So I’m struggling with what I can say about “Stairway to Heaven” that is encouraging and complimentary because the whole episode felt wrong.
For one thing, the angels were denigrated to inanely stupid beings. They chose sides in an epic battle for heaven by bowling! At least they could have used a dramatic game of chance like Baccarat or Russian Roulette…or drawing straws! The angels en masse returned to being loyal to the megalomaniac who caused all their problems in the first place simply because of one speech full of obvious bating and propaganda. After a climactic decision to accept leadership a few weeks ago, Castiel suddenly can’t string three words together to adequately explain himself, to counter Metatron’s accusations or to explain why killing Dean goes against everything he is trying to exemplify. “It’s complicated” was a ridiculous response from someone who has learned so much about motivation, right and wrong. Metatron was reduced to a caricature of his former, maniacal self when he was depicted as a nerd trying to be popular. [The same thing was done to Abaddon, by the way. The unstoppable Knight of Hell sipped martinis then stood helpless and slack-jawed when the Mark of Cain proved itself to be a worthy opponent. It’s almost as if the antagonists this season needed to be downgraded to weak simpletons in order to be defeated by the heroes of the story.]
The dialogues and the settings also just didn’t match what was happening. Popular culture references and cheap humor were over used in an episode that was should have been dark, filled with revulsion that Metatron had brainwashed allies into being angelic kamikaze squads who targeted their own kind; or that Dean was obviously losing himself to rage and blinded violence. Instead of building suspense and hope as Castiel approached the supposedly long-sought backdoor to Heaven, we were given a gag about spinning blades and Raiders of the Lost Arc. A grotesquely burned former friend was found amid a cheesy, silly depiction of Castiel’s Heaven (I realize that was a last-minute substitute for what the writer originally had in mind, but both the first and the last idea should have been thrown out!).
Which brings me to what I feel truly went wrong with this episode, and as a matter of fact, the prior episode as well.
The emotion was all wrong.
The episode that precedes the season’s climax should build a sense of dread, defeat, horror, foreboding and fear. Metatron is winning the war. Dean is losing himself. Castiel has been betrayed. Sam can’t get through to his brother. Humans and angels are being indiscriminately slaughtered, and both heaven and earth are on the brink of being ruled by a cruel new god. Instead, the settings were ice cream parlors, bowling alleys and prom dance halls. Opponents made fun of Metatron. Castiel and Sam calmly considered the changes they were noticing in Dean. Metatron’s strategic, climactic move to convince opposing angels to defect was delivered from his arm chair via a video conference call.
Instead of saying “Wow!” when the episode was over, my reaction was “What was that?”
So while I mourn the lost opportunity for an epic episode, and truly remain perplexed as to exactly what the writers intended, there were still highlights in the story.
I liked Gadreel. His change of heart was convincing and well-timed.
I liked seeing Tessa again. I adore her character, her relationship with Dean, and her soft but authoritative voice. She should not have been killed just to make a point.
I liked the dramatic ending. Dean’s rage was jarring and his attack on Gadreel was shocking.
I liked Castiel's Black Light hand, and his "I got this. I don't got this." humor which worked perfectly. Then there was this...
I’ll end on those positive notes, because when all is said and done, even with a few missteps, I still love Supernatural.
Dean perfectly portrayed Nate’s reaction to “Stairway to Heaven”:
He sent me a few other gifs as well, but you get the point.
I hate writing negative reviews. I hate sounding whiny, bitchy, needy, and demanding. It's too readily and easily misread as an indictment of everything, and that's not what I intend. Ever.
I love Supernatural. I appreciate everything that everyone involved with the show pours into it. The cast and crew give it their all, all the time, and it shows – and I love that. I thank them for that. I hold them close to my heart for that, because I know they love the show as much as I do (if not exactly in the same way), and not just because it's a meal ticket for them.
But even creator Eric Kripke acknowledged that some episodes just aren't good. It might have been a bad idea overlooked in the heat of the creative moment, or a good idea derailed by cost constraints, or something done to accommodate the requirements of a studio or a network, or simply a mistake recognized too late to correct it. But for whatever reason, "Stairway to Heaven" doesn't work.
My takeaway: I had a tough time with “Stairway to Heaven” when it first aired and sadly, the rewatch didn’t change my mind. Andrew Dabb took the prize away from Ross-Leming and Buckner for worst script of the season and it’s a shame the battle was close. This episode highlights the pacing issues, the continuity issues, the plot issues . . . sigh. However, there is some good stuff peeking out here and there, so I’m going to first mention what I didn’t like and spend more time on what I did.
So, what didn’t I like? How about bringing Tessa back as an angel without exploiting her backstory with Dean to any meaningful extent and then killing her?
Tessa, like Death, is one of those characters who bring gravitas when she appears, and her relationship with Dean has always been incredibly interesting. Her ability to make him face hard truths while caring about him has always made her a useful playing piece on the storyboard. Her distance from the angels, which was such a part of her character, was a useful perspective. Her death here didn’t accomplish much storywise and wasn’t a powerful emotional beat, either. What a waste.
I still really dislike reapers as angels and at Leaky Con, Robbie Thompson apparently tried to clarify that reapers really aren’t angels, but some other kind of supernatural creature. Sorry, Robbie, but this episode doesn’t allow that read, even thought that is indeed the logical read, given past lore. Do the writers talk to each other? Does Jeremy Carver care about the story building of this universe? Is it a free for all? Sigh.
The overall arc doesn’t fare much better. The issues with pacing all season come into glaring focus when Cas asks Sam, “Do you think Dean seems a little different?” Really? The season is coming to a close and Dean’s main relationships finally wonder if that Mark of Cain is significant? Why doesn’t Cas have a really good idea that the Mark of Cain carries a great deal of power? He knows the real story of Cain and Abel. And why hasn’t Sam been obsessively researching the Mark as he worries about Dean’s hyperaggression and ruthlessness? I know it’s hard to keep an arc’s momentum over 23 episodes and that stand alones are necessary to break things up. But Carver so far has not shown a deft hand at keeping themes in play throughout the season. I suspect losing Ben Edlund really impacted the writers’ room.
Fortunately, there are things to like. Jensen’s snarl and animalistic attack were really well done.
And I loved Jared’s subtle work as he shows his hurt at Dean’s rejection of them as a team, but can still signal him he is willing to trust Gadreel.
Tahmoh as Gadreel had an incredible arc this season. Being able to make the angel sympathetic after killing Kevin should have been an insurmountable task, but Tahmoh gave him such intensity and genuine desire for self-respect. And his time possessing Sam taught him how to make the most epic bitch faces, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The most successful part of the episode for me was the continuation of Cas’s arc. I don’t think it was an accident Dean brings up Cas’s season six story line, where he sacrificed the good of people, right down to Sam and Dean, to try and fix heaven. Cas’s intentions were always good, but his methods to gain power in the past were very flawed. Given that he’s in the midst of another stab at leadership, the call back is very relevant.
Cas is again trying to fix heaven and gathering the power to do it. But he’s heading down a well-worn path, promising an end to angel on angel violence, but drawing on a military model to do it. Commander Cas is heading uncomfortably close to Metatron territory, as he uses the hero worship of his followers strategically to gain power. Sam and Dean are uncomfortable with the cult-like status of Cas’s army for a reason.
Metatron is wily enough to know that once you are up on a pedestal, it doesn’t take much to destabilize that perch. He sets up a trap to show the angels Cas’s loyalties are with humanity, not heaven. There is a read that Cas’s refusal to kill Dean shows his personal feelings about Dean as opposed to other characters. But I think the choice scene was deliberately meant to recall season six when Cas put his desire for the power to heal heaven above caring for humans, to everyone’s detriment including his own.
If Cas would only have stayed his hand for Dean in particular, and would have killed Sam, Charlie, Garth—even Redshirt #2, come to that—then he hasn’t progressed from season six nor is he much different than Metatron. I read the scene as Cas realizing that gaining power in heaven by hurting humanity is the wrong choice, given his mission to care for humanity. He has no good choices, but he does now know not to take this one. Of course, it’s also true that killing Dean would hurt Cas personally, which is story writing 101. Don’t use Redshirt #2 when you can use a character everyone cares about.
Cas’s choice resonates in Gadreel’s realization that his own road to redemption has been very flawed. Redemption doesn’t come through what others think of you, but rather what you think of yourself. I think the way Cas has never lost sight of his own definition of his mission is his true qualification for leadership. His ability to refuse the wrong route to power, hard won, is critical to his arc to true leadership. I didn’t like much about this episode, but I did like the development of Cas, the reluctant leader.
Are we all being to critical? Are we looking at the episode as reviewers more than fans? What did you think of the show? What were the hits and misses for you?
All of our original reviews of "Stairway to Heaven" can be found in the Episode Guide.
we have a google group so what? Professions sometimes talk to each other