Many fans have been waiting for the reappearance of Sam and Dean’s dad for 12 years, and last week we finally got the long-awaited reunion of the Winchester family, something which hasn’t happened (with these actors anyway) since the Pilot episode which aired in 2005.
After a magical pearl grants Dean a wish, John Winchester appears in the bunker, inexplicably brought forward from the past (2003 to be exact). Alongside the very, very emotional and heart-felt conversations which follow between the four Winchesters, the 300th episode titled “Lebanon” also gives a nod to the history of the show, including adding in nostalgia regarding some fan-favourite moments, and lives up to the hype of the milestone, receiving similar praise to that of the 100th and 200th episode.
“Well, there’s a story.”
“What happened?” Castiel asks, after the temporal paradox of this episode re-corrects and the timelines slot back into place. “Well, there’s a story,” Dean replies.
And there was a LOT of story in this episode. It’s hard to criticise the show for attempting to satisfy 14 years of yearning from the fans with only 40 minutes of screen time. Sam and Dean battle against dragon fire, three unwittingly meddling teenagers who steal their car, and a serial killer clown ghost all before their dad even makes an appearance, and, for the most part, the jam-packed plot works well.
However, with such a mammoth task of carrying out an emotional and highly rewarding Winchester reunion, bringing back a couple of past incarnations of characters, and trying to imply the locals in the Lebanon area recognise Sam and Dean as some kind of mysterious urban legends, there were bound to be some aspects of the plot which didn’t work for some viewers. I tend to be overly-critical of the show so let’s get through the negatives first and get straight onto enjoying the beautiful, tear-jerking, nostalgic good things about the 300th.
I’ve not been obsessed with Mary Winchester since she returned as a series regular on the show in the Season 11 finale. In my opinion, I feel like the writers have trouble deciding what to do with her, and where to put her in terms of the over-arching narrative, and when I heard John would be back for a one-off episode I thought YAY Mary’s finally going to get a great end to her arch and she and John will walk off into the sunset (or into Heaven more likely).
Over the past few years, Mary has been able to re-connect with her boys, save a lot of people and forgive herself for dooming her sons into a life of hunting, so I figured this would be a great place for her to leave the show with a beautiful bang, and with John, her one true love. However, we didn’t get this. It’s not terrible that Mary will continue to be in the show. I don’t hate her and she is important to Sam and Dean but I guess my idea of a Winchester reunion would be bringing John back from the dead and allowing him and Mary to finally be happy.
Instead of what a lot of us probably assumed would happen, the writers decided to bring John forward in time from the year 2003, which was a time in which he was desperately hunting down the demon that killed Mary. Although it wasn’t perfect for me, I can see why the writers decided to go down this road with the reunion because it meant they could wrap up the story in one episode and Sam and Dean were given the chance to talk through some unfinished emotions and goodbyes with John, as they remembered him. It was very satisfying to have Sam forgive his dad for his mistakes and John acknowledge how proud he was of the boys, as well as John having an insight into the legends his sons would soon become.
However, because the episode was so full, a lot of the explanations and stories Sam and Dean had for their dad about their lives after his death were cut out. This would have been a great opportunity for Sam and Dean, and the show, to pay tribute to their successes and achievements in their own words. The conversation with their dad could have summarised all of the prominent moments of the show and their biggest accomplishments, and I think that would have made heart-wrenching television for fans to see how far the story has come and to look back at the fondest episodes.
The fans and the viewers already know the story of Supernatural, but to have Sam and Dean have the honour of explaining their lives to their dad, everything he made happen and raised them to be, would have been beautiful and nostalgic. On the other hand, it was important to cut these conversations out of the episode to make way for more emotional dialogues, and I understand that.
There was also a montage near the end of the episode where the four Winchesters have dinner and talk and laugh amongst themselves. Again, it’s hard for a show like Supernatural to develop these moments in one 40 minute episode but I would have preferred to hear actual conversations, even if it was just snippets of stories to intrigue me. This would have been the moment, rather than blanket the clips of the family dinner with slow, emotional music, to instead have lines of dialogue of Sam and Dean talking about their crazy life over the past 14 years, or John and Mary’s stories of when they were together. A real, genuine connection between the characters doesn’t always display best with a montage.
I think a lot of people had expectations for this episode which were not delivered such as Castiel meeting John, John’s reaction to the existence of angels and God and hearing those discussions (as I’ve already mentioned) and potentially a real conversation between John and Mary. Don’t get be wrong – the chemistry between John and Mary in the small scenes we did get of the two of them together were really well done and very emotional but, other than saying they missed each other, there wasn’t really much dialogue between them.
For me, one of the biggest plot twists in the show’s history was back in Season 4 when Dean discovered that Mary grew up as a hunter. In recent seasons, this has been a massive plot device as Mary throws herself into hunting in order to relieve stress and deal with her relationship issues with her sons. She has proven to be a valuable and talented hunter and it’s easy to forget we ever saw her character as anything else. When the show first aired, Mary was stereotyped as the classic, caring mother who was pure and innocent and who unexpectedly falls victim to a monster. When the show flipped things on its head and revealed that Mary was in fact bad ass and was equally as important in Sam and Dean’s destiny as John was when she made a demon deal which eventually led to her demise, it just made everything more exciting.
We didn’t get a chance to see Mary confess to John that she is a hunter (we don’t even know if she did tell him) but I think John discovering Mary’s history would have changed his perception of her and it would have been a relief for him. Being able to understand why Mary was killed and that it resulted in the release of Lucifer and the almost-apocalypse, would have meant John could have made some sense of Mary’s murder, and almost make peace with it. The lack of John and Mary scenes was irritating but in some ways I’m glad the show prioritised Sam and Dean’s relationship and conversations with their dad instead.
References to the Pilot
Aside from the fact that the Winchester family members are all together again like they were in the Pilot episode, there were numerous more references and nods to the first ever episode of the show, which I think were included purposefully to honour the Pilot and demonstrate how far the show has come.
Other than the Winchester reunion, the “Then and Now” segment of this episode included Dean’s famous Pilot episode words “Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days”. This sentence is celebrated by Supernatural fans and is the pivotal moment which initiates the plot of the show and allows Sam and Dean to become the hunters we know and love today. John and his actions are really important to the story and last week’s episode made sure to focus on this. Through all the terrible decisions and choices John made over the years, he was essential in shaping the show and Sam and Dean’s characters and this episode commended him for that.
Another brilliant nod to the Pilot episode which I noticed was when John first appears and begins attacking Sam and Dean in the darkness of the bunker. This scene was reminiscent of Sam and Dean’s first scene together in the show where Sam fights Dean in his flat, thinking he is an intruder. John manages to floor both Sam and Dean in last week’s episode which could have been due to the fact that John trained Sam and Dean in combat himself. This is similar to how Dean manages to overcome Sam in the Pilot episode because he is familiar with how Sam fights. I thought it was a nice little touch which brought back fond memories of the Pilot.
Oooh, the nostalgia
So, the biggest nostalgic hit from this episode has got to be Castiel who, after John’s return makes a mess of the Supernatural timeline, styles his Season 4 demeanor, outfit and lack of pop culture knowledge. Castiel’s first appearance in the show is a fan-favourite moment involving shattering light bulbs, the first ever angel wings shadow and the famous line “My name is Castiel. I am an angel of the lord.” Due to the temporal paradox of John being in the future, we get to see a similar scene to this with the burst lights, angel wings and the notorious introduction. Castiel’s character returns temporarily to his old mysterious, violent and powerful ways in this episode.
Over the last 11 years, Castiel’s angelic powers have somewhat diminished after being banished from Heaven a few times and undergoing intense defeats, so it was really nice to see the strength of the original Castiel once again because it is something I think we all miss. His character in this episode was also being used as an attack dog by Zachariah which referenced Castiel’s initial role in the show as being a soldier of Heaven who followed orders blindly.
Speaking of references, it was hilarious to hear Castiel not understanding a reference once again, which are moments which always have a special place in fan’s hearts and is something which became less frequent after Metatron gave Castiel all of the pop culture knowledge he needed back in Season 9. It was almost like the show went back in time with Castiel’s character and it was so nice to see and reminisce over.
I have mentioned Zachariah but I was also very happy with his appearance in this episode. Zachariah has not appeared in the show since Season 5 in which he was stabbed in the face by Dean but, more importantly, his last episode was the 100th episode milestone entitled “Point of No Return”. In last week’s 300th episode, the new version of Zachariah is stabbed by Sam. Although I would have liked to have seen more from his character because his scenes are always so fun and intriguing, I love the idea that this angel (who, if anyone remembers, made Sam and Dean’s life hell and was arrogant and annoying whilst doing so) has now been killed twice during milestone episodes by the Winchesters. It’s funny, and it was nice to get a reference to the 100th episode as well as bringing back a character who hasn’t been in the show for 9 years.
With Castiel’s appearances in this episode being so loved by fans, it may be easy to overlook the many other smaller references to the history of the show. First, Sam and Dean are referred to by the locals in Lebanon, Kansas, as the Campbell brothers. This is a nod to Mary’s maiden name and her hunting family which were very important in the shaping of Sam and Dean’s destinies. Additionally, Dean tells John that they once met their grandfather (John’s father) who revealed that they were legacies of the Men of Letters organisation and had ownership of the Men of Letters bunker.
As the show has previously mentioned, Sam and Dean (in order to become the chosen vessels of Lucifer and Michael) were the result of the perfect union between the Winchester family, who were Men of Letters and were the “brain”, and the Campbell family, who were notorious hunters and were the “brawn”. Sam and Dean giving a nod and appreciating both their mother’s family and their father’s family were such beautiful gestures and showed that the brothers are proud and happy with who they are.
As John travelled forwards in time from 2003, I expected there to be an emotionally heavy conversation between John and Sam and that’s exactly what we got. In 2003, Sam fell out with his dad and went to university to study law so John takes this episode as an opportunity to try and patch things up between the two of them. Sam, on the other hand, doesn’t even remember the fight that they had because of everything that has happened to him since. This was a tear-jerker of a scene and was so satisfying to watch considering most of Sam and John’s scenes back in Season 1 and 2 involved disagreement and resentment.
What I did not expect, however, was Sam admitting that he thought about his dad a lot but never thought about their fights. Sam then brutally reminds us of the Season 2 premiere episode in which John is sadly killed off. Sam admits “When I think about you…I think about you on the floor of that hospital and I think about how I never got to say goodbye.” This is such an impactful line and because Sam is so specific about the Season 2 scene where he discovers his dad’s body, it means the emotion of that scene flashes in our memory. Sometimes its hard with a long-running show like Supernatural to keep the older seasons fresh and memorable and some things can be easily forgotten so it was just great to see Sam confront that devastating moment in his life and talk openly about it because it clearly still affects him sometimes. For passionate fans of the show, it just makes everything more touching.
Lastly, when John first appears in the bunker, giving me flashbacks to the Pilot episode fight between Sam and Dean, the lights come back on and Dean says “Dad?” I thought this was a really nice comparison to Mary’s return back in the Season 11 finale in which Dean discovers her and responds with the single word “Mom?” It’s the small things which make this episode.
The inside jokes
One of my favourite moments from this episode was the opening scene in which Sam and Dean track down a murdering magical antiques dealer. After the dealer threatens Sam with a sword and explains how he murdered their friend, Dean shoots the dealer in the back and then remarks “They always talk too much”. This was hilarious and to be expected from a show which loves to make fun of themselves. We’ve seen many a villain on the show make the mistake of monologuing for too damn long and it was satisfying and funny to hear Dean finally point it out. To be honest, their enemies talking too much is probably the reason Sam and Dean are still alive and it’s classic for the show to add this moment in this episode as a way to self-criticise their repetitive, stereotypical or lazy writing moments.
Another aspect of the show which fans absolutely love and remember but has maybe been forgotten over the years is Sam’s utterly massive fear of clowns. Additionally, Sam also has a strange obsession with serial killers and is very knowledgeable on all the most famous ones. So, when it came to destroying John Wayne Gacy’s ghost, a serial killer clown, it had to be mentioned by Dean as Sam’s best/worst thing to ever happen to him. It was nice to have comments like this which devout fans of the show could appreciate.
Another absolutely highlight was Zachariah referring to Castiel as Constantine which, as we all know, is a reference to Castiel’s trench-coat-and-blue-tie outfit which the show runners admitted was inspired by the character of John Constantine from the show Constantine. Although the inspiration for Castiel’s costume is common knowledge, it has never been referenced on the show until now so that was nice to finally hear.
As I said, the Supernatural cast and crew love to make fun of themselves and this was focused on the most when Dean discovers the temporal paradox version of Sam online, including his wannabe TED talk where he discusses what most people discuss on TED talks – productivity, success and raw food diets. The paradox version of Sam ridiculously cites giving up fun hobbies and your family to achieve results. This was a way for the Supernatural writers to joke about the intense self-improvement and success-driven culture we live in and I can imagine the cast had immense fun filming that scene.
Finally, we have the city of Lebanon which is fittingly the title of the episode. Before Jeffrey Dean Morgan was confirmed to return for the 300th episode as John, the Supernatural writers revealed their plans for the milestone episode to TVLine back in July. Co-showrunner Andrew Dabb explained that the 300th episode would hopefully show Sam and Dean’s story from the perspective of the local people in Lebanon, how they view the brothers and their suspicions about what they get up to. When I first heard this idea, I thought it was perfect for the 300th and sounded really funny. Andrew Dabb said “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?’”
Although John’s appearance in this episode changed the original idea slightly, we still got a few insights into how the locals view Sam and Dean during the first quarter of the episode. The friendly liquor store worker calls the boys the Campbell brothers, it is revealed Dean has developed a flirtatious connection with the post office lady in order to get information from her, and one teenager rants to his friends about Sam and Dean being dangerous after once hearing shallow breathing coming from the trunk of their car. The boys have become urban legends in the town which is so interesting and ironic because urban myths and legends were what the show was originally focused and formed on. It’s a lovely nod to the humble beginnings of the show and it’s really funny to see the local’s opinions of Sam and Dean.
The young teenager describes the boys as though they are freaky and mysterious and questions where they even came from, as well as describing Castiel as the “weird sidekick” and Jack as “that kid with the dumb Bambi look on his face all the time”. Again, the writers love to make fun of their cast and characters, and it was great to see the boys lives from a different point of view and how what they have been doing all these years could, realistically, look really strange.
As I was so excited to see from the perspective of the Lebanon towns people, I guess I was a little disappointed that the episode only touched on this for a short time, but this was done in order to make room for John’s return and bonding scenes with his family.
So, to sum up, the episode wasn’t perfect, but it came pretty close and we can forgive it for everything if it means more time with John, a fan-favourite and long-missed character. Although I would have preferred to have John resurrected from the dead and have Mary leave the show alongside her husband, we don’t know what the show has in store for Mary in the future and with only one episode with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, I appreciate why they chose to use time travel to give him an appearance in the 300th. I think the show runners worked with what they had and it paid off. However, I’m still imagining those endless conversations between John, Mary, Sam and Dean during the family dinner montage which we did not get to hear.
Although I originally felt a sense of pointlessness after the episode revealed John wouldn’t remember any of his time in the future, including the reassurance that his wife would be resurrected one day and his sons would save the world, the ending scene where John returns in 2003 having “dreamt” about everything that happened was a nice way to leave the idea that John did remember the future open to interpretation. I’m trying my best to believe John lived out the rest of his life knowing the good things which were going to happen because it makes his character seem more at peace and having fair knowledge and acceptance of his story and role in Sam and Dean’s lives.
Finally, above all else, the devastating goodbyes at the end of the episode were frustratingly heart-breaking and the John quote “I’m so proud of you boys” made me want to die as Sam bawled heavy tears and Dean looked on, stunned and speechless, having wanted to hear those words since he was a boy. The unfair and sad reality of John needing to return to his time period in order to correct the paradox was pretty tragic and some would say tragedy makes the best entertainment. So maybe I’m wrong and the episode was perfect.