Did you really think I was going to forget about this guy? Let’s talk about him and the first of S6’s storylines.
Quick aside: From here things will get a bit more contentious. Keep in mind that while I’ll talk about objective qualities relevant to the stories, that in no way means anything in relation to feelings. Just as it doesn’t matter how nutritious broccoli is, it can still taste horrible, we can all hate an objectively quality story. Likewise no matter how much we like chocolate pie, it never becomes more nutritious for us, how much we might enjoy some stories does not change their objective quality. (i.e. I personally have never liked much poetry but that doesn’t make poetry rubbish.) Everybody understand the ground rules?
I’ve heard that Castiel is considered to have the single best character introduction in the show and they’ve been trying to capture that moment again ever since. It’s not hard to see why. Like I pointed out previously, “Lazarus Rising” (and by consequence, Castiel’s introduction) built upon the traditional MotW formula for Supernatural while inverting key elements. Everything built to the reveal which tossed one last inversion upon the audience, it’s not an enemy the protagonists face, but a friend. The payoff of some tight story logic is further benefited by “what he is” being a creature which is common cultural knowledge to many viewers as well as “normally enemy, actually friend” being a very common trope in these styles of shows (i.e. Buffy had Angel). I am also given to understand that Misha Collins is a handsome fella so there was some raw appeal there too.
From there not only did the boys have a powerful new ally, but the show took pains to establish why the ally couldn’t solve every problem they ever came across. In S4 there is a multi-front conflict going on, so it is to everybody’s benefit that they split up to defend more seals. In S5 Castiel is cut off from Heaven. As hinted at with Anna in S4, we see further that while humans have a body/soul duality, angels appear to have a power(grace)/being(personality) duality. Just as our bodies grow old and lose the fire and power of youth, so did Castiel lose the fire and power of his grace as he remained apart from Heaven until eventually he stands at the end, opposed to Lucifer as a mere mortal like the rest of our heroes. Had the series ended with S5, fans could have spent the rest of their years debating about Castiel’s ultimate fate, and whether God had brought him back as an archangel to take care of Heaven.
Instead we got another season, and the writers had something of a white elephant on their hands. Castiel was too beloved by the fandom to get rid of, but too powerful to keep in the show and maintain a runtime of 45 minutes. Then the writers had to go and make him even MORE powerful than before by showing us that he could search an entire town in under a second (#6.06), “move between seconds” (#6.17), and smite an entire room full of monsters without hurting his friends (#6.19). Now don’t get me wrong, none of these quite violate story logic, they are all fairly logical from that point of view, it increases the challenge for the writers to fit him into stories. It’s almost baffling that at a time when the show needed to define more limits to Castiel’s capabilities and open up more possibilities for involvement, the writers went in the exact opposite direction. So to get Cas out of the way, a civil war in Heaven is invented so the writers can have him “busy elsewhere” until he’s needed for an episode.
All this ultimately culminates into The Man Who Would be King, where Castiel is revealed to… not be a villain, but an antagonist. The episode is also one (as I’ll go into more detail in a later post) where while on its own it is objectively high quality, and objectively good for the season, it is objectively a disaster for the universe of SPN at large. First, it removes all agencies from the angels (“Explaining freedom to angels is a bit like teaching poetry to fish.”) which flies into the face of Anna and Uriel (and Castiel) in S4. It also flies right into the face of Zach’s line in 4.22 (“Our grunts on the ground — we couldn’t just tell them the whole truth. We’d have a full-scale rebellion on our hands.”) as well as the ENTIRE motivation and result of S4. If the angels were ready and willing to follow whoever, then why did “upper management” worry about the truth in S4? Especially when they had 2 archangels on hand and this episode implies that one of them is enough to get all of those “grunts” in line to do what they wouldn’t do just 2 years previously. Second, the greater implication is that Raphael will “restart S5” and the problem is immediate: CASTIEL “This is pointless. Your plan would take months, and I need help now.” But how? If the apocalypse was so easy to start, why did it take all of S4 to accomplish? (and actually longer as revealed in 4.03) Third, that it can be done by Raphael also cheapens the ending of S5 meaning that the best Sam did was bought the world a couple of more months time (or as revealed in S11, about 5 additional years).
There is no way both seasons can fit together in one universe. If S4 is “true” then Castiel’s panic in S6 isn’t tragic, but foolishness since he could take the time to work out a plan with the Winchesters. Or even just swear to Raphael and act as a double agent sabotaging the plan as he plots with Crowley or the boys. If S6 is “true” then either everyone’s efforts in S4 were pointless, or the sacrifice of Sam in S5 was (since now Lucifer can be let out on a weekend).
This doesn’t mean that the tragedy of former friend turned foe couldn’t have been used as a storyline (just have Raph decide he’ll be Lucifer-esque and destroy everything). That it turned out to be the most powerful and semi-logical one of the myriad testifies to that. But they needed to pick another motivating force in order to avoid undercutting the previous seasons and maintain universe cohesion.