Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) being transported to prison.

Sam and Dean Go Rambo, the Men of Letters Go Evil in Supernatural’s “First Blood”

The show returns from a winter hiatus with an intriguing episode that introduces some key plot points.

“You know this world, this sad, doomed little world, it needs you. It needs every last Winchester it can get, and I won’t let you die. I won’t let any of you die. And I won’t let you sacrifice yourselves. You mean too much to me, to everything.”

– Castiel (“First Blood”)

Many weeks ago, I was disappointed with the path Supernatural set forth in its winter finale. Thinking that the rest of season 12 would be focused on the Winchesters not only fighting against the sinister Men of Letters organization, but also the impending birth of the anti-Christ, it all had a sort of “been there, done that” kind of feel. Thankfully, I’m probably not alone in thinking that the show has managed to once again raise itself from the depths of the predictable.

Who imprisoned Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles)? It was the US government, who, believing that they were trying to assassinate the President, held them in maximum security cells with no access to the outside world, and charged them with being a threat to national security. Secret Service Agent Rick Sanchez (Stephen Lobo) wants to torture the brothers into revealing their motives and/or possible connections, but his superior, Agent Camp (Norman Browning), has other plans. In short, his plan is to wait it out, leaving both brothers separated into mind-numbing solitary confinement (and terrible Salisbury steak dinners) until one of them tells all.

For the next two months (about the same length of time as the show has been off the air), Castiel (Misha Collins) and Mary (Samantha Smith) search for the two and continue “saving people, hunting things”. Crowley (Mark Sheppard), however, isn’t worried, basically admitting that Sam and Dean can survive anything and save themselves.

So, of course we’re not surprised when both brothers appear to be dead in their cells, ending up on the tables on a very nervous coroner (Donald Hung). We’re still not surprised when Sam and Dean leap up back to life and demand information from the same coroner. Even as the Winchesters stealthily make their way out of the facility and into the forest, evading capture and fighting off various armed government agents with only their hands and the occasional stolen weapon, it was actually boring.

Lifting things up a little was the Men of Letters subplot, as Mick (Adam Fergus) travels across the United States, looking for any hunters willing to team up with his organization. American hunters are an untrusting sort, so imagine his surprise when Castiel and Mary ask for his help in locating Sam and Dean. Apparently, they can hack into heat-seeking government satellites that even the Secret Service doesn’t know about, which are more powerful than the supernatural abilities of angels and demons. Ridiculousness aside, it’s still an interesting plot point.

It was at this point, however, that the episode (and perhaps the rest of the season) started to get really interesting. As Sam, Dean, Mary, and Castiel drive away, their car goes dead. Standing in the middle of the road is Billie the reaper (Lisa Berry), who reveals exactly how Sam and Dean managed to fake their own deaths. They didn’t. Dean made a “blood vow” with Billie, promising that if they can both die and then come back to life again, then one Winchester would go with her and die forever at midnight. Just as we’re thinking that this is the end for Mary Winchester (after all, she’s still listed in the opening credits as a guest star), Castiel stabs Billie with an angel blade and saves the Winchesters.

I know there are Supernatural fans who can’t stand Cas, but after this week and that speech, how can you not like him just a little? Not to mention, good riddance to Billie, whose character never really developed into anything other than another misguided antagonist (even though the role was superbly acted). Sadly, it’s also farewell to Agents Sanchez and Camp, who were really developing some great good cop/bad cop, young cop/old cop chemistry before being senselessly murdered by Mr. Ketch (David Haydn-Jones).

That leads us to the final zinger of this week’s episode: the Men of Letters are so committed to the world not knowing anything about the supernatural world that they kill any innocent bystander involved in such a case, even if that means two government agents, a coroner, and an entire platoon of soldiers. We now know just how bad these people are, but apparently Mary Winchester doesn’t, because (unbeknownst to the rest of our heroes) she’s just agreed to help them make a world “free of monsters”.

On a production note: If you missed this week’s episode, blame the CW. The network has moved the show to Thursday nights at 6PM EST/7PM CST, as a way to introduce its audience to the (deeply weird) new drama Riverdale, and compete with CBS’ The Big Bang Theory and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Consider it as another sign that Supernatural has at least two more seasons left in it.

RATING 7 / 10