Now that we’ve touched on their two big foes, let’s examine the two main protagonists against them. Castiel and Crowley. (warning: this one will go a little over)
Castiel – His story seemed promising at the start of the new season. The show has long had a “superman problem” with him, needing to run side plots to distract him so that his powers couldn’t solve the regular show in 90 seconds. However a huge part of the fandom are HIS fans so we can’t just ditch him from the show either. So rendering Castiel mortal seemed like an elegant solution. It would also open up new stories as he explored what it meant to be human and learned from the Winchesters how to still be a force for good even if you’re not invincible.
At first, they did have a few of those stories of his discovery. But then the show stopped and instead spent most of the season treating him like he was fully powered – shuffled off, away from the main characters, doing his own thing. He never takes on an active role in his own story. Like we never see him work against Metatron in any way until Metay forces him to be an enemy.
Then midway through the season, they even re-empower him via a method that Castiel could have used in the first episode of that season. In fact, looked at objectively, there’s no real reason for him not to re-empower in that scene given things look just as desperate and hopeless as it does later. However it probably fooled people because when you look at how the later scene is framed, lit, and shot, it is all in a way as to imply to the audience greater desperation compared to the earlier opportunity. The one thing we can say about S9 is that the visuals are gorgeous and often do far more work for the story than the writing does.
Had Castiel remained powerless, so many plot holes, retcons, and questionable moments later in the series would have been avoided. For example, why not use Castiel’s mental powers to help Sam instead of having Crowley torture him in 9.10? (Well, the real question is “why didn’t they apply the angel exorcism on Samdreel?”) You could have him unwilling to kill Sam in 9.11 because he no longer has the power to heal/rez the boy. And that’s just in the same season. Never mind the latter seasons which have examples like: a plucky redhead beloved by the fandom gets killed (Why doesn’t Castiel resurrect Charlie? April traumatized him against redheads I guess. Really, you just have to invent an answer.) Heck the show could have finally have an excuse for letting the “immortal angel” start showing age.
But instead of taking opportunities from the story to fix things, the show has Cas power up again. At which point he moves from being something of a character to a plot device for the convenience of the show, until it’s not convenient then they have him invent excuses that sound hollow when considering the character and circumstances. Thus, episode 9.09 is where I say, Castiel jumped the shark.
Crowley – Let me explain something first.
I don’t really care that much about Adam.
What I care about is Sam and Dean as heroes. Part of being a heroic character would be rescuing someone they know is in trouble and family. Adam being stuck in the cage with them doing nothing about it is like watching a scene where Sam and Dean are eating at an outdoor restaurant when a wreck happens in the street in front of them. Instead of getting up and helping those involved, we see the two of them sit there, order some desert, and debate over taking care of the bill. While yes an argument can be made that the boys don’t have any obligation to go help those involved in the car wreck, their failure to do so weakens their status as heroic figures. Thus I don’t care about Adam for Adam’s sake, I care about him because it weakens Sam & Dean’s heroic character.
So S8 concluded with Sam very nearly curing Crowley of his demonness, then being stopped at the last moment. Now I know the boys were distracted, they had a lot on their plate at the start of S9, but the fact remains that he was “in their possession” (so to speak) from episode 1, until episode 10 and in the entire time, THE BOYS DO NOT FINISH CURING HIM. While the qualities of what makes a hero is an involved and interesting discussion that can be had, it seems to me pretty damn obvious (pun intended) that giving a villainous figure a shot at redemption and real reform is an heroic action.
Obviously there is a bit of an “ideal vs real” conflict here. Ideally, should the boys cure every demon they come across? Sure, that would be heroic. Realistically, could the boys “cure” every demon they come across? Of course not. Battlefield conditions and as well as the method itself keeps it from being a realistic, permanent effort. But none of those conditions apply in Crowley’s case during this season. They have Crowley in the basement, he’s not going anywhere and they are not being attacked. The procedure is just about done so they wouldn’t have much of a supply issue and then they even want him to do favors for them (like answering questions or translating things). So do they bother redeeming Crowley? Give him another shot? Give him an incentive to do the right thing? He is even written as having a blood addiction this season as if he wants to be cured. And yet the boys deny it to him! It’s like watching them deny life-saving medicine from a cancer patient. Even if the patient is an asshole, the ones denying come off looking like dicks.
Wait, it gets worse. Rather than helping another being do the right thing, the boys… let’s just go to the transcript of 9.16:
Look at you. You’re a mess. You know, we were counting on you. You let us down.
Your slimy followers were counting on you to kill Abaddon, and you let them down.
The man with all the mojo — Captain Evil.
Oh, it’s pathetic.
What is this? An intervention?
You need to focus, Crowley. Get a grip!
What, you just gonna let Hell go to Hell?
Are the guys asking him to finish reforming? Make Hell a better place? NOPE! The HEROES of the show are TEMPTING another character TO DO EVIL – all in order to get what they want. If you don’t see what’s wrong with that, imagine Crowley was replaced with say… Kim Jong-un. And after some adventures, he’s starting to show regrets and awareness of how he might be mistreating the people of his nation. Then the boys enter and say, “Come on, man! You’re the rule of North Korea! Get a grip!” pretty much undoing his character’s journey.
I mean, do you remember any time previously someone on the show tempted another character to do something wrong in order to get what they want? Oh what about Azazel talking to Jake back in S2? Yet here in S9 we now have the bros being no better than their first enemy.
Just imagine had the show actually redeemed Crowley? He could’ve added a great dynamic to the team. Or if we keept Castiel mortal, you could have then had two storylines running parallel as 2 characters rediscover being mortal and compare/contrast them. Does one adapt better than the other? Does one of them “fall off” and start seeking to restore their former glory? While everyone assumes that would be Crowley what kind of twist and story would it be if it was Castiel? Keep them both mortal, and you can have C&C drive into a spinoff where they rediscover the world and what it means to be human.
But no, this is where the show moved from being about characters with stories and journeys and instead became “Supernatural: the Brand.” The brand has an angel. The brand has a demon. We can’t make them not be an angel, or not be a demon even if keeping the status quo has our heroes committing villainous acts.
So by now, one might be tempted to say the twist in S9 was that the arc villain for the season were Sam & Dean themselves. But they weren’t exactly – they were more the lieutenants. No, the real villain of S9 was The Brand(TM). Unfortunately, it was a villain the boys never had any hope of defeating – a villain that was able to easily twist them into carrying out its scheme. Ironically in this season, Team Free Will had no free will at all.
(as always, thanks to @WEDNESDAYspn for the banner)
P.S. The OTHER thing that bugged me about Crowley? (I would have put this above but I was on a roll and couldn’t break the flow)
This don’t make us square. I see you again –
I’m dead. Yes, I know. I love you, too.
Omelets. Broken eggs. Et cetera.
DEAN [angrily punches CROWLEY]
After I kill Abaddon… you’re next!
Listen, you said Crowley was only useful till we got the Blade. We got the Blade.
[DEAN’s eye flicker to CROWLEY and that is when CROWLEY makes his move. He flings the Winchesters to the side of the car and holds them there. The First Blade falls from SAM’s hand to the ground.]
You know, boys, I’m in debt to you. You forced sobriety on me, and now I can see the situation for what it is. Dean, you are quite the killing machine. And it occurs to me that Abaddon is not the only name on your list. My name must be up there, as well.
DEAN [finally turning around to face SAM]
Well, maybe because I want an end to all this. Maybe because if we find Abaddon, then Crowley ponies up the First Blade, and we kill her and him both. So, what you call being “obsessed,” I call doing my job.
To be indelicate. But here’s the thing, pet — same goes for you. And once I’m gone, who do you think’s next on those cute boys’ list? That’s right. So let’s get real. Join me in taking out the Winchesters and that ridiculous Blade, and then we’ll deal with each other.
Yes, throughout the season we hear how he is going to be killed by them right after Abaddon. And yet how does it end? What happens in S9 right after Abaddon is dead? Back to episode 9.21:
CROWLEY (removing the bullet from his shoulder with a large knife)
You could at least — aah! — help me with this.
We didn’t kill you, Crowley, even though it would’ve been very easy. Isn’t that enough?
Why??? WHY ARE YOU NOT KILLING HIM? He WAS RIGHT THERE! Paralyzed and unable to move! You said you were going to kill him all season, but we don’t even get WHY you’re not going to. If you’re not going to be totally heroic, AT LEAST BE CONSISTENT!