“This episode was quite an exercise in writer/showrunner hubris, I thought, via Metatron's endless exposition.” –spn_djinn, IMDB forums
“Metatron thinks he's God, and Thompson thinks he's Edlund.” – tikistitch, IMDB forums
“Nothing happened in this episode.” –various
“Metatron burning the Winchester Gospels is a slap in the face to Kripke from Carver, imo. Also, this means canon is no more and they can continue to make it up as they go along.” –Anonymous, spn-gossip forums
The above are quotes from online fans about episode 18. They reflect some of the thoughts I have about this episode, and about what Carver and his writers are doing to the show.
Welcome to the 13th Gripe Review. This week the subject is Episode 18, an episode in which the writers talk directly to us via Metatron (ironic considering how unpleasant his character is) and reveal to us their god complex.
No wonder there’s no improvement in writing after all the criticism. And even though the downward slide in the ratings could be attributed more to the hiatus and spring hours than quality of the show, the sharpness of the drop (from 1.1 steadily to 0.7) could be correlated to a lack of interest in the show’s current story. It is anecdotal evidence but when my coworker, who defines casual viewer, DVRs the episode and falls asleep watching it, you know there’s a problem.
I won’t diagnose that problem here. It’s the topic of another review, hopefully happening at the end of the season. In this review, as always, I will list the problems I, and other viewers including my casual viewer friend, had with this episode.
Gripe #1 – This guy, talking to the camera
Edlund did it once, in an episode which could be considered his masterpiece. We had waited a whole season for Castiel to explain himself, to tell us what happened to get him to that point - where he would consider betraying his human friends - and after they found out about it.
“Let me tell you my story,” he says as he raises his eyes to the camera, “let me tell you everything.”
The effect was electrifying. I still remember the chills I got before the title card splashed in front of my eyes. Everything about that very brief shattering of the fourth wall, from dialogue, to direction to the story that came before it, was done well. To do it again you needed a writer with the caliber of Edlund, and an actor as skilled and at home in his role as Misha.
Robbie Thompson is not Ben Edlund. He isn’t even in the vicinity of Edlund's school. Curtis Armstrong, decent actor he is, does not have the familiarity and command over Metatron that Misha had over Castiel. Castiel is a complex, multi-dimensional and highly popular character whom we would want to listen to. Metatron is a one-note yapper who has no personality layers or likability to draw from. You couldn't even call him a villain, not in the same way you would Azazel, Lucifer or Abaddon. I’m not even sure what his plan on the show is, to know why I should care about him. His boring monologue about writing and writers this episode didn’t give any clue.
Gripe #2 – This guy, just this guy
I already ranted about Metatron in the last gripe, but he is such an integral cause of grief in this episode that I'm not ready yet to let him go.
In addition to copyright infringing Edlund’s Castiel, Metatron’s monologue this episode was a cheap rip off of Swan Song’s poignant and masterful narration by Chuck. He, being a real writer, knew you shouldn’t talk about writing when your audience isn’t a group of literature students but a bunch of people , there to be entertained. He knew you had to tell a story and make it engaging. He knew the way you told it had to be skillful, that it was how you told it that grabbed an audience in your spell.
Metatron’s monologue was not entertaining. If anything it distracted from the main plot of the episode. It was a bunch of jargon about writing and storytelling which had no context in the show and nothing to engage an audience with. It wasn’t funny, or terrifying, or poetic, or emotional. It didn’t even make sense.
Exposition – having a character sit another character down and explain the plot to him – is a bad practice in general. Exposition that has no context, and makes no sense, i.e. doesn’t tell the viewer anything about plot or character is worse. You’re not only telling, but what you are telling is unnecessary and bland, especially when delivered by a character like Metatron. It means you, the writer, are committing three crimes at once: telling instead of showing, supplying useless information, and boring your audience's heads off.
Gripe #3 – This awesome storyline, thrown in trash
For a while watching this episode I felt excited. I almost had the same kind of anticipation mixed with joy I used to feel when I watched the earlier seasons.
It happened when Gabriel showed up and told Castiel he was done slacking off and would lead the angels against Metatron.
Let me tell you why that is a good story. It has nearly all of the ingredients of a classic hero’s journey. A reluctant hero (Castiel), a mentor (Gabriel), a goal (taking Heaven back), a villain (Metatron), and the possibility of a team of heroes (like the Avengers) if they got together with Sam and Dean. It all would have worked so much better had they put it in the script instead of debunking it as a lol!dream.
The real ongoing story not only featured another boring exposition by a villain to a tied up hero (imagine how many times we’ve had that this season,) it also got me confused. As off now I’ve watched Metatron’s dialogue twice and I still can’t tell what his plan is. All I know is that he wants to write a story with Castiel as the villain and himself as the hero. What he wants to achieve with that story is a mystery. Does he want to return to Heaven? Board Heaven up? Become God? I don’t know. There wasn’t a hint. And if they are intentionally keeping it a secret to keep us on our toes they failed. No one I know of is on his or her toes, though some are passed out on their couches, sleeping.
Gripe #4 – This scenario, going the opposite way
When the brothers captured Gadreel, and Sam snarled at him, “Remember me?” I cheered. Gadreel had done everyone, but mostly Sam, a lot of wrong. Now it was time for him to pay and I couldn’t wait for Sam to deal him his comeuppance. I could almost taste that conversation, with Sam now having the upper hand and Gadreel at his mercy instead of the other way around.
There was something else I was looking forward to since the beginning of the episode. I wanted to see Cas and Dean reunite and for Cas to find out about the Mark of Cain. I was interested to hear the conversation that would follow seeing as Cas probably knew a lot about the mark and its side effects.
Neither scenario happened. Instead Dean told Sam he was too close to the case (So what? He might beat the guy to a pulp, like Dean did?) and sends him off to find Castiel. He himself stayed behind to interrogate Gadreel. The result is yet another case of minimal interaction between the three main characters – since Sam doesn’t find Cas – adding further to the disjointed feeling of the episode, and yet another reminder of how much Sam doesn’t care about Dean via Gadreel.
So in summary, the writer and director of this episode chose to separate the brothers, not give Dean and Cas a reunion, not give Sam a chance to have his well-deserved chat, but found it necessary to remind us one more time how divided and cold the brothers are.
Before you say it was because of the Mark of Cain I say I know. They wanted to emphasize the Mark's effect. But in their single minded joy at finding something that worked with the audience, and their absolute inability to show more than one layer of a story at a time, they tossed the resolution of the first half of the season, and a chance to bring some heart back into the show, out the window.
Gripe #5 – The angel mythology, going everywhere
Honestly what’s happening with the angels? Their canon is getting even more convoluted than the reapers’. First it was the glowing smoke that entered bodies like demons did, then they stole each other’s graces, now you can trap them inside a symbol, like a Devil’s Trap? Where did that come from, and if it existed (which Cas would have known about) why did the boys keep bothering with oil and fire all this time?
It goes on. Why would an angel sport a black eye? Why didn’t Castiel ask himself that question when he met the last survivor of that massacre? Why didn’t he ask her? If Castiel, with his borrowed grace, that according to Metatron was burning out, could heal her wound why couldn't she herself do it? Since none of this is going to be answered on the show could Carver kindly outline his version of the angel lore in a future interview?
I’m not going to bother asking how Dean managed to punch an angel into unconsciousness. As with everything else these days “the Mark of Cain did it,” will be the answer.
Gripe #6 – This formerly awesome team, working separately
I am a Team Free Will fan. If it were up to me every episode would have Sam, Dean and Castiel traveling the country and kicking demon and evil angel asses. My idea of season nine, after watching the season 8 finale and knowing that Misha was still a regular, was exactly that.
To see how it turned out, how even in episodes when they communicate they lead separate stories, and don't get together until the last few minutes only to get separated again, it disheartening. I say that on behalf of all TFW fans. And since Dean+Cas fans are disappointed because the two barely share scenes, and the Dean+Sam fans are disappointed because they only act as coworkers now, and Sam reportedly doesn’t care about Dean, and Impala fans are disappointed because the brothers no longer travel the country, the only ones not complaining are the casual viewers who, according to one sample at least, are fast asleep at their TVs.
Personal Gripe – No room for human (and angel) emotions?
There was a particular gripe I had with this episode that I brought up with some fans and encountered some resistance. Therefore I am listing it as a personal, could-be-just-me gripe.
I didn’t like the way Sam and Dean talked about the situation after Metatron told Sam he had Castiel. When Sam told Dean about the trade his response was, “We can’t trust Metatron,” and Sam’s response was to convince him to go there and try to trap Metatron. This is all well and good in terms of plot, and in character for the most part. My problem is that nowhere in that conversation did either of them mention the danger to Castiel’s life. Dean may not have known about Metatron’s promise to kill Castiel, but Sam did. Why not have him say to Dean, “I know (we can’t trust Metatron,) but he’ll kill Cas if we don’t go?” Why act like their friend’s life means nothing to them? Are we supposed to believe Sam cares for no one now? Or is it a Castiel thing to be considered dispensable?
And what about Cas’ reaction toward Dean’s mark? Since when does he see trouble in Winchester land and lets them go by themselves. He tells Sam, “Keep an eye on him.” Why? Has the tales of Sam Winchester, the brother who does not care reached so far and wide that someone has to remind him to watch over Dean? And how does that help? Sam doesn’t have superpowers. If the Mark acts up and Dean attacks Sam who’s going to protect the two of them? Cas always had this natural instinct to stick around in such situations. He even used to watch over Dean while he slept. I guess he smoked the same joint the brothers did and decided that going back to his motel room in time to be absent for the next couple of episodes was the right course of action in this heartless landscape.
Kudos – Richard Speight Jr aka Gabriel
I already said how much I enjoyed the part with Gabriel. I accredit most of it to the excellent way RSJ plays Gabriel and the seamless chemistry he has with Misha Collins. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see him interact with the rest of the cast.
He was able to make the script’s awkward dialogue sound natural (seriously, what was the deal with all the Downton Abbey references?) and feel at home even when he was dropped in the show after so long. Why the show refuses to bring his character back while it keeps Charlie, Garth, the Ghost Facers and Krissy around is beyond me.
This is the first review after a long hiatus. Like the show’s ratings I don’t expect it to get that many views. But if you happen to get this far without falling asleep please don’t hesitate to post your thoughts in the comment section.