It’s time to look at the 5 top-rated episodes from the first half of season 4, as determined by IMDB, TV.com, and me. (The stars are my ratings only.) There was a tie for fifth place, so we’ll actually look at six episodes.
#1. Lazarus Rising (401)
It’s not just season 4′s best episode, it’s one of Supernatural‘s all-time best. Some say it’s the best episode ever. It’s certainly one of my top 5, maybe top 3. It’s even the reason I bought a wide-screen television!
After Dean was sent to hell at the end of season 3, fans waited impatiently for September 2008. At Comic Con that summer, Eric Kripke and company showed a clip of the episode—Dean discovering a hand print burned into his upper arm. It only heightened anticipation for the season premiere. And “Lazarus Rising” did not disappoint.
The first seven minutes or so contained little to no dialog, yet we sat on the edges of our seats. Throughout the episode, strange happenings let us know a powerful force was at work. This force had leveled a forest and produced a high-pitched, glass-shattering whine (not to mention burning eyeballs out of skulls). When it finally appeared, in the form of a trench-coated Misha Collins, it was immune to every demon-warding symbol, rock salt, and Ruby’s demon-killing knife.
While Dean and Bobby were finding out this was an angel, Sam had some surprises of his own. Under Ruby’s guidance, he’d learned to harness his “special powers” to exorcise and kill demons, often while saving the possessed person. He was sure he was doing the right thing. But he’d lied to Dean. And of course, we eventually learned the truth, but not until the season finale.
“Lazarus Rising” was a game-changer. It introduced the idea of heaven and God to the Supernatural universe. It gave us angels, a new and extremely popular character, and yet another reason for Supernatural fans to break into factions and bitch.
#2. In the Beginning (403)
Castiel whisks Dean away to 1973 Lawrence, Kansas. We meet young John Winchester, recently returned from serving in the Marines, young Mary Campbell, and her parents Samuel and Deanna.
The big surprise is that it’s Mary and her family who are the hunters. Yet all she wants is a life away from the job, and the normal “naive civilian” John Winchester (as her father calls him), can give her that. Of course, we know how the story ends, but the road takes a number of shocking turns along the way.
The episode is tightly written. Dean’s mutters “Sammy, wherever you are, Mom is a babe. I’m going to hell. Again.” It’s a simple, funny line, but it ties in many story elements. Sam is somewhere secretive. Dean reacts to a pretty young girl as he always does, then realizes how wrong it is. And we’re reminded he’s only recently returned from hell and is still having nightmares.
Everything fits together like puzzle pieces. We learn how John came to own the Impala (Dean talked him into it), why Mary recognized the yellow-eyed demon when he stood over Sam’s crib in 1983, why ghost-Mary told Sam “I’m sorry,” at the end of “Home,” and why some of the psychic kids’ mothers died and others didn’t. Even John’s journal, the Colt, and Daniel Elkins figure into the story. A bonus: we learn who Dean and Sam were named for.
Yet, for all the questions answered, more are raised. Castiel continually tells Dean “You have to stop it,” but Dean has no idea what. Some of it is answered in the first few minutes of the next episode, “Metamorphesis,” but we still don’t have a grasp of the magnitude of the problem.
My first-reaction to the episode isn’t much more than excited blabbering. But the scenes that surprised me then still move me and give me chills.
– Written by Jeremy Carver; directed by Steve Boyum
– IMDB rating 8.5; TV.com 9.1
#3. Wishful Thinking (408)
Man, I love it when an episode has already been discussed. All I have to do is link to the review.
– Teleplay by Ben Edlund, story by Ben Edlund & Lou Bollo; directed by Robert Singer
– IMDB rating 8.7; TV.com 8.6
#4. Monster Movie (405)
Ordinarily, I have pen and paper handy when I watch episodes for review. Such was the case for “Monster Movie.” However, halfway through, I realized I hadn’t written anything. Not because there wasn’t anything noteworthy, but because I was enjoying the episode so much.
Mimicking the monster films of the 1940’s the episode was not only filmed in black and white, it employed many of the cinematic tropes of the era: the fade to black via a black circle closing in, multiple objects circling to connote a drugged state, obvious sets designed to resemble the outdoors, black silhouettes against white screen. But the effects often had a modern twist. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” was actually a Casio being played by one of the characters (in his underwear, no less—this is, after all, a Ben Edlund script). In another scene, Dracula flies over a high gate to make his escape via moped—complete with tooting horn.
This silly, clever humor is one of the reasons Supernatural remains fun. For all its apocalyptic story lines and dramatic overtones, humor stands at the ready, showing up at the darnedest times to provide some levity.
“Monster Movie” was originally scheduled as the third episode of season 4. It was moved back fifth place to counter the dark aftermath of “In the Beginning” and “Metamorphosis.” (At least I think that’s the reason. Even if it’s not, I’m certainly glad the switch was made.)
– Written by Ben Edlund; directed by Robert Singer
– IMDB rating 8.5; TV.com 8.2
#5 (tie). Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester (402)
Let’s make this easy. Here’s my previous review.
– Teleplay by Sera Gamble, story by Sera Gamble and Lou Bollo; directed by Phil Sgriccia
– IMDB rating 8.7; TV.com 8.8
#5 (tie). Yellow Fever (406)
Hey look! It’s another episode that’s already been reviewed. Sure makes life easier!
– Written by Andrew Dabb & Daniel Loflin; directed by Phil Sgriccia
– IMDB rating 8.5; TV.com 9.0