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Explaining Freedom To Angels Is A Bit Like Teaching Poetry To Fish
When he returned to Heaven, Castiel was frustrated to find angels not understanding the concept of freedom and looking to him for leadership. While I can commiserate with his discomfort at being placed on a pedestal by Rachel and her companions, I think Castiel missed the major point of understanding that freedom brings responsibility with it, and there's a world of difference between being a leader and being a boss. I think he should have been a leader and failed to follow through, and I think the outcome would have been very different if he'd tried.

I've noted before my belief that angels have always had free will. If they didn't, Lucifer couldn't have rebelled, Gabriel couldn't have fled into the disguise of a Trickster, Anna couldn't have fallen, Uriel couldn't have murdered those in the garrison who didn't share his beliefs, and Zachariah couldn't have decided to help the apocalypse come along sooner when he started to become impatient for paradise. And Castiel couldn't have chosen to upend prophecy to save two brothers and give them the chance to save the world.
That said, it's also true angels were clearly designed and built for obedience. They were given one dramatic example of what happened to a rebel when Lucifer was cast down and caged in Hell, and the fear of similar punishment for disobedience ran deep, at least judging by the way Anna chose to run away and fall, becoming human rather than risk being destroyed for disobeying God, as she described back in Heaven And Hell. On the flip side, Castiel clearly derived great satisfaction from doing what he perceived as his duty, at least until he began to question whether his orders were indeed coming from God or were perversions engineered by Zachariah and the other corrupt middle managers in Heaven. When we first met Castiel in Lazarus Rising and Are You There, God? It's Me, Dean Winchester, he was full of serene confidence, secure in his sense of mission, and comfortable in his angelic role. Only later, in such episodes as It's The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester, On The Head Of A Pin, and Lucifer Rising, for example, when he was challenged to contrast God's words and attitudes with his superiors' orders, did he falter and feel doubt. Until then, he was content in his duty and found it rewarding to perform; he reveled in the beauty of creation even when he didn't understand its details. I would say Castiel had been purpose-built and was content in his purpose until he began to have unprecedented reason to question where his orders were actually coming from, and I would guess he was typical of most angels in that regard.
All that started to change when he was assigned by his superiors to pull Dean Winchester out of Hell and shepherd him along the path of prophecy. Close contact with humans began to make Castiel question what he thought he'd known. Frequent contact with Dean in particular – non-believing, brave, suspicious, committed, irreverent, faithful, frightened, stubbornly determined Dean – poked holes in Castiel's certainty and understanding. Even before Anna voiced the questions Castiel had begun to ask, Dean had started to make him ask them within himself. Dean made him begin to doubt the orders he'd been given by Zachariah and his other superiors. And in the end, it was Dean who directly challenged him to take a stand, to decide for himself whether his immediate orders were right or wrong, and Dean who repeatedly inspired him to act by his own refusal to surrender even when logic dictated he had no chance to win.
In all of that, however, Castiel was dramatically different from Lucifer because he never once rebelled against God. He lost faith in Dark Side Of The Moon, when he learned from the brothers' account of their conversation with Joshua that God didn't intend to intervene any more than He already had, but I would argue he still held true to God's intent. He followed the last commands he understood – the loving ones to protect creation and respect humanity – and opposed his superiors' desires to bring about the apocalypse on their own schedule. He died twice for the stand he took, slain once by Raphael and once by Michael.
And both times, he was brought back.

We don't know for certain who brought him back, but I think Rachel and her companions were amply justified in thinking it was God. My money would be on God or Death, because I don't think anyone else would have had the power to do it, even if they had a motive. And of those two, I favor God, and the idea that God intended other angels to learn from Castiel's example.
And this is where I think Castiel fell short because he didn't realize or accept responsibility for all the ramifications of his actions. He accepted the immediate consequences – he expected to die when he confronted Raphael and later firebombed Michael – but I don't think he appreciated the ripple effect those actions would have, and he tried to deny them when others pointed them out. He ducked the responsibility of being a leader, without acknowledging he had become a leader by making decisions. And that's where he departed from the Winchesters, because Sam and Dean both understood and accepted during seasons four and five that they had become leaders and the choices they made – both good and bad, both right and wrong – would affect others.
I'm certain Castiel never saw himself as special or chosen, and thus found the adulation of Rachel and her compatriots uncomfortable in the extreme. He knew intimately how flawed he had been, and how much doubt and loss of faith had factored into his decisions. To think himself chosen of God  would have been arrogant – but to deny that he had been thrust into a position that forced him to learn things most angels could never have experienced, and to fail to acknowledge that other angels needed his perspective and the benefit of what he had learned in order to come to their own understanding, was short-sighted.
Castiel never could have understood the joined concepts of free will and individual responsibility without the example of the Winchester brothers and the choices – either to obey Zachariah and Michael or decide differently for himself – they had forced him to make. He couldn't reasonably expect other angels to grasp those concepts as abstracts, any more than he had done, but when Rachel met him in Heaven, what he offered her were abstracts. Castiel himself had learned in a hard school of experience, but what he hadn't learned, I think, was how to be a teacher, to share the benefit of those lessons with others. He was so intent on spreading the ideal of freedom that he didn't give thought to the details, nor to how hard it had been for him – and would be for other angels – to come to terms with making choices for themselves, with deciding for themselves whether what they were doing was right or wrong, rather than slavishly following orders. It is so much easier simply to follow orders, to put the responsibility for making choices on someone else's shoulders, than to accept knowing you're the one to blame if things go wrong. I think Castiel thought he'd done enough and was overwhelmed enough with the results of his own choices that he didn't want the responsibility of others looking to him to make more of them. The truth is, however, once you start making choices, you attract attention and become a leader, and if the choices you make look like good ones, people will follow you – and whether you want to be or not, you become responsible for them. He didn't want the responsibility, but he had it anyway, and denying that didn't diminish it.

In rejecting the mantle of leadership Rachel tried to put on him, Castiel protested that each of the angels had to choose his or her own way, that they didn't need leaders any more, but that wasn't right. They still needed leaders, even as Castiel needed Dean, Sam, and Anna to help him think about his role, understand his own importance, and accept his responsibility for action. They made him think about what he believed was right – which he still saw in terms of what a loving God had decreed or intended; acknowledge to himself that what Zachariah and Michael espoused did not fit that vision; and choose to follow his convictions to save the world rather than his orders to destroy it. In essence, he chose to follow the mission he believed God had intended, rather than the orders his immediate superiors had given.
A leader is not a boss, and a goal or mission is not a straitjacket. And failing to understand and act on that is where Castiel let his angelic brothers and sisters down.

I also think his denial of continuing responsibility and his failure to impart his vision and understanding were partially what inspired Balthazar's nihilism. The message Balthazar took from Castiel's rebellion against orders and God’s continuing absence was that anything went:  No rules, no destiny – just utter and complete freedom. Dad's not coming back ... You proved to me we could do anything, so I'm trying – everything. What difference does it make? Balthazar lost any view of purpose or intent beyond self-gratification, in the utter depression of thinking his entire life as an angel had proven meaningless. Balthazar demonstrated even more clearly than Rachel that angels, like humans, need a reason to exist; they need to understand where they belong, how they fit in, and that they themselves matter somehow, or they can become both selfish and self-destructive. The other angels didn't have what Castiel had:  the realization, through his renewed existence, that who he was and what he had done actually had meaning and relevance. Humans developed religion and philosophy for the very same reasons:  to explain why they exist, and to affirm that their – our – existence matters. Angels who had always defined themselves strictly in terms of their obedience to God and Heaven needed to develop a new definition, as Castiel had done for himself, but they needed help to understand and achieve that, even as Castiel had.
Failing to understand that and to provide the leadership and education the angels so sorely needed may have been Castiel's biggest failing, even beyond his betrayal of the Winchesters' faith or his pridefulness in succumbing to Crowley's flattering temptation.


# 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!