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TV Review: Supernatural – ‘Heaven Can’t Wait’

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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.

Dean checks in on Castiel.

Dean (Jensen Ackles) checks in on Castiel (Misha Collins)

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.

Crowley injects himself with blood.

Crowley (Mark Sheppard) sneakily injects himself with blood.

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.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Ginger

    While I can recognize a script that is decently put together, I found the episode slow and boring. I’m getting really militant about this point: I don’t care about support character development and, sorry to say, Misha just can’t carry an episode for me. I’ve had enough of Cas’ sad-eyed looks, and I have no sympathy for his story, given all that he has screwed up. Besides, he’s been watching humanity for 2000 years now, and now he’s feeling some of the feels. Good, but boring, continuity. Cas is a support character, and that’s all he will ever be to me.
    I do think JA’s performance once again sold Dean’s conflicting emotions so very well, and that just leads me to think that the two episodes we saw of badass Dean is over and we’re drifting right back to the never-ending emoting, hand-wringing Dean. That is not what I want to see the rest of the season.
    I did like the idea of the Ephraim story, and I liked the Abaddon/Crowley scene and showing the two different leadership skills. Who will win in the end: evil or opportunist? (I think they are both types are equally evil).

    As for Sam, I felt Sam was completely neutered in this episode (leaving the dungeon door open so he could peek and see Crowley shoot up), and that got me to thinking about Sam.
    When the show first started, Sam was the reluctant hunter. That’s role has now gone to Kevin Tran. Sam used to be the brains of the duo. Dean and everyone always pushed, until Dean would do something surprising and we all knew he kept his intelligence hidden so that would be Sam’s star. That role has gone to Kevin Tran, who sublets it to Charlie when she shows up. Sam used to be the computer whiz, hacking into just everything out there. That role has gone to Charlie and, sometimes, to Kevin Tran. Sam used to be an “encyclopedia of weird.” Ah, there’s Kevin Tran again. Sam used to be the one with special powers. That role went to Cas and, this season, to Zeke. Sam used to be the “sensitive one,” and the people person and the emoting one, with Dean as the dark, edgy character. Sam’s role has gone, first to Dean, and now Cas. Sam used to come up with creative plans (the demon-on-angel battle in Heaven and Hell). Now we have Charlie, Garth, and Kevin in that role. Sam used to be Dean’s brother, the one person Dean would die for and Sam for him. Now Dean has adopted step-brothers and sisters and would do the same for any of them (with another one-episode surrogate father showing up next week).
    I would be happy to get the Winchesters back, but if that is impossible, then give me a badass Dean to keep me interested.

    • Gerry

      Hi Ginger, I don’t disagree that you have put your finger on some potential story problems. I was just thinking this morning that the writers have to do what Eric Kripke did: define their story, commit to it and tell it well, whether it matches the desires of groups of fans or not.

      I really wish the writers were not on Twitter, interacting with fans on the interpretation of story and placating everyone by saying all interpretations are valid. I want them in the writers’ room discussing arcs with each other and deciding where to go.

      All reads of the story are valid in the sense that there is no one way to engage with the story and what matters to people, matters to people. But that’s not the same thing as saying all reads have equal support in the text. We all have our own head canon, but if it bumps up against story canon, it’s the head canon that has to adjust.

      I’d like the writers to know what their core story is and commit to telling it, and I agree with you it matters very much what the various relationships are and what purpose in the story they serve. I have always seen the core of this story as being about Sam and Dean’s relationship and how they are stronger together than apart because of how they are touchstones for each other’s view of his best self.

      Sam needs Dean to believe he can resist the temptation of using his power and access his humanity instead. Dean needs Sam to remind him not to allow his righteousness to turn into the kind of hardness that most characterizes the monsters they hunt. If Sam no longer has any issues with power and no longer has any unique talents to offer, it’s a huge change to the story.

      One way of looking at grief is that our relationships with various people encapsulate parts of our identity. The shared memories, the shared emotions, the shared journey forms part of ourselves. Losing that person then means losing a part of ourselves, because we don’t share the same things with other people.

      My read of Sam and Dean’s shared relationship is it makes up a huge part of who each one is and that for each brother, losing the other means losing a very important part of their identity. And that loss is very bad for the world as well, as what they get from each other gives them power.

      So yes, I agree that the writers need to decide how much of that power they are going to give to Dean’s other relationships. Because it impacts the core story line if Dean and Castiel holds the same amount of power for Dean as Dean and Sam. And as you say, it calls into question what Sam’s part of the story is.

      I thought this was a huge issue last season, when Sam didn’t seem to find Dean’s loss a loss of a part of himself and instead seemed to be liberated by it. Aside from that being a huge change to the core story, doesn’t that bring Sam’s personal arc to an end, leaving him little reason to still be in the story?

      A long winded way of saying, I hear what you are saying!

      But to me, the writers made a huge course correction last season when they had Sam in the second half acknowledge he still felt like a flawed damaged human being, rather than the guy who just needs to putter around a motel for a living to be happy, and that Dean is the one person he needs to know can love him as Sam Winchester with all his baggage, because without that he can’t hold on to himself.

      This season still seems on track with that exploration, but expanding it to show needing another person so much has a dark side as well. It’s Dean’s turn to show his need of Sam and how easily good intentions and love can turn into hurtful actions. And he’s got his agency back, though I’ll agree last episode didn’t focus on that.

      If the rest of the season can’t decide whether it’s telling the story of Sam and Dean, helped by supporting characters, or the story of Dean and Cas, helped by supporting characters, I’ll agree that story has been damaged by a loss of focus, but so far, I think the focus is on Sam and Dean’s relationship.

      I do expect we’ll see more of Badass Dean as the angel story heats up, but I also hope we still see more of the emotional story as Dean has to open up to Sam about what he did. I hated that last season we saw so little of Sam’s emotional journey in not looking for Dean. I want to see both boys’ emotional journey this season. I still loved what we got of Castiel, because I do think he’s an important person in Sam and Dean’s tale and his struggle with identity and what it means to be human mirrors Sam’s in an interesting way.

      • Ginger

        I agree with you about the writers being on Twitter. Occasionally, I’ll flip through some of the tweets, but the ego-stroking adoration makes me want to puke. I get that it’s a great tool for self-promotion and building a career, but I’m convinced that it also gives the writers a false sense of what the general fanship wants and that is carried back to the writers room.

        I must confess that I am a 100% Dean fan, but I have
        wondered myself why Sam is even relevant as a character now, and that needs to change. He’s been a passive player for too long, and that neck-jerking change in S8 just didn’t do it for me. I hope the story for the Winchesters works
        out similar to what you suggest, but the red flags for emphasizing the support characters, building an ensemble cast to give the Js the maximum time off, and bringing Misha on-board as the third Winchester is waving so hard, they are almost blocking my view of the Winchester brothers and their story.

        The other problem with these new, inexperienced writers is
        that they have no awareness of the subtext the show has played with for years, so nothing is picked up and furthered in the story. For instance, Crowley used to have a grudging
        respect for Dean, as did Death, and that is gone. They used to play with Dean’s very dark side, and that is gone. They have played for years and years with Sam the reluctant hunter, but I couldn’t tell you where that stands now. They used to play with Dean and Sam keeping each other human or, as you say, “they are touchstones for each other’s view of his best self,” but I’m not seeing that now.
        As you so aptly put it, the writers need to figure out what the core story is for the Winchesters and write the danged story. I could not tell you at this point what the real mytharc is this season.

        After seriously debating whether or not to watch this season, I sure am hoping I haven’t made a mistake because, honestly, after watching Heaven Can’t Wait, I was disappointed I watched it live instead of recording it and watching The
        Voice. That shouldn’t be the case for someone who has never missed a live episode since the Pilot.

  • sharonally

    Not my cup of tea to be honest . As awful as it sounds I cannot care enough about Castiel to find his story interesting and I have a aversion to Sam lite episodes since season 4. I didn’t feel this episode explored Sam in any way , he was just messing around with Crowley which I enjoyed dont get me wrong .

    If I am being honest the writers past and present seem to be able to give other characters more of a journey , exploration and insight far more than they seem to be able to give Sam. Castiel and Crowley but more so Castiel were a example in this episode. In the long run I have no idea what the Ezekiel sl is supposed to for Sam as a person/individual?.

    • Gerry

      Hi Sharonally, I agree that we got the least insight into Sam this episode, though Jared and Mark got some great stuff to play together. Sam is often in the position of pushing great amounts of story while getting little character exploration, while Dean gets the opposite and when the balance gets too out of whack, neither character benefits.

      But for me, this season has found a much better balance than last season did. My feeling on what we’re going to learn about Sam is what his head space really was when he called Death to him. We still need to see how much Sam really processed Dean’s words in the finale, because his self-image there was really distorted and destructive.

      Now he’s in a much better space–but why? Has Zeke actually helped heal some of that emotional damage–or is he more an angelic tranquilizer and when he goes, Sam still wants to die? He called Death to him rather than Death finding him to reap him; that has to be significant.

      And all that has to play out against his sense of violation because Dean manipulated him into being possessed, the very thing he struggled so hard against in the first five seasons. I think the fall out will be complicated and painful, but if Sam and Dean talk about Sam’s willingness to die and what they do for each other and what they cannot do for each other, it will be good drama.

      This episode, I liked the dual exploration of how Castiel and Crowley are viewing their unlooked for humanity. I suspect both characters will interact with Sam as they have to make big choices on whether to live their lives on the big or small stage. Castiel in particular is mirroring Sam’s own journey in many ways. I think the writers often drop the Sam/Castiel ball, which is a shame, because their relationship is very relevant to the story. Hopefully, we’ll get some real development there.

      Thanks for commenting!