I agree with everything you said so I will start with some other points before I comment further on yours:
Can we pay homage to the motel for moment? IT IS AWESOME!!! Magic finger bed, red pleather walls, TRUCK FLAP ROOM DIVIDER (!!!) – all SO sleazy and visually great!
And Dean’s enjoyment of the bed it epic. LOVE the man!
Lots of GREAT camera work and cinematography in this episode. Right from the start with the sad, dingy apartment of the woman to the creepy cellar, to the church and crypt later – there are lots of gorgeous visuals.
I am completely with you that this was a STRONG Sam episode and Jared did fantastic getting us invested in Sam’s struggle for his own “destiny”. I think this was also the first time we find out Sam prays and actually believes in God and something more spiritual out there that he can’t prove?! I found that compelling too especially in contrast to Dean’s view of “I believe what I see and have encountered”. Especially because it’s equally heartbreaking to learn (by assumption) that Dean USED to behave in angels because his mom told him they were real, just to have that “truth” destroyed when she dies because Little Dean couldn’t believe a God or angels would allow that to happen!!! Like you I also really appreciate in the episode how it turns all of that on its head at the end.
It’s really believable to me that Sam sees stuff BECAUSE he needs something to believe in to have hope for his own redemption. It’s super touching and a little sad. And the last scene of the episode is beautifully acted between the two of them! PLUS awesome use of music budget with “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”, both from a lyric AND foreshadowing perspective!
To “WHAT IS ACTUALLY GOING ON”” I always wondered that, too. To me it had to be more than just the father’s spirit. What connected the father’s spirit to the hooker or the drunk? How could he just pop up in their places? I can believe that the priest is not at rest because of his violent death and missing his final rites. But he’s a pretty problematic father if he appears to people and tells them to kill other people. Taking judgment and execution in his own hands? Not trusting in God’s plan or forgiveness of sins? I can buy that he finds out about their sins through confession, but committing murder through a middleman especially preemptively? That’s a very misguided spirit….misguided by whom?
On a side note, would THAT behavior even after death would get him to heaven? He didn’t flame or fritz out, he actually looked like he was going to heaven, right?
So maybe it was REALLY God/ Chuck talking to Father Gregory? Or maybe Zachariah? OR some other player already trying to set the Winchesters onto the Apocalypse path? Or dividing them for later purposes?
I DO love that this episode give us the first definition of angles as FIERCE warriors.
On another side note: HOW did Dean get away from the final “accident scene” with a witness there and doubtless police on the way? They would have retained him and found out his “wanted” status, no?
Anyhow, very compelling episode to me as well. I bit of a sleeper, but in hindsight packed with important info.