Jeffrey Dean Morgan's John Winchester returned to Supernatural to celebrate the show's 300th episode and while there were plenty of heart-warming moments and emotional embraces, Morgan's return also deepened the tragedy of his character. Since returning from its mid-season break, Supernatural season 14 has been steadily building towards its landmark 300th episode by reintroducing familiar faces, such as the ill-fated psychic Pamela, and exploring the Winchesters' legacy.
The CW had already announced that Supernatural's 300th episode, titled "Lebanon" after Sam and Dean's current hometown, would feature the long-awaited return of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as John Winchester. Promo stills were released showing the entire Winchester family enjoying a hearty meal in the Bunker, so the big question was how Morgan was able to appear.
In Supernatural, there are a generous selection of methods by which a character can return from the dead, and after it was revealed that John would return as the result of a "wish come true," many viewers assumed that John's comeback might be as some kind of spirit or as a direct resurrection from heaven. Ultimately, this proved not to be the case, and the route Supernatural decided to take instead added a bittersweet note to an otherwise joyous reunion.
Supernatural's 300th episode kicks off with Sam and Dean on a routine hunt, taking down an over-zealous collector of paranormal paraphernalia. Among the items the brothers find in their victim's stash is a pearl that grants a person their "heart's desire." Initially, the boys try to use this item to wrench Dean free from the archangel Michael, but this is clearly not what Dean yearns for most, as the duo are soon attacked by a mystery invader, revealed to be their long-deceased father.
Even more surprisingly, it soon transpires that Sam and Dean haven't been reunited with their father as they last knew him, but rather have "summoned" John Winchester from the past. The episode is vague about what exact point in time John is plucked from, but the dialogue makes clear that, in this John's timeline, Sam has left for college and Dean is hunting alongside his father, indicating a period shortly prior to Supernatural's first season.
What follows is a series of heartfelt conversations that give fans exactly what they wanted from Jeffrey Dean Morgan's return to the show: a sense of closure. Dean finally gets to show his Dad the excellent hunter he grew into and is visibly delighted to hear John express his pride. Sam, meanwhile, is able to put to rest the heated argument he had with his father over pursuing an academic education and law career. John apologies for trying to stop Sam chasing his goals, Sam apologizes in return and claims to know that John only ever did his best. The boys have put many demons to rest during Supernatural's 14 seasons, but these are undoubtedly two of the biggest.
The boys' mother, Mary, is also gifted the opportunity for emotional resolution. The last time John saw Mary, she was being burned alive by the Yellow-Eyes demon and died without John ever knowing her true background as a hunter. It was hardly a fitting farewell for a couple so deeply in love and while their reunion was brief, "Lebanon" allowed Mary to finally say a meaningful, less fiery, farewell to her husband.
Unfortunately, John didn't benefit quite as much. As expected, Morgan's return was short-lived and his character's displacement in time is seen causing untold complications in the Supernatural timeline. The episode did, however, also make it clear that upon returning home, John would not remember any of what transpired during his time in the future and, sure enough, Morgan's character is snapped back into his own timeline, happily babbling about a pleasant dream he just had.
This cruelly robs John of all the relationship development he experienced with his family in the Bunker. The satisfaction of making amends with Sam, of knowing Dean will become a top-class hunter and of being able to say a proper goodbye to Mary is all snatched away and, knowing that John will soon sacrifice himself to save Dean's life, the aura of tragedy around the character grows exponentially.
While it certainly brings a lump to the throat, this is actually no bad thing. Supernatural's early stories are built upon unresolved family tension, doggedly seeking revenge and endless bloodshed and to rewrite this by having John meet (and remember) his family in 16 years time would make the show's origins far less interesting. Crucially, it's the tragedy of John Winchester's character that makes his sons' future prosperity all the sweeter.
Supernatural season 14 continues with "Ouroboros" March 7th on The CW.