I feel like forever since I've done this but…*deep breath*
Holy fuck! What an episode! What a ride!
I can't remember an episode that had me SO nervous and on the edge of my seat. I was totally taken on that journey. Even though I KNEW they would both be ok I was still so damn worried! At no point in the episode I could imagine where they were going or how they were going to resolve it.
And I actually cried. Cried! I really felt Sam's death and Dean's utter desperation and loss. I confess I haven't always felt that over their deaths - probably not since Swan Song have I felt a real sadness. Even though I knew Sam would be ok, it was the way it was done and Dean's incredible reaction that made it feel so damn sad and real.
The episode was so wonderfully constructed. I'm not always a fan of showing us what happens in the future and then going back (I actually did a little sigh when the "48 hours earlier" came up), but the cutting between the future and present was so tight and beautifully paced I was totally sucked into it.
The directing was sharp (congrats to new director Nina Lopez-Corrado) and the acting was top notch. I felt Jensen gave one of his best performances in a while (ok, he's always solid but the emotion was well controlled and fucking deep), Jared balanced the enormous amount of hurt with awesome kick-assery and Erin Way as Michelle was a standout guest star - giving a nuanced performance that beautifully reflected what was going on in Dean. The writing was inspired! Berens and Dabb made for a great partnership. More please you guys!
But it was the Epic Love Story of Sam and Dean that was the star of this episode. Possibly not since Mystery Spot have they written that story so well in one episode. I mean, the "love story" is constant and is seen over long periods (and in the climaxes of the season finales), but rarely all in one episode. This episode not only captured their love but actually delved into what that love is about and highlighted why it is so deep.
Since S8 I have been made to question their love for each other - as in, how "healthy" is it, is it damaging etc. We've been shown a Sam and Dean who have been willing to hurt the other (and the world) in order to keep each alive. They've appeared selfish and overly co-dependant. Even downright mean. I remember actually writing once that they would be better off apart at one point (argh!) It always felt like the Show was making some sort of deep comment about their relationship, but as S10 ended it looked like there was never really a comment to be had - they were just using their relationship as a way to build tension and create angst and drama.
Now, in S11, they seem to have turned that corner and instead of exploring their relationship in a negative way they've started to explore it more meaningful and positive way - as in, looking at their love and need for each other in a way that doesn't compromise their characters.
This episode explored the layers of their relationship without being either melodramatic or shallow. When Dean saw Sam dead what flooded through my mind was how is Dean going to carry on the fight without the only person who has been through everything (everything!) with him. Sure, it explored Dean's need for Sam to be alive (as many episodes have) but it really struck me this time why Dean needs Sam to be alive. It's no longer just "look out for Sam" but rather "How do I go on in this life? How do I keep going? How do I continue to fight? Who would I turn to? Who would I talk to? Laugh with? Cry with?" Somehow (and maybe I read into it more than was there?) this episode made me really understand the complete need they have for each other. How the other keeps them sane, keeps them fighting, keeps them strong. I know this isn't new to the show at all (Sam's first death in AHBL brought much of that home, as did Dean's deaths in Mystery Spot) but it's been so long since I've really felt the Show has understood that. Or taken that angle. Perhaps it was Jensen's performance or maybe it was the way Sam "died" (horrifically and unfairly) - I don't really know what it was, but boy whatever it was it worked for me.
I also loved that Dean was allowed to be Dean. He was allowed to feel the devastation of Sam's death and be determined to bring him back, but not at the expense of some of his core values. One of the strongest moments was when Dean left "dead" Sam in order to help the survivors. This felt like an amazingly (positive) step for Dean, in that he actually attended to people outside of Sam for that moment. He allowed Sam to be dead so he could help those in direct need. He always knew he'd be back, but also fulfilled the "saving people" part of the bumper sticker. I was very proud of him!
I'm sure many felt that there should have been a hug somewhere in the episode - and I thought there would have been one, but I'm actually glad it didn't happen. We didn't need it to know how Dean felt. There was a moment at the end - when Sam collapsed in the hospital - that I thought Dean would rush to Sam and hug him. But instead he just looked at him and soaked up the fact that he was alive. The relief, the love, the admiration was all there (did I mention one of Jensen's best performances?). Also, Dean's "what took you so long?" was perfect.
Then of course there was the Romeo and Juliet moment that had my heart racing and singing at the same time. Dean thinks Sam is dead so takes poison to kill himself too - only to find that Sam isn't actually dead. Luckily it didn't go the way of Romeo and Juliet - both dead (this time! Maybe that will be the way the show finally ends…).
And then finally Michelle speaks Dean's mind by saying she watched the man she loves dies and that there is no way she'll be normal again. Such an amazing line because it speaks of neither Sam or Dean being "normal" since they witnessed their first deaths of the other - Sam in AHBL and Dean in No Rest for the Wicked. They are not normal - never will be.
I haven't spoken much about Sam because even though he was amazing (Sam FUCKING Winchester for the win!) this was a Dean centric episode. It was about him and Sam being dead. It was about not being able to let go, not being able to live without Sam. It was Billie's truth that Sam needs to be alive for him, not for Sam. A recurring theme, but better handled than it's been for a long time.
Though I do just have to mention Sam a bit *g* - he was fucking unstoppable! Shot, chocked, beaten and yet able to fight off the monsters AND save Dean. His determination to save Dean was just as fierce. And the hurt!Sam was OFF THE PLANET! Also - Sam's ability to cope with ridiculous amounts of pain is the result of being in the cage (head canon).
Love that Billie doesn't want to make deals. Though I do wonder what the death of Death has actually meant for the world (nothing it seems?).
So yeah, totally loved it! Definitely my favourite episode this season - might even be up there as one of my faves since S8!!