The God Delusion
Finding a beginning to writing this article proves to be more difficult than I imagined. The introductory recap already pushed the buttons of some of my greatest fears as to where the last remaining episodes of this season might be heading. It’s going to be about beasts and monsters, lost souls, experiences from hell, betrayal, misunderstanding, tormenting memories and loss. Loss of security, of loved ones, of hope, of family. How am I going to swallow that? I don’t know, yet. But the thought alone is enough to feel tense.
The episode begins with amazing narrative style with Castiel telling us his story. Though from the very first moment we can’t be entirely sure who he is addressing, we are drawn into how he experienced the early days of evolution (and I am grateful that the show chose to follow scientific proof and not creationistic ideas), stories of the Bible and their moments of human downfall and triumph, how he entered his human vessel Jimmy and how the Apocalypse was ‘averted by two boys, an old drunk, and a fallen angel.‘ How they ‘ripped up the ending and the rules, and destiny, leaving nothing but freedom and choice.’
When I first watched the episode, I somehow stayed calm (more or less), but watching it now for the second time to write this article, I feel how it tugs at my soul. There is no calmness there at the moment. It’s in turmoil. Because the shadow of what is going to come to pass is already looming over that soul of mine, previously somehow at peace, because it didn’t know anything of the terrible events behind the curtains.
Oh, Cas. What choice exactly did you make that makes it so difficult to you to find words to speak about it? He could be just as well sitting in a confessional box, seeking absolution, from God? From us? But he’s looking up and into the camera. His deep, knowing, yet troubled gaze cuts through my soul like a hot knife would through butter. Oh, Cas. Your story will be a sad one, won’t it? I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want you to dig up the pain again. And I do want to hear it. I want to ease your burden, sweet angel. But I also know that I can’t do that. I reckon no one can. Not at this moment.
His story takes us first to the Impala and his encounter with Dean. He still has that propensity to simply pop in, without warning. I sometimes wonder, actually, how Dean has managed to not cause some accident when Cas appeared on the passenger seat various times in the process of the show.
Dean is not relaxed. How could he? He believes, no, he knows, that ‘Satan junior’ is alive. He believed Eve, despite wishing that it was not so. He is doubting Cas, his always reliable instinct is telling him so, but he doesn’t want to doubt his friend, his ally, his fourth brotherâ€¦ And so Dean takes Castiel’s explanations, offering help but at the same time blatantly lying to the angel, a fact that doesn’t sit well with his conscience. You just don’t lie to friends, in particular to friends who are almost as much a part of your heart as your blood-related family is. That’s something an honourable man (which Dean is) does not do. You worry about your friends, what Dean does, too, to perfection: ‘Cas, you’ll call, right? If you get into trouble?’
And, yet, in these desperate times he is forced to lie. I could imagine that at this point Dean doesn’t recognize himself. He might feel like all this happened to someone else. Someone Dean was standing close to, feeling the confusion and fatigue, hearing the words and still thinking: this is not me.
Castiel goes on telling us his side of the story. He meets Crowley in a modern torture chamber a morgue, I’d say, where he quite enjoys his research over Eve’s insides and causing one of the monsters, who looks like a vampire of sorts, horrific pain. Instantly I feel for the poor creature, bound to its cage. Looks like Crowley does have aggression issues. All that anger he feels about Cas screwing up his plans go into his torture techniques. Cas only gets shouted at. Something the angel can swallow. What he can’t really accept is the conflict of interests raging inside of him. He still considers himself the Winchesters’ guardian. And yet he should sell them to Crowley?! My goodness, Cas what have you got yourself into?
Ben Edlund you evil genius. What are you doing to me right now?! The episode already has a special cruel feel to it. It stabs right at my emotions and leaves the blade there.
Castiel learned much from the Winchesters. They humanized him. They taught him the merits of standing up, of what it was worth standing for and the price one pays for one’s convictions. But also the joy of doing the right thing and being rewarded for it in this case: being put together again, having the chance to heal Dean’s wounds, to revive the Bobby, to free Sam from hell. But Castiel also realizes how easily he, the angel, fell victim to hubris believing he could bring Sam back on his own (while it took probably a whole battalion of angels to get to Dean back then). And he brought him back wrong, not heading the warning that was in his face early on.
We often don’t mind warnings when we are overconfident. Or when we just won’t accept the possibility of failing. I guess, Cas experienced both narcissistic trains of thought at the time and needed a while to realize what he had done. I assume that was a reason why he didn’t tell neither Dean nor Sam that it was him who brought Sam back.
I can only imagine what confusion must be raging within Castiel he loves those denim-wrapped nightmares. He cares for them deeply. They are the closest to family he, as an angel, ever had. I believe that Cas has felt lonely within his community of angels. There hardly is any closeness, there. No warmth. Just obedience. Getting to know the Winchesters and experiencing the love they gave him changed the needs of this angel. He wants to belong to someone. And for a long time now he has belonged to them.
He leaves Crowley shouting he would tear the Winchesters’ friggin’ hearts out and goes to seek out exactly those Winchesters. Only to witness a very important scene. Not the ugly torture of the filthy, lower than snake spit hell spawn for Crowley’s location, no, but the talk the Winchester gang has while leaving Red writhing in pain from the notorious knife in his thigh.
Dean is struggling with the idea that Cas might have been working with Crowley and can’t cease to defend him. He still sees Castiel as some kind of greenhorn of heaven (an image he conjures up with the Perfect Strangers character Balki Bartokomous, a naive, well-meaning Greek immigrant to America). Oh, Dean, how wrong you are. Castiel means well, I’m sure, but he is far from being naive. He’s experienced the hooks of heavenly life firsthand.
The thought that his brother and Bobby might actually believe that Cas might be in with Crowley appalls Dean, his voice breaks. This is a tad too much to even consider. Though Sam and Bobby assure him that they still care for Cas, they can’t yet dissolve the confusion in Dean’s thoughts. Bobby adds that he feels they need to be prepared in case Superman went dark side ‘which means, we’ve got to be cautious, we gotta be smart and maybe stock up on some kryptonite.’ I just love these pop culture references. They don’t have to explain much more. We all know what this means. And, well, it’s not exactly different from the days when they were praying that Sam would not go dark side. Only then such a conversation happened between Dean, Bobby and Cas and Sam being on the outside. Sam, however, didn’t have the chance to listen to them, invisibly, as Castiel does.
No time to think what to do, as he realizes how hard Dean tries to be loyal as they are pointed to ‘Bobby’s demon counterpart’ Ellsworth (another wonderful hint, Whitney Ellsworth was the character Jim Beaver played in Deadwood). And he looks, indeed, a lot like Bobby, hilariously answering various ‘calls’ from hell or whatnot with those bowls of blood. This is a classic Edlund scene! It’s so absurd that it almost verges on the realistic. I love that man’s mind. Did I mention that?
Castiel is fast, of course. He gets there to save his boys and kill all the three demons present with his amazing angel powers. I watch I awe how he lights the first ones up and forces the black demon smoke back into Ellsworth’s gut before roasting him with energy. We see Cas so rarely fight in this manner that we could easily forget what he is capable of. ‘I had no choice. I did it to protect the boys. Or to protect myself. I don’t know anymore.’
Cas, really? Who else but you would know that there always is a choice. It’s what you and ‘your boys’ fought and died for. At this point I believe that Castiel did it for both reasons. To protect his boys, of course. But also to protect his own plan. A plan we don’t know the whole extent of, yet. But the path towards its completion is, again, paved with Cas’ good intentions. And we know where those can lead, don’t we? It’s a lonely position, dear angel. No one to confide in, no one to turn to for comfort or solace, no one to ask am I doing the right thing?
When the Winchester gang arrives, the place is otherworldly clean. Only Castiel remains, unseen, wondering ‘hiding, lying, sweeping away evidence, and my motives used to be so pure.’ This is reflected in Castiel favoured part of heaven, the heaven of an autistic man who still can be seen kite flying in a garden of sheer, untainted, peaceful beauty.
There he tried to tell his angel companions what happened. But they were soldiers of God, nothing else, completely lost at the thought of freedom, unsure what God would want them to do. They were not trained to decide on their own. They require orders. How did Cas know that God wanted them to have freedom? Did he speak to Him? Was it God who wanted this to happen? Was God still there? There were no answers to that. Only bitterness. Cynisism. And Rafael. In American businessman’s Ken Lays George W. Bush-worshipping version of heaven. Why am I not surprised that Rafael, the right wing angel, would choose such a place?
Rafael still wanted the Apocalypse to happen. Of course. He wanted the old order to hold. Taking the place of the highest ranking general. Of God Himself, it seems. Though Castiel stood up to him, he treated him much like a low insect easy to be squashed under his foot. Which he pretty much is to Rafael, the archangel. Castiel is just ‘an angel’. He stands in a long line of cannon-fodder, the lowest rank, angels that never actually meet God. (If you like, check out my article on angels, to find more background to the lore: ‘Angels, Archangels, Michael himself and the Winchester Brothers ‘ Heavenly Connection to Cain and Abel’). So, it’s not exactly a problem for a mightier angel to beat the love of God out of Castiel, no pun intended.
We don’t get to see what else happened to Castiel, but I can imagine he underwent some serious angelic beatings. Or worse. Simply – because some feathery simpletons up there didn’t learn from the terrible things that happened to the planet, to angels all over the world, to the human fighters who threw into the pot everything they had to offer: including their lives and souls, and they didn’t learn from what happened to faith, to the faithful, and probably to God Himself.
While Cas is still remembering those moments of pain and disappointment, the Winchester gang remember how they would usually call Castiel for help in a situation like this. Dean is still fighting his instincts, and it almost appears as if he might be able to suppress them because ‘this is Cas, guys. I mean there was no one, we were stuck and I mean really stuck. He broke ranks. He has gone to the mat cut and bleeding for us so many freakin’ times. This is Cas. Don’t we owe him the benefit of the doubt? At least?’
Dean is right. Castiel has risked a lot for them. Eventually, he was killed for them, too. They do owe him at least the benefit of the doubt. And, I’d say, a chance to explain why he is doing what he is doing. So, they try to reach the angel. But he doesn’t answer. Because he can’t answer the questions waiting for him. The heavenly creature captured by such an emotion as human as it gets: fear.
But as Crowley’s henchmen jump the Winchester gang (please forgive me, kind readers, for referring to the team in this manner it’s my personal term of endearment for Sam, Dean and Bobby) he’s there. Immediately making the right choice, because ‘they were my friends. For a brief moment I was me again.’
Yes. This is the Castiel we learned to love. The one the brothers and Bobby learned to trust. It feels so good to have you back, Cas, even if it’s only for this one moment. Because moments like this matter. Of course, the bigger purposes matter, too, yes, but I can’t see those. I am not able to see such a grand picture with my human mind. Our human brain only processes so much. It has to choose and filter in order not to be overtaxed.
But those moments, as well as memories and people important to us, are immediately recognized as imperative. Distribution of stress hormones makes sure that memories and emotions are amplified, causing us to concentrate on essential, significant information. So, I might want to concentrate on saving my friend, at least, even if I can’t save the whole world.
Sometimes I long for the days of old, when the Winchesters’ mission was characterized by a rather simple concept of right and wrong. Is has become far more complex over the almost six years we have witnessed their exploits.
I think, because of that, they like to cling to those people they can trust, and they need the notion of being able to trust somebody. Trust is another form of love. It’s warmth and consolation, and it has the ability to heal wounds of the soul to some extent. Furthermore, it’s a phenomenon that creates a deep sense of belonging. And with their parents gone, many of their friends killed, there are not many left Sam and Dean Winchester can belong to.
And now they are about to lose another one. Or are they?
Cas saves their collective asses. Again. The way he sells his news (that he believes Crowley to be alive) evokes the need in them to apologize for doubting him. They really feel bad. They do. And, yes Castiel, they trust you again. And the relief on their faces when they are ‘forgiven’ moves me so much, until Cas makes a crucial mistake revealing that he overheard their Superman-talk.
Castiel must be so familiar with popping in on humans that he doesn’t distinguish very well in terms of being visible or not. The mirror cracks. Perhaps beyond repair. We see it all in Dean’s face. I bow to you, Jensen Ackles, again, for displaying Dean’s emotions so tangibly. It’s all there shock, disappointment, pain, anger, resolution. This is another knife in Dean’s soul. And it keeps being twisted, it seems.