I didn't like the actual plot quite as well as I'd hoped. I think I've been spoiled for dream episodes forever by the Buffy episode "Restless." I had hoped for better pacing in this episode, and for more surrealistic dreaming. Bobby's brain was about the only place we really, really go to play in that world, and I did enjoy all the camera tricks they were using--under- and over-saturating the color depending on where in the dream they were, and the wide-angle lens.
I'm not even going to talk about Bela here (except to chortle with laughter again at Sam's dream about her), or the Colt, or Bobby's backstory (except to say I saw it coming, and it makes a lot of sense).
I'm of two minds about this pivotal character point and moment. On one hand, I love the way this was played out: Dean's most irrational fears spewing all their ugliness up in his face at once ("Have you ever even had an original thought? Your car--Dad's; your favorite leather jacket--Dad's; your music--Dad's...."), and Dean lashing out as strongly as he could (to the point of saying things about John I don't think he actually means, such as "My father was an obsessive bastard"), and having a kind of revelation in the process. "I don't deserve to go to hell!"
And as he said to Sam in a beautifully understated scene: "I don't want to die." He's reached a point where he no longer accepts the absolute necessity of the deal, of Sam's life being worth more than his (although I bet he's still all about protecting Sammy), of the deal making his own survival "worth something." This is a huge change for Dean, a part of moving beyond being simply John's son and Sam's brother to owning who he is.
Not that there's anything wrong with being John's son or Sam's brother. Far from it. But that identity had eaten up so much of Dean's perception of himself as a worthwhile person, that it took this possible trip to hell (and a nightmare) to shake a lifetime's worth of thinking and get Dean to challenge that self-perception.
On the other hand, that scene was incredibly painful to watch. I'm in the camp that believes John Winchester did the best he could in raising his sons. They're living proof that he (mostly) succeeded as a father, and it's blatantly clear from canon that John loved them both beyond measure. Dean knows that, and it was bitterly unpleasant to watch his Dream Self blurting out fears and thoughts that he probably has never confessed even to himself, they're so irrational. The one that stabbed me with its unfairness was that "he didn't care if you lived or died," which, hello Dean, John sold his SOUL for you.
And it was worse to watch Real Dean (as distinct from his Dream Self) retaliate against the accusations that he's nothing but an echo of a man who didn't even care about him by denying the things that John gave him, the burdens John put on him. I think it was the correct character choice (go writers), that Dean has to go through this denial to choose who he really is and come back to seeing how much John loved him and gave him, but oh, my heart.
I'm just glad that no version of John was there to hear it. That would have been worse. (and to think that I had my fingers crossed for some surprise Jeffery Dean Morgan appearance.)
dotfic has a good post where she metas on the Dean vs. Dean scene, and on the boys and the phrase "I love you." She says some stuff better than I've said it here, and there's good discussion in the comments, too.
Okay, a couple more notes.
--The very, very end, with the black-and-white flash of DreamDemon!Dean, and then the glimpse of Dream Dean snapping his fingers...but with BLACK EYES. What does this mean, do you think? Just that even though Dean's asking for help now doesn't mean becoming a demon isn't still his future? That he's not saved yet? That his inner demons aren't quite vanquished?
--Dude. When Jeremy is beating on Sam in the dream, and suddenly makes Sam be pinned to the ground, tied to stakes by his wrists and ankles, did any of the rest of you notice the position Sam's in? On his back, arms out to the sides, feet together and tied to the same stake with his knees slightly bent. That's a crucifixion pose, except on the ground instead of on a cross. What is up with that? Foreshadowing? Or is it how Dean sees Sam (since we're in Dean's head)? Or how Sam sees himself?
Really, really cannot wait for next week's ep.