“You take care of each other.”
“We always do.”
After nearly a dozen years in the making, it finally happened.
John Winchester is back on Supernatural.
Now, when the news came out that Jeffrey Dean Morgan would be reprising his role as patriarch of the Winchester clan for the show’s landmark 300th episode (!), as a Supernatural fan since the beginning, I was both excited and concerned. Even with all the lore surrounding the show, the supernatural gewgaws littered throughout, would John’s appearance end up being a derivative attempt created to tug at the heartstrings? Would they scar the Supernatural legacy by making my dream about the episode prior to the show (where John returns for good, awaiting a second guest appearance) and undo his sacrifice? Sure, maybe these questions are the product of an overactive mind, one that’s seen how television goes for the big splash regardless of it serving the show’s narrative. But we’ve all heard—and experienced first-hand—the truth that, sometimes, things are too good to be true.
And yet, “Lebanon” provides the inverse of that: some things are worth the wait.
In every sense of the word, “Lebanon” is one of those pseudo-fillers where, despite being loosely connected to primary storyline for the season, also acts as its own self-contained story. Oftentimes these fillers are forgettable but entertaining vehicles, generally rife with the Supernatural meta. “Lebanon” has the latter but goes far beyond those charming jaunts, leaving viewers with a well-crafted, emotional narrative that encapsulates what’s been at the heart of this fabulous show over the last fourteen years: family.
Things start out just like a run-of-the-mill filler, the Winchesters are looking for help with the season’s story arc—in this case, finding an answer to Dean’s Michael problem. Paying a visit to a shady backroom dealer (who murdered one of their hunter friends), Sam and Dean come across the Baozhu pearl, one of the 8 ancient Chinese treasures. The lore behind this particular artifact is that it purportedly grants the user his heart’s desire. Naturally, the boys think that if Dean uses it, it’ll evict the unwanted guest still knock, knock, knockin inside his head. Of course, despite what Dean’s head may be saying, his heart has other ideas and—boom—John Winchester’s the end result. Unfortunately, John being plucked out of 2003 and plopped into 2019 causes some severe issues with the timeline, namely a “temporal paradox” where, unless they set things right, the changes become permanent. This includes Sam as a law professor, Dean wanted for murder (among other crimes), Castiel traipsing around with Zachariah, and Mary still dead and gone. So the Winchesters have but a few hours to enjoy one final family deal before they have to say goodbye to John.
With so many things left unsaid, “Lebanon” could have been a two-hour movie special of various conversations between them. As it is, less than half of the episode is dedicated to these moments and, despite that, once John appeared, the emotional lump that formed in my throat never went away. Seeing him interact with his boys and their growth over a decade and a half was touching prose. Sam was especially impacted, considering that he and John rarely saw eye-to-eye. The conversation between those two may have been the most important moment of the episode, for it allowed Sam to unload both the guilt at not truly making amends with John to the latter’s admission on how, as a dad, he screwed things up between them. It was almost visible, watching the weight of all those years ease off Sam’s shoulders. And the final goodbye, where John voices his pride in the both of them, as a son, there’s nothing that really compares to a parent expressing their pride in you. It’s only Mary’s side of things that is never fully explored but both Samantha Smith and Jeffrey Dean Morgan do so much nonverbally. The looks that pass between them give meaning to the fact that some things, even heartfelt emotion, are better left unsaid.
Yes, “Lebanon” was a filler episode but, on so many levels it was more. So much more. It was a personal story on the emotional journey that has always shaped the heart and soul of Supernatural. Often times it’s the levity and witty banter that has me clamoring for more but, this time around, I crave more of the heart and emotion displayed in “Lebanon”. Despite the bittersweet ending, it is a story of love, of hope, and of second chances that we don’t ever get. It’s that one-of-a-kind reminder of what’s important, whether it’s fighting demons and archangels or the mundanity of the lives we live outside this world. It’s a story that has left an indelible mark in my heart and when Supernatural finally signs off, I will always remember the journey it took me on with “Lebanon”.