Supernatural 9×03 I’m No Angel: The Good, the Bad, and the Social Media Fallout

I'm No Angel

Somewhere between the hype, the spoilers, the expectations, and the general volatility that seems to surround Cas-centric episodes, the Supernatural fandom had a bit of a breakdown last Tuesday. Nothing major. It wasn’t on the level of the fallout after the season 6 finale or Reading is Fundamental or last year’s Goodbye Stranger. I mean, there may have been a threat to boycott the episode, but at this point if the Supernatural fandom doesn’t threaten to boycott at least one episode per season then something has gone terribly wrong. But indeed, a lot of people got very upset in the lead-up to this episode, and then a lot more people got very upset after the episode aired (many of them different from the first group and upset in different ways). So now that the furor has died down and we’ve had a few days to recover, I think I’m ready to look at I’m No Angel in the cold, hard light of day. What worked here? What didn’t? There’s a lot in both categories, so let’s dive in.

(Warning: this review contains discussion of rape and rape culture)

Cas is Living Among Humans Now: GOOD

A lot of Cas fans have been waiting for this for a long time. There’s an entire culture of meta-analysis and fanfiction based on what would happen if Cas were ever to permanently fall. Many believed that it would be the perfect way to revitalize and find new material for a character who the writers often don’t seem to know what to do with. And I have to say that we were right. The canon take on Cas-as-human isn’t going to match most people’s speculation (how could it, considering the sheer volume and variety of fallen-Cas fan-made material?) but for the most part it works.

I enjoyed Cas’s interactions with the humans he meets immensely. The transition from angel to human is being portrayed thoughtfully, humorously, and almost lovingly. Of course Cas comes across as very strange to most people, what with all the complaining about bodily functions and ruminating on how new basic human interactions are to him. Luckily, most people seem to take his inexperience with life in general as merely inexperience with life on the streets, and tolerate his weirdness. But they also seem to recognize the openness, sincerity, and lack of pretension that endears Cas to fans, and they also are endeared. One man even hesitates to share information with Sam and Dean in an attempt to protect “Clarence” from whoever might be following him.

Speaking of which, it warmed my heart a little to see Cas going by the name “Clarence,” however briefly. Like her or not, Meg was a big part of the show and, towards the end of her run, a big part of Cas’s life. I think their relationship was mishandled in a lot of ways, but there is no denying that they cared about each other on some level. Since Castiel couldn’t very well go by the nickname that Dean gave him, as every angel in existence knows who “Cas” is, “Clarence” was a nice throw-back to a fallen friend.

The only thing that threw me off was the part where Cas squeezes a glob of toothpaste into his mouth in lieu of brushing his teeth. I get that it was supposed to be funny – Cas doesn’t know how to perform basic human tasks, haha! – but it was jarring considering Cas’s history. This is an ageless being who has observed humanity for millennia, once shared a body with a human (though Jimmy Novak seems to be gone for good, Cas did once have access to all his memories), and spent several months living as a married man. Are you telling me he doesn’t know what a toothbrush is? Missing out on popular culture references and needing to get used to peeing, I understand. But the writers need to take care that they don’t cross the line into dumbing Cas down for a laugh.

Actually, I lied. There was one more thing that rubbed me entirely the wrong way…

That Boob Shot: BAD

I believe I have said before that, when I watch Supernatural every week with my obligatory shock blanket and emergency bottle of cheap vodka handy, every once in a while I am smacked in the face with a shot or a scene or a line that makes it very clear that this show is written and directed primarily by straight, white dudes. This shot of Castiel staring dazedly down a woman’s shirt isn’t a development of his sexuality; it’s male gaze projected onto a character for whom it makes absolutely no sense.

To be clear, the reason it makes no sense has nothing to do with Cas’s sexual orientation. Considering the fact that he was originally a “multidimensional wavelength of celestial intent” and is “completely indifferent to sexual orientation,” I personally think it makes the most sense for Cas to be either pansexual or asexual. I’d settle for bisexual. But there are plenty of other possibilities; I can see Cas as gay, demisexual, grey-A, queer, or, considering his current situation, “questioning” would seem to be a good label for him.

The intention of the show is almost certainly to make him straight. That’s fine, if disappointing. Heterosexuality is a valid option in the pantheon of sexual orientations, though it is the most over-represented one in mainstream television.

But what I’m saying is that, no matter what Cas’s sexual orientation is supposed to be, that boob shot was terrible, because sexual orientation is not the same as learned expression of sexuality. Men who are attracted to women aren’t inherently fascinated by boobs; that comes from socialization in a culture of objectification. Even if Cas were straight as an arrow, there is no justification for him suddenly being captivated by the tops of a woman’s breasts.

The fact that Cas wasn’t socialized as a human is evident in every other one of his scenes. Why suddenly here, if not to reinforce heterosexuality and objectification of women’s bodies as the default?

Besides, this shot becomes even more superfluous when you take into account the fact that they explore Cas’s sexuality in much greater depth with…

April: Ehhhhhhh… BAD

This is a long, many-faceted topic, so let’s take it one piece at a time.

First of all, I was fairly impressed with the scenes Cas shared with April from their meeting through to their post-coital snuggles. This is the correct way to explore a character’s sexuality: show them interacting with and becoming fascinated by a person instead of by a set of mammaries! Sure, it was a bit rushed. But considering the short time frame it had to be squeezed into, I think the episode does an admirable job of convincing us that April and Cas are fond of and attracted to each other.

I’ve seen a lot of fans complaining that this sequence is unrealistic, that women don’t just bring men home off the street and Cas would never sleep with a woman he’d only known for a few hours. I disagree. Without getting too personal here, it is very possible for people to have sex quite soon after meeting, even if one or both is a virgin and even if neither of them see the potential for a long-term relationship. And to say that Cas deserves something “better” or “more meaningful” for his first time is to devalue countless real-life one-time-only encounters that were incredibly meaningful to the people who experienced them.

This episode was mostly about Cas’s first real experiences with humanity. Sex is, for most people, an important part of their human experiences. In light of that, I think Cas meeting and sleeping with April is a fine addition to the episode.

Then April shows her true colors, and everything goes to Hell.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: April rapes Castiel. She deceives and seduces him for the sole purpose of gaining his trust in order to humiliate him and eventually torture and kill him. The fact that Cas consents and enjoys it in the moment is irrelevant when his consent and enjoyment comes under such false pretenses. That’s where the “informed” part of “informed consent” comes from.

(EDIT: It’s been pointed out that April, the human vessel, was also a victim of rape in this scenario as the reaper possessing her forced her to have sex without her consent. This was clear to me, but I forgot to include it in this article. I apologize.)

A television show can deal with rape as a plot point and as a real-life issue without being dismissive, insulting, or culturally damaging.

But not Supernatural. Supernatural is not that show.

For Supernatural‘s other missteps when it comes to sexual consent, see their utter disregard for the vessels of demons starting at around season 3, their utter disregard for the vessels of angels starting at around season 5, and Season Seven, Time for a Wedding. Or, you know, don’t. Because that episode was awful.

And even without their terrible track record at depicting rape sensitively, they have their terrible track record with female characters to contend with, too. Suffice to say that, while a storyline about a woman who seems nice and has sex with a male lead only to turn out to be evil and eventually get retributively killed might be valid on another show, on Supernatural it is so predictable that it hurts. And while demonizing and executing one woman might be a legitimate episode if it happened once, the pattern of it in Supernatural has long since become straight-up misogynistic.

The culmination of April’s plotline was not material that Supernatural had any business covering, especially when it would have been just as effective if April had captured and tortured Cas non-sexually. That’s what nudged the April plot over the line from good into bad territory.

What punted it over the line and into the neighboring county of “Dear Christ What Were They Thinking?” was the scene later in the episode, where Dean and Sam react to the news that Cas and April had intercourse. Everything from the dialogue, their expressions, their tones of voice, to the choice of background music is a misstep. This would be an appropriate scene if Cas’s encounter with April were positive and consensual, but since he is essentially informing Dean and Sam that he was raped their reactions are completely out of line.

To me, this is by far the worst scene of the episode because it has a very real-world negative impact. Specifically, the reason male rape victims so rarely speak about their experiences is because they fear dismissal – they fear their loved ones reacting as Dean and Sam do to Cas. “Good job! You got laid! What are you complaining about?” And Cas’s apparent lack of concern just reinforces the idea that the rape of men is nothing to be concerned about. Apparently, in Supernatural’s opinion, it’s just fodder for jokes about condoms.

How disappointing, how heartbreaking is that?

Cas Dies… Again: GOOD

Okay, I’ve made myself sad. Let’s talk about something nice for a change – Cas dying! Wait, wait, give me a minute! I’ll explain!

I think this scene was needed after Cas’s earlier observation that he is now fated to die some day. It’s one thing to accept that Cas is technically mortal now; it’s quite another to be reminded in a visceral way just how vulnerable he is without his grace. And with his impressive history of death and resurrection over the last several seasons, one more “death” and one more miracle is a nice stamp on the running theme.

Of course, I doubt anyone was actually worried for Cas’s life what with Misha Collins being a series regular and all. But within the context of the show, it has real impact. Dean’s heartbreaking concern and his emphatic, “Never do that again!” are tangibly evolved from his reactions to Cas’s previous “deaths.” There’s an air of finality to it. Cas is mortal now. No more free passes. Now we’re playing for keeps.

That’s exactly what we need this season. Time to raise the stakes.

Turns Out Zeke is Super-Sketchy: GOOD

Out of all the storylines being set up this season, Zeke’s is one of the few that I actually believe is being executed and received according to plan. We were suckered in during the first episode of the season, when Cas’s vouch and Tahmoh Penikett’s pretty face earned Ezekiel the trust of most of the fandom. We were primed for another Benny Lafitte – a supernatural ally who has our heroes’ best interests at heart.

But Benny was introduced under untrustworthy circumstances, and only proved himself worthy of our confidence over the course of the season. Ezekiel seems to be the opposite – at first we have every reason to trust him, but he is slowly being revealed as something more sinister than what he first presented himself as. It starts with Zeke taking control over Sam’s body mid-sentence (unsettling) and culminates with his ultimatum to Dean concerning Cas (to much of fandom, unforgivable).

This is one time when I’m content to sit back and see what happens. I’m certain that the Supernatural powers that be have something interesting planned for Zeke. And while we didn’t get the angel ally we were hoping for, we just might get the multifaceted plot entanglement we deserve.

Dean Kicks Cas Out of the Bunker: GOOD

Osric Chau’s post about the fandom fallout, while it completely misses the point in some areas, gets at least one thing right in that the writers of Supernatural aim for drama, which often means terrible things happening to characters we love. “If the writers were actually just writing the show based off of the majority of fan reactions…” he says, “The most dramatic moment would be Sam burning his tongue on the hotness of the cocoa, and the rest of TFW sorts that out with water and massages.” While that’s a bit overly simplistic (lots of fans understand the need for drama through pain, and some seem practically addicted to angst) he’s not wrong that a good chunk of the fandom would like for more nice things to happen to their favorite characters.

Cas being evicted from the Men of Letters bunker was definitely not a nice thing. In my heart, I wish Cas could have stayed and we could have had a season of Dean, Sam, Cas, and Kevin hanging out in the bunker and teaching Cas how to play video games. But the show needs drama. And drama it will create.

Now, while I am a bit tired of drama that relies on Cas being separated from the Winchesters, in this case I can see the reasoning. If Zeke truly has some ulterior motive, as I suspect he does, then he has every reason not to give Cas a chance to look too closely at what he is up to. So, in order to further the Zeke-in-Sam plotline (for which I have high hopes), I can absolutely believe that removing Cas from the bunker was a necessary dramatic stroke.

And if Cas had to leave, then it was done in the most believable way possible. Dean clearly wants Cas to stay – he’s practically glowing to have his whole family under one roof again. But Ezekiel gives him a choice: either Cas goes, or Sam dies. Under those circumstances, Dean’s decision is completely understandable.

Furthermore, this is going to open up a whole host of possibilities with Cas’s character trajectory. While I would have liked nothing better than for Cas to learn about humanity from the Winchesters and Kevin, I am also excited to see him forge his own confidence through independence and build relationships outside of Team Free Will.

This is a case of a moment of angst setting the spark for a season’s worth of meaty plots and character development. I can dig it.

Reapers are Angels Now?: BAD

This is something of a side note, but it is incredibly annoying to me. Without bothering to explain themselves, Supernatural seems to have decided at some unknown point that reapers have always been a subset of angels. If you weren’t privvy to the inner workings of their minds, you are forgiven for being a little confused. Reapers have always been portrayed on this show as disciples of Death, and there has never been a hint that they are related to angels in any way. To say otherwise is a rather drastic tweak to canon, and it creates a tidy bundle of plot holes if you look too closely at the early seasons.

Now, I’m not against the evolution of canon. But it has to be done with some planning and awareness. You can’t just begin operating under the assumption that reapers are angels and everyone knows that. You have to reveal that information, and you have to make it work within the story.

For a good example of a twist on previous canon, in the episode Changing Channels the Trickster is revealed to actually be Gabriel, the rogue archangel. This completely changes our view of his earlier appearances, but when we look back we find that it actually makes sense. The reveal adds new layers to the existing canon without contradicting it.

The reveal that reapers are angels does not add to previous canon – it detracts from it. Should we now assume that Tessa has been appearing in a vessel since season 2? When Castiel walked through the crowd of reapers in Abandon All Hope, was he recognizing his brothers and sisters? Why does Death, who is so emphatically neutral in issues of Heaven versus Hell, work closely with agents of Heaven?

This is such a little thing, but it is a sad example of the writers apparently thinking that they can invent new aspects of canon wholesale without regard for previously established rules. They must think we have very short memories.

Whatever the Hell Happened on Twitter: I don’t know, man, yeah it was bad but it was also pretty funny

In case you missed the kerfuffle, it would seem that WB Executive and Supernatural script supervisor Chad Kennedy joined Twitter just in time to be offered up like a sacrificial lamb to thousands of despairing and angry fans last Tuesday night. Now, everyone on the Supernatural staff with a Twitter account has stuck their foot in their mouth at some point (with the possible exception of Robbie Thompson, who seems incapable of ever pissing me off), but Kennedy was new at this and apparently didn’t have even the rudimentary fan-wrangling skills that the writers and actors have developed.

That’s the only explanation I have for why he unambiguously stated that it was not the intention on this show for Dean or Cas to be bisexual.

Now, extreme disappointment with representation issues and a fundamental misunderstanding of the fandom aside, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. TV shows are allowed to declare their characters to be heterosexual, and I actually appreciated that someone was being clear about the show’s intentions for once instead of jerking fans around with false hope. Then things took a turn for the insulting when Kennedy seemed to realize how many people he’d just disappointed and began backpedaling as if his life depended on it. He claimed to support LGBT representation, and even said that he would approve a romantic relationship for Dean and Cas if that script ever came across his desk and made sense for the story. Nice words, but that quick about-face was very telling. It’s clear that everyone involved in this show seems to think that they can have their devoted-queer-fanbase-cake and eat it, too.

When some fans called him out for his sudden change of tune, he appeared to deny what he had just said. It was fairly surreal. It all culminated in Kennedy’s account disappearing, leading most to assume that he’d become overwhelmed by the fan response and deleted. His Twitter is back now, but the tweets relevant to Dean and Cas’s sexuality are missing (screenshots can be found here).

Another highlight of the night features Kennedy getting schooled in Supernatural canon when he tries to defend the idea that reapers have always been angels.

I don’t want to give a couple of Twitter exchanges too much gravitas. Yeah, Kennedy made a bit of a fool of himself, but, as I said before, so have most of the people who work on Supernatural, right down to the show runners and lead actors. And if you were surprised by his obvious queer-baiting, then you and I haven’t been watching the same show – yanking queer fandom’s chain is practically the Supernatural official sport (except when it comes to Charlie, who is perfect).

The poor guy just didn’t have a clue what he was getting into. So while he frustrated me to no end, I have to laugh at how quickly his night went south.

In the days since, there have been low-level aftershocks of fan interaction with official social media accounts. At this point, it’s pretty par for the course in the aftermath of a controversial episode. The cast and crew are overwhelmed with countless fan reactions, both positive and negative. They reply to a few – sometimes with insight, sometimes in ways that miss the point to an incredible degree. Fans extrapolate those responses past their intent, and the cycle begins anew.

In some ways this is inevitable with as big and passionate a fandom as Supernatural has. In other ways, the writers, executives, and even the actors are at fault for reacting in such a disorganized and inflammatory manner. It’s wonderful that these official social media accounts exist for us to interact with, especially in cases like Robbie Thompson, Osric Chau, Misha Collins, and others who seem to legitimately understand fan reactions and respond pragmatically and genuinely (most of the time). But others, like Chad Kennedy, Adam Glass, DJ Qualls, and others employ so much double-talk and get so defensive when called out that they seriously damage the trust the fans share with the show.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much of them. After all, these are not official Supernatural accounts, but the personal accounts of the people involved with Supernatural. A certain amount of chaos and offensiveness is to be expected. But with social media teams like Elementary, Sleepy Hollow, and even Teen Wolf (despite its flaws) taking great pains to connect with their audience in a meaningful way, including by integrating a groundbreaking level of inclusivity in their respective canons, Supernatural‘s missteps become all the more glaring. And embarrassing.

And finally…

Linda Tran Rescues Herself from Crowley’s Goons and Joins the Boys in the Bunker, Which Totally Happened in the Episode and I Did Not Just Dream It: GUYS OH MAN THAT WAS THE BEST PART

Author: Christina Kim


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