Supernatural scribe Robbie Thompson is certainly a fan of his own show. This was proven in tonight's "Goodbye Stranger" with countless little nods to the fandom-- from "Megstiel," to the pizza delivery reference, to Dean (Jensen Ackles) finding vintage Asian porn in his bunker, to the "Team" reference in regards to the brothers, to Meg (Rachel Miner) calling it "lame" that Sam (Jared Padalecki) shacked up with a girl for the last year. Perhaps it is because Thompson knows the show so well, then, that this episode was as full of as much heartbreak as it was humor.
All of the buzz around "Goodbye Stranger" was about Castiel's (Misha Collins) return, but honestly, it was Meg (Rachel Miner) who took me by surprise this time around. It's never really been a secret that there was no love lost for me with that character, but tonight I realized how much her dry, jaded female perspective (demon or not) was missed. Whether she was rolling her eyes at the boys over the fact that even after all this time, they still were surprised to learn she lies so easily or jabbing at Sam and his unicorn, she breathed a new life into an otherwise very tense situation. It figures, though; just as you get attached, this show rips the rug out from under you. And the women, especially, never last.
"Goodbye Stranger" started out with something we haven't seen in awhile: a straight demon possession case. Dean and Sam investigated a woman's death only to learn that she had been possessed and was doing Crowley's (Mark Sheppard) bidding, digging around town, looking for one of Lucifer's crypts in order to find the angel tablet. But very quickly the premise exploded because Castiel had completed his training with Naomi (Amanda Tapping) and was sent back down to Earth to find that tablet himself. After all, in the demons' hands, it would spell certain death-- well, maybe that's the wrong word, but it would mean the end of heaven as they know it. If the demon tablet closes the gates of hell, wouldn't the angel tablet close the gates of heaven? Naomi can't have that, and she has trained Castiel to kill anyone who stands in his way-- including and especially Dean.
Though Castiel was certainly a leaner, cleaner, "bad cop" killing machine, he would often pop into Naomi's office to ask for her guidance when dealing with the Winchesters, each of whom didn't know what to make of his sudden and sketchy return. And he found that killing Dean, even when Dean literally stood in his way, clutching the angel tablet and declaring his plan to deliver it to Kevin (Osric Chau), wasn't easy. The bond they had formed was real, and Castiel was not a robot. He was, however, a bit brainwashed, all in the name of being "fixed" after doing so much harm to heaven.
Of course it was absolutely terrible to watch Castiel wail on Dean, whether it was "really him" or not. Dean has had so many moments of taunting the bad guys in the past, but his telling Castiel here to kill him if he wanted the tablet didn't seem like a challenge or even a man on a suicide mission but instead a way to trigger his old friend. It didn't work-- not right away-- it was barely even the "We're family; I need you" plea that seemed to do the trick. But Naomi telling Castiel to make a choice did. I suspect Castiel has always felt he hasn't had many choices in life. But here's the thing: by not killing Dean, he ultimately chose "them," so shouldn't that mean turning his back on the angels marked him in some way? A little part of me thought maybe he'd be human now (I don't know how far smiting goes), but obviously he was able to heal Dean, so that's not true. It feels a bit repetitive: he's a wanted man in heaven, having chosen others, and his recent actions make it hard for the Winchesters to completely trust him. He's not quite unwanted but still a bit of a third wheel at times, but even going off to be alone is something we have seen him do time and again. While it's nice that it's true to his character, something's got to give.
Meanwhile, Naomi claimed Castiel was doing what he was supposed to in protecting the tablet, but it appeared she was trying to save a bit of face in front of Crowley. Regardless, they have a history that surely means a new deal to be struck, and I can't even imagine what it would look like if the King of Hell and the Queen of Heaven teamed up. Shouldn't the world explode or something? Working together or not, I have a really hard time they can't find what they need almost instantaneously.
Additional Remarks: It was nice to finally get verbal confirmation that Naomi was the one who gripped Castiel tight and raised him from purgatory, but what I really loved about this episode were the brief brother moments. We saw from Dean's prayer to Castiel that he knew Sam was hurting from the first trial, but tonight we saw just how much he knew when he found the bloody consumption rag. We didn't get much in the way of them talking about Castiel (at least on-screen), but the brief "why were you praying to him?" said so much. And Castiel's response about being celestial and therefore able to hear both of them made it even better. Then, of course, Dean's "I'll carry you"-- LOTR quote or not-- was a big step and leap of confidence to instill in Sam. This episode may have brought back a number of characters from the extended Supernatural family, but all it really did was prove just how much the Winchesters really are in this only together.