The sky is blue, the grass is green and the Winchesters are back.
It's bene three weeks since Sam last saw his brother be overtaken by the archangel Michael. After a failed trip to Atlanta to find his brother, he arrives back at the bunker which has transformed from his home to a central headquarters for hunters. Mary is assessing their munitions while otherworld Bobby is teaching Jack how to fight while his grace is still recovering. Elsewhere, Castiel is using his own methods and meets with a demon named Kipling to try and find Dean's whereabouts. His patience his low but when he threatens to destroy Kipling if he doesn't get what he wants, the rug is yanked out from under him when the demon reveals that everyone inside the bar is sporting black eyes of their own. They quickly take him down and set a new trap. Sam gets a call and expects to hear Castiel on the other line but instead gets Kipling, inviting him to meet. They all know it's a trap but this time Sam has numbers on his side. When they meet, Kip reveals that someone recently asked him what he wanted and his answer is "everything". Kip wants to be the new king of hell and get the same deal as Crowley – one where they look the other way while the king of hell occasionally feeds them a bit of information when they need it. Except the Winchesters never gave Crowley that deal and the answer is "no". Kip tries to use the recently captured Jack and Maggie against him, but this Winchester still have one card let to play.
Supernatural's fourteenth season opener, Stranger in a Strange Land, was definitely a mixed bag. On one hand, the episode managed to quickly establish the new status quo for the team now that Sam is the leader of the hunters. On the other, there was so much bouncing around that it never gave us the chance to sit with any one character for a meaningful length of time. With that, the way around this wasn't to add more but rather focus on less. Having Dean/Michael in the episode didn't help the story at all and actually spoiled what could have been a better build. Kip's entire bit about someone asking him what he wanted would have been much stronger had Supernatural held off on Dean's reveal for at least the first episode. Also, did we need to see Michael to know that he has a master plan? Again, if we didn't have the scene with Nick (or the vessel formerly known Lucifer) for at least an episode or two this would have been a real surprise that he wads alive. I was shocked that Lucifer died at the end of season thirteen but Supernatural spoiled two things in one episode.
What did work well for Stranger in a Strange Land is the chemistry that Supernatural has set up for the season. Sam is a new leader and people take orders from him. Jared Padalecki looked exhausted during the episode but had to continue because people depend on him now. His reaction Castiel's usual bad judgement was subdued and mature. He knows he would have done the same so why judge harshly? Bobby and Jack together are probably going to be one of the best things of the season, assuming they don't kill this otherworld Bobby off so quickly. These two characters can grow together in a way can show us another version of what the original Bobby had with Sam and Dean. Combine that with Mary and Maggie and the group feels like a tight knit family, even without Dean.
Overall, Stranger in a Strange Land is a good episode but one with too much going on and a predictable ending. This would have been a much better hour if Supernatural would take the a risk and not have Jensen Ackles in an single episode. On that note, Jensen Ackles as Michael isn't giving me high hopes for the season. The performance here only felt stiff without the menace; like a subtler version of Mitch Pellegrino's take on Lucifer. Two very different personalities with the same goal of remaking the world into whatever they feel is better. We'll see what happens next week when Supernatural returns for Gods and Monsters.