It's virtually impossible for any long-running television series to not churn out the odd dud episode, and even Supernatural, one of the most beloved cult hits of the past decade, isn't above this curse.
Neither are Sam and Dean above curses, either. Especially of the insect variety. If you're a fan, you know what's coming: we're talking about Season 1's "Bugs," the worst of the worst when it comes to Supernatural's weakest stories from its 14-year run.
Among fan and critical discussions alike, "Bugs" is infamous as being the biggest blemish on the show's otherwise consistently crowd-pleasing record. A status confirmed by its measly 7.0/10 on IMDb -- the second lowest-rated episode of the series. The only episode rated lower is the ninth season outing, "Bloodlines," which was a backdoor pilot for a failed spinoff attempt. This isn't to say, of course, that "Bugs" is the worst 40 or so minutes of television you'll ever see in your life but, for a show with such a good batting average in the eyes of its core audience, it misses the mark on almost every level.
So, just what is it about "Bugs" that makes it especially bad? On paper, the episode's framework is like that of most Supernatural episodes: Sam and Dean hear about a suspicious death, they go and investigate it, deal with an unresolved tension in their relationship while they're there, and then figure out whatever evil power is behind the situation.
In its earlier seasons, Supernatural dealt heavily in urban legend, but in doing so, it always tried to subvert stale folk tales; as a result, it used our collective cultural knowledge against us. But when the root of the problem in "Bugs" is revealed to be a Native American curse -- one that riles the insects around a housing development into attacking its modern white settlers -- the show plays the cliché straight.
It's possible that the message here is one of decolonization, and therefore having Sam and Dean remove the supposedly permanent curse would undercut this. However, this also means that what we end up with is a climax that amounts to little more than Sam, Dean and a frightened real estate agent and his family cowering in an attic, frantically swatting at bees. (For comparison, The X-Files made the concept of being trapped in a confined space amidst angry insect attacks truly terrifying over a decade before.)
The subplot of the episode is clunky, too. Sam finds common ground with the estate agents' bug-obsessed teenage son who reminds him of his own difficult upbringing during which he longed for normality. Instead, Sam was forced to do things like tske "bow-hunting" lessons by a father who he never saw eye-to-eye with. "Bow-hunting is an important skill," Dean, the golden Winchester child, objects when this complaint comes to the fore. Supernatural has always excelled in its character-driven storytelling, but "Bugs" telegraphs the brother's backstory without an ounce of subtlety.
When we say "everyone" hates "Bugs," we're including those behind the camera as well as those who sat at home watching the disappointing results. In a video uploaded to YouTube in 2015 from "Denvercon" -- one of the show's many fan-oriented pilgrimages -- stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are asked about their most "awkward things" to film.
They first reminisce about Padalecki's refusal to finish filming a scene from "Yellow Fever" -- a fan-favorite episode -- in which a huge snake worms its way down Dean's body because Padalecki was too freaked out by the animal. The irony in the anecdote is that Ackles, unable to escape, was the one whose character was afflicted by what was essentially a scaredy-cat curse, combined with a reversal of the heart-bursting concept behind the Jason Statham movie, Crank.
"Yeah, I didn't like that," Ackles concludes. "Or the bees." There's a groan from the audience. Though an episode title is never mentioned, it's a safe assumption given Ackles' description that "Bugs" is the culprit.
"We walk in [to the set]," says Ackles, "and all of the crew have bee outfits on. Guess what? Sam and Dean don't get to wear bee outfits. And then [to] the bee wrangler, on the day of shooting, I'm like, 'How many are we talking here? Like, a couple of hundred?' And he's like, 'There's actually 60,000."
He goes on to say that the "bee wrangler" assured them they'd be fine as long as they didn't agitate the insects, which was completely useless advice considering Ackles was supposed to be firing off blasts from a makeshift flamethrower in the scene. Did they get stung? Absolutely. And to add insult to bee stings, the creatures didn't show up well enough on film, so the entire swarm was replaced by a CGI one in post-production, making Ackles and Padalecki's perseverance all for naught.
While the pair clearly had a terrible time making the episode, neither comment on its quality, which is unsurprising given their joint goodwill ambassador status for the show. No, that honor actually goes to Chuck Shurley, who not only serves as the Earthly voice, face and body of Supernatural's God, but for one brief moment in Season 4, as the voice of the writers, too.
In "The Monster at the End of This Book," Sam and Dean track down Chuck to find out how the shut-in writer's series of Supernatural novels so closely mirrors their own "real" exploits. As Chuck begins to get over the shock of being confronted by his own creations, he apologizes for putting the boys through such "horrors." And worst of all, making them "live through bad writing," specifically name-checking "the bugs."
Not only are Supernatural's writers aware of Sam and Dean slash fiction, which is also name-checked in the episode, but they're also aware of which episodes didn't score with the fanbase -- and aren't afraid to echo that feeling.
We did get one good thing out of "Bugs," though: Dean is a closet Oprah fan.