Amazingly, it didn't wind up being the MarySue squickfest that I feared, and I actually liked most of the episode. My quibbles were with characterization, and some technical things, nothing more.
Thank goodness for that mostly-a-reset-button at the end.
I still don't like what all of this says about John's character, and I have trouble believing in it. You all know that I have issues with how John raised the boys, as do most of us. For him to keep another child secret from the boys... I just don't know. I can see him shielding the other boy from the reality of all their lives, but it's very dishonest to Sam and Dean, and that doesn't seem like John.
The "Good-old-Dad" lifestyle he had with Adam... that seems very wrong. I get that Adam was a second chance to be the father he might originally have been (but for Mary's death). But if he could go fishing with Adam and take him to a baseball game, then he could by God have unbent at least a little with Sam and Dean. Moderation wouldn't have killed him, and the boys would have benefitted from it. Given his interaction with Adam, the whole incredible blowup with Sam over college (happening in a parallel timeframe!) doesn't make sense at all.
I just can't reconcile the John we've seen with the choices in this secret life. I know Dean couldn't either, and that was interesting in a dramatic sense, but it also seems false to me. I don't like when canon plays false with the characters.
My other issue was with Sam. The Sam I know would have agreed with Dean, that Adam should remain sheltered once they'd taken care of the thing that killed Adam's mother.
Now again, in a dramatic sense, if Sam agrees with Dean then there's no conflict in this episode. BUT... that's no excuse for doing a 180 on Sam's character. Sam's complaints growing up, and in leaving for college, were legitimate. Even Dean can see that now, to some extent. So to have Sam deny that there was any validity in that, or even in the desire NOT to be dragged across the country constantly and abandoned in motel rooms while John did God knows what... who the f**k is that character? That isn't Sam!
There IS no real justification for how the boys were raised. And now canon just destroyed the old one, which was that "John was distracted by his vengeance and did the best he could." The new version, "John emotionally neglected his sons and exposed them to danger and instability because the three of them were already doomed, but meanwhile he played Sugar Daddy to the Golden Son"... what the hell is that? It doesn't even make sense!
I know we expect too much of the show, those of us invested in the fandom. We expect it to be better than it is, to be more consistent, when it's "only a TV show."
But when fanfic writers go out of their way to avoid the kind of mutated characterization that we see in canon, I can't help thinking that the show and TPTB could try much harder than they're doing. You should not, for the sake of a single entertaining episode, undermine or pervert your own canon. That was the major problem I had with the prior episode—for the sake of crack, the show created The Prophet Chuck and "The Winchester Gospel" and obliterated the fourth wall, and that's just going too far for a throwaway episode.
For this week... I really liked Adam (and even the minor touches like waitress Denise who took such a severe dislike to Dean), and I loved the reveal of the MOTW and how all of that worked. But it wasn't worth the hit to John and Sam's characters. I keep thinking that much of the episode could have been transplanted onto a different setup and worked just as well—the long lost son of some other Hunter John knew, for instance, where John carried out the duty of being the perfect "uncle." THAT could have been worked in such a way that it would still feel like John, though the falseness of Sam's POV here still wouldn't be resolved.
The gore in this episode was over the top for me. We've had implied gore, which I much prefer, but this was much too graphic (especially Sam being bled and poked, and Dean beating a ghoul's head in—TOO MUCH!)
And my other complaint? Those scenes with Dean hunting around in the dark were too poorly-lit to go on as long as they did (much like in "Family Remains"). I realize this kind of thing is a horror-movie staple, but it works differently in a theater where the lights are off and you're surrounded by the screen and sound than it does in your living room, where there's glare coming off the TV and you get only a tiny bit of illumination. It doesn't build suspense so much as it builds frustration, if it goes on too long.
I didn't pay attention to next week's previews, other than Angel In The Backseat. Hey, at least Sam's still riding shotgun, at least ostensibly.
On another topic, this week's edition of "Things you shouldn't laugh at, but just can't help it" is brought to you by Scrubs: The Grapes Of Wraaaaaaagth.