Supernatural has reached a kind of emotional event horizon where the Winchesters are concerned. After so many repetitive tear-jerking conflicts, they've collapsed into a kind of drama singularity, from which no real emotion can escape. But last night's episode still wrung a lot of pathos out of a couple of side characters.
Just check out the above clip, where Linda Tran — after being imprisoned for a year — realizes that her son Kevin is dead. The way she repeats "You will take me to my son" is stark and simple, but completely sells the realization, and the fury and grief on her face are insanely effective.
In the episode's "A" story, the Winchesters realize that Kevin is haunting the bunker where he was killed — because since Metatron sealed Heaven, nobody can get in there. At all. Dead souls either go to Hell or just hang around the veil, as ghosts, forever. Kevin's last wish is for Moose and Squirrel to go find his mom, who he believes is still alive — and eventually, the boys do find her, chained up in a storage facility that Crowley rented in Wichita.
This storyline is kind of intense for a few reasons: 1) Kevin died on Dean's watch, and his death was entirely preventable. 2) Linda has been chained up for a year and nobody bothered to look for her, even after Crowley strongly hinted she was alive. 3) Dean and Crowley have been tooling around acting like besties, even while he was basically torturing Dean's friend's mom. 4) The storage facility demon is a total insane douche.
In the end, Kevin's ghost urges the Winchesters to stow their crap and stop being mean to each other — and even after promising to do Kevin that favor, they both go back to ignoring each other and skulking in their separate rooms in the bunker.
And then there's the "B" plot, in which Castiel is once again weirdly noble and long-suffering — at one point, he tells Bartholomew "I'm nobody," which seems like the ultimate result of a long period of being broken again and again.
Castiel meets the last surviving member of a sect of angels called Penitents, who decided to live humbly on Earth among humans, to reconnect with their original mission, and not to take part in any more bloody angel wars. Which is why they were all hunted down and slaughtered by Bartholomew, who can't brook any other angel factions.
The whole Bartholomew storyline has been on the back burner for ages, and here it comes to a somewhat unceremonious end — or at least, Bartholomew himself does. There was some kind of satire on televangelists and megachurches and religious hucksterism embedded in all this, but it mostly got lost along the way. What remains is that Bartholomew is the ultimate expedient sadist, who commits murder and atrocities in the name of "following orders"— or now, in the name of keeping order, I guess.
Bartholomew tries to recruit Castiel to team up with him, so they can track down Metatron and get back into Heaven. But Castiel remembers how Bartholomew tortured and killed prisoners back in the day, and he's not going to participate in that sort of behavior now — which is apparently a necessary condition of their partnership.
Castiel gropes towards a philosophy of almost-pacifism — he won't fight, he won't go to war, but he may use force to defend himself, as Bartholomew learns to his cost.
Castiel's been a tragic figure for so long, he's started to lose his pathos — but he gets a big chunk of it back in this episode, where he's making tough choices instead of merely suffering. He doesn't want to repeat his past mistakes of making terrible alliances and murdering in the name of the greater good, but he's also not sure what else he can do. The irony is that as soon as Castiel decides he doesn't want to be a warrior or a leader, a bunch of angels decide they want to follow him. This should be interesting to watch.