Landmark episodes of Supernatural are usually pretty meta. But hitting 300 is something special, so why not celebrate it by bringing back the character pretty much responsible for sending the Winchester brothers off on this 15-year-long hunt?
John Winchester (Jeffery Dean Morgan) has sort of become this unknowable figure. There’s too much history and story separating him from his sons and the last time they saw him. In the same way lost loved ones tend to become a distant memory, John’s death and absence since the end of season two has made him into a relic from the show’s distant past.
That’s why John’s return for the 300th episode, “Lebanon,” was exciting. How do you explain to someone you haven’t seen in 12 years all that’s happened to you? For Sam and Dean, there’s years worth of traumatic and odd adventures they’ve been on. When John was still around, Supernatural still took to the back roads of America, with the brothers fighting their way through urban legends across the country. Over the course of 14 years, the show has gone through necessary changes to keep things fresh – angels and demons, heaven vs. hell, the Men of Letters etc. Now, the brothers have their own base and have traveled to other universes. They’ve matured and grown, and to be completely honest, they don’t really need John.
And yet, “Lebanon” manages to turn episode 300 into a heartwarming chapter in the Winchester’s lives – for all four of them. For the first time in the show’s history, all four Winchesters get to sit down and eat a family dinner together. But there’s this dream-like haze permeating the scene, almost like it’s not quite real. There are wonderful moments in this episode, but in terms of telling an impactful story, I’m not sure what “Lebanon” was ultimately attempting to say.
Sam and Dean get their hands on a wish-giving pearl. They believe, rightfully, that this pearl is the answer to their Michael problem – if Dean holds it and thinks of his heart’s desire, he could expel Michael from him. Instead, Dean’s subconscious brings his father back by stealing him from the year 2003. Dean and Sam give John a quick run down of everything, including John’s death and the final showdown with Yellow-Eyes. It’s cool to see John absorb this information, in awe of the sons he doesn’t quite recognize but realizes are far more than he probably ever imagined. That’s not a slight against his character, but living the life of the hunter doesn’t leave one with much time to look to the future.
Then there’s Mary. This reunion is the ultimate payoff. We can go on and on about how Supernatural is flimsy with death, but to see Mary and John embrace for the first time in 30+ years? Be still my Supernatural-loving heart.
Where this episode runs into some trouble is the time paradox. With John removed out of time, timelines begin to shift. Events and characters from past seasons begin to appear. Kurt Fuller returns for a brief moment as Zachariah, with a season four version of Cas at his side. The wanted poster of Dean from the early seasons makes a reappearance, and that fake timeline Dean experienced in the season two episode “What Is and What Should Never Be” gets name-dropped by way of Sam giving a Ted Talk. But this lore doesn’t feel consistent with past episodes. Henry Winchester once traveled to present day with no trouble from a time paradox. It’s also completely random and doesn’t feel like a fully formed idea.
The time paradox also becomes a distraction from the more interesting parts of the episode – John Winchester. While it’s great that John gets to have some individual moments with Sam and Dean, they feel like iterations of scenes we’ve gotten before. The ultimate killer is that there is no such scene between Mary and John, who’s reunion is really only seen through the eyes of Sam and Dean. John is left out of much of the action in this episode, which is why he feels almost like a non-character and the scenes in the bunker feel like a dream. It’s a shame, too. It would have been nice to see John in action again, side-by-side with Sam and Dean as he once was, but this time, Mary’s there too. Just imagine.
We get the dinner scene, though. And maybe that’s enough. After all, it’s not often a show reaches 300 episodes. Rarely is a show able to bring back characters long thought dead. To see the Winchesters sharing a meal with one another, laughing together, that’s the dream not even fan fiction can write better.
This Week’s Wayward Thoughts:
- It was cool we got some perspective from the townspeople of Lebanon of the Winchesters, but this part also felt like it could have been in a different episode. Would love if the show explored this more down the line.
- Another missed opportunity: Cas doesn’t get to meet John. This would have been a great moment in which John meets a supernatural being and realizes not all of them are evil.
- Correct me if I’m wrong here, but it sounded like John was aware of the Men of Letters, but I don’t remember that being the case since Henry disappeared to the future when John was just a kid, never giving him the chance to learn about the Men of Letters. Considering John ends up a hunter and goes on a long revenge quest, the bunker probably held a lot of information he could have used.
- “I think about you a lot. I don’t think about our fights.” To be clear, this moment with Sam was perfection and I’m not sure they ever actually got a really good one like this.
- I already mentioned it above, but I want to dig more into it here because I feel very strongly about it. Mary and John’s reunion should have had more to it. There’s so much John didn’t know about Mary, including her previous contact with Yellow-Eyes. This would have made for some really engaging scenes, and probably would have left a better impression than their one main embrace of each other.
- “I’m good with who I am. I’m good with who you are.” This line by Dean is why I ultimately am disappointed by the use of John in this episode. Bringing him back so he can tell Dean and Sam he never really wanted them in this life is a moot point by now. Sam grew out of fighting for a normal life and so did Dean. These guys are cool with it, and that’s all that matters. Now, John coming to that realization would have been worth the trip.