[rating:4/5]

Supernatural returned after the holiday hiatus with an episode titled “Road Trip.”Let’s talk about that for a minute. This is a season nine episode of a show about two brothers who go on road trips. For most of the series their only permanent home was their car. So why, after so many years, did they use that title on an episode with little driving and almost no Impala moments? Alas, we will probably never know the answer to that question.

After last episode’s disastrous turn of events, we start the episode out on a painfully depressing note, with Dean burning Kevin’s body and smashing the bunker in a rage. Sometimes I forget that Jensen Ackles can actually act because he spends 90 percent of the time doing that squinty broody face, but honestly, he can pull it together when he wants to.

In a very weird tone change that I’m going to argue doesn’t really work and was too soon, we switch from a grieving Dean to the backstage of a concert, where a Justin Bieber-Biker love child finds creepy angel-possessed Sam sitting in his room. Turns out the musician is also an angel, specifically the one who tortured Gadreel and Abner, who may or may not have been Gadreel’s boyfriend.

(Update: No, he’s apparently not, based on their bloody interaction later. Keep reading. The torture thing doesn’t work out for him, cause creepy possessed Sam is crazy, and the leather-clad pop star winds up with an angel blade to the chest.)

Cas shows up, “all suited up” as Dean puts it, and more importantly, WEARING A TRENCH COAT! It’s obviously not the trench coat he threw out earlier this season, but it will do. My baby is back, guys. Sorry. I have too many feelings about Castiel. He and Dean finally get to have an honest conversation about what’s been going on this season and why Dean’s been keeping Cas in the dark, which is really refreshing because Supernatural’s season-long secret-keeping tropes got old around season 4. Cas is sympathetic and tells him that when he let the angel possess Sam “he was stupid for the right reason,” but honestly, he was stupid for really selfish reasons and Cas needs to not be so understanding here. Dean, you done screwed up, kay?

They plot to alert Sam to the angel’s presence by basically hacking his brain and talking to Sam. For this, they need Crowley. I’m starting to wonder how these boys made it eight years without the King of Hell chained in their basement to help them out. Crowley agrees to help for a massage, to which Dean replies, ever-so-in character, “I ain’t rubbin’ you.” That’s word for word, guys. Upon learning Kevin’s dead, Crowley is actually visible bothered and finally gives Dean the dressing down he has needed all season. “People in your general vicinity don’t have much of a life span,” he snaps. Crowley is a wonderful character. Whenever this show goes too far on the ridiculous train, Crowley brings it back around with his snark. He tells the boys that angel hacking can’t be taught but that he’d be willing to do it for them if they give him a chains-on field trip. When Dean refuses, Crowley shoots back that “if I’m plan A, I’m sure you have a totally viable, much better plan B.” Dean agrees, and the three men begrudgingly pile into Cas’ car, though not before Crowley and Cas argue over shotgun.

Meanwhile, Metatron is at a bar being served by none other than Gadreel’s original vessel, the talented (and good-looking) Tahnmoh Penikett. As a Battlestar Galactica fan, I was disappointed he left so early into the season and I’m thrilled to see him again. Gadreel joins him and is clearly torn up with guilt over what he did to Kevin.  I’m not sure how to feel about Gadreel, but I appreciate his complexity. The guy killed Kevin and that is going to be difficult to forgive, but Crowley has literally killed half the cast and I still love him, so maybe Gadreel is not totally irredeemable. Metatron is frustrated that Gadreel didn’t kill Dean, but settles for giving him his next target, a man named Alexander.

It turns out that the one friendly neighbor that happened to see Crowley leave the bunker is a demon. Of course she is. She contacts Abbadon using her dog’s bloody food bowl, which has so many horrifying connotations that we’re just going to move on now.

Gadreel goes to kill Alexander, but finds that he is actually Abner, the friend mentioned earlier, who has settled down with a wife and kids. Abner tries to convince Gadreel that they should embrace the fall and be happy, no matter what the price. Somehow I doubt he’s going to take that advice in the spirit in which it was intended.

Nope, he doesn’t, instead killing Abner and possibly losing his sympathy in my eyes. Dean and Cas confront him, having located him with help from Crowley’s people, and after a short fight, are able to capture him with a well placed punch from Cas. When Gadreel refuses to leave Sam’s body, Crowley takes a metal tool and shoves it through Sam’s temple, which is horrifying and I wish I could un-see. In fact, he keeps doing it over and over and over in a cute little montage scene with techno music and Sam’s screams. Pleasant.

On the plus side, it leads to Cas comforting Dean. I love that the bromance seems to be back on between these two. I’ll confess something: after 8 seasons of Winchester bonding, I’d rather watch the fresher Dean/Cas relationship any day. It’s dynamic and has such a charming odd couple vibe, except with murder and angels. Dean finally apologizes for kicking Cas out and lying to him, and they connect over the fact that they’re both “trusting” and got played by smarter angels. When they discover Gadreel’s identity, Cas realizes that he’s looking at the angel responsible for the history of suffering in the world, and kind of flips out. It’s a cool moment for his character because in his rage he becomes a great deal like Dean. The Winchesters’ influence on him appears to be growing and growing every day.

A desperate Dean suggests Cas possess his brother, but since Cas is an angel and not a demon, he can’t do so without Sam’s permission. If only they had a demon on hand willing to help them….

Dean is understandably not down for letting Crowley do the possessing since Crowley basically lies about everything all the time and probably shouldn’t be allowed in Sam’s head. However, because Dean can’t handle losing Sam, consents, trading Crowley his freedom in exchange for the demon going inside Sam’s brain and waking him up. As Dean puts it, “A demon and an angel walk into my brother. Sounds like a bad joke.”

In the dream world Gadreel has put Sam in, he’s investigating cheerleader homicides when Crowley shows up to explain to him what’s happening. Even with a code word Crowley got from Dean, Sam is resistant to believe the story, at least until Crowley shoots him and he doesn’t bleed. With that, he remembers all the horrible things he’s seen since Gadreel has been in him, including the image of Kevin dying. Gadreel finds them and now aware of the angel inside him, Sam forces him out and back into Tahnmoh Penikett. After this episode, I kind of feel like we should be done with Gadreel’s story, to be honest, but if he’s going to hang around, I’d at least rather we get some Penikett out of it.

The boys barely get a breather before Abbadon shows up. Crowley tells them to run while he handles it, either because he’s being heroic or because he wants to beat up Abbadon. It’s probably the second one, but I do think this experience formed a certain bond between him and the Winchesters.

Crowley is all about the theatrics and he is certainly in his element as he confronts his would-be usurper, spinning around dramatically in his chair as she enters and monologue-ing like a pro. He dresses her down for not understanding that they aren’t fighting each other, but instead campaigning, and that the winner will be the one who sways the followers. “Join my team, where everyone gets a say, a virgin, and all the entrails they can eat,” he tells her henchmen before disappearing.

Sam sasses Dean for not letting him die, but Dean’s too busy moaning to hear it. Having taken Crowley’s words to heart about being a human death trap and sunken once again into his perpetual state of self-loathing, he’s decided to go kill Gadreel alone. For some reason, Sam actually goes along with that plan, which is very anti-Winchester, and Dean leaves a sad Cas and Sam alone as very metaphorical rain falls around them.

Well, that was a downer ending. What ever happened to the Winchesters always being there for each other? Still, this separation is apparently going to lead to a Dean and Crowley “buddy comedy” next week, so I won’t let myself get too upset. After a weak start to the season, Supernatural seemed to get some mojo back with this episode and I’m excited to see where the rest of season nine will take us!

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Georgeanne Oliver is Blast’s Site Editor.

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