What is there to say about “Golden Time” really? It was a fine episode, nothing outstanding but far from a terrible episode. Eileen joins the growing list of familiar faces gracing season fifteen – but perhaps not as a one-stop appearance – and Castiel came away seemingly renewed. All great things. Still the episode lacked a punchiness and vigor in many respects. Let’s consider.

Brothers Grimm

The opening of the episode in the bunker (we’ll discuss the witch B&E later) was fairly mellow and on par with the tone of much of the episode. Sam continues to search for any signs of God and Dean is totally resigned to the fact that it’s pointless, so why bother?

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The boys have toggled back and forth through season so far, each taking the role of cheerleader to the other’s hopeless pessimist at times so this isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s simply Sam’s turn (continued from last week) to be encouraging. Unfortunately, attempts to rally Dean fall flat. He’d rather enjoy cereal, Scooby Doo and hotdog PJs (and really, wouldn’t we all rather do something like that in lieu of work?).

Enter Eileen

The return of Eileen is where the story starts to become problematic for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Eileen, she was a great character who was cut short unjustly.  When Dean says to Eileen that spirits can’t go to Heaven who’ve been in Hell, this confused me. (I guess I just missed this when they discussed it with Kevin – and I’m certain it was flagged then too): during the Trials waaayyy back – they rescued “an innocent soul from Hell to deliver it to Heaven” so colour me baffled on this new law.  The rule feels incredibly contrived to manipulate returning characters and give reasons for them to stick around in the ether. Or, in the case of Eileen, venture to Rowena’s house and kickstart a storyline for the week. But I digress.

Dean sees no reason to go with Sam for the crystal, and though Sam wants him to go because it’s important, I don’t disagree with Dean here: for all intents and purposes, this was a simple trip to Rowena’s house. (Not that they ever do anything simple).

Meditative Fishing

While Sam and Dean are working on the Eileen of the problem; Castiel stumbles on a case – as is typical whenever one of them tries to take a vacation.

I’m of two schools of thought on Castiel’s storyline in this episode.  On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed watching him work this case, seeing his competence compared to early years and watching him rediscover his need to be in the fight, his purpose, as it were.  On the other hand, save for one call to Dean, this side plot was so disconnected from the main storyline, even thematically. I expected that Castiel would maybe have returned to the bunker at the end or call as a way to re-link everything. None of this happens and as a result this episode simply felt like two side by side shows.

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All of this aside, Castiel’s story was decent. Instead of a persuasive call from one of the brother’s or a crisis to bring him back, Castiel comes to the realization on his own. The hunter life finds him and he can’t ignore it. In particular, I loved his speech to the djinn – clearly a stand in for God – before he killed it:

“It's always you -- you selfish little men in positions of authority. You take what you want, you take who you want. And you believe that your power will protect you. Well, it won't protect you from me.”

Speaking briefly to the phone call, it was a funny exchange and there did appear to be less tension between Dean and Castiel. Dean was gruff but his instructions to Cas to check his messages reminded me of an annoyed parent, rather than the cold, angry Dean who let Cas leave the bunker so many weeks ago. I also had a good laugh at Castiel’s expression and him faking the end of the call.

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Finally, there is something to be said for Castiel’s healing of the boy despite the clear cost to him. This was a powerful scene, it continues to display Cas’ dwindling powers simultaneously with his strong desire to overcome his weakness for the greater good.

Sam and Eileen

Venturing to Rowena’s is where we get real, extended interaction with Sam and Eileen in this episode for the first time. They discuss Hell – we haven’t heard Sam mention his experience in a long time, so these callback’s are worthwhile reminders that the writer’s haven’t forgotten the history. More significantly, Sam talks about his relationship with Rowena.

This scene was simple but quite poignant.  Clearly still affected, Sam discussed Rowena’s sacrifice and his affection for her came through strongly – enough that Eileen commented that Sam missed her. It was sad and sweet, with Sam reverently standing at the bookshelf, touching Rowena’s journals at random as you would to connect with someone gone and missed.

To Embody a Spirit

Briefly, my thoughts on this spell can be summed up as, huh.

It’s a pretty big get-out-of-jail free card. Granted it could only be used once which was a nice touch. I will say it befuddles me that Rowena was “working” on this spell for so long – Sam referred to it as incomplete upon discovery – but that Sam was able to finish it with such ease. Or perhaps Witch Mother finished it? 

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No matter which way you slice it, this was a big save.

Dean’s comment on the spell and wishing they’d had it for Mary was also curious, since Sam said when they found out Mary was happy, Rowena must have stopped working on it. Would Dean have brought her back anyway? This could be a throw away line; it felt more like a demonstration of where Dean’s focus still is. And the incongruity of the boys thinking.

Is it great to have Eileen back? Yes. Do I think that spell was way too easy? Yes. Did I find the “ghost in the bathtub” effects highly questionable? Definitely.  Did the hug between Sam and Eileen at the end make all that worth it? Absolutely.

Witches and Ghosts and Voodoo Dolls, Oh My

And here, ladies and gents, is where I have the biggest issues with this episode.

The hex on Rowena’s place to prevent anyone from getting in was a clever set up, though it was a bit of a surprise that Sam and Dean didn’t go looking for Rowena’s things before now.

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The stakes with the witch family felt incredibly low. I just kept thinking, well God wants the end to be “brother kills brother” so we know and THEY know, that they won’t die here, like this. Right?  This battle was pretty low energy all around. What did the witches want in the first place? Just Rowena’s books and spells? Lucky for them Sam happened along after their daughter died I suppose.

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And the ghost fight between Eileen and the dead daughter? What was that?! Was Eileen being strangled? She’s a ghost. She doesn’t breathe! We’ve seen ghost fights before, and the displays have been some epic energies, not catfights.  So yeah, this really didn’t play well for me.

The Guys Who Break the Rules

Though Eileen was resurrected and Castiel seems reinvigorated to the fight, the episode left on a dismal note.  Sam gave a pretty good rally speech to Dean, who seemed to be disappointed in himself for having done nothing in contrast to all Sam achieved in the course of the day:

“…we'll find a way to beat him. We will. I don't know how yet, but we will 'cause we're the guys who break the rules. But I can't do it without you. I can't. Just like I couldn't do it today without you. I need my brother.”

This matches the overall tenor of the episode: abrupt, despondent and low-key energy even in spite of attempts to inject spirit (no pun intended) and serves to bookend the opener, where Dean offers a like speech to Sam, but in the negative.  Somehow, even though those are the words the episode closed on, the image of Dean hanging his head woefully eclipses the hopefulness Sam was aiming for; and then the episode cuts abruptly to end credits.

Final Thoughts

“Golden Time” was a fine episode overall, though it lacked a fluidity and struggled to find a tone. Even in dark or emotionally challenging episodes, Supernatural usually delivers with impact. Here there was a watered-down feel to much of storyline, a “safe” quality – nothing too dark, too sad, too deep, too raw, save for a rare moment. I kept waiting for the episode to “lift off” in someway – but it never quite did. The closest it came was Castiel’s story, mostly out of interest in his approach to the solo hunt and curiosity over what he was hunting (and whether that would turn out to be Mellie or not).

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The villains were bland and non-threatening, lacking personality and challenge for our heroes and nothing ever felt at risk, for Castiel or the brothers. Having said that, Castiel’s journey was more spiritual than anything else and therefore saw richer payoff. This isn’t to say Eileen and her story wasn’t enjoyable at times, certainly watching Sam and Eileen is rich. They have a solid relationship and it’s excellent to see Sam have this bond again after having lost Rowena, another female bond that was strong and an emotional connection.  All told, this was a mixed episode that ended on a morose tone.

Your thoughts? Am I the only one wondering how a ghost can be strangled?