Supernatural’s 200th episode is coming up (tonight!), and the creative team has promised that it’s going to be a meta extravaganza with musical interludes aplenty. It’s not really any surprise that the show has chosen to go that route; meta is one of the things that Supernatural does better than practically any genre show out there.
Here are some of their bests.
The Supernatural Book Series
In season four, the Winchesters come to find that their stories are available for public consumption. Some dude named Carver Edlund (a mash-up of the names of two of the show’s writers) is producing a Supernatural book series, complete with romance novel covers. In order to find the author and figure out how he knows so much about their lives, Sam and Dean have to convince his editor that they’re “fans” of the books by flashing her their anti-possession tattoos. When they meet the guy (whose real name is actually Chuck) they find that the plots of the novels come to him in dreams. Turns out, Chuck is a bonafide Prophet of the Lord. Well… that’s only half true.
When Chuck realizes that his novels seem to have actual bearing on the Winchesters’ lives, he agonizes over his seemingly godlike power. (This is where the irony kicks in, as it is quite likely that Chuck was intended to be God.) He apologizes for what he’s done to the boys, whining about the difficulty of his job, which gives us one of the best lines of the show, and a totem from writers everywhere:
When the Winchesters find out about their tell-all book series, they naturally also run into online fandom and slash fiction, which Sam digs up on the internet. In fact, he manages to find Wincest in his meanderings—the fandom name for the slash pairing of Sam and Dean themselves. The brothers are fairly disturbed by this discovery, with Dean asking aloud, “They do know we’re brothers, right?”
In season two, back before Heaven was a player in the series at all, Dean was a little dismayed to find out that Sammy believed in angels. By his reckoning, no higher power could have allowed what happened to their family. (Dean later learns that Heaven is indeed real and populated by angels, the majority of whom are dicks.) In a sarcastic response to Sam’s potential faith, Dean makes a dig about horned horses being real: “You know what, there’s a ton of lore of unicorns too. In fact, I’ve heard that they ride on silver moonbeams and shoot rainbows out of their ass.”
You’d think that would be the last you ever heard of the elusive beast, since the boys definitely don’t live in a universe where that brand of mythical creature usually comes out to play. But in season seven, one little boy’s drawing comes to life to kill his father—and it’s a unicorn. Who then proceeds to run off as rainbows stream from its behind.
The Supernatural Convention
Sam and Dean eventually find themselves at a convention devoted to Chuck’s book series. The convention takes place at a creepy hotel where fans are invited to cosplay and solve a supernatural mystery on premises. (The mystery turns out to be a real one and almost gets everyone at the hotel killed.) Everyone at the convention assumes that the brothers are dressed up as Sam and Dean, naturally not realizing that their favorite books are real, and that they’ve come into contact with the genuine article. One of the attendents, Becky, is what fandom calls a “Sam Girl,” but Dean “isn’t what she pictured.”
Eventually, the Winchesters have to lock everyone inside the panel room while Chuck talks to buy time. The cosplayers in this one are a real treat because the show goes out of its way to make sure that the “fans” dressed up as characters from the books truly represent cosplayers; we see women dressed up as Sam and Dean, and the two men (also suited up as the Winchesters) helping the brothers during this particular adventure turn out to be a gay couple.
At the front end of Supernatural’s fourth season, they created a black and white romp titled “Monster Movie” that played on all the tropes and figures from classic horror films. The episode tackled the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Phantom of the Opera, and especially Dracula (all of these guys are actually one shapeshifter), who seems to be at the center of a series of killings in the episode. He eventually kidnaps Dean and tries to force him to play out the grand vampire’s story, which memorably gets Dean into a pair of lederhosen.
Dean gets accidentally zapped back in time when he wrestles with Kronos (the god of time), and gets to meet Eliot Ness—who also happens to be a hunter. He promptly fanboys all over the guy, forcing Ness to get brusque… but also get Dean into tailor-made duds to solve a case with him. It’s adorable.
It’s A Wonderful Life
The show gave its own spin on this holiday classic with the episode “It’s A Terrible Life,” in which the angel Zachariah forces Dean and Sam to life their lives as two average schmoes with no knowledge of the supernatural world, intending to prove that they were born for the hunting life. Sure enough, the brothers (who do not remember being related through the incident) wind up solving a haunting together, relying on one another every step of the way. But really, the episode’s worth it just to see Dean shoved into a suit and playing the corporate stooge, while Sam is stuck in I.T. hell: “Did you turn it off and on again?”
The film is also alluded to when demon Meg picks the nickname “Clarence” for Castiel.
Parodying reality television and ghost hunting shows, the Ghostfacers are a duo (sometimes a team) who go hunting for the paranormal, and often end up running into the Winchesters. Their second episode was a skilled rip-off of every afterlife investigation show you could imagine, and perhaps the best part of the reality show veneer was that it showed the layers of meta built in to Supernatural itself by portraying the Winchesters “unscripted” and “unedited” for the first time. We get to see the brothers making asides to each other “off camera,” and the boys do their fair share of cursing—using expletives that are not permitted in network television. It’s reality TV, so it gets bleeped out.
The Trickster (later revealed to be Loki, later revealed to be the archangel Gabriel) puts Sam into a time loop in “Mystery Spot,” where every day he is forced to watch Dean die no matter how he changes their actions to prevent it. Though many genre shows have tackled the Groundhog Day conceit for fun, this may be the darkest place the concept has ever been taken. Sam becomes deeply unhinged after witnessing Dean’s passing over and over, and when the Trickster deigns to make the death permanent, Sam goes off the rails entirely. It’s one of the more powerful tales the show has offered up, even with its sticky sweet, humorous coating.
Back to the Future
The show makes a Back to the Future reference in basically every episode where time travel occurs. Perhaps the best one is when the brothers screw up a trip back to the old west, where they’re meant to retrieve the ashes of a phoenix—and fail. When they arrive back in their own time, a delivery man shows up at the door with a package for Sam; the hunter Samuel Colt instructed the courier service to deliver the parcel (full of the needed ashes) on that exact date, harkening back to the end of Back to the Future II.
“As Time Goes By”
According to the Winchester family histories, Papa John Winchester was abandoned by his own father at an early age. This turns out not to be true, but more important is the music box that grandpa Henry Winchester left with his boy. It plays “As Time Goes By,” the house song for Warner Brothers studio (due to its place of prominence in Casablanca), which produces the show.
When the brothers attend a LARP that stars their buddy Charlie (played by real-life geek culture darling Felicia Day), they are immediate pegged as fake FBI agents due to their out-of-date badges; a hilarious nod to the fact that police officers always seem to believe the boys are feds on the show, regardless of the fact that they often give rock frontmen names as their aliases and look nothing like your standard FBI employees.
The third time to boys encounter the Trickster, he ropes them and their BFF angel Castiel into a game of channel surfing, forcing the brothers to play stock characters in several types of TV shows and commercials. There are some very specific nods in this one—the Winchesters end up in one of Dean’s favorite TV shows, Dr Sexy, M.D., which is a clear rip-off of Grey’s Anatomy. While there, Dean notes a man who is appearing to his former girlfriend as a ghost, which is play on Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character on Grey’s, Denny Duquette. Morgan also played Sam and Dean’s father, John, on the first two seasons on the show.
Other parodies feature the boys on a laugh-track laden sitcom, a Japanese game show, a Herpes commercial, a cop procedural, and finally a Knightrider knockoff, where Sam becomes the family car and feels very awkward about Dean rummaging in his trunk.
When a horror film set appears to be haunted, Sam and Dean hit the studio and start posing as PAs—Production Assistants. In perhaps the truest joke ever made about film jobs, when Sam asks Dean what a PA even is, he gamely replies, “I think they’re like slaves.”
There’s also a great joke in the opening of the episode, where the brothers are on a studio tour, and the guide talks about how they’re nearing the set of The Gilmore Girls, and one of the stars was right there. Jared Padalecki played Rory’s boyfriend Dean on the show, and Sam’s reaction to the announcement is distinctly uncomfortable.
The show’s opening credits have parodied several other shows and films, including Bonanza, The X-Files, and 70s and 80s sitcoms like Full House.
The Supernatural Television Show
In an effort to get the Winchesters safely away for a time, the angel Balthazar shoves them into an alternate universe in “The French Mistake.” Here, Supernatural is a television show, and monsters and demons don’t exist. The new dimension is a clever combination of real truths about the cast and crew, hilarious exaggerations, and outright lies. They show Jensen Ackles’ soap opera footage from his early career, Misha Collins plays an overblown version of himself who’s hyper-obsessed with social media (he does love his Twitter account in real life), and then make up a whole subplot about how the show’s lead actor’s—Ackles and Padalecki—don’t get along. Which is about as far from the truth as you can get, but makes for great reactions as everyone on the “set” get confused about the boys suddenly getting along.
It also contains one of the greatest scenes of fake acting ever put on camera:
And this really just scratches the surface of what the show has done. What are your favorite meta moments?