worth talking about the scene between Sam and Dean, in which Sam laments how unfair it is that they have to lose Dad and that when he returns he won’t remember any of what occurred in 2019. How if he knew that maybe their lives would be very different now. Dean responds that he used to think that way, and how he blamed both of their parents for a long time, but he is proud of who they both are. He’s good with who he is, and who Sam is, and how their lives are theirs. He doesn’t want to change who they are.
In the very last scene, we see John waking up in 2003 to a phone call from Dean. He claims to have had a strange dream, but a good one. Maybe John doesn’t remember everything that happens but maybe he remembers just enough to prepare his sons for the future they’ll be going into.
‘Lebanon’ is a stunning episode that once again shows how far Supernatural has come; from the young adult monster-of-the-week show, to this more mature drama that keeps fans coming back for more. A very well done to everyone involved and congratulations on such an epic milestone.