May 25

You’ll Be Better, When You Aren’t Yourself: Implications of Castiel Falling

Originally published April 24 2013 on Tumblr.

There has been a great deal of speculation about Castiel falling at the end of this season. We know he will be a regular character next season, and the writers notoriously have difficulty in fitting a high-powered being intoSupernatural’s world. Therefore, for Castiel to fall – not only to be depowered, but to be disgraced and become fully human—is seen as the most obvious way around that difficulty. It is easily argued that such depowering is unnecessary and that there are ways to fit a powerful character in without making him a plot device or the deus ex machina all the time. However, we also know that Supernatural has been unable to do this, and therefore we have had many successions of Castiel depowered in various ways, interspersed with overpowered Castiel who sometimes saves the day and sometimes ruins it. So it appears that fallen!Cass may well be the direction that the show is headed. But what does this suggest about Castiel as a character, and is it a good thing?

Castiel is a character who doesn’t fit in, who according to what we’ve been told, has never fit in. His fellow angels talk easily to the Winchesters about how different he is. “Too much heart was always Castiel’s problem,” Samandriel tells Dean at their first meeting. Both Uriel and Balthazar refer with distaste to his liking of human beings, Dean specifically. They are very clear: Cass feels. An angel is not supposed to feel. He does not fit, and Samandriel’s comment suggests that he never fit, that he’s always been different. Castiel also behaves differently to all the other angels we’ve seen; in no other angel have we seen the social ineptness, the odd vocal inflections, the sometimes unusual bearing. A lot of this is explained in real-world terms in that Castiel was the show’s first angel, and his character was fairly well-established before new angels who acted more “human” were introduced. (In-world, we are given no specific explanation, except that Cass is just different.) Oddly enough, Castiel is both regarded by the other angels as the most different, the most human, of all of them, and yet to human beings (including the audience) he is probably the most unhuman of all the angels in terms of his mannerisms.

Since Castiel does not fit in with his angel brethren, it’s tempting to say that falling would be an improvement for his character. He would no longer be derided for being exactly what their Father wanted them to be. There is more tolerance for differences within humanity than within angelkind—which says something about how narrow the angels are—so perhaps Castiel would ultimately be better off as human. He would still be different, but he would be in a place where some of the essentials of his nature—namely his heart—did not mark him as a freak. But Castiel is not human. Even if he falls and becomes “essentially” human, he has eons upon eons of existence as an angel. It’s fair to say he won’t forget his past, though it’s possible that he will slowly lose all but his recent history, that it can’t all be contained within a human mind. Ultimately, Castiel is still going to be an outsider, someone who doesn’t quite fit, as a human. But he’ll be someone who doesn’t fit in and has lost everything that he was.

Castiel is a character who dwells in the in-between. He is—now, as an angel—close to both humanity and Heaven. He still feels loyalty to and arguably love for (not to mention a huge amount of guilt) his angel brethren, and we know he loves humanity—the Winchesters and Dean specifically. If he is human, he will no longer be the liminal character, not quite fitting in either world; but a being trapped on one side, at home nowhere. As it stands now, he has responsibilities both to Heaven and to humanity, and humanizing him would imply that he no longer holds any responsibility to Heaven. And human!Cass will lose his status as a go-between for Heaven and Earth. The show already lost one character that inhabited that in-between world when Meg was killed. The loss of liminal characters in this way unnecessarily separates the different realms of the show; if Cass is simply human there is no longer a sympathetic connection between the angel and the human.

We currently have three examples of fallen!Cass (in the sense of being depowered and essentially human) in “The End” and the end of Season five, and in “Mommy Dearest.” All three have additional complications—in both cases there’s a lot going wrong in his world that Cass can’t or doesn’t know how to deal with depowered—but in all three it’s clear that falling would not be good for Castiel. His loss in “Mommy Dearest” is clearly temporary, caused by proximity to Eve, and is fairly lightly treated. In the end of Season Five, his falling and loss of power and subsequent inability to help in ways he’s accustomed to frustrate him deeply. But it is “The End” that shows us the tragedy that a completely fallen and human Castiel could be.

There are, of course, complicating circumstances surrounding Castiel’s fallenness in “The End.” It’s the Apocalypse, Sam is essentially dead, Dean is lost, and Castiel has fallen because the angels have abandoned him. All of which potentially contribute to Castiel’s depression over his loss. But there’s an essential sorrow there that is not about anything other than being fallen and not being what he was anymore. There’s a sense to End!Cass of nothing matters because I’m no longer who I am. Maybe in a world where falling is a choice freely made, Dean and Sam are right there with him, and the world isn’t gone to hell, Castiel falling will have a less tragic end. But there will probably still be some degree of sorrow and loss. Fallen Cass will always be a tragedy, even in idealized circumstances.

There is also a suggestion that human!Cass is the only logical direction for his character to develop. This is possibly the worst possible reason to have Castiel fall—worse possibly than having him fall because he’s too powerful. Making Castiel human because it’s not possible for his character to grow otherwise has terrible implications. It states that only human characters can be fully developed. If Cass becomes human, the show will most likely (unless one is introduced now) have no regular, recurring nonhuman ally character. If Cass falls, he will be normalized. He will lose his essential differentness from the other main (human) characters. Pairing this normalization with the suggestion that Cass can now be allowed to grow and develop as a character now that he is human would be a deeply disturbing and distasteful development. It suggests that Castiel is only a good (as in well-developed, fully rounded) character if he is human, if he is normal—that a character who is atypical and different must change in order to be as valuable as other characters.

This equation of normal with good is part of why I don’t like the idea of Castiel falling. I don’t see Castiel as autistic, but there are aspects of him that are recognizable to me as an autistic person; enough so that I find attempts to normalize him, or suggestions that he would be “better” that way alarming. There’s a persistent point of view that sees Castiel’s difference—his occasional social ineptness in particular—as a flaw in his character. (Perhaps, according to some, an adorable flaw, but a flaw.) If he becomes human, therefore, he will no longer be an outsider and this flaw will most likely be fixed. Part of me thinks the show will—if human Cass happens—make as much as possible out of “Cass learning to be human” possibilities, but eventually human Cass will most likely be some shade of the Cass we see in “The End,” with essentially none of his previous social awkwardness. But in real people, these aren’t things that can be simply “fixed” and changed. I don’t think, at all, that this is deliberate; Cass isn’t written as an autistic character and ridding him of certain elements of his character that are reminiscent of autism wouldn’t be intended to be taken that way. But as someone who has been told frequently that it’s a shame that I’m autistic and I’d be a much better person if only I could be “fixed” so I could be “like everyone else”—an attitude that is not at all unusual—the parallels, however unintentional, are inescapable. And such experiences are hardly isolated to autistic people.

Making him human, and no longer different, would be a profound change in his character. End!Cass indicates that much of the way Cass interacts with the world is due to his angelic nature. Take away that nature, and he becomes an essentially different person. Human Castiel wouldn’t simply be “same Castiel minus powers,” he’d be a whole new character in many ways. One that’s been made typical, made normal, in order to fit in better with the show. On its own this is problematic enough, but it’s also part of a long history (outside ofSupernatural) of nonhuman or otherwise typical characters being presented as improving or becoming more real, well-rounded, or generally better when they behave or become more human or more typical. While I’m certain that isn’t a conscious intention—from the powers that be or from those who want to see Cass fall–it has definite negative implications for people like me who find that an essential part of Castiel’s appeal lies in his differentness, his non-humanity. Telling us Castiel would be better if he changed, if he was no longer what he was, feels like telling us that we, too, would be better if only we were “normal.”

Additionally, Castiel falling and becoming human would potentially allow him to avoid responsibility for what is happening in Heaven. It’s possible that even falling he could put himself in a position to atone for his role in Heaven’s destruction, but it’s highly unlikely. The first half of this season—8×07 through 8×10 in particular—gave us a Castiel who was finally beginning to understand that he needed to face what he’d done and do his best to atone for it. (He really can’t fix what he did, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have the responsibility to try to restore and make amends as much as possible.) After this point in the season, however, Castiel’s story shifted into the Naomi storyline. Much as I love that story, it did sideline Castiel’s working for atonement in Heaven. Even if we return to that as Castiel’s motivation by the end of the season—there has been some suggestion to that effect—having Castiel fall and become human would seem to cut that short. There’s also a possibility that if Cass falls without a resolution there that he will regard his falling—regardless of the immediate circumstances surrounding—as a punishment. I’m not interested in seeing Castiel punished. I think he was wrong to believe that remaining in Purgatory and being chased by Leviathan was a way to pay for his wrongdoing. I want him to work, by his own free will and not under control of any other angel, to try to make amends. If he falls, that story may well be left unresolved.

And I don’t believe Castiel does not want to be an angel anymore or that he regards himself as no longer part of that family. Yes, Heaven and the angels have serious problems, some of which were caused or exacerbated by Castiel. But they are still Castiel’s family. That he’s different from the rest of them does not change that, nor does the fact that the Winchesters are also his family. The Winchesters are Castiel’s family of choice; Heaven is his family of creation. Choosing between them is not a necessity, nor should it be presented as such. We’ve seen no evidence that Castiel wants to leave his angel family behind. His avoidance of Heaven earlier in this season was a result of his shame and guilt, not a lack of connection. And one need only look at his reaction to the angels’ arrival in 7×21 to know that Castiel still loves his angelic brothers and sisters.

In the end, Castiel may well fall. But a human Castiel is not a character shift that would be without problems. It would remove from the show a primary nonhuman protagonist and reinforce the idea that human (normal) is best. It suggests a character must be human in order to grow and develop as a character. Making Castiel human also implies that a character that is different is improved by making him more typical and more accessible. I don’t see how Cass falling at this point will be something he freely chooses. And when a character is forced to become something he isn’t, this shouldn’t be celebrated as an unreservedly good thing. Because it isn’t. It’s a tragedy. Good may come of it—I do think there could be some positive to Fallen!Cass –but it is still a tragedy.

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