Fans had very mixed reactions to Supernatural’s “Angel Heart”. Some were warmly wrapped in its emotions declaring it as one of their series favorites while others were bored to distraction. Personally, I liked the story.
Would I have preferred an action packed, intense progression of Dean succumbing to the Mark of Cain and Sam going to dark and scary extremes to save his brother? Absolutely. The last few episodes built a momentum that was both engrossing and exciting. The abrupt interruption in that accelerating tension was jarring and probably what disappointed a lot of people. A quiet focus on Castiel and his family seemed oddly placed but I can frankly think of several reasons why it was inserted this late in the season. Having said that, the “all or nothing at all” intensity of Supernatural’s episodes this year is giving me whiplash. With only four episodes left, the many plotlines should be intertwining, showing us how they will all dovetail together to the big finale. The energy should be continually building to the inevitable, crushing crescendo. “Angel Heart” was not that show.
So why did I like it? Probably because I enjoy the “saving people” side of the show as much as I love the “hunting things” side. I am drawn to the love, family, tender, emotional aspects of the characters. I enjoy hearing their motivations and seeing that they are never so consumed with their apocalyptic troubles that they can’t take a few days to fix the smaller things in life, like helping a friend who is out of his depth in dealing with a teenager. As Cas stated early in the episode, Sam and Dean were “backup” this time. Maybe the show should be able to combine the big and the small together more deftly but in reality, don’t we all need to pause the action of our crazy lives, even for a day or two, to focus on something or someone who asks for our help? I accepted the moment that was being offered to catch my breath, because I know the next three weeks are going to wring me dry.
Once viewed on its own merits, “Angel Heart” lived up to its name. It was a tender character study of Sam, Dean, Castiel, Claire, Amelia and even Ronnie and bad angel guy (Tamiel). It broadened the Supernatural universe with yet another category of angels, introducing the Grigori, and expanded canon concerning the human soul, telling us that “souls are little slices of heaven”.
I enjoyed that there were no damsels in distress. Amelia saved Claire, tiny little Claire saved the three tough guy hunters, and Sam even saved himself (Robbie tweeted that it was very important to him that Sam save himself). I also very much enjoyed both Sam and Dean’s interactions with Claire. Kathryn Love Newton did an excellent job portraying the conundrum that is a teenage girl, alternating between pushing away the stupid adults who knew absolutely nothing useful, to needing the guidance and tender embrace of parents and caring friends. Her first reactions were “I didn’t ask for your help” and “You can leave now”, yet she listened and absorbed everything that Sam, Dean and Cas said to her.
Her interactions with Sam also enabled us to hear more of Sam’s thoughts about his life and to see once again his outstanding people skills. He knew how to approach and work with Claire in a way that was both respectful and effective, always seeing her point of view:
Look, we’re not leaving until you tell us what the hell really happened, so if you want us gone, talk.
I know you need to be somewhere far away from all of us.
I can also show you how to set up fake credit cards. It will make life on the road a lot easier.
He didn’t tell her that her viewpoint was wrong and he didn’t try to protect her but he also didn’t easily capitulate. He respected what she was feeling and every time showed her how to accomplish what she wanted while still getting her to do what they needed her to do. Of course, showing her how to break the law isn’t normal but Sam accepted that she was on her own, on the road, just like he had been every time he ran away from John or Dean so taking that as the starting point, he gave her information and skills that were of value to her. He knew she would strongly rebel against the direct approach to get her off the streets and into a stable situation, so Sam sided with her and gave her something she could use, winning her over slowly until, in the end, she agreed to accept help and shelter. Really, really smart. Teenage parenting, or Negotiating Skills, 101 (they’re really the same thing anyway, aren’t they?)
We also heard more of why Sam is still a hunter:
Sam: Hunting monsters doesn’t exactly pay the bills.
Claire: Then why do you do it?
Sam: To help people, make a difference.
Claire: That’s it?
Sam: That’s not enough?
“Angel Heart” also showed us a Dean who can have fun playing miniature golf, a mother who had deep regrets about a well-intentioned but catastrophic parenting mistake, and a Castiel who went from an awkward gesture of giving a stuffed animal as a birthday present to getting a hug of acceptance. It was also nice to see Misha have a different acting role and play an emotional moment as Jimmy finally found his peace.
“Angel Heart” was an emotional indulgence from beginning to end but it still delivered messages that were deeply troubling and worth exploring.
Family and the Truth
Amelia: I was dreaming. This whole time I was dreaming of finding Jimmy, of putting my family back together.
Cas: I promised to protect your family and I failed.
Both Amelia and Castiel had deluded themselves with stories of perfect endings. Amelia wanted her perfect family so badly that she abandoned the young daughter that was still with her to pursue an idyllic vision of her life. Amelia lived her happy reunion over and over for two years in her angel-induced dream state. When she was finally awakened to reality, she had only enough time to apologize to Claire and bring closure to her little girl’s pain before Amelia was dispatched forever to her dream.
Castiel also made a promise he couldn’t keep. His angelic powers were taken from him so he couldn’t hear or help Amelia or Claire when they needed him. He has apologized so many times for letting people down, but he got his redemption in the form of a teenager’s hug. Claire lost her entire family just like the Winchester brothers and Castiel lost their families (Cas isn’t exactly welcome at “home” right now), but she is finding a new family in the angel and hunters who have adopted her:
Cas: When this is over, should I leave Claire alone?
Sam: What? No man, she’s family. I mean she’s not exactly family but she’s close enough. You two have history. Simple as that.
Cas: So you don’t think she’s better on her own?
Sam:…Here’s all I know. Going it alone – that’s no way to live. You being there for her, even if she thinks she doesn’t want you to be there for her – that’s good, for both of you.
Cas: Maybe, in the end.
Sam: In the end.
While Cas was asking about Claire, Sam was clearly musing on his relationship with Dean. This hunt contained several instances of a change in attitude in Dean. He is starting to push Sam away again, which hurts Sam deeply, yet he is going to stick with his brother hoping for a happy ending. It wasn’t that long ago when Dean was a demon and rejected Sam to the point of trying to brutally kill him, yet Sam showed up saying “I’ve come to take you home”. This episode advanced Dean’s journey down that same road, pushing away anyone who will appeal to his better instincts, anyone who will pull him back from the “bad boy” the mark wants him to become…
Mark of Cain
Dean’s actions in this episode were supposed to alarm us. We were asked to believe that the mark is pushing Dean harder than ever and he is getting close to the breaking point. His intimidation of Ronnie in the bar was supposed to be the bellwether of Dean’s need for violence. Castiel told us as much when he told Sam that Dean “snapped” and is “getting worse”. Like many fans, though, I wasn’t alarmed by Dean’s actions. I was far more concerned with Dean’s attitude. In the hospital, he let it slip that he needed to punch somebody. No big deal. He was being honest (without naming names, people I know very well have said that after a bad day!). I was concerned, though, when he looked at both Castiel and Sam like they were mother hens rather than two men he trusted with his life and who had seen more action at his side than even the most hardened soldiers. Then Dean shared a rather troubling viewpoint with Castiel, ostensibly about Claire:
She’s been surviving on her own for quite a while now and partly because she doesn’t have anybody to answer to, nobody holding her back. I’m saying she might be stronger on her own.
Dean is starting to resent rather than welcome his watchdogs. Just last week he melted our hearts when he said that he and Sam were stronger together. I don’t subscribe to the notion that his abrupt reversal about having to “answer to” anyone, being “held back” or “stronger on his own” was contradictory or inconsistent writing. Rather, I think the Mark has passed the mid-point in its battle for control of Dean. His pushback to his closest family felt and sounded more like the mark is gaining control of his thoughts and actions. I said I could think of several reasons why “Angel Heart” was inserted at this point in the season. One major reason I believe was to parallel how Dean is now acting like a headstrong teenager. He was edgy, aggressive and rebellious during the entire case. He was clearly agitated when Cas and Sam said he needed to stay at the hotel rather than do recon at the farm:
“So you want to bench me again? Alright. Fine. I’ll stay and babysit”
Doesn’t that sound like a teenager who thinks their “parents” are “holding them back”? It was even followed by a pout fest. Fueled by the overpowering energy flowing through their veins, headstrong teens (and now Dean) feel they’d be stronger on their own. They resent any authority that holds them back. They believe they are immortal (which he is), and they resent any authority that warns them off adrenalin fueled fights or dangerous situations (again, true of Dean). Everything in Dean’s sighs, looks and body language said “I’m growing impatient with your limits and I can’t wait to dump you losers”. Like Claire, he did what he was told, but he clearly didn’t like it. Dean lasted about 5 minutes in the hotel room before saying,
“If we stay cooped up in this hotel room all night long I’m going to lose my mind”.
Again, insight into his impatience, edginess and restlessness. His need for constant activity, entertainment, distraction and/or adrenaline is increasing exponentially. The Mark wants to be fed.
I think we, and Sam, have lost the humbled Dean that offered last week to help on a case “if you’d have me”. The changes in Dean were more subtle than him banging Ronnie’s head into a table. The difference wasn’t the action itself, it was how much Dean was enjoying it.
At one point in the final fight with the Grigori, Dean clenched the blade, turned his head down, braced his body and dug in in a way that said, “You don’t know what you’re dealing with and I finally get to use what I got!”
Reversal and Suicide
Now for the dialog that sent everyone straight over the edge:
Dean: Claire, what happened to your dad…I’m sorry, OK. I really am but there’s something you gotta know. Your dad’s sacrifice was not meaningless. He gave up his body, his vessel and because he did that, Cas was able to save the world…the world! Your father’s a hero. He did not die in vain.
I know, I know. Sam saved the friggin world! He wouldn’t have been able to do it without Dean, though, because Dean’s voice and family memories got through to Sam. In addition, Dean wouldn’t have had the “five minutes” he needed to reach Sam without Castiel’s sacrifice, so they all played a part. No arguing that Sam’s strength in overcoming Lucifer was epic and that Sam’s sacrifice of going to hell for all eternity (he thought) was greater than Dean or Castiel’s sacrifices. Robbie heard the cry that echoed around the world and replied with this detail:
“As scripted, Cas was able to HELP save the world” y’all. Got changed on the day in performance, but still works. #CalmDown #Supernatural.
Whoever changed that one word really blew it. Really. Blew. It. Big Time. …or did they?
In context, Dean was trying to make Claire proud of her father. Dean wanted her to understand the sacrifice Jimmy made by allowing his body to be inhabited by an angel for the greater good. I get that. What concerns me more than the selective narrative of the past is what Dean’s words say about the future! Take a deep breath because we have to move past outrage to get to what they wanted us to hear with that line.
He gave up his body, his vessel ..to save the world.
Dean is going to give up his vessel to save the world.
Your father’s a hero.
Dean believes that sacrificing yourself to save others makes you a hero.
He did not die in vain.
Dean is going to die.
The recent recurring thread of suicide has been very troubling yet with every mention we get a refined vision of where Dean’s journey might be leading. The Mark of Cain is attached to Dean’s body, so turning his vessel over to an unknown person or persons will temporarily end, or overpower, Dean, but it may change the battle with the Mark in some significant way. Only two beings that we know of right now can possess a vessel – Crowley with or without permission, and Castiel with consent. I revisited the “Swan Song” sacrifices specifically because Dean’s love for Sam gave Sam the time and extra strength he needed to regain control over the supernatural force that was controlling his body. He then sacrificed his body and soul to save the world. Since so much of this season has been seasons 4 and 5 redux but with the brother’s roles reversed, that would imply that Sam’s love will now buy Dean the time he needs to override the Mark and willingly sacrifice himself to save the world….BUT the last episode brought up the Purge conversation again SO what if Dean doesn’t willingly sacrifice himself? What if Sam decides for Dean (reversing s9) and has either Crowley possess Dean without Dean’s consent, or tricks Dean into having Castiel possess him?? Sam will have done exactly what Dean did both for him and to him when Dean allowed Gadreel to possess Sam. “In the end” will the end justify the means? Both brothers will have experienced the other’s pain and sacrifices in a reversal of seasons 5 and 9. It seems plausible that the Crowley/Rowena/Book/Witchcraft plot line might provide the apocalyptic danger or maybe just the path to the final option of possessing Dean.
The universe is trying to tell us something that we both should know by now. We are stronger together than apart.
If we ignore assessing whose sacrifice was the greatest, Castiel, Dean and Sam all saved the world, together. Sam was the brains and strength of will, Dean was the unending love, and Castiel took his lead from his human friends and did whatever he could to help. Two out of three died. It is unclear if they will have the exact same roles, but with Castiel’s story lines being closed and all the ominous messages about his lack of purpose, I have to believe he is also once again going to somehow be sacrificed in the process.
In this line of work, death isn’t always goodbye.
After Sam’s swan song, Cas rescued Sam’s body and mind, but he couldn’t recover his soul.
It is concerning that this episode’s story was about people slowly losing their souls, a little at a time, as they were siphoned off to feed a supernatural parasite. This is a clear parallel to the mark sucking Dean’s soul dry. Also troubling was that angel guy said “you know she can’t be helped.” and that Castiel was not able to heal Amelia’s wounds (just as he wasn’t able to “heal” soulless Sam). That’s an interesting, and troubling, precedent. Is it possible that season 11 will be a reversal of season 6? In one way or another will Sam need to restore Dean’s soul?
I’m seeing signs that:
Dean is going to be sacrificed, and his vessel inhabited, either willingly or not, to save someone else. Sam and Castiel are two strong possibilities, with catastrophic world consequences closely in the running because of the Rowena, Crowley, ancient evil witchcraft, ancient evil family, etc.
Last week Sam again proved that he’s willing to die to save Dean, but it’s looking more likely that more than one person in Team Free Will is going to die, sacrificing himself to save Dean and/or the world.
A soul is going to be lost.
We are all going to be gasping for air for the next three weeks.
Claire: Are you going to be OK?
Dean: Me? I don’t know but I will keep fighting. I will keep swinging until I got nothing left.
…and Sam is going to be right there next to you Dean, hoping you come back to him… in the end.
What do you think? Where is this story headed for Dean, Sam and Cas? Our theory thus far, which I don’t want to forget or abandon, is that Dean stops himself (which we know can’t be through suicide) from killing Sam , or Sam kills himself so that Dean can’t kill him, thus breaking Cain’s curse. Now we have all this vessel talk. So Dean gives up his vessel so he won’t kill Sam? How do you weave the newest information into our older theories?