Ah yes, the setup episode.  Not that it’s a bad thing.  Lord knows if any series needed a setup episode so far this season it's “Supernatural.”  As this show often does though, an episode designed to gives us answers also leaves us with a ton more maddening questions.  As a matter of fact, much of what we got were really teasers more than answers.  The writers certainly know how to push buttons.  
 
“Family Matters” proceeds to mix things up a little, much like all the other episodes in this very different (yet solid) season six.  The last two weeks have been rich with Winchester brother strife and conflict so to see Sam and Dean finally trying to work together is something we hoped for and sorely missed.  They aren’t quite at the perfect understanding yet, but it’s a start.  
 
This episode is called “Family Matters” for a reason.  It’s more than one of those double meaning titles.  It means there’s family business to address, like Sam and Dean deciding where to go from here.  It means that despite the trials and mistrust, family is still important.  It’s also a thinly veiled mantra for Samuel Campbell, whose motives are made a bit more clear.    
 
In last week’s review I was crazy and stupid enough to do a Q and A with myself, as if I had all the answers or something.  Not this week.  The long list of questions that I got out of “Family Matters” ends up in a speculative sense making my brain cottage cheese.  Instead, I choose to focus a chunk of this week's review on the main theme that time and time again has been the lifeblood of this show.  Family and what lengths these guys will go to for each other.    
 
You’re stuck with the soulless guy


 
Family matters are in the forefront from the start, picking right up from last week.  Dean is still very much pissed and not completely convinced that the battered man he tied to the chair in the motel room is his brother.  Castiel, who has taken time out of his busy civil war to help, has been tasked by Dean to get to the bottom of the problem.  I saw in the previews the reveal that Sam’s soul is missing, so I came to this scene with a big question.  What does that mean, a soulless being?  Is he human, is he alive?  With just two few sentences, Castiel and Dean give an answer, or at least a cop out for now.  "So is he even still Sam?” Dean asks after finding out the truth.  "It will pose an interesting philosophical question," Castiel responds.  In other words, the concept will likely be tested and explored for the duration.  
 
Soulless or not (not to mention being awake 24/7), Sam faces the same battles as his prior self.  He isn’t going to stand for other people making decisions about his life. When Dean questions Sam’s right to freedom, Sam makes clear his rights, fully human or not.  He tries to reason with Dean first by apologizing and promising not to pull a stunt like letting him turn into a vampire again, but at the same time he’s secretly managed to free himself from the ropes (don't act surprised, Sam has constantly been able to do that).  When Dean won't listen, Sam stands up and sets the record straight.  â€œYou're not gonna hold me, Dean, not here, not in the panic room, not anywhere. You're stuck with the soulless guy, so you might as well work with me.”  One bonus of this new soulless Sam is he doesn’t hesitate in speaking his mind with Dean.  It is quite a switch from the Sam of old who had to take such declarations to Dean on pins and needles.  Dean is even convinced enough to have Castiel heal Sam's face from that vicious beating.  Gotta protect the beauty square!  
 
From this point forward, as we find through the Dean/Sam/Samuel triangle, family matters are compilcated.  The only lead right now to finding Sam’s soul is through their grandfather.  Dean’s going to have to spend time with the man (and the antgonistic cousins) even though he doesn’t trust them at all.  He also needs to get Sam on the same page, who flat out trusts Samuel just because he is their grandfather.  "I don't trust him, dude's hiding something, I can feel it, and if you weren't Robo-Sam, you would feel it, too."  Sam can't comprehend why Dean doesn't trust Samuel.  "Huh, just you, saying you don't trust family." 

That's further evidence that Sam is operating without a barometer.  Let's face it, Robo-Sam has got issues.  He can't tell the difference between right and wrong.  He didn't tell Dean that they were capturing and interrogating the alphas, lying to him after Dean watched the entire alpha vamp capture from afar.  Sam admitted that was his choice, not Samuel's, because he believed Dean would mess it up.  He'd shoot first and ask later.  Dean wonders if Sam has been in on the interogations and can't accept Sam's blind faith that Samuel is doing the right thing.  "Nobody's forcing you to work with me, OK, but if we do this, I drive the bus, I call the shots, and you tell me everything, whether it's important or not because trust me, you can't tell the difference! Or you know what-- go with Samuel. See how that goes. It's up to you." 

Sam's issues are naturally spilling over into the brotherly trust department too.  Given Sam's current condition, lack of trust will definitely affect Dean's faith in his brother.  Dean is surprised when Sam chooses to go along with him, even assigning the odds at 60/40.  I wonder which went Sam's way?  I like this entire setup, how Dean gets to point out to Sam where his lack of a soul is failing him and Sam is listening, while at the same time Dean is choosing to work with the soulless guy despite his reservations.  That’s a major step in the right direction, a big switch from the massive tug-of-war these two have been engaged in all season.   

  
Dean learns he needs Sam, no matter how he is, for without Sam's knowledge of Samuel's weaknesses with technology ("He still thinks Velcro is a big deal") they wouldn't have been able to get to the alpha vamp and get some answers.  One big mystery ends up being a search for Purgatory, aka where all the “other” souls go.  The monsters, the freaks, the ones that don’t belong in Heaven or Hell.  It’s real and alpha vamp knows where it is.  He isn’t talking though.  His talk strays toward the fact that Samuel doesn’t really care where Purgatory is, for he’s just doing what he was told.  
 
That bring us to Samuel, who has another layer in his mysterious facade peeled away.  Dean, in his usual flare for words, asks “Who’s the old man’s Kermit?  Who’s hand’s up his ass?”  Why it's our good buddy, The King of Hell himself, Crowley.  Why is Samuel working for Crowley?  Why work for a demon?  He wouldn’t give Dean his reasons but the clues were kind of obvious.  The longing look at a picture before Dean, Sam and Castiel enter.  Mary?  Deanna?  The three of them as a family?  Or is it the entire Campbell clan, the ones killed after Mary?  Was Samuel the one that arranged for Sam to be sprung from the cage?  Why else would Crowley have freed Sam?  I'm glad he didn’t realize that Sam came back without a soul, which ended up both relieving and scaring him.  â€œYou're a hell of a hunter, Sam, but, truth is, sometimes you scare me." 
 
Dean in one of his lectures to Sam says, “You can't assume that family means the same thing to him as it does to us--he's not Dad."  Now I believe Dean is wrong here, for chances are Samuel's loyalty to family is far greater than anyone can imagine.  The secretive act could be from a guy who’s been given a golden opportunity to save his family which he could not refuse, but also a guy who doesn’t want to get hopes up or have anyone else blow it or end up in harms way.  The odds are stacked pretty high against him. Going it alone is the hunters way and consistent with his attitude from “In The Beginning.”  
 
The concept of Purgatory brings a huge wrinkle to all this.  From what we know so far, John and Mary couldn’t be found in Heaven.  They aren’t in Hell either, so could Purgatory be where their souls went?  Is this part of Samuel’s quest, to get his daughter back?  There I go with that maddening speculation again.  The possibilities are huge and suddenly I don’t think Samuel is the man we think he is.  What's great is Dean sensed that too, letting the old man go in the end rather than allow Sam to shoot him.  When Dean’s instincts fall in the favor of family, even with all the mistrust, all is right with the world again.  

Now if we can just get Sam on board.  It is curious how Sam took Samuel's actions as betrayal and was quick to draw his weapon.  Is that just the soullessness talking?  If anything, it again shows Sam's clouded sense of judgment and how much he needs Dean right now.  Or there could be more to it that we don't know about yet.  This show always keeps you guessing!   
 
It's quite fitting though that after all of this family drama, the tale finishes on the brothers.  Dean hates the idea of being a servant to Crowley, but they have no choice.  It's either that or they never see Sam's soul again or worse, Sam goes back.  Sam gets it.  After everything, family is all he has.  "Look, just until we find another way," says Sam. "And then?" asks Dean. "And then we track Crowley down and give that SOB what's coming to him.  You with me, Dean?"  Score one for the soulless guy.  

 
Three guys, three very different behaviors, one motive.  Family.  Isn't that all that matters?
 
Right, the other stuff that happened

Crowley showing up wasn't too much of a shock for me, but a delightful surprise since Mark Sheppard's name wasn't in the opening credits.  There are some things I am not taking at face value.  There is no way I believe that any demon, the King of Hell or otherwise, can spring Sam from a cage in which he’s sharing with two mighty archangels, Lucifer and Michael.  No, no, no.  Now, as we’ve learned from Crowley before, he knows a lot of tricks, spells, technicalities, deals, whatever so he’s getting help.  He’s blackmailing someone else.  An angel maybe?  The question becomes, is an angel like Balthazar powerful enough?  How about a Horseman (Death)?  Castiel couldn’t free Sam and he’s running the show.  We aren’t getting the whole story here. 

What did the alpha vamp mean, he had a mother just like everyone else?  Some sort of a major clue?  How about that they're going to War?  Is this all about conquest?  First Purgatory and then Crowley has his army to take over Earth?  At the same time, he's fueling a Civil War in Heaven?  I'm just throwing all that out there, I'm sure we've got a lot more coming in that department. 

So Christian was a demon this whole time.  I actually like him now, for that makes sense, especially his instant hatred for Dean.  Demons don't like him too much, so they?  I wonder if Christian was part of Samuel's negotiation too and Crowley twisted his part of the deal.  Gwen's loyalty took a hit, didn't it?  Think she'll end up on the side of Sam and Dean eventually?   
    
This is one of those episodes impossible to grade since it’s main existence is to setup the possibilities for what’s coming next.  So, this could prove to be an important meta classic or just a filler episode.  It could go either way.  Judging on acting, script, and technical merits alone, I’m going with an A-.  My mind on that can easily change though in the future, depending on the impact.  
 

Comments  

elle2
# elle2 2010-11-08 21:17
Alice,

Great review by you again. There is so much that happened in this episode and each time I've watched it or thought about it or read someone's review on it (or comments) I get more out of the episode and like it more and more. I said before that I was sort of 'meh' about it at first but it grew on me, it continues to grow (and that's a good thing)

The brothers definitely appear to be heading in the right direction and I dearly hope (and do believe) that will continue...of course my hopes could be dashed this coming Friday but as long as they are bonded in the goal of getting Sam's soul and then giving Crowley a bit of what he's got coming to him then that's a good thing.

As someone else stated...15 episodes left in this season and I'm excited to see what they have in store for us.

And yes, I do believe this season is quite solid, each episode may not be built on a rock-solid foundation but each episode thus far moves the storylines forward, some more than others, but nothing thus far has felt jaringly out of place (Fallen Idols)

:-)

Looking forward to Friday
Pragmatic Dreamer
# Pragmatic Dreamer 2010-11-08 22:30
Bit nervous as I'm taking the plunge from "lurker" to poster. But I've always found it best to jump right in.

As Alice says, this is obviously a set-up episode. We're given lots of material to ponder about Sam, Samuel and Crowley and their motives.

There have been some deliciously ambiguous lines flung around recently, like Castiel's "Certain regrettable things are now required of me". It sounds ominous to me. Also, Crowley so interested in "location, location, location" at the same time there's a civil war in Heaven. Coincidences happen in life (unless you believe in Fate and Destiny). They rarely happen in fiction. (Of course I mean they happen all the time, but it's on purpose!).

Did I mention Death? He needed Sam to jump in the Pit. Suspicious much? Never fear. He'll be back, playing an important role I suspect.

This episode also has me wondering about Dean. I've read some people who say he's the avatar for the audience - the observer through which we see the story. But there is also some mystery surrounding him. Supernatural writers are skilled at storytelling. Since Season 1, major concepts (the moments where you go "What just happened? What did he/she say or do that?") aren't introduced willynilly. They pay off at some future point.

So, I'm curious. It's never been fully explained how Dean was able to kill the Whore of Babylon, or stare straight at Zachariah as he "stabbed him through the face". Could be because he was thinking of saying yes to Michael. But, I'm thinking that the whole "I swear to serve Heaven" declaration back in When The Levee Breaks in Season 4 still has some significance. I think if Sam's soul is stuck in Hell, and Samuel's loved one/ones are doing the limbo in Purgotary, the balance to that, or the resolution to that will be some Heavenly or angelic mojo from, or through Dean.

I'll "shut my hole" now and go back to lurking.
Rose
# Rose 2010-11-08 22:59
I'm with you, Alice, that there's no way Crowley could have brought Sam back from hell. That just doesn't fit with all we know about what it took to get Dean out and later, Lucifer. I'm thinking there's definitely an angel in the mix somewhere. Perhaps Raphael?

And poor Cas. Can't wait til we find out what's really happening up in heaven. He just looks spent every time we see him, which isn't enough, if you ask me.

It has been a solid season so far but I'm really hoping that we get our 'Sammy' back soon. I miss him dearly, almost as much as Dean! ;-)

Cheers! Rose
Tigershire
# Tigershire 2010-11-09 01:12
Coupled with the doubt that Crowley could pull Sam out of Lucifer's cage, I don't think there is anyway Crowley could have pulled Samuel out of Heaven!

So, to me, that means there has to be another party involved. :-)
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-11-09 03:03
Hello Pragmatic Dreamer and welcome to the de-lurking adventure (meaning in fact: welcome to the site). Loved your post and your references to prior seasons. I bet we have a lot in store here...
Feel free to come back any time... Jasminka
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-11-09 03:07
Alice, thank you for this amazing review. I am always amazed, again and again, how many facets this show is able to give us in one episode alone.

Whenever one watches it again one discovers more hidden layers, it's the best game for mind training, it seems...

If they go on like this for the rest of the season, I will be drained emotionally and probably physically from all the raised blood pressure and fits of hyperventilation...

Love Jas
CitizenKane2
# CitizenKane2 2010-11-09 03:10
Hi Alice, although I had not had the chance to watch the full episode of "Family Matters" (I've only caught small bits and pieces), I have to say this is an excellent review.

I especially liked how you tied up the principal thread (that concluded with "Three guys, three very different behaviors, one motive. Family. Isn't that all that matters?"). Wow. Sounds like something Chuck would have said. :P

But I am curious as to who (if anyone) rules Purgatory. I take it that the occupants of Purgatory won't take kindly to being run by Crowley, and I would expect some (if not all of them) to object to the planned takeoever. Maybe the vampires should start to learn some exorcism chants to deal with the demons.

Imagine a three way war - in heaven, hell and purgatory - spilling onto earth. Ouch.
Suze
# Suze 2010-11-09 07:34
I really enjoyed this one, we got answers!:shock: Yes, I know we also got loads more questions, but it is sort of progress.

I'm really warming to All-New De-Souled RoboSam now, he's action-packed, he does stuff and says things and doesn't just amble round behind Dean looking shifty, which is a nice change.

This working for Crowley thing looks very promising too ... By that I mean it looks like an immensely bad idea that's bound to end in tears and horrible death ... So I'm feeling quite braced about the rest of the season. :D
Karen
# Karen 2010-11-09 07:36
Hi Alice
Thanks for the review. I liked this episode and all it’s reveals. I find the prospect of purgatory very interesting.
I also love that the brothers are starting to find a common ground for which they can work together. I’ve hated the storyline of their relationship deteriorating again. I really want them back as a team. And as much as the soulless Sam has kept me intrigued and captivated, it’s also been emotionally draining. I’m ready to have our old Sam back.

I would like to know how being soulless is related to not requiring any sleep at all? The only beings that ever went without sleep were either possessed by demons or they were an angels vessel.

I do believe that Samuel did strike up a deal to gather the Alpha’s for the return of Deanna and Mary. It did look like a photograph he was looking at when the boys burst into his office. From what we learned from this man in ‘In the beginning’, I believe the return of his family would be the only thing he would be willing to bargain with.

I also find it hard to believe Crowley had the power to free Sam from the Cage and Samuel from heaven. I believe Crowley is working with someone higher than himself. With everything that it took to get Lucifer out, I can’t see how getting Sam out would be any easier. I could see him working with Death since they both conspired to help stop the apocalypse. Maybe even Balthazar is in on it as well. I don’t believe it would be Raphael since he is still trying to bring on the apocalypse and I sure both Death and Crowley are not in his good books.
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2010-11-09 10:21
Good review Alice. I don't think Crowley is completely behind this either. Has to have something to do with Raphael somehow.

As for the boys, I hope they both get back to normal soon. This was the first episode this year, I saw the New!Dean. He really was very soft, but it was a set-up episode, so hopefully they correct that soon.
Evelyn
# Evelyn 2010-11-09 10:53
I'm with Tigershire and Karen and believe that Crowley doesn't have the juice to pull Sam out of Hell AND he also doesn't have the juice to pull Samuel out of Heaven. So, he has to be working with others in order to accomplish this task. My guess is Death for the Hell part - as to Heaven? Not sure, maybe Balthazar? Or someone we haven't been introduced to yet. But, what would be the motives for these other people? Very interesting development. (Can't wait to find out)

It's nice to see Dean and Sam working together again, albeit somewhat tenuously. And I love the fact that Dean is back. This thing with Sam in the last episode seemed to snap him out of his funk, his daze of everything that has happened to him in the last few months, and he is now back to being in charge. Dean is better as a leader than as a follower. His gut, his intuitions and his instinct are so on target most of the time and that is the one thing that makes him such a great hunter. The alarm bells were ringing in his head the minute he met Samuel and Christian and his gut didn't lead him wrong, as we learned here. Sam used to have that instinct as well, but as Dean pointed out, without his soul, he doesn't have that skill - he may think he is a great hunter now, but without that instinct he is definitely not complete.

I loved the reference that Dean made to John in this episode. For me, somehow, Dean seemed so much LIKE John in this episode and that just really warmed my heart. Dean may have told Sam way back in 'Jump the Shark' that he was more like John than he realized, but Dean doesn't realize that he also is so much like John, yet he is a better man. Dean is like his father when it comes to being a hunter, same gut instincts, same drive. And that's not a bad thing.

The minute Purgatory was brought up I was a little worried. Because if that is the place where demons and such go to when they die - then wouldn't that mean that characters such as Alastair, Lillith, Azazel and all the other demons that the Winchesters have killed over the years are there as well? And then is that also where Angels go when they are killed? So maybe Zachariah and Gabriel could be there? All this causes me great concern because if Purgatory is opened and these characters would be released, are they still in the state they were in when they were killed or are they more on the side of good? I would think Dean and Sam would want to stay as far away from Purgatory as they could. So, what is Crowley's ultimate plan with Purgatory? It gives me shivers just thinking about it.
Tigershire
# Tigershire 2010-11-09 12:38
Who rules purgatory? What a good question, CitizenKane2.

I have a theory. I have read a number of stories over the years and I have seen this a few times now. Death rules Purgatory. The Reapers work for Death and bring souls to Purgatory for processing. Only an Angel or a Demon would be able to take a soul and skip the processing department.

That senario would work well here. Plus, that would fit in with a comment I made elsewhere, hypothizing that the reason the Reapers won't tell about what to expect on the other side is, they either don't know who is going where, OR, it's sometimes hard enough with a soul destined for Heaven, but if a soul was going to Hell.....maybe there would be a ton more vengeful spirits out there.

I love it when a television show gets me thinking like this. My favourite kind of puzzle.
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-11-10 05:10
I agree! At this point I don't really care whether Crowley has the juice to get Sam out of hell... he's one of the best baddies we've ever had on this show.
I want to kick his ass, true, but he has humour, wit, spirit, brains. Lovely combination.

cheers, Jas
BagginsDVM
# BagginsDVM 2010-11-10 14:16
So many fascinating ideas to ponder!

Crowley has to be working with someone else; Death is a good possibility. He would probably have the power to pull Sam from the cage & Samuel from Heaven (if that's where he was, or perhaps he was in Purgatory & just doesn't remember yet?) And that reminds me, where was Sam for those few days he was dead in All Hell Breaks Loose. He didn't remember anything either.

I really like Pragmatic Dreamer's thoughts on Dean. How was he able to kill the Whore & look Zachariah in the face? After all the buildup of him being Michael's vessel & having the amulet that was supposed to find God, then those concepts just fizzling out...makes me wonder too if he still has a role to play as a "servant of Heaven".

If all the "dead" angels & demons are in Purgatory along with all the monsters & spirits the guys have dispatched, that will be one awfully interesting reunion if the guys do find it. I don't know how Crowley thinks he could control all of them! That sounds like it would be one vengeful group! Guess it depends on if any being actually truly dies & ceases to exist on any plane, physical or spiritual or whatnot. Sounds like an interesting philosophical question.

I'm happy the guys are trying to work together. It may be bossy Dean & soulless Sam at the moment, but I'm just happy it's Dean & Sam together in the Impala! And Grandpa is growing on me. He might deserve an occasional spot in the back seat.
Tigershire
# Tigershire 2010-11-10 15:47
Everytime I think of Purgatory an image comes to mind. The waiting room for the Recently Dead in the movie Beetlejuice.

So in Supernatural's case, monsters and those not moving on to either 'H', don't get a number, they don't get to wait in line.....do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Hee! Fun thoughts!
Robin Vogel
# Robin Vogel 2010-11-11 07:44
So much excellent speculation, it all makes my head spin--and ponder.

Ash said he hadn't seen either Mary or John in heaven. I really can't imagine either of them going to hell, not after John escaped after the gate was opened. Mary deserved heaven from the get-go. So are they in Purgatory? It's my opinion that Samuel is trying to get Deanna back, and that's his deal with Crowley.

I'm delighted that Crowley is our new Big Bad. He's such a smarmy son-of-a-bitch, a delicious, evil villain. You know he'll provide us with plenty of reasons to worry about our favorite brothers, whom he surely has a vendetta against by now.

The theme for this season was TRUST NO ONE. That probably means Sam, Dean, and Castiel, too. Did you notice the dry way Cas mentioned how the boys were on top of his priorities? In some ways, I suspect he is going to end up double-crossing them, too--if he hasn't already--due to commitments to his new job in heaven.

I can hardly wait to see how this all turns out!

Love,
Robin