[Apologies again for the *serious* delay in reviews. My work schedule over the past week made doing anything but, well, work, impossible.  The review for Friday’s episode, which I have yet to see, will be up tomorrow.]

Hmmmm. . .did I actually have the audacity to question the pacing of Supernatural?  Maybe I should be forced to revoke my Supernatural fan status.  “Family Matters” capitalized on the buildup of all prior episodes this season and broke Supernatural precedent by answering a slew of questions — even if those answers begat more questions.  It’s an interesting narrative shift from earlier seasons, and, while somewhat subtle, it makes me think that Sera Gamble’s new role as showrunner is bringing about this new structure.  If that’s the case, then I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season plays out, for this episode really brought a new life and style to the mythology narrative.

“Family Matters” is really a part two, or continuation, of “You Can’t Handle the Truth.”  It picks up immediately after the Sam/Dean confrontation, with a beaten Sam tied to a chair in a motel room, being questioned by Dean and Castiel.  Castiel quickly realizes that Sam manifests symptoms of the soulless — lack of feeling and emotion, no need for sleep — and after probing Sam’s insides confirms that his soul is missing, most likely still trapped in the cage with Michael and Lucifer.

What truly resonates in the scene is the acting.  Misha Collins effectively conveys Castiel’s sadness in delivering the news, knowing the impact it will have on Dean.  Padalecki traverses the delicate balance between frustration at Dean and Castiel’s behavior and understanding their concern — even if he can’t *feel* concern, sorrow, or worry.  Throughout, Ackles aptly cycles through anger, fear, anxiety, and, once Castiel diagnoses Sam’s condition, a disquiet that won’t dissipate until Sam’s soul is returned.

The quest for more information on who pulled Sam from the cage, and how they accomplished this, leads the group to Samuel.  The hunters at the compound, a place I would love to see in daylight, are all hard at work prepping tools.  In a fantastic moment of Campbell/Winchester dynamics, after welcoming Sam with a giant hug, Christian looks over and coldly states, “Dean.”  With just as much, if not more, disdain, Dean replies, “Newman.”  Sam gives a small half-smile and Christian, rather than annoyed, looks completely confused by the Seinfeld reference.  I love these quick moments of humor in episodes filled with turmoil and strife.

Castiel works his soul-testing magic on Samuel, who is soul-full, and then he leaves to return to the civil war in heaven.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about the battle in which Castiel is currently engaged.  We’ve seen glimpses of the pressure he is under and how his interaction with the boys, especially Dean, is far more limited than in the two prior seasons.

Samuel appears unsurprised to find out about Sam’s lack of soul, and, after a tense moment with the boys, confesses that he’s been extremely concerned about Sam.  In fact, he admits that Sam actually scares him.  But there is  more pressing issue at hand — the Campbells have uncovered the location of the alpha-vampire.  This is a great callback to “Live Free or Twi-Hard,” implying that the show writers are building multi-episode mythologies for the monsters.  The rest of the episode is filled with so many reveals that rather than recap, I’m going to bullet point major events.

  • Dean is not trusted by the Campbell clan (a feeling that is mutual), which makes them less inclined to work with Sam.  Samuel says that it’s because he doesn’t know Dean, but Christian definitely demonstrates more than distrust — something closer to hate.  As a result, during the vamp hunt, Dean and Gwen (“I’m in the rear with the reject?”) are left serving as sweepers, catching and killing fleeing vamps.  Since the Dean we all know and love does not take orders well, he leaves Gwen (regardless of her protests) when he hears gunshots and sneaks onto the grounds of the vamp compound — a compound strewn with beheaded vampires.  Walking through the grounds, Dean endures flashbacks to the mental message he received during his time as a vampire.  Another nice callback to the earlier episode and an interesting moment that highlights the notion that Dean has not lost the tie to the vampires, even though he has been cured.  His disobedience also allows for one of the Campbell secrets to be revealed, as he witnesses the clan capture, rather than kill, the alpha-vamp.
  • Gwen does not betray to the clan that Dean ran onto the grounds rather than stay at his post.  This makes her an interesting player in the Campbell/Winchester game.  And, for now, the only Campbell ally that Dean has.
  • Now that Dean is the emotional brother, he confronts Sam about the capture of the alpha-vamp.  Turns out that Sam has always known that Samuel is catching alpha-monsters and grilling them for information.  Even worse, for Dean, is that Sam is the one who kept the Campbells from telling Dean about the captures.  This sets up a sleight of hand plot where we’re meant to think that Sam has abandoned Dean and pledged allegiance to the Campbell clan.  While I was fairly certain this was a ruse, I had enough doubts about Sam to worry that this was a deeper fracturing of their relationship.  So I could appreciate Dean’s response when Sam returned.  Sam comments, “You didn’t think I’d come back” and Dean responds “I figured 60/40.”  It served as more than a moment of tension and humor though, it was a moment where we got a glimpse of how the brothers can work together, regardless of Sam’s missing soul.  Even if Sam doesn’t have the ability to feel, he still puts his relationship with his brother over his hunting with the Campbells.  Also, thanks to Sam’s subterfuge, the boys are able to find out where the alpha-vamp is being contained and tortured (torture that has no effect).
  • Alpha-vamp considers Dean “his child, for a time.”  And while Dean doesn’t believe in what Samuel is doing, he is quick to deal out torture when alpha-vamp starts pushing his buttons.
  • Alpha-vamp is very philosophical, speaking of time and slaughter rather loquaciously.  When Sam asks the very valid question of what birthed the alpha-vamp if he is the first, the alpha-vamp replied “well, we all have our mothers, even me.”   A nice hint to later mythology that I’m looking forward to discovering.
  • Alpha-vamp, once he’s discovered that Sam is without soul (Sam smells cold apparently) poses the question that if humans with souls go to either hell or heaven, then where do his kind go.  Fascinating question.  One that made me realize that I’ve always thought the monsters went to hell — I didn’t contemplate the idea that the monsters had no souls.  Does this make Sam, until his soul is restored, a monster?  Also, if Sam no longer sleeps because he has no soul, does that mean monsters are always awake?  That’s disconcerting. . .and makes daytime a bit scarier. (I know, monsters aren’t real.) ((But they might be.))  The alpha-vamp expounds that all monsters go to purgatory — “filled with the soul of every hungry thing that walked this earth.”  Question: is alpha-vamp using soul in this instance in a different way?  Because he has just explained that those with souls go to heaven or hell, those without go to purgatory.
  • So Samuel is torturing Alpha-vamp to find out the location of purgatory.  Yet he is not doing this because he wants to find purgatory for his own mission, but rather because he has been ordered to do so. . .by whom, we were all asking?  With the escape of alpha-vamp we discover two awesome things:  1.  Christian is a demon!  Holy hand grenade Batman I did NOT see that one coming. This reveal only comes about because the alpha-vamp snapped Christian’s neck!  2.  Demon Christian and Grandpappy Samuel are both working for Crowley (who turned Christian ages ago)!  Fantastic reveals.
  • At one point the alpha-vamp has Sam by the throat and says that he has big plans for the “boy with no soul.”  He says that Sam will be the “perfect animal.”  I can only imagine that this will make Sam hunted by more than one alpa-monster throughout the season.
  • Crowley wants to find purgatory — “location, location, location” — Crowley is a developer and wants to use the vast space of purgatory, which is a adjacent to hell (but clearly not marked well enough for him to find), to expand his empire.  I’m thinking that Crowley is far, far more dangerous than Lucifer ever was.
  • In a turn that I should have anticipated far earlier, Crowley is the one who pulled Sam and Samuel back to Earth.  He won’t give Sam his soul back unless the Campbells/Winchesters do his bidding.  As he put it, “Me Charlie, you Angels.”
  • The boys don’t trust Samuel, but Dean stops Sam from shooting Samuel.  It’s a nice inversion of the scene where Sam stops Dean from burning Crowley’s bones.  In the final pow-wow, the boys debate working for Crowley.  Is there really a question that they will?  It’s Sam’s soul on the line, and regardless of what has happened over the course of this season, there’s no way Dean won’t do whatever it takes to get Sam’s soul freed from Lucifer’s cage.
  • I’m eagerly anticipating information on how Crowley’s move to take over more mystical space intersects with Castiel’s civil war in heaven.
  • While I’m self-professed fan of Dean, I’m looking for some change in his dynamic with Castiel.  He has yet to profess any interest in Castiel’s battle and fairly consistently treats him like a minion.  I would like to see more equality in the relationship and less of Dean just demanding help.