“What makes a story work?”  Good question.  It’s one that I’m not sure I can answer at this time, and the real question is, should I have to?  

"Meta Fiction" was a great story, and it’s about time there was even a small amount of movement in the angel arc, but I personally found it to be a smoke screen for a larger problem that’s been plaguing most of season nine.  What is the real story here?  The episode raised some brilliant philosophical questions over who makes the story work, the writer or the viewer, but are these the type of questions we should be dealing with in episode 18 of a season?  Shouldn’t we be buzzing instead over the mytharc and the mind blowing twists that are pushing us toward an explosive conclusion?  

I really liked “Meta Fiction” as a standalone story, but sadly I think the episode has exposed in glaring fashion the overall weaknesses of season nine.  Before I explore that point further (and I will), why don’t I get a moment of squee out of the way.  Ahem.  

GABRIEL!!!!  OH MAN, DID I MISS YOU!!!!  

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Many of you know how positively bitter I still am over that atrocity known as “Hammer of the Gods.”  I know Gabriel wasn’t real in this episode, but they left the door open that he could be!  I loved the little things, like Gabriel calling Castiel, “Columbo.”  Or how about this brilliant line, “You’ve been God more often than Dad has.”  Gabe and Castiel even hugged!  But I really loved how the whole “trick” was ruined by the torn lining of Castiel’s jacket.  It was ruined by a “thread.”  It’s a plot thread!  Too clever.  

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Yes, I know, Gabriel wasn’t really his true self and something seemed off but I didn’t care.  I’ve met Richard Speight Jr. many times at cons and even got to interview him at Comic Con last year, and to have him back on the set had to be the biggest thrill imaginable for everyone.  Well done Robbie Thompson for finding a way to bring Gabriel back into our lives in a manner that was plausible.  Also well done for giving Gabe some incredible dialogue, even if it wasn’t him.  I love though that Castiel asked the question that was on all our minds, is he still alive?  The eyebrow raise was priceless, and classic Trickster.  I’m sticking with my denial, Gabriel lives!!!     

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As for Sam and Dean’s saga, the very bad effects of the Mark of Cain on Dean were haunting in this episode and so well portrayed by Jensen.  He scared us all (yes, even that most delightful shower scene was an angsty shower).  He’s not totally out of control, but he’s super close.  The very worried look on Sam’s face in the Impala too adds some nice foreshadowing to the situation.  Dean is a time bomb who will be going off soon, no doubt about it.   

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I was okay with Sam and Dean taking a back seat to the Castiel story this episode, a story that has been woefully under told so far this season.  The truth is there are wayward angels out there that need a leader and the reason Castiel stepped up, because he’s defying Metatron or because he made a deal with Metatron, doesn’t matter.  Castiel is a resilient angel that won’t go down without a fight.  He has too much of a conscience to betray others.  

I would have been very disappointed if we found out that there wasn’t consequences to stealing another angel’s grace.  So it’s going to burn up Castiel eventually?  Good to know.  That is interesting foreshadowing since we don’t know if Misha is going to be part of season 10 or not.  I was hoping there would be some physical signs that Castiel is having issues, but given his lack of screen time, it would have probably taken away from the goodness we did get.  

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I do wish a bit more time was given between Sam, Dean and Castiel over the Mark of Cain thing.  Just a bit more dialogue of warning, something that made the consequences of what he’s done that more dire.  Castiel surely has some better perspective over what the Mark of Cain will do to Dean.  Why isn’t he warning them?   The slow reveals and dragging plots this season has been somewhat maddening, and that’s where I segue into how the Metatron story this week raised a big issue with season nine.    

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“What makes the story work?  Is it the plot, the characters, the text, the subtext, and who gives the story meaning?  Is it the writer, or you?  Tonight I thought I’d tell you a little story, and let you decide.”  

The setup of the end of season eight delivered promises (or at least hopes) of a very rich storyline for season nine, one which angels roamed the earth and Heaven was closed for business.  It also raised Sam and Dean’s relationship to a new level, because they chose each other over all else, including closing the gates of Hell (which as we’ve learned from Heaven’s predicament would have probably been a big mistake).  The setup was there, and we were ready for an explosive season.  

The mind-blowing setup from “Sacrifice” hasn’t delivered on it’s promises and by episode 18 that’s leaving a bitter taste, as well as a lack of incentive to be watching every week. The sparse appearance of Castiel and his role in the story this season has been a major disappointment, and it’s an extension of the big complaints among fans with Sam and Dean’s strange rift as well.    

Ah, but those very complaints are exactly what Robbie Thompson hoped to address by making Metatron the writer of the story.  Who gives the story meaning?  Is it really supposed to be me instead of Robbie and all the other writers? Is the story falling short because of my lack of perception and open-mindedness?  Is it my failure to accept their story, which sometimes comes without regard to the canon and continuity that came before it, or theirs? 

It’s an interesting conundrum and in order to attempt an answer I have to fall back to my simpler roots, the one of a fan.  What brought me to this show?  Why did I fall in love?  I always know that answer.  Because it’s a compelling family drama about two brothers hunting evil to the backdrop of the great American road trip.  That is the simplest form.  Sure other wonderful and enjoyable characters have come along to play major roles in that landscape (Bobby, Castiel, Crowley among countless others), but at the core, it all revolves around the brothers.  The problem is, what happens to a long time, very loyal fan when the question, “What makes a good story?” is answered and it doesn’t gel with enjoyment?  

I get it, you can’t please every fan.  There are so many factions out there that want their story/ship served that they don’t understand when the writers go in another direction.  A lot of us yearn for what we once had, not what’s coming.  Robbie’s message here is they know the ending.  The story always changes, certain characters become front and center, but it will all lead to the same result.  It’s up to us to determine if it’s a good story or not.  We should be sitting back and enjoying the ride. 

Some fans always want Sam and Dean front and center every week.  Other fans want more Castiel, and a certain pairing that I won’t address for fear of getting a verbal smackdown.  Sam fans want Sam to have a stronger story.  Dean fans want Dean to have a better story (although maybe not this season).  Crowley fans want Crowley every week.  Me, I just want a story that moves.  One that doesn’t stall every week by making us address these philosophical questions rather than absorbing intricate plot twists.  In other words, “Meta Fiction” has turned out to be one brilliantly constructed smoke screen.

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How are we supposed to take that Metatron decided he was re-writing the story?  He wrote himself as the hero, Castiel the villain.  Sam and Dean are bad too, which is why Metatron was able to stage his hero’s rescue of his faithful servant Gadreel.  He was able to blow out the fire in the circle and remove the warding, just like a good hero would.  It was cute, it was fun, and all it managed to do is move what should be a very explosive story forward at a snails pace.  While the main characters are shocked that Gadreel is Metatron’s right hand man, we’ve known that for around 9 episodes.  The reveal was...underwhelming.  

If you really look at it, not a lot has happened in this angel storyline since the season premiere.  Not a lot has happened with Sam and Dean’s “choosing of each other” (or the “you lied to me” conflict that followed).  Not a lot has happened with this Mark of Cain business.  Little nuggets are thrown at us then the stories become circular each week, ending with another brotherly argument or a reminder of stuff we already know.  It’s as if the writers want to save everything for the last few episodes, aka the “shocking” ending.  Which could possibly be invalidated by next season, just like it has been this season.   

For me, it’s not a matter anymore of perception.  It’s trust.  Have the writers earned our trust?  Are they telling the kind of stories that we as fans want to see?  There was some good setup in “Meta Fiction,” but that also came with a preview for a standard MOTW episode next week.  We know episode 20 is the “Bloodlines” back door pilot, which only leaves the last 3 episodes to bring any traction to this season’s story line.  I’m sorry, but what is that story line again?  Angels fell, blah, blah, blah, something, something?  There’s still hope that Jeremy Carver will pull it all together in the season finale, just like he did last season with the afore mentioned episode, but how can we accept a season with two episodes of amazing story followed by 21 episodes of filler and stalling?

I’ll tell you my big take away from “Meta Fiction.”  For the first time since I started watching this show I’m asking, “What’s this show about again?”  Is that good or bad?  The fact remains that unless I have interest in the story, it’s not working for me.  I want to feel that energy, that excitement, that heart again that was in the earlier seasons.  So yes, that could be my fault, I’m not making the most out of their story.  I should probably by this point be taking the attitude that as long as Sam and Dean (plus Cas, who I love) are on my screen every week, I should shut up and be happy.  The trouble is we’re in season nine of this show and there were plenty of seasons before this where I didn’t have this dilemma in episode 18 of the season.  In all those other seasons (except seven), I was pretty stoked about what was happening.  

The mere fact that “Meta Fiction” raised this issue tells me the writers are struggling to maintain a full season of entertainment and don’t want to be told by fans how to do their jobs.  Fair enough, that is their right.  I don’t want to be told though that I’m wrong because I think the season is boring and isn’t delivering stories with any kind of flow or respect for continuity, not to mention all the lost potential.  We’ll call “Meta Fiction” a draw in the terms of audience vs. writers, but next time why don’t we skip the lectures and focus on a kick ass story?  That would be a win for us all.

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But hey, I’m just one person with an opinion and hardly an authority.  What do you all think?