I feel like I’ve been waiting all season to write a Supernatural review like this one – one where I unequivocally enthusiastically at-the-top-of-my-lungs want to scream from the rooftops that THIS IS MY SHOW AND I EFFING LOVE IT!  I’ve already regaled writer Robert Berens with all the reasons why he can never leave Supernatural, so he’s probably regretting writing this masterpiece, but honestly, I can’t help it. There were quite a few episodes this season that were disappointing, last week’s especially, so the reminder of why I fell for this Show and just how incredible it can be felt like the very best sort of relief. At least half my live tweets were in all caps, and that hasn’t happened since the last Robbie Thompson episode. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to return to that kind of enthusiasm for my favorite Show.

I’ve been watching Supernatural live since Season 2, so it’s been over a decade of season finale nights, but the mix of anticipation and dread that I feel leading up to every one has never diminished. All day, I kept an eye on the clock. I left work early, made sure I had all the necessary supplies – a little wine, some good take-out, a little pie for dessert. And of course, tissues. Lots of tissues. I tweeted Berens a few hours before the show aired, asking just how many boxes of tissues I would need, and he tweeted back that there were not enough tissues in the world.

Let’s just say that didn’t do anything to calm my nerves. There was mostly anticipation for 12.22 since Jensen had told me this was the episode I would love and I figure he pretty much knows what I love at this point. If he said I was going to be a happy fangirl, I was fairly certain I would be. Which also means tissues. At the same time, I had nothing but feelings of foreboding about 12.23, amped up by all the rumors about Mark Sheppard leaving the show and by Misha Collins’ tweet of an ominous (and emotional) video celebrating Castiel’s 100th episode.

Finale nights are full of lots of nail biting, but they’re also nights when the entire Supernatural fandom comes together. All over the world, thanks to streams and downloads as well as broadcasts, fans sit down “together” to watch, sharing our reactions and trying to support each other through the ups and downs of the episode. You can almost feel the tension across the globe as those final minutes tick by, as everyone waits to find out – literally – who will live and who will die. It’s been like that since the Kripke days, and this season was no exception.

And boy, were we right to be emotional – both the anticipation and the dread turned out to be well founded.

The episodes were very different; so different that I don’t want to review them together. So this will be my review of 12.22. Stay tuned for 12.23 tomorrow.

There was so much to love in “Who We Are” that I think I’ll do this in recap style, so I don’t forget any of the awesomeness.

We open with the proof that my hopeful and overly optimistic guess that maybe Mary was just biding her time and not brainwashed into being a killer was totally wrong. Mary brutally kills a fellow hunter and then asks Ketch for her next victims. Jody Mills is on that list, and the tension of the episode immediately goes into overdrive.

Meanwhile, Sam and Dean are locked in the bunker with Lady Toni, with enough air for only a few days. I have to say I had some grudging enjoyment of Lady Toni (well played by Elizabeth Blackmore) in this episode, as she kept up the quips even while she knew the Winchesters had the upper hand and they were all probably dying anyway. Dean doesn’t kill her (though he wants to, and I love that about Dean because damn it, she tortured Sam! And Mary for that matter).

The tension is amped up even more by the ominous ‘Day One’ spread across our screens, so the sense of time running out is very clear. The boys try magic, which gives us smart Sam saying “abrogation ritual” and Dean the chance to fix Lady Toni with the “are you a virgin?” stare (not even close, she quips back) and then to say “re-virginize.”  Unfortunately, Ketch has made sure that magic won’t work, and they’re back to square one.

And we get an even more ominous ‘Day Two’ onscreen. Crap.

Dean decides that since they’ve exhausted brains, they’ll try brawn, and damn, this is why the Winchesters are so hot. Get you some boys who can do both.

Dean: “let’s straight Shawshank this bitch!”

Sam and Dean take sledgehammers to the bunker wall. Dean takes a swing and plaster and cement go flying everywhere, including into his face.

Sam: Goggles?

Dean: Goggles.

Me: Ad lib?

That’s a game I like to play, figuring out which things are not scripted but end up being some of the best moments. Sure enough, a friend of mine just asked Jensen and Jared that at the Rome convention. Totally not scripted. And guess what? That was a real wall! They shot the scene for 60 seconds and actually broke through the real 18-inch wall! Real life superheroes, FTW! Also props to Proppin’ Robin, who had to find Men of Letters appropriate goggles for them to wear.

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Pic to heat you up with from @carpedium333

This was the first time I started thanking Berens loudly because you can’t sledgehammer your way through walls wearing flannel shirts. That’s right; we get Winchesters in single layers. Sweaty, panting Winchesters in single layers. And lots and lots of gifs on Tumblr that say “Context? Who needs context?”

Not me.

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Then we get something else that was indescribably wonderful. We get Sam and Dean, side by side, being real with each other. Saying some of the things we’ve all wanted them to say all season. They both realize it isn’t going to work, and they have the kind of conversation that you have with someone you’re close to when you know the end is near. We all can feel it, and my heart was in my throat before they even started speaking.

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Sam admits to Dean that he regrets falling for the British Men of Letters’ “company line.”

Sam: I just followed. Because it was easy. Easier.

Dean: Than what?

Sam: Easier than leading.

It’s something Sam has struggled with all his life, the little brother who grew up always following in his big brother’s footsteps. The Winchesters have both had a tough time finding their footing in relation to each other as adults, as equals, with all their shared history and Dean’s ingrained need to protect his little brother. But this conversation? There’s no tension. There’s Sam being real, and there’s Dean listening, his brother’s witness and validation.

Sam: Is this how you pictured it? The end?

Dean: You know it’s not.

Me: Bobo, you’re getting it so effing right!!!

Because of course, that’s what Dean would say. Of course, Sam knows that about his brother. Just that little bit of dialogue is so telling, says so much about the closeness and the bond between these two brothers. The thing that made me fall in love with this Show and has kept me watching for twelve seasons.

Dean: I always thought we’d go out Butch and Sundance style.

Now here’s where I got even more emotional than usual because there was a little bit of character bleed going on in my head. Jensen and Jared have also had this same conversation many times, about how the show will end and how Sam and Dean will go out. In real life, they also have strong emotions about the end of this show and these characters who are so much a part of them. Hearing Sam and Dean talk about the end was also hearing Jared and Jensen talk about the end (of the Show) – and that hit me incredibly hard. I was sobbing so much I almost missed it when the expression on Dean’s face subtly changed.

Sam: Blaze of glory.

Dean: Blaze of glory…sonofabitch!

And now I’m laughing and smiling through my tears and looking like a lunatic. Which is exactly what Lady Toni is calling the Winchesters, as Dean gets out his beloved grenade launcher. (Character bleed again, btw, because Ackles has been as eager to use that thing as Dean is!)

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The look exchanged between the brothers was priceless, both of them looking for all the world like lunatics – desperate and dirty and yet completely defiant to the end. It was like every best serial killer Winchester AU fanfic I’ve ever read come to life on my television screen. More loud thank you’s to Berens as I tried to wipe the tears away so I could see.

Toni: You’re lunatics.

Dean: Yeah, big beautiful and dumb (talking to the grenade launcher and grinning like…well, like a lunatic)

Sam rushes Lady Toni out of the room, giving his big brother a nod and a grin.

Dean: Okay beautiful, yippie ki aye mother—

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Not sure whether that smile was Dean’s or Jensen’s, but it doesn’t really matter. It was a thing of beauty.  (Robert Berens tweeted that the yippie ki aye was originally in the script, then he foolishly took it out, but Ackles thankfully put it right back in).

We cut away for a commercial, and when we’re back, there’s a hole in the wall that quickly collapses, and no Dean in sight. Sam makes his way through the bunker searching for his brother, calling out “Dean! Dean!” even as he barely has enough air to keep moving. That made me all emotional too, because these boys use each other’s names as a whole other language, saying so much with just a word. The number of times one of them has searched frantically for the other, calling out their name, has got to be way up there – and I have loved every single time. It goes on so long that I get worried, and Sam has almost no breath left, gasping and falling to the floor….when suddenly the lights go back on. And in comes Dean, battered and bleeding but victorious, smiling down at Sam.

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Dean: Hey, lunatic.

It was a Winchester moment that will rank up there with some of the best in the series.

Meanwhile, Mary is on her way to Jody’s. And Jody, unknowing, invites her right in. Tension! Dean calls Garth and warns him, but the boys can’t reach Jody, so they head toward her house. I’m biting my nails and half hiding my eyes because I just don’t think I can take Jody Mills being dead or Kim Rhodes not being on my Show, but yay, she’s not only not dead, she’s got Mary tied up. Badass Jody! And Alex is there too, which makes me extra happy, because Katherine Ramdeen rocks.

An injured Dean is collapsed in a chair, and Jody leans over and clasps his hand to comfort him.

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Mary: You wanna play mother to my son? He’s all yours.

It’s cold and heartless, and it hits Dean right where it hurts. You can FEEL his pain, as he glances helplessly at his mother and then away.

Mary: Whats the matter? Am I too different from your mother? Or too much the same?

Ohgod, where are my tissues? Ackles can show you Dean’s pain so vividly that you feel it in your own heart, and it damn well hurts.

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And the emotional moments don’t stop there. Oh no, Berens has so much more in store for me. Lady Toni taunts them that if they don’t run, they’re all going to die. But Sam, who has clearly had a lot of his conversation with his brother rolling around his big brain all this time, has other ideas.

Dean: We’re not running.

Toni: Then you die.

Sam: Or we fight.

And that is what they do. An injured Dean sits back and watches, his face infused with so much pride, as Sam Fucking Winchester shows us all what a big damn hero he is. They pull together the remaining hunters (even including Walt and Roy, who memorably shot Sam and Dean many seasons ago!) and Sam gives up the role of follower and embraces the role of leader.

Sam: I called you here…Most of you had the good sense to turn them down (the BMoL). I didn’t. They think the ends justify the means, but we know better.

Walt or Roy: What do you want us to do?

Sam: I want you to follow me. We will win. We will take down the bad guys, because that’s what we do.

Dean: (beaming up at his little brother, overflowing with pride)

Jared did an amazing job with this scene. He showed us Sam’s hesitation at first, as he corrects himself from “my brother and I” to “you know what? No. I…”  Right before our eyes, Sam grows up a little bit more, takes responsibility for himself and his decisions and knows – KNOWS – that he can do this. That he can be a leader. That he IS a leader. Somehow, with voice and tone and inflection and facial expressions, Jared shows us every bit of that transformation. It was so inspiring, I swear I was ready to leap up out of my chair and swear allegiance to whatever Sam Winchester wanted me to do!

And Dean is right there, backing his little brother up, but letting him do it himself. It must have been like the first time Sammy rode a bike by himself, Dean running behind him and holding on and then knowing when to let go. The expression on his face then was probably the same – so much pride, so much love. My heart.

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Dean tells Sam he’s no good in a fight with his injury, encouraging Sam to lead the group of hunters without him.

Sam protests: I’ll take a jacked up Dean Winchester over ten other hunters any day.

Dean shakes his head.

Dean: I saw you. You’re ready for this. You show those sons of bitches who’s boss.

And he is ready. Dean, meanwhile, is going to save their Mom.

Jody kisses Alex goodbye and sends her to Donna’s to be safe (shout out to Briana Buckmaster, you’re still here in this universe, yay!)

Alex: Kick it in the ass.

Me: (dissolves in a lot of messy sobbing).

Fans all understand that reference. That was Kim Manners’ saying, the Show’s beloved director and executive producer for the first four seasons. His loss felt personal to the cast and crew, and to the fandom too, and none of us will ever forget him. Every now and then, Show reminds us, and this was the perfect spot to do it.  (Kim Rhodes said that her set driver, Ted, suggested it – my guess is that driver is someone who has been with the Show since the beginning – and I’m so glad they went with it).

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Dean smiles up at Sam, with pride, with confidence.

Dean: You got this. C’mere.

And then it happens. That thing we’ve all been waiting for for an entire long season. THE HUG. Dean pulls Sam in for an epic bro hug, and I absolutely dissolve in a puddle of tears, trying to both sob and smile at the same time with probably very unattractive results.

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Dean: You come back.

Sam: Promise.

Dean: Bitch.

Sam: Jerk.

I’m surprised I managed to get up off the floor after that. It’s the Winchesters’ way of saying “I love you” and I am so grateful to Berens for letting us have that. It’s exactly what they would have said in that situation, so perfectly in character, and Ackles and Padalecki pull off the whole scene with so much genuine emotion that it practically leaped off the screen.

Sam heads out to lead the group of hunters, and Dean turns back to Lady Toni, a look of absolute determination on his face. Lady Toni makes a plea for being able to see her son again (I was convinced that Show forgot she even had one…) and agrees to help Dean try to get inside Mary’s head and convince her to come back.

Dean cuffs her “for a little insurance. You understand.”

Toni knocks Mary out and then approaches Dean with the syringe. “This will hurt. You understand.”

Again, grudging points for the character being smartass til the end.

And then I sort of zoned out for a little while because director John Showalter and brilliant director of photography Serge Ladouceur gave me such incredibly beautiful close ups of Dean Winchester that I probably was just staring open-mouthed. I mean, what even?!

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Dean wakes up in the past that Mary’s hiding in, to a crying baby in a crib. He leans over, and immediately his face softens.

Dean (fondly): Sam.

Me: Oh god. I need more tissues.

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I don’t know how these actors can say so much with just a word. Or sometimes with no words at all!

I didn’t get any less emotional when we get to see young Dean with his loving mom, cutting the crusts off his PBJ and being everything Dean Winchester has ever longed for. It was so cruel, as present day Dean is in so much pain over the abandonment of his mother, for him to have to remember what he had and lost. My heart broke for him. And once again, Ackles shows us every second of that pain. He pleads with her to look at him, to hear him. And then he touches her, and he realizes: “You’re choosing this.”

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All the complicated emotions that go through Dean with this realization are right there on Ackles’ face. He gets it, at that moment. His mother’s terrible guilt for the deal she made, her terror of facing that – of facing her sons. And at the same time, he’s confronted with the evidence of her love, that he experienced himself as a young boy. That kind of mix of strong emotions is so hard for humans to take, to make sense of. And Ackles show us all of that in Dean.

Mary to young Dean: I’ll never let anything bad happen to you.

Something in Dean cracks then, because what his mother promised him then was a lie. It’s a universal reaction he has, a universal type of pain that most of us can relate to, because parents are human and sometimes they do lie. Sometimes they let us down; sometimes they do terrible, selfish things. Things that children don’t deserve but have to deal with anyway. I’ve worked with so many people who were damaged like that as children, who have to come to terms with imperfect – sometimes toxic – parents. Sometimes they forgive, sometimes they have to walk away just to survive. I saw that struggle in Dean, and then he bursts out with a rage that is 100% real and yet it shocked me anyway. For a television show to be so REAL is shocking – and Berens has all my love and respect for making this scene play out exactly as it would in real life.

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Dean: I hate you!

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And he does. He hates her, the way we all hate our parents when they let us down. And he also loves her. Berens and Ackles give voice to that painful contradiction, another one that’s universal for us humans.

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Dean: You lied to me. You promised you’d keep me safe, and then you make a deal with Azazel…You left us. Alone…Dad was just a shell… And I had to be more than just a brother. I had to be a father. And a mother, to keep him safe. And it wasn’t fair…and I couldn’t do it.

Ohgod. I was sobbing so hard I could barely see the television. It was like Berens and Ackles just condensed Dean Winchester’s entire existence into one page of screenplay, and they did it absolutely perfectly. That’s exactly my head canon, my understanding of this character who is so messed up because of this impossible expectation.

One of the best scenes in the entire series, imho.

Dean blames Mary for all the terrible things that have happened to Sam, but it’s achingly clear that he blames himself too. That he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t keep his little brother safe. All those awful things that happened to Sam have eaten away at Dean all his life. Even though it wasn’t his fault.

Dean (tearfully): All because of you. I hate you. I hate you…and I love you. Cuz I…can’t help it. You’re my mom.

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And because, despite it all, Dean does understand. He admits that right out, that he too has made deals to save the people he loves more than once. When he tells Mary that he forgives her, you know that he means it, as tears stream down Ackles’ face and my own.

He asks her one last time, desperately. And it’s like a metaphor for what Dean Winchester has always needed – that mirroring that we all need to feel okay about ourselves, that validation that someone has seen and known the REAL you and loves you anyway. He’s asking for something specific right now, but it feels like he’s also asking for what he’s always needed.

Dean: I need you to see me. Please.

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Mary turns reluctantly, Samantha Smith brilliantly playing out her guilt and fear and the pull to just hide from all that reality, and then slowly her eyes raise, and she sees her son.

And then BOOM, Dean and Mary are yanked out of that world and back into the present by Mr. Ketch!

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Another bit of brilliant acting by David Haydn-Jones, and I was so caught up in the Dean and Mary scene that I felt as disoriented as they did being yanked out of it. Awesome directing and editing made that violent yank out of time even more effective, so kudos all around!

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And then we get a truly brutal fight scene that didn’t pull any punches, literally or figuratively. I winced at Dean’s scream of pain as he went down on his injured leg, and again at Ketch’s sadistic enjoyment of taking on Dean Winchester and beating the crap out of him, taunting him as he pummels him.

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It is such a testament to this amazing character (and the amazing actor who plays him) that after just having me sobbing with his vulnerability and tears, now Dean is the most badass character ever, still standing up to Ketch even bloody and battered. He gets in some good pummeling himself, until Ketch plays dirty again and pulls out a gun.

I do have to admit that Ketch is right, though. He’s not stupid. Wanting a fight is one thing, but having a backup gun? Smart.

I may have screamed out my love for Dean Winchester when he just stood up and stuck his chin out, defiant to the end. Big fucking hero.

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Turns out it runs in the family, because Mary snaps out of her programming and shoots Ketch. He sounds genuinely shocked, then gets in a great last line.

Ketch: I knew you were a killer. You both are.

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Dean: You’re right.

Mary: shoots him dead.

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It was brutal and harsh, but you know what? He’s right. The Winchesters are killers when they have to be. They’re heroes too, and saving people will always be their main goal, but they are unmistakably killers. It makes them dangerous, and nobody should forget that.

Meanwhile, there’s no rest for the overly excited fan viewer (i.e. me), because there’s a parallel fight going on with Sam and Jody and their band of hunters versus the BMoL at their warehouse. The directing is top notch here, with me biting my nails as Sam and Jody shoot their way into the place, dodging bullets all the way, because we didn’t know if Jody was going to survive and OMG I really wanted her to! Both Sam and Jody are big damn heroes here, fearless and competent and kickass, just like Alex said.

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When they finally confront the villainous Dr. Hess, she tries to convince Sam that they need the BMoL to defeat Lucifer, sliding a file over to him that shows Lucifer out of the cage.

Jared does some incredible acting here, because – as always – Sam has a moment of true fear when he sees Lucifer. That Jared always remembers that would be the case, and keeps that consistency season after season, is a real testament to what a great actor he is and also how much he cares about this character and this show.

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But Sam steels himself, as Hess again tries to convince him.

Hess: You need us.

Disembodied old man voice on monitor: Listen to her, boy.

Sam: Pass.

Me: Yassssssssssssssssssss Sammy!!!! You are nobody’s boy!!!!

Sam shoots the monitor right out, Hess foolishly goes for her gun, and Jody shoots her smack in the middle of the forehead, crack shot that she is.

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The warehouse goes up in flames, and the hunters drive away victorious, Sam driving Baby.

I was still jumping up and down about Sam being a hero and a leader and badass and every other descriptor I could think of, when we went back to the bunker for the ending scene. Many of us have been waiting all season for Mary to talk about what she did making the deal that changed everything for her sons, to know how she felt about it. Early on, I speculated that she felt so guilty that she couldn’t even stand to be around Sam and Dean, and I could sort of understand that even if it stung. Then the show seemed to lose focus and stop showing us that part of Mary, and I began to think that was never the case – and I began to lose any empathy I had for the character. I still think that loss of focus was a mistake, but I do appreciate that in this episode, the Show returned to that understanding and made it explicit. What I at first thought was correct apparently, even if we didn’t get that consistently throughout the season. Still, it felt right.

Mary: All of this is because of me. It’s not okay. I’ve been distant, cold even.

Me: I’ll say…

Mary: Being here with you was too hard, seeing what I’d done, to you. And to Sam.

I so appreciated hearing that admission. Thank you, Robert Berens, for writing it so perfectly. And thank you, Sam Smith, for putting so much emotion into that, for making me believe it even after I’d just about written Mary off for good.

And Dean. Oh, Dean. How I love what he says next.

Dean: Everything has made us who we are. And who we are? We kick ass. We save the world.

Once again, I was jumping up and down and shouting like a maniac about THAT’S BLOODY RIGHT, THIS IS MY SHOW AND THESE ARE MY HEROES AND EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW IT!

Maybe this is what Amara meant after all, about what Dean needed. Not just his mother back, but the chance to make sense of the wreck of his childhood, all the loss he endured, and his struggle to survive and to keep Sam safe. He’s carried the guilt and anger and sadness all these years, never really taking time to process it all and work it through. Until now.

Mary smiles, because she knows it too, and she can finally show her pride in them without it being covered over by guilt. She’s afraid though – Dean forgives her, but what about Sam?

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And then we see Sam’s unmistakable shadow as he returns and hears what his mom is saying.

Sam: Mom, you don’t have to be scared of me.

Sam and Mary hug, and the camera shows us Dean. And Ackles shows us everything Dean is feeling right then – overwhelming relief that his brother came back and is okay, that his mom and his brother are alive and together. He clasps his hand on Sam’s shoulder.

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Dean: Glad you’re back, man.

It’s another ‘I love you’ in Winchester speak, and then Dean – no chick flick moments Dean – throws his arms around his brother and his mother, and it’s a family hug. A FAMILY HUG. THE SECOND HUG IN A SINGLE EPISODE!

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Caps by: @kayb625

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This episode ended with me scrambling for more tissues, gulping my wine (which I’d been too stunned to even sip throughout the entire episode) and wanting to just stay in my happy place forever. Except a few short commercials later and we were careening into the season finale. And where 12.22 had left me nearly comatose with warm and fuzzy Winchester feelings, I knew that 12.23 was going to do anything but.

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Stay tuned for that review coming up tomorrow! For now, I’m basking a little while longer after doing this recap. This is indeed Who We Are.

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