[I was very excited to see Ben Edlund’s name on the episode — immediately built up my expectations and I was not disappointed.]

Before the episode began I was thinking about last season, and all of the complaints I read when episodes about the apocalypse were bookended by funny or stand alone episodes. I know we’ve only had a few episodes this season, but I’m relieved that this type of issue doesn’t seem to be a concern. I think they’ve done a really solid job of broaching this new Dean and Sam life, but at the same time they’ve given themselves the latitude to create some episodic TV that hints at some of the underlying arc without making every moment dark and depressing.

There were elements of this episode that were kind-of like a Supernatural McGuffin. I think the beginning scenes fall under this. A police officer is in a locker room, post-shower, and notices that he’s bleeding. But he’s more than bleeding. His skin is falling off of his face. The soles of his feet have eroded and leave bloody prints and when he falls over — in a swoon? dead? — his entire body ruptures and blood sprays everywhere. It was a seriously disgusting beginning to an episode. I really had forgotten how gross Supernatural could be. It was awesome, but nauseating.

Continuing with the theme of the past few episodes, we once again get to see the new contrast between the lives and characters of Sam and Dean. Dean’s sleeping in the Impala and Sam’s all Cape Fear. Dean’s dreaming of Lisa and Sam’s turned into a man-whore. Dean knocks on doors and Sam kicks them in. Sam finds the case and basically orders Dean to meet him there. Interviews with Sera Gamble and crew pre-season 6 mentioned that Sam was going to be a bit darker — a bit more like early Dean — and I guess we’re witnessing the effects of that transformation.

When Dean meets up with Sam, Dean is talking to Ben on the phone. It’s a nice moment. The writers are assuring us that Dean’s reversion to once again being a hunter does not mean that Ben and Lisa will just disappear from our screens. They are continuing to ease us into the Dean transformation of a family man/hunter. It doesn’t feel too forced, and yet it also doesn’t feel like they’re cramming it down our throats.

Uncomfortable Sam moment — when Dean tells him that Lisa was actually rather cool with him leaving, Sam implied that that’s good — it’s best for everyone if Dean’s not there. It felt. . .wrong.

In the meantime, another police officer has suddenly been inflicted with a symptom of biblical plague — as he’s sitting in his car, trying to catch drivers in a speed trap, his face breaks out in horrific boils. Gross moment #2.

Dean and Sam check out the body in the morgue and decide to go talk to the partner of the first dead officer — Ed Colfax. When they arrive at Colfax’s door, it’s clear that the man is not well. He looks almost jaundiced and can’t really carry on a coherent conversation. Sam kicks in the officer’s door, much to Dean’s surprise, and they find Colfax sitting at his dining room table scratching out the faces of pictures. They have a nonsensical conversation in which Colfax says that God wants all three officers dead. When prodded he explains (kind-of) that the three caused the death of a boy (Christopher Birch) and that they planted a gun at the scene. During this Colfax is scratching his head through his hat. Blood drips down Colfax’s face. And then he keels over, dead. Sam removes Colfax’s hat and locusts crawl out of his hollowed out brain. Gross moment #3.

The episode then makes a shift. When the boys realize they are dealing with deaths that mimic the Egyptian plague, Dean matter-of-factly says that they should call Castiel. (hooray!) Sam expresses near-contempt for the idea, showing his frustration at the fact that Cas never came when he called — and he called over and over after his release from hell’s cage. Dean calls him anyway — a call cloaked in some nice Dean parody of a prayer. And, as we all knew he would, Cas shows up. He always did like Dean the best.

And in a fantastic Castiel scene, he does admit that he and Dean have a profound bond, but says that he answered the call because of the type of crime, not because it’s Dean. I choose to ignore this.

The boys find out that the plague is being caused by The Staff of Moses — one of many relics that have been stolen from heaven. I wonder, does heaven have museums? Arsenals? Archives? When they mention that The Staff seems to be causing minor damage, rather than, say, parting the Red Sea, we are gifted with one of the best lines of the episode. His eyes growing wide with sudden understanding, Cas exclaims, “The Staff isn’t being used at full capacity. I think we can rule Moses out as a suspect.” Bwha-ha-ha.

Realizing that the family of Christopher Birch is probably the best bet for a revenge scenario, Cas beams them there. Initially thinking that the father is the main suspect, all seem surprised when Christopher’s younger brother, Aaron, confronts the trio with a sawed-off. . .no, not a sawed-off shotgun, but a sawed-off piece of Staff. Dean comments on the small size of The Staff and Cas explains that more pieces equals more product. Heaven’s arsenal is basically akin to illegal drugs. They ask Aaron where he got the staff and he murmurs that an angel gave it to him. Cue much shock.

Aaron tells them, when asked, that the angel asked for nothing in return. Dean, however, has become rather good at being around kids — and knowing when they are lying. And he knows that Aaron is not telling the truth. He gets Aaron to confess that he sold his soul to the angel. Cue even more shock.

Dean, serving as the voice of the audience, turns to Cas and asks if angels would do something like that. Cas, who seems more resigned than shocked, says that they never have before. Clearly much is amiss in the kingdom of heaven.

In a very upsetting scene, Cas beams them all, Aaron included, back to the boys hotel room. Dean is clearly upset with this, not very comfortable with the kidnapping of a child. Cas explains that he the angel would have left a mark that Cas can decipher, but he needs to read the child. And by read, I mean torture.

Dean, of course, protests loudly and tries to put a stop to the proceedings, recognizing what we all do — that this is a child and there’s something terribly wrong with torturing a child. Cass doesn’t care (not totally surprising) arguing that the ends justify the means. He has motives we can’t begin to understand, as we don’t really have a sense of what is happening in the celestial paradise. Dean looks to Sam for support. He gets none. In that moment you see just how fractured their relationship has become. Sam even goes so far as to physically stop Dean from moving forward to help Aaron.

I’m not sure what your response was, but my heart hurt to see Sam so altered.

Cas, torture completed, seems devastated to realize that the angel who bought Aaron’s soul is his longtime friend, Balthazar (one of the Magi). And once Cas discovers this info, one of Raphael’s soldiers shows up and engages in battle with Cas. A battle that leads the two to plunge out of the hotel window and down onto Sam’s car. They killed KITT!

More beaming as Cas travels them all to Balthazar’s house(?), compound (?), villa (?). Dean breaks a tiny bit of the tension by looking around and quipping, “I was expecting Dr. No, not Liberace.”

So it turns out Balthazar is from the Fringe universe. Okay, not really, but Sebastian Roche does play Thomas Jerome Newton in Fringe so I was expecting him to be conspiring against Peter and Walter, not Sam and Dean. Also, apparently his design aesthetic really was influenced by Vegas, as he confronts Cas in what appears to be a disco room. Apparently there is a civil war in heaven and Balthazar is a mercenary. He emulates Cas and wants to be a rebellious angel. And to do this he has grabbed as many valuable weapons from heaven’s arsenal as possible and has generated a new life. Cas is less than understanding. He just wants his friend back — one who will fight in battle at his side — not indulging his own whims and turning his back on the ethics of heaven. Is this the heavenly version of Dean and Sam?

Raphael and his minions show up. There is much angel fighting, including a scene in which Cas begs one of the minions to turn his back on fighting and work to return heaven to its normal state. The desperation in Cas’s voice and displayed on his face is tragic. The angel does not listen and is killed. Raphael and Cas battle. It is bloody. For Cas. Raphael is kicking the hell (heaven?) out of him. In fact, it looks rather desperate. Then Balthazar shows up to save him — and does so in one of the cooler scenes in the episode. Holding up a piece of rock — it looks almost like rock salt — he gets Raphael to look at it. Raphael turns into salt — falling for the same curse as Lot’s wife.

However Balthazar has also fallen into the Winchester trap, and the boys capture him in a circle of flaming oil. They ask Balthazar why he would be collecting souls. His provoking answer: “Do you have any idea what souls are worth? What power they hold?”

Dean gets Balthazar to cancel out Aaron’s deal and return his soul. And while the boys would have left Balthazar trapped in the circle — or possibly dead — Castiel frees him and both angels disappear.

Then, in the tradition of all good Supernatural episodes, we have a moment of Winchester traumatic conversation while standing next to the Impala.

Dean peppers Sam with questions — what the hell is going on? Why didn’t he help stop the torture of Aaron Birch or at the very least lodge a protest? Why is he so different?

Sam has no good response. He dances around the subject of Aaron, saying something lame like he was in agreement with Dean but it was a silent agreement. He also admits to almost being feral from having spent the past year hunting nonstop. It made little sense.

Dean tries to get him to open up and confess to having some kind of PTSD from his time in hell. Dean says exactly what you would expect in that moment — been there, done that, let me help you through it.

In the most painful moment of the episode, Sam shrugs off Dean’s concern, saying that, frankly, he’s not at all tortured by his experience in hell. He goes on to say that Dean suffers from his time in hell — that it had a terrible impact on him — but Sam’s just not bothered. Dean is both offended and devastated.

It’s completely hinky. What is wrong with Sam!?!?!? I’m curious to know how all of the Sam-girls are feeling about these developments. It seems like we’re not just headed down the regular Supernatural path of the boys having some growing pains in their relationship, but of there being an inherently damaged in Sam’s character.

Three of my favorite moments from the episode:

1. CASTIEL! So glad he’s back on our screens.

2. Before KITT is killed, Dean and Sam are driving their cars to Ed Colfax’s house to interview him. As Sam is driving down the road, Dean comes tearing out of a side-street, cuts in front of Sam, and parks in front of Colfax’s house. They both get out of their cars and slam the doors in sync. Sam looks at Dean and says, “Were you. . .racing me?” Dean scoffs and emphatically replies, “No!” and then mutters, “I was kicking your ass.” Sam rolls his eyes and says, “Very mature.”

3. When Raphael’s minion and Cas fall out of the window and destroy KITT, Sam and Dean look out the window to witness the damage. In a pained voice Sam cries, “My car!” Dean looks over, smirks, and says, “Okay, silver lining.”

Very Ben Edlund moments.

PS — How psyched are you for the next episode? It’s Jensen Ackles’ directing debut. He showed us a few moments of the episode at Comic-Con and he was so excited that he was almost jumping up and down.