So Sam and Dean have broken up. Cue the waterworks. (As perhaps a gesture of apology to the female fans, "Free To Be You And Me" starts with Sam shirtless in bed. You can almost hear the fan fic typing itself.) While last week's Supernatural was hamstrung by an undercooked plot and some overheated whining, "Free" is back on the right track; it seems the split has done the writers a world of good, keeping the angst honest without overplaying, and even finding time to work in some solid laughs. Still not a standalone episode, and fingers crossed we see a script from executive producer Ben Edlund soon (all his episodes have been great, my favorite being "Mystery Spot") (EDIT: "Mystery Spot" was actually by Jeremy Carver; my favorite Edlund is "Bad Day At Black Rock," or really, anything else he's done), but given the nature of this season's threat, it's not surprising to expect a lot of arc-heavy eps ahead. If all of them are as good as this one, or better, I think we're in for a good ride.
Sam wasn't kidding about quitting the business, and while it's possible to respect his motives (if I found out I'd inadvertently helped bring about the end of the world in my current job, I'd probably be polishing up the resume too), he's clearly not thinking too far down the road. Another motel, and a gig mopping up at the local, are both temporary fixes; burning his fake IDs seems like more of a definitive step, but he's still using a fake name, and he's still running from his past. Sam's place in the Winchester legacy of killing nasty things has been a question the series has continued to ask form the first season down the line, and while the context is a little different now, the answer seems to be basically the same. Like Bobby points out when Sam calls, Sam is good at what he does, blood-junkie or no. It's the freaking apocalypse, and trying to sideline himself out of guilt for a situation he really shouldn't be that guilty about isn't going to cut it for very long.
That's about what the three hunters that come visit Sam tell him when they find out what he really is capable of. The last couple of seasons, the "good" guys have slowly started seeming a lot less good; apart from the Winchester boys, Bobby, and a couple others, everybody else just seems to come in shades of gray and black. These hunters are no exception, taking the cute waitress with a crush on Sam hostage to force him to down some demon blood and go on a rampage. The parallel between their efforts, and the efforts of the angels to bring about Armageddon in the name of the righteous, isn't perfect, but it's close enough for the series. The lesson seems to be, the ends don't really justify the means after all. Sam is probably the best example of this--he sacrificed nearly everything he knew to finally take Lilith down, and as a reward, he's now partly responsible for letting Lucifer loose. Moral is, you don't get a free pass even if the other guy is a demon.
Not a lot of laughs in that part of the story, but Dean's always been the goofier of the pair. His team-up with Cass to track down the archangel Raphael gave "Free" it's funniest bits, and makes me less worried about how the show will play if the whole break-up lasts longer than a couple weeks. The only real information we learn here is that the angels believe God has died, and their manipulations are largely a result of their anger and despair at being abandoned. That's not a bad turn. One of the problems of putting the forces of Heaven into a fictional story is that God is supposed to be ineffable, and unknowable, and nothing kills suspense faster than, "Oh, yeah, God did it." (If you doubt me, go rent Signs.) Having angels who actually doubt if the Lord is even still alive makes for a nice solution, allowing the writers access to the mythology of the Silver City without having to work around the Big Cheese.
The highlight of Cass and Dean's wild ride is their adventures leading up to Raphael's arrival, with Cass completely oblivious to Dean's usual attempts at undercover work, and Dean's attempts to get Cass laid. I actually wasn't wild about that last part, actually; it wasn't believable that Cass really could get killed during the meeting with the archangel, and I've never been a huge fan of "gotta get you laid" plotlines, anyway. Thankfully, Misha Collins utterly terrified performance ("This is a den of iniquity. I should not be here.") nearly sold the bit, and the pay-off, with Dean having a good time for once, made it worth whatever bumps happened along the way. I don't entirely buy his speech about being glad to be rid of his family--if anybody ever needed to have his family to look out for, it's Dean--but it's an interesting character choice, and it seems sincere enough. Fingers crossed we get more adventures from these two down the line.
Poor Sam, though, doesn't really get a new best friend. Well, okay, he does, but I'm not sure Satan is really the right match for him. (Although it's interesting how the show plays up the ambiguous eroticism of Lucifer's presence. First he pretends to be Sam's dead fiancee, Jessica, and when he changes into Nick, he's still on the bed in the same pose, without any discomfort, as intimate as a lover.) "Free" ends with the bombshell that Sam is the Devil's true vessel, and the Dark One isn't going to take no for an answer. From what we've seen of the after effects of possession, even if Satan wasn't Satan, this wouldn't be a promising prospect. Obviously the season isn't going to end with Sam and Dean as walking corpses, but it sure looks pointed in that direction now.
- Dean's fake ID names are always choice. This week, it's Bill Buckner (a Red Sox first baseman who's infamous in New England for supposedly costing the Sox the 1986 World Series), and Alonzo Mosley and Eddie Moscone, two characters from Midnight Run.
- Dean's Thelma And Louise reference was lousy, but Cass's oblivious reaction sold the joke.
- The "One week earlier" ploy was cute, but pointless. It's not like Sam in bed talking to his dead fiancee was any more explicable after everything else.