Where to even begin with this episode? On my first viewing I was really torn about where I stood. The highs were high, the lows were low – how to discuss? Now that I’ve considered, analyzed, re-analyzed and over-analyzed and after a third viewing I feel much more level about this episode. So, let’s just take it step by step to start with.

This episode, overall, was rather fast moving. Although it seems, at least to this viewer, that most recent episodes have been quick moving – whether it’s the character moments or just the pacing of the plot, somehow there has been some good velocity lately. This episode continues the trend: Sam and Dean learn about the second trial, Sam gets to purgatory and then to Hell, tracks his way to Bobby, back to purgatory and to Benny and eventually back to Dean again. And maybe it’s in the speed where this episode actually loses something. Hell is by and large disappointingly lackluster. Supernatural has never been unimaginative when it comes to torture, be it physical pain or mental anguish – all things Hell is renowned for and yet the extent of Bobby’s torment, as far as were given to know, is daily visits of Sam and Dean in demonic visage. Granted they could be saying all kinds of things to him, but the cell Bobby is held in being what it was and his physical persona being as sturdy as ever suggests no torture per se. Even Bobby didn’t seem all that effected by his experiences down under and considering how time passes down in Hell, it hasn’t been a short trip. Largely, the Hell experience was a letdown. It was too easy to access Bobby, too easy to take him out of Hell and the entire thing had far too little an impact on either the characters or this viewing audience.

Bobby in Hell. What is there to say about this really? It was great to see the character, to see Jim Beaver again. The mythology gives me pause here though – what is the point of the rules regarding good and bad souls if the King of Hell can just snap his fingers and condemn a good soul to Hell for no reason other than his own personal dislike? This feels a tad contrived and weak for the sake of making the overall plot work more than anything. There are other souls that could be saved, rather than forcing Bobby down there. Adam, for instance. Also, after such a beautiful send off for Bobby before this seemed like a monotonous return that underused a colourful and brilliant character.

“If I tell you where it’s not hidden, is it?”

In an episode about smuggling souls/people through holes in seams of purgatory, the seams of everything else around Sam and Dean just appear to be unraveling faster than they can comprehend. Kevin falls further and further into the crazy pool until he disappears completely, leaving the boys wondering not only where he’s gone but where the tablet he’s hidden has gone too. When Kevin hid the tablet from Dean I had two thoughts: (1) Kevin’s a dead man now – nothing says foreshadowed death like prep work for the good guys (2) Crowley won’t be happy when he finally get’s the boy.

“Unto. That’s how God talks.”

Naomi made an admirable if overdone effort with Dean this time around; even I have to admit that. But she’s a shoddy sales person if ever there was and I hope that Dean’s ever present distrust of all things angelic holds out, despite Naomi’s usefulness this time around. Naomi seems to be walking that line between desperation and self-control very finely, she was just overly bright-eyed in her attempts to convince Dean to trust her, particularly when she downplayed her attempts to have Cas kill him: “I suppose that is how he would hear it.” Umm, no. I’m pretty sure killing a room full of Dean Winchesters is a clear and concise message. It is interesting to have an angel persuade Dean to do something using smiles, helpful information and temptations rather than threats and pain for a change though. Naomi bears a resemblance to Zachariah a la It’s a Terrible Life in many ways. I am so, so curious as to the end game Naomi is aiming for here.

Pedicures at the Mall of America

It was nice to see Sam and Bobby together again, whatever the reason and no matter how short a time it was. Bobby naturally fell right back into “father” role and pulled no punches with his opinion on how the boys had been living their lives in his absences. While we didn’t get much this time around from Sam verbally, he seemed to be taking in a lot about purgatory, even about Benny and the fact that Benny came down to give Sam a way out knowing he wouldn’t come back out. This was a second trial episode; it didn’t actually have much to do with Sam aside from him executing the trial. This episode seemed to be about setting up the secondary players on the board and lining up the key the pieces (or removing them entirely in some cases). Season eight has been a great deal about getting the pieces in order – I cannot wait to see the payoff.

“You suck it up and you push through because that’s what we do. But when you get on board with that, the ride is a lot smoother.”

Dean is unraveling fast – the raw desperation in his voice as he tells Benny that his “little brother” is in trouble nearly broke my heart. The guilt in his eyes over not having been there enough for Benny. Ahh. Kill me now. Dean is not a man to ask for help lightly but he did it here. And in Maine when Sam emerged from with Bobby’s soul, telling Dean that Benny stayed behind to let Sam get out – the expressions as Dean processes this information and tries to pull it back together again was a devastating moment of television. I think the best pieces of this episode were between Dean and Benny when Benny agreed to go back into purgatory for Sam. There is a lot of division over the character of Benny this season but the last exchanges between he and Dean were written so well that the fraternity between these two is undeniable and the loss and even guilt Dean felt at not being there for Benny more was truly affecting.

Separating Dean and Benny for a moment, let’s talk just Benny. This poor guy fought tooth and nail against his nature and to survive purgatory, got out with Dean, his friend. Found the remnants of his family, made a life for himself that was wholly torn apart by psycho hunter and he fell off the wagon as a result. Benny lost his friendship with Dean through no fault of his own, and struggled to get clean again, living alone more or less and struggling with that every moment because he just doesn’t belong in either world. Until the opportunity for a kamikaze trip to purgatory to help his “brother” Dean arose. Benny is one of the single most tragic characters on this show.

“Before they’re done, we’ll both be locked away.”

I have to wonder if what we saw of the Naomi/Crowley show was just that, show. Put on garner trust of the Winchesters in Naomi. After all, we don’t know exactly what went on in that meeting with Crowley and Naomi. Time will tell – but trust no one is always a good policy where the Winchesters are concerned.

Final thoughts

The emotions were there, even if the story wasn’t. Actually, I enjoyed this episode because of the strong emotion and characterization in spite of the story which was over all feeble, considering it was the second trial and I was looking for something a bit grander. The elements were all there: Bobby, Kevin’s hallucinations, the trip to Hell for a soul and even the cliff hanger. Everyone has certainly been left in precarious positions: Kevin is missing, the demon tablet is hidden, and Sam and Dean are left alone and confused. So, here are the questions of the hour: was Kevin dreaming or did Crowley really track him down? If Crowley figured out where Kevin was, did he do it alone or with Naomi’s help? Where, oh where can that little tablet be?