Supernatural: Thoughts on “Stairway to Heaven”

Property of the CW
Property of the CW

Episode 09×22 Or TFW FTW

I have so much to say about this episode that I’m going to do the most succinct synopsis that’s ever synopsized: Your story doesn’t account for [Team] Free Will, Metatron.

Also, Gadreel ain’t so bad after all. Maybe.

What This Episode Reveals About Team Free Will

Bear with me as I deviate from my standard SPN post format. I have things to say that don’t quite fit into my typical method of discussing Supernatural. The end is nigh, my friends, and for this next-to-last post about season 9, I’m gonna talk about Team Free Will. But first, a quick reminder of the themes we’ve seen this season:

  • Humanity/What It Means to Be Human, or, The Monster Grey Area
  • The Power of Family
  • “I Did What I Had To”

Property of the CW
Property of the CW


Last night’s episode was, as Metatron described it, a “Cas love fest.” From the general feeling on  our Twitter TL, it seemed that Castiel fans were overjoyed to see the trenchcoated angel reunited with the boys. Now, there seems to be a divide in the SPN Family: those who love the TFW focus and those who love the show being about just the Winchesters. My personal stance is that Castiel is a Winchester in all the ways that matter. Family don’t end with blood.

In fact, it is this theme of family that makes Castiel more important than ever. Last night Cas proved (again) that he will give up everything for Dean Winchester (see eps 5.18 and 8.17). That level of sacrifice seems to be inherent to the Winchesters, and Castiel is no exception. When Castiel gives up his angelic army, he’s not only doing it to save Dean’s life. He’s also exemplifying the two other themes: by making this choice–exerting his free will, you might say–Castiel is demonstrating the empathy he learned as a human. He understands better, now, why the brothers are dependent on each other, and he chooses free will over the angel-sheep of his flock.

In my opinion, Castiel congregated his renegade angelic host because of the time he spent as Godstiel in season 7. He’s atoning for the mistakes he made, and by helping his brothers return to their Home, he believes he can right some of the wrong. He’s doing what he has to do to make up for his past; in season 8, he stayed behind in purgatory as a sort-of self-flagellation for his sins and in season 9, he’s atoning. Next step, forgiveness.

property of the CW
property of the CW

Sam Winchester

Every writer knows that sometimes real life bleeds into prose. Every fan knows that sometimes fiction echoes reality a little too closely. Supernatural has lasted as long as it has because it connects with its audience. We may never gank a demon, but we can relate to the characters because the emotional dynamics are familiar to us. Six years ago, very close to the time I began watching Supernatural, my best friend started using cocaine. His boyfriend at the time was a user, and quickly I saw my best friend turn into someone I didn’t recognize, someone who lived for their next fix. The SPN family knows this story, because we saw it play out with Sam and Ruby. We hated Sam for what his demon blood addiction did to those who love him, for how it eventually led to the apocalypse. We watched helplessly–much like I did with my best friend–as Sam slipped further and further into denial and addiction. And it hurt. 

Last season we had a Sam so full of self-hatred that he felt he had to die to atone for his mistakes (sound familiar, Castiel?). Sam’s journey to redemption in the past four seasons has been long, angsty, and downright difficult to watch. When you watch a loved one get clean, it’s not easy. We know this story, we’ve heard it, seen it, in our daily lives: the alcoholic or drug addict trying to convince their family that they’re “really clean” this time. That this time, it will be better.

For Sam, when he says, “I did what I had to,” he is saying, “I’m doing what I have to in order to stay clean.” He recognizes the full extent of the toxicity in his and Dean’s relationship, and as Dean grows more and more addicted to the effect of the First Blade, Sam is torn between distancing himself from a hurtful situation and intervening on his brother’s behalf. He knows, better than anyone, that Dean will not listen to reason because as an addict, there’s nothing more important than that next fix.

Property of the CW
Property of the CW

Dean Winchester

This season, it is no longer Sam who is drowning in denial and addiction; it’s Dean. Throughout my weekly recaps of SPN, I have said repeatedly that this season is strongly reminiscent of seasons 4 & 5. I would go so far as to say that it mirrors it.  Dean’s descent into First Blade Dependency is parallel to Sam’s demon blood addiction in season 4; instead of a Ruby, we have a Crowley, and instead of an apocalypse, we have a fall.

When Dean allowed Gadreel to possess Sam, he was doing what he needed to save his brother. However, by refusing to accept the consequences (Kevin’s death, Sam’s anger, etc.), we watched Dean set himself up to first wallow in self pity and then embark on a quest to self-destruction by receiving the Mark of Cain. We watched him flirt with denial as he obsessed over killing Abaddon, and now that Abaddon is no longer a threat (or a distraction), we see the depth of his addiction to the Blade when he attacked Gadreel at the end of “Stairway to Heaven.”

We know from what Cain told Dean that there is a way to overcome the temptation offered by the Blade, but we also know, and Sam says, that using the Blade has a price, a price that Dean hasn’t had to pay yet. Addiction, any addiction, affects more people than just the person using; Dean’s choices now can change the tide in this war of Good v. Metatron, but, as Sam knows, the addicted wear blinders and can only see their own cravings. Last night, we saw Team Free Will reunite, but the reunion may be short-lived if the Blade’s side-effects are as severe as I fear.

Stay tuned for season finale predictions from the Collectiva Diva and myself. And begin hoarding the Kleenex, because next week is going to be rough.

-The Collectress

Follow me on Twitter. @dearcollectress