Well I liked this episode, mostly because I enjoy the characters of Jody and Donna. There is some meta considerations there where those two characters are very much like Dean & Sam around S1-S2, some warriors with a bit of happiness to them. Though the flashback moment from Jody was an example of using GOOD flashbacks in an episode (that is: earlier than the previous episode) and some decent acting by Kim Rhodes there. It was also nice to see and contrast the actions of actual law enforcement with the usual pretend law enforcement we get from the brothers.
They also had actual jokes and banter between S&D that was closer to old times and… Hippie! Vampires!
HIPPIE! VAMPIRES! Obsessed with “sustainable living” and all! That idea was so hilarious (plus you got to watch hippies be decapitated) how could you NOT love this episode?
The Things We Left Behind
Well that was… probably the most “meh” mid-season finale we’ve had since… ever? (not counting the first few seasons where those weren’t done)
Ok most of the episode I wasn’t minding. The reuniting with Claire I liked because it was a reminder that there is a world beyond our heroes, that there are other people impacted by their actions for good and bad out there. It also gave a sense of CONTINUITY (I know, right?) that the show was so lacking last season. Yes I agree some of this should have been brought up and addressed earlier, such as during S6 as a way of explaining why Castiel might be mentally breaking or in S7 as he resolves to be better. The line about the fate of Jimmy’s soul? Hey it’s a theory I’ve mentioned multiple times on the TV Tropes board for YEARS now so of course I don’t mind it (as it’s another good retcon too). So yes, it was hard to hate the first bit of this episode where one gets the feeling TPTB are actually working to repair the story-world they busted up so badly last season.
The problem is… pretty much right at the end. While Dean’s “hulk out” (should that be “mark out”?) doesn’t break a lot of story commandments, it was weakly set up. See, this is why I always harp on rules of storytelling. Will anything bad happen like the ghost of Shakespeare smiting you if you break them? Of course not. The principle of them is that when you follow them, 9/10 times your story will be IMPROVED. So things like maintaining continuity and consistency in a story is so that variations and changes that happen are noticed. How much of Dean’s actions are because of the MoC and how much is bad writing that’s forgotten his character? NOBODY KNOWS! A few hints or even revelations about the MoC would work wonders as well. Think about the Hulk. Why are some moments in say… the Avengers movie so tense? Because we know how the Hulk works, we get his rule: gets mad – shit goes down. Contrast that with the MoC. It involves killing, but how? Does he have to use the 1st Blade? Any blade? Murder in general? Can he be killed or not? We don’t know any of these answers so the emotional moment of Dean “broken” and Sam distressed loses a lot of the punch it would have (compare it to say… that moment in the Avengers where the Hulk first appears and how tense and emotional that scene was).
This is why the rules of story exist, people. Even if you have NO idea where your story is going, follow as many as you can and often you’ll find that when you reach your destination, the story will be much much stronger than you thought.