Supernatural 9.22 Review: “Stairway to Heaven”

stairway

Supernatural has always danced a fine line with morality. Sam and Dean are the protagonists, yes, but the destruction left in their wake tends to say otherwise. If you include Castiel in that group (and I do), then the list grows exponentially.

Honestly, though, what has Team Free Will done? Every single bad thing that they have stopped has been a direction reaction to something they did. How many apocalyptic supernatural events were there before The Winchesters and their Man Thursday? Every two years there’s been an apocalypse. Sam let Lucifer free. Dean tortured Souls in Hell. Castiel was a vengeful God and unleashed the Leviathans upon the world.

They’re heroes in name only. The only person who has EVER suffered for his crimes is the least forgiven of the trio. Dean is still considered the team leader and the better hunter of the group. Castiel has people flock to him at every turn. But Sam? Sam is always marginalized.

I’m not going to turn this into a Sam Rant, as much as I would love to; trust me. But I want to use it to make a larger point: the Winchesters never learn because they never lose. Not really. They always find a way, and so this war that they fight never ends.

Think about it: if Dean lets Sam die to shut the Gates of Hell, then Abaddon and Crowley are sent back down, Dean is never corrupted by the First Blade, and he and Castiel have no Gadreel-related history to put a wedge between them. It’s very possible that the two raise an army together and kick Metatron in the teeth long before he gathers any followers. But of course that isn’t the case. Now they have nothing; less than nothing. Cas has no army, Sam cannot help OR stop his brother, and Dean has lost his mind.

This episode brings those feelings into clearer focus. Let’s get to it.

The episode opens in Dixon, Missouri, in an ice-cream shop. It’s a pretty normal place; teenagers hanging out, moms taking sons out for a treat. A little girl sits at a booth alone, chowing down a giant plate of chocolate and banana. She is an angel of the Lord. Another angel comes inside, and she is afraid. The camera cuts to the exterior, and all of the windows are blown out, serving as the backdrop to the screams of the little girl.

The scene reminds me of the one from Mad Men this past Sunday. In Mad Men, Bobby comes to Sally and tells him of his fears of Betty and Henry’s arguing, saying that he has “a stomach ache all the time.” I felt the same way watching those people die in that restaurant. Supernatural has a high body count, but come on; a little boy and his mother lost their lives. Teenagers goofing off in the corner lost their lives. This little girl was infected by an angel, and now she’s dead too. It’s too much.

Sam and Dean are attracted to the scene, and come posing as FBI agents. Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for us!) they are already expected… as Agents Spears and Aguilera. Castiel has beaten them there, and very prudently told the local cops to expect them. And according to Castiel, he’s noticed that their agent names are often “names of popular musicians,” so there’s that. It’s a bit of levity in an otherwise dark scene.

They find a video of the last moments of the scene, taken by the now-deceased teenagers. It shows the other angel coming in and suicide-bombing himself in the name of Castiel, killing the little girl angel and everyone else around him. Cas, who is otherwise beloved by his angel counterparts, has doubt cast upon him; would he really have his angel followers work as suicide bombers just to make progress? It’s a pretty brutal and inefficient way to do things; suicide bombers are more about sending a message than actually getting work done, but it seems to be doing the trick here.

Dean is already in Mark of Cain mode when they find the video, and he doesn’t get better. He starts ordering Cas around and just generally being an obnoxious jerk to everyone around him. When it’s revealed that one of Cas’s angel followers has gone on the run, he orders Sam to go with Cas to find him. It’s actually a cool moment for Castiel; when Dean tells him to ride the pine, Castiel actually swells in anger and tells him no. It’s a really small moment, but Cain!Dean is really horrible and I was glad to see Castiel step up against him. Dean, fortunately, backs down, but he orders Sam to go with Cas to find the traitor. Dean stayed behind to interrogate and investigate the suicide bombings.

So Sam and Cas go. They take the Impala and drive to Colorado, going off a lead Sam had found earlier. They discuss Dean on the way over: does he seem different to you? Like, what? It’s a little late in the game for Sam and Cas to be this… understated when it comes to Dean. They both have to see the signs, especially Sam, but they downplay it way too much. Personally, I think it’s because the writers want Dean’s ultimate flip to the dark side to be that much more of a surprise or something but damn the dude’s been Anakin Skywalker’ing around for like eight episodes now.

Dean, meanwhile, is interrogating the friends of the departed suicide bomber. One of them is a doctor he worked with; he was part of group that did “minor miracles” at a local hospital. The doctor that Dean speaks to treats him with contempt, telling Dean that he has “oceans of blood” on his hands. She’s right, but she’s also very naive; she thinks she’s safe in the angel compound. Dean attacks her, throwing her on the ground and putting an angel blade to her neck. Under these circumstances, she’s more helpful, and she gives the names of two friends: Constantine, and Tessa. As in, Tessa the Reaper.

Colorado presents a bit of a problem for Sam and Cas. There is “power” coming from an old dilapidated building, but they cannot find a way inside but conventional means. Cas tries to knock the door down with his shoulder, telling Sam “I got this”, only to fail miserably and tell Sam that, in fact, he doesn’t “got this.” More levity, and it comes at a really good time. The episode hasn’t done anything truly awful in a while, but it’s oppressively dark, and that little bit of sun-through-clouds is a welcome break. Eventually, though, Cas finds a riddle in Enochian: Why is six afraid of seven? Cas believes it’s because seven is a prime number (a valid deduction) but Sam answers the riddle correctly, and the door opens. Inside is the Gate to Heaven, and bright white light is spilling out from under it.

Metatron, during all of this, is trying to recruit the largest independent angel faction to his side. His sales pitch to the leader of the faction, a bowling enthusiast, falls flat. As he prepares to leave the bowling alley, another Castiel suicide bomber attacks: Constantine. The explosion kills the leader of the angel faction and wounds Gadreel as he shields Metatron.

Dean, meanwhile, has found Tessa. She is acting as a suicide bomber as well, and was stopped by Dean just as she was about to blow up a theater to get a rival angel. Dean brings her into the angel compound, where he plans on brutally torturing her until she gives up the names of the other bombers. Tessa insists that it was Castiel who sent her on these missions, and honestly, this is not something that is that hard to believe, especially to his angel followers. The angel followers wont let Dean torture her, however, and Dean is forced to just talk to her. He finds out that there are many more like her out there, ready to be set off. Dean asks her why she’s doing this; why she’s ready to kill herself in the name of Castiel. Turns out, she’s going crazy. She can hear the screams of all the souls that have died, that have no way to get up to heaven, and its driving her nuts. Castiel gave her a way out, she says, a way to die that allows her to go out doing something. Dean threatens her with the First Blade (which he told Sam he wasn’t bringing), and she impales herself on it suddenly, killing herself. The angels, of course, believe Dean to have killed her, after they told him he couldn’t harm her.

The door to Heaven, as it turns out, is a fake. It’s a trick, meant to mock Castiel, to show him that his knowledge means nothing. They find the mole, too; he was burned badly by a holy oil and flame-thrower contraption above the door to Heaven. When Cas tries to heal him, he refuses, telling Cas that he would rather die than owe his life to him, a fake angel. Sam and Cas are left without anything to do but to come back to the angel compound.

Dean is under lock-and-key for supposedly murdering Tessa. Cas frees him, because of course he does, and Sam and Dean have their obligatory moment about the First Blade. Things change, though, because Metatron is calling. Metatron tells the other angels that Cas stole his grace, and that it will eventually burn up and kill him. He offers all of the other angels amnesty, and that all who join up with him get to go home. Castiel’s followers give him a choice: kill Dean and keep their loyalty, or they’ll walk. He can’t kill Dean, and they leave him.

I was really pleased about how all of that above worked out. It was a really clever bit of writing to have Tessa come back and to be the one that Dean has to confront, and then have Cas choose him over the angel followers. There had to be stakes here, and Dean’s life was appropriate fodder for that. My only complaint: I though is angel followers turned on him pretty quickly. Could’ve been a little less eager in the way they left.

Cas then returns to the bunker with Sam and Dean. Sam wants to talk about Dean lying to him about the First Blade, and Dean basically tells him to f-off. Dean calls their partnership a “dictatorship”, and tells Sam that until Metatron is dead, he “calls the shots.” Dean has clearly progressed towards a more angry Cain!Dean, but I kind of agree with Dean here. Keeping the First Blade on him is a matter of safety more than anything; if Metatron was to show up or something, they would need the blade. Sam is being a little whiny, and his logic doesn’t stand up as well as Dean’s.

Dean and Cas share a tender, soon-to-be-giffed Destiel moment, and the old Dean reappears for a second. He clearly loves Cas, in some type of way, and it brings out the best in him. Cas hasn’t quite been around him enough to be afraid of him like Sam is, so their relationship hasn’t changed.

Then, a wild Gadreel appears! He comes into the bunker, offering up Metatron, who has basically lost his mind, Metatron’s super-secret squad is composed of those suicide bombers, and they were used to drive Castiel’s flock to him so that he can be the hero. Gadreel offers Metatron up on a platter. Dean seems to accept him, shaking his hand, but then takes out the First Blade and slices him across the chest with it. It’s at that moment when you know that Dean doesn’t give two craps about saving the world. He’s doing it for the bloodlust and the bloodlust alone; old Dean would never have turned down such a powerful ally. Sam and Cas restrain him, but Gadreel is badly hurt. In all probability, Dean just ruined their best chance of killing Metatron.

I really liked this episode; I thought it hit a lot of really great beats and had a lot of really great moments. I think Dean Winchester is basically the man he was in the End!Verse. I think that’s what the show has been building towards since at least season eight. We are headed for the End Times, I hope.

See you next week.

[Photo via The CW]

Hunter Bishop is an aspiring television writer and novelist who spends too much time on the internet. Come visit him on Twitter @Hunter_Bishop!
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