I’ll See Your Agenda and Raise You an Angel

It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to post.  Work and raising a family and all that mundanity that ruins life had to be attended to.  So this week I’d like to go further into the Supernatural Universe.  Today I read a rather poorly researched and heavy handed article about the character Castiel.  However, she did have a few valid points to make which I will discuss.

When we are first introduced to Castiel he comes across as the Invincible Hero.  Nothing Bobby and Dean throw at him fazes him. Mostly because they are used to hunting demons and what hurts demons won’t hurt an angel.  This does create a conundrum for the writers as Misha Collins himself points out:

“The writers are always trying to figure out a way to deal with Castiel’s character to somehow make it so that Sam and Dean aren’t aligned with a superhero who can make their lives easy.  He’s always encumbered in some way, or going through some weird emotional or mental strife, or being crazy … or being God. There’s always something that’s sort of veering him off so that he can’t be that helpful to Sam and Dean.”

Just because Castiel is an angel doesn’t mean he’s invincible.  It just means that tactics have to be changed, new lore learned and new hex bags made.  As the boys are always saying when it comes to hunting, you have to figure out what you are fighting, then you kill it with what you know.  Problem is they don’t know much about angels and that fact is not ever really expanded on for several seasons.  We gradually learn that there are runes, sigils and other ways to either summon, trap or hide from angels.

Ms MacKenzie states in her article:

“The need to either incapacitate Castiel or put him at odds with the Winchesters has taken a significant toll on the character’s overall arc and development. Castiel has been on the show on-and-off for five seasons, now, and will be returning in a full-time capacity for Season 9, but the character is constantly being reset, regressed, or just plain ret-conned, which makes for an inconsistent and underwhelming story.”

She goes on to cite Season 7 as being proof of this “inconsistent and underwhelming story”  inasmuch as Castiel was nowhere to be seen after the beginning of the season after all the revelations and character building of Season 6.

“Castiel’s character was written out at the beginning of the season, right when it seemed that he finally had a powerful set-up for a strong arc, be that arc a descent into villainy and madness or a redemption from his nearly unforgivable actions in Season 6. He then returned at the back end of the season, an amnesiac who experienced a moment of personal victory before attempting to atone for his sins and landing in a mental institution. His struggles were played up for comedic relief instead of actual storytelling, and then a quick fix trip to Purgatory magically relieved him of his complicated mental issues.”

Castiel as the New God had become too powerful, too absolute and there was actually nothing the brothers Winchester could have done to stop him.  He had to be taken down from the inside, literally from within and this set the stage for the Leviathan arc of Season 7. Castiel was for all intents and purposes the vessel for that new conflict.  It was an homage to the idiom that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’  He was the cautionary tale of trying to do too much, even for the best of reasons.  His reasons being keeping the Apocalypse from moving forward by defeating Raphael.  After Castiel disappears into the lake we don’t see him again until The Born Again Identity.  This is where, once he regains his memories of being a celestial being he attempts to ‘atone for his sins’ by taking Sam’s memories of being in the cage as his own.

This is where I have to agree with the fact that his struggles were made light of.  Many of us with mental illness have to contend with this, as societal perception of our condition is dictated by media representation.  However, this show is not about Castiel’s mental illness, it’s about the brothers Winchester.  If anymore time had been spent on just what Castiel suffered there would have been massive outcry, not to mention that we’d already seen how Sam suffered.  I am of the personal opinion that Castiel’s hallucinations would have been an order of magnitude worse due to the fact that he was terrified of both Lucifer and Michael to begin with.  Yet, he voluntarily broke into the cage to try and rescue Sam.  This time without a contingent of angels to back him up and facing not just demons but two archangels both of whom had killed him at least once prior.  Having to remember what he went through just to get Sam out, then taking Sam’s memories as well drove him into a catatonic state.  No one mentions this.  Not the show, not the fandom (I can’t even find fanfic on it, though I’m sure it’s out there).  Honestly, it doesn’t need to be brought up within the context of the show.  Castiel himself would never admit to it due to his reserved nature and desire to please Dean.  Which in this case he failed.  Again.

“Thus, we began Season 8 with Castiel in Purgatory, still encumbered by the guilt of his actions way back in Season 6, when he went on a power trip, waged civil war in Heaven, and broke Sam’s brain by demolishing the “wall” that protected him from his gruesome memories of hell — a wall that Dean had risked his life to put there. Castiel felt so guilty that when he had the opportunity to leave Purgatory, he just… stayed. We never really figured out why. There wasn’t any good for him to do there except wallow in self-flagellation, and if anything, it added more guilt to Dean’s plate, which he needed like a hole in the head. The writers had to keep Castiel away from the Winchesters at the beginning of the season in order to force Sam and Dean to figure some things out on their own, but they did it at the expense of his character actually growing.”

I disagree completely with this interpretation of Castiel’s actions and reasoning behind staying in Purgatory.  First you have to understand Purgatory isn’t just Hell for monsters.  Purgatory is a place of atonement, of purification.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It notes that “this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).

The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven. (http://www.catholic.com/tracts/purgatory)

Even Dean speaks of the purity of the state of being while he was in Purgatory.  Castiel himself tells us why he chose to stay.  (See video below)  Is this lack of character growth?  Only if you are not watching.  Dean is growing as a character, realizing how deeply he cares for Castiel to the point of making himself sick with guilt.  Castiel is learning to try and make his own decisions and atone for what he’s done in a way that makes him feel whole.  Castiel had no way of knowing that Dean was blaming himself for Castiel’s still being in Purgatory.

Then we get introduced to Naomi.  Unlike Ms MacKenzie I do not see this as retconning the previous angel mythos.  We are given precious little knowledge about the true hierarchy of the angels other than archangels are the most powerful and that currently heaven has no leadership.  Someone like Naomi fits right into this and in no way negates anything that was stated in previous seasons.  It does take away the one thing that Castiel  was truly beginning to embrace.  Free will.

“Here, though, it not only contradicted the information we have about angels, but it contradicted the foundation of Castiel’s personality, and why the audience fell in love with him in the first place. Castiel was introduced as a soldier of the Lord, who was ultimately so profoundly moved by the Winchesters, and his relationship with Dean in particular, he went rogue and did the unthinkable: He began to exercise free will. This was such a key element to Castiel, fans began calling the Sam-Dean-Castiel trio “Team Free Will.”

I completely disagree.  As I stated before, no where does it specifically negate what we know of angels.  It simply adds another layer to what we thought we knew.  I go back to Anna in season 4.  She taunts Castiel at one point about how he was always the good little soldier, following orders no matter what.  Yet we know he doesn’t always.  It was evident in Season 4 and nothing Naomi says or does contradicts what Anna or Uriel stated.  Even Lucifer calls Castiel ‘odd.’  In no way, shape or form does this new information contradict the ‘foundation of Castiel’s personality.’  He himself mentions having been hauled back to heaven after the episode The Rapture for reconditioning.  You can substitute reconditioning with reprogramming and no this does not make Castiel and the other angels emotionless robots.  It does however make them obedient.  Which was always part of the angelic code.  Obedience is absolute.  There is no free will.  If anything Naomi’s interference confirms, validates and cements the reasons we have come to love Castiel so much.  His loyalty to Dean above all else is what made her have to get involved.  The traditional ‘reconditioning’ wasn’t working on him because at his very core Dean has changed him.

But we don’t really know who Cas is. Is he a strong, capable warrior? A power-hungry villain? A self-pitying, sad sack of guilt and angst? A computer to be hacked and re-wired? A confused, bumbling vehicle for comedic relief? The romantic hero who might just be Meg’s “unicorn”? Right now, the only thing we can count on is that he’s a guy who betrays Dean, atones for it, then betrays Dean, then atones for it, lather, rinse, repeat.

Again, I disagree.  He is all of those things, and more.  He’s a complex character and when he does seemingly betray Dean it’s usually with Dean’s best interests at heart.  Dean and Sam have betrayed and belittled him repeatedly yet no one calls their character into question.  Castiel is always loyal to Dean, even if it doesn’t seem that way from Dean’s limited perspective.  Dean has no way of knowing what Castiel is doing when he’s gone and their biggest interpersonal issue is communication so there is plenty of room for mind bending angst and drama.

In last week’s episode, we saw more of the same. While Sam and Dean are investigating Sam’s final trial to close the gates of hell, Castiel goes out to get pie and porn for Dean. While he’s out, he agrees to help Metatron shut down the gates of Heaven by completing three trials himself — trials that kick off with murdering an innocent. Again, he doesn’t feel it necessary to have a conversation with Sam and Dean about this, despite their repeated begging him to be a part of their team and treat them like family, as they treat him. Again, he doesn’t trust them enough to consult them before he starts killing.

Did Sam and Dean consult Castiel before starting the Hell Tablet trials?  No.  Do Sam and Dean consult Castiel before doing pretty much anything they decide to do?  No.  They contact Castiel when they are in over their heads or up to their assess in trouble.  As Castiel has said, trust goes both ways.  Does this mean he’s in the right.  No.  It means that he tends to see the bigger picture and that other forces are in play.  Castiel is a soldier.  Soldiers follow orders and free will or not, its extremely difficult to ignore an order from a superior like Metatron.  It doesn’t help that Metatron plays upon his guilt and then supplicates his love for Dean and humanity by alluding to the fact that war in heaven easily becomes war on earth.  If Castiel has proven anything it’s that he will risk his entire being and existence to keep Dean safe,  Metatron knows this and uses it against him as any good predator does.

“Tonight’s Season 8 finale, “Sacrifice,” will reveal whether Castiel succeeds in locking the Pearly Gates. Since Collins is a regular in Season 9, we assume that if he does “shut down Heaven,” Castiel will remain on earth, which would suggest that one of his trials is getting rid of his grace — the essence of what makes him an angel. (At least, according to what we learned in Season 4. It’s possible that there’s a new twist with all this “coding” we learned about this season.) Heaven would be out of the picture, freeing us from the angel stories that have grown convoluted over the years, and Castiel would no longer be an all-powerful force, freeing the “Supernatural” writers from the trouble of impairing him every year.

Maybe then, finally, Castiel can actually develop in a linear, organic way, instead of being kicked back to square one three times a season.”

I personally will be very disappointed if the gates to heaven are closed so easily.  Sam has suffered for weeks through the Hell trials and the Heaven trials should be just as difficult and debilitating.   Honestly, the only thing that has been kicked back to square one is Dean and Castiel’s relationship and even then not completely.  Dean now understands just how much Castiel means to him and it’s up to Castiel to open up to Dean now.  As for Castiel losing his grace, its only one of several ways to limit his powers and I don’t see them pulling an Anna on him.  She fell to earth and was reborn human, as a baby.  Yeah no, they need a work around for that.

As for Castiel’s character development, it has come in fits and starts, but it is still there.  You try teaching a million plus year old soldier of god how free will works and see how long it takes you to get through all that conditioning, profound bond or not.  There are going to be setbacks, miscommunications and outright confusion at times.  Something we’ve seen Castiel struggle with repeatedly.  Even if it’s played for comedic effect it’s still character development.

4 thoughts on “I’ll See Your Agenda and Raise You an Angel

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