by Amanda Spedding
[This article has extensive spoilers for season four]
“Whose side are you on?” That was the question many Supernatural viewers in Australia were left with after the final episode of Season Four – “Lucifer Rising”. This same question tracked the Winchester boys on their road-trip through this season – the unspoken “Whose side are you on?” that seemed to be the Impala’s third passenger. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
While most fans were disappointed, albeit supportive, of the shorter season three (no mention will be made here of “Red Sky at Morning”) and its somewhat expected rushed ending, the finale that left Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) ‘hanging’ in Hell, was the cliffhanger we’ve come to expect from Mr. Kripke.
With Dean brought back from the dead in “Lazarus Rising”, fans were clamouring to see the next incarnation of the supernatural: angels. And these weren’t just any angels; these were ones born from the mind of Eric Kripke.
Whilst looking forward to the introduction of the Holy Ones, if not introduced carefully, if clichés weren’t avoided, I feared this could backfire spectacularly – my own form of a crisis of faith.
Castiel. That’s whom Mr Kripke delivered. A dark, somewhat brooding, often monotone angel garbed in a trench coat. Crumpled suit, tie askew, this unassuming character made an impressive entrance.
We first meet Castiel, subtly portrayed by Misha Collins, in episode one. Trying to make contact with Dean after the hunter digs out of his own grave, a misdirect has us believing Dean is under demonic attack. Tumultuous reunions with Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki), lead the three hunters to a psychic in a bid to discover who brought Dean back from the dead.
After he leaves a trail of shattered glass, ringing ears and burned-out eyeballs in his wake, our first glimpse of Castiel is of someone who looks like a high-powered accountant. Unaffected by a stab to the chest by Dean, Castiel puts Bobby into a sleep with the touch of a forefinger. The unassuming accountant is gone, shadow-wings leaving us with little doubt as to who this is: “I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition.”
Now, that’s a way to make an entrance.
It was clear Castiel would be pivotal to this season. As the go-between of Dean Winchester and God’s hierarchy, Castiel is stoically resolute in his mission. Inhabiting a vessel who “prayed for this”, he gives us a small glimpse into the world of the faithful. Angels are invited in, it appears; demons are more the ‘squatter’ type.
The obvious parallel of Dean and Castiel both being soldiers serving their father doesn’t make for quick friendship between the two. Castiel does not play nice, and makes it clear where the power lies. “I dragged you out of Hell, I can throw you back in.”
A battle of wills between the two is inevitable, and we slowly get to know this taciturn winged one. Played against faith-resistant Dean Winchester, it’s a dynamic that works. Dean’s belief that he was not worth saving is brought to the fore each time Castiel visits. It’s hard to deny God has a plan and singled you out when he sends an angel to watch over you. Acceptance is a difficult thing for Dean, regardless of its self-evidence. With Dean and Castiel butting heads, we get to see Dean’s feelings of worthlessness explored and we see Castiel evolve. We are shown an angel slowly losing his unwavering obedience to God, and who begins to see through the eyes of the one he’s meant to guide.
Castiel is the perfect fit for the elder Winchester, and with the arrival of Uriel, we see just how well. Kripke bucks the trend again with Robert Wisdom bringing an elitist wrath to the Angel of Death. Uriel’s disgust at humanity as a whole, and his open disdain for Sam, creates another dynamic – never before has the word ‘smite’ conjured all it’s supposed. Angels are God’s warriors, Uriel is the epitome of this.
Castiel and Uriel appear to be at odds with each other. While this reinforces Dean’s trust issues, it also steers Dean towards Castiel. Castiel is an angel who sees humanity as a work of art, beautifully flawed and sacrosanct. What we got with Castiel was a three-dimensional character with room to grow, and enough subtle intrigue to keep the fans wanting more.
Trust is something that must be earned by both Castiel and Dean. While Castiel doesn’t have the open hostility Uriel does towards Sam, his not-so-subtle whisperings in Dean’s ear of Sam taking the wrong path again puts him at odds with his charge. Castiel’s willingness to listen to Dean where Uriel does not begins to sway both brothers towards their new ally.
With the added dimension of working with both angels and demon, the Winchesters begin to fray at the seams. Dean has angels on his shoulder, and Sam is playing ‘nasty’ with the demon Ruby (Genevieve Cortese). Cain and Abel overtones begin to gain momentum, and we see Sam’s seduction-cum-addiction to the demon blood become almost overwhelming. This superjuice for his psychic powers, and his new ability to exorcise demons with the will of his mind, is a secret he, quite rightly, keeps from his brother.
When another angel is thrown into the mix, Anna (Julie McNiven), we see the ‘other side’ of Heaven and its rules. Anna is a fallen angel – wanted by demons and angels alike. Anna (surprisingly) was once Castiel and Uriel’s boss. Her crisis of faith had her rip out her grace. She provides an introduction to Heaven’s hierarchy. Enter Angel Number Four – Zachariah (Kurt Fuller), another step up Heaven’s ladder.
In “It’s a Terrible Life”, Zachariah gives Dean a ‘lesson’ to drive home the point that Dean and Sam would be hunters regardless of their upbringing. With no recollection of their previous lives or each other, both Winchesters (now Dean Smith and Sam Wesson) team up to fight a vengeful spirit. When brought out of his ‘terrible life’, Dean’s mistrust only increases.
It’s this doubt we see passed on to Castiel – an angel who has never doubted his calling, whose faith has been absolute, now begins to doubt. In “On the Head of a Pin”, we see Castiel begin to question the workings of his God – and not without reason. An obedient soldier, Castiel allows Dean to be coerced into using ‘skills’ he received whilst in ‘the Pit’ on major demon player, Alastair (Christopher Heyerdahl).
Castiel clearly states his misgivings about having Dean torture again, but Castiel’s faith in God convinces the angel that this is for the greater good. The niggling doubt remains however, and when a powerful devil’s trap is mysteriously undermined, leaving Dean vulnerable to Alastair’s attack, Castiel’s doubt resurfaces.
It’s this doubt that has Castiel wrenched from his host when about to voice his concerns to the one person he shouldn’t – Dean. Castiel’s subterfuge only heightens Dean’s mistrust, and when it is Jimmy we meet and not Castiel, we are taken on a one-episode ride through a life that was.
A devoutly religious man, Jimmy was aware of his host, Castiel. Now believing he has fulfilled his destiny, he wants to be reunited with his family. Jimmy is adamant he knows nothing of Castiel’s message for Dean – he just wants to go home. Dissuaded by both Dean and Sam, Jimmy escapes when Sam is out trying to score a demon-blood hit from Ruby.
After Jimmy is briefly reunited with his wife, Dean and Sam’s assertions that Jimmy is on a demon hitlist are confirmed with the arrival of a demon-possessed friend. Enter the Winchesters, guns blazing, and Jimmy is no longer the madman his wife thought him to be. That the wife is now possessed and holding Jimmy’s daughter hostage helps with that transition.
An inevitable showdown ends with Jimmy fatally wounded and his daughter now hosting Castiel. Jimmy begs Castiel to move from his daughter and back into him, and it’s a wish that’s granted. All of this is overshadowed by Sam’s drinking of demon blood in full view of Dean and Castiel. His secret’s out.
The revelation from the newly-restored Castiel, is not forthcoming. What we now have is an angel who has had his butt kicked for not toeing the party line. Nothing Dean says will sway him. Castiel “serves God, not man, and certainly not [Dean Winchester].”
Castiel is an angel in purgatory. Sent to earth to guide Dean, he battles with his faith and his need to do what is right. He starts to circumvent rules, giving clues to Dean in a bid to save Sam from Lilith. Castiel is starting to think for himself, and this is something Dean can work with.
Castiel is a character we can believe in. We are given an angel who doubts as we do, who questions when he shouldn’t, and who is fighting in the trenches with people he is meant to protect. It’s something Dean sees, as well. Something Dean calls on when he is pulled into Heaven’s ‘waiting room’ to await, he believes, his final battle with Lilith. It is now we see the angels for what they are. Dean, too.
Dean Winchester has been played. Armageddon is wanted by the angels as much as the demons. Dean is effectively trapped by Zachariah to ensure Sam breaks the final seal. That humanity will not survive the big battle is of little concern to Zachariah – “Would we let 65 seals get broken unless Senior Management wanted it that way?”
Sam is on his own, determined to kill Lilith and thus break the final seal. Unable to break free of his prison, Dean is powerless to stop his brother. Dean denounces Heaven and all it stands for, begging Castiel to help him stop Sam. Castiel insists Dean will be at peace in Paradise. Dean doesn’t want it – there’s right and there’s wrong; what the angels are doing is wrong, with a capital W. Castiel explains that if he intervenes, they’ll be hunted down and killed. “If there’s anything worth dying for, this is it,” is Dean’s answer. Castiel’s silence is his.
Effectively locked out of battle, Dean is surprised by the sudden reappearance of Castiel. A change of heart has Castiel opening a doorway for Dean, a symbol drawn in angel blood which alerts Zachariah to Castiel’s intent. After kicking Zachariah back to ‘upper management’, Castiel orders Dean to stop Sam from killing Lilith – the final seal.
That’s the last we see of Castiel for this season, and I can say that Kripke did not disappoint with the development of this character. An angel who really does fight in the trenches with those he is meant to protect. An angel in a trench coat.
We had angels with doubt. Angels going rogue. Conspiracies and double-cross, angelic murder and cover-ups. Heaven really has gone to Hell in a handbasket.
Season five? Trust no one.
Bio: Amanda J. Spedding calls Sydney, Australia home (regardless of attempts to ostracise her). She writes dark fantasy and horror, and will have a dark fantasy piece published in an anthology for the Writers Resource Centre this year. She is also a field correspondent for Innsmouth Free Press.
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