My foremost thought was: "Oh my friggin' god! Finally Dean has a story line!" Seriously, I was disheartened by the glaring lack thereof last season. Sure, there was the time travel episode where Dean got to dress in spiffy 1940s garbs, accessorized with a Tommy Gun, and paired with a cool sidekick; but that was an one-off standalone episode; and for the rest of the time, Dean was very much relegated to the role of reflecting and reacting to what was going on with the other characters. When the development of the main reason that attracted me to the show got stale and insipid, I felt the show was getting old fast.
Thankfully season 8 started under a new show-runner--the returning veteran SPN writer Jeremy Carver. Right away, Dean returned with a bang! Or shall I say, in bright light, literally. I find the glimpses of Dean's time in and post Purgatory equally compelling. The shallowness in me couldn't help gushing at the way Dean's prettiness dirtied by blood, sweat, and mud. I must say Jensen Ackles has an uncanny ability for portraying badassery and vulnerability all at once. He also has great chemistry with any co-star he shares screen with. I once read someone commented to the extent that he probably will have chemistry with a potted plant. Jokes aside, I don't think that comment is too far off actually. In this case, Dean's chemistry with Benny lends credence to their relationship and made this new character interesting. Of course, Ty Olsson did a terrific job portraying the vampire, allowing glimpse of layers in the characterization. The funny thing is I only recognized the actor as "Captain Kelly" from Battlestar Galactica. It wasn't until I read others' comments that I found out he actually portrayed another vampire Eli on the show earlier. I had zero memory of that character. I must've not paid any attention to him back then. How could the same actor draw such contrasting impressions? The obvious explanation is the way the characters were written.
I love the symmetry of the hugs Dean gave Benny and Sam even though I can see some fans might object to the difference Dean reacted in these hugs, or the fact Dean hugged Benny the vampire at all. Correct me if I'm wrong, Dean was never comfortable at hugging anyone other than members of his family or extended family. So the full bodied contact with Benny here effectively demonstrated the camaraderie between the two. How did Dean come to regard the thing he hunted with vigor as "brother"? I'm intrigued. The breathtaking smile Dean flashed at the end of the hug is a testament to the pure joy he had for making out of Purgatory. In contrast, Dean looked so lost and hurt for a brief moment when he hugged Sam. This gave hints to the hardship Dean endured in the past year, and foreshadowed the struggle he would have in accepting the choices Sam made while Dean was stuck in a nether world. On a side note, I love the scene of Dean awkwardly staring at rows of snacks in a vending machine just before a flashback, and the scene in which Dean sat on the floor of the motel room despite much more comfortable seating options readily available. Both of these little details are evidence of Dean's current discomfort with topside's civil world. I really like the idea of Dean having difficulty readjusting to life in normalcy.
Speaking of Sam's choices, while it is true that I've struggled with staying engaged in the Sam-centric direction the show has taken for the past two seasons, and I may have lost interest in the character on its own (I may write a separate post to explain this later), I have to say that I don't buy it that Sam never looked for Dean after Dean vanished without a trace right in front of his eyes. Nope, not even a bit that I can believe Sam willingly abandoned his brother to his own fate. I think there is a story there that's more than what met the eyes. For example, who was that shadowy figure lurking outside of the house Sam shared with his ex-girlfriend? Did Sam know he was under mysterious surveillance? Did that have anything to do with Sam quit hunting? Also I don't think we ever got verbal confirmation from Sam that he didn't search high and low for Dean, did we? I think we all assumed, including Dean, that that was the case from Sam's silence and expression, but what was Sam not saying? Sam may have gone civilian for awhile, but I'm happy to see that synchronicity between the brothers was still there when called upon during the scene where Dean killed the Demon after Sam slipped him the knife. Whatever divergent paths the boys are thrown into, Dean and Sam will always come together in the end.
There was an element in the episode that I had problem with though. I really didn't like the way Sam's (ex)girlfriend was introduced. I find the vet annoyingly judgmental and unprofessional. She also appeared quite manipulative based on the way she guilt tripped Sam, whom she barely met and knew nothing about, to take in the dog. None of these traits endeared the character to me, and made me wonder why Carver wrote her like that? If it did turn out Sam gave up on Dean to settle in a life with the vet and the dog, at least the writer should write the girl less irritating, I would think.
Look wise, I think they did a good job at showing Purgatory. I like the color-splash like scenes where everything except leaves are shown in almost black and white. This in a way befits Dean's fascinating take on the place as being "pure". I can imagine there weren't many choices down there: hunt or being hunted, nothing else in between.
Soundtrack wise, I think Styx's "Man in the Wilderness" was an excellent choice when they showed Dean come back from Purgatory. No, I knew nothing of the song before this, and I have since downloaded it from iTune. If nothing else, Supernatural certainly expanded my music listening experience.
All in all, this is a satisfactory first episode of the season. I am now stoked. I can't wait to watch another new episode tonight!