This episode created a bit of both of those for me. So, ya know, nothing new really...;)
(this got rather long. Seems I had a bit to unpack...*oops*)
Such a mixed bag this one. Things to love, things to hate and things that made me go huh?
I'm not ranting or raving about it (I think the level of passion has burnt out after S9), but I am going to point out some things that I felt it lacked, and also the stuff I loved.
Before I start there is just something that needs to be quickly addressed. It has been troubling me and I'm not entirely sure how to reconcile it. Andrew Dabb (show runner) tweeted this before the episode aired:
Tonight on #Supernatural rock, romance, and reunions. Tune in!— Andrew Dabb (@andrewdabb) October 20, 2016
Initially I thought the rather strange "romance" might have been in connection to Lucifer's character, but it turns out it was referring to Sam and Toni's opening scene (I believe). That scene was difficult in itself (which I'll chat about later), but Dabb referring to it as "romance"? I can't decide if it was a deliberate tease (knowing the fandom would react rather strongly to the notion of romance on the show) or he actually considered that scene romantic? Maybe he was simply have "fun" with alliteration. Or maybe he was just trolling. Which ever way, it added a new level of wrong to it all for me.
Anyway. Moving on...
Stuff I loved:
I've tried not to have "hopes" for anything this season but I confess that I was secretly hoping that Mary would acknowledge that she started all this with her deal with YED. And she did!! It is such a huge part of the entire SPN universe. I am so glad to see it acknowledged. I loved that she admitted to being scared to face Sam (as she should - she effectively sold Sam). I was equally thrilled that Dean didn't make any excuses for it. It's a crucial part of Mary's character and keeps that level of depth about her (and, of course, that damn Winchester guilt will be there too).
Lucifer is back to being menacing and scary. Yay! I loved Rick Springfield's portrayal of him. I remember having a major crush on Rick when he first appeared as Apollo's brother in the original Battlestar Gallatica, so it's great to see him on my fave show - and doing so well. The special (creepy!) effects were also great. The way Lucifer healed his host suggests that he'll be able to do that when the body starts to deteriorate. I know that would be new canon, but at least it's been addressed. If it's a way to keep Rick as Lucifer I don't care what it takes. :)
Dean and Mary's discussion in the car was satisfying. Mary learning that Sam actually got out of the hunting life (and Dean telling her proudly about him going to Stanford) and then Dean's wonderful line "besides the car all we had in this world was each other". I am enjoying the way Dean is responding to Mary - happy to have her back, but not sure where he fits in now.
I LOVED the way Dean's own words to Sam "I'm the eldest you have to do what I say" were used against him to show Mary's place in the family now. She said it as a way of staking her claim as the "boss", which is going to be an interesting dynamic for Dean to deal with I suspect. She also took his "good talk". There's potential a lot to be explore here.
The final scene between Mary and Sam was a stand out for me. The performances were fantastic. And it felt honest. It was awkward and difficult, but it made sense in terms of who the characters are. Sam not sure how to act around his mom (but desperate to connect) and Mary feeling guilty but desperately trying to find her ground. Their hug quite possibly saved the entire episode for me (if there hadn't had been that hug I'm not sure the TV would have survived my rage...). Jared's performance brought tears to my eyes.
I also loved the final shots of Mary, Dean and Sam (I was honestly shocked that we had a Sam POV shot - but bloody happy we did). The Mary and Dean shots were focussing on the family (Mary learning about John and Dean reminiscing, maybe even contemplating losing his idealised vision of his mom) but Sam's shot was a bit more ambiguous. It could have been him reflecting on his torture (though I doubt it?) or about how he feels about Mary being back. I don't know, but I don't think it matters. I like that it's open to interpretation.
Crowley in a white tux
Sam finally getting out of that awful cellar
The way Sam looked at Dean when he said "I thought you were dead".
Stuff I didn't love so much
So here's the thing. S11 ended with the separation of Sam and Dean (as seasons enders often do). The reason they end like that is because it creates the tension and the need to see them reunited. And each season they create different ways to bring them back together. In 12.01, even though the the pacing was slow-ish, there was still a sense of urgency. For some reason the sense of urgency just disappeared in this episode.
There were little details that led to that. Dean sitting calmly at his computer waiting for Cas to call was one of them. The fact that Cas was out doing the footwork by himself was also odd. I'm not sure why both Dean and Mary weren't doing that too? The lack of urgency was glaring. We know how frantic Dean gets when Sam is missing or hurt. Maybe it's just happened too many times now for them to worry about it now. Personally I think it was about the directing - the way it was shot made it feel like actually everything was ok.
The other extremely puzzling aspect of this episode was the extraordinarily anti-climatic reunion. I wonder if it's because the expectations of it were too high? The two episodes were essentially building up to that very moment, and then when it happened it just felt so underwhelming. I honestly felt they were going to have Sam just not believe his eyes when he saw Dean (and definitely Mary). With all the mind control I felt this was going to be a direction they would take. But they didn't even play on that.
One brother being tortured in front of the other should have also had an enormous emotional impact. But again, they seemed to barely register each other (was it a ploy maybe? To make Toni think they don't care that much about each other?). They could have easily played on Sam finally breaking because they had Dean - but Sam seems pretty disinterested. I put it down to him being physically and emotionally exhausted, but in terms of story telling, it should have been an extremely powerful scene. Toni probably should have also guessed that Dean may well have broken if he had to witness Sam being totured.
I wonder if stuff was shot but then cut out? Whatever happened it was a missed opportunity. And a shame, because boy was a looking forward to that moment.
Things that made me go hmmmmm
The opening scene with Sam in bed with Toni was truly horrifying and disturbing. I'm not saying that's actually a bad thing. This is a horror show after all. And it made some sense that it was another way to get Sam to talk, when clearly physical pain wasn't working. It's also consistent with the stuff that is done to Sam. The mind fuckery has been going on since Meg possessed him in S2. What IS troubling is knowing there will be absolutely no consequence from it. It's likely to never be mentioned again. Sam suffered horribly in the last two episodes and from past experience we know it amounts to very little for his character. They didn't address Sam's non-con possession in S9 so it's highly likely his mind-rape will be entirely forgotten. Which would be a major shame considering where they could go with it. Oh well, I've long stopped expecting the issues of consent in the show will ever be dealt with.
The cake scene was a little weird also. I totally understand why they probably did it - to add some levity, to re-create a "typical" family scene, to have a new truth revealed about Mary (she doesn't cook) and to allow some time for Sam to just stare at his mom in disbelief - but the timing was strange. Sam had just been rescued (Cas had clearly healed him) and instead of acknowledging any of his ordeal or even giving him time to adjust to Dean being alive it went straight to happy Dean eating pie. I'm not begrudging Dean his pie - he clearly needed it *g* - but I suppose after the anti-climatic reunion these also felt a little unsatisfying.
Why did Dean shoot the ceiling first instead of instantly shooting Toni? He could have instantly maimed her instead of allowing her to perform that spell. Even if she somehow still managed it, it would have been highly satisfying to see Dean act with the threat he made earlier.
Toni's motivations seemed weird in the end. I felt like she started off with a mission and then she kind of went rogue. In fact, she's a right psycho. After 12.01 I was thinking I'd be ok with some sort of redemption/realisation arc but now I'll find it extremely(!) hard to forgive for her mind-fuckery with Sam. And if she truly knew so much about Sam and Dean she would know that there were definitely better ways to get on side with them. Of course, I know it's story telling and having Sam tortured created tension (and *koff* hurt!Sam) but I'm not sure it made a lot of sense in the end.
I wonder where Cas went? I figure he's not living in the bunker but it's weird they didn't have a word about what he was up to. I suspect we will find out next week.
Mostly, I think it was a shame they gave Bucklemming this crucial episode. I'm constantly perplexed by them being given major myth arc eps when their writing is often lacking. I can't help wonder what this ep would have been like in the hands of Berens - someone who usually has a good handle on how to structure an episode and give every character major emotional notes.
But still. There was lots to love. I'm glad the boys are back together and I am really interested to see what happens with Mary in the mix. I think the tussle between Crowley and Lucifer will be cool. I'm also interested to see how Toni and this Mr Ketch figure into things. They seem to be the Big Bads this season - and so far they seem to be pretty damn horrible.
Bring on the MoTW eps! :D