THEN: They hit me right in the face with gorgeous young 1.01 Dean saying "Dad's on a hunting trip and he hasn't been home in a few days" and beautiful baby 1.01 Sam saying "we've got work to do" and we end with 14.12 and Sam furiously punching his brother and then furiously hugging him and Dean saying "let's go home" and does anything else matter? No.
NOW: We see the reflection of Sam and Dean walking up to a pawn shop, with a nice selection of guitars and sunglasses and that weird monkey that was in Rocky's Bar. The proprietor seems friendly enough. Dean flashes him a wad of hundred dollar bills because they're looking for "the really good stuff." This gains them admittance into a secret back room full of things hunters would be interested in, including a hockey mask (?) and a perfume atomizer full of dragon's breath. They tell the guy they're looking for the skull of a specific woman who was executed during the Salem witch trials, and the fact that he has it basically proves that he killed the friend of theirs who previously owned it. (Also Sam picks up a teddy bear and starts to pull the string to make it speak and the guys warns him not to and this is Dean's role, isn't it, messing with things he shouldn't be messing with? But I don't care because chastized Sam and eye-rolly Dean are precious to me.) Pawn Shop Guy squirts them with dragon's breath, which is actually a flame and is a pretty cool weapon to have on hand. Then he tries to chop Sam in half ("sliced up your pal real good with just one swing, but you, oh, you're a big boy, you might take some work") but before he can swing, Dean shoots him in the back. "They always talk too much," Dean says, and that's my second delighted laugh before we even get to the title card.
Sam goes through a ledger of the guy's inventory and says he's got a lot of occult objects that they should take with them. (Dean plays with the dragon's breath. Sam ducks and flinches and does the really, Dean? thing with his hands and face. I laugh again.) Dean agrees they should take the stuff home.
The Impala zooms past a sign welcoming us to Lebanon, Geographical Center of the USA. Then we find ourselves in front of a movie theater showing Beetlejuice and Hell Hazers (All Saints' Day is coming soon, and I imagine Route 666 can't be far behind), where a group of teenagers is talking about... somebody. "People say they're brothers," a kid in a knit cap says, "but all I know is, I was standing right here, and I heard this bam from the trunk of their car. And then, this like, shallow breathing." I'm pretty sure this is a fake-out, and it will turn out he's talking about someone else, but the Impala pulls up in front of the theater and Knit Cap Kid says "that's them!"
As the Winchesters get out of the car and enter a liquor store (decorated with that Family Business neon sign from Rocky's), Sam is still reading the ledger, which lists things like a hangman's rope, fairy dust, and John Wayne Gacy's cigar box. Well, that's oddly specific! The guy working there greets the "Campbell brothers" and knows their usual order. Oh, wow. I love that they're actually known in Lebanon, and that they're going by Campbell. And we know that actual Lebanon, Kansas is too small to have a movie theater or this much business downtown, but I'm happy to handwave that.
What do you mean, "happy to handwave that?" You're always complaining about the inaccuracies regarding tiny Lebanon having traffic cams and whatnot.
Well, maybe this episode just MAKES ME HAPPY, okay?
Anyway. Sam thinks cataloguing the confiscated items would be a good way to take Dean's mind off "things," but Dean's pretty convinced nothing will ever take his mind off that.
Outside, the teens are asking where the guys even come from, and what about their weird trenchcoat-wearing sidekick, and "that kid with the dumb Bambi look on his face all the time" (!) One girl says that, whatever the deal is with these guys, they do have an awesome car, and no one can argue with that. And the other girl, Max, who seems to smitten with the first girl, gets an idea.
Inside, Sam has discovered something significant in the ledger - the "beyzoo" (no, I know that's not how you spell it), which is one of eight ancient Chinese treasures. A pearl that gives you "what your heart desires." Oooh, getting rid of Michael, maybe? But as the guys are discussing this, Dean sees the Impala drive by the window. Guess Max figured out how to impress that other girl! (BTW, there are couple of COOL old trucks on the street.)
The guys see Knit Cap Kid standing on the sidewalk looking confused, and while Sam tells him the car is dangerous to whoever stole it, Dean looks like he wants to murder someone. And yet the Winchesters are confused when the kid says he doesn't want to die. (Or get locked in the trunk!) He says Max is new and he doesn't know where she lives. Dean raises a fist, but Sam pulls him away.
MURDER. I'D MURDER THEM.
Post office. There's a poster of stamps featuring old cars behind the customer service counter. I'm really getting my old truck fix tonight. Sam comes in with his sweet anxious smile and asks for help finding the girl who washed his car, since he forgot to tip her. Post Office Lady is not amused or helpful, or the least bit swayed by his sweet anxious smile. Then Dean comes in and calls her by name and asks about her grandson and she MELTS and he gets sincere and puts his hand on hers and she does exactly what I would do, which is offer up ANYTHING YOU WANT, ANYTHING AT ALL, WOULD YOU LIKE MY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER WHILE I'M AT IT? Unfortunately, all she knows is where Max's mother works.
SAM'S ANNOYED FACE, GUYS.
(Sidebar: Have I mentioned that Sam is wearing that nice blue jacket from the episode where he killed the alpha vampire? I like it. Toss that stupid orange jacket, Sam, and wear this more often. And Dean's wearing the black jacket that I always love.)
At the restaurant where Max's mom works, we learn that she has no idea where her daughter is, because she was supposed to be in school. But the guy working in the kitchen knows February 7 is Skip Day (is it always February 7? what about when that falls on a weekend?) and that she'll probably be at a party at this old house on Route 36. (Yes, I did confirm that Route 36 is just outside of Lebanon. Yes, I did use Mapquest. I'm old school up in here, y'all.)
Party house. The little batch of delinquents has taken all the boxes of occult objects out of the Impala for some reason. Including the evil teddy bear. Luckily, someone announces "pizza's here" before a girl pulls the teddy bear's string. At some point I've got to find out what would happen if you pulled it. Fic it for me, friends! (Also, I just noticed the teddy bear's mouth is SEWN SHUT and that's not creepy AT ALL.) The camera slowly pans to a wooden box, and we watch the lid open to reveal a smoky/dusty ghost hand. With a ruffled sleeve. Uh oh.
Knit Cap Kid runs in to warn the partiers that "those guys" are looking for Max, and he's told to chill. Another teen goes into the bathroom, where the mirror frosts over and then the CREEPIEST CLOWN EVER comes out of it. Seriously, creepier than the clown in Plush, which you wouldn't think was possible.
The Winchesters pull up in yet another antique truck, where Dean greets his car with "Baby, Baby, please tell me you're not hurt." Sam's more concerned about the boxes of dangerous occult objects missing from the back seat. Ghost Kid comes running outside and the girl following him tells the brothers that he saw a clown ghost that tried to kill him. Maybe it's my imagination, or maybe Sam has a flash of crap, a killer clown ghost expression before they run into the house.
Dean announces they're FBI and everyone needs to get out, now. Once the room is cleared, he asks if "anything screams clown to you?" Sam immediately notices John Wayne Gacy's cigar box and guys, I'm ashamed to say I didn't put the two together until now. The killer clown ghost is John Wayne Gacy. And Sam is freaked the fuck out about it. "We should burn that right now," Dean says, in a lovely holding-in-the-freakout way, and Sam rushes to throw it into the fireplace. Then Dean says "I mean, this is like a best worst thing that's ever happened, because you love serial killers, but you hate clowns" and I'm DEAD. (I'm also loving TWO gifts from the Continuity Fairy in once sentence.) The lights start flashing before Sam can get his lighter lit, and then the killer clown ghost shows up and tosses Dean around. Knit Cap Kid and the girls run back inside just in time to watch John Wayne Gacy's ghost go up in flames. So the kids get the "monsters are real" speech and are told to keep it secret.
Back at the bunker, Sam's going through the occult goodies and thinks he found the magic pearl. Dean's ready to use it right now, and dismisses Sam's suggestion that they call Mary or Cas. If it doesn't work, he doesn't want to have gotten their hopes up. Sam looks distressed at the idea it won't work, but agrees. The pearl doesn't come with any instructions, so Sam suggests Dean hold it and concentrate on what his heart desires. "Michael out of my head," Dean says, and I'd have been more specific. I'd have concentrated on Michael out of my head and destroyed, and me perfectly fine, but, well, what do I know?
(Also, I KNOW all you Wincest and Destiel fans are gonna have your own ideas about what - or who - appears in front of Dean when he’s granted what his heart desires. This setup is better than sex pollen. Have fun, my kinky little friends.)
Dean clutches the pearl and concentrates, and the lights flash and then go out, and in the red emergency light we see someone in the bunker. Someone fighty, who knocks both brothers down and then pulls out a shotgun and says "don't you move," but it's a familiar voice and then the lights come on and what do you know? Winchester Surprise!
So, was anybody truly surprised? I covered the guest stars on first viewing, as I always try to do, but I noticed on rewatch that they didn't even credit JDM at the beginning of the episode. Which they sometimes do, to avoid spoilers. And yet. Has there been a single episode of this series that was more spoiled? I don't think so.
(Sidebar: What do you think would have happened if Sam had taken the pearl and made a wish? I think Michael would be gone. Because I don't think there's anything Sam wants more than saving his brother.)
Back to our story. Everyone is shocked. John thinks Sam should be in Palo Alto, apparently in his 14th year of post graduate work. He thinks he's still in 2003, and he doesn't notice his boys are older. And they apparently don't notice that his hair is very short and a lot greyer than it was when we last saw him. (I mean, really, they slapped a wig on Samantha Smith to make her look like The Last Version Of Mary, so why couldn't they do the same thing with JDM? It's distracting.) Sam figures they must have accidentally summoned John from the past. So they do what one does in this situation - sit down and drink.
John's astonished. Dean's proud. Sam's visibly anxious. We don't get to see exactly how much of the backstory they tell him, but they do tell him about the apocalypse and Lucifer and living with "an angel and Lucifer's kid." And now John thinks he died "taking out Yellow Eyes," which... not really? But okay. And they don't tell him Mary's back, until he mentions her and Sam's, all, yeah, about Mom, and then she comes in and John hears her voice and tears up and dammit. This reunion is everything I didn't think I ever wanted. I mean, I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not a fan of John Winchester. He's a fascinating character and JDM does a great job with him, but he's such an awful father (don't bother arguing with me, you will not change my mind) that I can't really like him. And I'm not too impressed with resurrected Mary, either. But when these two come together... damn. It's good. It's very good. Well done, you two.
I love that the boys give them some privacy, because it's been over a decade since John saw them, but it's been even longer since he saw his dead wife, and this should really be a John and Mary reunion.
Out in the hall, Dean's gleeful and Sam's all, how the hell did this happen? Dean explains that he's wanted this since he was four years old (oh, my heart) but Sam warns that messing with time will not end well. I don't actually remember Sam being that concerned about the unintended consequences of time travel, but I'm sure there's a good reason he's bringing it up now. Dean doesn't care. Dean just wants one family dinner together (oh, my heart again, remembering his one last dinner with Mary).
Sam, sans Dean, runs into John in the library, because Mary's off making a shopping list and he decided he'd rather examine the bunker than be involved in that I guess? Okay. But then this happens.
I screwed up with you a lot, didn't I?
No, that's okay.
No, it's not. Sammy, tell me the truth.
I don't want to talk about that.
You didn't have a problem talking about it before you left.
Dad. For me, that fight, that was a lifetime ago. I don't even remember what I said. I mean, yeah, you know, you did some messed-up things. But I don't... I mean, when I think about you... and I think about you a lot... I don't think about our fights. I think about you... I think about you on the floor of that hospital, and I think about how I never got to say goodbye.
Sam. Son. I am so sorry.
I'm sorry too. But you did your best, Dad. You fought for us, and you loved us. And that's enough.
OH MY GOD. This is everything I ever wanted.
1. John admitting he was a crap parent to Sam.
2. Sam trying to sidestep that - because he's Sam Winchester and that's what he does - and John not letting him.
3. Sam finally calling him out instead of just saying nah, it's fine.
4. John calling him Sammy.
5. Sam pointing out that he didn't get a goodbye from John. (Did he ever find out that Dean got praise and an apology?)
6. John apologizing.
7. Sam forgiving him.
8. "And I think about you a lot."
9. The way Sam keeps having to stop talking and look away and make that little "hmmm" noise.
10. And the tears.
10b. The way Sam tears up even before The Talk, when he remembers them as kids trying to make Winchester Surprise.
11. The shaky voice.
12. And Sam's shirt.
13. And the way Sam's expression looks so much like his expression in Sacrifice, when he tells Dean that his confession was about how he let his brother down.
This, right here, is two minutes and 24 seconds of the best television I've ever seen. I don't care what else this episode does, this 2:24 is worth it. And yes, this is three weeks in a row that Jared Padalecki has ripped my heart out of my chest and STOMPED ON IT.
And I love it.
Meanwhile, Dean gets the shopping list from Mary. Sam finds him and tells him he's right, because Sam also just got everything he ever wanted, and then offers to go shopping with him. (Saaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmm!!!!!!!)
When they get to town, the guys split up - Sam to the grocery store, Dean to the liquor store. Dean's surprised to see the liquor store guy, the one who remembered his "usual" earlier in the day, has no idea who he is. If Dean had ever seen "It's a Wonderful Life," he might say this is just like when George Bailey goes into Martini's Bar and isn't recognized. But apparently Dean Winchester, pop culture aficionado, has never seen that movie (no, I haven't gotten over that, and I never will) so he doesn't recognize a classic uh oh, we changed the course of history moment when he experiences it.
Meanwhile, Sam steps out of the grocery store and finds that neither Max nor the postal clerk recognize him. And then he sees a wanted poster in the post office window. Dean Winchester, wanted for assault, murder, and credit card fraud. Whoops! He trots to the car, where Dean is waiting, and tells him they have a problem. "Yeah, we do," says Dean. "Check this out."
He shows Sam his phone and it's a video of SAM IN GLASSES AND A BLACK TURTLENECK AND SLICKED BACK HAIR GIVING A TED TALK. HE RUNS A LAW FIRM AND LOVES KALE. IT IS THE SECOND MOST AMAZING THING I'VE SEEN TONIGHT. And I could screencap it, but kazluvsbooks has giffed it so beautifully, let's just enjoy her work.
HE'S STEVE JOBS.
So, those of you who were spoiled... did you know about this? Or did they actually keep THIS AMAZING THING under wraps?
Sam Jobs tells his audience that being your best leaves no time for hobbies or a family, and Sam has seen enough. He tells Dean about the wanted poster, and Dean says yes, of course he googled himself too ("a lot of beheadings," hee!!!) and wonders if there are alternate versions of them running around. Sam thinks it's a "temporal paradox," and time is self-correcting, changing to the new one. If they don't fix things, they'll become those alternate versions of themselves. "Well, I'm cool," Dean says, "but you're, ugh." Sam's less worried about them, and more worried about what else might have changed.
(Sidebar: You know, I could quibble about why bringing John forward in time has such a significant butterfly effect, but bringing Mary back, and their other time travel, and Henry's time travel, changed nothing. I absolutely could. But I choose not to, because SAM JOBS, Y'ALL. But okay, let's think about it. 2003 John would have disappeared while Sam was at Stanford. Dean wouldn't have gone to get Sam. Or Sam would have refused to go. Maybe the hurt on both sides was still too fresh. Maybe that's why Dean's hunting alone, and Sam's an internet-famous lawyer.)
What else has changed, you might ask? How about ZACHARIAH? That's right, my favorite angel is back. And with him is ORIGINAL FLAVOR CAS WITH HIS FLUFFY HAIR AND THINGS JUST KEEP GETTING BETTER AND BETTER. Zachariah calls him "Constantine" and Castiel says "I don't understand that reference" and THANK YOU BABY JESUS, I DON'T KNOW WHAT I DID TO DESERVE THIS, BUT THANK YOU. They enter Max's mom's restaurant and ask who's been messing with time. (Because she would know?) And if they don't start talking, he'll have Cas murder all of them. "My name is Castiel," he intones solemnly. "I'm an angel of the Lord." YES YOU ARE. He reveals himself like he did to Dean (no, not like that, jeez) with the shadow wings. Outside, the Winchesters see the bright light of an angelic reveal coming through the restaurant windows, and they know something's up.
They herd everyone out of the restaurant, and are shocked to see Cas and Zachariah. Zachariah is equally surprised to see them. He says they had big plans for the Winchesters, but then their father disappeared and... and he doesn't finish, so we'll never know why yoinking John out of 2003 changed any of that vessel stuff. (Handwave!) Cas, of course, doesn't know them, and when Zachariah orders him to kill them, he complies. Dean pulls out an angel blade but is, of course, unwilling to actually kill Cas, so he starts hitting him with other things. And Cas, for whatever reason, doesn't just put a finger on his forehead and kill him dead. (Handwave!) Zachariah chokes Sam and asks him what they did, even though he can't talk because he's choking (handwave!) and Sam acts like he's trying to speak so Zachariah gets closer to hear him, and Sam stabs him with an angel blade. Cas continues fistfighting with both of them, and slams Sam head-first into a table a couple of times, leaving him spitting blood on the floor. Which Sam uses to paint an angel-banishing sigil while Cas is choking Dean. Smart Sam for the win!
Bunker. Pretty bruised Dean has explained the temporal paradox, and John accepts that he has to go back, or else Mary will probably disappear. "Okay," he says. "I mean, me versus your mom, that's not even a choice." DAMMIT JOHN WINCHESTER DO NOT MAKE ME CARE ABOUT YOU. Elsewhere, pretty bruised Sam explains it to Mary, and tells her John won't remember anything.
Y'all know I have a problem, right?
John tells Dean he never meant Dean to have this kind of life. He's proud of him, but he hoped he'd be able to have a normal life, with a family. "I have a family," Dean says. They sit down and have one final family meal together, and everyone's quiet and sad until John points out that they can either think about what's going to happen, or appreciate what they have right now. They cheer up and listen to Bob Seger (well, we listen to Bob Seger) and talk and laugh and have the family dinner Dean has always wanted.
Later, while doing the dishes, Sam says how unfair it is that they all had this and then have to throw it away, and John has to go back to being Dad. He thinks it would be nice for John to go back knowing what he knows now. "I used to think that too," Dean says, and admits that he's blamed both John and Mary for their crappy lives. And if they could send him back to 2003, or even earlier, maybe none of the crap would happen. "But here's the problem. Who does that make us? Would we be better off? Maybe. But I gotta be honest, I don't know who that Dean Winchester is. And I'm good with who I am. I'm good with who you are."
SO AM I, DEAN. SO AM I.
Later. Mary and John are holding hands, and I guess they're doing the thing now. I'd hoped they'd at least let these two have one last roll in the hay (especially since I'm pretty sure Mobby is permanently done after this), but no. They have a very sweet goodbye and their sons are brokenhearted and I am too. John tells his boys to take care of each other and Sam says "we always do." That's a nice change from telling Dean to take care of Sam, isn't it? He tells them both (BOTH) that he's proud of them and loves them, and they have a three-way hug and Sam wipes his eyes and Dean says "love you too" and I REALLY CAN'T, BOYS, YOU HAVE TO STOP. Then John takes Mary's hand again and Sam crushes the pearl (why does Sam have to be the one to do it?) and John glows and then fades away.
None of this is okay.
We get a quick glimpse of downtown Lebanon returning to normal, and the three teens talking about how cool it is that "those guys hunt monsters," and then we're back to the bunker. Cas walks in the door and sees the remaining Winchesters, obviously distressed, and asks what happened. "Well, there's a story," says Dean.
And finally, we see the Impala WITH HER ORIGINAL KANSAS PLATE. John's asleep in the driver's seat when he gets a phone call from Dean. "No, I'm okay, I just had one hell of a dream. No, it was a good one."
When I heard there was going to be a musical episode for the 200th, I was sure it would suck. When I heard about the Scooby Doo crossover, I cringed, because I knew it would be awful. WHY AM I ALWAYS SO WRONG.
Eh, who cares why. Let's just appreciate what we were given. Happy 300, my friends. Here's to 300 more.
(As always, no spoilers in the comments, please!)