Last night's Supernatural episode, "The Man Who Would Be King," was written by goofball visionary Ben Edlund, and finally we got the full backstory on what happened to Cas after the Apocalypse
We also got all the tragic details of his connection to Crowley, the man who would be king of Hell. Episodes that provide long-awaited backstory on some giant mystery have a chance to be gamechangers, as well as giving a sense of narrative satisfaction that fans of any show crave. This episode delivered on all fronts. Let's dive in.
Cas is more human than we realized
The episode begins with Cas sitting on a bench in a beautiful park, telling his story - perhaps to us, or perhaps to the Winchesters. Eventually, as the episode unfolds, we realize that he's praying to God. He's explaining himself and what he's done to fight for Heaven, and asking God's guidance.
What's poignant about this scene is we realize how the distinction is eroding between human and angel, now that you have freewill in the picture. Cas prays to an absent God just the way a human would, and is forced to question his decisions and rely on his own conscience as a guide instead of getting divine orders from an omniscient source of goodness. He may have superpowers, but his moral struggles are now just as human as Dean and Sam's are. And they're more tragic and intense because he's never had to have these struggles before he was set free from a predetermined fate.
So many mysteries solved!
Cas gives us the background on a lot of things we've been wondering about, providing some answers we already expected while also giving us a glimpse of Heavenly life that's weird, original and satisfying.
Last season, if you'll recall, Cas was killed in a fight with Lucifer. His body exploded into a zillion pieces, but somehow he survived - probably through intervention from God, but even Cas isn't sure about that. He's dispatched to help the brothers finish off Lucifer, which is when the Apocalypse goes off script and suddenly there's freewill erupting everywhere and Sam is trapped in the Pit.
Cas returns to favorite version of Heaven, an "eternal Tuesday afternoon" in a lovely park that belongs to an autistic man who drowned. (Remember: Everybody gets their own personal version of Heaven, but angels can move between them.) He's met by a gang of angels who ask, essentially, what the crap is going on? In a fantastic scene, he tries to explain to the angels that now they have freewill, and they say, "OK God gave us freewill, but what should we do with it?" They are so used to being soldiers that it's incredibly hard to teach them to make their own decisions.
But Cas tries anyway, and spends a frustrating several weeks attempting to help his fellow angels grasp that they are free and can do whatever they want.
Raphael in Ken Lay's Heaven with the very big stick
But then Raphael has to go and ruin everything with his wanton power grabs and warmongering. He zaps Cas into his favorite Heaven for meetings, which is full of American flags and strange paintings of George Bush. Turns out to be Ken Lay's Heaven. Hey, if you're going to go for allegory, you might as well go for it.
Anyway, Raphael's opinion is that the angels are no good for anything except being sheeplike warriors, and he's going to lead them. He wants to restart the Apocalypse by getting rid of the Winchesters (and probably a lot of other humans too). He's basically pushing for authoritarianism for authoritarianism's sake. And he tosses Cas aside as easily as he would a raw steak. Raphael is seriously strong.
Crowley to the rescue?
Cas is desperate at this point, and also despondent. He decides to turn to the brothers for help, and goes to the Cage to rescue Sam. It's an incredibly difficult task, and he's unable to do it as well as he'd like - he has to leave Sam's soul behind. We see how much he regrets this, but it's still left a bit ambiguous as to whether it was his choice or just an unavoidable mistake that he brought back Soulless Sam. He thinks of himself as the boys' guardian, and doesn't want to hurt either of them - especially his boyfriend Dean, who is shacking up with Lisa at that point. That heartrending scene of Sam gazing at Dean and Lisa sharing dinner from last season? Turns out Cas was standing right alongside him.
So while Sam dusts himself and figures himself out, Cas winds up running into Crowley, who is just as lost as he is. Though he has remodeled Hell, because there were just too many masochists who were getting off on all the pain and torture. Now Hell is just one long, giant line in an anonymous bureaucratic corridor. "Everybody hates waiting in line," Crowley cackles.
It turns out that the civil war in Heaven was all Crowley's suggestion - he's not interested in having an Apocalypse either. He points out that Cas is one of God's favorites, and that he's got enough of a following to challenge Rafael. That's when Crowley suggests that they work together to find Purgatory, and split the souls they find there. So right from the beginning, Cas and Crowley were behind both the war in Heaven as well as the plot to find Purgatory. "It's the new God and the new Devil, working together!" gloats Crowley. And indeed, Cas has been doing all kinds of killing and bastardy stuff.
Special bonus points for the scene where Crowley is dissecting Eve's body, trying to figure out if there are any clues to finding Purgatory. "She's dead, but she keeps laying eggs!" he gripes to Cas.
One of my favorite moments in the episode
There's a bit where Cas is remembering his youth as an angel, hanging around on the early Earth. He's watching the first fish dragging itself up on land, and he's told not to step on it - God has big plans for that fish. I just love the idea that Cas was there to watch evolution in action. God isn't an intelligent designer in this vision of evolution - it seems like he's just appointed himself guardian of the creatures that fish evolves into.
Cas also makes a funny crack about how the Tower of Babel wasn't really very tall, and of course it fell because it was made of dung bricks.
And now it's time to process our feelings
Dean, Sam and Bobby had suspected that Cas was working with Crowley, but then they're convinced otherwise. And then Cas accidentally reveals that he's been spying on their conversations when they didn't know he was there. That's it: Dean knows Cas has betrayed them. Because, as Dean points out, who needs to do spy stuff unless they're being sneaky?
After trapping Cas in a ring of holy fire, Dean finally gets Cas to admit his role in all the horrible crap that's been going down all season. It's like Dean's been let down by his father, boyfriend, and secret weapon all at the same time. Can things ever be the same?
Cas gazes up at the sky in Heaven, and begs God to give him a sign. Has he done the right thing by hooking up with Crowley to preserve freewill in Heaven and on Earth? God does not reply. There is no sign. Like all humans, Cas must rely on himself now. He has to figure out for himself what would please God.
Thank Cas we have another season coming because things are heating up big time.