Friday's episode of Supernatural, "Two and a Half Men," brought the show back into focus by making the Winchester brothers a team again. It also raised more questions about the Campbell hunter crew, and what their creepy agenda might be.
Apparently the best way to Dean's heart these days is to dangle a kid in front of him. Last week he refused to join up with Sam and the Campbell gang because he wanted to protect his new family: Lisa and her kid Ben, whom he has come to think of as his own son. And in this episode, Sam woos Dean back into the hunter fold by showing him just how cute and vulnerable changeling babies can be.
The episode gave us a monster-of-the-week with the kind of twist that I think we'll be seeing a lot of in this monster-centric season. Changelings are murdering families and stealing their kids - but it turns out that it's not just bloodthirsty murderousness motivating them, though at first it seems to be. As Sam and Grandpa investigate the increasingly weird series of murder/kidnappings, they begin to realize that the case is a lot bigger than they thought. Especially when the husband of one of the murdered mothers says that he'd broken up with his wife because she got pregnant and claimed it was his - even though they hadn't had sex recently enough for it to be his kid. And yet, he tells Sam, she just kept insisting that he'd come home and had sex with her when he knew he was off on a trip.
Turns out the changelings natural reproductive cycle involves this kind of bloody switcheroo all the time. The papa wannabe pretends to be installing a security system in the target family's house, then returns at some point wearing the husband's face, plants his seed, and comes back to pick up the results when the baby is 6 months old.
While Sam is figuring all this out, Dean is struggling with his own dangerous baby issues. He's moved Lisa and Ben away from their comfy house to protect them from further monster threats, and he's got them on full-salt lockdown. They're both getting antsy - especially Ben - with the whole "hide constantly" thing. Then, when Ben finds one of Dean's rifles and starts playing with it, Dean explodes at him. Sounding like the mirror universe version of his own father, he screams that Ben should never touch or shoot a gun. It's his misguided attempt to protect Ben from the horrors of the hunting life, but it feels like too little too late. Ben is already being victimized by monsters and his life has been ripped up by the roots. At least he should learn to protect himself, and Lisa should too.
Instead of turning his new family paramilitary, Dean finds himself dragged into Sam's changeling case. Sam calls begging for help with a baby he's rescued from the changeling murder - a baby who turns out to be a changeling too. There are some great Sam/Dean bonding moments as they struggle to deal with the baby needing a diaper change at the same time that they have to fend off changelings trying to steal it. Domestic life can be as hair raising as hunter life - but unfortunately, as Dean realizes, you can't have both.
Things get really interesting when the brothers have to figure out what to do with the changeling baby. There aren't exactly any orphanages or social services aimed at helping monster babies. While they debate what to do, it's slowly dawning on Dean that changelings may not be that different from humans after all. When he sees the helpless baby gurgling in the backseat of Sam's car, he points out that it's not the kid's fault that his family did evil things. The baby still deserves a chance to grow up right.
Unfortunately it really doesn't look like the poor little thing is going to get that chance. Sam convinces Dean to take the baby back to Grampa, who quickly and weirdly hands it off to the Campbell cousin we'll just call Parker (he's played by Corin Nemec, who played Parker Lewis on the world's greatest show ever). Supposedly Parker and his wife have been dying for a baby and they'll be happy to raise this monster as their own. Since we already know that Grampa and Parker kidnapped a djinn last week, I think it's pretty obvious that baby changeling isn't headed for a nice childhood if he stays in Parker's hands.
Lucky for the baby, but not so much for Silent Campbell Cousin, a superpowerful "alpha" changeling busts the whole deal up, swooping in and killing Silent Cousin before snatching the baby. Though it's still clear that the changelings are bad guys, the episode leaves us with the unsettling feeling that maybe they aren't quite as bad as we thought - they love their kids, after all. Plus, are the Campbell hunters with their creepy kidnapping ways really all that much better than the monsters? And maybe even worse for being hypocrites?
The episode ends with the setup that I think we're likely to see for the rest of the season in terms of Dean's new family. Lisa tells him that she can't live the way she'd have to for him to stay with them - she needs to settle down somewhere that she can work and Ben can go to school. She doesn't want a nomadic life of always being on the alert and going into lockdown. To solve the problem, Lisa tells Dean that he should go do what he needs to, which made her an even more likable character than she was before. She'll be living with Ben in their new home, and she's happy to see him whenever he can come home - but she's not expecting that to be a regular thing. And I suspect this may be the last we see of her and Ben this season.
Dean has been set free. He pulls the dust cover off his Impala, and the music swells: Dean is returning to the hunting life with Sam at last. Of course he's also returning to danger and even more moral ambiguity than usual. So it's not exactly freedom - it's more like going back to a deadly grind. Still, he'll be helping to save the world again, and he'll be with Sam, who obviously needs him much more than the independent Lisa does.
Next week, Castiel is back and needs the brothers' help, so things should get very interesting indeed. Though I still want to know what the hell is up with the Campbells, who are obviously not the cool buddies they make themselves out to be. Are we going to find a creepy torture prison in Grandpa's basement?