Like with special effects, there are certain “tricks” and techniques to narratives and storytelling which, if it’s done right, the audience should not notice without effort. When it goes wrong, the audiences’ mind catches it and will reject the story even if they’re not conscious of it immediately.
The first and most important rule of stories is what tv tropes calls The Law of Conservation of Detail, aka “Don’t waste our time.” The audience doesn’t have all day to watch someone’s day in real time. You have a story to convey, only show us something if it’s related to the plot or “building” in some way (i.e. character building, world building). In the case of SPN, it’s why we don’t see them driving around looking for a parking space or actually filling out the forms for the credit card scams; such is a waste minutes out of the hour we have with them each week.
One part of this law is that the path a narrative takes should always be approached by authors as if they were traveling salesman problems: try not to visit a place more than once. And this is me speaking from experience. I’m working on episode 2 in preparation for the next hiatus and in my first draft I had the “camera” of the story go from upper deck to bridge to outside to lower deck back to bridge then back to lower then back to bridge. Upon the reread and initial edit, I cut most of the different bridge scenes and stitched them together into one. This ended up making the story flow better, faster and had the pleasant side effect of the characters sounding smarter as they ended up having ideas closer to when they should rather than having them arbitrarily not think of something until the plot required it. So this isn’t me throwing stones from my glass house, I try and follow these rules as much as any artist. (the biggest difference between me & TPTB is that I’m not paid at all for my efforts)
Which brings us all the way back to episode 9.03 “I’m no Angel”. Originally the episode was pretty wretched on its own but at least better than “Caged Heat” but now with the airing of episode 9.06 “Heaven Can’t Wait” the episode’s shaping up to be the worst of the season. Yes, while 9.06 is good, it ends up making 9.03 worse, which is no one’s fault BUT episode 9.03.
Refresher: Both episodes are general “arc” stories, essentially two parts detailing the fate of Castiel. Put them together, what’s the path of Cas’ story? Outside -> Bunker -> Outside. Why bother with that middle step? At first I thought the evicting by Dean would have some character consequences later but nope! In 9.06 we see Dean be a bit of a dick to Cas for no real reason, almost like he never kicked the guy out or that he’s completely forgotten about how much Cas’ current situation is his fault. Which is even weirder when we’ve seen historically that Dean’s got a bit of a guilt complex even with things that are tangentially his fault.
But of course critiquing is easy. Fixing is harder. So I’m going to do that now, and see if not only does 9.03 improve, but if 9.06 doesn’t end up being even stronger.
First half of 9.03: no change except to have some consequences for the angel(s) that killed the priests. If you want to make Bartholomew more complex, have him angry that “allies” were killed. If you want to make him more crafty, have him angry that his employees just left a big clue for the protagonists.
Now our brief time with Anna showed that humanized angels can still pick up what the show likes to call “angel radio”. Let Castiel have that, though you can make it a bit different from Anna’s power since there are some differences in their circumstances. Maybe he can even hear a near constant lament by his siblings of their pain and confusion (because this is SPN and we can always use more angst). Still this allows him to react to the angel that tries to get the jump on him on the bus. Cas doesn’t want to kill a brother but when he hears the angel start to reveal that Castiel is human, he ends up stabbing the guy.
Switch to Bart & company, they realize they haven’t found Cas because they’ve been looking for an angel like themselves, they need to look for a human.
Winchester scenes, no real change.
Now when Castiel runs into April, this is the big change. Don’t just have her offer him food, have her actually give him some work in the same place she is at. He can adopt the name “Stephen” while he’s working since he’s feeling like a martyr right now. So they have a day together and she invites him back to her place. Up until now in the episode the writers could have a theme of Castiel struggling with his unfamiliar human urges and controlling them (like the early pee joke) with a few minor tweaks and adjustments. Which means that when he’s with April, Cas could find himself experiencing a new urge that leads to April teaching him what “knowing biblically” means. This would set up a line like “I now get the pizza man” and leave an opening for the Destiel fans.
Next day, an angel attacks the apartment before the two head to work. April helps Castiel defeat he/she/it but she is mortally wounded in the process. Cas reflexively tries to heal her but… he can’t (cue stoic tears). Then Castiel sends a message over angel radio. A message that maybe Zeke can “take over” to deliver to Dean. A message that allows him and every other angel to start honing in on Cas’ location. The message Cas says is along the lines of “I’m not your enemy. Killing me will get you nothing. Harm no other innocent.” then he dramatically gets the tattoo that hides him from his siblings – shutting off the angel radio – and Dean & Zeke (I picture the scene as Zeke telling Dean he’s lost Cas when they’re right outside a sizable town that he was “last scene in”, giving a shot of Dean realizing he’s lost Cas in the proverbial haystack).
If you want yet MORE angst and pathos, then cut to something like Castiel sitting on a bus alone. He has April’s purse with him and starts digging through it looking for money and anything else useful. (maybe finds a picture that makes him sad) But he does find her cellphone so he calls Dean (because of course he has Dean’s number memorized). Dean picks up and Cas tells him something like “I won’t put anyone else at risk. Don’t look for me.” Close episode.
Now just imagine all that this would add to episode 9.06. You wouldn’t have to change anything except the dialog references to 9.03. Cas feels conflicted over getting close to Nora. He’s not thrilled at Dean contact him since that means Dean’s in trouble. The line “Time was I could put my fingers here and cure you” (or whatever it was) gains extra layers to it. The Rit Zien is a nightmare come true as now Castiel believe he’s put a baby in danger. We could let “rogue reapers” lie dead in Taxi Driver. Heck it would even add more emotion to 9.04 and 9.05 as Dean would be even less willing to let Charlie – yet more family – go and he might then better grasp the appeal of pets, maybe even let the Colonel comfort him a bit.
That’s why I hate 9.03 even more now than I did the first time I watched it. Because it was a waste. Because there was almost nothing within it that advanced anything which 9.06 did not. And it would have required so little effort to make it a pretty good episode.