Supernatural is back in the saddle with virgins and gold

From the terrific opening montage to the solid pacing and great one-liners, last night's Supernatural hit it out of the park. "Like a Virgin" was our first taste of the series after a long winter break, and we were rewarded for our patience with an intriguing new big bad, plus the best monsters ever out of a whole season of monstery weirdness. And we got our first glimpse of Sam with his soul back. Spoilers ahead!

And we're also back to the classic rock in our intro, which is always welcome. Written by Adam Glass, who also penned the awesome "All Dogs Go To Heaven," this episode was half emo brother bonding, half World of Warcraft jokes, and half seriously cool buildup to monsterpocalypse. Yes, that's how good it was - it was three halves.

Sam with a soul

We've been worried for several episodes now about what's going to happen when Sam gets his soul back. Everybody from angels to demons have said that he's probably been so tormented by the bored, caged Michael and Lucifer that he's basically going to be in a gibbering, Cthulhu-witness state. I fully expected to see Sam passed out for most of the episode or sort of wandering around aimlessly in the background while Dean tackled a case.

Pleasingly, we got none of that. After Cas muttered something dark about how Sam would probably never wake up because his soul felt like it had been "skinned alive," Sam bounded out of bed and gave Bobby and Dean giant puppy hugs of the Sam circa season 4 variety. There was a palpable difference in the way Sam talked and even the way he held himself that gave a strong sense that our sweet, slightly dorky Sam was back. And he was raring to go, though the "wall" that Death put into his brain prevented him from remembering anything of the previous year and a half.

Dean, why do you have to be that way?

Of course, Dean decides the best way to handle the situation is not to tell Sam anything about what happened, to protect him from "scratching the wall." WTF, Dean? Of course if you tell Sam nothing, he'll start wondering about it and scratching the wall even more. He's not going to just take the news that he's been out of commission for a year lying down. He's going to want answers. Looking for those answers is far more dangerous than just hearing them straight-up from his best bro.

But you know what? This is just Dean all over. He's always trying to protect Sam, even when it puts Sam in more danger. It's Dean's lovable meathead side, and even as you're grousing at him, you know it rings true for his character.

So Sam has to call on Cas and trick the poor, literal-minded angel into spilling everything about what's gone down with the killing and the T-1000 routine and the general terribleness.

Who likes virgins and gold and caves?

With Sam re-perkified though ignorant of his past, Dean decides they should head out to Oregon to investigate a rash of disappearances. All young women - one of whom we see snatched out of a plane by a creature with big leathery wings.

As they interview the victim's families, a pattern emerges: All the girls were virgins. One, who wore a religious promise ring, is released by the leather-winged demon - though her gold ring is taken. It turns out she wasn't really a virgin after all. Just goes to show, Dean remarks, "Being easy is all upside."

When the brothers hunker down to investigate online, Sam discovers something very odd. He keeps plugging details of the killings in getting a weird result: "It all takes me to the same place - World of Warcraft fan sites!" When Dean looks puzzled, he adds, "Dragons, dude." There's a lot of joking around about how dragons aren't really real, and Bobby snarks that he'll have to "call Hogwarts" to get some answers. But finally Bobby remembers that he does know somebody who could help them with their dragon questions - a hot cougar lady who is a professor of medieval studies in San Francisco.

A side note about hot medievalists who study dragons in San Francisco

If there are any in real life, I would like to meet them. My email is on the masthead, people.

Supernatural is back in the saddle with virgins and goldS

Look into the sewer of the dragon

With Bobby's help, Sam figures out that probably our dragons are nesting in sewers, since there aren't really any cozy caves on the Pacific Coast. And we finally cut away to see what our dragon actually looks like. It's to Supernatural's credit that nobody actually tried to make a cheesy CGI dragon - we see a bit of leathery wing, and then our dragon turns into a beefy guy whose hands glow orange and can melt steel.

Glowy Hands has a batch of virgins locked in some industrial cage thing in a drippy sewer where piles of gold are stashed in various areas. He just keeps bringing more virgins in and tossing them in the cage - if they get lippy, he breaks one of their arms. What's he doing with them? Is he going to eat them? Torture them? What?

Sam and Dean are about to find out. But first, Dean has to visit the hot medievalist, who lives in a giant mansion and makes saucy jokes about her connection with Bobby. Way to go Bobby! And she even has one of the only weapons on Earth that can slay a dragon - the Sword of Brunswick, fashioned from dragon's blood! Unfortunately, it's been stuck inside a stone.

Dean tries vainly to get it out, as you can see in this great clip. I love the way we've got this cheesy parody of Dungeons & Dragons-style films, but it's also totally integral to our plot. Finally, Dean decides to blow the rock up - which breaks the sword in half. So he and Sam are going to have to face the sewer dragons with just a half-sword. Which actually kind of works. The dragons seem suitably horrified, and one asks, "Where did you get that?" Dean deadpans, "Comic-Con."

In the scuffle, one of the dragons gets away - and that brings us to . . .

So what the Hell - or should I say Purgatory - are those dragons up to?

When they plundered the dragons' lair, Sam and Dean found an ancient book which they bring back to Bobby. Turns out it's some medieval instruction manual made of human skin, full of directions for opening of Purgatory - you know, the monster version of Hell. So what is our dragon going to do with the book?

Luckily, we get to see. Our dragon lost his virgins in the scuffle with Sam and Dean, but he meets up with another dragon who has a whole van full of 'em. Armed with a few flesh pages torn from the Purganomicon, they grab a virgin at random and start chanting over a giant pit whose bottom glows with reflected flame. Mix in a little dragon blood, some more chanting, and then toss the virgin over the side, and what do you get? Not just a gateway to Purgatory - oh no. A pathway for something down there to come out.

As Bobby says, he's not quite sure what it is, but the Purganomicon calls it "Mother" or "the Mother of all." Oh boy - remember how the Alpha vamp told Sam that all alphas "have a Mother"? I get the feeling I know who this is. Aaaand there she comes, floating out of the pit, all covered in burning coals.

Mother has taken over the body of the sacrificial virgin, and she's happy to be there with her dragon boys. "Let's get started," she says.

Supernatural is back in the saddle with virgins and goldS

And it's time to process our feelings

It's a tender moment in Bobby's garage where Dean is counting all the gold he stole from the dragons. Looking especially foreheady, Sam sits down and looks into Dean's eyes. "I'm really sorry," he says soulfully.

"Grunt," says Dean, realizing somebody let the truth slip. Sam admits it was Cas.

"I need to make it right," Sam continues emotastically, forehead doing its best sad wrinkle.

"Grumble," replies Dean. Then he admits that he would do the same thing. What's Sam going to do to make it right?

It's not clear, but I'm glad they had this little talk. And I'm really glad to see Old Sam back. Next week, Sam will confront his past - and it looks like we'll be getting some 1970s tough guy movie references along the way.

In sum

Hell yes.