There's definitely a new vibe in the Supernatural air.
It's pretty easy to stack seasons one through five as the first saga of the series. Season six was the first new step at attempting life after the near-apocalypse and the introduction of showrunner Sera Gamble, where season seven tried to revert back to formula but seemed to meander about.
But with season eight, things feel much more focused; the Winchesters are at the forefront, and the hunt to close the gates of Hell initiates a distinctive direction. It's as if new life has been sparked into the show and maybe new showrunner Jeremy Carver was just the trick.
There may not be the heavy-handed end of world stuff or bad guys who are just unbeatable, but the stakes felt real, they felt close to home - and they called the brothers to action.
These felt a lot like the Sam and Dean from the early seasons. Granted, Dean has a cutthroat PTSD thing going on and Sam, while it's great to see his Latin incantations haven't slacked, is seeing a world beyond hunting every day.
Still, the boys are working together and getting things done without their big breakups or "I worry about you" speeches.
Wonderfully, the flashbacks allowed for essentially two stories to be told simultaneously, permitting for the one-year gap to be filled in while corresponding to a specific present time moment. We got to see Sam and Dean experience life apart without having to suffer the episodes of actually separating them.
And Dean's flashbacks are rich in bloody detail, getting down to the gritty side of survival and allying oneself with a monster. It's obvious his thought process has passed over in the interrogation room and his willingness to cut the possessed Mrs. Tran.
Which does bring up the interesting point of the brothers having everyone around them die. They may save the world on the larger picture, but at what cost in the smaller? Numerous friends around them have met their untimely end and it makes sense for Kevin to just want to get away, especially with Dean's new attitude.
Is Dean really okay with tossing those to the wayside that aren't so called valuable? Is that what that final Castiel flashback showed?
Yes, Castiel did return and looked homeless and dirty, but full of concern for his friend Dean, even if he did run away. These guys have a great, but tumultuous relationship, and it was sad to see Castiel talk about protecting Dean by pushing him away. I'm liking that the door on this story is continuing to open ever so slightly and I'm curious to see how else Purgatory affected the two.
Yet, it was Kevin's mom that really brought the fun sass of the episode.
Not only was she willing to sacrifice her soul for her son, but she was quick-witted, putting the boys in their place and smacking Crowley. Mama Tran took no time in becoming a great character that could have easily been overdone. And did perhaps Dean have a crush on her?
And the fun continued with the use of Thor's mighty hammer. Not only was it a cool mention but Sam got to wield it and get rid of that weasly character who had the 5/8 virgin blood. I wonder what else was on that auctioning block.
Of course, Crowley - with all his moose jokes and bidding with the moon and a nude Mona Lisa - managed to continue his new sinister attitude. He's becoming more than the charmingly delivered one-liners and showing that he's going to get down and dirty when it comes to the tablet. The Mama Tran takeover, with cool red smoke, had a comatose effect on her and I know the King of Hell is just getting started. Even dropping that hint about knowing who Kevin's "real" father is?
Crowley is slowly proving that he is the big bad to be reckoned with.
Which is just another reason why Supernatural is headed back in the right direction. Things are developing, the plot is moving and you care about the characters (even the evil ones). The episode may not have been jaw-dropping but it was filled with its call backs to souls, Leviathan, angels, and demons, while giving us the humor, the drama, and a pretty straightforward story that's looking to work in unison with its character growth.
It may be early, but things are shaping up nicely for season eight.
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.