The Meaning of Episode Titles

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Introduction

"Supernatural" is a tv-show that uses a lot of popular culture references and fully understands itself as a postmodern text, as it draws from famous texts not only of its own genre, but also "shops" in the over 100 years worth of popular culture products.

Apart from obvious references of the story, plots and characters itself (see e.g. Hero's Journey,), as well as references made by the characters (see Trivia of Episodes, They like to watch), an increasing number of episode titles refer to several cultural texts, most commonly songs (of the Mullet Rock variety), as well as horror films and other classical movies (with a preference for the 50s/60s/70s).

Season 1

Overall Season 1 of Supernatural has very simple, self-explanatory episode titles - Wendigo, Dead in the Water, Phantom Traveler, Skin, Hookman, Bugs, Home, Asylum, Scarecrow, Faith, Shadows, Dead Man's Blood, - they all indicate the nature of the Monster of the Week that's defeated and are self-referential.

Some exceptions during Season 1:

1.13 Route 666

Route 666 is the 6th spur of the famous "motherline" Route 66, and the last remaining stretch of road was renamed into Route 491 in 2003. Route 666 has also been called "The Devil's Highway"(Source) It wouldn't be the Devil's Highway without a number of strange incidents.

1.15 The Benders

The Benders were a family of 19th century mass murderers from Kansas. (Source and Further Reading)

1.18 Something Wicked

The title refers to a line of Shakespeare's Macbeth: "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes". More on the phrase at Wikipedia.

"Something Wicked This Way Comes" is also the title of a Ray Bradbury novel in which two teenage boys encounter Mr. Dark, the owner of a mysterious carnival, who has offered secret desires to several people, only to bind them in service to the carnival.

One of the chapters in the episode Something Wicked on the Season 1 DVD is called "...this way comes."

Apart from this, it's only in Season 2, that the episode titles become references to other cultural texts (films, songs, novels, etc.)

Season 2

2.01 In My Time Of Dying

"In My Time of Dying" is a song by Dean's favourite band "Led Zeppelin" (it first appears on "Physical Graffiti (1975)", but the song was originally written much earlier, first recorded by blues singer "Blind Willie Johnson" in the 1920s. For a history of the song see here.

2.02 Everybody Loves a Clown

"Everybody Loves a Clown" is a song by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, recorded in the 1960s.

2.03 Bloodlust

Bloodlust! is a 1961 movie, in which a crazed hunter kidnaps people and hunts them for sports on his estate. While this sounds more like The Benders, the "crazed hunter" most certainly is Gordon Walker.

2.04 Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is a 1972 low-budget zombie movie by Bob Clarke.

2.05 Simon Said

Simon Says is a game for children, in which one of the players becomes "Simon", and the other players must do as Simon says. "Simon" has to start each sentence with "Simon says...".

Simon Says is also a 2006 horror film.

2.06 No Exit

No Exit is a play by French existentialist writer Jean-Paul Satre, in which 3 people are locked into a room (which might be hell) together. While they wait to eventually be freed of their prison, a complex dynamic starts to develop between the three of them...

2.07 The Usual Suspects

Movie Poster for the 1995 film 'The Usual Suspects'

The Usual Suspects is a 1995 movie by Bryan Singer, in which a con-man, interrogated by the police, tells a convuluted story of events that lead up to a massacre and fire at the docks. Using flashbacks, he tries to explain how he and his fellow partners-in-crime were on the boat that was involved, but not everything is as it seems. The episode draws heavily from the style of the film, using flashback and narration as well, as Sam and Dean tell their story.

2.08 Crossroad Blues

Obviously, this episode title comes from the Robert Johnson song "Crossroad Blues", and is inspired - as is the episode - by the Robert Johnson story.

2.09 Croatoan

The episode title comes from the mystery of Roanok, explained by Sam and Dean in the episode itself. This episode title falls back into the style of Season 1 episode titles, by being self-referential.

2.10 Hunted

Several movies of the same name exist, but none of them holds any plot elements shown in the Supernatural episode.

2.11 Playthings

n.a. (if you are able to contribute, please do so)

2.12 Nightshifter

n.a. (if you are able to contribute, please do so)

2.13 Houses of the Holy

"Houses of the Holy" is a Led Zeppelin album. (Incidentally, the seventh song on the album is "No Quarter" - in the same episode, Dean runs out of quarters when using the Magic Fingers.)

2.14 Born Under a Bad Sign

"Born Under a Bad Sign" is a blues album (and the title song of said album) by Albert King. (Source)

2.15 Tall Tales

Tall Tales are elements of American folklore, as such as they are tales about extraordinary heroes or deeds done, "larger than life".

2.16 Roadkill

n.a. (if you are able to contribute, please do so)

2.17 Heart

probably self-explanatory (see Season 1)

Cover of the infamous novel by Kenneth Anger

2.18 Hollywood Babylon

"Hollywood Babylon: The Legendendary Underground Classic of Hollywood's Darkest and Best Kept Secrets", is a book by Kenneth Anger, said to unveil the secrets of early (20 - 50s) Hollywood. There's also a song by The Misfits titled "Hollywood Babylon".

2.19 Folsom Prison Blues

This episode refers to the famous Johnny Cash song of the same name.

2.20 What Is and What Should Never Be

Another song title by Led Zeppelin.

2.21 All Hell Breaks Loose: Part One and 2.22 All Hell Breaks Loose: Part Two

"All Hell Breaks Loose" is a) a set phrase (idiom) and b) a song by The Misfits.

Season 3

3.01 The Magnificent Seven

Movie Poster of "The Magnificent Seven"

"The Magnificent Seven" is a 1960 western with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson.

3.02 The Kids Are Alright

"The Kids are Alright" is a song by 60s rockband The Who.

3.03 Bad Day at Black Rock

"Bad Day at Black Rock" is another film by John Sturges (so is "The Magnificent Seven") with Spencer Tracy.

3.04 Sin City

Sin City is the name of a comic title by Frank Miller (a movie adaptation was done in 2005). "Sin City" is the part of the fictional city described in the comic which is ruled over by prostitutes and other seedy/shady characters.