The first thing that struck me about this episode was that it essentially ended with Dean becoming an Azazel like figure. For those of you who jumped on board later Supernatural’s first two seasons were defined by the Winchester Brothers hunting down a specific demon. This Yellow Eyed Demon, Azazel, killed the Winchester’s mother. Azazel killing the mama Winchester would plunge the rest of the Winchester family headfirst into demon-hunting and I have to wonder if Dean killing Amy in front of her son was supposed to be a deliberate parallel. Or it could have been a bizarre homage to Kill Bill, which is probably closer to the truth given how many little references and nods were laced throughout the episode. On the whole I found this episode to be a little frustrating but I still ended up enjoying it. The episode was coming off a run of three heavily serialised episodes which had managed to create an amazing sense of momentum and it dealt with the fallout from those three episodes in its first five minutes. I kind of understand that, because Supernatural isn’t the sort of show which can maintain such strict, breathless, plotting for too long. One of the chief reasons for this is that the show just doesn’t have the budget to really show anything other than what the Winchester’s are up to.  As such the machinations of the villains tend to always happen off-screen with the Winchester’s occasionally bumping into the tip of the iceberg. Having the previous episodes take place so breathlessly kind of forced the show to scale back the machinations of the Leviathans. As such having a little title card pop up and explain that week’s had gone past was almost a relief, because I knew that we’d at some point find out that the Leviathans had expanded their operation exponentially off-screen. So when we got a nice little cutaway to some Leviathan running a credit card search it felt like the Supernatural I know and love. In actuality this felt like a very back to basics episode of the show, with a monster of the week plot, a new home base, and yet more conflict between the brothers.

In fact I was kind of hoping that last episode had been something of a breakthrough for the Winchester dynamic. They were open and honest about their respective situations, Sam wasn’t lying to Dean and they were working together. I was hoping that a line had been drawn under four seasons of hair-tearingly frustrating characterisation. But my hopes were to be dashed, because as soon as Sam and Dean had broken out of Leviathan-Central we were back to the barbed looks, terse exchanges, and mystifying secrecy. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but when a show like Supernatural lurches into its seventh season there’s very little for it to say about its central characters. I think at this point it would just be a breath of fresh air for the Winchester brothers to revert to actually, y’know, liking each other and working together without a hitch. As much as I like Dean Winchester the character has become increasingly unlikable over the past few seasons. There’s a pious, indignant, fury at the centre of the character which often means that he comes across as an actual antagonist or at least a destructive force in episodes like this. I think part of it is that Dean seems to have become a lot more intractable vis-à-vis the Hunters code these past few seasons and it means that any sense of compassion he had has slowly dissipated. But even beyond that there’s an ugliness to the character in the way he treats Sam and the people around him, his adamant belief that Sam will fuck up again coming across as practically villainous. I understand that this is supposed to show Dean’s reticence to trust Sam, but his bitching to Bobby just comes across as horribly petty.

Speaking of which, whilst I was probably a little quick to announce the death of Bobby Singer last week I was fascinated by his character in this episode.  This episode felt like a soft-reboot of sorts, with the Winchesters finally being ousted from their home-base and having to start from scratch. Season 2 tried to establish the Roadhouse as a base for the Winchesters. For whatever reason people didn’t react very well to this and the Roadhouse was burnt to the ground and never referenced again. As such the move to Bobby’s house as a de-facto home-base was done very slowly over three or four seasons. I hadn’t even thought about how Bobby’s house was a focal point of the show until it was burnt to the ground. As such the Winchesters are now holed up in an old haunt of Rufus whilst Bobby has to roam around the country to retrieve his books. Now this could be a way of making the Winchesters think on their feet for this season, or it could have been a way to get Bobby out of the way for one episode and next week all the books will be collected and it’ll be like nothing ever happened. However the thing I kept wondering about Bobby was how out of character he was acting, his brusqueness replaced by something close to overt compassion. Combined with him suddenly popping up at the Hospital I was wondering if he had been Leviathaned or something, but I’m going to put it down to a little inconsistent characterisation for the time being.  The Leviathans meanwhile continued to be a far more interesting villain than they had any right to be. I don’t know why but I kind of love how organised and hierarchical they are. It is also nice to actually have a villain invested in the Winchester Brothers. It felt like previously the Winchesters kept stumbling into the main villains, having them be actively pursued adds a new texture to the show. I also like how, generally, they’re all business. Whilst the Leviathan sent to hunt down the Winchesters got a little quippy towards the end the rest of the Leviathans seem very focused on their immediate goals, which seems to be eating a whole bunch of people.

Finally I’ve got to hand it to Jensen Ackles who directed this episode with aplomb. This is his second turn in the director’s chair for Supernatural, his debut being last season’s amazing ‘Weekend at Bobby’s’, and the direction was really strong. Whilst the use of filters to denote flashback was a little stock, I really liked the connective tissue which bridged the gap between the flashbacks and the contemporary story. Little things like both Young and Old Sam using a cold can as an ice-pack really helped to create a connection between the  disparate timelines.  In fact the episode was full of neat little touches that I really liked, like Amy Pond seeing Dean’s reflection before she saw him and the brief flash of the Kitsune eyes when Dean killed her.

Whilst ‘The Girl Next Door’ definitely felt like it didn’t capitalise on the momentum that had been built up by the previous run of episodes  I actually thought it was a strong, well-written, well directed monster of the week episode. I’m hoping that this season manages to create a decent balance between the threat of the Leviathans and strong singular episodes, because right now I really like the energy the show has.