This week’s Supernatural, “I’m No Angel” doesn’t match the quality of storytelling seen in the first two episodes, but still moves the key themes of the season along. Writers Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner have always been inconsistent, and this episode continues the trend. Fortunately, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins always show up prepared to play, no matter the script, and they pull this one out of the fire.
I’ll start with the weak areas. Why are these writers allowed to completely disregard the show’s canon and mythology? Does showrunner Jeremy Carver have no appreciation for how important it is for a fantasy world to follow its own rules, so viewers will believe in the world? Supernatural came right out of the gate in the premiere with a fully realized believable universe, and creator Eric Kripke was obsessive about keeping that world consistent. Not every story line landed, but nothing jerked me out of the show, either.
That’s not the case with “I’m No Angel.” Last season these same writers turned reaper lore on its head in “Taxi Driver” when they made rogue reapers who possessed people and could trot in and out of purgatory with ease. That this retroactively impacted the overall story of season six was apparently of little significance. In their first episode this season, the writers continue to write reapers in a way that means they may as well be completely new mythological beings.
In season four, reapers were presented as representations of death, and Sam and Dean have no idea how anyone can kill death. The answer turns out to be Death’s own scythe, which can kill Death himself and which the demons have because Lucifer bound Death.
Now suddenly reapers are not representations of death, but instead appear to possess people just like demons (no need for consent) and die just like angels (angel swords make them explode in a burst of light). No scythes are necessary and no motivation is given for why rogue reapers exist. In “Death Takes a Holiday,” Tessa reacts to the coming apocalypse with “What? Your whole angel-demon dance-off? I could care less. I just want to do my job.”
These reapers don’t want to do their job. What do they want? Why are they willing to defy Death’s expectations for his reapers? It’s all whiplash inducing and pulls me out of the show. I don’t know why Ross-Leming and Buckner didn’t just invent a new creature to hang their new mythology on. It would fit more comfortably than ignoring canon.
This writing team also has trouble writing dialogue, and this episode had some very clunky moments, as characters verbalize themes in on-the-nose dialogue. Misha Collins is wonderful in this episode, and that’s a real testament to his acting as he has to comment on how poor people can be giving and that people waste food. No subtlety in this script.
Fortunately, the actors make much of the story work. I really enjoyed Collins’ portrayal of Castiel having to negotiate not only the human world, but also his human body. I think moments like not knowing how to use toothpaste or what sheep are ring false, and I don’t want to see more of Castiel not knowing things he should as an ancient being who has been on earth a long time and hung out with the Winchesters for a decade. But I did enjoy him having to figure out how to keep his human body running and then how to understand new emotions and feelings he’s never dealt with before. I also enjoyed the nod to Meg in the choice of Clarence for an alias.
The writers move Sam and Dean’s arcs forward as Dean begins to get used to the idea of calling on Ezekiel, even though that ups the quotient of lies he has to tell. Jared Padalecki continues to nail his dual roles, and I can always tell when he is Sam and when he is Ezekiel. I think it’s interesting that Dean is beginning to have a little trouble, though. As Ezekiel takes on more human inflections and movements, the line is beginning to blur. When Ezekiel walks over to Dean with the intention of healing Cas, Dean first thinks he is Sam, as there is no blue eye flare. I think this blurring of identity is going to continue to be a theme as Dean tries to juggle all his lies.
Dean is getting mired deeper and deeper into his deceptions, as the price of saving his family is lying to them. Sam is beginning to get suspicious of how situations keep getting solved in ways he can’t follow. And instead of being able to leave the possession aspect under wraps, with all its consent issues, Dean instead has to use Sam as a tool in order to take advantage of Ezekiel’s power to help find and save Cas. Saving one is hurting another, compounding Dean’s guilt. That he will pay a heavy price is made clear as Sam says to his brother angel possessions are like body snatching. Uh oh.
And there’s no respite from the guilt for Dean. After finally tracking down Cas, the boys are too late to save him. He’s stabbed by a rogue reaper, and Ackles beautifully portrays Dean’s sadness at losing yet another member of his family. Dean lost his first family configuration when his mother was killed, but stepped in to help reform that family with his dad and Sam. He lost that family when his dad was killed, but gathered together another family with Bobby, Ellen and Jo, Cas and of course Sam. He had to face the loss of almost all those people as well, and last season had to give up Benny.
Dean has lost so many people, which makes him keep the family he has left close. That sense of loss is why I can understand his need to save Sam and why he can then use Sam to save Cas. Dean needs his family. The mounting pressure of this story line is that he may end up losing his relationships because of what he’s prepared to do to save them.
The end of the episode really showcases the complex trap Dean is now in. He used Ezekiel to save Sam, and now uses Sazekiel to save Cas. But Ezekiel convinces Dean Cas will only draw danger to – and this is interesting – the angel. If Cas stays, Ezekiel goes, which means Sam dies. And Dean does what he always does: he chooses his brother. The scene where he tells an unsuspecting Castiel that he has to leave is very poignant, particularly coming on the heels of a scene showing Sam, Cas and Dean acting like the family they are, teasing Cas about losing his virginity.
I’m left wondering just exactly what Ezekiel’s agenda is. While I’m not at all sure he’s a villain, I am sure he has his own story and that he is involving the Winchesters in it as much as they are involving him in theirs. My suspicion is he found a way to get rid of Castiel because Cas has knowledge that could hurt Ezekiel. My guess at this point is Ezekiel is not Ezekiel at all, and Cas would know that. But who is he? And who is he hiding from?
These are much more intriguing questions to me than the new angels we’ve just had introduced, so I hope Bart the Angel won’t be a major player this season. He reminds me far too much of Dick Roman, and that story wasn’t successful the first time around. Season nine continues to intrigue me, however, and I can’t wait for next week.