This week’s “Heaven Can’t Wait” introduced new writer Robert Berens to the Supernatural fold, and his episode proved that excellent character development will distract from shaky plot points. Castiel and Crowley both show how they dealing with their changed circumstances, and it makes for a poignant tale.
After two standalone episodes in a row, it was time to return to the falling angel story, which means finding a way to follow very separate narratives while integrating both into the main arc. I’ve been a little leery on how long this structure can serve the show, and indeed, I find some logical problems in Berens’ story, but he has a deft hand with the character notes, so the episode overall is successful.
First, the nitpicks: if Crowley can read Elamite, then wouldn’t it be a good bet Cas can, too? The stakes are high enough to ask him, even if Dean has to do some tap dancing to take the translation to him rather than Cas to the bunker. And speaking of Cas, why is he so totally alone? Why wouldn’t Dean have set him up with some money? I believe Dean would send him away to protect Sam, but not that he would abandon Cas so completely. I know why it’s thematically important, but it would help to believe in the set up.
There are a few other shaky points. Nora’s date invitation that Cas “misread” is not one of those cleverly written scenarios where in retrospect we can see what she really meant. Anyone would have assumed Nora meant a date. Who asks a new employee if they’re free without specifying they mean babysitting? The plot creaked here.
But I found myself forgiving the creaks because Berens’ plot really just serves the character moments, and those are wonderful. Castiel gets a lot of focus as he tries to navigate the human landscape, one he’s gazed at from the outside for millennia, but now has to live. His human life is painful and frightening, but full of small moments of joy. Misha Collins finds the right balance as Castiel takes pride in bringing order to his small piece of world, while wondering if he’s hiding from his real responsibilities.
Castiel’s arc is really laid out in the episode, as Ephraim the Mercy Killer hones in on Cas’s pain and accuses him of giving up because he’s accepted being human, though the angels need him. He tells Castiel he always admired him because even when he failed, at least he played big. And now he’s trying to live a small life, finding happiness in human relationships and moments like singing to a crying baby. Ephraim tells Castiel he will kill him because he can feel Castiel’s pain, but he’s also dismissive of the pleasure Castiel can feel.
The episode leaves Castiel in a state of confusion as he returns to his job at the Gas ‘N Sip, freshly validated by Nora as getting the big stuff right in being human, but still worried he needs to step up and lead the confused and hurt angels to a new order. I think, as Ephraim says, Castiel has always represented a cosmic position on the show—God’s real position, as opposed to the way the arch angels were interpreting his Will (see a very interesting article by bookdal at The Winchester Family Business for more on this view of Castiel). I don’t think he gets to live his small domestic life, any more than Sam did or Dean did. He’s a player on the cosmic stage, just as they are. But this episode did a good job of showing how tempting an earthly life is to the angel with a big heart, even as he tries to find his path without a map or companions.
Metatron told Castiel to find a wife, have kids and live fully as a human, so that when he died, he could tell Metatron his story. Castiel is finding that possibility both tempting and frightening, which makes for excellent television.
Dean for the most part plays support in Castiel’s story, which is not a balance I want to see too often. But it works here, because Dean’s internal struggle is so beautifully portrayed by Jensen Ackles. When Dean gets Castiel’s call, there is no way he will not respond, as he feels guilty over the position in which he put the angel. He has to make sure Castiel is alright—but at the same time not expose Sam to any risk. Given that Sam has his own concerns about Cas, Dean has to work hard to find a way to keep Sam at the bunker while he responds to the call. He allows Kevin and Sam to think he’s just skipping out on boring research, rather than worrying about his friend.
But he is worried and of course he checks in on Cas. He tries to cover his guilt with cheeky humor, which Cas calls him on, telling Dean he is not above working at a gas station. But Dean is not completely off track in sensing there’s more to the situation. When he realizes Cas is dipping his toes into dating waters, opening up to a relationship, the elder Winchester gives him as much support as he can, hoping that human Cas has more choices than human Winchesters have.
He gives Cas his blessing in trying to live a normal life, in a way he’s never been able to for Sam. Perhaps it helps him balance his own internal scale, knowing he didn’t let his brother go. Dean has faced a lot of loss this season, and this episode showed him for the first time not just accepting but encouraging a member of his family to leave the fold and find his own way. It’s a step that will resonate when Sam finally learns how Dean reacted to his brother’s potential death.
At the same time, I think it’s clear Castiel will not live that life, and he will take up the fight again, calling on the Winchesters to help. No one gets any easy answers to the meaning of life.
The story back at the Batcave is just as interesting. Sam and Kevin finally decide to bargain with Crowley, always a dangerous proposition with the ultimate salesman. Crowley wants a chance to find out the situation in Hell, only to find Abbadon is truly in control, and she views him as a powerless failure. She has no respect for Crowley’s sense of honour with his contracts. Abbadon’s leadership consists of compliance through terror, with no rules. Crowley on the other hand believes in a system with integrity—an odd position for the King of Hell, but then Crowley was never supposed to attain that position.
He is the ultimate opportunist who seized the throne in power vacuum. And yet, as a Crossroads demon, he knows the power of keeping one’s word. He tells Sam bitterly, “I keep my bargains,” as he decides to work with his captors. I think we’ll see the two differing styles of leadership clash as much as Crowley and Abbadon personally do.
This exploration of power is a lot more nuanced and interesting than the on-the-nose exploration of corporate America in season seven. For one thing, Lucifer too believed in the power of keeping his word. He always told Sam he would never lie to him. Is Crowley a more fitting successor to Lucifer than Abbadon because they both have integrity?
It’s unlikely Crowley doesn’t have a plan as he decides the enemy of his enemy is his friend. I am not sure he told everything he knows about the spell. And most intriguingly, I am not sure why he’s sneakily injecting himself with Kevin’s blood.
Is he reminding himself of how it feels to be human, but just for a moment? Or does he gain some kind of strength from a Prophet’s blood? Is the strength something supernatural, or does the humanity give Crowley something he knows he needs? I think Crowley is having a similar journey to Castiel as he tries to assess what being human really offers him.
I applaud Robert Berens for capturing what each of the main characters is struggling with and integrating the struggle into the overall arc, as the revelation of Dean’s lie looms closer and closer.Powered by Sidelines