Zap2it broke the news yesterday that Misha Collins has been promoted back to regular status for season nine, as well as been given the opportunity to direct an episode. My first thought was “Great!” I’ve enjoyed much of Castiel’s story line over the last four and a half years and, goodness knows, the Winchesters can use all the friends they can get.
But I soon noticed I had just a bit of a niggling feeling about the news; something wasn’t quite sitting right. Upon reflection, I realized I’ve had issues with how Castiel has been used over the last two years. The issues have nothing to do with how Misha Collins creates the character—I love the way he imbues the angel with an otherworldly aura. From the moment Castiel unfurled his wings to show Dean he truly raised him from Perdition, I wanted to see more.
I loved Cas and Dean’s story line as they bonded over absent fathers. I loved that Cas fell from grace because he believed in Dean’s vision of free will. Cas and Dean’s friendship has been torn and frayed, but remains essentially intact, and I enjoyed what Cas tried to teach Dean this season as they journeyed through Purgatory. It took nuanced writing to believably posit Dean would forgive his friend for so horribly damaging Sam, but Castiel’s desire for penance feels real, and at this point, no one on Team Free Will has a blameless record.
All of this is to say my niggling feeling is not based on a dislike of the character. I like Castiel. However, I also feel he is a very problematic character. Castiel was created for the Apocalypse story line, which very nicely curtailed his power by having arch angels willing to smite him if he misbehaved. During Season four, it wasn’t clear exactly where Castiel’s loyalties lay as the boys slowly realized the angels were using them as ruthlessly as the demons were. When Cas finally declared himself for the Winchesters, he was in as much danger as they were.
Even with Castiel on the run with the Winchesters, Eric Kripke still had to deal with the issue of the boys having such a powerful ally. The Winchesters need to solve sticky situations by themselves to have credibility as heroes. It does not help the show to have Deus Ex Machina in angel form show up consistently to save Sam and Dean. The boys had enough trouble with agency in season five as they were buffeted between two powerful forces they could not defeat. Kripke found ways to dampen the angel’s power to allow Sam and Dean’s plans and sacrifices to take centre stage, where they belong.