One of the worst things about Supernatural is its tendency to kill off side characters, which is sad as often the inclusion of a lot of these characters not only make episodes better, but build upon the world of Supernatural. Whenever a character is set to 'return' after being killed off it tends to be done as a ghost, a dream sequence or another half thought out way to get them back with the Winchesters, and often feels weak.
'Safe House' manages to not only bring back two of the best supporting characters the show has had, but uses in such a way that they are massively enjoyable, doesn't take away from their deaths and even gives an incredibly touching moment too.
The episode follows Sam and Dean as they investigate what they believe to be a run of the mill haunting in a house that they discover Bobby and Rufus investigated a few years before. The time frame as to when Bobby and Rufus were there is left vague, with passing references to 'the apocalypse' which narrows it down to about 9 years of the show, and the mention of Lilith at the end which would place it around season 3 or 4.
The two teams discover that it's not just a regular ghost they're dealing with, but a Soul Eater, who rips people's souls out of their bodies, traps them in it's nest and feeds on them.
The two stories run in tandem, with the flashbacks interwoven into the regular story in such a way that not only allows both stories to reach similar points at the same time, but even adds to some comedic moments, such as Sam and Dean complaining that there has to be an easier way to dig up bodies before jumping to Bobby using excavator to do the very same.
The fact that Bobby and Rufus are back, but don't actually come back and interact with Sam and Dean in any way is probably the best decision of the episode, it gives us a fun and engaging adventure that focuses on Bobby and Rufus on their own merits, it shows the kinds of hunters they were without Sam and Dean around.
The episode didn't add anything to the overall story, it barely mentions Amara and Castiel, what it does manage to do is to give us a monster of the week story that manages to feel part of the bigger world. It doesn't feel like a throw away episode. Maybe it's the return of two characters, one of which every Supernatural fan loves, maybe it's the structure of the two narratives intertwining and meeting that makes it stand out, or maybe it's just the great banter and fun moments in the script. Whatever it it, 'Safe House' is an episode I found myself strangely invested in, despite knowing that Sam and Dean would be fine and how Bobby and Rufus' stories ended I was totally engrossed in it.
The biggest drawback of the episode is the fact that it reminds you of some of the great characters that the show has had over the years, Bobby, Rufus, Ellen, Jo, Ash, Samuel, Charlie, Meg, Ruby, Kevin, so many characters have come and gone over the years that it's hard to actually name them all, and all of them had something about them that made them a pleasure to watch, whether you loved them or hated them.
Having Bobby and Rufus back reminds you of what's missing from the show, of how big a world Supernatural could have if it just stopped killing people. It leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth, which hits home even more in the moment when Dean and Bobby see each other in the Soul Eater's nest. They don't speak to each other, they just exchange a look that says so much more.
It's a great episode, and one of the best of season 11, one that doesn't add anything to the greater story but reminds us of a time of the show we've lost, where Sam and Dean weren't alone, when Bobby was still there looking out for 'his boys'. It stands out because of its heart.