The Meaning of Episode Titles

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"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" through over a hundred 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, and 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 fifties, sixties, and seventies).

Season 1

1.01 Pilot is the pilot episode. 1.02 Wendigo, 1.04 Phantom Traveler, 1.05 Bloody Mary, 1.07 Hookman, and 1.08 Bugs name the monster of the week. 1.03 Dead in the Water, 1.06 Skin, 1.11 Scarecrow, and 1.16 Shadow describe the monster of the week—the ghost of a drowned boy, someone who changes skins, an aspect of the local fertility god, demons who are visible only in silhouette. 1.09 Home, 1.10 Asylum, 1.17 Hell House, and 1.21 Salvation name the setting. 1.12 Faith names the key theme of the episode. 1.14 Nightmare, 1.19 Provenance, 1.20 Dead Man's Blood, and 1.22 Devil's Trap name elements key to the plot.

1.13 Route 666

Route 666 is the sixth 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 from 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."

Season 2

2.01 In My Time Of Dying

"In My Time of Dying" is a song by Dean's favorite band, Led Zeppelin, released in 1975; it is a cover of "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed" recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in the late 1920s.

2.02 Everybody Loves a Clown

"Everybody Loves a Clown" is a song by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, released in 1965.

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 Sartre, in which three 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 convoluted 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

The plot of the episode is heavily inspired by the story of Robert Johnson, without whom Dean's favorite music would likely not exist. One of Robert Johnson's songs is entitled Cross Road Blues.

2.09 Croatoan

The title comes from a plot element, in this case the mystery of Roanoke, explained by Sam and Dean in the episode itself.

2.10 Hunted

The title directly references the plot, in this case Sam Winchester being hunted by Gordon Walker. Several movies of the same name exist, but none of them holds any plot elements shown in the episode.

2.11 Playthings

The title comes from a plot element, namely the dolls which Dean and Sam thought were being used for hoodoo.

2.12 Nightshifter

The title comes from plot elements, namely the shapeshifter and the bank incident that takes place during the night.

2.13 Houses of the Holy

Houses of the Holy is a 1973 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.) Led Zeppelin also used the title for a 1975 song.

2.14 Born Under a Bad Sign

Born Under a Bad Sign is the title song of a 1967 Albert King album.

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". In this case, the term 'tall tale' would appear to be used more generally to mean 'fantastical story', as in the absurd stories published in the Weekly World News which inspire the demon in this episode, which do not have particular resonance with American folklore.

2.16 Roadkill

This is a direct reference to a plot element. The word generally refers to animals who are killed on the road by being hit with a car; this describes two of the characters to some extent.

2.17 Heart

This is a direct reference to a plot element, namely the missing hearts of werewolf victims.

Cover of the infamous novel by Kenneth Anger

2.18 Hollywood Babylon

Hollywood Babylon: The Legendary Underground Classic of Hollywood's Darkest and Best Kept Secrets, is a book by Kenneth Anger, said to unveil the secrets of Hollywood in the 1920s through 1950s. There's also a song by The Misfits titled "Hollywood Babylon".

2.19 Folsom Prison Blues

"Folsom Prison Blues" is a 1955 song by Johnny Cash.

2.20 What Is and What Should Never Be

"What Is and What Should Never Be" is a 1969 song 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. It's also the name of a song by the English punk band The Clash.

3.02 The Kids Are Alright

"The Kids are Alright" is a 1965 song by The Who.

3.03 Bad Day at Black Rock

Bad Day at Black Rock is another film by John Sturges 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. "Sin City" is also an AC/DC song.

3.05 Bedtime Stories

This is a direct reference to a plot element. Fairy tales are sometimes referred to as bedtime stories, because they were read to children at bedtime.

3.06 Red Sky At Morning

The title of the episode comes from an old piece of weather lore" “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailor’s warning”. Red sky at morning is said to signal rain.

3.07 Fresh Blood

The title is a direct reference to plot elements, namely vampires, especially newly created vampires, and their diet. It is possible the new vampires would need fresh blood or could be considered themselves fresh blood, i.e. someone new or 'fresh'.

Title Card for 3.08 A Very Supernatural Christmas.png

3.08 A Very Supernatural Christmas

This title plays on two standard TV tropes: the Christmas episode and the Very Special episode. The Christmas episode is, rather obviously, a one-off episode of a series set around that holiday. The Very Special episode was an episode of a series that focused on an Important Issue such as cancer or addiction and was usually very earnest and serious.

There is a different title card for the episode which is preceded by a version of the old CBS Special Presentation Indent. Sleigh bells are heard and the a Christmas ornament explodes on the screen and then the episode's title appears.

3.09 Malleus Maleficarum

Malleus Maleficarum means Hammer of the Witches in Latin, and it was the title for a fifteenth century treatise on witches. It was used to support argue the nature and reality of witchcraft and was used in the persecution and murder of women accused of witchcraft across Europe in in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

3.10 Dream a Little Dream of Me

"Dream a Little Dream Of Me" is the title of a song first recorded in 1931. The song, a version by Mama Cass, is heard during the episode during Dean's dream of Lisa.

3.11 Mystery Spot

The title is a direct reference to a plot element. The episode title refers to a tourist attraction near Santa Cruz, California called the Mystery Spot that was open in 1939. Just like in the episode, it is reported be a place where the laws of physics and gravity have do not apply. There are other mystery spots but the Santa Cruz location is the original.

3.12 Jus in Bello

The title is a direct reference to a plot element. Jus in bello means "justice in war" and refers to the guidelines for "fighting well" once war has begun.

3.13 Ghostfacers

The title is a direct reference to plot elements. The title and style of the episode are a parody on the American reality television series Ghost Hunters, which has been airing since October 6th, 2004. In the show, Grant Wilson and Jason Hawes investigate paranormal activity.

3.14 Long-Distance Call

"Long Distance Call" is the title of the season 2, episode 22 episode of The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling, in which a boy is able to communicate with his deceased grandmother through a toy phone. "Long Distance Call" is also a 1951 song by Muddy Waters.

3.15 Time Is On My Side

"Time Is on My Side" is a song by the Rolling Stones.

3.16 No Rest For The Wicked

"No rest for the wicked" is a phrase from the Book of Isaiah, verses 48:22 and 57:20-21. It is also the title of a 1995 Ozzy Osbourne album and a Godsmack song.

Season 4

4.01 Lazarus Rising

The title is a direct reference to a plot element. In the Gospel of John, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

4.02 Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester

The title of this episode refers to the Judy Blume book Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

4.03 In The Beginning

In the Beginning is a Journey album released in 1980. It compiles the first three albums they released before Steve Perry joined the band. It is also the phrase that opens both the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John in the King James version of the Bible.

4.04 Metamorphosis

The title is a direct reference to plot elements. The Metamorphosis is a novel by Frank Kafka about a man whoa wakes one day to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach, and the conflict this causes with his family. In this episode the character Jack Montgomery goes through a transformation into a rugaru, and Sam and Dean clash over Sam's continued struggle with the demon blood he was fed by Azazel and how it has affected him.

4.05 Monster Movie

The title is a direct reference to a plot element. Monster movie is a slang term referring to films with a struggle between humans and monsters - like King Kong. In this episode, the protagonist is himself a monster - a shapeshifter and he is also obsessed with classic horror films and devotes himself to recreating them.

4.06 Yellow Fever

This title is a play on the virus yellow fever caused by the bite of the yellow fever mosquito and the American slang "yellow" meaning a coward. Dean is infected with ghost sickness or "yellow fever", the yellow referring to the fear induced by the supernatural infection.

4.07 It's The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester

The title of the episode references the 1966 Peanuts movie It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

4.08 Wishful Thinking

The title is a direct reference to plot elements, namely the wishing well key to the plot and how, given that all the wishes in the episode go spectacularly wrong, it's wishful thinking to believe wishes work.

4.09 I Know What You Did Last Summer

I Know What You Did Last Summer is a 1997 movie.

4.10 Heaven And Hell

"Heaven and Hell" is the title song of a 1980 Black Sabbath album.

4.11 Family Remains

The title is a direct reference to plot elements: it is a play on 'remains' referring to a corpse, and remains, as in what is left of a family after tragedy.

4.12 Criss Angel Is A Douchebag

There is a show named Criss Angel Mindfreak staring Criss Angel, a magician, who performs stunts. Angel has a reputation of being a douchebag.

4.13 After School Special

A term coined by the ABC for their made-for-television movie series dealing with conflicts of teenagers. See also CBS Schoolbreak Special.

4.14 Sex And Violence

This is an obviously named episode deals with a sex demon and ends in violence. The concepts of sex and violence are thought to be contributing factors is the deterioration of morals and family values. Sam and Dean forget their family bond and have a violent confrontation because of the sex demon. The title is also the name of the pilot episode of The Muppet Show and an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
The title of the episode may be a reference to the Jane's Addiction song "Ted, Just Admit It..." which contains the lyrics "sex and violence" and "sex is violent," or to a song by The Exploited titled "Sex And Violence"

4.15 Death Takes A Holiday

The title comes from a 1934 Fredric March movie where Death decides to live his life as a mortal.

4.16 On The Head Of A Pin

The title comes from the old question "How many angels do you fit on the head of a pin?"

4.17 It's A Terrible Life

The title is a play on the title of the 1946 movie It's A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart as a man who wonders what life would have been like if he were never born.

4.18 The Monster At The End Of This Book

The title is from the Sesame Street book where Grover cautions the reader that there is a monster at the end of the book and they shouldn't go there. At the end, Grover finds out the monster is himself.

4.19 Jump The Shark

The title is a television term taken from an episode of Happy Days where Fonzie jumps a shark. It usually denotes that a show is past its prime.

4.20 The Rapture

The title is a direct reference to a plot element, namely the Rapture, which is a term used to describe the events surrounding the second coming of Christ where the faithful is taken back to Heaven.

4.21 When The Levee Breaks

"When The Levee Breaks" is a 1929 blues song, covered by Led Zeppelin in 1971.

4.22 Lucifer Rising

This is the title of a 1972 experimental film by Kenneth Anger as well as an album by the Swedish heavy metal band Candlemass. It is also a play on the title of Season 4's first episode, Lazarus Rising.

Season 5

5.01 Sympathy For The Devil

"Sympathy For The Devil" is the name of a song by the Rolling Stones and a movie by Jean-Luc Goddard.

5.02 Good God Y'All

The episode title "Good God Y'All" is from the line 'War! Huh! Good God Y'all' a lyric from the song "War" originally sung by Edwin Starr and covered by many including Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bruce Springsteen.

5.03 Free To Be You And Me

The title of the episode refers to a 1970s children's record and TV show "Free to be .. you and me"]. This clip from the show is particularly relevant as the kids in the clip talk about how they feel about their siblings.
Another reference - when the CW was formed in 2006, its initial promotional campaign featured the tag "free to be...".

5.04 The End

The episode title might refer to The Doors Song "The End", which uses themes of the apocalpyse and a world gone mad ('all the children are insane'). The song also evokes the image of the devil ('the snake is long, 7 miles, (..) and he's old, and his skin is cold'), and has an oedipal part, where a son goes to murder his sister, brother and finally father, to confront his mother, who he wishes to have sex with. Furthermore, the song was used in Francis Ford Coppola's iconic war movie, Apocalypse Now.

5.05 Fallen Idols

The episode title probably refers to idols in both the religious sense and the cultural-icon sense.

5.06 I Believe The Children Are Our Future

The title is a lyric from Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All".

5.07 The Curious Case Of Dean Winchester

The title is a play on the title of the F.Scott Fitzgerald short story, later made into a movie starring Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which the protagonist ages backwards.

5.08 Changing Channels

The title is a direct reference plot elements, namely the many TV shows featured in the episode, which include Grey's Anatomy and CSI: Miami; Grey's Anatomy and another show in the CSI franchise air Thursday nights at nine, the same time slot as Supernatural.

5.09 The Real Ghostbusters

The title of the episode refers to a 1980s animated TV show based on the movie Ghostbusters.

5.10 Abandon All Hope

"Abandon All Hope" is a reference to the final line of the inscription over the gate of Hell in Dante's Inferno - "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here". according to Canto III of Dante's Inferno.

5.11 Sam, Interrupted

The title is a play on the memoir by Susanna Kaysen and the movie based on same, both entitled Girl, Interrupted and depicting Kaysen's stay in a mental health facility. Misha Collins has a bit part in the movie; a more important character is played by Clea Duvall, who costarred with Jensen Ackles in Ten Inch Hero.

5.12 Swap Meat

The title may be a pun on swap meets, also known as flea markets. 5.13 The Song Remains The Same

The Led Zeppelin album Houses of the Holy opens with the song "The Song Remains the Same"; the song is also the title track on a Zeppelin live concert album.

5.14 My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine] is a 1981 movie. In 2009 Jensen starred in a 3-D remake: My Bloody Valentine 3D.

5.15 Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a 1982 movie. In this film, Steve Martin interacts with (now dead) stars of 40s and 50s noir movies through use of clips from their movies.

5.16 Dark Side Of The Moon

The title of the episode refers to the 1973 Pink Floyd concept album Dark Side Of The Moon. The episode was originally called “Your Whole Life Flashes Before Your Eyes” Source.

5.17 99 Problems

The title comes from a song by Jay-Z entitled "99 Problems"; this is the ninety-ninth episode.

5.18 Point Of No Return

The point of no return is the point at which events have progressed far enough that stopping them becomes impossible, or the narrative climax. It may also be a reference to the Kansas album Point of Know Return or to that album's title song.

5.19 Hammer Of The Gods

The title is a line from Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", referencing the hammer of Thor; the episode includes two gods from the same pantheon as Thor, Odin and Baldur, but does not include Thor himself unless he is one of the unidentified gods.

5.20 The Devil You Know

The title may reference the debut album of the group Heaven & Hell, whose members were all previously part of Black Sabbath; more likely, it is a reference to the idiomatic phrase "better the devil you know than the devil you don't".

5.21 Two Minutes To Midnight

The episode gets its title from the Iron Maiden song "Two Minutes to Midnight." The song's title and subject refer to the Doomsday Clock.

5.22 Swan Song

The phrase "Swan Song" in modern jargon refers to a final work or performance, or the final part of a story. It was also the name of the record label founded by Led Zeppelin.

Season 6

6.01 Exile On Main St.

"Exile On Main Street" – the episode’s title – is also the name of a double LP released by the Rolling Stones in 1972. It is an album that features songs that represent the genres that Sixties rock could be deconstructed back to -like blues, gospel, soul - a return to its roots. It was also recorded over a period of change and personal upheaval for the band although during the time Jagger also married and had a child.

6.02 Two And A Half Men

This episode's title, "Two And A Half Men" is a reference to the TV sitcom of the same name starring Charlie Sheen. It has probably been chosen because Sam and Dean are two adults and the baby they are taking care of counts as a fractional person; also, Sam and Dean are fully human and the baby half human. Also, this is the second episode of the season.

6.03 The Third Man

This title is likely based on the famous 1949 noir film The Third Man, starring Joseph Cotton. The phrase 'the third man' is used to describe an unidentified individual involved with the mysterious death of Harry Lime. In the context of the episode, the phrase may refer either to the third dead police officer, or to Castiel, who is returning as the third major character. This is also the third episode of the season.

6.04 Weekend At Bobby's

The title of the episode is based on the comedy "Weekend at Bernie's."

6.05 Live Free or Twihard

The title of the episode is a combination of "Live Free or Die Hard" and "Twilight"; a Twihard is someone who fans Twilight to a degree bordering on obsessive.

6.06 You Can't Handle The Truth

The title of the episode refers to a famous quote by the character Colonel Jessep from the play and later film A Few Good Men. Jensen appeared in a production of the play in Fort Worth in June 2007.

6.07 Family Matters

The title of the episode refers to Family Matters, a 1990s sitcom featuring the Winslow family and the nerdy Steve Urkel.

6.08 All Dogs Go To Heaven

The title of the episode is also the name of a 1989 animated film.

6.09 Clap Your Hands If You Believe

The title of the episode is also the name of a 1989 animated film. It's also a reference to a line from J.M. Barrie's "The Adventures of Peter Pan", in which the audience is asked to clap if they believe in fairies.