When watching any TV show, especially one that you’ve been watching a long time, enjoying an episode more has to do about level setting than anything.  For example, I watch “Arrow” for the characters because the plots and villains often fall into ludicrous territory.  I watch new show “Designated Survivor” mostly for Kiefer Sutherland but I do also expect a certain level of realistic political intrigue, and so far they’re delivering.  With “Supernatural,” all I have to do is look at  who’s writing the episode.  When the writers are Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, any hopes of an emotionally riveting drama using your two charismatic leads go out the window, along with any hopes of stellar dialogue or organized plotting.  Nope, in the end, I’m reduced to, “Was it a watchable hour?”  
 
Strangely, “Mamma Mia” was a very watchable hour.  Dare I say, I actually enjoyed it.  Yes, that’s the best compliment I could possibly give to an episode written by this duo.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a grand, tearful reunion with Sam and Dean.  I expected all of that to be glossed over and it was.  I also didn’t expect Mary and Sam breaking down in tears when they first saw each other.  However, I didn’t expect such a sweet and monumental scene between Sam and Mary at the end, or the touching montage of the three of them alone struggling with reconciling past and present.  But honestly, the part that blew me away was Lucifer.  That saved this whole episode for me and suddenly I’m wondering how this show can convince Rick Springfield to take on this role full time because he just became my new favorite “Supernatural” actor.  
 
Let’s dig into the details though, because behind all that rock star glam were some definite flaws and bringing such elements to light is in my job description, right?  There was some deep character examination though and after going through all that, it’s all not as bad as it seems.  I’m actually impressed…mostly (yes, I’m a passive-aggressive reviewer this week).
 
Dean
 
Anyone see the movie Volunteers?  They find out that the heroine, played by Rita Wilson, has been kidnapped and didn’t go willingly with the overlord back to his compound as initially believed.  Tom Hanks (in one of his more brilliant comedic roles) breathes a sigh of relief and pours himself a drink because he wasn’t dumped.  His sidekick, after a long pause of awkward silence says out loud what the audience is thinking…”Isn’t this the part where we go save her?”   
 
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That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling in these last couple of episodes when it comes to Dean’s sense of urgency in rescuing Sam.  He’s Tom Hanks having a drink while those watching wonder what the hell he’s doing.  I get it, Dean has complications with Mary being around and has to rely on Castiel to do a lot of the leg work, but, don’t you think he’s been a little calm for the whole “Sam is missing and in grave danger” thing?  Has saving each other become too routine?  I think the writers just don’t know how to write Winchester peril anymore and have decided not to try.  He certainly wasn’t the hard edged bad ass that threatened Toni on the phone last week, so his casual waltz into the compound only to be caught easily wasn’t the Liam Neeson outcome I was hoping for.  
 
No doubt about it, Dean is not been himself for several episodes.  I have no idea what’s going on, but I did at least get him at the very end of “Mamma Mia.”  It ties into his brief talk with Castiel, who by the way offered the best advice I’ve heard in a while, and part of me even thinks the writers are delivering a message to the fans in general. “Don’t make things needlessly complicated as you humans tend to do.”  
 
Of course Dean is happy that his mother is back, but remember he has clung onto the same memories of her from the perspective of a four year old his whole life.  It’s very different as an adult.  Of course he doesn’t know what to say or how to act around her.  To say that Dean has trust issues is an understatement.  He’s not ready to open up to her yet, to welcome her into the fold, especially as a hunter.  Mary had to practically demand that she go on the mission to save Sam.  At least Dean is respectful enough to not challenge her authority.  But none of this is within his comfort zone and that’s usually when Dean withdraws.  
 
The ending scene shows Dean’s struggle beautifully.  He’s sitting on the kitchen floor alone, drinking beer and looking at the old pictures of Mary that he’s been clinging onto his whole life.  He remembers a saint, a mother that nurtured him, the woman served him home cooked meals and made him feel safe.  This is not that woman.  He accepts that she’s still Mary Winchester, but he has to come to terms with who she is, not his childhood memories of her.  That’s a hard struggle for anyone to overcome, but especially Dean. 
 
Sam
 
Poor Sammy, he’s had it pretty rough lately, hasn’t he?  For the record, his initial reaction to seeing Dean made sense to me.  Toni was messing with his mind, why would he believe that Dean was real?  After watching Dean get tortured though reality hit him.  His “I thought you were dead” was the right reaction given the circumstances.  But yeah, after that, moment over.  Underwhelming doesn’t even cover it.  
 
I would have loved to seen Sam and Mary’s conversation in the car on the way back, but we can assume he was filled in with details for there was no chat with any sort of substance.  That didn’t come until Sam came to Mary’s room, and doesn’t it seem perfect that Sam would make the first move to connect with Mary?  Of course he was nervous.  First, he has no memories of her as a child.  To him, plain and simple, she’s family.  He’s not complicating things at all.  That doesn’t make his actions better than Dean though.  It’s just easier when a connection was never there. Second, Sam knows what’s its like to feel like the outsider.  It’s been his mantra his whole life.
 
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“Having you here fills in all the blanks.”  
 
Only Sam could say this line to Mary and it couldn’t have been a more perfect moment.  Hell, if you think about it, it’s a huge moment, one that Sam has longed for his whole life.  All Sam ever knew of Mary came from encountering her ghost, hallucinations, seeing her as a younger woman when he travelled in the past, you know, all the strange stuff that only gave him a glimpse of who she was.  There was also John’s journal. He has been filling in the blanks for years!  He’s said it to Dean before in “Dark Side of the Moon,” family didn’t mean the same to him.  He didn’t have his crusts cut off his PB&J.  The idea to give her John’s journal was perfect, because it’s been Sam’s way to connect to his family time and time again.  He probably used it to keep John closer, to understand the man that he constantly butted heads with.  It probably helps him alleviate the guilt over losing John while he was still angry at him.  
 
Up to now, all Mary has been to him is blanks in his family history.  He’s been honoring a memory without really knowing the person (visits to the grave site is a great example).  Having her back is a chance for him to have a mother for the first time in his life, a chance that no one else could dream of getting.  He’s gone a whole lifetime without ever having a real, genuine hug from his mother…until now.   That hug was a massive event in Sam’s life!  It got me teary for sure, and Samantha and Jared played that scene perfectly.  I am in awe we got something so monumental and touching like this so late into the series.  
 
The closing scene though, Sam staring at the ceiling fan in his room, summed up Sam’s ordeal since the events of last season.  His mother may be back, but all is not well or right.  For one, the British Men of Letters is still out there, who took him from the comfort of his home and tortured him needlessly.  That troubled gaze is everything that’s happened recently hitting him at once.  Where does he go from here?  Is he ready to let his mother join this dangerous fight of his and Dean’s?  What exactly do the British Men of Letters have planned?  That’s what the rest of the season is for I guess. 
 
Mary  
 
In these two episodes, I’m impressed how easily Mary has worked herself into the fold, despite Dean’s unease about what to say around her and his fear of overwhelming her. Mary is more worried that her sons are hunting.  Her sober reminder of the hunting life to Dean set the tone.  “Hunters, no matter how good they are, they all end up the same way.”  
 
Despite her warning to Dean, she’s working on pure instinct right now.  Hunting is all she can do because a hunter is what she is.  I think Mary is smart enough to know that her boys are adults and she should treat them as such.  She’s realistic though too, evident in her guilt about Sam. She knows it was her actions that started everything, her actions that setup the Yellow Eyed demon to come after Sam, her actions that caused her death which pushed John into the hunting life as well as taking their sons there as well.  “I started all of this.”  No wonder she was ashamed to face Sam after all she did.  That's why her stunned expression over Sam's words was so poignant.  It put an exclamation point to a very emotional scene.  
 
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She’s clinging to her fond memories of John, even stating that he was a good Dad, something that Dean’s look confirmed wasn’t true.  Despite the fact that the “bad Dad” card has been way overplayed on this show, Dean didn’t trash John.  He honestly told her what happened after she died later when they were in the Impala, admitting he was drawn into the hunting life.  He also mentioned that Sam got out, but he came back to it anyway.  “The one thing we had in this world, the only thing, besides this car, was each other.”  Sam confirmed to her later, “This is my family.  My family hunts, this is what we do.”     
 
Of course Mary didn’t stay back and keep Castiel company.  That’s not the Winchester way.  She was going to rescue her boys and knew exactly what sort of situation they were walking into.  The fact that she can fight too only helps.  I really, really loved watching her smack the crap out of Toni.  Don’t mess with Momma!  Watching all that her sons have sacrificed to help others, it’s a no brainer this is the life she’s going to embrace eventually.  It’s who she is and her options right now are pretty slim.  
 
The British Men of Letters
 
So let me get this straight.  Lady Toni has a bug up her skirt about the Winchesters, thinking they’re evil and have to be eliminated, while her cohorts don’t agree?  They think that the Winchesters have done some good along with the bad.  But no, Lady Toni wants to make them suffer and doesn’t want to do the whole “let’s cooperate” thing.  Give me a break.  
 
I’m so unimpressed with the British Men of Letters right now.  Why would Toni even care about Ruby and Benny?  Why was that even brought up?  Her mission was information but she brings torture tools and inflicts horrible pain?  To punish them before she killed them?  Personal vendettas seems to go against everything the Men of Letters is about, British or not.  Even the rogue MOL Cuthbert Sinclair wasn’t that ruthless.  Her character so far is ill-conceived, someone that every fan easily wants dead, and honestly, I think the actress was horribly miscast.  This isn’t a “love to hate her” scenario.  This is a “hate her with a thousand suns and why are they wasting our time with her” scenario.  Epic fail.  
 
Lucifer
 
Hot dog, let’s get to the big highlight of this episode, shall we?  Rick Springfield as Lucifer.  THIS is how you do a Lucifer storyline!  He’s not playing benevolent angel anymore.  He found a worthy vessel that was killing himself with grief and alcohol and tricked him into saying yes by using the dead girlfriend card.  It was menacing and diabolical!  Exactly the way Lucifer should be!  
 
I’m glad though that they remembered that Lucifer has a strange way of getting a message across to his potential vessels.  The blood in the sink was a nice touch and a reminder that yes, this is a horror show.  Seeing it on Vincent’s face in the mirror was really freaky!  
 
The biggest problem with bringing back Lucifer last season was the inconsistent way in which he was written.  His portrayal, especially with Castiel as his vessel, went well into campy territory.  Heck, it dived into character butchering territory.  There was no camp in this episode.  The delivery of Lucifer’s big lines were awesome and oh so evil.  I think Rick Springfield’s deeper voice helps sell the part, as well as the demonic rock star look a la Alice Cooper. 
 
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“I said I had plans.”  I haven’t felt that freaked out by a line since demon blood crazed Sam did the TK toss to a demon and uttered the edgy words, “Wait your turn.”  It leaves an impression!  This one tells me that old Lucifer is back.  His “You spoil that boy,” and “Friends close, enemies closer” to Rowena was equally as amazing.  I especially loved the framing on the latter, the camera looking up to Lucifer, showing how much he towered over Rowena.  He’s definitely the more powerful being and Rowena is way in over her head.    
 
Let’s hope that the writers take advantage of the acting strengths of Rick Springfield and stop making Lucifer look like a whiny side show freak instead of the Prince of Darkness.  I’m ready for more and I never thought I’d say that about Lucifer again.   
 
All The Other Stuff
 
Alright, let’s address the opening “mindf***” scenes with Sam and Toni in bed together.  This is classic Brad and Eugenie giving the fans what they want, aka shirtless Sam in bed, but doing it in an oh so inappropriate manner.  This proves again exactly how out of touch they are (still bitter over Lucifer rape jokes in last season’s “O’Brother Where Art Thou?”).  I can be outraged, or I can do what I’ve chosen to do with a bulk of the Buckner/Ross-Leming material, pretend it didn’t happen.  La la la la, nothing to see here folks. 
 
I appreciate that these family conversations are not neglecting the fact that John is a significant part of their lives and cannot be forgotten.  It’s endearing and I probably would have cried foul if Mary showed up after all these years and went, “John who?” 
 
LOVED Crowley in a white jacket.  Just, wow.  
 
I think it was positively adorable that Rowena has decided to become a real housewife, choosing a life of drinks with Republicans in Boca Raton.  That’s so much better than her plan for a “mega coven.”  I also loved seeing Crowley screw her over for a change.  Somehow, I don’t fear for her at all.  Being Lucifer’s bitch might be a good thing. 
 
Best Crowley line: “Wearing Vince Vincente, second tier star. I would have thought Bieber was more your style.” 
 
Way to render Castiel completely useless again.  Couldn’t he have at least manned flashlight or something?  What a waste…again.  
 
Overall grade, a B.  I’m not exactly saying that this season is getting off to a supercharged start, but at least I’m going into the next episode knowing that it’s written by a good writer!  That’s progress.