My last post explored seasons 1-5 of Supernatural and which characters represented the protagonist in each season. As discussed last time the protagonist is the person with the most to lose in the story line. The one we, the audience, are expected to most identify with on an emotional level. I’d like to also discuss who the antagonist is this time.
The antagonist isn’t just the villain, they can be anyone who impedes the protagonist from reaching their goal. Their goal can be the same or the complete opposite. They may not even be aware of the protagonist’s existence, yet they prevent them from easily getting what they want. The antagonist doesn’t even have to be another person, it could be nature or the protagonist themself (man vs. nature; man vs. self). As I said, anything that keeps the antagonist from potentially reaching their goal.
So who has which roles when we start season 6?
We start with Dean, having taken Sam‘s advice and given up the hunting life. He is our protagonist. He thinks he is acclimating well to his new life and family. Yet he is going to be faced with the choice he once gave Sam and for him it, as it was for Sam, is really no choice at all. He knows what he was truly meant to do and he leaves his pseudo-family to once again become a hunter. He remains a protagonist for the entirety of the season as they look for ways to get Sam’s soul back and keep one step ahead of Crowley. Crowley is the main antagonist this season with Castiel once again a mirror protagonist to Dean. Both are looking for more power and ways to get that power and both are played by Crowley. At the end of Season 6 it seems as though Castiel has made the jump from protagonist to antagonist, having gained more power than he’s capable of safely wielding and declaring himself the New God.
Season 7 rolls around with our sexy New God in full on cleansing mode. He is the new antagonist that Sam and Dean must find a way to stop. It turns out that Castiel belatedly realizes he’s compromised himself and goes to them to set things right before he loses complete control. Sam and Dean as the protagonists are forced to watch someone they care for and call family implode. After this they must combat the real antagonists, the Leviathan that had been controlling Castiel. They both remain the protagonists for the rest of the season as they each are proactive and aggressive in their hunting. Once Castiel is returned to them he becomes a protagonist once again. As Emmanuel he has to confront what he was and accepts what he did and tries to make amends. Dean and Sam remain protagonists throughout the rest of the season. Castiel for his part ceases to be a protagonist once he takes on Sam’s mental illness. He is no longer proactive, but reactive, a victim as Sam had struggled with previously. It’s not until the last two episodes that Castiel once again becomes a protagonist taking an active, if somewhat reluctant role in combating the Leviathan.
The next season is a bit more complicated. We will break this season down a bit more thoroughly.
Dean is back from Purgatory and pissed as hell (pun intended). Sam is torn between helping his brother and wanting to continue his life with Amelia. Both brothers are protagonists as they are each forced to confront truths about themselves and their relationships. Both have left people they love behind. Sam leaving Amelia and Dean (believing) he left Castiel in Purgatory. Both are trying to come back to an understanding with each other and at times act as each other’s antagonist. We are also introduced to Kevin Tran who will be the primary protagonist in the first several episodes as he is forced to leave his old life behind and become a prophet. He at first may seem like a victim, but his character quickly shows that he is too smart and resourceful to allow this to happen. Crowley remains the main antagonist for the season.
Once Castiel does reappear he is not a protagonist, in fact due to Naomi’s interference he is delicately balanced between simply being a secondary supporting character and becoming an antagonist. He is reactive and unable to make decisions for himself. He goes from helping to hindering the brothers based on how Naomi wishes things to go in the interim. However, from episode 17 on Castiel is once again a protagonist along with Sam, Dean and Kevin, Dean having helped break the mind control. He is proactive and working to keep Dean, Sam and Kevin safe. His decision to trust Metatron is based on Metatron’s status as an angel and the fact that Dean and Sam were prepared to trust him as well.
Sam is a clear protagonist in that he makes the decision to leave behind his life and complete the trials outlined on the Demon Tablet in an attempt to redeem himself for his past sins. Dean remains a protagonist in that he must help Sam and keep him safe while at the same time dealing with what seems to be yet another betrayal by Castiel. He is proactive, finding ways to help Sam complete the trials and also trying to figure out what is wrong with Castiel.
By the last two episodes it’s clear that all three have reached their individual ‘darkest hour’ in the season arc. Sam is dying from the effects of the trials. Castiel is betrayed and loses his most precious possession and Dean is faced with the prospect of losing the two most important people in his life.
So, who will be the protagonist come season 9? It’s a pretty good bet that Castiel will once again join Dean and Sam as the primary protagonists. The changes wrought on him in the season 8 finale demand nothing less. Dean and Sam will have their own major struggles and the new antagonist could be one of several characters. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all works out. Or doesn’t. This show has a pretty good track record of breaking hearts and stomping on feelings.
Oh and in case you didn’t get the ‘gonist’ in the title:
Before I get started, I want to warn those who might not have watched Supernatural, this post is basically one big long spoiler.
As a writer I find Castiel‘s character fascinating and exceedingly complicated. I know some people disagree, I have only to scroll through the 100s of tweets I got earlier this month for confirmation of this. They feel he has no place in the narrative and should be removed as a character.
What they are refusing to see is actually taking away a huge chunk of the narrative. It would be like reading The Hunger Games and ignoring Peeta, or watching Iron Man and ignoring Pepper, or playing Devil May Cry and ignoring Virgil. His character is integral to the plot and has been since 4:1.
The wiki has a nice explanation of what a protagonist is, but I would like to expound on it a little bit more.
So first who is the protagonist?
Well it could be one person or several people depending on the story and plot. Supernatural started with two main characters; Sam and Dean. Sam was the clear protagonist because he was the one with the most to lose, his girlfriend, budding career, et cetera. Dean was a catalyst, almost a foil for Sam to react against. Dean was already set in his way. The pilot episode showed Sam as the clear protagonist by taking away all he held dear and forcing him into a life he did not want. The audience was meant to sympathize and identify with him where Dean was more the mentor role. He was Gandalf to Sam’s Frodo, the one who showed up and once again altered his world.
Sam was the more emotionally accessible of the two which also helped the audience to relate. During the second season their roles became more interchangeable, they each took turns being the protagonist and this helped to develop their characters.
By season three there wasn’t as much characterization happening because the two main characters were no longer the protagonists. They no longer fit the definition. This left the writers scrambling to come up with season arc that would still have some sort of meaning. The stakes had to be raised and one of the brothers had to be reinstated as the protagonist. The opening of the Hell Gate put the world in danger but neither of the brothers had anything to lose at this point, Dean had already sold his soul. Sam was resurrected, John was dead and Bobby was doing what he’d done for years. Dean and Sam were main characters but not the protagonists at this point. By this point the episodic guests have more to lose than either of the main characters and are more emotionally accessible.
Its not until the last few episodes of season 3 that Dean emerges as the protagonist. His time is running out and they are beginning to realize that there is nothing they can do to stop him from being taken to Hell as Ruby warned them. He has the most to lose at this point with Sam working to prevent it.
Season three ends with Dean in Hell and Sam allied with Ruby.
Seems like the end of the story at this point and it very nearly was, until someone came up with the idea to introduce a brand new set of characters. Thus, a whole new dynamic was set up.
Season four opened with a huge shocker. After months of being dead and suffering in hell Dean is resurrected in the most bizarre way. At least bizarre to him and his brother. They and Bobby are at a complete loss as to how Dean is now alive. After a horrible seance where a dear friend is maimed for life trying to get the information all they have is a name. Castiel.
Now things start to get interesting. We still have no clear protagonist except maybe Dean who has his newly restored life/body, or it could be Sam who has his brother back but has been sleeping with Ruby. Sam has the potential to not just lose his brother, but lose his brother’s respect. This still doesn’t make either of them the clear protagonist. Remember the protagonist is the one with the most to lose in the given scenario, the one the audience is expected to connect with emotionally. They are the one who must go through the most change for the sake of the plot. Yet Dean and Sam have changed already. Dean is alive, albeit changed from his time in hell. Sam managed to find a way to continue hunting without Dean, though it involves demon blood. So where is the plot arc and the protagonist for this storyline?
I’m getting to that, keep your panties on, or take them off, I don’t care.
Season four episode one and we are introduced to Castiel. An honest to goodness angel. Of the lord. This is when Dean’s emotional arc is revealed. He lacks faith and doesn’t feel he deserved to be saved due to what he did while in hell. This can be seen as him being tapped as the protagonist, but he has a more reactionary than proactive role. Sam on the other hand is desperate to hide his addiction, this also makes him reactionary instead of proactive. The only proactive person is the angel and we quickly learn that he’s not any ordinary hammer of god. This angel has doubts. He is certain about his role in Dean’s life, but uncertain about the larger picture. For the rest of the season, he will be the protagonist as he has the most to lose.
Castiel remains the protagonist through the end of the season. He has the most to lose, his family, his position in heaven, even his status as an angel and his very life are risked to save Dean and Sam. Unfortunately, we only see him through Dean and Sam’s eyes so a lot of his character development and narrative must be inferred from their interactions. Sam and Dean for their parts are pawns of both Heaven and Hell. Sam is used by Ruby to open Lucifer‘s cage which is where we end Season 4.
Season 5 opens with Sam and Dean mysteriously saved from meeting Lucifer face to face. Sam decides he wants nothing more to do with the hunting life and leaves Dean to continue on his own. Dean and Castiel will now be the two main protagonists. They are proactive trying to find a way to stop Lucifer and the Apocalypse. Sam does eventually rejoin Dean while Castiel leaves to try and find God. This is when the roles switch to some extent. Sam and Dean are finally back to being proactive protagonists. Cas is still a protagonist of his own story arc which is subordinate to and mirrors Sam and Dean’s overall arc.
In the next few seasons his character did create a catch-22 for the writers since he was so powerful and the only way to go was down, so they had to keep coming up with ways to strip him of his powers.
Next time I will discuss seasons 6-8 and how the roles of the various characters changed.
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.