Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

SPN 9.22: Stairway to Heaven review

Sam and Dean at the bunker

The penultimate episode of season nine, “Stairway to Heaven” by Andrew Dabb was not the cheesefest that Dabb’s backdoor pilot “Bloodlines” was, but it certainly had its issues, not the least of which was lack of surprises.

The opening scene had Sam and Dean at the bunker, which has become, well, predictable. I get that having a home base saves the series a boatload of money by not having to build a new motel set for every episode, but it also erases the sense of movement and uncertainty inherent in never knowing where they Winchesters would wake up and that added to the tension over what would happen.

Moving on. Dean wakes Sam up after just a couple hours of sleep and tells him they have to hit the road because Cas, whom Dean calls a weird, dorky little guy, wants them to come to his headquarters. Whatever one might think of Cas, Dean isn’t generally so dismissive of the angel. This attitude reinforces that it isn’t just the conflict with Sam that is affecting Dean.

When Dean starts to wrap up the First Blade to take along with him, Sam pleads with him to leave it behind. He reasons that they should save it for big game like Metatron and Dean appears to agree. Really? Sam bought that after Dean lied to his face to keep him out of the fight with Abaddon? Because I didn’t, and it seemed fairly predictable that Dean having the blade would come back to bite everyone on the ass.

 

Sam, Dean and Castiel examine body

The Winchesters meet Castiel at an ice cream shop that has been blown up. The victims have their eyes burned out indicating an angel connection. The three go to Castiel’s headquarters where they meet Hannah who is less than friendly. There they learn that there’s an angel follower, Josiah, missing. After further research by Sam and an angel and further posturing by Dean and Hannah, Sam learns tracks Josiah to Colorado, and the angel discovers evidence that an angel who had been working for Castiel blew himself up in Castiel’s name. Castiel appears stunned, but Dean launches into a diatribe about Castiel’s past mistakes, much as he did Sam’s in season eight, in front of Castiel’s followers. Trying to mitigate damage, Sam herds Dean and Castiel into the angel’s office.

Sam questions Castiel

“Stow the baggage.”

An argument ensues over Castiel’s role. He wants to question the angels that worked at the hospital with the vaporized angel, but Dean reasonably if heatedly argues that they won’t talk in front of Castiel. Castiel says he can’t just sit and do nothing, so he’ll go to Colorado in search of Josiah, Dean agrees to let Castiel trail Josiah but Sam has to go with him. Dean will question the angels at the hospital alone. Again, Dabb put an enormous red flashing arrow here pointing to danger ahead. Of course, Sam clearly doesn’t like the idea but he goes along with it because it’s in the script, and you know, you just can’t argue with Dean.

Castiel and Sam head off in the angel’s gas-guzzling behemoth of a Lincoln and have a discussion about how the First Blade is changing Dean. He’s been “amped up, on edge,” Sam says. Castiel agrees that Dean seems even more angry than usual. Meanwhile, Dean questions an uncooperative angel called Flagstaff from the hospital who echoes Sam’s statement in “Sharp Teeth” by telling Dean that he doesn’t help people: “You think you help people. It’s amusing. … You believe every problem in the world can be solved with a gun. You think you’re a hero, but under the hype, you’re a killer with oceans of blood on his hands. I hate men like you.” And wow, was that ever the wrong thing to say. Dean flips the table, takes her to the floor and threatens her with an angel blade at which point she reveals that Tessa and Constantine are also involved in the angel explosions.

5flagstaff

5honey-there-aint-no-other-men-like-me

I feel like I should mention the choice to put Flagstaff in a female vessel. In “King of the Damned” when they had an angel to interrogate, but Sam maneuvered Dean into not using violence, the angel was in a male vessel. Abbadon, female vessel, killed; Crowley, male vessel, inexplicably allowed to live – which brings us to Tessa who first appeared in the season two premiere and then again in season six. She was introduced as a reaper when reapers were scary and not just another category of angel. If you didn’t know when she appeared in “Stairway to Heaven” that she was being brought back like Ellen and Jo and Sarah Blake and Meg just to be killed, I don’t know what show you’ve been watching.

 

Tessa dies

Granted her death was accidental – or was it? Why did Dean have the First Blade out anyway? To threaten her – an admittedly suicidal angel? Yes, she walked into it. He was kind of surprised, but I don’t for a minute think he wasn’t prepared to use it. Her death was inevitable from the moment she appeared on camera. It was so predictable, I didn’t blink an eye. I’m not even angry. I’m just disappointed that they chose another long-running female character to be sacrificed at the altar of Winchester angst not only because their misogyny is showing but because it’s becoming so damned predictable.

So, what did Dean learn? He learned that the souls trapped in the veil are suffering so horribly that it’s driving reaper-angels to the brink of suicide, that Castiel or someone posing as him was enticing angels to immolate themselves to take out Metatron’s factions along with innocent humans, and that Castiel’s troops don’t know what justice is. Sam and Castiel return to find that Dean has been subdued and tied up. He apparently fought Castiel’s troops but for whatever reason didn’t use the First Blade to defend himself.

I asked back in “Taxi Driver” when we learned about the rogue reapers, and I’m wondering again, where the hell is Death? This is a character who was introduced as sort of the ultimate power – he said he’d probably reap God – and yet he has been absent while his reapers go off mission. I’m curious whether he has a role in this script of Metatron’s or whether the actual writers just conveniently had him turn a blind eye to the behavior of his underlings.

Back to the story, Castiel and Sam’s discussion with Dean was interrupted by word from Hannah that Castiel had a call from Metatron who was nearly blown up by one of the suicide bomber angels. They all go to the war room where Castiel naively allows his troops to stand there listening in on the conversation as well – a recipe for disaster. Metatron, of course, accuses Castiel of being behind it, and offers Castiel’s followers amnesty if they join his side. To make them question Castiel’s trustworthiness, he reveals that Castiel is using stolen grace.

Castiel's troops abandon him

“Goodbye, Castiel.”

Hannah then challenges Castiel to prove himself by “punishing” Dean. She offers Castiel an angel blade and says it would be justice – presumably because Dean killed Tessa, but of course summary execution isn’t justice. It’s an eye for an eye, and what she really wants is for Castiel to choose sides between angels and humanity. As Metatron later gloats to Gadreel, Castiel’s “true weakness is revealed. He’s in love … with humanity.”

Metatron

“But I’m lovable.”

Now, Gadreel … okay, it took Metatron betraying Josiah, killing him for no reason other than because he could and the angel had served his purpose to make Gadreel see that Metatron couldn’t be trusted. Wow. Gadreel didn’t learn from how he was duped by Lucifer in the Garden? He’s a master manipulator himself. We saw that from the way he played Dean early in the season. Not only that but he was in Sam’s head. Supposedly, he knows what Sam knows, so shouldn’t he know about how Castiel was played by Metatron himself? And yet, it took him all this time and this particular incident to stop being the “stupid angel”? Really?

I’m disappointed on this point as well. Given that we only had Gadreel’s word on what happened in the Garden, his ability to manipulate, and his adamant refusal to return Sam’s body to Sam’s control, I was hoping that he had his own agenda. I just want something really surprising to happen – a really interesting twist. I’m still waiting. It’s interesting that Metatron keeps giving writing lessons – to Castiel in “Meta Fiction” and to Gadreel here. He explains to Gadreel that the reason he did what he did to Josiah was nothing more than a plot device – like Tessa, I guess. So, if I’m bored or annoyed by the predictability of the plot, it’s because “Metatron” is an amateur writer.

Castiel, Sam and Dean return to the bunker where Sam confronts Dean:

Dean: Yeah, I lied, but you were being an infant.

Sam: Wow, even for you that apology sucked.

Dean: Oh I’m not apologizing. I’m telling you how it’s going to be. That blade is the only thing that can kill Metatron, and I am the only one who can use it. So, from here on out, I’m calling the shots. Capische? Until I jam that blade into that douchebag’s heart, we are not a team. This is a dictatorship. Now, you don’t have to like it, but that’s how it’s gonna be.

And not surprisingly, Sam storms off.

Dean asks Castiel about his stolen grace, and Castiel says that he hopes it won’t burn out before they take down Metatron. Castiel seeks reassurance from Dean that Dean trusts him, much as he did Sam in the car, and Dean says that Castiel choosing him over his troops is proof enough. Dean says there’s still the three of them and Castiel questions if that will be enough. “We always have been,” Dean says, but Dean just told Sam that they aren’t a team, so we have to wonder how effective they will be.

Dean attacks Gadreel

Gadreel appears in the bunker. Apparently having let him in once means the angel warding doesn’t work? He offers to help. Everyone is dubious, and Gadreel appeals to their own experiences: “I’ve made mistakes. Haven’t you? Haven’t we all?” Sam and Dean have one of their silent conversations, and Dean offers the stupid angel his hand. Of course, Dean attacks because that’s what he does now. Again, this was not a surprise. Dean slashes the Gadreel across the chest with the First Blade, and Gadreel collapses. Castiel and Sam grab Dean to stop him from continuing to attack. And credits.

During the argument between Sam and Dean over taking the First Blade with them, Sam said that they’d been there before, magic that strong comes at a price and they didn’t know what the price was. Apparently, the price is Dean’s humanity. His judgment has been questionable before, but now it’s pretty much non-existent. Violence is the answer. Like Sam wallowing in own self-loathing and guilt by having sex with Ruby in season four, Dean is doing it now – wallowing in the blood and violence that he’s already covered in. The First Blade makes him feel good about it. It reinforces those impulses and rewards them with the calm he spoke of. Just as Sam was addicted to demon blood, Dean is addicted to the First Blade.

 

Josiah

“I don’t see an angel staring back.”

Going into the season finale, I’m reminded of Metatron’s comment to Gadreel that “While everyone else is playing checkers, I’m playing Monopoly and I always build a hotel on Boardwalk and I always win.” If he does always win – I wonder who he plays with – then he’s a better Monopoly player than he is writer. No doubt he sees his role in board games and fiction similarly – moving the pieces on the board as he cleverly did by sending Sam and Castiel off on a wild goose chase to find Josiah and leaving Dean alone to screw up so completely. So, let’s look at the players and where they stand on the board.

Metatron has maneuvered himself into getting the majority of the angels on his side. If he follows through on promises, he will admit them back into heaven and be the hero as he promised. Castiel appears to have chosen humanity over his heavenly brethren, and more specifically, he’s sided with Dean who now intends to kill Metatron himself. Metatron has declared himself the new God, and Dean is allied, however reluctantly, with Crowley the King of Hell. If Dean succeeds in killing Metatron, there’s a possibility that will reignite the war between heaven and hell. Is it possible that was Metatron’s plan all along? Gadreel in betraying Metatron was playing the role that Metatron gave him? Castiel certainly played his role, didn’t he? Would Metatron sacrifice himself to start that war?

“I did what he had to do,” he protested to Castiel and the angels. He did “what was necessary,” but for what? To restart the apocalypse? At the moment, Dean is the player for hell. Will Sam play into the hands of heaven somehow? Castiel is a wildcard – angel born, living on stolen grace that is quickly burning out. His loyalty is divided. Are we moving back to End Verse but in a completely different iteration? Just speculation, but I wonder, will Lucifer wear Dean to the prom?

 

 

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5 responses

  1. So you think Dean being allied somewhat with Crowley will spark a war between Heaven and Hell? I would think that war would always resume once the two sides are drowning in other issues.

    Maybe it’s just me but Abaddon’s death was so… not much of a big climactic moment to me…. I don’t know why but I just sat there watching it like ‘ok yeah she is going to die, ok yep now she is dead.’

    Metatron just annoys me. I don’t find his character to be interesting. He reminds me of a needy child whining for attention every two seconds. I want to see him die simply so I don’t have to see his face on my TV anymore.

    This episode was okay, I agree with your review that it was predictable. I hate saying this but this is the first season of Supernatural I feel has been predictable and recycling story lines too much. I actually enjoy the ‘filler’ episodes more than the main ones this year.

    May 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    • I think it’s possible that Dean could kill Crowley too and become the King of Hell himself. I don’t personally care for a return to the apocalypse storyline, but I think there’s a good possibility they will. If Dean kills Metatron who is now the new God, isn’t that a kind of declaration of war?

      Yeah, Abaddon ended up being a plot device. She was a means to and end just as Bartholomew was. They were ways of drawing Castiel and Dean into active participation in Metatron’s plot. I wonder if Metatron is working with Crowley or if Crowley is also being written by Metatron.

      I think everyone finds Metatron annoying. I don’t know of anyone who likes him anyway. He makes me long for the likes of Zachariah and Raphael and Uriel, who were clever and menacing.

      May 14, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      • Ugh yes, I miss Zachariah and Uriel! They were these big intimidating forces that made you think ‘holy shit I wouldn’t want to be messing with him’. Metatron just makes me think hmmm, Sam or Dean could probably slap you and it would knock you out cold.

        May 14, 2014 at 2:48 pm

  2. Vince

    I’m not too hung up on Tessa’s death, it sucked sure. But everyone dies on this show, a character shows up more than once, it’s not a question of if they will die, but when, that goes for male and female.

    If you were to do a death count this season, the males would probably be close to the 100s, and the female deaths maybe at a quarter of that.

    May 14, 2014 at 7:43 pm

  3. THIS EPISODE SUUUUUUUUCKED!

    He reasons that they should save it for big game like Metatron and Dean appears to agree.

    So now they’re just outright admitting the show is becoming a video game? Are they even trying?

    so he’ll go to Colorado in search of Josiah

    1) I thought it was montana.
    2) Ok, I never once got what was going on with Josiah or the point of his deal. Nothing about that felt real.

    I feel like I should mention the choice to put Flagstaff in a female vessel. In “King of the Damned” when they had an angel to interrogate, but Sam maneuvered Dean into not using violence, the angel was in a male vessel. Abbadon, female vessel, killed; Crowley, male vessel, inexplicably allowed to live – which brings us to Tessa who first appeared in the season two premiere and then again in season six. She was introduced as a reaper when reapers were scary and not just another category of angel. If you didn’t know when she appeared in “Stairway to Heaven” that she was being brought back like Ellen and Jo and Sarah Blake and Meg just to be killed, I don’t know what show you’ve been watching.

    You know… once upon a time I would defend the show, pointing out that it could be just as hard on the men as women…

    But now? Now when they are raping canon to just kill off a previous character? I mean I wasn’t thrilled that in the previous episode Abaddon didn’t pull a body switch with Crowley or anything actually tactically smart but thought, “meh”. But this? Tessa’s bit makes NO sense. NONE. You CANNOT make her scenes or appearance or anything else work here at all without invoking “it’s in the script”! And THAT is inexcusable! When you’re breaking the world and violating the first law of genre writing (verisimilitude) just to kill off someone for NO logical or story reason… ARGH!

    He learned that the souls trapped in the veil are suffering so horribly that it’s driving reaper-angels to the brink of suicide

    REAPERS AREN’T ANGELS!!!!! If I can quote myself from the SPN discussion board on TV Tropes:
    Actually, yes there were several specific instances where they said and implied that no, they weren’t. The distinction is very clear.
    It’d be rather like saying “Well nobody ever specifically said werewolves weren’t vampires.”

    I’m curious whether he has a role in this script of Metatron’s or whether the actual writers just conveniently had him turn a blind eye to the behavior of his underlings.

    The writers don’t care. They’re not even thinking about it and it won’t matter until they suddenly decide they need Death to invoke some emotion or impact they’re too lazy to build up to organically.

    As Metatron later gloats to Gadreel, Castiel’s “true weakness is revealed. He’s in love … with humanity.”

    Just… .what… WASN’T THAT METATRON’S POINT IN S8? That angels needed to reconnect with humanity? They can’t even get their main villain to be consistent!

    I’m disappointed on this point as well.

    Ditto, though more because I think Curtis & Tahmoh are great actors and they deserve better. Part of me WANTS to like Metatron as a foe because the boys haven’t ever really gone against the most “traditional” brainy foe with the dragon sidekick but… *sigh* back to the run.

    Apparently having let him in once means the angel warding doesn’t work?

    It’s in the script! No other reason is needed!

    Metatron has maneuvered himself into getting the majority of the angels on his side.

    Which, again, makes no sense in light of S8… I’m getting the feeling they have no plan save for just ripping off S4 & S6.

    May 15, 2014 at 9:36 am

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