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Supernatural recap: John returns for an emotional Winchester family reunion

Entertainment Weekly logo Entertainment Weekly 2/8/2019 Samantha Highfill
a group of people sitting at a table with wine glasses: 'Supernatural' recap: John returns for an emotional Winchester family reunion © Dean Buscher/The CW 'Supernatural' recap: John returns for an emotional Winchester family reunion

Before we get into the specifics of this HIGHLY EMOTIONAL hour, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the fact that we’re lucky enough to be talking about the 300th episode of this show. The story of Sam and Dean Winchester and their incredibly unpredictable lives has provided us with 300 hours of humor, horror, drama, and so, so much more. There almost aren’t words for how special this show is, but I’m so very grateful that we’ve gotten so much of it (and will get even more in the future).

Moving on to the episode, I’m happy to report that I started crying when the season recap began with “Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days,” so that should give you an idea of my emotional state heading into this hour!

Once the episode gets underway, we find Sam and Dean at some kind of super special pawn shop that sells old artifacts and occult objects. Or rather, it steals them. Sam and Dean are looking for a specific item that was stolen from their friend Bart, who was killed last week. So yeah, they actually came here to deal with the murdering pawn shop owner who nearly cuts Sam in half with a sword before Dean shoots him. Now, the question is: What do they do with all these objects?

Naturally, Sam decides they should bring them home because getting boxes filled with cool objects is basically his Christmas. As Sam and Dean head back home to Lebanon, they stop at the local liquor store, where the owner knows them well as the “Campbell brothers.” And this is where we get a sense of what the Lebanon locals think of our beloved heroes. Outside, a group of teens are telling tales of the Winchesters and how one time, they heard something in their trunk. “Where do they even come from,” one kid asks, “them or their weird sidekick with the trench coat? And what about the kid with the dumb Bambi look on his face all the time?” All these kids know is that the guys have an awesome car, and that’s why Max, trying to impress her crush, decides to steal it.

Inside the store, Sam discovers that they now have a pearl in their possession that is one of eight ancient Chinese artifacts, and it supposedly grants you what your heart desires. Dean instantly sees it as a way to get Michael out of his head. Only, that teen just drove off with Baby and the pearl.

Sam and Dean run outside to ask the (very scared) left behind teen for information, but he’s not sure where Max went. So they head to the Post Office, where Dean works his flirty magic and finds out that Max’s mother works at the local pizza shop. There, they discover that Feb. 7th is “skip day,” which means that kids will be at this local house blowing off steam. It’s there that Dean finds an uninjured — THANK CHUCK — Baby and a terrified kid claiming he saw a clown. Well, seeing as how John Wayne Gacy’s cigar box was one of the items the brother’s brought back, they now have to head inside and eliminate a serial killer clown, and Dean’s loving the irony. “This is like the best worst thing that’s ever happened to you,” Dean tells Sam, seeing as how his little brother loves serial killers but hates clowns.

Long story short, Sam torches the cigar box, and Sam and Dean are left to give the teens “the talk” about what they do for a living and they agree to keep their secret.

Back at the bunker, Sam hands Dean the pearl, and Dean closes his eyes. Seconds later, the lights go out and suddenly Sam and Dean are getting their butts kicked in the dark, much in the way Sam and Dean fought in the dark in the pilot. And when the lights come back on, they realize, it’s JOHN WINCHESTER!!! (I knew this was coming and my heart was still pounding as I watched it!)

John’s clearly confused, and when he makes a comment about how Sammy should be in Palo Alto, Dean asks him what year he thinks it is. His response? 2003. When John wants answers, the boys take him to the kitchen and pour him a drink to catch him up on everything. “So you saved the world,” John asks. “More than once,” Dean tells him. And now, they live in a secret bunker with an angel and Lucifer’s kid. Simple enough, right? Dean tells John about how it was John’s father who helped them find the Men of Letters bunker. John, taking it all in, tells his boys, “I just wish that I had been there to see it.” But Dean makes sure that John knows that “none of this would’ve happened without you.”

But John reassures him that he’s fine. “I went out taking out Yellow Eyes. That was the point, right? Get the thing that killed Mom.” Just then, Sam is about to tell John about Mary when she enters the bunker and calls out for Sam and Dean. The second he hears her voice, John’s face crumbles. He then turns to see the woman he spent his life trying to avenge and the two of them run into each other’s arms and share a kiss. (And if you were wondering, I’m on tissue No. 3.)

Sam and Dean give their parents a moment alone while they try to figure out what’s going on. Dean’s in heaven, but of course, Sam is worried. Sam knows how messing with time can change things, but all Dean wants is for them to have one family dinner, all four of them together. That’s it. (Next: John apologizes to Sam)

From there, Sam finds John alone in the library. It seems Mary is putting together a shopping list for Dean so that she can make her Winchester Surprise casserole for dinner. Looking at his son, John says, “I screwed up with you a lot, didn’t I?” (Aaaaand break out tissues No. 4-6.) John’s still thinking about their big fight, but Sam lets him know that was a lifetime ago for him. “You did some messed up things. But I don’t, when I think about you, and I think about you a lot, I don’t think about our fights,” Sam says. “I think about you on the floor of that hospital and I think about how I never got to say goodbye.” They both apologize to each other as a tearful Sam tells John, “You did your best, dad. You fought for us, you loved us. That’s enough.” AND NOW I’M A MESS.

After that conversation, Sam agrees with Dean: They get to have at least one family dinner, so together, the brothers head into town … but something’s off. In the liquor store, the owner no longer remembers Dean, and that’s when Sam notices Dean’s “Wanted” poster hanging outside the Post Office. After some quick Googling, Dean discovers that in this weird reality, he’s still a hunter while Sam is … a tool? More specifically, Sam runs a law firm, loves kale, and gives Ted Talks all about treadmill desks and the importance of a raw food diet.

Sam figures out that they must be in a temporal paradox, which means that time is self-correcting and their timeline is changing to this new one. If they don’t fix it, then they will become those other versions of themselves, and while Dean is pretty much still Dean, Sam’s terrible, so they need to fix it.

Speaking of things that have changed, Zachariah and old-school “I don’t understand that reference” Castiel arrive in town and walk into the pizza shop asking questions. They want to know who’s been messing with time, and when Castiel introduces himself, we get an amazing callback to his season 4 entrance when the lights burst and he spreads his wings. (Is it weird that this also made me emotional?) Sam and Dean, seeing the light, head into the restaurant, and Zachariah instantly realizes they’re behind all of this. So, he orders Castiel to kill them, and Cas obeys.

While Cas fights Dean, Sam takes on Zachariah, and this time, it’s Sam who ends Zachariah with an angel blade — his return was short-lived, but I still enjoyed it. Sam then draws a sigil in blood and blasts Castiel away so that the boys can head home and update their parents on the bad news.

Dean tells John that if he doesn’t go back, Sam never gets into hunting and, well, Mary never comes back to life. “Me versus your mom, that’s not even a choice,” John tells his son. But things aren’t so cut and dry for Mary. Sam explains that John will go back to his time and remember nothing, but what choice do they have?

Before Mary brings out her casserole, John tells Dean that he “never meant for this.” He says that his fight was supposed to end with him. “Now, you are a grown man and I am incredibly proud of you. I guess that I had hoped eventually you would get yourself a normal life, a peaceful life, a family.” But Dean, without missing a beat, assures his father that “I have a family.” And with that, they sit down to dinner.

What starts as a rather melancholy affair takes a turn when John tells them they have two choices: They can think about what’s coming or they can be grateful for this time together. And so, the Winchesters get to have that family dinner, and it’s pretty freakin’ great. They laugh! Sam and Dean drink wine! It’s downright magical.

After dinner, Sam and Dean do the dishes, and now Sam can’t stop thinking about how their lives might’ve been different if the 2003 version of John knew everything they just shared with him. Wouldn’t that be nice? Dean’s sure it would be, but if they send him back with that information, why not send him further back and “let some other poor sons of b----es save the world.” But, “Who does that make us,” Dean says. “I don’t know who that Dean Winchester is, and I’m good with who I am. I’m good with who you are. Because our lives, they’re ours. And maybe I’m just too damn old to want to change that.”

Back in the library, the family prepares to say goodbye. John turns to Mary and calls her “my girl” and I instantly start sobbing. (I’ve lost count of the tissues at this point.) “I miss you so damn much,” he tells her as they kiss. As for his boys, John tells them to take care of each other. “I am so proud of you boys,” he says, as he hugs them and tells them he loves them. Then, as he holds Mary’s hand — and gives her one last wink that nearly kills me — he gives Sam the nod, and Sam crushes the pearl, thereby sending John away.

As things go back to normal in the bunker, John wakes up in 2003. He’s asleep in the Impala when his flip phone rings and wakes him up. It’s Dean on the phone. “I’m okay,” John tells his son. “I just had one hell of a dream. No, it was a good one. I’m on my way back. I’ll see you soon.” So he might not remember everything, but like he said, it was one hell of a dream.

And it was one hell of a 300th episode. In a dream world I think I would’ve separated the idea of what the town thinks of the boys and the John of it all into two separate episodes, because for one thing, I think there’s more to be done with the town side that would’ve been fun, but also, if John had returned at the start of the hour, I think it would’ve benefited by giving us just a little more time to sit with all of it. But the scenes we did get with John were exactly what they needed to be, and I couldn’t be happier with those.

More than anything, I want to applaud this show for finding a way to deliver something fans have waited years to see and for creating such an emotionally satisfying hour 300 episodes into it. It’s pretty unbelievable what this show continues to do. Not only is it still delivering episodes, but it’s still delivery great ones.

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