Friday night's Supernatural episode, "The Third Man," was a weird tale of dirty-dealing angels and police corruption. And it hit all the right notes.
With a script by Ben Edlund and the first appearance of Castiel this season, this episode was basically doomed to be awesome. Its structure showed off what Supernatural does best, which is weave together real-life horrors with their paranormal equivalents.
In "The Third Man," we learn that a group of police officers have gunned down an innocent black teenager during a routine traffic stop. To cover their tracks, they planted a gun on his dead body. But now, the cops involved are being stricken with Biblical plagues: One dies spectacularly when he melts into blood; another asphyxiates when boils erupt in his windpipes; and a third, as he's being questioned by Sam and Dean, keels over when locusts eat his brain from the inside out. So we know these cops are all bad guys, but we don't know who is taking Biblical revenge on them. Would angels really be micromanaging things to this degree?
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Cas is back - but is that a good thing?
That's what Sam and Dean are stumped by. So Dean tries a half-hearted prayer to Castiel and the angel appears (cue fangasm). Of course this leads to some bromantic drama, since Sam has been trying to reach Castiel ever since he got yanked topside without explanation. The problem, as Cas explains somewhat bitchily to Sam, is that he has no idea what's going on either. God is still nowhere to be found and heaven is in chaos. A bunch of heavenly weapons - such as the Staff of Moses that's causing those Biblical deaths - have been stolen from the armory upstairs. And angry archangel Rafael is trying to go all Great Dictator on everybody. So Castiel's been a little busy.
And like Sam, Cas seems harder, more ruthless. Case in point: The kid torture scene. Castiel and the brothers discover that the plagues were caused by the kid brother of the guy who was murdered by the police. The kid has somehow gotten a piece of the Staff of Moses, by selling his soul to an angel who apparently stole the thing from heaven and cut it into pieces so he could get the most souls for it. That's right - things are so fucked in heaven that the angels are doing the highway demon tango. Anyway, it turns out Cas can figure out who took the kid's soul, but only by causing excruciating pain for the kid. Which he does basically without a second thought, as Sam watches. Only Dean protests the kid torture. Yeah, things are getting dark.
Let me pause for a moment and say how cool this is
The whole bit with angels trading chopped-up trinkets from the hereafter for human souls is pure genius. These angels get more indistinguishable from devils every day. The best part is when we learn that Cas' good buddy Balthazar is the thief. Balthazar gives a great speech about how he faked his own death, stole the items, and is accumulating the only thing of value anymore (human souls) because he'd rather snort coke and have sex with dozens of people on Earth than go through another civil war in heaven.
Of course, now Rafael is hot on Balthazar's tail too: One of his minions eavesdropped on the kid torture session and figured out who has all the divine WMDs, which of course Rafael would like a piece of himself. So there's an angel showdown at Balthazar's mansion, and the thieving angel reveals that he isn't a complete jerk. When Rafael is about to kill Cas, Balthazar shows up in the nick of time with the WMD that turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt - and turns Rafael into a pile of taste-enhancing minerals.
He also releases the kid from his soul debt after Dean traps him in a ring of holy fire. Before disappearing again with the WMDs.
Oh and also? In the middle of all this angel-on-angel action, Sam's lame new car gets smashed. So the Chevy is king again, as it should be.
Time to process our feelings
Sam's been kind of a cold-hearted dick throughout the episode, starting with the scene where we see him doing chin-ups with a hooker. The old Sam was way too emo to pay for sex, and way too thoughtful to show off the "situation" developing with his post-apocalyptic abs. He's barking orders to Dean over the phone and doesn't even flinch when Cas starts digging around in that poor kid's chest to find the "I took your soul" mark left by Balthazar.
That's why Dean finally corners Sam and asks what's changed about him. Sam tries to shrug it off, blaming the year of nonstop hunting for his "rough edges." But Dean thinks hell has changed his brother, and tries to get him to talk about it. But Sam refuses to process, claiming that hell may have affected Dean but that it didn't affect him at all.
Not buying it at all. Sam is clearly having issues and he hasn't cried even once. This is not our beloved boy. Maybe hell has burned out his Winchester circuits, or the probably-evil Campbells have done a number on him. Maybe it's not even Sam at all, and the Campbells have the real Sam trapped in a box while Fake Sam lures Dean into trusting him.
The point is, you just can't go back to the way it was before the Apocalypse
One of the best parts of this episode was the parallel between corrupt cops and corrupt angels, and discovering how crimes in one group are linked to revelations about crimes in the other. Angels really are the cops of heaven, and their reasons for sliding into crime are as complex as those of the cops on The Shield. I love that we're delving more deeply into the fallout of the Apocalypse in heaven, as well as meeting new badass angels who are following in Cas' footsteps (for better or worse) and striking out on their own.
I also like that Supernatural isn't doing the easy thing and just hitting the reset button on Sam and Dean's relationship. Sam has been profoundly changed, and how could he not be? First he was Lucifer's meatsack, and then he was in "the cage" of hell for who knows how long in subjective time. The guy is probably a PTSD mess, if he's even Sam at all. Now, more than ever, Dean is the good guy. As any good angel will tell you, that's quite a burden. Especially when what you're fighting isn't evil so much as ambiguous.