I admit I had a bit of trepidation going into the season opener. I was excited to see the boys again but I wasn't sure how they were going deal with the loss of Cas (and Mary). I thought there might be lots of moping and tension between Sam and Dean, but it turns out that even though there was some of that, it was actually handled really well.
I'm hesitant to say this (because there will no doubt be an episode (or episodes) that debunks this), but I felt like Supernatural came of age tonight. It felt like it had "grown up", but at the same time it was still grounded in what makes the show...well, the Show. :) It acknowledged that Sam and Dean has been through all this before (losing people they love and facing a new threat), but at the same time allowed them to feel everything that's associated with that.
I really loved the writing (kudos to Andrew Dabb) and direction (by seasoned director Phil Sgriccia). I particularly liked the structure. Sam and Dean dove directly into the "hunt" before spending the time to mourn their losses. Initially I was surprised by this, but I like that it was almost the "elephant in the room" during the episode before it closed the episode with a very moving tribute to all those who they've lost.
Jensen portrayed a man driven by loss and heartbreak, but someone has been through all this before, perfectly. He wasn't mopey or self destructive, but rather doing what Dean does best - hunting with a belligerence as a coping mechanism. He simmered,lashed out and then seethed. He had a weight on his shoulders that could have stopped him, but didn't.
Jared portrayed a man hanging on by a mere thread perfectly also. I love the way Jared is able to contain Sam's pain through hope and optimism. His words in the final scene brought me to tears. It was so full of feeling (I also think this has a lot to do with know Jared's personal struggles - he just brings so much truth to these scenes). That final scene was very moving.
I particularly liked the way each character was portrayed without either of them being compromised. They each showed grief, but in their own way. They both had strong story lines and we saw the strong connections they each had to the people they lost.
In fact, all the performances were very strong. I thought Alexander Calvert did a great job portraying Jack. At times he reminded me of Cas (I would like to think this was deliberate as he was tuning in to Cas's presence and thought he was his father). He played innocent and potential evil perfectly. I also liked the new sheriff (and her son).
The thing that stuck me the most in this episode was the similarities between Dean "hiding" when pleading for help (praying) and the scene from Home when he calls John and pleads for help when he was out of his depth. It's such a Dean thing and was a great way to join young Dean with this older Dean. He's different, but still the same. He's a strong man (a "hero") but he has weakness (that he feels he needs to hide). A beautifully shot scene also.
Sam and Dean's connection was a strong as ever. They had differences in the approach to Jack but it didn't mean they fought, but rather they acknowledged each other's approach and respected it. This is why I felt the show had come of age. They know each other so well now that the different approaches is a given. They just seemed so kinda soft with each other. Like they respect that each other are suffering but they know the hunt continues. I dunno. Hard to explain, but it made the episode for me.
My only niggle ('cause you know there will always be one - or a hundred ;D), is that the angels fight like they are mortals. They could easily kill Sam and Dean but don't (they must know they're the leads in a TV show or something...*g*). I was also a little surprised how quickly Dean was prepared to burn Cas's body and accept that Mary was dead. Though I think this was a lot to do with his way of coping with his pain. Accept the losses and move on as quickly as he can (even though we know that won't happen! *g*)
Overall a strong, engaging episode. I am really interested to see what they do with Jack (as long as it doesn't become to soap-ish and cause major issues between the brothers). I am also looking forward to see how they deal with life without anyone to call on (though I suppose there's still Jody).
Bring it show!