A Dean and Castiel Timeline, Part One
After the S6 finale, I saw a lot of discussion on the concept of Dean and Cas as family, particularly the validity of Dean's assertion that Cas was like a brother to him, and Cas's echoing of that sentiment. And I started thinking (rarely a purely good thing) , I have also frequently wondered about the bond between Dean and Cas, and as the seasons progressed have many times been confused by the growth of their friendship. I never doubted the bond and friendship existed, to me it's always been self-evident. I just frequently lost track of the "how's" of the development. So I pulled out the DVD's beginning with S4 and started watching. And analyzing. And studying. And discussing it with a friend and fellow fan. And then got confused again. So I decided to write out a timeline of every episode Cas has appeared in since he met Dean, focusing separately on Dean's perspective and Cas's perspective (I'm just a little OCD) and mostly excluding Sam from the discussion for the sake of my sanity. And then I decided to share it. The following article is part 1 of a planned 3 part series, beginning with season 4.
Fair warning -- what follows is largely opinion and highly subjective. I'll admit upfront that what I see in a reaction from Dean or Cas is very often not what others see. I opted to write what I see - I'm weird that way. And I can't promise I've stuck completely to the topic as I have a tendency for random thoughts and sidebars.
Dean is dragged from Hell by what he assumes is a powerful demon or other malevolent force, and he assumes that same deadly being is hunting him with an unknown agenda, hurting those who attempt to help him along the way (Pamela, specifically). Dean finally has enough and decides to stand his ground, only to be confronted by an even stronger and more terrifying force than he anticipated. He fails to be comforted that that force is an angel , in fact, he may be even more disturbed by the revelation.
Cas is calm and assured. He is expecting - well, I'm not sure what he is expecting exactly, but it certainly isn't what he is confronted with in meeting Dean Winchester. We have reason to believe that Cas already knew that Dean was the righteous man of prophecy which no doubt carried certain expectations in and of itself. We also have reason to believe Cas at least suspected Dean to be a vessel given Cas's attempts to communicate with Dean in his true angelic form before resorting to taking a vessel himself. Cas seems truly abashed at his error and any physical pain or fear the failed communications may have caused Dean, and also seems truly sorrowful at the harm that befell Pamela , although he is also quick to point out she was warned. Cas seems perturbed and confused at Dean's obvious discomfort and disbelief in Cas's words, and adopts a careful, slow, almost soothing approach towards Dean.
Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester
Dean's entire worldview is in upheaval. In an interesting parallel to the many "civilians" he's introduced to the supernatural over the years, he is now in their boat, being confronted with the existence of a reality beyond his experience or belief ,and he is having difficulty accepting that reality. And when he does finally accept the fact that Cas is an angel, he does so in an angry and accusatory manner, barraging Cas with the exact same accusations and rage the spirits of Meg, Henrickson, et al, have hurled at Dean himself all night, "Where were you? You had the power (ability) to stop it, why didn't you? I thought you were supposed to save people, why didn't you do it?" And even in the midst of his outburst, some part of Dean must know there is no satisfactory answer Cas can give, just as Dean himself had no satisfactory answers for his own accusers. When Dean's anger reaches such a level that he finds himself threatening to kick an angel's ass, you can see Dean visibly catch himself and back off a little, aware that he's pushing a little too hard for his own good , or perhaps realizing he's not being entirely fair, we can't be sure. Dean being Dean, though, he couldn't stop himself from pushing too hard again a few moments later, resulting in one of the few times in my memory Dean has actually been taken aback enough to drop the game face and show fear to his opponent.
Cas is clearly tired and battle weary, but still remembering the lessons learned from his first meeting with Dean and still careful in his approach to his new charge. Cas (initially, anyway) seems to have no desire to make Dean fear or be in awe of him, he just wants Dean to understand. Unfortunately, between the recent resurrection, realization that angels exist, his past failures in the form of Meg and the others coming back to haunt him, Dean is on overload , understanding anything more is unlikely. Even in the face of Dean's explosion and accusations, Cas restrains his temper and continues to exercise care in his approach , but he is losing patience. In my opinion, Cas here doesn't want to intimidate or bully Dean into anything but genuinely wants to help Dean understand and to help guide Dean through the trials Cas knows are coming. Dean's belligerence inevitably gets the best of Cas and he snaps, issuing the threat of casting Dean back into Hell if Dean continued in his disrespect. Cas informs Dean of a bigger picture and reveals the likely reason behind his patience failing , Cas lost 6 brothers in battle that week. It is never stated, but I believe that those 6 brothers were killed in the fight to rescue Dean. We know that this meeting takes place within a few days of Dean's resurrection and first meeting with Cas, and we know that Cas did not go into Hell alone to retrieve Dean. If I am correct in this assumption, to Cas it would in that moment have been intolerable to know his brothers were sacrificed to save this creature that now spat and clawed at him so vehemently. I believe Cas regretted his loss of temper later, and I furthermore don't believe Cas ever truly blamed Dean for the collateral damage of his rescue, but in that moment it was too much and Cas allowed his weariness and irritation, and power, to be known.
In The Beginning
Dean is in upheaval for most of this episode, and Cas's brief appearances are the closest thing to stable ground he is afforded. A decrease in antagonism to Cas is apparent from the beginning of the episode. Sure, his actual words to Cas are less than welcoming, but aggression and anger are missing from his tone and manner. And by the end of the episode when Cas appears at his side after Mary has made her deal, Dean trusts Cas enough to not even attempt to put his game face back up. He lets Cas see his pain and confusion openly, which is rare for Dean to do, even with family. The wall goes back up, naturally, when Cas makes the threat that he will stop Sam if Dean can't, but the fact that the wall went down even temporarily marks progress in their relationship.
Cas is tasked with informing Dean both of past events that Sam knows but hid from Dean as well as with information that is new to both brothers. It is unclear whether Cas was ordered to take Dean to the past to see the events for himself, or whether Cas opted to do so under the assumption he would have difficulty getting Dean to believe him. Either way, I do not think Cas had any clue that watching the events play out would devastate Dean in the manner that it did, and I believe he was truly sorry for the method the information was imparted when he did realize the impact.
Cas doesn't physically appear in this episode, but his presence is evident in one scene, and it is a significant clue to Dean's growing friendship with the angel. Dean refers to him by the nickname "Cas" for the first time. And while it's not terribly uncommon for Dean to give people, things, creatures nicknames, they are usually at least slightly derogatory unless it's family or friends. Dean shortening Cas's name in a familiar but not flip manner speaks volumes about how close they have grown in a short time.
It's The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester
Dean rather frantically (for Dean, anyway) stops Sam from wielding a gun in Cas's direction. Granted, there's a good chance this is more to protect Sam than Cas since Dean knows bullets won't hurt him. But either way , if the move was an instinctive move to protect Cas, well, obviously, Dean has developed some protective instincts toward his friend. If the move is to protect Sam, well, then Cas has earned at least a measure of respect from Dean, who does not want his baby brother to offend the angel accidentally. And Dean's opening conversation with Cas shows a willingness to work with him to find and kill the witch. That is, up until Dean's "wrong" alarm goes off, because no matter how much trust or friendship has developed, the trust is not complete, and Cas is not family, not yet. Dean is aware Cas's loyalty is to the other angels and his orders, not Dean or humans. Even before Cas has actually spoken directly of their plan to destroy the town, Dean demands of Cas "what are you going to do?" knowing already the answer will not be good. But though Dean does take a stand against the angels' proposed course of action, he does not fly into a tirade but instead makes a case (directed at Cas, as he quickly judged without being told that Uriel ranked beneath Cas) for allowing himself and Sam to stop the witch, using his own life as leverage. And though Dean strenuously disagrees with Cas here, he is not angry at Cas , Dean exhibits a willingness to communicate openly with Cas that was lacking in some of their earlier encounters. Some of the anger returns in his conversation with Cas in the park in the final scene of the episode, but that's likely more defensiveness against wrongly perceived judgment in addition to his own self-recrimination that despite saving the town, they did fail to stop the witch. And once Dean listens to Cas enough to understand his viewpoint, the anger dissipates.
Cas appears uncomfortable with the necessity of lying to Dean to conceal the nature of their true orders. He is awkward and unintentionally hurtful in his initial meeting with Sam, which given how very careful he was in his initial meeting with Dean makes it difficult for me to attribute to anything other than discomfort at the subterfuge being asked of him. Still, he forges ahead and presents Dean with the opportunity to flee town before the angels destroy it, and makes absolutely certain Dean is clear on the stakes if they fail to prevent the seals breaking , that Hell would rise with Lucifer. In that moment, when Dean froze briefly with the stark mental image of a literal Hell on earth and Cas's reminder that Dean of all people understood what that meant, Cas looked regretful and I believe he thought Dean would desert the town to the angels. Cas seemed genuinely surprised when Dean chose to save people, period , screw fathers' orders and bigger pictures , an instinct which resonated deeply enough with Cas that by the end of the episode Cas opened up to Dean with fears and doubts that he likely had never shared with another living being , especially not any of his brothers, since as we later learned from Anna he could be sentenced to death just for having those doubts. The fact that he chose to speak of his doubts aloud at all, and that he chose Dean to share those doubts with, is concrete evidence that an extremely deep bond had formed.
I Know What You Did Last Summer / Heaven and Hell
Dean is hopeful when Cas and Uriel appear that maybe they are there to help -- though he doesn't take it for granted. When Dean hears their intent to kill Anna, well, trust hasn't yet grown enough for him to take Cas's word that she has it coming and he resists. Even after learning the full story, Dean cannot bring himself to turn over a human to angel justice, but signs onto the plan for her to "angel up" so that she can deal with the angels on her own. And sure, Dean was apparently (that ending still confuses me, but I'm pretty sure Dean was in on the plan) on board with pitting Cas against Alastair long enough for Anna to get her grace back, but I don't believe it occurred to Dean for a second that Cas would be in any danger, and I think he was sorry for that lack of foresight when Alastair overpowered the angel. As terrified as Dean was of Alastair, he still grabbed a crowbar and took it to the demon's head to get him off Cas once he realized Cas was in trouble. Without a strong bond already having formed, Dean probably would have grabbed Sam and ran, leaving the supernatural entities to battle it out, but because he was already considering Cas a friend, he had to step in and help.
Cas seemed surprised and a little disappointed to see Dean evidently working with Ruby, but he didn't appear to dwell on it. But neither did he help defend Dean from Uriel's physical attack but instead focused on his mission and headed to get Anna, a reminder to Dean and the audience that regardless of any bond or friendship Cas would put orders first. I do not think the significance of Dean stepping in to defend him against Alastair, of all demons, was lost on Castiel, and rather than Castiel's attachment to Dean being damaged by the events in this episode I believe it was strengthened as admiration grew not only for Dean's willingness to put himself in danger to save Cas from Alastair, but also for both brothers' handling of the situation as a whole in simply moving the fight out of the earthly realm to the angelic one, where it rightfully belonged in the first place.
Death Takes A Holiday
Dean's perspective is difficult to gauge here, primarily because it's impossible to know how much of it is colored by the fact that Cas lied to him to serve his own agenda. And despite Castiel's questionable assertion that Dean does the opposite of what Cas asks, it's also impossible to know whether if Cas had simply asked Dean to help what Dean would have done. Though Dean did voice an objection to Sam (which he echoed again to Cas later) on the basis that people who had been miraculously spared life-ending events would drop dead, he nonetheless continued to work the case alongside Sam , heck, it was even his idea for astral projection that gave them their first big breakthrough. Who's to say he wouldn't have done the same if Cas had just asked?
Cas appears triumphant, pleased that his deception of Dean resulted in not only a seal being saved but Alastair being captured. This time Cas is completely comfortable with his trickery, perhaps not viewing it as an outright lie or just maybe showing his first signs of that "end justifies the means" mentality that would flare out in full bloom at the end of S6. At any rate, Cas frustratedly asserts the lie was necessary because Dean always does the opposite of what Cas asks, which is not an entirely fair or accurate statement (and the proof against this is actually best exemplified in the next episode). In compiling this list, I realized that up to this point Dean has only outright refused Cas twice , and one wasn't even a true refusal, but rather that he forcefully plead the case for an alternate solution (granted, that was partly because he knew he could not stop them in that instance, so he went as diplomatic a route as is possible for him to go). I do not think Cas truly believed Dean would just arbitrarily say no just because he was asked, but Cas is growing frustrated with himself that he does not yet understand Dean well enough to know which way he would jump on this issue, and is exaggerating the frequency of Dean's refusals in exasperation.
On The Head of a Pin
Dean's attachment to and trust in Cas is evidenced in this episode more than any other. True, in exhaustion and grief (and guilt) over Pamela, he lashed out with rage and venom directed equally at Uriel and Cas. But while his disdain for Uriel remained palpably obvious, he returned to his normal treatment of Cas once he'd vented his anger. Once in the slaughterhouse, it did not matter how securely Alastair was bound , Dean did not want to do what they wanted. Period. Everything in him screamed that it was wrong, and that he would never recover, never be himself again (and he was right, just not in the way he believed). And yet , he agreed. Not because he had to, we all know by now angels can't make Dean Winchester do anything by force. He agreed because his friend asked him to, because someone he trusted believed this to be the only option.
Cas knew what they were asking of Dean was abhorrent and would damage Dean in ways they couldn't anticipate (and he, like Dean, was proved to be right , though again not in the manner expected). Worst of all, he had to let Uriel "manage" Dean, which naturally made matters worse. Once left alone, however, Cas showed a marked increase in his insight into Dean. This time, maybe the first time, Cas understood Dean's objection , he'd seen firsthand the creature Dean had become in Hell and understood Dean was not being stubborn, but rather feared that in letting that side of him out he would not be able to shove it down again. So Cas spoke simply and sincerely, letting Dean see his own doubt and distaste of what they were asking. Perhaps Cas knew that Dean, without having an alternate plan to offer, would not refuse a sincere plea for help in such dire circumstances. Or perhaps Cas plead the case only because he was required to by orders, while secretly hoping Dean would continue to refuse. By the end, though, Cas feels fully responsible for the wreckage that remains of his friend, further solidifying the bond and increasing Cas's growing instinct to act as guardian over Dean and his brother.
It's a Terrible Life
Once again, I know Cas is not actually in this episode. But I believe there's a good chance that the entire charade may have actually been more for Cas's benefit than Dean's. It would have been to Zachariah's advantage in the long run to leave Dean a broken and rudderless mess, lacking the will to fight effectively or refuse Michael when the time came. And Zachariah would later confess to Dean that much of the angelic orders over the past year had been a ploy to keep the "grunts on the ground" i.e., Castiel, from discovering the truth to prevent a rebellion. I believe Zachariah's actions here were to placate Castiel's request that they repair the damage Uriel's actions had caused to Dean, and to prevent Castiel from asking questions if they refused to heal and help Dean.
The Monster at the End of This Book
Dean prays for help, and Cas appears. At first, it seems as though Cas is not going to help after all, and Dean responds with anger. Dean accuses Cas of requiring much of him while proclaiming he himself never asked for a thing, which, no. That's not entirely true, just like Cas's assertion in a previous episode that Dean did the opposite of what was asked was not true. Dean is lashing out in frustration. The frustration quickly drops when Cas does come through with a solution, and Dean for the first time utters the phrase "thanks, Cas" and means it.
Cas is pleased Dean has prayed for help, viewing this as a positive step in both their friendship and in his assignment regarding Dean. So Cas is genuinely disheartened to have to answer Dean's relieved and hopeful "so you'll help me??" with a no. I'm not even entirely sure Dean's angry response and threat to refuse assistance to the angels in the future even registered fully with Cas, such was disappointment at not being able to help at such a crucial juncture. Until, of course, he found a way to help without helping, knowing Dean would see and know how to utilize the loophole.
Dean almost instantly realizes his friend is in distress, even in the dream state -- "Cas, what's wrong??". He follows directions to meet at an abandoned warehouse, and from there, well, finds his friend gone. And even when Cas is returned to his customary vessel at the end of the episode, he is fully Castiel again , Dean's friend Cas is still gone. For now.
Cas has discovered that his orders are not coming from God after all, but from a corrupt chain of command intentionally bringing on the apocalypse. In his distraught and confused state, he seeks out the only friend he can still trust, Dean. And judging from the condition of the warehouse where Dean was scheduled to meet him, Cas fought hard to remain on earth and to tell Dean what he had learned. Unfortunately, unendurable torture resulted in Cas returning obey orders mode, and to renounce his friendship with Dean.
When the Levee Breaks
Dean calls Cas again for help. And after a mild reproach over how long it took Cas to respond, Dean's manner towards Cas seems to largely ignore Cas's rejection of their friendship at the end of The Rapture and focus on the issues at hand.. Dean is not quite as at ease with Cas as he had become before, and he still makes his negative opinion of Cas's new attitude clear, but to my thinking Dean's attitude here seems to be that he understands Cas is reacting to the torture , something Dean understands and can sympathize with too well -- not to actual anger or ill will at Dean and as such is treating Cas's earlier harshness and continued distant attitude as temporary, thus the statement "you're a dick these days". Dean is still reacting to Cas as his friend here, albeit more carefully and with yet another sharp decline in the up-and-down roller coaster that is representative of the trust levels between the two of them.
Cas tries to maintain the appearance of aloofness, sharply telling Dean to "get to the real reason you called" when Dean tries to inquire about the events of The Rapture. Under even mild pressure from Dean to open up, however, the facade crumbles quickly and Cas throws Dean one very desperate look and a meek "I can't" before pulling the mask of Heavenly loyalty back on again. Cas wants to tell Dean what he knows, he knows it is the right thing to do and more than ever he believes Dean can stop the apocalypse, because he knows only Dean has a chance at stopping Sam. But he is afraid. The torture he endured has shaken his faith in his human friend's abilities to thwart the plans of his angelic superiors. He falls back on the only thing he has ever known , obey orders, despite obviously remaining torn and guilt ridden about his resulting actions.
Dean still trusts Cas more than any of the other angels, which is why I suspect Zachariah allowed his presence in the Green Room at all. Zachariah is managing Dean here, or attempting to, and believes rightfully that Cas's presence will help keep Dean calm. And it works , for a time. Until Cas won't take Dean to see Sam to make amends, to say goodbye. It is from this point that everything unravels and Dean starts causing trouble for Zachariah's neatly laid plans. After Dean has learned the truth of what Zachariah and the angels intend, Dean confronts Cas that he knows what he is doing is wrong, and reminds Cas that he had intended to help Dean up until fear and pain took over his judgment. Dean asks Cas to help him now, to set right what they could before it was too late, and when Cas cannot summon up the courage Dean abruptly ends the friendship with a "we're done". So when Cas later tosses Dean into a wall, covering his mouth and pulling a knife, Dean's eyes show a brief flash of fear before he understands Cas is himself again, he has reclaimed his sense of duty to God, not to Zachariah and the angels, and Dean accepts Cas's help with renewed trust and gratitude.
Cas's guilt over his complicity in Zachariah's actions is written all over his face from the moment he appears in the Green Room up until the moment he takes Dean's side. Particularly telling is the moment when Zachariah reminds Dean of his vow to obey, and Cas is utterly unable to look Dean in the eye, or even in his direction, dropping his gaze to the floor when Dean looks to him. Cas knows he has betrayed his friend, and he knows his friend knows it. The fact that he did everything but put on a neon sign telling Dean he couldn't be trusted due to orders doesn't really make him feel better at this moment. And in the face of Dean's all too true accusation that Cas knew what the angels was doing was wrong, Cas was finally able to overcome his fear and stand on the side of what he believed to be right, which happened to put him squarely at the side of his friend. I do not believe Cas chose to help Dean just because Dean asked him to. Cas helped Dean because Dean's stand coincided with what Cas believed the Father he loved and sought to serve would have him do. And he paid quite a price for it.
Part Two coming soon...