I may have been too harsh on “Supernatural” last week. I say this as I’m absolutely humming with afterglow from magic of “The Born-Again Identity.” This episode was the proverbial flowers-and-candy gesture that had me at hello. “Supernatural” fans should know by now that I can never stay mad at it.
The show opens without the squishy death of a hapless stranger, but with a haggard Sam Winchester wobbly running through Crack Alley. You know you look like death warmed over when a drug dealer worries about you and offers complimentary goofballs so you can sleep. Mark Pellegrino returns as Lucifer, and cleverly provides us with the back-story: Sam slipped out after Dean drank himself to sleep, and he's been awake for five days. It’s hard to watch a deliriously desperate Sammy share roofies in abandoned car with the drug-peddler with a heart of gold. It’s even harder to watch Lucifer wake up him and force him to run into traffic only to be steamrolled by a sedan.
At the hospital, Dean accosts Sam’s psychiatrist, Dr. Kadinsky, with bluster and rage because Sam was hurt on he can’t see him. The good news is that Sam has “minor lacerations and a broken rib.” The bad news is he’s in the midst of a “full-blown psychotic episode” and on lockdown in the pysch ward. Even the shuttered expression of horror on Dean’s gorgeous face is heartbreaking. Dr. Kadinsky is mystified as to how Sam’s awake when he’s been pumped with enough sedatives to drop a moose.
Truthfully, Sam looks damn good for a man who just got hit by a car and hasn’t rested in a week. There are some scratches on his face, light bandages on his arms and a beard that looks softer than the Easter Bunny’s fur and neater than Ned Flander’s lawn. He’s “Hollywood hurt,” but Jared Padalecki is doing his best to sell it, utilizing such broken-down-babydoll body language that Tyra Banks is beaming from Harvard Yard.
Dean promises Sam he’ll find help. In a nice touch of foreshadowing, Sam tells Dean that they knew this would have eventually as Cas warned them repeatedly, and Dean explodes, “Screw Cas! Quit bein’ Dalai-friggin-Yoda about this. Get pissed!”
Sam sighs, “I’m too tired.” They stare at each other, communicating without words, because Sam can’t fight anymore. Dean refuses accept it. Lucifer, who’s been providing snarky commentary, chuffs, “Aww, you guys are having a moment,” like a lovesick fangirl.
The scenes of Sam challenging Dean to find a cure, and Dean storming off to raid Bobby’s contacts is a wistful shout-out to season 1’s excellent “Faith,” in which the tables were turned, and Sam saved Dean from dying after an electric shock mortally damaged his heart.
At the cabin, Dean isn't making much progress, and gets another beer. As soon as he turns his back, wind from inside the locked cabin knocks it off the table and a card for Mackey’s Taxidermy falls out. Dean calls the number on the back and leaves a message. I definitely think that’s more evidence of Bobby’s spirit, trying to help Sam from beyond.
At the hospital, Dr. Kadinsky asks Sam about his rib pain, after Sam labels it a “three,” he scoffs in concern. “Your pain must be astronomical. The worst is knowing that there’s always a new 10. What I’m talking about the truly elegant torture I have prepared today, Sam” and morphs into Beelzebub. “You. Me. Locked ward. Is it me or is it just like the cage?” The devil taunts.
When Sam ignores him, Lucifer manifests maggots in Sam’s hospital food, making sure he can’t eat either. Hurry up, Dean!
Mackey called Dean back with an intriguing story (and he’s cute enough that I’d like to see him and the brothers work a cast together in the future). He caught wind of a healer in Colorado who was “healing the sick, curing the crazy” and figured it was something worth killing. Mackey left word with his wife, Daphne, that he was blind in one eye and wanted help. Daphne assured him that this healer would come to him, and he did. He not only did he pass all of the tests, he “touched me, and my eye was fixed. I don’t believe much that don’t suck your blood, but I wouldn’t call you on a maybe.”
Dean hauls ass to Colorado to find said healer, Emanuel. Joe Suburb, unconvincingly clad in a grandpa sweater, answers the door. With quick surveillance, Dean finds Daphne bound and gagged through the window. With flash of his beetle-black eyes, Mr. Suburb reveals that he’s a demon, and I missed them so much, I started cheering from my couch. Dean, fully recovered from his inexplicably stupidity from last week, eviscerates said demon after finding out that Crowley (the King of Hell who issued a “hands-off order” for Sam and Dean to all demons) isn’t happy that the Winchesters haven’t killed Dick Roman yet; and demons are competing to get their hands on Emanuel, the paranormal equivalent to an A-bomb. Now this is a March Madness I can get behind.
Once the demon is dead, the real Emanuel arrives in some gray corduroys that accentuate his posterior assets. However, this mysterious healer looks strikingly like a rogue angel last seen herking-and-jerking into a river in Sioux Falls fifteen episodes ago.
Dean quickly figures out that Emanuel/Cas has no idea who he is, has never laid eyes on a demon—although he can see their true faces—and that he’s married to Daphne, the woman who found him “drenched and confused…and unclothed. She said God wanted her to find me.” Although Daphne has little dialogue, she has the mellifluous temperament of women who marry serial killers after 12 years of letter writing. Emanuel agrees to help and they begin their trek back to Sam.
Meanwhile, Lucifer taunts Sam with firecrackers popping over The Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie,” a song choice that’s so perfect, the “Glee” writers are jealous. “Hard to believe you were the guy who saved the world once.” A ridiculously cute orderly brings food in and informs Sam that Marin, the sweet girl who gifted Sam with a candy bar after he wouldn’t eat his sandwich, wasn’t here because of an accident. Only Sam would worry about others when he’s one foot in the grave.
In the “Supernatural” universe, road-trips that should take days only take seconds, so it’s funny to see how long it takes Dean and Emanuel to return to the hospital. Dean cautiously pokes at him to see what he remembers and learns that got his name from “BouncingBabyNames.com” and damn if I don’t love internet puns (If you’re interested, it means “God is with us.” Nice touch, show). Emanuel later asks how Sam was hurt. Dean grates out that a friend, “broke his brother’s head.” “Did you kill him? I sense that you kill a lot of people,” Emanuel asks without a trace of fear. Dean answers, “I don’t know if he’s dead, but I know that this whole thing couldn’t be messier. I used to be able to shake this stuff off. What Cas did, I just can’t…I don’t know why.”
Emanuel advises, “You’re not a machine, Dean. You’re human.” If I haven’t said it yet, Misha Collins is an amazing actor. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to convey the essence of a character though he believes he’s an entirely different being. While I feel Castiel there, in his voice, speech and body language, Emanuel radiates peace and light, the way a conventional "treetopper" angel or a blessed healer might. I almost don’t want him to remember what he had become.
At a rest stop, Dean is jumped by more demons. He kills one, and is about to get his ass handed to him on a sulfuric platter by more when one demon is stabbed and the other flees in a tornado of black smoke. It’s not Emanuel or Cas, who came to the rescue as Dean and I both hoped, but Meg 2.0, played by the melodiously-voiced Rachel Miner (“Californication”). She’d saved his life in order to barter an alliance as things between Crowley and Meg are “frosty." Dean reluctantly agrees because she can protect them from the mounting number of demons tracking Emanuel.
Back in the psych ward with the worst security ever, Marin and Sam compare crazy. She jokes about Sam hearing “Charles Manson or the devil” and confesses that she hears “her dead brother saying kill yourself to be with him or I’ll do it for you.” It takes a sleep-deprived, malnourished, battered Sam half a second to confirm that Marin’s hunted by a ghost and imprisoned in a psych ward because of a fire her brother’s spirit set.
Marin and Sam team up to free her brother’s spirit that’s tied to a bracelet he made. I like Marin (Kacey Rohl). She’s as cute as a red-headed Tinkerbell, and even though doctors have mistakenly diagnosed her as “psychotically depression with suicidal ideation,” she hasn’t lost her sense of humor. She proudly presents Sam with a swiped lighter, and laughs, “Being locked up is really turning me into a decent criminal.” She’s also a fighter, who never hesitates when the ghost her brother appears and sends a chair flying, the wind howling and shatters the overhead lights in anger. If Marin’s not a hallucination or a reaper, I’d want Sam to take her to the movies and make her a mixed tape.
Sam’s health is worsening. Just as Marin predicted, his nails are falling out, and Dr. Kadinsky tries to tell him he needs surgery. “Lobotomy?” Lucifer hopes, hovering over his shoulder. “Darn,” he pouts, when Dr. Kadinsky assures him it’s not invasive.
Sam drifts away in a flare of lights that transitions to the extinguishing headlights of Dean’s car-of-the-week. Dean, Cas and Meg are parked outside of the hospital entrance that’s now being guarded by demonically-possessed patients and staff. Meg chomps at the bit to trigger his memory, the fastest way to get to Sam, and knock out her competition. But Dean is hesitant, because he doesn’t know what Castiel they’d face. “He could snap. He could disappear. Who knows?”
“Am I Cas?” Emanuel wonders, disgusted. “I don’t remember you, I’m sorry.”
Meg explains that he’s a powerful angel and could smite all of the demons. “But I don’t remember how,” he says. “It’s in there. I’m sure it’s just like riding a bike,” Dean pushes. “I don’t know how to do that either.” Castiel, if I didn’t hate what you did to Sam, I’d love you. Though it can be an overused plot device, amnesia is a brilliant foil to ensure that Emanuel feelsfamiliar to Castiel, who was famously and hilariously unfamiliar with human behavior and habits.
Cas, face creased with perplexed confidence, marches up to the demons and smites them all methodically. As he does it, he remembers raising Dean from Perdition, rebelling against Heaven, making a deal with Crowley, breaking Sam’s wall, and finally, returning the souls to Purgatory. It’s wistful, depressing and exquisitely done. Instead of hating the freak who broke Sam as I have all season, I miss the awkward angel that always had the boys’ backs, learned from them about the true essence of humanity and followed them into battle. The being that been taught that Sam was an “abomination” yet saved him from enemies because he had seen that he was a good soul. This Castiel is overwhelmed with remorse and wants to flee, because he’s killed and maimed and hurt so many. He says all of the right things, “I deserved to die. So why didn’t I?” “Maybe to fix him,” Dean implores. He dives into the trunk of his car and pulls out Castiel’s rumpled, blood and gunk stained trenchcoat. He couldn't have gotten it dry-cleaned, at least?
Inside of the hospital, the hot orderly wheels Sam into a chamber that only sanitariums in horror movies have—one that’s all white tile with drains in the floor to easily wash away the vomit and blood from the patients as they torture. Sam isn’t getting a lobotomy, but he is getting “electroshock.” As soon as he jams the plug in Sam’s mouth, it’s obvious the orderly is possessed. And that Sam’s royally screwed, because he’s strapped to a bed with electricity frying his already mangled brain, and he can’t pass out. Watching Sam jerk and convulse from the cranked-up current is heartbreaking. “You just take those lickins, don’t you, kid? Well if it’s meat you can cook it…just gotta turn up the heat," the orderly threatens.
He doesn’t know from heat. As he reaches for the dial, Castiel, wearing his angel-armor, smites him with Heaven’s fury. “I should have never broken your wall, Sam. I’m here to make it right,” Castiel laments, lying hands on him, healing.
But it doesn’t work.
Back in his room, Sam twitches as Lucifer reads him “The Three Little Pigs.” He’s not aware that Dean and Cas are there. Castiel suddenly realizes that he can “shift” what can’t be fixed. “I'll be okay," he promises Dean. Sam looks at Cas, but only sees Lucifer’s dressed up like a 1950s doctor. As soon as Castiel touches him, hot orange throbs from Sam’s head, snaking up Castiel’s arm to his head. With a tortured scream and gasp, Sam awakens, calling for his brother. While Castiel backs himself against the wall, terrified as he envisions Lucifer just as Sam had.
Sane and Lucifer-free, Sam hobbles out of the hospital with Dean while Castiel is locked in Sam's room, in his place. It’s an eye for an eye, crazy for crazy. Ever the bleeding heart, Sam worries about Cas. All of the demons who knows about him is dead, except for Meg. Dean rather indifferently rationalizes that they don’t have a choice because “all of their friends are dead” and even though their predicament is “mutually assured destruction,” it’s the best option they have. “Supernatural” ends not with the embrace of reunited brothers, but an ominous not as Meg secures a job on Dr. Kadinsky’s psych ward. Gulp.
I *heart* this episode from start to finish. Not only was it beautiful directed and deftly acted by everyone, especially new dad Jared Padalecki, showrunner and writer Sera Gamble balanced Sam’s maddening arc with Castiel’s return flawlessly. I admit it was hard to reconcile what Castiel did, how his actions hurt Sam, betrayed Dean and released the monsters that would eventually kill Bobby Singer (and a lot of other people). Now, I’m grateful that Cas had the chance to be redeemed, and that the show handed out some justice "Supernatural" style, and I actually worry about his future. How Meg might use the now-deranged angel in the future is a prospect far more exciting than Dick Roman’s goo-spewing Leviathans. Ultimately, "The Born-Again Identity" may have truly just reinvented the remainder of the season. Bravo!
What did you think of the episode? Were you glad that Castiel was back? How dangerous do you think an insane angel is? Make use of the comments section below!
Next week, “Supernatural” mixes alcohol with hunting. This won’t end bloody at all.