Episode Title: "The Born-Again Identity"
Writer: Sera Gamble
Director: Robert Singer
Late at night, Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) is running through the back alleys of a city while trying to escape his visions of Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) and get some much needed rest. After inadvertently breaking up a drug deal, Sam buys something from the dealer to knock himself out. But when Lucifer wakes Sam once again, he runs into traffic and he is knocked over by an oncoming car. Hours later, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) bursts into the hospital looking for his brother, but Dr. Kadinsky (Bill Dow) tells Dean that in addition to Sam's cracked ribs, he can't sleep no matter what sedatives they give him.
Dean promises Sam that he will find him some help, but Sam points out that Death was his only hope last time and there's no one left who can save him. But that doesn't stop Dean from trying. While Dean burns through Bobby's contacts, a strange and possibly supernatural breeze directs his attention to the business card of taxidermy shop. Taking a chance, Dean calls the number and leaves a message while dropping Bobby's name. In the hospital, Lucifer torments Sam, who begins noticing a young girl named Marin (Kacey Rohl) who seems interested in his plight.
Back at his temporary place, Dean fields a call from the owner of the taxidermy, who is a hunter like himself. He turns Dean on to an extraordinary healer known as Emanuel Allen. Dean takes the chance and visits Emanuel's home. At first, a man introduces himself as Emanuel and says that his wife, Daphne Allen (Johanna Marlowe) is resting. But Dean sees that Daphne is tied up and the man reveals himself to be a demon. Dean dispatches the demon with his dagger in full view of the returning Emanuel; whom Dean instantly recognizes as Castiel (Misha Collins).
As Emanuel frees Daphne, he expresses his shock that demons walk the Earth and Dean realizes that Cas is not acting. Dean pretends not to know Emanuel and he asks him to heal his brother. Back at the hospital, Sam asks the orderly, Marcus (Eli Goree) about Marin; but all he is told is that Marin was not institutionalized because of an accident like Sam. On the long drive back to the hospital, Dean bites his tongue when he listens to the story of how Daphne found Emanuel naked in the water without any memory of his previous life.
At the hospital, Sam finally gets a chance to bond with Marin and they learn that they have similar problems. Marin is haunted by her dead brother, who keeps urging her to hurt and kill herself so that they can be together again. However, Marin is leery about accepting Sam's help with the situation because he seems even crazier than she did. Back on the road, Dean begins speaking about how Castiel did this to his brother, but Emanuel is completely oblivious to his former identity. But Emanuel does have some words of comfort regarding Dean's inability to just dismiss his guilt and other problems.
Hours later, Dean stops at a convenience store and leaves Emanuel in the car while he tries to call Sam. Inside, Dean is attacked by three demons and he manages to take out one of them. But another demon escapes after his remaining partner is killed by Meg (Rachel Miner); another demon and a long time Winchester foe who expresses her interest in getting close to Cas and using his powers against Crowley. Meg convinces a reluctant Dean that it's in their best interests to work together, at least for the time being.
Although Dean awkwardly vouches for Meg, the car ride becomes even more awkward as Meg can't resist dropping hints that she knew Emanuel before his memory loss. Back at the hospital, Sam finally convinces Marin to let him help her exorcise the ghost of her brother. The ritual works, but the damage to Sam's room leads the doctors and orderlies to believe that Sam's condition has gotten worse. Dr. Kadinsky even tells Sam that they have to consider "a surgical solution" to his problem. Outside the hospital, Emanuel and his unlikely companions discover that the place is surrounded by demons waiting for them.
While listening to Meg and Dean argue, Emanuel comes to realize that he was Castiel even if he doesn't remember his old life. But Meg encourages Emanuel to take out the demons and he complies. But as he does, Castiel's memories come flooding back and he recalls everything. Inside the hospital, Marcus straps Sam down for some electroshock therapy and he reveals himself to be a demon before he begins torturing Sam with a dangerously high voltage. Outside, Dean tries to convince Castiel that he survived his Leviathan ordeal so that he could fix his mess… starting with Sam.
Dean even reveals that he kept Castiel's trademarked trench coat in the trunk. Moments later, Castiel materializes inside the hospital and smites Marcus before attempting to heal Sam. Cas fails, but he later tells Dean that there is another way. Castiel draws Sam's madness into himself and restores Sam to sanity in the process. But it comes at the cost of Castiel's sanity as he is now haunted by the same vision of Lucifer that hounded Sam. With Castiel no longer in control of himself, the Winchesters leave him at the hospital as a patient for his own protection.
Later, Meg reappears while posing as a young doctor to get a job at the same hospital, presumably to pursue her own Castiel agenda. Dr. Kadinsky is quickly convinced of Meg's sincerity and he hires her on the spot.
For all of the crap that Sera Gamble gets as the showrunner of "Supernatural," she tends to be one of the better writers on the series when it's her turn at the plate. Although I remain strongly against the lame Leviathans as this season's primary villains, the return of Castiel was handled in an entertaining and emotionally satisfying way.
Misha Collins has been so consistent as Castiel on this show that it's kind of surprising when he shows that he can pull off different characters. I believe the last time that Collins played a significantly different incarnation of Castiel for any real length of time was when he played himself in "The French Mistake" last season. Again, not counting the brief Leviathan possession Castiel suffered in the season's first two episodes.
The point is that Castiel as Emanuel had more humanity and insight than Castiel seemed to have in his days as a renegade angel turned would-be God. Emanuel's words towards Dean were oddly comforting and it was hilarious that he thought Castiel was strange name once Dean brought it up. "Supernatural" lives and dies on the dynamic between Sam and Dean, but this was also a refreshing reminder of the ease with which Collins and Jensen Ackles play off of each other. I hadn't realized how much I missed that until they were back together again for the long car ride.
Only the return of Meg seemed to drag down this episode. Nothing against Rachel Miner, I just didn't buy her as a legitimate threat to Crowley or even as a reluctant ally of Dean. There was something about the way that Meg was written and performed that made her come off as cartoonish and unbelievable… even in a world with ghosts, demons and the other monsters of "Supernatural." Whatever presence it takes to play a convincing demon, Miner just doesn't have it.
Mark Pellegrino turned in another fun performance as the hallucination of Lucifer and sending him over to Castiel's mind was good way to reinvigorate a plot line of the season that was getting a little stale. I keep hoping that the Lucifer in their heads will turn out to be the real deal, just to have Pellegrino on the show more often.
It was odd that Gamble introduced the idea of Castiel as Emanuel taking a human wife, considering that Daphne was a non-entity after her single brief appearance. If this was Castiel's only appearance in the entire season, I'd have to say that the relationship between him and his wife was very poorly handled from any dramatic stand point. However, Collins is supposedly in several upcoming episodes; which means that the issue could be revisited before the end.
Despite some occasional missteps, "The Born-Again Identity" makes it seem like "Supernatural" is back on track for a strong end to the season. But it might be a good idea to do fewer stand alone episodes from this point onwards.