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Supernatural delivered riches for fans of resident angel Castiel in “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets,” an airtight episode that throws back to his past.

Castiel: angel of Thursday, shield of God, lover of bees. The most prominent Supernatural character besides Sam and Dean themselves, their best friend and honorary brother, their seemingly indestructible companion who’s survived as many deaths as they have and eschewed Heaven in order to keep fighting by their side. His true essence is a multi-dimensional wavelength of celestial intent, with a form the size of the Chrysler building, but all of that intensity is squeezed into the shape of Misha Collins: six feet of blue eyes, bed hair and trench coat. And last Thursday truly was his day.

Despite being a series regular – he appears in around half the episodes per season – Castiel’s stories usually tie closely into the troubles Sam and Dean are facing, as their closest ally. It’s rare that an episode’s A plot is about his personal problems, with Sam and Dean as the assists – “The Things We Left Behind” is a notable example – but it’s rarer still that we get any expansion of his history, what happened in the millennia before he met the Winchesters. Not since season 6’s “The Man Who Would Be King” has an episode focused so deeply and specifically on Castiel, and while that one was about his failings, “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” highlighted his strengths.

Castiel is a divisive figure – Hypable reported on the faction of fannish extremists attempting to get Collins fired several years ago – possibly because his introduction to the show signaled a massive shift in scope, changing the stakes from two brothers in a car fighting monsters to two brothers in a car fighting monsters while also dealing with divine intervention and an apocalyptic destiny. There’s also the potential that some fans aren’t keen on any character at all getting in between Sam and Dean, as if having a wider support network would water down the relationship between the brothers. Perhaps they only know how to have one friend at a time, and they’re projecting, I don’t know. I’m of the opinion that the more people who love Sam and Dean the better, but maybe that’s just nutty.

Others deem Cas to be their most fascinating and favorite aspect of the show, loving him even more than the brothers – a fairly common eventuality for many side characters on many TV shows. Most regular viewers probably just take him as Supernatural writes him – as an interesting supernatural being who’s become a crucial part of Sam and Dean’s family. And if anyone wasn’t clear on how the show itself views Cas, and what they want the audience to understand about his relationship with the Winchesters, “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” screamed it through a megaphone.

“Lily Sunder” featured Cas – stuck in a passive aggressive battle of wills with Dean over his reckless behavior in killing Billie to save all three Winchesters – called to action by a member of his former garrison, who’s in trouble. Sam and Dean tag along to help, and they discover that someone is killing off a group of angels who worked on a certain mission together. In a flashback to 1901, we meet the killer – Lily Sunder, guest star Alicia Witt, a human woman who allegedly married an angel and had a nephilim child – and Cas (in a female vessel played by Jessa Danielson, as he sure didn’t have Jimmy back then) was part of the execution squad. When Cas reconnects with his former commander Ishim (guest star Ian Tracey) and Sam and Dean try to protect the angels from Lily, the truth comes out – that her friend Akobel and her human daughter were both innocents, and that Ishim lied and exploited the laws of Heaven to carry about a personal vendetta against the woman he hated himself for loving.

If I were to compare “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” to fanfiction, I certainly wouldn’t mean it as an insult. I wouldn’t be referencing the shipping potential, either, though there was plenty of fodder. I wouldn’t even be calling it indulgent. “Lily Sunder” feels like fanfiction because it does what fanfiction does – it revisits the canon and goes that little bit deeper, shines light in corners that we usually don’t see, and follows through on things we never dared hope to address.

In “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox,” new hire Steve Yockey proved with one episode that he was a master at widening the scope of the Supernatural universe in fascinating, refreshing and necessary ways. With “Lily Sunder,” he goes a step further and shows his work – shows the audience that yes, he has an answer for every question. He isn’t inventing new canon willy-nilly, he’s refining the ruddy gold nuggets that Supernatural has given us over the last twelve seasons into something just that little bit more polished.

Even tiny expositions – the perfect characterization of Sam over-explaining his research and Dean telling him to shut up, letting us know that yes, there is logic in them showing up at Lily’s hotel, or Dean trying to call Cas and Cas sensing that he needs his phone (prayer doesn’t have to be prayer, remember, the angels can pick up on a more abstract longing when they’re specifically needed, so I bet Dean’s frustration was pinging something in Cas’ head) have credibility ranging from plausible to ironclad.

Yockey was also lucky enough to have his script was paired with the direction of Thomas J. Wright, a veteran auteur who helmed the visuals of some of Supernatural’s most unusual episodes, including “Bitten” and “Baby,” and also some huge emotional apexes for Castiel, including “that time Cas was about to kill Dean, who’s bleeding on the floor, and then broke through his conditioning” and “that time Dean was about to kill Cas, who’s bleeding on the floor, and broke through his conditioning.” It seems only right that he was the one to bring a sense of closure to those moments of pain with the strikingly familiar scene in this episode – similar stakes, but this time, with both Cas and Dean firmly united against another enemy.

There’s a whole other essay to be written on Lily Sunder herself, her grief and her journey, the power she was able to tap into – Enochian magic, which Sam, who’s always quite curious about things like this, seems fascinated by. Their conversation about the experience of losing their souls, about why Lily waited until now to seek revenge – again, watertight canon reasoning – and about what someone can do if they’re willing to be patient, is rich stuff, and the reveal about her and Ishim was viscerally sickening – more than anything, it reminded me of the words of the UC Santa Barbara shooter – “nice guy” syndrome, a man who both hated and desired women and murdered them in retribution for not getting what he felt he was owed. This is what Ishim and his attitude towards humans represented to me, and I would not be at all shocked if that was intentional.

In terms of an ongoing arc, this episode is groundwork for the current nephilim plot, Lucifer’s baby being carried by White House aide Kelly Kline. But as an insular exploration of Castiel, “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” alluded to many aspects we’ve learned about him in the past without becoming an unsubtle flashback clip show. I could not help but take a deeper (oh, so much deeper, get out while you still can) look at some of the Supernatural episodes over the years that have revealed new factors about Castiel’s powers and personality, and how they relate to what we were given in “Lily Sunder.”

‘Lazarus Rising’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: First and foremost, how about the fact that he freakin’ exists at all? When Dean is mysteriously raised from Hell and has to dig himself out of his own grave, a powerful unknown force follows him around trying to make contact. Via the psychic Pamela he discovers that this being is called Castiel, and in the season 4 premiere’s last scene, Dean is able to summon him in an abandoned barn. After a bit of stabbing – such a meet-cute – the introduction of Castiel in a human vessel (originally billed as just a three-episode arc for Misha Collins) is also the reveal that angels and Heaven actually exist at all, and that they have a divine purpose for Dean. Probably the biggest game-changer in the scope of the Supernatural universe. No big deal or anything.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “Certain people, special people, can perceive my true visage. I thought you would be one of them. I was wrong.” Yes, yes, he gripped Dean tight and raised him from perdition, I know, but let’s just talk about this fact for a minute. After the Pamela eye-burning disaster, Cas went and jumped into a human vessel in order to communicate with Dean, but since then, Dean has NEVER been good at covering his eyes when angel business goes down. He always just kind of squints at best. In “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets,” he’s badly blinded by Lily’s store-bought brand of angel mojo, but that’s never happened before. Could it be that Dean does, in fact, have the capacity to witness the genuine divine, and it’s just a slow learning curve?

‘On The Head Of A Pin’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: This masterful hour of TV – the first Supernatural episode that I finished and immediately hit replay on – revealed that the Spock-like Castiel has been so emotionally compromised by Dean that he’s been demoted by Heaven. Under the charge of Uriel, his former inferior, he’s required to play good cop to his new commander’s bad cop in order to get Dean to use his “interrogation” skills on his former demonic torture master Alistair. Uriel turned out to be yet another superior forcing Castiel into doing Heaven’s dirty work on false pretenses. Anna sows the seeds of doubt, and Cas eventually discovers that Uriel was part of a faction that supported Lucifer due to his disgust and hatred of humans, and that Uriel was not only the one behind the spate of angel killings and blaming it on demons, but that he was also responsible for sabotaging the devil’s trap and allowing Alastair to free himself, hoping for Dean to be killed.

Cas experiences a very similar revelation in “Lily Sunder,” as the episode shows that another former boss, Ishim, used Castiel and other angels to carry out another abhorrent act – an allegedly Heaven-mandated a mission to kill the rogue angel Akobel and his nephilim child. This turned out to be completely unjust: the kid was a human, Akobel was merely a bodyguard and companion, and the human mother Lily was the focus of Ishim’s personal vendetta, as he was both in creepy obsessive love with her, hence her needing said bodyguard. Uriel and Ishim are even both killed in the same way – in the back, with an angel blade, by an righteous red-headed woman.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “I was getting too close to the humans in my charge. You. They feel I’ve begun to express emotions. The doorways to doubt. This can impair my judgment.” The true first moment of Cas questioning divine authority is actually in “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester,” when he admits to Dean that he has doubts about right and wrong, but the consequences shown this episode – that Heaven took him in hand like this – confirm how serious this problem actually is for an angel, and places the audience firmly on his side. This attachment to humanity and the way his emotions develop in order to grant him personhood and free will is the beginning of Cas’ most prevalent journey, and a huge factor of this week’s episode too, which addresses, in no uncertain terms, how weak and treacherous the other angels find him, and how strong and worthy the Winchesters find him, because of this quality.

‘The Rapture’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: As Cas grows more suspicious of Heaven, he attempts to secretly pass on a message via Dean’s dreams. This, we learn later, gets him banished back upstairs for some brainwashing, leaving his human vessel very lost. Sam and Dean discover that Castiel’s body belongs to a man called Jimmy Novak, and they attempt to return him to his family. We also learn about how Cas came to possess Jimmy in the first place, and what it takes for someone to be an angelic vessel – hugely important groundwork for what’s to come for Sam and Dean. When demons take Jimmy’s wife and daughter hostage, Castiel finally returns, and takes Claire as a vessel in order to fight. Jimmy, who was initially grateful to be rid of Cas, begs that he spare the child and inhabit him forever instead, and Cas, in turn, is revealed to be “cured” of his sympathies for Dean, and robotically loyal to Heaven once more.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “I want to make sure you understand. You won’t die or age. If this last year was painful for you, picture a hundred, a thousand more like it.” When Cas takes Jimmy as a vessel once more, the question lingered about whether he was still in there riding shotgun through everything Cas experienced over the years, eternally conscious. It was hinted that he wasn’t – that he died and went to Heaven when Cas first died and was resurrected – and a scene of Jimmy and his wife in Heaven together in “Angel Heart” confirmed this as correct. “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” implied that Benjamin’s vessel was still very much alive and conscious up until their mutual death, enough for them to be friends, perhaps even having internal conversations and sharing experiences.

‘Lucifer Rising’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: In the conclusion to Castiel’s first season, he chooses, for the first time – though it was a long time coming – to help Dean, to believe Dean, and to support his mission as opposed to the laws of Heaven. The relationship between the two characters grew exponentially over the course of the season, but Cas’ actions were mostly still in line with his orders, to protect and guide the Righteous Man who he’s been told will stop the Apocalypse. As the truth about the 66 Seals surfaces – that Heaven actually wants Lucifer to be free and for the apocalyptic battle to take place, sure that with Dean as a vessel for Michael, they’ll win – Cas, who’s been freshly reprogrammed after he originally tried to warn Dean in “The Rapture,” breaks through his brainwashing once again in order to rebel against his angelic superiors and get Dean to Sam. He also goes to his death for Dean’s cause willingly – the end of the episode sees him about to get exploded by an archangel, but obviously he gets brought back – a nice bit of potentially unintentional foreshadowing there, when Chuck grasps his shoulder in pride and gratitude.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “This is simple, Cas! No more crap about being a good soldier. There is a right and there is a wrong here, and you know it.” When Castiel returns to Dean and uses the angel-banishing sigil to expel Zachariah, that moment was the start of a tale of utter faith and devotion that is not yet finished and unlikely to ever be. When Ishim asked Cas who he’d believe in a choice between himself and Dean, it’s laughable, because duh. Dean. It’s Dean every time. From that moment on, it was always going to be Dean – he is the first and last word, in Cas’ mind, on matters of truth, justice and the American way. Soz about it, Ishim, but you’re kidding yourself, and given your failed attempts to win the trust of the human you were obsessed with, your tangible jealousy is delicious.

‘The End’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: I mean, this entire episode is absolutely wild – Dean visiting an alternate future in which Sam submits to Lucifer and becomes his vessel. At some point, Lucifer unleashed the Croatoan virus, sending humanity into a post-apocalyptic state. Future!Dean is the leader of a compound called Camp Chitaqua, whose residents include future versions of Chuck and Castiel. Our Dean is shocked to discover that this Cas is not only almost powerless, due to the angels’ mass retreat from Earth, but also a sex fiend and a serious substance abuser. Bitter, cynical and devastated by his situation, he seems to have thrown himself into hedonism and become some sort of hippie cult leader within the commune. It’s an especially stark contrast to the uptight Castiel in the present-day of this episode, struggling to use a cellphone and waiting all night on the side of the road.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: I ain’t gonna touch “I thought you’d gotten over trying to label me,” directed at who Future!Cas thinks is his version of Dean, with a ten-foot pole. More relevant right now is his descent into excess: “It’s the end, baby. That’s what decadence is for. Why not bang a few gongs before the lights go out?” This addictive personality seems to actually be kind of common for angels when they’re allowed to indulge in anything at all. Cas himself on a normal day can get very bingey, with anything from cheeseburgers to Netflix, and “Lily Sunder” included two new idiosyncratic angel habits – Benjamin’s intensely focused arcade gaming, and Ishim’s bizarre sugar intake. The archangel Gabriel was a master of excess, about anything from porn to candy, season 9’s Tyrus was obsessed with bowling, and a few others have had their weird little fixations on an aspect of human life over the years. Is this almost childish inability to self-regulate once let off their chain a trend among angels?

‘The Point Of No Return’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: As Dean, feeling no other option is available to him, considers saying yes to Michael, Castiel brings him back to Bobby’s and also rescues the boys’ half-brother Adam, who the angels also resurrected as a potential vessel. In order to escape, Dean does his best to be a dick to everyone so they won’t want him around anymore, and eventually blasts Cas with an angel-banishing sigil, the first time he uses such a spell on his friend. Cas manages to track him down anyway and they proceed to have a knock-down drag-out fight, where Dean eventually submits and offers to let Cas kill him.

This moment was incredibly significant as it’s the first time in the series that Castiel really expresses selfish emotion – that he’s furious enough with Dean, on a personal level, to beat the ever-living shit out of him. He then helps the boys to recover Adam, who’s been angel-napped, by going up against five other angels alone and blasting them all, including himself, with a sigil carved into his own chest, because he’d rather die than watch Dean fail – a rather catty personal attack with potentially deadly stakes. This week’s episode saw the angel-banishing sigil return once more, but this time, Dean refused to use it at risk of killing the severely weakened Castiel, even when Ishim is about to take Dean’s own life.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “I gave everything for you. And this is what you give to me.” And so the claws come out – more than just faith and duty and right and wrong, this is so personal. This is Cas feeling like he is owed something, that his sacrifice deserves respect and gratitude, that his feelings matter, and that his personal fury comes entirely from a place of wanting to save Dean. Seven years later they still have the capacity to infuriate each other in that very special white-hot way we reserve for when the person you hold in the highest regard disappoints us, but it’s mellowed out to the level of passive aggressive sniping than trying to actually kill each other.

Cas and Dean’s personal emotions ran rampant all over “Lily Sunder.” It boiled down to Cas being pissed about the fact that Dean is pissed that Cas saved them – well, no, it boiled down to is Cas being crushed by Sam and Dean’s constant self-sacrifice attempts because he doesn’t want to lose them, and Dean being terrified of the consequences of Cas breaking their deal with Billie, even when Cas is willing to pay with his own life. But you know, guys, feelings, it’s tough, so although we do get a rare gem of using their big-boy words at the end, before that we mostly get extremely bitchy griping that could have come straight out of Ian McKellen’s Vicious. That car bit (“he’s sarcastic, but he’s also thoughtful and appreciative,”) truly had to be seen to be believed. Poor Sam.

‘The Man Who Would Be King’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: This was the show’s most truly Cas-centric episode prior to “Lily Sunder,” in which the errant angel tells his story to the audience and to an absent God, desperately uncertain about whether he’s doing the right thing. Not only do we learn about his history and his relationship with Heaven, the truth about what he’s been doing all season is revealed – teaming up with a slightly-more-evil-at-this-point Crowley, even helping him fake his own death, in order to access the souls in Purgatory and use his share to overpower Raphael, who’s keen to give plan A for Apocalypse another try. Honestly, Dean’s weeping and garment-rending over the betrayal in that final holy fire scene are kind of laughable in retrospect, given how much he hangs out with Crowley himself these days, but for the time, I get it. It was a big, devastating deal, especially as Dean was so determined to prove that Cas had merely been tricked. The final punch to the gut is the fact that Cas wanted Dean to help guide him, but couldn’t bear to disturb his happiness, so instead he took this questionable path.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “I still considered myself the Winchesters’ guardian. After all…they taught me how to stand up… What to stand for…And what generally happens to you when you do.” In “The Man Who Would Be King,” Cas uses this – belief? excuse? lesson? – to try and find his way, to figure out what he thinks is right and do what he must to save the world without divine intervention. At this point he still has a rather simplified understanding of free will – as he states, “explaining freedom to angels is a bit like teaching poetry to fish,” but it becomes clearer and clearer that he has much more of a natural capacity for it as the seasons go on. His involvement in the Winchester gospels, helping to “rip up the ending,” shaped him deeply, and this is the first season post-averted-Armageddon where he’s truly fallen and forced to puzzle out his own versions of right, wrong and choice. He obviously doesn’t come out of it well here, but “Lily Sunder” throws back heavily and constantly to the Winchesters as the catalyst for his growth and change.

‘Meet The New Boss’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: Technically, this occurs in the very last act of the season 6 finale “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” but it picks up the same moment directly in the next season’s premiere. After killing Balthazar for betraying his plans to Sam and Dean – one of Supernatural’s most cruel losses, and one that the angels in “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” remind him about – Cas successfully opens Purgatory and takes unto himself all the souls therein. This corrupts him with an extreme amount of power – scrambles his brain, as Dean puts it – and he announces himself as the new God. He spends the episode swanning around smiting all his opposition in Heaven, and those he perceives to be wrongdoers on Earth, including hypocritical religious leaders and the Klu Klux Klan. As the power deteriorates his body, it’s discovered that he took in more than just souls from Purgatory – the Leviathans, locked away as an abomination, have used him to hitchhike out, and although the boys and Bobby work hard to save him, the monsters with their own agenda eventually take control of him completely.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “You’re wrong, I am utterly indifferent to sexual orientation.” Not only is this a nicely woke bit of religious commentary – if there’s a God, he definitely has bigger things to worry about than where humans put their genitals, and Supernatural’s real God, Chuck Shurley, was later outright confirmed as bisexual – it’s part of a bigger conversation about angels, sexuality and gender, one which came back up in a big way last week in “Lily Sunder,” thanks to both the reveal (to the audience) that Castiel once had a female vessel, and (to Sam and Dean) that the angel Benjamin, who they assumed was male, also inhabited a woman. Everyone on the show identifies Cas as a man and he seems cool with that, but the way angels use male and female pronouns seems quite disconnected to their bodies, based more in traditional relation to the English versions of their names out of convenience than to do with their actual gender identification.

Despite using “he” when talking about Benjamin, Cas explains that Benjamin is an angel, but his vessel is a woman – implying that, pronouns aside, an angel transcends binary gender. Cas himself was perfectly at home in his 1900s lady, and was willing to take another female vessel in Claire. He’s also expressed romantic and sexual attraction to female-shaped people (both human and not – who knows how gender applies to demons and reapers, either, though given that demons start as human souls, it’s likely that Meg actually was a woman at some point) which, given his own lack of gender and his attraction to other genders or individuals, would make him somewhere around genderfluid and pansexual on the queer spectrum, if there’s a need to label him at all. Perhaps the vessel’s base instincts do affect how an angel feels about gender or sexuality at that given moment in time, though it seems Cas no longer shared his body with Jimmy after his first death. Perhaps “utterly indifferent” is the best way of putting it after all.

‘The Born-Again Identity’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: Oh God. After dissolving into little Leviathan tadpoles in the second episode, Castiel is presumed dead for most of season 7 – just one of the factors that sends Dean into a deep downward spiral of alcohol and depression. Some other factors: forced to ditch his car, Leviathans impersonating him and making him one of America’s most wanted, Bobby being shot in the head and killed, Sam going so crazy from visions of Lucifer that he has to be admitted to a mental institution.

Sixteen episodes after we last saw him, Cas appears again as Dean chases a lead on a real-deal healer called Emmanuel, who turns out to be the angel, healthy and fully powered but completely devoid of memory. In a startling display of emotion, Dean tells “Emmanuel” how Cas made him feel, and the healer is none too pleased to eventually discover that he is Castiel, responsible for all these awful things. He ultimately ends up using his untapped powers to save the day, regaining his memory, and, finally able to do right by Sam, taking the damage he caused in Sam’s mind into his own instead.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: Cas getting his trench coat back from Dean, who’s apparently been carting it from stolen car to stolen car all season. This episode has a few unanswered questions – what happened to that random ass wife? – and nothing about it directly comes up in “Lily Sunder,” but it’s such a huge shocker after Cas had been absent for so long – thought by fans, for a little while, gone for good – that I had to include it. I guess the strongest link between these episodes is in the candid emotional displays that take place – Dean being so soft and open with Emmanuel, and forgiving and excusing Cas the moment Cas starts hating on himself, claiming that despite his past anger, Cas did the best he could. In last week’s episode, where their beef comes from Castiel saving them when Dean thinks he shouldn’t have, Cas finally gets the literal “I’m not mad, I’m worried” from Dean that should have been part of pretty much every past conflict between them, and Dean loses every smidge of anger he’s been performing the second someone else poses a threat to Cas. Cas also proves in both episodes that he’s ready and willing to take on so much pain from others, or even die, to pay for the problems he caused.

‘A Little Slice of Kevin’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: After a slew of episodes featuring flashbacks to Dean’s year in Purgatory and what happened to him, Cas and Benny when they tried to escape, Dean begins seeing flashes of a bedraggled Cas until it becomes clear that he isn’t just suffering survivor’s guilt – the angel has finally returned. All season, Dean harbored a deep remorse about not being able to save Cas, but when he’s eventually able to address Cas about this, the truth comes out – that Cas shook Dean off and chose to stay in Purgatory as penance for all that he’d done (that would be the whole God/Leviathan/mass angel slaughter stuff.) Dean had been repressing this and remembering it incorrectly, as him failing to hang onto Cas, because both of these guys could win a joint gold medal in the self-hatred Olympics. This episode also gives the first glimpse of Naomi, and Castiel being forced against his will or control to do her bidding – yikes.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “I planned to stay all along. I just didn’t know how to tell you. You can’t save everyone, my friend… though, you try.” Ouch – and it only gets worse. In the follow-up to this episode, the brilliant “Hunteri Heroci” (showrunner Andrew Dabb’s first solo writing credit on the show) Cas admits that if he goes back to Heaven and sees what he’s done, he fears that he might kill himself. One of the nicest things about “Lily Sunder” was Cas’ newfound sense of self preservation – yes, he’s willing to die to prevent the ominous “cosmic consequences” of the Billie deal, and he’s willing to die as penance for his part in killing Lily’s human child (“ignorance is no excuse” – a powerful statement.)

But given his statement in “First Blood,” it seems like he’s in it to win it these days, if he can possibly help it, and by “win it” I mean not die and not let any of his dumb-ass humans die either and actually scrape together a semblance of happiness because they’ve all goddamn earned it. In the moments when Cas was explaining the situation, before he knows the truth, he perceived himself as doing Heaven’s duty and is determined that neither he or his former garrison deserve to be killed for this. While the morality about killing nephilim is something Team Free Will are currently drinking-and-trying-to-find-a-better-waying about, Cas having a semblance of faith in himself and his choices is a welcome change.

‘The Great Escapist’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: Only the biggest and most crucial reveal in Castiel’s entire history. Most of this episode is actually about Sam and Dean tracking down Metatron, but Castiel’s smaller arc is both an act of sheer genius on his part and a complete twist on the show’s. After the events of “Goodbye Stranger,” which I can’t even talk about right now, Cas, aware now of his brainwashing, goes on the run with the angel tablet, flicking from one identical Biggerson’s fast food restaurant to another too quickly for Naomi and her cronies to pinpoint. When she eventually does catch up with him, she drops the biggest bomb ever – that he was a participant in many reprehensible and ruthless acts, including the slaughter of the firstborns in Egypt, but he doesn’t remember it because he has always questioned the morality of Heaven’s order, tried to rebel, and been “washed clean” again, basically reprogrammed to factory settings, over and over and over. Ummmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “You’re the famous spanner in the works. Honestly, I think you came off the line with a crack in your chassis. You have never done what you were told. Not completely.” Allow me to repeat: ummmmmmmmmmmm. This is by far the most important thing that we’ve ever found out about Castiel, and it’s never been addressed again – until now. When Ishim is throwing shade about Castiel’s spotty angelic history, he references this moment, even referring to him, again, as a spanner in the works. This means that Steve Yockey watched “The Great Escapist” to prep for “Lily Sunder,” noted this tiny little insignificant mind-blowing factoid, and may or may not do something else with it in future, because this aspect of Cas – all the history he doesn’t remember, why he’s God’s chosen, why he was made so “flawed” – might be a huge part of his endgame for the show. Given that God loved his humans more than his angels and gave them free will as a gift, I wonder if Cas might have been specifically designed to bridge the gap between Heaven and humanity – an angel with the capacity to be human, almost a Jesus-like figure who’s reviled by his community because his views and teachings are so far ahead of the times. I just hope he doesn’t have to die for our sins.

‘I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: Due to Metatron’s spell in the season 8 finale, Castiel begins season 9 an actual human being. “I’m No Angel” and Heaven Can’t Wait” both delve more deeply into this, with varying results – the latter in particular is one of the most important Cas episodes of all time – but this was the first we got to see of it. There’s a theory I have about Supernatural – I mean, it’s kind of confirmed in the canon later in this season, when Cas tells Sam how his understanding of human emotion has changed and grown – that humans feel things on a deeper level, be it love, hate, pleasure, pain, anger, empathy, guilt, whatever, than angels have the ability to. That even those angels who do experience emotion, it doesn’t get through in the same way, kind of like the dial doesn’t go all the way up to ten for an angel, or they measure and value things – time, consequences, the value of human lives – using a completely different scale.

Being human fundamentally changed Cas. No matter how much he cared before this point, and we can all admit it was a lot, he processes situations and responds to things on a different level now, and has a different understanding of human lives – how they truly do need things that he deemed trivial, insignificant or had given no thought at all. As Sam says, he’s changed for the better. His apology to Lily at the end of last week’s episode was one of the most profound and genuine moments I’ve ever witnessed on television, and came from a place of true compassion, something his brethren are proven not to possess – not because they’re evil, but because they lack the capacity to understand the importance of something so insignificant in the grand scheme of the entire divine plan.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “Believe it or not, there may be something even better down here.” This arc, as it plays out over the first portion of the season, is somewhat upsetting (Dean kicking Cas out when he was most vulnerable, the weird reaper-sex-murder, the homeless shelter, his pride over his sad little job) and he’s still caught up in angel nonsense, for example one of the newly fallen trying to take him as a more powerful vessel, but watching Cas discover the small joys and trials of humanity, from drinking water to using money, is both delightful and heartbreaking. The only thing that’s better than Cas being forced into a human experience is the potential for Cas to one day choose a human experience, which is how I deeply suspect the show will end.

‘Stairway to Heaven’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: Metatron’s big, douchey moment in the sun – after forcing Castiel to lead a rebellion against him, he paints himself as the more righteous party by planting angelic suicide bombers in Cas’ name. When one of the captured bombers dies in an incident with Dean and the First Blade, Cas is asked to punish his friend to prove his loyalty to his angelic army. Of course, he refuses, and Metatron, using enough of a mix of lies and truth that Cas can’t deny (yes, he did take another angel’s grace) to foster doubt, manages to win Cas’ supporters over to his side. The smug ace up his grotty sleeve? He knows, that when pushed, Cas won’t choose anything over Dean, and proves it to everyone. “His true weakness is revealed. He’s in love… with humanity.” Some really specific humanity, that is.

It’s the spelled-out, For-Dummies version of every conflict Cas has faced over the years. It always ends the same way, which is why I was so surprised that Ishim still gave this angle the old college try in last week’s episode. It’s never going to work, dude. Cas has been constantly belittled and cursed and sullied for his relationship with the Winchesters – most prominently Dean, as it’s generally Dean he ends up needing to save in these “don’t throw it all away over one man” scenarios, though he’s done extraordinary things to save Sam too. He’s been asked to choose between his friends and Heaven over and over. They’ve been his Achilles heel for years, and more than that: the angels tend to act like Cas is dirty, tarnished and ruined, and – I’m truly not trying to imply anything here except as a metaphor – they treat him in a way that’s almost akin to accusing him of a sexual perversion, or a Catholic sin. “When Castiel first laid a hand on you in Hell, he was lost.” “You have fallen in every way imaginable.” The fact that killing angels is the nicest thing that’s said about him in Heavenly gossip. The fact that they threatened to cut off his genitals.

“Lily Sunder” revisits this in a slightly unique way – Ishim reveals that angels are meant to stay away from humans because it’s the humans who are the danger to angelkind – that humans are liable to defile their purity and purpose, and Ishim himself proves to be the worst affected, destroying Lily’s life after she rejects his very corrupt obsession with her, and attempting to cure Castiel of his human weakness – Dean – by destroying him, in the same way he cured himself by destroying his relationship with Lily. On the flip side, you have Akobel, who seems to be more akin to what Cas is now – an angel who loves humanity as the most glorious of their father’s creations, and who has a wonderful personal relationship with some human beings. Tragically, he dies for his pains, but like Cas, we can safely assume that this attitude, of loving humanity, is much closer to how Chuck wanted his kids to get along than the attitude of Lucifer, Uriel, Ishim, Naomi and others, who see humans as disgusting creatures and act like any angelic affection for them is comparable to bestiality. Count the monkey slurs in “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” alone.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “They like to hear me say their names.” Switching gears a bit here, it was this episode, witnessing the attitudes of all the angels in Castiel’s care, and his attitude towards them, that made me truly, fundamentally understand just how different Cas is. The angels we meet here are passionate yet vacant followers – apparently what God intended – and Cas is a mythical figure to them who has a capacity for free will that they just intrinsically lack. They love him for this, with the attitude of one who loves a great artist with a talent we can’t possibly hope to match – he can do something that they cannot do, expresses something they cannot express, thinks thoughts that would never occur to them, and that makes them turn to him for leadership and guidance. He doesn’t exploit that, or get power hungry because of it – he’s just trying to look after them and organize for them to make the best of their lives – but I, and Dea, who calls it a cult, found it creepy as hell. In “Lily Sunder,” Ishim mentions that some angels still think Cas is a hero – we haven’t met any of them in a while, though. I wonder what stories they’re telling about him these days.

‘The Devil In The Details’

The Angel of #ThrowbackThursday: The most recent big reveal involving Cas happened last season, when he agreed to become Lucifer’s vessel in order to help defeat the Darkness, something that the audience finds out long before Sam and Dean do. The episode itself is tense as hell – Sam, Dean and Cas all stuck in the Cage after Lucifer managed to trick Sam into coming down to talk to him, Luci trying to get Sam to consent once more, and eventually secretly selling Castiel on the idea. This comes to pass because Cas feels useless to help in any other way – he’s a fallen angel with powers that are not all that powerful anymore, and he always tends to take the Winchesters’ declarations of “I need you” to mean “I need you to do something for us, I need you like I need a tool,” as opposed to “I need you around in order to feel okay about living my life.” He’s willing to give himself up in this way for the greater good, and while, there is, as Ambriel muses, a nobility in that, there’s also a huge lack of self-worth.

The Tastiest Cas-Canon Treat: “You help. But Sam and Dean Winchester are the real heroes. So, if the Darkness is still alive and she’s pissed… and she kills us… no big loss. So sure, maybe we’re not super important, but we do the job.” It’s no coincidence that while looking for Amara, before he and Dean head to the Cage, Cas encounters Ambriel, a cannon fodder angel who matter-of-factly discusses with him how expendable they both are. Given the rather shaky circumstances at home over the last few years, it’s somewhat understandable that Cas has things a little twisted – he’s been kicked out without knowing why, Dean’s tried to kill him under the influence of the Mark of Cain, he had that weird attack dog curse for a little bit… he’s never really had the chance to get the reassurance that he’s truly one of the family when it’s not under pain of death.

The end of season 11 seemed to change that, and it’s now very clear that although he’s still uncertain about where he belongs in the universe and what his purpose is, he has a home and a family, if he’ll accept them. “Lily Sunder” featured the lovely little factor of Dean calling Cas their family in casual conversation, as opposed to when bleeding from the eyeballs. He’s shown to be living in the bunker when not out on the road – the status quo is that this is where he goes when there’s nothing else to do – even when Sam and Dean aren’t there, as opposed to just waiting around like a very awkward butler with superpowers until someone gives him a call asking for his service, and the show is getting more conscientious at making sure we know where he is, and why, when he’s not with the boys. He’s also comfortable enough in his relationship with Sam, Dean and even Mary, to openly state that he won’t let them die because of what they mean to him, and when Ishim taunted Cas about having no home I thought Dean was about to reach over the table and stab his eyes out with a fork. It’s taken nine years, and everyone can see it from space, but finally, Supernatural is actually letting Cas and the Winchesters understand and talk about the fact that their bond is unconditional, and therefore, even if he was of no use at all, he could never be expendable.

‘Supernatural’ airs Thursdays at the new time of 8/7c on The CW

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