The Winchesters still have miles to go before they sleep.
This interview contains spoilers for Supernatural’s 300th episode, “Lebanon.”
Supernatural celebrated its 300th episode with a powerful installment that celebrated the strength of the Winchester family, bringing back Jeffrey Dean Morgan for the first time since Season 2.
With 300 episodes under their belts, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sam (Jared Padalecki), Dean (Jensen Ackles), and Baby (their beloved Impala) might be running out of gas, but according to showrunner Andrew Dabb, the 300th episode is designed “to bring them to, not an endpoint necessarily, but a starting point.” Below, Dabb discusses the impact that John’s return will have on Sam, Dean, and Mary moving forward, and what we can expect from the show’s newly-announced Season 15.
At what point in the writing or plot-breaking process did you know you were getting Jeffrey Dean Morgan back?
Not actually until a little later in the process. Obviously, the 300th episode was something we discussed right when we came back for the new season. So right in that first week, it was like, ‘what are we doing here?’ We didn’t have a full idea necessarily at that point, but we had an idea of, like, ‘we need to pay attention, this is a very special thing.’ So we were thinking about it for quite a long time, and when the time came to actually write it – basically within two weeks from we were gonna write it, which was in the fall, around September – we had had this idea for Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And the idea to bring him back had kind of floated around for a long time on Supernatural. And because it was the 300th, we’re just like, ‘let’s just see if it’s even feasible.’ He’s a very busy guy, a lot of stuff on his plate, and thankfully he was available to us and agreed to do it. And so, it wasn’t last minute, like, the script was written and we tore up the script and rewrote a script for him, but it was certainly, for us in the way we approached this episode, working pretty far out, it was a little bit later in the process.
Unlike the 200th episode, which was packed with Easter eggs and references, “Lebanon” really deals with the show’s emotional legacy. Why was it so important to you to ground it that way, and make it different than what you’ve done before?
Well, some of it is, like you just said, to make it different from what’s come before. We go back to the meta well fairly often on this show, but it is something that can get a little tiring at some point. And the great thing about Supernatural is, we have all this history. And some of that history is meta and references and things like that, and we do that all the time, in big and little ways. But the other thing, and the thing that I think fans are here for, is the emotional growth these characters have had, and this emotional journey they’ve been on. And to put John back into the story at this point really allowed us to galvanize some things that have been going on with Sam and Dean, I would argue for the last three years, and bring them to, not an endpoint necessarily, but a starting point. And so it allowed us to have the episode mean something both in the grand scheme of the show, but also in our ongoing narrative. What we didn’t want was for it to feel like an endpoint, or a looking back and patting ourselves on the back sort of thing. It had to have forward momentum, even if it was grounded in the past. And so in that way I think it was a good mix.
We were happy to explore the town of Lebanon a little bit more. And that’s something that will be coming back for us later this season. We get to place some of the characters we’ll see again. So it’s about, yes, having some old things in there, but continuing [to do] new things, because we’ve got another whole season of the show to do. So we can’t just rest on our laurels at this point.
Since the show was just renewed for Season 15, how are you building towards that in the upcoming episodes, and what might make it different from what’s come before?
Oh, wow, it’s a little early for that. [Laughs.] will say that, true to Supernatural form, Season 14 does not end on [an] ‘everybody is super happy and hugging’ note, necessarily. Bad things are coming, as they always are, for the Winchesters. But I do think that, moving into 15 … I think that people will be surprised, and will be happy in terms of where we’re going, not only in terms of the plotline, but also in terms of our guys and their ongoing growth as people.
What are the emotional ramifications of John’s visit for Dean and Sam, and for Mary, moving forward this season?
I think, for Sam and Dean, I don’t think anything they say to John are new thoughts that they’re having. I think they’re things they’ve thought for a long time, but they’re articulating in this episode. I think both of them have a weight lifted off their shoulders, but I don’t know that it changes a lot for them, because they’ve been on this journey for so long. I think for Mary, there’s a little bit more weight to it, because I think it forces her to confront some things about Sam and Dean and how they grew up, and parenting styles, and her own parenting style, that I think she spent a lot of time avoiding. And she’s someone who came back and has sort of been a part of their lives for the past three years, but not really. Sometimes circumstance, getting zapped into an alternate universe. Sometimes fully. But I think it makes her reevaluate some of that stuff. And so I think, you know, ultimately, him being there brings those three members of the family even closer together.
Are there any other consequences of this episode beyond giving some closure to those old wounds? The boys figured John wouldn’t remember anything, but in the final shot, obviously, he remembers at least part of it as a dream.
Yes, I mean, we can’t change our own past on the show, by our rules and also because it would invalidate a lot of what we’ve done. But I would like to think, at least for a while after that “dream” John had, his stance towards… maybe there’s a little softening towards Sam, and towards Dean as well. So I think there’s that. And in terms of going forward, we would love to have Jeffrey back on the show again, but again, he’s a very busy guy.
Why did you decide to bring back a John from 2003 rather than a John who was already dead?
We wanted a John who had a lot of more raw emotions with Sam and Dean. By the time he passed away, he gained a level of composure, at least with Dean, that he had not really had previously. And certainly, once he came back, and he knows they killed Yellow Eyes and all that kind of stuff – it’s not that they wouldn’t have had great conversations, because they would have. But they would’ve been very different conversations. And they would’ve been about, “wow, that was great that we did that,” versus about the more raw issues, all of which culminated with this John that we chose to bring back, who was the John that existed right after Sam left, and that period before the show started. And I think that allowed him to have a little bit of distance, and also, that allowed them to have some conversations that hearkened back to the first days of our show or before, actually. The first conversations that hearkened back to Season 2, where already, their relationship had started to change.
The past couple of seasons have had a few notable instances of Sam and Dean reminiscing about their childhood and digging into whether John was a good father or not, which I’ve really appreciated just to give us more context into their childhood – why has that been important to you?
I think some of it is that, when you get older … Sam and Dean are in this position, I think Jared and Jensen are in the position, I think it’s a position we all go through from being even a very old kid, like in our early thirties, into being an actual adult, where you look back and you kind of reevaluate… especially your parents. I’m not saying you look back at them with rose-colored glasses, because sometimes you look and you’re like, “oh my God, my father was a very immature person.” You understand what that means. And so, for Sam and Dean as they move forward, and especially having this surrogate son of their own, I think it’s forced them to ask questions about their father.
I don’t think either one of them would say John was a great father, certainly, but I don’t also think that either one of them would say that John was the worst father in the world. I think they now, more so than any other time in their lives, understand how complex and stressful and crippling his life was at that point. And I’m not saying they give him a pass, because even Dean in the previous episode said, this is what they talked about, some mistakes John had made and knew they were mistakes and knew they were wrong things to do, but I think they had some understanding there. It was really important to us that the conversations Sam and Dean had with John in this episode are not the same conversations they would have had with him fifteen years ago. Because they have grown as men, and over the course of many, many apocalypses, and you want that reflected in the conversation.
On a similar note, are you interested in revisiting any cases or flashbacks to their past in upcoming episodes? Episodes like “Something Wicked” and “A Very Supernatural Christmas” were always so effective for adding context to that period in their lives.
Yeah. I mean, I always love those episodes as well, flashback episodes and things like that. Those are things that, to be frank, this season fell a little bit by the wayside, largely because of our reduced episode count, which took away some options in terms of standalone stories. But I’m always on the lookout for a good story in that area, so I would love to find more.
We’ve seen a number of past characters return this season, including Pamela Barnes – was there anyone else you wanted to bring back for the 300th that you couldn’t get? And any other returning favorites coming up this season?
In terms of this episode, no. We got everybody back we wanted to get back, and we’re incredibly happy about it, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. In terms of going forward, in episode 20, I will say that we get visited by an old favorite.
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
Watch Morgan share his thoughts on the 300th episode below. The full featurette with Morgan will be available with the purchase of a Supernatural Season Pass on digital platforms beginning Tuesday, February 12.