Goodbye Stranger: Demons, Dirt and Deviation
 

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It's been a while since my last SPN review here at the Winchester Family Business, and boy is it good to be back! So, without further ado let's talk about Goodbye Stranger. It was an odd mesh of characters, old and new themes and a good send off for some characters and mini-arcs even as it laid more key ground work for overall season storylines.  


Amoral Angels

The opening scene of this episode was an unsettling premonition. It's clear from the get that it isn't real, or at least not the real present and by this point having one of the Winchesters die is not exactly new. That being said, watching Castiel coldly stab Dean, literally through the heart, with zero regard for his friend's pleas not to, that is a hard thing to witness. It could have been a nightmare, or an opening that we then rewind back 24 or 48 hours on to see how we got to this point (a spell?).  Instead this is a real exchange - at least half of it is. Castiel is being reprogrammed by the boss lady Naomi and the casual stabbing of one of his best (and only) friends was a sincere act, even though Dean himself was a manifestation. The chilling cherry on top? The sea of Dean bodies that this scene closes on as the title card crashes into us. That's definitely one way to open an episode.

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Boys and Their Bunkers

The home base element added by the Man of Letters hideout has been a great addition this season. It gives us a grounding element much akin to Bobby's junkyard, even in terms of access to the reference materials. Sam can do his research while Dean sorts through and decrypts the old, confusingly labeled journals and enjoys the original Busy Asian Beauty prints. It's clear right away that Sam is still coughing blood and I immediately wondered why Dean hadn't noticed yet, given this has been happening since that hellhound got his vivisection. This was one thing bothering me and I felt was weakly handled recently, and though I'm glad Dean noticed the tissue in the garbage - didn't we get a deliberate shot of that tissue facing down without visible blood when Sam first tossed it? Oh well, leave the nitpicking to someone else. One really cool thing about the exchange while the boys discussed the case was the overhead shot of the lighted table with the inbuilt map.  

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Like the good old days of coordinate tracking in the Impala, the boys head out on the trail of a weird string of deaths in the paper to Lincoln Springs, Missouri where they talk find out about Anne. A murdered local who'd recently begun sneaking out at night, talking about an old orchard and stringing dirt bags from a park above a model version of the city. (Am I the only one who had flashbacks to Scarecrow when people started mentioning orchards?). Now, as much as I enjoyed the episode overall this part of the episode found the writing a bit flat to me. Certainly this half was meant as a push toward the Angel Tablet and the Castiel developments, nothing more. Thus, anything that wasn't particularly significant to our main characters felt hollow and less than compelling - for example, Anne's husband who was so emotionally unaffective about the entire experience.

Maps and Dirt and Lies, Oh, My!

We discover quickly that Anne was possessed and talking with another local, a PhD student with an old map of town. The quirky student doesn't last long after Dean and Sam find her as the demon gang tracks her too and want the map. Seriously - there isn't a city archive somewhere or an online version of this? Really? Also, we've seen in previous episodes that the angel wards give off certain energy so it is a little unclear why, if the not the demons, then even Team Naomi couldn't at the very least have narrowed the location somewhat more thoroughly before Megs helping hand.

Naturally, the Black Eyed boys don't last too long after Cas appears, though one manages to escape with the map to eventually inform the ever delightful Crowley about what's happening in town. Immediately Castiel seems off to both the audience and Winchesters - there is something baleful and more of a singular focus about him. Much closer in certain ways to the nature of the Castiel we met in the early days of season four but darker. From this point the episode begins the back and forth flashes between Castiel on Earth physically and Castiel speaking with Naomi in what seemed to be an internal psychic (of some type) discussion. This was a very strong element of the episode, in my opinion. It allowed for an insider perspective for the audience that we don't usually have when it comes to the enemy (the ilk of which Naomi absolutely is).

Naomi instructs Castiel to mislead the Winchesters as to his goal - to say that he and the demons are after a parchment - "demon decoder ring" - to translate Crowley's half of the tablet that is located in an old crypt Lucifer had in the town. Castiel goes to interrogate the demon he trapped inside the PhD student, leaving Sam and Dean to question his stability and prompting a great line I can't wait to try and fit into my own daily life:

"You know, I can hear you both. I am a celestial being."

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Patchwork Plot

The interrogation is where the writing starts to get shaky for me. Castiel has always lacked finesse so his incredibly "bad cop" (more like blatantly-obvious-dirty-cop) behavior is far from discrete which was to be expected, however in this case it was just plain sloppy on all accounts, ridiculously so. In terms of Castiel and Naomi, she is either desperate or stupid or both to have Cas just stab the demon mid-confession while Sam and Dean are right there; this will undoubtedly create further suspicion of Cas in the very least. From a writing standpoint, it is just forcing a character like Naomi whom until this point had been menacing, clever and calculating (with her clever and undetectable manipulation of Castiel in the killing of Samandriel) into one who is now just shoddy. Granted, this would have just been a blip if not for the fact that immediately following this, we find Meg whom Naomi and Castiel allow to reveal the truth because she could be helpful. The whiplash here is overwhelming. The erratic nature of the writing during this bridge was bothersome and a bit of a hodgepodge, seeming almost as though there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Despite this it seemed once we crossed the bridge there was also a turning point toward the better in the episode.

Of Unicorns and Retirement

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Before we get to that, I have to talk about those weird "Megstiel" flirts that could not be avoided. Personally, I'm not sure where I stand on this dynamic, but to be honest I'm not leaning toward it. Romance does not typically work on this show because it's driven by familial/friendship relationships, not romantic ones. This is ironic given how John and Mary each became embroiled in the mess in the first place I suppose; but the foundation is family not lovers and it's what tends to work. Back to the Meg/Cas thing. I wouldn't even bring it up if not for the fact that Meg made a point of referring to Castiel as her "unicorn" and in doing so likening him as to what Amelia is for Sam (which I'll come back to later). That didn't work for me at all. Castiel and Meg had some relationship and I can buy they developed a rapport of sorts, a grudging affection maybe - but not on a romantic or sexual tension level. Hello, Forced Subplot Police? Yeah, I need to make a report"¦.

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Speaking of Meg and unicorns, let's talk about her chat with Sammy. As Meg and Sam are securing they're position against demons, they chitchat and this prompts him to talk about his time with Amelia. One line here from Sam bothered me a lot. Now he knows that it - the non-hunter life- is possible? Hmm. I get what the writers were aiming at with this statement but I'm not sure I agree all together. Sam knew this was possible before, even strived to achieve it. Somehow it seems to me Sam would be more inclined to say he'd forgotten what it was like, or maybe he meant he didn't know if he could ever fully leave hunting again. As in, after all he's seen and learned since he left to go to college last time. Though Sam didn't really leave very long during his time with Amelia and he was emotionally devastated by all that had happened, so really there is nothing to say he wouldn't have gotten pulled back in. Amelia herself says to her father that both she and Sam are clinging to one another basically to stop from being consumed by the tragedy of their previous lives. You can't do that forever, or build a life on that foundation. In fact, Sam did get pulled back in. If he'd stayed with Amelia when Dean was back from Purgatory and everyone was scrambling for these tablets and Dean was still in the life, would he really be able to stay out entirely? So soon after losing Dean and getting him back again? I just don't know. So the statement that he now "knows it's possible" just doesn't feel right. (I've got a longer diatribe piece in the works on this one already"¦.) Thoughts?

Reveals, Deliverance and Montage

The final pieces of this episode were the strongest overall for a number of reasons. Let's break them down:

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First, was anyone else relieved with a) that they had the Sam "illness" (for lack of a better term) revealed and b) how they did the confrontation about it? This could have dragged on for a long time. It could have been exposed at zero hour with hugely devastating consequences in the moment leading to guilt, pain and suffering. These are all classics with a secret of this nature - yet none of those tropes were employed. Thank you. Furthermore, the confrontation wasn't really a confrontation so much as it was an admittance of facts and knowledge and a pledge between both for no more secrets. Dean was hurt/concerned by the lie, Sam apologized. They moved forward. If that doesn't demonstrate character growth I don't know what does.

Second, the short but always amusing appearances of Mark Sheppard. Neither Heaven nor Hell got the tablet in the end but the last we see of Crowley is him making an offer to Naomi. An offer with terms we have no clue about and also don't know if it was accepted (or how it was sealed - I'm damn curious how the HBIC of Heaven and the King of Hell seal a deal). That's a hell (excuse the pun) of an unanswered question to leave us wondering at.

Third, the death of Meg. It was neither grand nor subtle but it served her character just fine. Meg manages to stick Crowley and ends on a clever bit of sass. I, like many viewers, took issue with Rachel Miner's Meg initially. In fact, Meg really wasn't my cup of tea in any incarnation to be honest. Having said that she's grown on me over the last few years and even as I was watching this episode I was thinking so long as they keep her appearances sporadic and delightfully snarky, well I'd be okay with that. Maybe with less of the Megstiel romance hints though. No need to worry one way or another I suppose.  Personally, I don't think this was a bad ending for this character. Like I said, she was starting to grow on me but I could also see her teetering on the edge of bad stereotype sidekick character territory. Meg served her nostalgia purposes over the years and filled out her potential long ago for the most part, so it's just as well that we wave goodbye this week.

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Fourth, Castiel breaks free. We open on Castiel killing Dean in an old empty building. Next thing we have Castiel revealing how truly ill Sam is and insisting Meg stay behind, leaving just Dean and Cas trekking alone into the old empty building. Hmm. Way to manipulate those elements Cas. Ultimately Castiel and Dean find the angel tablet and everything of course does come to a head as we flicker between Cas and Dean and Cas and Naomi. This part was a bit confusing for me, I'll admit. Until the end it was unclear that Castiel was being out and out puppet-mastered by Naomi. While I enjoyed the back and forth scenes, it would have been more functional to the story to underscore the fact of her absolute control of his vessel - particularly given that one minute he's making Cas comments about the pizza man and the next he's pummeling Dean but also begging Naomi to let him stop. I did find his ultimate break from her control a well done scene, if a little rushed. Misha acted the struggle deftly.

The parallels between this moment in the crypt and the exchange between possessed Sam back in Swan Song are undeniable. The difference here being we got to witness the internal struggle to take back physical control. It was an interesting moment of poetic symmetry despite seeming a little hastily done. What felt particularly rushed were some of the emotions on Dean's side of the exchange (not the acting, the writing). I love Cas and his relationship to Dean but nonetheless Dean's words - "We're family. We need you. I need you" - though sincere, felt just a tad shoved into the moment. (Also - one small side nitpick about these scenes. If Naomi was controlling the vessel and she did want Dean dead, simply, then why waste time pummeling him? Just stab him!)

Fifth - the close out. It's not often we have a truly happy ending on this show, but I'd say tonight we came pretty damn close by Supernatural standards. The bad guys were left empty handed, Castiel was restored, Sam and Dean laid everything out between them and closed out with a laugh and fitting drive song montage.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed this episode. It had good writing where it counted, some interesting emotional depth and put our characters into new positions going forward towards the end of the season. Many truths were dealt with and laid on the table finally, in particular the Castiel thread which has been bothering me since poor Samandriel's untimely demise. Further, the relationships in this episode were nice to see as well. Season eight has been a relatively quieter season as compared to the last few years and more of an introspective look at the characters and how those years have changed them; yet the storyline has moved along well all the same. Reflecting overall on the tone, mission and the way the pieces are moving around the board, season eight feels in many ways, for better or worse, like the early years of Supernatural. This episode was another example of those elements coming together. This episode also had numerous touchstones to "the good old days" from the humour of Dean's BAB leanings to the "on the road again" feel to the parallels with the classic Swan Song scene to Meg's casual referral to the YED. Goodbye Stranger leaves the show in a strong position to delve deeper into the tablets, the trials and machinations of Heaven and Hells menacing intentions over the next few weeks.

Comments  

Ginger
# Ginger 2013-03-22 21:05
I pretty much agree with your take on this episode, especially all this love relationships the writers seem so fond of. For a season filled with mediocre episodes, I thought this was a good effort and I enjoyed it.

My feelings on this Meg's ending matches yours. I liked this version of Meg OK when first introduced, but have found her a pretty stale character for quite a while now. In this episode, however, I think Rachel Miner did an excellent job. I much preferred the Dean love/hate thing Meg used to have going on, and not so much this demon/angel thing. That's one part of the episode I didn't care for. I kept thinking, why doesn't Cas, the angel, just fix her, instead of bandage her wrist?

I am hoping that the show will get back to less Winchester introspection, less love stories, and less focus on guest stars and into more action and more focus on the Winchesters next season, but I don't think that's this stable of writers' forte.
elle
# elle 2013-03-22 23:32
Hi Ginger,

The injuries to the demon vessel confuses me sometimes - it seems to go back and forth on whether or not they stick and when the demon can instantly heal itself. Not sure where the rules on angels healing demons would come into play on that.

I don't mind the Winchester introspection actually, Sam and Dean character development has been a staple of this show and the internal/emotio nal turmoil is key, in my opinion. While I enjoy this season actually, as a nice break from the very heavy nature of recent years (not that I didn't enjoy those either) I see where you're coming from looking for a change going forward too.
G
# G 2013-03-22 21:11
You had some valid points, but I just gotta agree to disagree with your opinion of the Megstiel moments. :) I love them... but excellent review nonetheless!
David Smith
# David Smith 2013-03-22 21:25
Who sings that song at the end ?
nappi815
# nappi815 2013-03-22 21:55
i believe supertramp sings that song.
elle
# elle 2013-03-22 23:34
Thanks, G! Megstiel isn't really my thing, but it did have some running jokes I have to say. Appreciate your comment!
Geordiegirl1967
# Geordiegirl1967 2013-03-22 21:20
I thought Sam said he now knows a normal life is IMpossible. Did I mishear that?
elle
# elle 2013-03-22 23:56
I rewatched the exchange a few times and Meg references her time possessing Sam and knowing his inner thoughts, saying

"..deep down you want to live a long normal life away from creepy old things like me"

and his response is:

"I do. You know what I spent the last year with... someone and now I know that's actually possible."

To which my response was:

"Umm, wait, what?"
kaz1
# kaz1 2013-03-23 02:47
Elle
I know, isn't it sad that the writers and Carver have forgotten all about poor of Jess. Guess she died in agony for nothing!
elle
# elle 2013-03-23 15:31
For me, it wasn't really a point of Jessica being forgotten but rather two other things:

1) Sam did achieve a "normal" non-hunter life before (with Jess yes, but it's more the fact that it was non-hunter rather than the who that I'm focused on here)

2) With Amelia, I would still argue he never really got to "normal" - he was never really free of the hunter lifestyle. It wasn't long enough of a period of time for me to be convinced he'd fully broken away.

The desire that he wants a normal life is totally realistic, it was more the fact that in Sam's exchange with Meg it was phrased as though he never felt it was achievable until he met and loved Amelia that didn't sit right with me. I'm working on a more expansive piece about my feelings on the whys of this, but that's the long and short of what I was getting at in my review.
lala2
# lala2 2013-03-23 16:04
That didn't sit well with me either. Sam has had normal before with Jessica. He left the hunter's life behind when he was 18 and had no plans of returning. It certainly feels like they're trying to erase Jessica from Sam's memory. Amelia and Sam's time with her can't compare to his time with Jessica.
Teresa Pezzino
# Teresa Pezzino 2013-03-23 16:11
I have been seeing a lot of comments this season about the issue of Sam's normal life with Jessica. I believe his memories of his 'normal' time with her are tainted because of the later revelations of the manipulations by demons that resulted in her death and set him on his path at the time. I think his definition of a normal life is one free of manipulation by the supernatural. His relationship with Jessica turned out not to fit that definition. His relationship with Amelia (as weak as the storyline was) WAS normal in that it essentially involved only the two of them and their choices. Obviously that relationship is over (due to human circumstances), but he has seen that this kind of supernatural-fr ee relationship is possible. I believe that is his light at the end of the tunnel.
LEAH
# LEAH 2013-03-23 17:13
I am still not convinced the the Amelia relationship wasn't manipulated in some way. I kind of hope it was but it would also be sad (sadder) for Sam in that he might even be more cautious about ever going for "normal" again. I want him to have his light at the end of the tunnel. Dean, too, whatever that might be.
lala2
# lala2 2013-03-23 17:58
I guess this goes to my chief complaint: the lack of Sam POV.

Until I hear Sam say his memories of Jessica are tainted b/c of the YED and Bradley, then I'm going to believe that that was a positive time in his life. I'm going to continue to believe that he has good memories of Jessica and his time in college. There's has been nothing shown to make me think otherwise.

There was nothing abnormal about Sam's relationship w/Jessica. So what if Bradley introduced them? What does that have to do w/their relationship? How does that act, in and of itself, taint the ENTIRE relationship. Bradley didn't cast a spell on her and make her fall in love w/Sam, did he? If they had said that Jessica was possessed or that she was forced/coerced into falling in love w/Sam, then I could agree that Sam would not see his time w/Jessica as "normal," but nothing like that has been stated.

Sam's life w/Amelia seemed miserable. There was nothing positive about it, and I'm sick of the writers changing Sam's history. Sam had normal w/Jessica. Having normal is not a new concept for Sam. There's no need, IMO, to tear down the Sam/Jessica relationship for the pointless Sam/Amelia tale!
digyd
# digyd 2013-03-22 22:07
BAB leanings? I must have missed what this means.
elle
# elle 2013-03-22 23:29
Busty Asian Beauties
kaz1
# kaz1 2013-03-23 02:46
Elle
I know, isn't it sad that the writers and Carver have forgotten all about poor old Jess. Guess she died in agony for nothing!
wunderpat
# wunderpat 2013-03-23 05:34
Dean was aware of Sam's condition prior to finding the bloody tissue, hence the doc holliday comment (he was known to have consumption /TB) . Also I imagine that the blood soaked through the tissue.
njspnfan
# njspnfan 2013-03-23 10:36
Quote:
Dean was aware of Sam's condition prior to finding the bloody tissue, hence the doc holliday comment (he was known to have consumption /TB) . Also I imagine that the blood soaked through the tissue.
Dean knew something was up but I don't think he realized the extent of it until he saw the bloody tissue and the fact that Sam got his ass handed to him by the demon earlier in the episode.
njspnfan
# njspnfan 2013-03-23 08:10
Flaws aside, I loved the episode. Always like Meg but it was best to use her in small doses, just like Crowley.

Up to now, Sam had been trying hard to hide his illness from Dean; he was sloppy in throwing the bloody napkin in the garbage can , almost like he wanted to get caught.

I didn't like the way the confrontation with Sam about his illness was done; not saying that conversation wasn't necessary, just seemed strange to talk about it in front of an angel you don't trust, and a demon. But... I guess it was necessary because of what Cas said about what was happening to Sam.

The scene between Dean and Cas did seem a bit rushed but it did serve it's purpose in freeing Cas from Naomi's control, and setting up his return in S9.

Disagree with you on Sam's desire for normal; have always thought the "light at the end of the tunnel" he referred to in Trial and Error was his desire to live a normal/safe life. Considering his life growing up (demon blood, YED, being manipulated by YED and his minions all his life, being Lucifer's vessel, jumping in Lucifer's cage), IMO it's very understandable why he would desire that. Now, granted, his relationship with Amelia was the result of both of them clinging to one another after their respective personal tragedies, but I do think he got a glimpse of what a normal/safe life would be and still strives for it. That conflict between desiring normal and his sense of duty/doing what needs to be done/not leaving his brother alone out there is what makes Sam, Sam.
elle
# elle 2013-03-23 15:38
Hi njsphnfan,

I'm not saying it was Sam's hope for a normal life that was out of whack; but rather the idea that he didn't think it was a possibility before Amelia. As you say he's referenced this in the past as his ideal end game so when he said that after his year with Amelia now he knows normal is possible - that is what I took exception too. The fact Amelia and their time is what gave him hope for the normal life rather than the fact that the normal life is something we've seen him striving and wishing and working for since the start of the series very nearly. And while yes, he goes back and forth on his faith in that dream- so if there had just been the tiny addendum to that statement i.e. now Sam knows that normal is possible again I would barely have noticed it.

Ah, I'm just a crazy viewer reading way to much into the lack of one teeny word in a script lol.
kaz1
# kaz1 2013-03-23 16:16
Elle
Ok I get what you are saying now. You are right, he has been striving for a normal since S1 so the word again would have been more appropriate. Agree with you there.

Didn't you just love the conversation between Meg and Sam. Two people who have grown so much through the seasons (I feel that Meg has redeemed herself even if her motives weren't entirely ultruistic. I am so glad Sam was able to have this kind of conversation aside from Dean, and this was great. Also that his judgement as to how far he could go with the truth re Meg was testament to how far he has come. I think he is beginning to trust himself again. True character growth for me.
Sylvie
# Sylvie 2013-03-25 08:28
Hi Elle, nice to see you back in the fold! ;-) I loved this episode as I've stated everywhere else! :lol: I know some of the situations seemed to be written in a bit of a rush, but for a 42 minute episode, we got a whole bunch for our buck. Snarky demons, intense angel, quippy Dean, love quippy Dean. My favourite line was actually in the crypt when Dean asks Castiel about why Sam can't be fixed and he goes on this super complicated diatribe and Dean says, "Just bottom line it Bill Nye". :lol: Love how Dean hates overcomplicatin g things.

I like the character of Meg, and though she will be missed, I thought her death was well handled. It was appropriate that Crowley was the one to kill her. I also liked the scene in the Impala when Dean asks Sam not to lie to him anymore. I think we will finally get some truths out of both of them.

All in all, I'm absolutely loving season 8. Hope to see you on TWFB more often.