Yep, I've been staring at a blank page with a title for four days, exactly like poor Kevin Tran with his college essay. Except, I'd much rather be writing a college essay. That's easy. This episode has twisted my brain like a pretzel!
When looking at the plot of the surface, "Reading Is Fundamental" a perfect mechanism to move the plot bunny along, finally making headway on this whole Leviathan story that has sat stagnant most of the season. However, I do not think Ben Edlund had a simple Leviathan plot in mind when he devised this masterpiece. Oh no. Think Shrek and his onion layers. Actually, even that is too simple an analogy.
We've had so many great reviews about this episode on the site, so I'm avoiding plot this go around. I think the Leviathan aspects of the story are clear. Instead, I'd like to focus mostly on the character interactions. That's the true heart of the episode, and so much more happened than what appeared on the surface. It think we'll be talking about this one for years.
If any of you are not familiar with the phrase, "Reading is fundamental," that happens to be the name of the largest literacy organization in the US. The concept is pretty clear, knowing how to read is the most important skill to be learned out there. It's vital. Without it, knowledge cannot be easily obtained.
So what does this have to do with another Ben Edlund classic? The obvious connotation falls on teenager Kevin Tran and his new found ability to translate the word of God. But "reading" in this case doesn't extend to just words. Castiel spent the entire episode "reading" people as well, judging their initial reaction so he could know how to deal with them. He had a new perspective, he was eager to communicate, and he was willing to accept his punishment.
In terms of Castiel's behavior, I'm no psychiatric professional. I did work in a clinic once as their IT person. I understood Cass this episode though. The human condition without no doubt is a delicate one. I hear those shouts, "Castiel isn't human!" No, he's not. Which makes the condition than much more complex. What do you do when you take an angel on earth and give him a human affliction of extreme pain, guilt, and regret manifested through insanity? This.
"It's all right there, the whole plan, there's nothing to add." Castiel wasn't exactly preaching a new Gospel in his observation about the path of the honey bee. The question is, did anyone read his basic message that all of the miracles of life are happening right in front of our eyes? No, not really. To be honest, everyone had issues, and no one in this story was taking time to stop and smell the roses, except Castiel.
Cass may be a little eccentric in his behavior now, but he's still a very perceptive angel. He can sense what the others are feeling, and that served as the ideal guideline. He's reading thoughts and reading motivations. Let's start with someone simple like Meg. We've sensed that Castiel has always liked Meg, or at least found her interesting. He sees the beauty behind the thorny demon. She's snarky and tough with him, and he just gazes at her with adoration. He's not intimidated by her. He probably senses that she's using him but he doesn't mind. She's the one person in the room not hiding an ulterior motive and showing her true colors. Plus she has his back. He likes that. I love it.
There's also Hester and Inias, two angels that Castiel has a very long history with. Thousands of years. Hester was very angry at his shocking appearance, while Inias was joyful. Hester was clearly one of those angels that had either lost or never had respect for humanity. Ever since angels came back to earth, humans have all but destroyed Heaven in her eyes. She has existed her entire life following orders and now that there's disorder, she's eager to blame someone for her misery. Judging by her outburst at the cabin in which she released all that anger and frustration by beating the tar out of Castiel, she probably bought into his talk of free will at first. She's much like Castiel's assistant Rachel from last season, she put her faith and trust in him and was betrayed. Now Heaven is in disorder and she's the one in charge. She just wants things to go back to the way they were, before humans ruined everything.
Castiel accepted Hester's anger and was willing to let her work through it. He didn't even resist when she beat him viciously. He felt he had that coming and she was right to lash out. Good thing Meg didn't see it the same way! Hester didn't just blame Castiel though, she blamed Dean too. His influence on Castiel, their friendship, it pretty much sank all of Heaven. Her rant at Dean was harsh and mean, but heartfelt. She can't understand that intentions weren't bad.
Inias on the other hand proved to be a rare breath of fresh air. He was like Castiel when Cass came to earth and rescued Dean from Hell. He was idealistic and believed in their mission of protecting humanity, and other angels. He was kind of an angel boy scout. After all Castiel did he's easily forgiving, which is God's true desire. He still believed in what Castiel did. After all the turmoil I don't see how, but it's good to see finally an angel of strong faith appear. They aren't all dicks!
Sam, Dean, and Castiel
I did a review for "The Slice Girls" a few months back where I declared Dean is getting better and Sam falling into serious decline. With "Reading Is Fundamental," that's now the other way around. In terms of Castiel's influence, it's the mark of a truly strong supporting character when he or she can bring out the hidden issues of the main characters that otherwise haven't surfaced. We're not surprised Dean was still angry at Castiel. He's actually angry and frustrated about a lot of things. But we didn't know where his head was until we saw him with Castiel. We really didn't know where Sam's was either. It turned out to be quite revealing on both counts.
Neither Sam nor Dean are in a great place right now, but it does appear that from a sense of perspective, Sam is in healthier shape. Probably because Sam literally had his main burden lifted thanks to Castiel. Dean hasn't had that gift and still carries a tremendous amount of pain, guilt, and overbearing responsibility. It also helped that Sam and Castiel had the benefit of a shared experience that only they can truly understand. Castiel was as grateful for taking on Sam's burden and Sam was having it lifted. For Sam, it gave him life. For Castiel, it gave him purpose.
I don't think I've heard more honesty out of Sam Winchester in this current season, and probably last season too, then his line to Castiel, "I think I was done for." He ended up sharing that to the one being who understood how scared he was. Sadly, that being wasn't Dean. That's a prime example of the disconnect between the brothers this season. They're talking, but they're not sharing. They're not trying to understand the other's perspective. They're not truly reading each other. That's causing Sam to be troubled and Dean to be angry and frustrated. It hasn't been fun. What's frustrating is that they aren't showing any signs of trying to improve that disconnect either. Both have focused so much inwardly that they're unable to reach that kind of concern for one another like we saw between Castiel and Sam.
In between Sam and Castiel's perspectives, their only difference turned out to be the definition of "better." Sam is better for sure, and Castiel thinks he's better. In many ways he is. Both are still troubled, but Sam wanted to help Castiel, be there for him. He accepted that all Cass ever did was try to help. Again, another shared perspective of being burned by good intentions gone wrong. Castiel in turn was honest about his struggle, an honesty he didn't share with anyone else in this episode. Maybe because no one else asked and genuinely wanted to know.
Sam is dealing with his pain by working, choosing to carry on the fight. Castiel has fought long enough. He's ready to let go of his burdens and accept the world for what it is. Neither are right or wrong in their definition, but Sam had a little trouble seeing that "different" in this case is "better." What I'd love to see is Sam changing his view after seeing Castiel's take. Wouldn't it be great if he went to Dean and said they should be enjoying life more? Appreciating simpler things? I know, not happening. It would be nice if in early season 8 they at least took a damned vacation.
So that brings us to Castiel's very strained relationship with Dean. Whole volumes could be written on that Sorry game scene alone. I'll try to spare you all of that, but I'll walk through it. Dean's reunion with Castiel had him on edge from the time they arrived at the hospital. He didn't know what to expect, but he wasn't showing a lot of concern. It was more gruff and gloomy speculation. Do you think it's an accident that Castiel did the "pull my finger" joke to Dean? When Castiel tells Dean hello, he says nothing. When Castiel says Sam's name, Sam smiles and tells him "Hello, Castiel." So Castiel knew his little "icebreaker" had to happen with Dean. It didn't help.
While Castiel went on about the honey bee and Meg's gruff exterior, Dean didn't say a word. Sam ended up doing all the communicating and showing him the tablet. When Dean finally does step in (first correcting Sam hilariously about Megatron) he was all about the case, then shouted at Meg and upset Castiel. He was already feeling pretty anxious by the time he joined Cass in the break room. Dean clearly wasn't in the mood to talk, but he tried.
Dean: It's Sam's thing, isn't it?
(Castiel watches Dean benevolently)
Dean: You taking on his cage match scars. I'm guessing that's what broke your bank, right?
Castiel: It took everything to get me here.
Dean: What are you talking about man?
Castiel: Dean, I know you want different answers.
Dean: No I want you to button up your coat, and help us take down Leviathans.
(Cass looks at him again with deep sympathy).
Dean: You remember what you did?
Dean wanted Castiel to right his wrong, now. No games, no hiding. He left this mess for them, he should clean it up. Castiel can read Dean easily and took his opportunity. He calmly held up the Sorry game (the game of sweet revenge) and had the board setup in no time. The game was a cover for the talk they have been long avoiding, and Castiel even asked Dean if he wanted to go first. Dean didn't want to play, but would if it got him answers.
Yes, Castiel tried to soften things through small talk about Neanderthals, but Dean jumped to finding Metatron. He was all business. "I'm sorry, I think you have to go back to start," Castiel interrupted. This was Castiel setting Dean back on track since he lost focus on the game, which was intended to give him the answers he needed (not sought). Dean mentioned Metatron again, but Castiel went back to the game. "We live in a sorry universe, it's engineered to create conflict. Why should I prosper from your misfortune? But these are the rules, I didn't make them."
In other words, even in the world of Sorry, conflict and misfortune rules. That's enough to tick Dean off, for he doesn't believe that crap. "You made some of them. When you tried to become God, when you cut that hole into that wall." Castiel tried again to set Dean back on the game, but Dean lost his temper, pushing the game on the ground. Castiel told him he's sorry, Dean told him he's only playing Sorry. Castiel looked at him with sadness. Whatever message he was trying to convey, Dean didn't understand.
Dean got it wrong. He's too angry to see otherwise. Yes, Cass was playing a game, but that's because he knew that Dean wouldn't accept a mere apology. If you recall at the end of "Meet The New Boss," Castiel apologized before putting the souls back in Purgatory. Dean didn't forgive him. He is still obviously clinging onto the resentment over his betrayal and breaking Sam's wall. The game was clearly a way for Dean to vent, to air his grievances so to speak, to come to terms with where they were, accept things for the way they were and start over. Everything Castiel said had a purpose. Dean just didn't want to hear it. Or he's too blinded by pain to hear it.
Dean wasn't exactly kind with Kevin either, and wasn't pleased to hear they were dealing with another prophet. He was grouchy during the drive, and then when it was just him and Kevin downstairs, he didn't have words of comfort. Just the harsh truth. It sucks being a prophet. The only thing he can do is his homework, aka translating the tablet. "There's no use asking "Why me?" cause the angels, they don't care. I just think they don't have the equipment to care. It seems like when they try, it just breaks them apart."
This scene really made me very sad. It shows how this life has broken Dean, and how being chosen for this life hasn't done him any favors. To look back, even in season four when Castiel first rescued him from Hell, Dean was an idealist. He cared about people, he cared about what happened to the world, he cared about his brother, he cared about his friend Cass. He also wouldn't put up with angels and their crap, choosing to do things his way and go down swinging. I'm sure he felt sympathy for Kevin and his predicament and wanted to care, but he couldn't. He's got a world to save. It's scary how much like future Dean from "The End" this mirrors.
Yes, ditto for Hippie Cass. I like how Cass though could just leave without any clue what was next. "Isn't that amazing?" It truly is for an angel, even a broken one.
So that's Dean's mindset going into next week. The mission is practically the only thing holding him together. I do wonder when it's time to ask for Castiel's help, it's Sam again that goes calling. I do like this new Sam/Castiel dynamic, and I'm wondering what will it take for Dean to let go. I'm also wondering what will it take for the brothers to start sharing again and not just talking.
Overall grade, an A. Another Edlund directing/writing effort that was a huge success. Only two more episodes left. Good thing season eight has been confirmed, for I think two eps wouldn't have been enough for all the dangling items.