As penultimate (see Sam, people do say it) episodes go, this set a number of balls in motion for the finale and what will be most interesting to see is not only how the plots are wrapped up (for the ones that are) but how they end up coming together when they do. Clip Show probably served as close to a flashback episode as Supernatural will ever come and it was nice to see some familiar faces again, however briefly and tragically. Poor Tommy scarred forever by his wendigo trauma came fully prepared but couldn't anticipate Crowley. Neither could Jenny the baker or Sarah the antiques dealer who'd managed to move on and have a family. It was great to see her and hear her tell Sam how much he's changed in a good way. As sad as these stories ended, especially Sarah's whose death shook Sam's confidence in what they're doing to the core, the episode wasn't really about these victims at all. So let's look at what is was all about then.
We learn all about how to cure a demon, because after all it is just a twisted human soul. The curing process isn't all that difficult in and of itself apparently - the trickier part appears to be getting a hold of the demon. The boys acknowledged my question about the demon cure and that is what happens to the original soul in the body? Perhaps once the demon is cured the soul can be expelled and moved on to Heaven?
Abaddon and her great return, well I don't quite know what to make of it. Honestly it was pure set up. Will she be the cured demon? It's a hard guess at this moment. Given her power, age and authority as a demon, were she to be cured she could give some useful information about the baddies - assuming her sins didn't drive her to maddness. One thing to note was her disgust at hearing Crowley was the reigning King of Hell. I wonder if she skedaddled off to track him down. I was a little bothered about this scene and how careless the boys were with both leaving her unattended in the room and not secured with a devil's trap at all, even if she did have on the bullet in her head. Additionally, it seemed a bit bizarre that the boxes containing her hands were just on the table beside her, unlocked, if Sam and Dean had no intention of reattaching them. Not big issues - but a bit out of character of our cunning boys. I supposed they are both being run ragged these days though.
Forgiveness and Pie
Castiel in the bunker was great, if a bit short. Dean and Cas shared some hard scenes, and even Sammy thought Dean was a bit rough on the angel. Dean's level of upset with Castiel surprised me yet at the same time read more as hurt than anything. Sam seemed surprised by his brothers behavior likely because if there is anyone Dean will forgive, aside from Sam himself, it's been Cas and I'm sure we'll see that coming, eventually.
On the note of forgiveness, I think my favourite scene in this episode was Castiel in the grocery store. First we have more demonstrations of him trying so earnestly but failing to fit in the human world. Secondly, the sweetness of what he was doing "“ just writing about it makes me saw "aww" aloud. Finally, threatening the cashier for pie. So badly I wanted to see Castiel bring all the food back to the bunker, pie included, and have Dean understand how much Castiel was trying to earn his forgiveness. Was it a huge, jump in front of a bullet, fall into a hell pit, and take on a hell hound Supernatural level gesture? Maybe not. But it was the meaningful sincere attempt of a friend. The scene was shot perfectly too, with the music and the only dialogue being the annoyed cashier exclaiming "dude!" every so often.
Half-Breeds and Trials
A fussy nitpick of this episode overall was having the waitress turn nasty and threaten Metatron's life so as to take away from the ethical debate for Castiel's decision when it came to killing her. Although I am glad that Cas did not (a) agree out and out to slaughter an apparently innocent being no questions asked in cold blood and (b) continued to struggle with the decision of taking an innocent life, it did seem a bit of a cop out to have the hybrid turn evil, for lack of a better term. Regardless, Castiel did not speak any words that we saw after he completed this first trial, so one has to wonder if he is on the path to closing Heaven's gates or not.
I'm also curious to know the effect performing the trials will have on Castiel. Metatron made me suspicious in this episode and just as Sam gets sicker has he continues to perform the trials and there is an element of great sacrifice involved there, I wonder if the real reason Metatron didn't want to perform the Angel trials himself is something like: as those trials are complete you lose your grace and become mortal ergo Castiel will be human and stuck on earth once he's finished? Metatron was the scribe, he knows the details verbatim and he has demonstrated cowardliness and self-interest at supreme levels, so yeah, kind of not entirely buying what he's selling.
This episode ended up a lot different then what I expected. I certainly didn...t expect the emotional punch that was the ending - Crowley's speech to the Winchesters was a devastating blow to the confidence that only moments before her death Sarah had commented on and this scene was brilliantly done with the frantic search and panic comfort cutting back and forth with Crowley's cool, malicious and matter-of-fact statements about how things will be going forward after a harsh but nevertheless accurate analysis of the boys.
Not only did Clip Show move the trials from a personal scale to a wider net of immediate effect with Crowley's threat, but it also turned the "Supernatural" book series from a meta-joke into a weapon of knowledge against the Winchesters. And really, it was only a matter of time before one of the more higher functioning baddies cottoned on to the existence of and truth in these books and used it to the their own devious ends. Thinking back to Charlie's casual reference and mention that they are on the Internet now: maybe not just a joke? Either way, the idea of these books are a bit more sinister than laughable at the moment, given the (for the moment) overpowering sucker punch they allowed Crowley to issue.
Speaking to the final exchange between the boys, Sam's hesitation to continue with the trials while Dean is steadfastly determine to move forward despite the threat of civilian casualty it makes me wonder if this is the sacrifice that has been spoken about for so long. Castiel and Metatron's subplot drama with the waitress is actually the perfect analogy: Castiel hesitated to kill the waitress because she was an innocent bystander in all this though as Metatron put it her death was a necessary for the greater scale good of Heaven (putting aside the merits of "good of Heaven" for the time being).
The people Sam and Dean have saved throughout the years truly have done nothing to be involved in the trials but they would be casualties for "the greater good" if the gates of Hell were closed. So the question for Sam and Dean becomes: are the few worth the many?