Torn and flayed? It seems to represent some fans feelings about season 8 as a whole so far. And yet, like I've said before, I still think this season is an improvement on the last.
I can understand why this episode was not the final episode before Christmas. Not that much really happened. It was entirely focused on character. Sam's Amelia arc, Dean's still blind trusting of Benny, Castiel's efforts for redemption (and the knowledge that he's been controlled by the rather scary Naiomi). An episode that takes a step back to let the character's breath is always a good thing, and I commend them for it. However, was watching the characters actually any good?
Sam/Amelia once again was a little dull. They tried to turn up the suspense of Sam's choice, when we all knew what decision he would make in the end. Before even going into this episode, I knew exactly how it would end. Dean and Sam would somehow make up, and we'd be off into 4 or 5 filler episodes this side of March. So why bother with the fake suspense? I'm not entirely sure where the Amelia storyline can now go, unless they put her in mortal peril or something. Hey, if it's been wrapped up, at least we can draw a line under this and move on.
As far as Dean is concerned, I feel sorry for Benny. I know he's cut him off for Sam, but it's possibly the worst thing Dean could have done! He's banged on time and time again about how much Benny has done for him, yet abandons him when he needs him the most. He's fed on human blood! Dean knows what that means for a vampire. I suppose now we wait for the episode where we have to suffer Sam's "I was right" speech as Benny succumbs and becomes an issue they have to deal with. Not very nice, Dean. Again he chooses his brother and usually I'd be all for that, except in all honesty Sam's acted like a complete jerk as far as Dean's concerned, and if the writers were not so obsessed with keeping the brothers together so we can have a couple of weeks of filler, we could properly explore these issues. In short, the idea behind the Benny and Amelia storylines as wedges between the two could be good if done properly. They'd been doing a good job so far, but it looks like this episode has retconed it. Maybe it was the poor fan reaction to Amelia... I dunno.
Aside from that, we had the much welcomed return of Castiel. There were several revelations here: Castiel is being controlled by Naoimi and there is an Angel tablet which Crowley will try to find. Exciting stuff... even if we did kind of know that anyway. And though Crowley is always fun, I wasn't as overjoyed to see him here as I usually am. Maybe it's because the character stuff aside we've seen this type of episode millions of times before. And again, sigh, they neuter Castiel to stop him from dropping a bomb on the entire place. Seriously? Could I be shot for hoping Crowley had posted some Leviathans to guard Samandriel? He should know by now that Cas, Sam and Dean would show up eventually. Maybe the King doesn't trust the Levis anymore. To be honest, I don't blame him.
So, an average episode focusing on character with some revelations to set us up for the new year. It was okay, not terrible but not all that brilliant either. Still, I remain optimistic. Welcome back Supernatural.