So the world didn't end. That's gotta be a bummer, right? You spend a millennium or two preparing for the big event, you train, you engage in minor skirmishes against sin to keep your focus strong, and then the big moment finally arrives--and one rebellious angel, along with a handful of hairless apes, decides to throw everything away and thwart the apocalypse. So now you've got eternity staring you in the face, and your dance card keeps coming up empty, because Lucifer is trapped in Hell, and all the prophecies are past their expiration date. The temptation to try and turn back the clock somehow, to just keep going through the old motions until something finally kicks in and the Judgement comes round again. What else is there to do, anyway? I don't know if you've heard, but the new fall television season sucks.
After a decent premiere and a distressingly weak second episode. "The Third Man" brings us back to Supernatural's A-game, with some intriguing world expansion, promising fractures in the Sam and Dean relationship, and, maybe best of all, the triumphant return of Castiel, the angel with the heart of, well, I'm thinking he's probably solid angel all the way through. After a disappointing week, it's easy to overrate anything suggesting competence which follows, but "Man" earns its grade by avoiding the things which haven't been working so far this season (Lindsey, Ben, the kind of annoying Copley clan), and sticking to basics. banter, gory deaths, and a righteously screwy Heaven. Sure, some of this we've seen before. It's not like fighting angels is a shocker, and Raphael's vested interested in jump-starting Armageddon isn't too fresh either. But it works, because Raphael's aims aren't really the focus here. It's more what happens to a cosmology that loses its core.
All right, so: a pair of cops have just suffered two horrible, horrible deaths. More specifically, a pair of cops have died in ways suspiciously similar to the plagues that rained down on Egypt back when Moses was asking for his severance pay. First there's the plague of blood, then there's a plague of boils (the blood plague in particular is a good reminder of just how graphic this show can get; it's just too bad the crappy fake corpse for the boil(ed) man had to look so, well, crappy and fake), and just as Sam and Dean enter the picture, a third cop dies from literal locusts on the brain. Before dying, the last cop gives them a clue: it all comes back to a boy named Christopher Birch and a planted gun. The three now dead cops shot Christopher after a car chase, and all three claimed in their reports that the kid had a gun on him.
It's revenge, then, and the source isn't hard to track--turns out Christopher's little brother, Aaron, is getting some well-deserved revenge. The trick is in how Aaron is doing the deed: he sold his soul to angel for a piece of the Staff of Moses. (It doesn't detract from the episode, but it's sort of important that the Egyptian plagues were all caused by God Himself, not Moses or some magical talisman. One interpretation of the story argues that the plagues weren't so much an incentive for early release, as they were a way for God to show the rest of the non-believing world that He was a bad-ass and not to be messed with. Hence the whole "hardening of the Pharaoh's heart" thing. All of which is neither here nor there, but it is funny that the Staff of Moses is shown here as a weapon that requires no divine providence to work.) This is where Cass gets involved. After the End Times short-circuited, Heaven was thrown into chaos, and some of the most powerful weapons in the holy arsenal went missing. Cass is desperate to track down the rest of the Staff before Raphael can find it, and Dean wants to get poor Aaron his soul back. As for Sam... well, he probably wants the same things. Most likely.
This all builds to a fun, well-constructed climax at the home of the angel who's been taking advantage of the desperate: Balthazar. Balthazar's explanation that it was Cass's rebellion that inspired him and the others to act is interesting, especially given that angels are supposed to lack free will. (That's why they aren't too fond of us, if you're curious.) Sam and Dean's short-circuiting of one of Raphael's minions was a nice call-back to the good old days, and things wrapped enough nicely enough to let us feel closure while still not really resolving anything. We've had seasons of Supernatural that took their time getting to the main threat, but there's something new here, an uneasy feeling that everything is as it used to be, except it isn't. Before, we had yellow-eyed demons to worry about, or the Devil himself, but the yellow-eyed demon is dead, and the Devil is back where he belongs. The jokes are where they're supposed to be, and the brothers are back in Dean's car, but... something's the matter with Sam. Hopefully, we won't have to wait that much longer before we find out what.
- I always get a kick out of the show's occasional moments of fan service. So I hope y'all enjoyed Sam's shirtless workout and skank dismissal program.
- "Ben, I know you're lying... Because I lie professionally, that's how."
- It was a funny gag, but I was enjoying the auto-rivalry between the Winchesters so much I wish Sam's car had survived a little longer. (How cool was that "falling out the window angel fight," though?)
- "Were you racing me?" "Pff. No. I was kicking your ass." "Very mature."
- "I think we can rule out Moses as a suspect."
- "I believe the hairless ape has the floor."