In addition to the nicely done foreshadowing, I really liked the way Dabb and Loflin in a later scene cut between Dean’s memories and his current actions. Mrs. Tran is very useful in helping the boys and Kevin track down a thief who stole the tablet from Kevin’s hiding place. The thief is wily, forcing Sam to negotiate hard for the tablet’s whereabouts. The situation triggers memories of Purgatory in Dean, and we learn he interrogated many monsters in his search for the missing Castiel. Unlike Sam and in fact unlike Benny the vampire, he is utterly ruthless, putting all his hell-gained torturing skills to work as he extracts information.
The memories goad Dean into taking control of the present interrogation as well, and he shocks Sam with his ferocity as he threatens to choke and stab the thief. As the scene cuts back and forth between Purgatory and the present, we clearly see the impact Purgatory had on Dean, who no longer has the issues with torture he had when asked to extract information from Alistair in season four.
At the same time, we also see Dean track down his friend and promise Castiel he will not leave Purgatory without him. Surviving Purgatory by living in the moment and leaving behind his emotional baggage allows Dean to let go of his anger at the angel. The protective loving side of Dean has not disappeared, even if it is much less evident than his fighting spirit.
The episode does not shy away from the darkness of these concerns, but the writers weave in several lighter moments to keep the story balanced. From Mrs. Trans’ shocked concern that Kevin has been watching television to the way she impresses Dean by using tax evasion threats to extract information, Kevin’s mom adds a humorous touch. Sam has a great moment when he’s able to pick up Thor’s hammer, presumably being found worthy as much due to his long flowing locks as his morality.
But in the end, the focus is on the struggle between individual pain and the needs of the bigger community, which is fitting in a story about heroes. When Mrs. Tran and Crowley get in a bidding war over the tablet at an auction held by a god, this loving mother does indeed put up her soul to save her son. Dean, though appreciative of her sacrifice, is pleased to be moving forward on the plan to close the gates of hell. Sam is taken aback when Dean tells him in his mind, “We got off cheap.” It’s especially ironic given Mrs. Tran has just turned down help from Alfie the Angel in favour of the Winchesters.