I really wasn't expecting this season to be a complete reboot of the series, but I'm actually pretty okay with it. It makes more sense the longer I think about it. The end of S5 was the culmination of its own story. Over the course of five seasons Sam and Dean figured out how to be brothers again, developed an incredibly deep bond, moved heaven and earth to protect that bond, and in doing so came close to turning on each other and breaking it completely. But they didn't, and in the last episode all that shared history and dedication and world-imploding love went out in a blaze of glory.
It wouldn't really make sense to try to pick up right after that, because there's nowhere to go FROM that. When you think of the entire series as an exploration of Sam and Dean's relationship ("the epic love story of Sam and Dean", as Sera Gamble said), having that relationship SAVE THE UNIVERSE kind of leaves you without anything else to explore. But by completely leveling everything that had been built and starting from scratch we're given the opportunity to see that relationship unfold again, and watch the two of them go from complete strangers with no common ground to the soul-selling, oath-swearing, brain-sharing Butch & Sundance dynamic duo they were at their peak.
And really, it's the journey that's delicious, not the destination. We can all be pretty sure that the final note of this story will be the two of them back in sync, so in a way we're looking at reliving S1 and S2 -- where the Big Bad Monster was secondary to the relationship it was igniting. It took Sam and Dean a long time to relearn each other and get over past betrayals ("If I'da called, would you have picked up?"), but it was that process of fitting back together that made the show so wonderful to watch. Every time the one who scored the Damsel of the Week got back in the car with his brother, every time there was a prank war/mistaken for gay moment, every little, "I know what you're thinking, Sam: why did it have to be clowns? Heh, you didn't think I'd remember, did you?" reference to their shared past, every time they demonstrated their incredible mental connection by communicating via Ouija board or doing synchronized anagrams from different holding cells -- that was all squee- inducing because it wasn't taken for granted that they were literally soulmates who thought nothing of going to Hell for each other. It was all wonderful because it was part of the upswing that culminated in Dean's deal; after that point, their love was so well established that it allowed for the writers to pick at it and punch holes in it.
Now that they are completely estranged and the distance between them stems from a very personal, S1-esque betrayal of trust ("you let me think you were dead and built a new life without me," is very different than, "I sold my soul for you and you started drinking demon blood"), it only seems logical that this season is going to be about building rather than destroying a brotherly bond.
ALL THAT ASIDE, there's a lot of good stuff in this episode, but it requires some reading between the lines to appreciate.
The parallel imagery here really says it all. I like how many subtle reminders we get that life in suburbia is not all that it seems, in addition to the outright, "I drank too much; I had nightmares," exposition. Dean is still the master of the Game Face.
Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, this montage hit me like a fist to the gut. I hadn't realized it would be so weird to see suburban Dean (since I was obviously expecting some of that), but I found the whole thing incredibly, overwhelmingly jarring. Which I'm sure was their intent; I'm just surprised it worked so well. When you read fic, you kind of become desensitized to the characters being thrown in bizarre scenarios, but nothing could have prepared me for actually having Soccer Mom Dean become part of canon. DEAN! The renegade who had it made (or at the very least, a wayward son) being the beautiful loser. So stripped down and taken so far out of his element. Wearing freakin' track pants.
I've seen some people mention that it felt weird for Sam and Bobby to assume that Dean was happier with this kind of life, since Sam was always the one who wanted to get out, but we did hear Dean say several times in the last few seasons that he was tired and exhausted and ready to quit. But that's just how Dean operates -- he doesn't ever put his personal desires ahead of his sense of duty, and I think Sam's absolutely right that he would have immediately jumped back in the Impala if he knew Sam were alive. Thwarted apocalypse or no, hunting is the family business. He wouldn't have cut himself the slack of settling down if it hadn't been Sam's dying wish, because the only thing that trumps Dean's dedication to John is his dedication to Sam. I'm actually really curious about how John's memory fits into all of this for Dean, and how he's able to juggle the weight of so many posthumous expectations from his family.
LOL, what? This jumped out at me on my first viewing, and I'm still trying to figure out what it's doing there. Is it some kind of joke about Sam's taste in music being nightmarish to Dean? THAT SEEMS PRETTY OUT THERE, BUT IDGI. Is he just seeing reminders of Sam everywhere?
This was right up there with Dean's, "Cas, are you God?" moment from the S5 finale in terms of causing weepies. He wakes up to the sight of his brother and literally believes he has died and gone to Heaven. The whole concept of the afterlife is kind of whatever in a show where the characters have been to both Heaven and Hell, but it says so much about Dean that even after his year of domesticity Sam is still unquestionably the light at the end of his tunnel.
Sam's behavior definitely seems to point to him being the same PTSD post-Hell mess that Dean was in S4. The only difference being that Dean had the responsibility of keeping his game face on for Sam's sake, whereas Sam spent the last year around people who didn't expect anything from him. He's had time to settle into life without emotion, and seems to behave with the kind of hollowed-out disinterest Dean tried to hide the last two seasons. I keep thinking of how Dean wasn't susceptible to Famine's influence because he was already dead inside; in that context, Sam's going-through-the-motions reaction to seeing Dean again makes a lot of sense. He's never been a care-giver the way Dean has, and never been in the position of repressing what he feels to spare someone else. It's not in his nature to fake it, so he doesn't.
I'm curious to see if they make good on the, "What if what you brought back isn't really 100% Sam?" threat from four years ago. Not that I want Sam to actually be evil, but it would be interesting if his latent demonic powers had something to do with his ability to get out of the pit. The demons in S3 kept telling us they'd all been primed to follow Sam as their leader (~the Boy King~), so if he guzzled a bunch of demon blood and dove into Hell with Satan trapped in his brain... I mean, what's to say he didn't just walk out the front door? WHO KNOWS, IT'S POSSIBLE.
I actually really like how this relationship is being portrayed. I would have trouble swallowing the idea that Dean and Lisa are in love, because that would be extremely out of left field. She's represented his desire for a different, more normal life ever since he found out about Ben, but that's not about him loving her as a person. It doesn't seem like we're supposed to think that's what's happening here, though -- and she doesn't seem to think that, either. The understanding between them reminds me of the scenario where a man goes to war and returns broken, and the woman in his life has to accept that he isn't ever going to be whole again.
The only thing about the equation that confuses me is that we don't have an explanation for why Lisa can't do better. I almost get a Dexter/Rita vibe off the situation right now, except that she knows about his dark side; there's the same dynamic of a woman overlooking weird behavior because she just wants a solid, stable man to share her life and be a good father figure to her kid(s). But why can't Lisa find that somewhere else? She isn't emotionally damaged, and Dean isn't the father of her child. There seems to be a missing piece of the puzzle there.
One of the most interesting moments in this episode (for me) was when Dean confronts Sam and Bobby and says, "That woman and that kid. I went to them because you asked me to." It would have been so easy to say, "I went to Lisa and Ben because you asked me to," but instead he uses Bobby's phrasing and establishes a pointed emotional distance from his adopted family. It's a little thing, but so meaningful it felt like a slap in the face.
I love how quickly Dean shut these clowns down. Like, hi, I'm Dean Winchester and I'M A HE-RO, but thanks for playing. In a different season, that would have earned him one of Sam's amused little, "Yeah, that's my brother," huffs. Sister-cousin Randy Sue over there dug it, though.
Something about this storyline REALLY doesn't sit right with me, and I think it's that it just doesn't gel with other things we've come to understand about the hunter world. Part of what has always made Sam and Dean special is the fact that they were raised as hunters. They have never been civilians, were never given a choice, never tasted anything different. They've been doing it since they were children, so they are Simply the Best. The closest we've seen anyone come to that is Jo, growing up in a hunter bar, but even she had A) no field experience, B) a mother who actively pushed her to do something else, and C) presumably gone to public school and definitely went to college, living a relatively normal day-to-day life.
I can deal with Mary having also been raised as a hunter, but the notion that all of these vague cousins on her side of the family were also raised in hunting families? That's a bit much. If every Campbell (or almost every Campbell, giving exception to those like Mary) raised their children that way, how did John NEVER encounter one? Why did Mary's uncle (remember the one who got her a headstone, briefly referenced in CSPWDT?) and whoever else was apparently still alive let John pack up her kids and start hunting with no experience or help? When they found out Mary died in a fire of unknown origin, didn't their hunting radar go off a little?
And that's putting aside the inherent silliness of Grandpa Campbell coming back from the dead to assemble the Super Friends Hunter Network. Sooo many unanswered questions there, starting with: how would anyone other than Sam, Dean or Bobby ever get their heads around a loved one casually strolling back from the afterlife? It was well established in S4 that Dean was the first person to EVER get out of Hell without demonic intervention. Resurrection is old hat for the Winchesters, but it's not exactly a common occurrence. How did Grandpappy convince all of these hunters that he was the real deal, and that he was going to be their fearless undead leader? And since Sam wasn't around for the time-warp where Dean first met him, why would he ever believe this random guy was really his grandfather?
Effective set design is effective. Maybe all the yellow is just supposed to show the mental association Dean has with his grandfather and the YED, but we have those same mental associations and they're being teased out like crazy.
Something valiant pointed out to me during our rewatch is that this guy doesn't act like the Samuel Campbell we met before. That man was a badass of John Winchester proportions, who was cautious and skeptical and no-nonsense. ("I don't trust other hunters, Dean. Don't want their help; don't want them around my family.") Why was he dishing out hugs and being all genial? Why so cool with the fact his soul got ripped out its rightful place in Heaven while his wife and daughter are still dead? I assume since Bobby knew Sam was alive, he's met Team Campbell and checked them out... but then again, neither of them met Samuel before and have nothing to compare him against. MYSTERIOUS.
For me this was the absolute weirdest moment of the episode. I can't figure out how I'm supposed to take it. Last I checked, Sam's love for the Impala and everything it represented SAVED THE WORLD FROM SATAN. So why is he so dismissive about Dean offering it to him? And WHAT is that expression? Confusion? Pity? I guess it's all just part and parcel of his general detachment from everything, but his calm rejection of the Winchester Huntingmobile was definitely the thing that made me go, "Something is very wrong with Sam."
All in all, I'm pretty psyched to see where this goes. I'm really looking forward to learning how Castiel fits into this brave new world. I... can't believe I'm saying this, but I don't think it will really feel like SPN until he returns. WOAH WOW WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? He's just the only missing part of Team Free Will, and I suspect he's going to be instrumental in smooshing Sam and Dean back together again.
As per usual, I'm extremely spolier-free and intend to stay that way (I haven't even seen the promo for next week's episode), so please let me keep my willful ignorance about upcoming events!