The angel Castiel has been through many stages over the seasons. Most of them have been reductive to his powers somehow, and it isn’t hard to see why- as one of the writers said, it becomes very difficult to show Sam and Dean struggling when they have an angel on hand who can fix everything with a finger-snap. And in fact, when Cas has been at his most powerful it often just makes things worse for the Winchesters.
We first met Castiel at the end of episode 4×1, Lazarus Rising, when he made what may be Supernatural’s most ludicrously badass entrance ever.
In Season Four, Cas was a brainwashed soldier- though we don’t find out the details of the brainwashing until Season Eight. At first Castiel’s very existence provided a symbol of faith to Sam and Dean- Dean the sceptic is forced to acknowledge that a higher power exist, and Sam the believer finally has some confirmation that his prayers have been heard.
At least, that’s how it seems at first.
But over Season Four, as angels are shown to be corrupted and selfish, as Castiel himself loses faith, Dean discovers that his distrust was justified, as angels hurry the apocalypse along, and Sam, who prays every night, who practically glowed at meeting angels, discovers that, far from being there to help him, they consider him an abomination.
And while Sam was technically correct to believe that angels existed, it turned out that Dean’s principles were the correct ones- many of the angels are as malicious towards them as demons, if not more so.
Over the course of Season Four, Cas gradually becomes the exception to this. In a way, Cas is the kind of angel that Sam once believed existed- the kind that wanted only to save them- and the kind of angel that Mary told Dean was watching over him.
Cas tries to be the angel that Sam and Dean need, in short. And yes, he often fails, but I still think he gets credit for trying.
Castiel has become a kind of emblem of faith in SPN. He has left, but never for good; he has been broken and destroyed, but always put back together again. And he has caused a lot of damage, but perhaps even more good.
In Season Five, Cas’s faith evaporates. He learns- struggles, but learns- about humans, and comes to believe that more people than just Dean Winchester are worth saving. He believes Sam an abomination and yet also calls him his friend. He is disillusioned, but gains faith in the Winchesters. And his faith helps them stop the apocalypse.
In Season Six, Cas’s need to protect Sam and Dean is prevalent. It leads him to make a deal with Crowley, and it leads him to eventually betray them- and yet we ache for him as he does so.
In The Man Who Would Be King, Cas once again appeals to God, is unanswered, and instead asks Dean to have faith in him. Dean refuses.
We don’t know what would have happened had Dean trusted Cas, but we see the effects of his mistrust. Dean’s loss of faith in Cas leads Cas to target Sam, as the best way to get both Winchesters out of the way.
Now this I find interesting. Logical too, obviously- the easiest way to put Dean out of action is to do something to Sam- but it’s interesting that Cas, who is reduced to asking Sam and Dean to simply have faith in him, should target Sam- who has always had faith enough for both Winchesters.
It’s also very, very sad. It’s clear that Cas’s original motive was to save the Winchesters anyway, and yet he ends up damning Sam, and along with him the Winchesters’ faith in Cas. It’s clear that Cas’s devotion for them has become abstract. At the beginning of Season Seven Cas is God, and he has never deserved the Winchesters’ faith less.
Oh, they found God alright. They found him, and he flooded Sam’s mind with centuries of Hell before threatening to send him back there. He then asked the family he had just torn apart to kneel before him and express their devotion.
When the Godstiel incident is over, Dean is devastated and Sam is certifiably insane. Their lives are levelled, especially after Bobby dies- and yet it’s never too late to be forgiven. Because when Sam is dying in the mental hospital in The Born-Again Identity (which I will never shut up about), Dean finds Cas- and Cas takes responsibility for what he’s done. He takes Sam’s madness into himself and relieves Sam of it.
Sam’s faith is finally justified.
Dean’s scepticism is once again in question.
And for Cas, madness is almost a relief. ‘I see everything’, he says, and he seems to have the bigger picture in mind. He seems somewhat free, having taken responsibility for what he’s done.
But Purgatory rids him of his madness. Interestingly, unlike Dean, who described Purgatory as ‘pure’, one of the first things Cas says when he gets out is ‘I’m dirty’. He is. The trench coat is filthy and he has a dodgy little woolly beard. But there’s something else he gained in Purgatory- his sanity. He feels dirty with his sanity back. He does not see ‘everything’ and pacifism is no longer on the cards. He must choose a side.
And when Naomi gets her hooks into him, brainwashing him, he wavers. Yet he still chooses Dean over her, because Dean, not Naomi, is his family. And yet Cas, over Season Eight, stops being able to define himself as an angel- he is family to humans, came off the line ‘with a crack in [his] chassis’, and at the end of the season he becomes an actual human
In Season Nine, Cas is immediately disillusioned with regards to angels- again. They betray him, hunt him, and take advantage of his newfound humanity. But at the same time Cas learns to have faith in humans, instead- and when his faith has gone absolutely dry, in I’m No Angel, he has this conversation:
CASTIEL: What if you were to find out that no one is listening? That God had pretty much left, that Heaven had gone out of business? What would you do?
WOMAN: But that’s not possible.
CASTIEL: I think it’s completely possible.
WOMAN: You’re missing the point. It’s not possible because I have my faith.
CASTIEL: But when I tell you the truth-
WOMAN: Your truth, not mine. Your lack of faith doesn’t cancel what I believe. That’s not how it works. You know… I think you might feel better if you tried it my way. Someone is listening.
The thing is that Cas is, obviously, right. Yet in the middle of an episode that he spends being hunted by angels, he is told to have faith. In the face of everything that has happened.
It calls to mind Layla’s line from Faith: You can’t just have faith when the miracles happen. You’ve got to have it when they don’t.
Perhaps SPN is suggesting that it’s the faith itself that is of value here. Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, I knew they kept you around for a reason.
And indeed, while Cas is killed by an angel later in this episode, he is brought back by one too- Gadreel, who is fallen in his own right, but still manages to somewhat redeem himself by the end of the season.
Faith and redemption are key here.
And of course, by the end of the season, people are losing faith all over the show. Everyone has lost faith in Dean. Dean has lost faith in Gadreel. Gadreel has lost faith in Metatron. Cas’s army have lost faith in him.
Once again, it is only Sam who never wavers in his faith of Cas during Stairway To Heaven. Somehow, despite his total disillusionment with regard to angels, Sam has still retained his ability for faith. And, in First Born, Cas essentially pulls Sam back from suicide. Finally, at long last, Cas saves him.
Okay, saves him from a massive needle that Cas was sticking in Sam’s neck, but that’s a technicality.
In Season Ten, Cas eventually becomes an angel again- yet he is an angel with the sensibilities of a human. One of the only scenes I genuinely cannot stand occurred within the otherwise fantastic episode Reichenbach, where Cas had a conversation with a small girl about snot rockets. I found it far too cutesy. Overt pandering. But his sudden need to make things right with Claire- his sudden focus on individuals rather than the bigger picture- that was very human, and felt very real.
And then, when Dean was beating Cas up in The Prisoner, Cas barely fought back. We all know he could have done more, and yet he did not choose to. He tried to get through to Dean-
It was something that would have only applied to an angel, but a very human thing to care about.
Cas walks a tightrope between angel and human, between scepticism and blindness. He comes inbetween the Winchesters in this respect- possibly why I think he works best as their sidekick. He shares traits with them both, and so brings out different things in them.
It’s been a long journey from ‘I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition’ to ‘I’m the one who will have to watch you murder the world’, and it looks like it isn’t over yet.