I have to say one of the things I'm really loving about this season is the nostalgia. The "then" segments are mini flashbacks to the early seasons and I'm all "oh I had forgotten about that" or "oh I loved that bit". I'm also loving that in so many episodes Sam has had a chance to reflect on something that has happened to him in the past - possession, powers, soullessness and in this episode it was watching Dean die. I know there have been some complaints about Sam not having a story line this season (and yeah, that is a thing but I don't actually think Dean really has one either), but at least there's a recognition of what he's been through in the past. Of course I would LOVE them to actually address all the non-con that Sam has had to endure over the many years, but I'm not sure that will ever happen.
It's always satisfying to have a brother focused episode and I did enjoy this one for that reason. Any episode where something is happening to one bro and the other one has to "fix" it is engaging and always makes my heart skip a happy beat.
I did have a few reservations about this one but mostly it hit all the right notes. It's a shame they didn't make it a two-parter because dealing with memory loss is such a deep and fascinating subject, they could have really explored it further - especially considering how well Jensen and Jared handled the material. Dean's memory loss had to be crammed into such a short time frame (basically that mirror scene) and I can't help but think it would have been amazing to watch a more gradual loss for Dean and then with Sam realising it's just a matter of time before he's forgotten completely. As it were they actually did a remarkable job fitting what they did in - particularly the fine balance between humour and seriousness.
I was thankful that it wasn't all just funny Dean moments (which I feared once it started). Dean's mirror scene was very much needed to show the fear and enormity of what was going on for him - of which Jensen did a great job (though I'm not sure why it made me feel uncomfortable to watch?). I also loved that they gave Sam the chance to show his fear. Jared did a great job of showing Sam as the carer but also as someone realising what it would mean to losing a brother to (essentially) dementia. It was a nice balance between the brothers I felt.
I loved all the little moments between them - my fave being the one in the bathroom. There was something very personal about them sitting in a bathroom together - in a space that's usually reserved for private stuff. I love the idea of Sam filling Dean in on his life (I want the outtakes!) And Dean's admission at the end that remembering "us" was better than living a life not remembering all the things he's done was poignant and honest.
I suppose my only real reservation was that final Dean montage. It weakened the episode for me - mainly because it didn't fit in the narrative and was pretty much just fan-service. I have no issue with fan-service as such, but after such a thoughtful episode it seemed to be a way of just saying "oh look at the way Jensen can pull these funny faces". I figure they wanted to use the bull-riding footage - but they could have found a way to fit that in without adding bits of footage we had just seen. I don't want to be a party-pooper because I'm sure it was a joy to many (I would have enjoyed it too as part of a fan-vid *g*), so I'll take it in the spirit I know it was meant - as a bit of fun. :)
I continue to enjoy this season, even though it feels a little uneven. It lacks the intensity of some previous seasons but I kinda like that. The lack of intensity comes from the fact that the brothers aren't fighting each other - which I'll take over them fighting any day. :)