This review contains spoilers.
9.3 I’m No Angel
I was really hoping that Supernatural would continue the wonderful track record it’s established this season with a third excellent episode.
I’m No Angel is devoted almost entirely to Castiel – a thrilling occurrence, as it hasn’t happened since The Man Who Would be King. I spoke in my review of the premiere how valuable Castiel, as an angel, is as a character who can reflect on humanity. Unfortunately, this episode fails to live up to its own potential, or to that of Castiel’s character.
The episode begins with a focus on the logistics of Castiel’s new-found humanity: he now knows the human desperation of cold and hunger and thirst and sleep. Each scene, however, feels rushed, glossing over each experience but saying little about the nature of human needs or human desires besides emphasizing that they exist. It somehow rings false, though thankfully Misha Collins is able to make up for at least some of that: he himself has been homeless in his life, and I have no doubt that he brought a number of facets of the experience to his acting, imbuing it with pathos and believability.
Still, in an episode focused on Castiel, you’d think they’d get his characterization right. Apparently not: the smart, clever, adaptable angel we saw kill someone with a seatbelt two episodes ago is now eating toothpaste (despite the fact that I can point you to the exact scene in Hunteri Heroici in which he’s holding a toothbrush).
And then there’s the much-debated sex, which felt like another slap in the face to canon. Castiel is an angel who associates sex with love (as the infamous Pizza Man scene reminds us). His response to being taken to a brothel was one of sheer terror, followed by a desperate desire to make an emotional connection before a physical one. And yet suddenly Castiel seems driven by sexual desire, jumping into bed with the first woman who offers because apparently sex is the human thing to do. Sex which feels utterly meaningless, because it’s nothing more than another incarnation of the idea that sex sells in a media culture oversaturated with depictions of it that have little emotional meaning. Castiel was a refreshing break from this: a character uninterested in the sexual without the emotional intimacy. And perhaps the narrative attempted to eke out some intimacy between April and Castiel, but I failed to find it – which is not a criticism of either actor, but of a script that threw them together into bed with hardly a conversation. In fact, the entire experience felt rushed and meaningless, thrown out of nowhere into an episode that had much better things to do. Not only did it feel out-of-character, it felt cheap. And, as it turns out, completely pointless: as Castiel himself remarked, sleeping with him was rather unnecessary to stab him.
On the bright side, at least one scene of Castiel’s new-found humanity was a gem: his experience in the church. Faith has always been a theme in Supernatural, with Castiel’s loss of faith as an angel in season five paralleling Dean’s human loss of faith in the earlier seasons. Now that Castiel is human, the story seems to come full circle, with Castiel experiencing his loss of faith all over again as a human.
Something else that also carries over from previous episodes is the connection between Castiel and Dean. The hunter is torturing and killing and questioning like he did in Purgatory as he frantically searches for his angel. It’s driven by the same grief we’ve seen every single of the many times the two have been separated recently. And when he finds Castiel’s dead body? Oh, but that was heart-shattering, with Jensen Ackles talentedly evoking all the other times Dean’s lost Cas: by that lake, in Purgatory… too many times to name. It’s yet another heartwarming assertion of the profound bond between the two.
Nevertheless, it does nothing but play into the endless cycle that their relationship appears to follow: loss/separation, then mourning and grief, then a fulfilling reunion. A cycle that reminds us, again and again, that the two care, and yet a circle that keeps on turning, with their relationship never growing and changing for it, with their words still kept on the inside about how much they mean to each other. This episode is another turn of the wheel, another reunion followed by another meaningless separation forced into being by a heavy-handed cliffhanger. We’ve just seen Dean spend the entire episode frantically searching for Cas, in order to let him go in an overwrought way, clearly calculated to artlessly create drama in a relationship that hardly needs it. It also makes it clear that the writers haven’t found a better way to write Misha Collins out of the episodes he’s not signed on to be in.
This unfortunate ending is made even less palatable by the fact that it’s entirely based on playing fast and loose with established lore. The writers of this episode have already set a precedent for spectacularly misunderstanding the mythology (Taxi Driver had so many holes in its plot that I’m not even going to attempt to make a Swiss cheese metaphor), and they’ve hardly done better here.
First, it appears they’ve completely destroyed Reaper lore: technically, reapers are minor versions of Death. Last time I checked, they had the power to turn invisible. Previously, in order to contact a reaper, Dean had to die. They’re also not easy to kill because they’re reapers. Now, apparently, walking up to one and stabbing him is a matter of course. And now, apparently, a reaper needs to follow the Winchesters to find Castiel. If that’s true, by the way, how did April find Castiel? And if the reapers need the Winchesters to get to Castiel, and the bunker is warded and its location unknown, how exactly would Castiel staying in the bunker endanger them all? It’s easy to blame it all on Ezekiel (whose character also makes little sense, helping Dean find Castiel only to send him away), but the point remains that the logic behind the episode is faulty.
The entire thing also does little service to Dean’s character. I don’t doubt for a second that Dean would choose Sam over Castiel, but the writing decision to create this dilemma feels like another glorification of the brotherly codependency that the first two episodes seemed to be moving away from. After so spectacularly celebrating a family that includes Dean, Sam, Kevin, and Cas, we’re left with two brothers lying to each other as they cling desperately to each other. The secret Dean is keeping from Sam appears to have no end in sight, while also utterly reducing Dean’s character by several levels of intelligence. Dean’s a clever and talented hunter, which makes his on-the-fly lies about Ezekiel look nothing but idiotic. I’m actually surprised Sam hasn’t caught on yet and confronted Dean, because Sam’s supposed to be Stanford-level smart. Adding insult to injury: Dean’s also apparently lost all his knowledge of pop culture. Are you telling me that Meg knows who “Clarence” is but Dean-pop-culture-nerd-who-watched-the-Disney-Channel-Winchester doesn’t?
The next episode appears to be a happy, funny instalment featuring the return of Charlie. My only hope is that, despite this fact, the writers do the characters we love the respect of resolving that unnecessary cliffhanger, giving a reasonable explanation for why Castiel went rather than following their precedent of omitting to mention Castiel anytime Charlie shows up. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Supernatural remembers family includes more than Sam and Dean.
Read Anastasia’s review of the previous episode, Devil May Care, here.
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