The things I like:
To start off, I really like the opening montage showing Sam and Dean living their separate lives. The intercut blended in nicely with one another. In some sense, their activities almost mirrored each other, similar yet opposite, showing Dean hunting alone while Sam domesticating. So, the question is: how well are the boys adapting to their new lives?
I learned (thanks to ckll) there was a deleted sequence where Dean and Sam each thought they saw one another in their separate surroundings. Dean in the parking lot saw the backside of a tall man and Sam in the bar spotted a man wearing a leather jacket. Each of them had a moment of happiness thinking the other has come for him, only to realize later it was an illusion. I would have loved to see this scene, however I don't think it's detrimental to leave it out either. Even without this anvilicious display, it was pretty obvious that although the boys were making a valiant effort in adjusting to their life alone, they missed each other deep down, especially Dean.
Yes, I see Dean flounder with Sam's absence here. That boy probably could write a book on self denial and snarky façade. However, I don't buy for a second of what he claimed at the end. I was not blind to the furtive glance Dean cast toward the empty seat while driving alone, nor was I immune to the wistful look he bore after he said he was happier without Sam. At the risk of repeating myself, I want to point out how exquisite I think Jensen Ackles portrays his alter ego here. Dean says one thing, but his eyes telegraph something else entirely.
On the other hand, I don't think what Dean said was a total lie either. I do believe he had more fun hanging out with Cas than he had with Sam in a long time. And why not? At this point, Cas is a friend, nothing more, nothing less. They have the camaraderie and none of the baggage. So spending time together is easy. I think it's high time Dean has a friend of his own, someone outside of his family, someone more or less his peer. Angel or not, Cas in so many ways is on the same footing as Dean. Both were entrusted with a charge, both were made into soldiers early on, and both have or had absent fathers. Their friendship is inevitable, and it provides a much needed outlet for Dean besides his family.
With that being said, there is no way Cas can replace Sam for Dean. Because their relationship is light, it lacks the gut wrenching, heart pounding intensity Sam shares with Dean. Besides, Sam is family. While it's healthy for Dean to realize he shouldn't be chained to his family, the love he has for it is nevertheless ingrained in him. It's a part of him, it defines who he is, and I don't think he is able to shut it off even though he is feeling hurt. I can see that Dean was still struggling with Sam's betrayal at the end here. It's understandable. But I'm confident he would be able to put it behind him soon, largely because Sam would step up.
This is an all around good episode for Sam. On the shallow side, he looked very pretty quietly brooding in his corner. While trying to lead a civilian life, Sam continues to deal with his guilt at starting the Apocalypse. But he cannot escape the world gone haywire around him. It's nice to see that when faced with a possible hunt, his first instinct was to call Dean. This tells me Dean was never too far away from Sam's thoughts. However I'm a little disheartened when he called Bobby instead. Was Sam upset at Dean for not staying with him? Or was he afraid of rejection from his brother? I couldn't quite work out why he avoided talking to Dean here.
The biggest triumph for Sam of course, was his display of strength by not ingesting the demon blood forced upon him. When those yahoo hunters drew out that vial of demon blood, Sam looked at it fearfully. He knew the blood still had a powerful pull on him. So it was all the more compelling when Sam spit it out in the end. How far has he overcome already! Flawed as he may be, Sam possesses the faculty to make the right choice. When it comes down to it, I think that's what matters.
One of the most important things we learned in this episode is that Sam is the destined true vessel for Lucifer. Can't say I'm particularly surprised by it. But Kripke pulled a fast one on me with the introduction of poor Nick. Turned out Nick is only a red herring. This fixed a retcon caused by the reveal of Dean being the one and only "Michael Sword" (while we know Castiel at least had two vessels) -- it's now canon that angels can have multiple vessels after all, but only one of them is the most potent.
"I will never lie to you..." Lucifer cooed to Sam. But that in itself is a lie. It's true Lucifer may speak the truth, but he lies by omission. For all that Lucifer said what Sam is born *intended* to be, he neglected to acknowledge it's Sam's choice that would make the difference in the end. He also wouldn't allow Sam the hope of redemption. It maybe cliché to say this, but nobody is born and set in a certain way, not even the good 'ole Lucy himself who started out as a full fledged angel. So Sam may have the darkness in him (who doesn't actually), I believe he also has the fortitude to subvert it.
Resist Lucifer Sam must do, just as Dean must refuse Michael as well. Another thing we learned in this episode is that having powerful angels like Lucifer and Michael ride their bodies would not bode well for Sam and Dean. Judging by the near brain-dead state of Raphael's vessel and Castiel's warning it would be far worse for Dean, I'm not even sure the brothers would be alive should they allow the Devil and the Archangel take over their bodies.
The things I don't like:
Despite the engaging humor Dean/Castiel dynamic offered (I'm sure I'm not the only one to say Jensen and Misha have an awesome chemistry here), I find their story arc of trapping the Archangel Raphael rather weak. Dean really did seem like a bullet shield here. I don't see why Castiel needed his help at all except with interviewing a witness. Did Castiel's plan also involve Dean using his smart alec mouth to piss off Raphael? Because it seems to me that's all Dean did here, or possibly was able to do while facing off the archangel.
It's quite possible I'm missing something important here, but I don't get why Castiel lit the circle of oil before Raphael showed up back in the hospital. If the holy fire is supposed to prevent the archangel pass through, how were they able to trap him if the archangel couldn't even get inside the circle when he finally arrives? Since Raphael took possession of his vessel, I'm guessing he arrived after the oil all burned up. Still, there must be remnants of the fire lingering, so how did Raphael not have a clue what was up Castiel and Dean's proverbial sleeve? For an archangel, Raphael appeared quite ineffectual. Except the pretty impressive electric currents and flying sparks, Raphael was anti climatic, considering Castiel had thought he would die facing off the dude.
Then there was the ghost of Jessica. Don't get me wrong, I have no objection against the actress or the clever use of her character in the story line. But as fleshflutter wittily pointed out in her succulent episode response, her wardrobe is trite. There's gotta be a standing joke on Supernatural that whenever a woman wears an all white gown, something nasty is bound to happen to her: she's either going to burn to death on a ceiling, mind whammied to jump off a bridge/dam, made into a demonic martyr (quite an oxymoron), or used as the avatar for the Devil himself in her lover's dream!
My score for the episode: C+
Dean: "You were wasted by a Teenage Mutant Ninja Angel?"
Dean: "So what? I'm Thelma and you are Louise, we are just gonna hold hands and sail off the cliff together?"
A small Dean centric picspam:
Here's the reason this review is late in coming. Besides Sam, Dean also looked especially pretty here. So I made some logoless screencaps featuring him. These are samples from the batch (click on the picture for hires):
And here's the link to the rest of the Dean centric screencaps (1280x720) in case anyone is interested.