Article Index

6.20  The Man Who Would Be King:  Freedom Is A Length Of Rope
Sam, Dean, saving Earth:
Castiel's good intentions
Pave his road to Hell.
Episode Summary
Sitting in a garden with early spring flowers blossoming amid the snow, Castiel spoke to God, saying he'd been on Earth for a long time and remembered many things, including seeing the first fish that emerged from the water to live on land and being told by one of his older brother angels not to step on the fish because there were big plans for it. He talked of remembering the Tower of Babel and how people interpreted its fall as a sign of divine wrath, when in truth it fell because the materials used to build it couldn't withstand being piled so high. He remembered Cain and Abel, David and Goliath, Sodom and Gomorrah – and the most remarkable event, which was remarkable because it never came to pass: the apocalypse, averted by two human brothers, an old drunk, and a fallen angel. He recalled them ripping up the ending of the grand story along with the rules and destiny, leaving nothing but freedom and choice. And he wondered if he'd made the wrong choice, and how he was supposed to know what to do. Observing he was getting ahead of himself, he asked to be allowed to tell his story, to tell everything.

Not long after the defeat of Eve, Castiel appeared in the Impala beside Dean, who was driving alone in the night, saying he wanted to check in. Dean asked if he had any word on Crowley being alive, and the angel said he was looking, but didn't understand how the demon could have tricked him. Dean observed Crowley was tricky, but said if he was alive, then killing him was the important thing. Castiel asked if Dean had found anything yet, and when he said no, asked where Sam was. Dean said Sam was tracking a djinn in Omaha and he was on his way to join him. Castiel said he would come if he could, but Dean said he understood, asking only for reassurance that Castiel would call if he got into real trouble. The angel gave a slight nod and  disappeared.
Castiel met Crowley in his monster interrogation hideaway, where he was dissecting Eve's body. Crowley reported Eve's brain was dead, but her body was still producing eggs like salmon roe, and he showed that when he stuck a heated metal spike into her brain, a vampire he had chained in the room went into convulsions as if it was the one being tortured. Castiel said Crowley had claimed Eve could open the door into Purgatory, and Crowley said he was confident she could have, if the Winchesters hadn't killed her. He blamed Castiel for them losing their best chance to get to Purgatory, and further complained he had it on good authority the Winchesters were now seriously hunting him. He accused Castiel of being distracted and having a conflict of interest.

Recounting that memory, Castiel observed Crowley had a point because he was conflicted, still seeing himself as the Winchesters' guardian. Remembering the final confrontation in Stull Cemetery where he had bought Dean time by firebombing Michael, only to be summarily destroyed by Lucifer, Castiel said the Winchesters had taught him how to stand up, what to stand for, and what generally happens to you when you do. He noted that in that moment, he was done, he was over – and then the most extraordinary thing happened: he was put back, and learned they had stopped Armageddon, although at a terrible cost. He thought he knew what he had to do next: he healed Dean and brought Bobby back to life, and then harrowed Hell to rescue Sam as he previously had rescued Dean. He acknowledged it was nearly impossible, but said he was so full of confidence, of mission; something he acknowledged now was really arrogance and hubris, because it turned out he hadn't really rescued Sam, not all of him. Watching in memory as Sam looked through the window at Dean, Lisa, and Ben with no sign of emotion and then turned and walked away, Castiel observed that sometimes you're lucky enough to be given a warning, and that should have been his.  
In the torture room, Crowley begged Castiel to kill the Winchesters, bus Castiel flatly refused and said if Crowley killed them, he would simply bring them back. Crowley threatened to put them where he couldn't bring them back, but Castiel continued to refuse, telling Crowley not to worry about them. Crowley objected that every power in Heaven and Hell who hadn't worried about them had suffered the consequences, but Castiel ordered him to find Purgatory, warning that if he didn't, the two of them would die over and over again until the end of time. He promised the Winchesters wouldn't get to the demon, and Crowley retorted he would tear their hearts out if they did.

Meanwhile, Sam and Bobby had captured Redd, a demon acting as a hunter who had turned a nest of vampires over to Crowley, and questioned him under torture with holy water and non-fatal wounds from the demon-killing dagger while keeping him imprisoned under a devil's trap. Dean told Sam and Bobby about Castiel having dropped in on him a couple of hours before, but reassured them he hadn't told the angel anything. Dean expressed his discomfort at lying to Castiel, reminding the others that Castiel was their friend and had often gone to the mat for them, and refused to believe – as Bobby and Sam did – that he might have been in with Crowley, arguing he could have made a mistake and been deceived by the demon. As Sam and Bobby commiserated with Dean but continued to argue that, if Castiel was working with Crowley, they were effectively dealing with Superman gone darkside and needed to lay in a supply of kryptonite, Castiel watched them, hidden from their sight. Bobby said they had to deal with one problem at a time and the highest priority was finding Crowley before he could crack open Purgatory. Watching, Castiel observed they already suspected him and the worst part was Dean trying so hard to be loyal to the angel with every instinct telling him otherwise.

Redd cracked under interrogation while Castiel watched, revealing he'd never met Crowley but worked through a dispatcher middle-man demon named Ellsworth. Castiel sourly observed Ellsworth was the demon counterpart to Bobby Singer, fielding calls from and coordinating activities across a network of demons as Bobby did with hunters. Knowing the demons would lead the Winchesters to Crowley and Crowley would kill them, Castiel staged a preemptive strike, smiting two demons delivering another monster to Ellsworth and killing the dispatcher as well. He admitted he didn't know whether he'd done it to protect the boys or to protect himself.
Dean, Bobby, and Sam, bursting in on Ellsworth's location, found the house empty and suspiciously well cleaned up. Castiel, again watching them while remaining unseen, mused that he was hiding, lying, and sweeping away evidence, when his his motives used to be so pure. He recalled finally returning to Heaven after supposedly saving Sam to be met by Rachel and a number of other angels who, having seen Castiel destroyed by Lucifer but now brought back alive, believed God had chosen him to lead them. Castiel protested they were all free to make their own choices, saying God wanted them to have freedom. Confused and rudderless, Rachel asked what God wanted them to do with it, and Castiel, looking back on that moment, speculated that if he'd known then what he knew now, he'd have told them freedom was a length of rope and God wanted them to hang themselves with it. He recalled those first weeks back in Heaven were surprisingly difficult, and explaining freedom to angels was like teaching poetry to fish. When he responded to a summons from Raphael, the archangel told him he'd called an assembly and expected Castiel to kneel and pledge allegiance to him. Raphael said Castiel had rebelled against God, Heaven, and him, and now would atone. He said they would start by getting Lucifer and Michael out of their cage and putting the apocalypse back on track. When Castiel refused, saying the apocalypse didn't have to be fought, Raphael maintained it did because it was God's will, and when Castiel challenged him to explain how he could say that, Raphael said it was because it's what he himself wanted. Castiel objected that the other angels wouldn't allow it, but Raphael noted angels weren't built for freedom, but were designed as soldiers built to follow orders. Castiel maintained he wouldn't let Raphael do that, but Raphael, with a negligent gesture, blasted him, badly injured, back into his preferred corner of Heaven and proceeded to warn him that he would either kneel to Raphael the next day, or die with anyone who followed him.

Back in the present day of Castiel's story, the angel watched as Bobby and the Winchesters discovered Ellsworth's lair had been disturbingly well cleaned out. As they wondered what to do next, Dean observed this was the point where they would usually call Castiel for help. He made clear that he hadn't bought in to the others' suspicions of the angel, reminding them of how often and thoroughly Castiel had risked everything to help them and arguing they owed him the benefit of the doubt. Conceding, Sam prayed for Castiel to come, with Dean joining in when nothing immediately happened, but Castiel observed that he hadn't gone to them because he knew they would ask questions he couldn't answer because he was afraid. As the hunters headed out, however, figuring they'd try to find more hunter-demons, they were attacked by three of Crowley's best, and Castiel had to make a split-second decision. He chose to appear and smite the demons to save his friends. To cover his reason for being there, he said he had news; he firmly believed Crowley was alive. Thanking him for the rescue, Dean shamed the others with their suspicions, and both Bobby and Sam apologized to the angel for having doubted him, admitting they'd been thinking him working with Crowley. Marveling that they trusted him again so easily, Castiel tried to make a joke of it by asking if it wasn't absurd of them to think he was Superman gone to the dark side and agreeing with Dean that they could put away the kryptonite, inadvertently betraying how he'd listened in on their conversation before. Looking back, he knew it was all over right then, but at the time, Castiel failed to read the bitter hurt and renewed suspicion in Dean's eyes.



# Ellie 2011-05-19 02:55
Ben Edlund set out to give Castiel a sympathetic pov and therefore the audience and he certainly achieved that .so job well done I suppose.
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-19 20:56
Glad you could appreciate the effect, even if you're not invested in Castiel! Edlund definitely succeeded in his intent ... :)
# KatieV 2011-05-19 06:15
Thank you Mary for another thoughtful and insightful review. I love reading your thoughts about this wonderful show. I also wonder how much of these underlying themes the writers intended to create when they put pen to paper or was it all there in the collective subconscious and they, like Chuck, are just a means to express them.
Or is that going Uber-Meta?
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-19 20:58
Thanks, Katie! I suspect a number of the underlying themes were in the writers' minds - but I also suspect we often read things into the subtext that they didn't intend, but which prove to be happy unconscious accidents in the long run!
# MB 2011-05-19 09:04
RE the sigils.

I'd like to posit that perhaps it isn't a forgotten plot point. We see Castiel heal Dean at the end of 5.22 and considering the victory they've scored and his mood at the time it'd be reasonable to assume that he removed the sigils then too. The fight was over after all.

Similarly hauling Sam out from Hell could have given Castiel the same opportunity to remove the sigils although this one involves a little more leeway.
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-19 21:00
Thanks for coming and commenting!

I wouldn't be surprised if Cass removed the sigils at some point, thinking them no longer necessary; my only little quibble is that we've never been told or been shown that. We've just seen Castiel turning up in the brothers' presence, when last season, they made a big thing of him not being able to do that. It's just a little quibble, in any case!
# Ginger 2011-05-19 09:08
"Dean's stubborn loyalty and utter devastation at realizing how deeply he'd been deceived, while Jared showed Sam's unfailing awareness of and consideration for his brother's feelings. After the half-season of watching soulless Sam being oblivious of his impact, I really appreciated how attuned to Dean Jared's Sam has been ever since recovering his soul, and how evident Jared has made Sam's desire to minimize Dean's pain."

I am glad you brought this point out. This is exactly what I have been noticing the last two or three episodes, and it is a welcome relief.

I thought the episode was brilliant; too, do I say this...

Your analysis was pretty much how I viewed the episode, but I guess it's just that I am not all that interested in an angel dealing with human emotions, dilemmas; all that stuff, and that story taking center stage in the season. I realize that the resolution to Cas's problems will set the stage for S7's story.

That said, whether I like the direction the show has taken, kudos to Edlund. The episode was amazing, beautifully done, answered questions without tainting Cas as an unredeemable character, and brought him full fledged into the series as a lead.

Thanks for a great review.
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-19 21:05
Thanks, Ginger!

I'm glad you could appreciate the episode even though you don't particularly care for the Heaven/Hell storyline.

I really do appreciate the way we've seen re-souled Sam appreciating his brother, even as we saw Dean appreciating having Sam fully back. I've been loving the renewed brother dynamic, especially given how long it's been missing. Love the Winchester brothers, and always will!
# Clare 2011-05-19 14:27
Really excellent meta, though I think you've left out a very important factor in Cas's choices: his love for Dean, which shone through every time he looked at Dean in this episode. He wasn't prepared to risk *Dean*. The real tragedy is that what he's planning *will* risk Dean.
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-19 21:11
Thanks, Clare! And great point on Castiel's caring for Dean. I don't think the angel fully understands this "feeling" thing even yet, but it's clear how much Dean has come to matter to him. And you're dead right; what he's doing is jeopardizing precisely the one man he most intended to protect.
# Bevie 2011-05-19 14:29
Anything I could say would pale in comparison to your thinky thoughts Mary, so I just want to remind you how very much I enjoy your reviews and metas. :-)

I may not comment on every one, but know that I thoroughly read and enjoy all of them.

Thank you
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-19 21:11
Thank you very much, Bevie! *Hugs*
Maria G
# Maria G 2011-05-19 17:23
How and why are archangels more intrinsically powerful than other angels – or are they? Will we ever know?

I believe they're following religious canon when it comes to Archangels. They're far more powerful than Angels because they're higher in rank. Angels deal with individuals (hence the term "guardian angel") and the delivery of messages, whereas Archangels deal with large groups, nations, etc. Logic would indicate you'd need more power to deal with more people.

Just my 2p.
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-19 21:17
Thanks, Maria! Nice points!

I grew up Catholic, so I know the doctrine; my question was aimed more at how the show's cosmology encompasses the relative powers of angels. If angels draw power from souls, I'm curious about how archangels get more than others - and whether it's possible Castiel may now have more access to power than he had before he was brought back in Swan Song. I more than halfway wonder, especially after Castiel's comment then that he was "new and improved," whether he might have gotten an upgrade to archangelic status without realizing it. Wouldn't that be a kick, if he was now actually a straight power match for Raphael, and just didn't realize it, limiting himself simply because he was accustomed to thinking himself intrinsically less powerful? Hmm ... more thinking is required, I think!
# MB 2011-05-20 08:30
How and why are archangels more intrinsically powerful than other angels – or are they? Will we ever know?

I believe they're following religious canon when it comes to Archangels. They're far more powerful than Angels because they're higher in rank. Angels deal with individuals (hence the term "guardian angel") and the delivery of messages, whereas Archangels deal with large groups, nations, etc. Logic would indicate you'd need more power to deal with more people.

Just my 2p.
I don't think this is necessarily true. I'd accept that the archangels are the top of the tree however Cupids are meant to be higher than angels but they've made it clear that the Cupid(s) on SPN are below Castiel's paygrade.
# CitizenKane2 2011-05-19 23:04
This is another great article. It was quite heart breaking in some parts, and I guess being confronted with hard truths can have that effect.

I especially liked the way you concluded the article - the effect of the last sentence and the accompanying picture was devastatingly sad.

I did wonder (and commented on another article) why didn't Castiel seek out Joshua to see if God had any views on the matter (c.f. Dark Side of the Moon).
# Bardicvoice 2011-05-20 18:22
Thank you; glad you liked! Thank Alice for the final photo - she's the one who supplies the pictures, and she ALWAYS nails it!

I suspect Castiel didn't seek out Joshua because he didn't want to get the same answer the boys did back in Dark Side of the Moon - that God didn't think it was his problem. Poor angel ...
# BagginsDVM 2011-05-19 23:51
Awesome episode, awesome review!
Gosh, not much that I can add to what you've presented for us to ponder! Castiel's story of the fish crawling onto shore definitely caught my attention, for that's always been my view of evolution, having learned in Catholic grade school that God set evolution in motion.
I like the idea that angels have always had free will too, but just never had the need or desire to explore it until they had more direct contact with humans.

Oh, Cas! I just wanted to smack him upside the head while giving him a big hug at the same time. I agree; he just hasn't realized that the sign he was asking for was the man standing in front of him, telling him to stop.

Misha, Mark, Jensen, Jared, Jim...TV just doesn't get any better than this!

# Bardicvoice 2011-05-20 18:23
Thanks, Dawn! I'm with you; I always wondered about people so literal-minded that they couldn't contemplate God having chosen evolution as his mechanism of creation.

And I definitely agree that TV doesn't get better than this!
# Carla 2011-05-21 11:17
"And it also goes to show that might have been are the three saddest words in the English language."

This is truly sad. It reminds me of a brazilian poet called Manuel Bandeira. In one of his poems, there's a verse that says "Uma vida inteira que podia ter sido e não foi", which is something like "A whole life that might have been and was not."
I think it fits really well Sam and Dean's lives.

Great review as always, Mary!