3) How well or poorly do you think the episodes since Dean's cure in "Soul Survivor" laid the groundwork for his MoC break in this episode? Why?
Metamorphic Rocks: There were some hints that all was not well regarding the Mark of Cain, but how Dean got from the subtle restlessness that made him want to keep busy with work to unleashing (unholy) hell on those thugs was a bit too much of a leap. Just like Sam's hallucinations in Season seven, I would have liked to see a little more of a progression in the Mark's influence on Dean. For me the issue isn't really one of story continuity per say, but rather what would have been more interesting to watch unfold on screen in these recent episodes.
Pragmatic Dreamer: I think they did an okay job, but I think it was too subtle. We saw Sam's concerns but I think we needed a few more overt signs from Dean? Some quakes or trembles like the DTs, some fighting to regain control, his nightmares could have been shown in a previous episode. We, like Sam & Dean suspected a problem. We should have known.
Nate: Very poorly. The rules for the MoC are very nebulous and ill-defined which means we have no context for much of Dean's actions. And while sometimes "is it him/is it the influence" questions can make for compelling stories it doesn't when there are no clues for "his" actions in the context of the story. It's just left up to the audience to make up whatever they feel like/prefer.
Bardicvoice: I've actually liked the subtlety of Jensen's portrayal of Dean being "off" ever since his cure. For me, the little hints were better than broader strokes would have been. Watching him, I've had the nagging sense in every episode that Dean, feeling off-balance, has been aggressively trying to "fake it to make it" -- all of his reactions have been just that little bit too much. The food, the sex, the laughter, the promises of reassurance to Sam: it's all felt to me like he's trying too hard to convince himself as well as his brother that he's okay and just being his normal self. And watching Jared's Sam always watching him with that little crease of worry between his eyebrows, always trying to justify Dean's words and actions to himself because he can't bear to accept the alternative -- I think the two of them have done a great job of skating on the unease. And that last moment, with Sam desperately trying to deny the truth even as Dean realized he had lost himself ... that was killer. And brilliant.