Written by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, Supernatural’s “I’m No Angel” is directed by Kevin Hook. The third part of what has essentially been a three-episode premiere brings our main characters – Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles), his younger brother Sam (Jared Padalecki), and Castiel (Misha Collins) – back together. Only to break them apart.
Okay, I knew the separation was coming. I keep up with spoilers; I read articles; I knew that Ezekiel was going to tell Dean that Castiel had to leave the bunker. But that knowledge wasn’t enough.
So far, the season nine reboot of Supernatural has been exciting, and I had high hopes for “I’m No Angel.” The actors, at least, more than fulfilled those hopes: Ackles’s Dean is a livewire of compelling emotion; Padalecki’s nuanced shifts cue the audience to Ezekiel’s presence before the blue eyes do; and Collins captures the humanity of a former angel adjusting to the status of “mud monkey” (to quote Uriel, 4×07).
The first 20 minutes of the episode are gripping: The dramatic opener shows us Castiel in a men’s shelter, and the image of the murdered priests is a nice touch of original-flavor Supernatural creepiness. We then get an early-morning scene with the Winchesters that becomes an exchange between Dean and Ezekiel as the latter “breaks in” to share that Cas is in danger from an aggressive angel faction.
This moment with Zeke is brief, but it’s pivotal. After the angel shares his news, he says, “You see, Dean, I can be useful.” That statement, combined with Zeke taking control of Sam without warning or request – and in the middle of a sentence, no less – only heightens my suspicions about his motivations, not to mention just how much he is controlling the younger Winchester and when. And by episode’s end…well, we’ll get there.
I have two favorite scenes from this episode: The one occurs in a church, where Castiel converses about faith with a woman who’s praying for her sick husband. This Castiel is the thoughtful, awkward, millennia-old angel of the lord who has lost his faith. Their conversation includes her saying, “Your lack of faith doesn’t cancel what I believe; that’s not how it works. You know, I think you might feel better if you try it my way. Someone is listening.” As the woman walks away, Cas looks contemplative, and he looks back up at the stained glass windows. Unfortunately, the camera immediately cuts away, leaving the audience no time to enjoy this moment of reflection with Castiel.
My other favorite is, of course, Castiel’s resurrection. Any scene where we see the manifestation of Dean and Castiel’s profound bond is a win in my book. In his typical inimitable fashion, Ackles conveys Dean’s emotions, and the elder Winchester surely runs the gamut – shock, grief, hope, relief, joy, guilt – in just a few minutes. Once again, though, the audience isn’t given enough time to feel these emotions with Dean and Castiel (and then with Sam when he regains consciousness) before the camera cuts away again, and we’re back in the bunker where heartbreak is about to unfold.
I found issue with the episode’s tempo overall: None of the storylines receive their due diligence, and there was a distinct disjointedness, especially with the Bartholomew scenes. There is simply too much emotional overload paired with a frenetic pace in a scant 42 minutes, and thanks to the surplus pathos, I definitely felt like I had “whiplash” (to borrow Dean’s term) by episode’s end.
The poor execution also rushes Castiel’s compelling explorations of humanity. At the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, Collins stated, “We will see Cas…eating, defecating, and fornicating.” Castiel’s brush with humanity in season 5 is played with the gravitas befitting an angel of the lord deemed worthy of heavenly resurrection not once, but twice. However, season 8 capitalizes on some “goofier” Cas moments, and as much as I love the “Clip Show” (8×22) sequence where Castiel shops for Dean’s favorite things, it plays for laughs in a way that I find unsettling. At the time, I attributed the humorous take to a need for a comic moment coupled with the persistent need to downplay the character’s angelic advantage. But the SDCC interviews left me wondering how a truly human Castiel might be rendered.
Collins portrays Castiel’s new human-ness in a way that resonates, from his facial expressions to the way he moves his body. It’s always amazing to me how Collins imbues such difference into each incarnation of Castiel, a character who has been a fierce heavenly warrior, a fallen angel, a God, and so on.
It would have been nice if he could have been given more time to explore these new facets of his character; while I’m sure that more exploration is coming in future episodes, this one surely covers too much ground. We see Cas the soldier, who handily kills the angel sent after him, and we see him grappling with the mundane, like brushing his teeth and urinating. We also see him dealing with sensory overload; the scene of him standing on a busy sidewalk as the sounds grow louder and people are walking past, and there’s Cas just standing alone, looking around, is especially haunting.
How the former angel winds up dealing with this sudden alone-ness is where our two major narratives converge: An injured, hungry, and cold Castiel is taken home by a supposedly kind-hearted woman, April Kelly (Shannon Lucio). His remark that her simple apartment is “beautiful” and the look on his face tells us that Castiel now understands the appeal of “home,” and he wants what that feels like. Their conversation, and her tending to his wounds, quickly escalates to a sexual encounter that Castiel takes to with surprising ease. I say “surprising” because Cas’s former experiences, especially his escapade in a brothel (5×03), suggest the scene would go another way. After all, Cas may be human now, but he’s still Cas. When April reveals that she’s actually a reaper come to kill him, he states: “And that required intercourse?” What could have been a poignant moment becomes another illustration of dubious (on Cas’s part, thinking he is having sex with April) and denied (on April’s part, since the reaper controls her body) consent.
The episode particularly falters when delivering the new twist on reapers. Apparently, since the early establishing of reaper lore in seasons one, two, and five, it’s been determined that reapers are angels. However, “In My Time of Dying” (2×01) informs us that reapers can alter human perception, and we learn that Tessa changes her appearance because “[Dean] saw her true form and [he] flipped out.” That episode also reveals that demons can possess reapers – so, by that logic, can demons possess angels now?
Showrunner Jeremy Carver said himself that the season nine world of Supernatural is different, that locking down heaven changed the rules. But this is a pretty big rule change. I did rewatch “Taxi Driver” (8×19) and when Crowley kills Ajay, he does so with an angel blade, and the reaper emits a blue-white light. “Taxi Driver” perhaps isn’t the best frame of reference, though, since it played fast and loose with canon overall. Still, taking into consideration all of the seasons, I cannot recall that specific reveal. (If you can, please share in the comments.)
Another incongruent moment arose from Dean’s supposed ignorance about Castiel’s use of the name “Clarence.” I’d like to point out that Dean is standing beside Meg in both “Caged Heat” (6×10) and “The Born Again Identity” (7×17) when she calls Castiel “Clarence.” On top of that, I do not believe that Dean “pop culture guru” Winchester doesn’t know It’s a Wonderful Life. He actually complains to Bobby in “Girl Next Door” (7×03), “[Sam] Left me here like Jimmy friggin’ Stewart.” I don’t know many people who know Rear Window yet don’t know that other major film in Stewart’s oeuvre – you know, the one with the angel?
Those issues aside, this episode does further the season’s focus on issues of consent and possession. Our primary example is April Kelly whose possession also raises questions about the character’s use in general. I like her initial impression, and while the reaper insinuates that April has been possessed the entire time, I prefer to think that April herself gives Castiel the sandwich, and the reaper takes him home.
The situation with Sam and Ezekiel becomes ever more complicated. After warning Dean of Castiel’s endangerment, Zeke appears again at Dean’s request, when he’s desperate to find Cas and is running out of time. Reluctantly, Ezekiel does as Dean asks. However, when Cas is dead, Ezekiel heals him without Dean having to ask; the elder Winchester’s relief is so palpable that instead of going to his collapsed brother’s side, he goes to Cas’s.
Our last scene takes place in the bunker. Castiel loves the water pressure; he’s happy and smiling; and he’s home. Dean’s happy; Sam’s happy – and then Ezekiel appears, without warning or invitation. He tells Dean that Castiel will lead the angels to them, and that Ezekiel himself is in danger from Bartholomew (we get no elaboration on that tidbit, though). Zeke issues an ultimatum: If Cas stays, Zeke goes, even if it means killing Sam.
So what does Dean do? In a choice between certain death for his brother whom he loves and hurting the friend he loves, Zeke has backed him into a corner. (So not only is Zeke manipulating Sam physically/mentally, but he’s now blatantly manipulating Dean emotionally.) Dean chooses, as we know he must, and the episode’s last line of dialogue is Dean telling Cas, “Listen, buddy, you can’t stay.”
Tears, people. My trauma came from the relentless emotional moments with no time to recover or process: the cut-away scene in the church, Cas’s struggles, weariness, and torture, Dean’s horror and grief, Cas’s shock at being alive (let alone at seeing Dean and Sam), the happy half-minute at the bunker, followed by Cas being told he has to leave…
And that moment – arguably one of the episode’s most important since it sets up facets of the season’s arcs – needed to play out. We see the looks on Dean and Cas’s faces, but that’s all we get before the cut to credits. We’re extraordinarily lucky that Ackles and Collins emote so well or else the scene would have felt hollow.
That said, if there’s not a well-executed bridge at the beginning of the next episode, I don’t see how we can easily or plausibly shift into monster-of-the-week fare. Since I’ve been looking forward to “Slumber Party” since spoilers were first released, I sincerely hope that exceptional care is taken with the transition.
“Slumber Party” guest stars Felicia Day and airs on Tuesday, Oct. 29:
- Regarding the opening sequence, did anyone else think that when Cas is looking up at the priests’ bodies that the positioning is intentionally where his wings would be? It’s a strong image either way.
- Dean and his love of pie gave a much-needed moment of levity (so thank Chuck for that): As Sam sputters over reading the chemical ingredients, Dean says, “I read pie. The rest is just blah, blah, blah.”
- In his conversation with April, Castiel says that “vanity” was his downfall: “I thought I was more important, more effective, than I am, thought I could fix everything. And now all I can do is keep running.” This echoes his post-Leviathan reflection too and speaks to what should be part of Cas’s arc of “Who am I?”
- Cas believes (or at least tells the reaper that he believes) that he may be key to countering Metatron’s spell.
- I question if Castiel was really working his way back to the Winchesters: His journey moves from Colorado to Indiana to Michigan – isn’t there a more direct route to Lebanon, Kansas?
- Dean’s torture of Maurice parallels the reaper’s torture of Cas (notice the initial slice patterns). Dean also kills the reaper in the same manner that he kills Zachariah in “Point of No Return” (5×18). The parallel with Cas’s mortal wound doesn’t extend that far, though.
- Dean’s lies are piling up around him. One of the most honest moments occurs when Cas is resurrected, and Dean explains that he conned the reaper into bringing Cas back. “You lied,” says Cas. “I did. I do that,” responds Dean.
- The broment between Castiel, Dean, and Sam at the end of the episode is awkward, perhaps as it was intended to be? After all, Castiel has just revealed that he had sex with a reaper-possessed woman whom Dean killed. Is that cause for a pat on the back?
- What were your thoughts about the episode? Share in the comments below.