supernatural

There are lots of amazing things in the world. Sometimes, it might seem like there are, in fact, a few too many amazing things in the world. Who has time to decide what’s worth watching, reading or playing? Well, we do! Getting Into It is an occasional series in which we give you a crash-course guide into getting to the good stuff — and we begin with a couple of old-fashioned, all-American, demon-hunting boys in Supernatural!

Supernatural was created by Eric Kripke, a writer and TV producer who had been fascinated with urban legends and the horror stories of rural America as a child. He worked on the series for ten years, revising the idea before it was finally picked up by The WB, premiering in 2005. It survived the merger of The WB and UPN into The CW, and began its eleventh season in October 2015. So far, 236 episodes have aired, and The CW renewed the series for a twelfth season back in March.

In the pilot, we meet the Winchester boys, Sam and Dean. We begin with Sam, estranged from his demon-hunting family, reconnecting with his brother and being drawn back into the world of the legends and myths after the disappearance of their father, John. They travel the back roads of the United States in a black ’67 Impala, killing demons, saving innocents, and combining a gritty aesthetic with American horror mythology — and, famously, a fair amount of broody, angst-ridden fraternal melodrama. It’s a striking series, and it manages to wring some real tension and discomfort out of its storylines by, more often than not, playing them completely straight.

But here’s the thing: the first season isn’t always easy to get through. It’s muddy, it’s dark, it meanders, it rests far too often on good-looking damsels in distress, and it doesn’t always feel like it’s moving forward with purpose. By the end of the season, it turns out that it had a destination in mind the whole time, but like a black Impala accompanied by grungy southern rock, it took a while to get there. By cutting through the side-stories — many of which are good, but none of which will hook you for the long run — we can distill what makes Supernatural not just good, but genuinely great.

winchesters

So, here’s your essential guide to getting into Supernatural!

Pilot (1.01)
A solid grounding in the series’ unique style, as well as a strong introduction to Sam, Dean and the absent John.

Home (1.09)
After wandering the world for a few weeks, Sam and Dean are drawn back to their family home in Kansas, where they confront the specter — both literally and not — of their deceased mother. This is the episode that reassures us that the search for John Winchester isn’t just a conflict engine that will grind forever, but a story that will be addressed.

Scarecrow (1.11)

Perhaps the most successful horror story in the first season, this is both a great single-shot episode of Supernatural, and a quietly pivotal episode in the first-season arc.

Shadow (1.16)
A mid-season turning point that changes the tone and confronts many of the outstanding mysteries head-on, and commits to the underlying threat and danger. Ambitious and impressive.

Dead Man’s Blood (1.20)
A middling episode that introduces a vital part of the show’s internal mythology. If you’re going to skip one of the episodes on this list, skip this one; if you love folklore and gothic Americana, however, there’s some great worldbuilding.

Salvation (1.21) and Devil’s Trap (1.22)
A surprisingly ambitious conclusion to the season arc, these episodes refocus the show’s intent, and look forward with purpose. After the story is over, there’s a whammy of a cliffhanger to bring you back for season two, which takes us to…

In My Time Of Dying (2.01)
This is the episode that made me realize that Supernatural understood its own premise and genre, as well as giving a welcome and overdue opportunity for Dean to exhibit some real complexity and vulnerability, and give Jensen Ackles a chance to stretch to drive the action on his own terms. It doesn’t excuse the cliffhanger, but it certainly makes the most of it.

And if those episodes don’t get you into Supernatural, then nothing will — and if you’re already a fan, then get in touch and let me know what you think of the first season, and what I’ve missed on the essential list!

Supernatural is available on Amazon and Netflix.