At the end of “I’m No Angel” (9×03), Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) informs Castiel (Misha Collins) that he has to leave the bunker, a decision that increased Dean’s isolation: Sam isn’t just “Sam”; Kevin is more charge than peer; and Charlie’s in Oz. The “family” that Dean has cobbled together is fracturing. “Heaven Can’t Wait” takes the first step towards mending Dean’s rift with Castiel, while furthering the season’s exploration of identity.
Castiel, or “Steve” as he’s known in Rexford, Idaho, is now employed at a Gas-n-Sip. Suspicious deaths in the area prompt Cas to call Dean, and their telephone exchange reveals the season’s escalating tensions. First, Dean walks away from the researching Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Kevin (Osric Chau) to take the call, a reminder that he can’t speak to Cas openly in front of them. Secondly – and this, to me, is most important – Cas’s tone and wording is more abrupt than usual, and he even hangs up on Dean, albeit at least partly because he is in the middle of a slushy emergency.
The episode portrays Castiel’s humanity well. We see him going about his daily routine at the store (slushy complications aside), observing customers, and interacting with people. I especially appreciate that moments that could have been played for cheap laughs (like the date that wasn’t) aren’t. For that alone, this episode gets a gold star.
It’s also very human that Cas has lingering and justifiable anger and hurt over Dean’s actions, and the acknowledgement of those emotions is important to both of their character arcs. This is an episode where the actors’ ability to emote is crucial, and as usual, neither Ackles nor Collins disappoints: The two create subtext for what’s left unsaid, though some is said – Who knew that “nachos too” could be such a sassy retort? (And, seriously, I want to know how many takes that scene required!)
There are many significant callbacks and parallels in this episode. Dean watching Cas through the window is reminiscent of Castiel watching Dean rake leaves in “The Man Who Would Be King” (6×20). Dean’s insistence that “you are above this” reminds me of Sam’s admonition to Dean in “Death Takes a Holiday” (4×15): “I know you want to think of yourself as Joe the Plumber, Dean, but you’re not.” Nora’s (Tanya Clarke’s) comment that it’s “Steve’s” capacity for caring that makes him special echoes Samandriel telling Dean, “Too much heart was always Castiel’s problem” (8×02).
The most significant parallel, though, is Cas’s near-death scene. Since the season premiere, Dean has watched his brother nearly die twice, and Cas and Charlie have each died once. That’s got to be a record.
In this episode, Cas identifies the modus operandi of an angel, specifically a “Rit Zien,” Enochian for “Hands of Mercy.” Able to smite instantly and painlessly, leaving behind a pureed spray of Pepto-Bismol pink remains, the angel is continuing its work on earth. Cas admits to being scared, and Dean says he’ll take care of the “Kevorkian wannabe” and for Cas to “stay safe” and go on his date with Nora.
Dean’s encouragement that Cas live a normal life mimics Sam’s season five encouragement that Dean do the same. However, just as Dean never quite fit into life with Lisa and Ben Braeden, Cas doesn’t quite fit into civilian life either, no matter how he tries. For example, Cas goes on his date, even clipping a rose for her, yet Cas isn’t dating – he’s babysitting.
Cas’s subsequent bonding with the baby reveals the depth of his emotions: “Nobody told you… this confusion, which feels like it’s a hair’s breadth from terror – or pain…” When an anxious Cas decides to take the feverish baby to the hospital, the Rit Zien, whom he recognizes as Ephraim (Ashton Holmes), is at Nora’s front door.
It’s no coincidence that Ephraim reminds us that Castiel is legendary, telling the former angel, “You failed more often than you succeeded, but at least you played big.” This contrasts with Ephraim’s revelation that he is there for Cas: “I just followed the sound of your pain. You have no idea how loud it is. I could hear you for miles.” If we remember that Cas spoke about suicide with Dean in “Hunteri Heroici” (8×08), the current magnification of those feelings shouldn’t be a surprise. Even if Cas didn’t fully realize it before, this confrontation exposes his desire to live, but the Rit Zien’s rejoinder foreshadows the decision that Cas will eventually have to make: Will he live as “an angel or a man?”
Dean bursts in to save Cas, and Ephraim mojos him against the wall. It seems that, once more, Dean is too late, but the hunter regains consciousness just in time to slide his angel blade over to Cas who, in a seamless move, grabs the blade and kills Ephraim. It’s pivotal that Dean isn’t the one to save Cas, per se. He may provide the weapon, but Cas saves himself.
Dean and Cas’s last scene is fraught with what’s left unspoken. Dean apologizes for telling Cas to leave the bunker and says that he is proud of him. (Hurrah for character growth!). But Dean doesn’t explain his actions, nor does he ask Cas to come home. Collins conveys the nuances of his character’s confused emotions well in this scene, and as always, Ackles’s expressions reveal a wealth of meaning. The chemistry between these two practically leaps off the screen, especially in scenes like this.
In terms of the season arc, of course Cas can’t come “home” yet – he hasn’t yet decided what is home. And that, I believe, is what will play out over the rest of the season: Is Cas an angel or a man? And once he decides that, where will he belong? Who will he be?
“Heaven Can’t Wait” also propels Dean’s storyline, as his interactions with Cas expose his own state of mind. Though Dean speaks with Sam at least twice on the phone, he only mentions his brother briefly to Cas. This suggests that he’s purposefully compartmentalizing so that he doesn’t have to think about Ezekiel.
This division only works so far, though. For example, Dean is ridiculously happy to see Cas, and I can’t help but smile when he talks Cas into joining in on the case, even employing the legendary “puppy dog eyes” to do so. Yet Dean is clearly clinging to the pretence that everything is okay: He avoids asking obvious questions, choosing not to press Cas about his life (or he would realize that Cas is homeless) or his mental state (or he would learn just how hopeless Cas has felt).
And then Dean digs his hole a little deeper. Rather than tell Cas that Metatron’s spell is supposedly irreversible, he sends Cas off to a “normal life” with the assurance, “You’re human now. It’s not your problem anymore.” This seemingly protective action not only isolates Dean, but it isolates Cas too as it suggests that the former angel isn’t needed or wanted by the Winchesters’ side anymore. As the two say goodbye, Dean’s half smile, the shared long look, and their slight waves are more than a little heartbreaking.
The episode’s last image is Cas standing inside the supposed safety of the Gas-n-Sip, looking out the window, up at the sky. The image of the store’s florescent lights shining through the glass and the tree line outside reflecting back is symbolic of Cas’s turmoil: In between two worlds and two states of being, he will have to make a choice.
Dean and Castiel aren’t the only characters heading for the precipice of major change; the others are progressing, too. While Dean reunites with Cas, Sam and Kevin are on research duty, and they make a good team. It’s nice to see Sam bonding with someone other than Dean. The two negotiate translation help from Crowley in exchange for a demonic phone call, powered by Kevin’s blood, and they listen as Crowley verbally spars with Abaddon, who is dismantling his kingdom “brick by brick.”
Abaddon’s plans for hell have been clear since “Sacrifice” (8×23). In contrast, Crowley is a wildcard now, and his final scene in the episode emphasizes this, when Sam observes him injecting himself with more of Kevin’s blood. Has Crowley acquired an addiction to human blood? Is he plotting escape from the dungeon’s devil’s trap? Or is he trying to “cure” himself? Since it’s not even clear how he got the syringe, there’s no way to tell at this point. Did he steal it himself? Or is Ezekiel somehow secretly involved?
While the scenes with Crowley are a bit awkward at times, Kevin and Sam’s interactions reveal key narrative details: Crowley is truly displaced now; Kevin is still dealing with the trauma Crowley inflicted upon him; and the question of how Crowley obtained the blood incites audience unease about Sam and Ezekiel (as does the phone conversation with Dean where Sam has his back to the audience). All of this will feed into the season’s developing themes.
“Heaven Can’t Wait” is easily one of my favorite episodes of the season. Its nods to continuity and deft intertextual references simply make me happy. And I love its careful treatment of the characters, from Dean and Cas’s profound bond to Dean and Sam’s brotherly ties. Here’s hoping that season nine has many more wonderful episodes like this one.
- Why was Cas able to recognize Ephraim in his new vessel yet didn’t recognize Ezekiel in Sam?
- Sam to Crowley: “[Abaddon] was pretty terrifying – scarier than you’ve been in years.”
- Dean to Cas: “My dates usually end when I run out of singles, but, yeah, yeah, [dating’s] something humans do.”
- Thank you, Supernatural, for giving the world Misha Collins singing “Believe it or Not” to a crying baby, and for giving us the image of Dean and Cas taking care of a feverish baby.
- So Nora’s date ends early, which means that Dean and Cas leave her house likely by 11 pm, and then we time-jump to Dean dropping Cas off at the Gas-n-Sip in the morning. Cas’s speckled-with-blood shirt now looks freshly laundered, and his blue vest is crisp, and he’s wearing a splint on his injured arm… but how and where did all of that get taken care of? And it’s not like laundry and medical care took all night – Did they have a slumber party and braid each other’s hair? Inquiring minds want to know…
- I don’t trust Crowley’s “translation”… at all.
- For insights and some behind the scenes details from Robert Berens, check out his live-tweets from Tuesday’s episode.