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            Tonight’s episode of Supernatural, “Goodbye Stranger,” was a real return to form. The episode was written by Robbie Thompson and directed by Thomas J. Wright. The episode had a mix of emotionally intense scenes, comedy, and action and both Thompson’s writing and Wright’s directing delivered on every note. I particularly loved all the great pop culture references in this episode, but it was the amount of detailed pulled from past episodes that really made this script and episode stand out for me. Wright’s direction of the action sequences was clear and his tight close ups during the more intense scenes insured that each character’s nuanced response was clearly conveyed.
             I’m actually going to start my reflections with the end of the episode. Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” is a favorite track of mine, so I was beyond thrilled when it came out of the Impala’s speakers. A really great classic rock song in my book – thank you show! It also helped to underscore the events of the episode as we see Cas (Misha Collins) leaving on a bus with the angel tablet. Part of me still holds out hope that Meg is still alive, but I fear that we finally have to say goodbye to her in this episode. It was, however a tour de force send off for the character. Rachel Miner did a wonderful job and subtly portrayed a stunning number of facets to the character. She was truly the demon we loved to almost hate. I’m also holding out some hope that even if she is dead, because her last act was to save Sam, she won’t have to go back to Hell and somehow we’ll see her again.
             The episode begins seemingly in media res with Dean (Jensen Ackles) stalking through a warehouse apparently alone. Suddenly, Cas comes out of nowhere and kills him. And then Naomi (Amanda Tapping) reveals herself, and we have confirmation that her “re-training” of Cas has very sinister implications. The lengths to which she has gone to are chillingly illustrated as the camera pulls back to reveal hundreds of dead Deans strewn over the warehouse floor. Collins is also outstanding in this episode as he moves from being essentially tortured by Naomi to flirting with Meg to being essentially an assassin for Naomi.
            The second scene has us back in the Bunker. Dean is apparently inventorying the weapons while Sam (Jared Padalecki) is searching for a new case. Dean is thrilled when he finds a vintage copy of “Voluptuous Asian Ladies” – no doubt the precursor to his favorite porn: Busty Asian Beauties. This, of course, is only the first porn reference in the episode as Meg and Cas later flirt over the “pizza man” – a reference to the porn that Cas first watches in the episode “Caged Heat” from season six. It’s in that episode that Cas first kisses Meg. 
             Sam has found a hunt, and after some hilarious banter over how long Dean wants to spend with Miss October, they head out. In fact, the brotherly bond was very much in evidence in this episode, and it was particularly nice to see the brothers much more back on the same track by the end of the episode. It was, of course, ironic when Dean calls a coughing Sam Doc Holliday as Holliday died of tuberculosis which causes people to cough up blood, just as Sam is coughing up blood.  Sam is still denying anything is wrong, but Dean happens to find the bloody Kleenex in the garbage.
            In the midst of the investigation, Castiel suddenly shows up and saves Sam and Dean from the demons that are attacking them. Ackles delivers some of his best work so far this season in this episode. It begins with Dean’s delight in finding the old porn magazine which feels a lot like the Dean of season one or two who could take delight in the simple pleasures, including tormenting his brother by making him uncomfortable. But we also see the Dean who has lost so many and clearly cherishes the ones he’s got left, and the stunned, emotion-filled close-up of Dean’s face epitomizes all those things when Cas suddenly appears. Dean realizes that Cas has heard him praying and simply not answered. Sam meanwhile is stunned that Dean has been praying. Padalecki’s performance in the episode is also a season high.
            The numerous fast cuts between Cas with the brothers and Naomi, getting directions and advice create the same sense of unease and disorientations that the character is also obviously feeling. I loved when the brothers are discussing their concern over Cas’s behaviour and he points out to them from the other room that he’s a celestial being and can therefore hear everything they’re saying. Another great moment is when the brothers show up to rescue Meg and she tells them they’re short for Storm Troopers.  Sam has long been cast as Luke from Star Wars and Dean as Han, and hilariously neither could ever be described as short! Meg, of course, is now forever cast as Luke/Sam’s sister Leia, who also possessed latent power. It’s one of Supernatural’s most intriguing abilities that it can imbue a seemingly off hand pop culture reference with so much meaning. 
             Miner and Collins bring a whole new level to the characters in the scene where Cas tends to Meg’s wounds. Against all odds, these two seemingly opposite creatures, an angel and a demon, are nonetheless drawn to each other. It seems to be intimated that more has passed between them, perhaps when Meg tended to Cas in the insane asylum in season seven, than the audience has been privy to. The scene allows us to see a side of these characters we really haven’t seen before. The fact that these facets of them are unknown to both the viewer and the other characters make Meg and Cas in some ways strangers to those around them and resonates with the title of the episode “Goodbye Stranger” – we say goodbye to Meg and Cas says goodbye to both the brothers and Naomi. 
             The climax of the episode has the group finding Lucifer’s Crypt and the angel tablet. Dean refuses to let Sam go in because he’s not at 100% and Cas confirms that Sam is now so damaged that even he can’t fix it. This raises the question of whether Sam is going to be able to survive the trials. Dean’s first concern is that the damage is “lethal.” In the end, Dean leaves the demon-killing knife with Sam and Meg while Dean and Cas go after the tablet. Meg is almost as mad at Sam for not looking for her as Dean was. Apparently Crowley spent the entire year torturing her. Sam tells her about Amelia, and Meg points out that she knows Sam better than anyone because she was in him. And here’s another thing I love about this show: its continuity. Meg is, of course, referring to the episode “Born Under a Bad Sign” in which Meg possessed Sam. She is in a unique position to know his deepest desires and she confirms that Sam’s deepest wish is to live a long, normal life. Of course, Meg also fixates on the fact that it was hitting the dog that was the catalyst for Sam really stepping away from the life and refers to Amelia as a “unicorn” – something we know Sam has been reluctant to believe in in the past.
             Meanwhile, Dean and Cas have found the tablet, and Naomi orders Cas to kill Dean and take the tablet. Dean realizes that something is amiss when Cas wants him to hand over the tablet and suddenly Cas’s struggles to resist Naomi start to be visible to Dean. Dean once more pleads for one of the people closest to him to simply tell him the truth. He tells Cas if he tells Dean how he got out of Purgatory, Dean will give him the tablet. Cas pleads for Dean’s life with Naomi even as she is forcing him to beat Dean. Cas insists he “won’t hurt Dean,” as Dean urges him to “fight it.” This scene really reminded me of the final scene in season five’s “Swan Song” when Lucifer in Sam’s body is beating Dean to death. Once more, Dean is the willing sacrifice to his “brother.” He tells Cas, “this isn’t you. I know you’re in there. I’m family. I need you.” And also once again, it boils down to family for Dean. It’s telling that Dean is able to tell Cas that he needs him. It certainly wasn’t entirely clear to me what actually broke the spell with Naomi and allowed Cas to break free, whether it was Dean’s pleas or touching the angel tablet or a combination of the two. Cas heals Dean even as Dean flinches away from him. Cas then tells Dean that he has to protect the tablet from both Naomi AND Dean. I’m dying to know why he feels he needs to protect the tablet from Dean – though I suppose it could be as simple as knowing that Dean might want to lock the angels and demons away if given the chance as angels have never been a particular force for good in the brothers’ lives either. Both Ackles and Collins are outstanding in this scene.
            Meanwhile, Crowley (Mark Sheppard) has shown up, and Meg tells Sam to escape while she holds him off. It’s always a joy to watch Sheppard bring Crowley to life. If Meg really is dead, I will truly miss the chemistry between Miner and Sheppard trading barbs. One of the big surprises in the episode was discovering that Naomi and Crowley have a history. This almost felt like it could be the kind of connection shared by Meg and Cas. We finally are getting to see a little more of Amanda Tapping. She is a terrific actor, and I am waiting for her to get a lot more to do as we head into the final episodes of the season – she certainly has the capacity to be another great villain – she’s been pretty creepy so far. 
             The final scene between the brothers really saw them come back together. Dean tells Sam that “he can’t take any more lies from anyone,” and Sam finally confesses that he’s sorry, he just wanted to believe he’d be ok. And in what will forever be a new classic Supernatural moment for me, Dean tells Sam, “I may not be able to carry the burden, but I can carry you,” echoing the words of Sam Gamgee to Frodo Baggins, the bearer of the ring, in The Lord of the Rings. And then Supertramp comes on the radio.
            I’ve felt the last few episodes were a bit weak, but this episode focused on characters that we viewers have a history with and drew on that history to point us toward the end of the season. There were terrific performances from everyone in this episode. Both the direction and the writing were also excellent. I can’t wait to find out where Cas is going with the tablet and how the brothers will handle the next trial. Naomi is far from done with either Cas or the brothers, and I’m sure we’ll learn more about her mysterious past with Crowley. What did you think of the episode? Are you excited about the run to the finale? Let me know in the comments below.

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