While investigating a job in a small town, Sam and Dean stumble onto a much larger demon plot but their prayers may be answered when an old friend returns.
Following up on the strange deaths in the papers, the trail leads Sam and Dean directly to the demons. Apparently the demons have been searching for something and just as they get closer to finding out what, the Winchesters are attacked. Seemingly out of nowhere, Castiel appears and handles the demons with ease. Split between his loyalties, Castiel is taking orders from Naomi while talking with Sam and Dean. Due to his long absence, the boys suspect that he's hiding something but it will have to wait while they try to stop the demons. Their search leads them to rescuing Meg, who has been held captive by Crowley and his demons for the better part of a year while being tortured for information. Meg reveals, much to Castiel's dismay, that the demons are searching for a tablet that can close the gates of heaven forever. Whatever their doubts may be about Castiel, Sam and Dean need to work with him and Meg to stop Crowley from getting his hands on the most powerful weapon yet.
As the return episode from the break, Goodbye Stranger didn't fail to deliver. So many times before the turmoil in heaven would have been within the case the Winchesters would have solved and quietly reflected on in the closing moments. Instead, Goodbye Stranger's greatest strength was that the initial case was the catalyst to the greater plot. Quickly moving onto the angels and demons brought a great sense of urgency and finally revealing the angel tablet to Sam and Dean brings the heroes up to speed with the rest of us. With that reveal out of the way, hopefully the show can really start to ramp up the intensity and bring the latest war between good and evil to a head.
Though she wasn't always as charming, Meg's return couldn't have come at a better time. Meg has been around for a few years now and though we never knew if she could be trusted or not, Rachel Miner always kept us off balance of her portrayal of the character. Miner's quips had just the right amount of sting and charm to lighten the mood amidst the grim surroundings. While we questioned her loyalty, we never questioned Meg's unrelenting hatred of Crowley. Even when he told her the truth about what the demon tablet would do, Meg didn't flinch in her resolve to see him dead. She may not have always been this enjoyable but Meg had a great send off as she met her end at Crowley's hands.
Speaking of enjoyable, Dean, Crowley and Castiel each had their moments to shine in the episode. While it may have been years since it was brought up, Dean's love for a certain type of pornography is still funny and reminds me of the early seasons of the show. As always, Mark Sheppard as Crowley is a pleasure to watch as he takes delight in the pain of others. Lastly, Castiel has mostly been absent this season but his conflict between his allegiance to heaven and to Sam and Dean finally came to the surface. The confusion in his conversations and his feelings of guilt of his past actions against his loyalty to Sam and Dean was well done. As he attacked Dean in the crypt, the scene was remarkably similar to the season five finale when Dean was almost killed at the hands of Lucifer.
The only tangible drawback to the episode were the scene between Castiel and Naomi. The set design is more akin to a modern corporate office than it is to any idea of heaven. Also, the direction could be a lot tighter to take the focus off of the set and right into the faces of Castiel and Naomi. As the tension mounted, each shot should have their faces to further emphasize the claustrophobia and sense of being trapped that Castiel had. Their scenes always feel like they can be so much better than they are and a style change in those scene could drive that point home. Amanda Tapping has done an excellent job as Naomi as her actions may be deplorable, her reasoning certainly isn't. I hope that Tapping gets the opportunity to show what she can do with Naomi and she has done an outstanding job thus far.
Overall, Goodbye Stranger was the episode Supernatural needed to get the last part of the season started. It had a great story and excellent performances and with any luck, next week's Freaks and Geeks will be just as good.