Everyone in the fandom is well aware that this is Jensen's third foray in directing. I gotta be honest: I like this one the best for no other reason than Dean is in almost every scene. Pretty impressive considering he's joggling two demanding roles at the same time. But Jensen seems quite poised in both crafts. Most of the time, I wasn't even conscious of the fact that it wasn't a seasoned director behind the camera. Once I "unstuck" my mind from the visual admiration loop, I appreciated the episode as one of the better told MotW episodes in recent years.
But I didn't get the story at the first go. This was because I can be quite shallow at times. Dean in a white dress shirt with open collar was quite distracting. Dean in the said shirt telling Sam with an adorable smile that he bought an app for his smartphone put hearts in my eyes. Dean getting manhandled by two burly men and straddled by a hot chick (who was really a male Mayan warrior in spirit) sent my brain AWOL. Phew, thank goodness for replay. I had to watch it twice to actually catch the plot.
Then again, speaking of the plot, the official synopsis I read beforehand sucked:
Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) investigate a string of unusual murders where the victims were all recipients of organs from the same donor. The killer is captured, but things become even more complicated when the brothers find their killer in a trance mumbling an ancient prayer.
That was another reason why I was confused at first. I kept thinking the victims were the organ recipients, and I didn't get the connections between the killers and the dead athlete, who I thought was a "HOUSE" at first (really? "Brick Holmes"?! The writers sure have a quirky sense of humor.) When it got to the part where Randa and those two guys wanted to cut out Dean's heart, I was like: wait, when did Dean receive an organ transplant? Was it back in season one when he got a new heart? But that unwitting dude didn't donate his other organs, did he? Yeah, not gonna trust anything I read lest I watched the show with my own eyes. And even that, things can be misleading.
What I'm referring to, of course, is with respect to Sam. I'm not going to be an apologist for Sam. In fact, I was even blasé toward the character for the past two seasons. But here, three episodes in, I hesitate to jump on the "hate!Sam" bandwagon because I still don't believe what we see is what we get.
When Sam said to Dean in the car that maybe Dean is better off without him, after the initial gut wrenching punch I felt on Dean's behalf, a wild thought struck me: OMG! Sam actually believed that. I can't say for sure if it was Jared's delivery, or if it was my wishful thinking, but I detected a note of sourness behind that declaration, and that got me thinking: what if the reason Sam didn't look for Dean (if that was indeed the case) was because Sam didn't know Dean needed his help? After all, from Sam's perspective, he didn't know what happened to Dean. What if someone convinced him Dean took off on his own with Cas and left him behind? I know Sam would have to be pretty gullible to believe Dean would abandon him, but I do think Sam has proved to be more manipulable in the past. And this scenario is certainly easier for me to swallow than the one where Sam just turned his back on Dean in time of need to pursue his own happiness.
Especially when that "happiness" involved Amelia. I admit I have no love lost for the unprofessional vet. I very much hope she turns out to be as manipulative as she appeared in glimpse. I've only read spoilers saying she lost someone she cared about, and that's why Sam connected with her. But what if she lost her loved one(s) to the Winchesters, and she's out for revenge? What if she set out to entrap Sam and "poison" his mind for her own nefarious reason? That would explain why she behaved so erratically as a veterinarian when we first saw her. Also that shadowy figure outside her house where Sam was staying was not my imagination. Something fishy is going on here. I wasn't quite sure at first why Sam left her and headed to the secluded cabin in the dead of night: was it because one of the many messages Dean left for him finally got through? But the more I think about this, the more likely I think Sam didn't know Dean was in the cabin. Question is then, why did Sam need to get away from her?
I also have a hard time believing that Sam quit hunting this whole time. I don't buy it that the backward Latin Sam recited to trap the demon back in the host was done on the fly. Something that complicated surely required practice. Lots of it. But if Sam kept hunting, why did he tell Dean otherwise? I don't have problem with the boys keep secrets from each other. They are grown men after all. But I'm interested in exploring why they felt they needed to maintain those secrecies.
So I'm holding off on judging Sam because I don't know all the stories yet. But this is not to say I wasn't irritated when Sam explained "Far-Mer's Market" to Dean in the beginning. No matter how I look at it, I think it was in poor taste for Sam to rub in Dean's face the "good things" he enjoyed while Dean was gone after he learned Dean was in fact stuck in a place that was "bloody, messy, 31 flavors of bottom dwelling nasties" the whole time. I can't say this was entirely out of character because I think Sam can be a tad haughty at times. I guess this was one of those times.
One of the things I most enjoyed watching from this episode was that brief scene involving two Ackles. How I wish we get to see Detective Pike again in the future! It was quite thrilling to see Alan Ackles faces off Jensen Ackles. If I hadn't known better, I would not have thought they are father and son in real life. But if Jensen inherited his looks from his mother, I can see he got some of his acting talents from his father. I loved the little stares they traded at the end of their scene after Detective Pike declared he was not going to "shoot" a suspect based on thin evidence: Pike's eyes were frank and challenging, while Dean's eyes assessing and vulnerable as if he realized that's what he would've done. This couple of seconds of a scene goes a long way in emphasizing Dean's current head-space, and both Ackles did a terrific job here.