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Review: Supernatural: “Let the Good Times Roll” (13.23 – Season Finale)


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My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle and are currently on sale through this Friday (May 18). The Kindle version is available through Amazon. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Just FYI.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


You can find the recap thread for the episode here.

So, it finally happened. Dean Winchester said yes to the Archangel Michael. Well, more accurately, he said yes to an alternate version of Michael from another timeline. Sort of. With conditions. Which alt-Michael totally ignored after agreeing to them. But more on that in a bit. As well as some (hopeful?) predictions for season 14.

There was a lot of crashing-and-burning in this episode, by several characters. The biggest, of course, was Lucifer, whose crash-and-burn couldn’t have been more literal after Dean stabbed him with an archangel blade in the middle of being mega-smote (we always knew Dean was tough, but jeez). Lucifer had been on an extended storyline the past two seasons (post his sorta-reconciliation with Big Daddy) of having his power reduced, being unable to kill either Sam or Dean, being downgraded almost to human, and fathering a Naphil child. The implication from various bits of dialogue between him and the Brothers was that Chuck wanted Lucifer to learn something about the humans he had always so despised.

Well, Lucifer didn’t learn a thing. Or if he did, he threw it all away at the end and chose power. Personally, I was okay with this because I didn’t care much for Lucifer’s redemption tour in the first place. The way he tried to discredit and gaslight Sam, a human being he had cold-bloodedly twisted and tried to destroy for his own purposes since before birth, was just nasty.

Sure, ideally, a character should be dynamic and change and grow, but some characters are defined by their inability to grow, their flat and static nature. If Lucifer, a 14-billion-year-old archangel, hadn’t learned to be selfless and loving by now, it realistically wasn’t going to happen in a few months or a few years, or even a few centuries. As an extremely powerful and protean creature who was older than this universe, Lucifer arguably could change if he wanted to, but he never wanted to. Whenever he claimed to be turning over a new leaf, he was so clearly lying that he could only have fooled someone as young and naïve as his own son, Jack.

It was time for him to go. Permanently.

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Jack, too, had a crash-and-burn, and he, too, fell due to hubris. But unlike his father, who was hubris embodied, Jack had good intentions and found his power a great burden. The road to Hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. The more he tried to help people, the more he made mistakes that seemed to make things worse, at least to him.

In reality, it was more that the results were mixed. Jack was discovering that it’s much easier to break than to build and that raw power can only do so much, especially if one lacks wisdom. We saw Jack become more and more frustrated in the episode, culminating in his realization that everyone else was right about his bio daddy. Jack then made a critical error and lost all his raw Naphil power to Lucifer in one terrible, game-changing slash of an archangel blade.

But in the tossing back and forth of Jack’s power like a soccer ball, we got to see Lucifer and Jack’s responses to it, and they contrasted sharply. Whereas Lucifer became drunk with power, rose to a great height, and then crashed to his doom, Jack seemed relieved to be shorn of his power.

Jack then made the decision Lucifer should have made, which was to sacrifice himself out of love in hopes of saving Sam and the rest of the world. That he was saved at the last minute (since the writers clearly want to keep him as a regular now) doesn’t change the magnitude of his choice and sacrifice.

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I’m sure that the writers will waffle and drag out the question of whether or not Jack ever gets his power back, but the usual pattern for any recurring-character-not-named-Dean-Winchester (or Sam pre-season six) is that they are never as naturally powerful again as they were early on. They might get some temporary upgrades by stealing someone else’s power, but their own, personal power does not come back. And Dean’s gradual upgrades have been balanced with an expansion of the heavy burden of his Family Business.

I was relieved to see the writers didn’t go the cheap, Kripke-approved route of upgrading Sam for the umpteenth time. Jared Padalecki got some nice opportunities to act this season as Sam slowly (and finally) opened up about how much the mere existence of Lucifer topside again terrified him. Never mind that Sam and his own chronic battles with hubris were the reason for both of Lucifer’s escapes from the Cage. Sam still gets to be afraid of Lucifer and Padalecki ran with it.

Fortunately, the writers forced Sam to be fully human in his final confrontation with Lucifer. That somehow made Sam’s vindication when Lucifer turned out be – yup – evil, after all, that much sweeter.

Sam willingly chose to go with Jack (however impulsive the gesture) when Lucifer kidnapped his kid. Sam then faced off against his former torturer and lifelong nemesis without even the certainty that the immunity Chuck had given him and Dean against Lucifer was still in effect. That, my droogs, takes guts. Sam pretty literally had to face his (almost) worst fear, knowing full well that he didn’t have any power to oppose Lucifer, to save either himself or Jack.

Sam didn’t even think about finding a way to regain his old powers, perhaps knowing they were too corrupting to oppose Lucifer effectively. For once, Sam made it all about the person he was trying to save and not about himself, which actually made Dean’s penultimate insistence on Lucifer’s defeat being a group effort sound fair this time round. That was a huge step forward for Sam. After over a decade of self-absorption and self-pity, Sam became a truly self-sacrificial Hero.

Weirdly enough, not too many fans noticed.

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Dean also fell (both literally and figuratively) into darkness, but Dean’s fall was qualitatively different from that of Lucifer and Jack, which made it even more tragic, if not in the Classical Greek sense that was for Lucifer and Jack. Lucifer and Jack sinned through hubris, with different results. Lucifer flew to a great height and then crashed to earth. Jack was fooled, lost his temper, and lost his powers. Once humbled, he then chose to die for family – his adopted family, not his creepy bio-dad.

Dean’s fall was the saddest because it occurred without hubris. Dean, motivated by desperation and his chronic low self-esteem, finally embraced his destiny and his doom. Some fans fault Dean for this choice, as Dean’s choices always get picked apart and slammed by various quarters of fandom. This is likely fostered by the illusion that Dean had some better choice. Dean is a character who may rail against fate, but in the end, he always plays the hand he’s dealt, the best way he can. But the writers invariably give him the worst possible cards, which invariably forces him into some horrifically self-destructive choice he never in a billion years would have made on his own, if he had any better options.

Of course this is fun to watch, and makes for great drama, which is why the writers keep doing it, but come on, people. Give the guy a break because the writers never do. The only reason he said yes to alt-Michael was because there were no other options at that point except to wait to die along with the rest of the world, knowing Sam and Jack would die (mostly likely horribly) first.

Dean’s self-esteem is low, but it ain’t that low. If he could have found another way (as he did in the red-herring gas station scene early in the episode where he temporarily saved everyone from alt-Michael via a cunning plan and some holy fire), he’d have done so. Having Castiel stand by, wringing his hands over the decision (a one-angel Greek Chorus was basically all Misha Collins got to do this week), didn’t make that decision any less necessary. In the end, Dean made the best bargain he could. That Dean always puts others first, without thinking, is the true superpower he uses to save the world. But that doesn’t mean he loves making those choices. Or that they don’t hurt.

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Though there were a lot of directorial problems with that climactic fight with Lucifer (Bob Singer’s really losing his touch), Jensen Ackles’ acting wasn’t one of those problems. He acted the hell out of it all, from Dean’s bargaining with alt-Michael all the way up through his final scene as alt-Michael. There’s a reason why fans on social media have been screen-capping and giffing the hell out of Dean’s entrance as an archangel (sans the silly Ten Commandments-style music), alt-Michael’s takeover, and alt-Michael at the very end.

But in between the big moments, Ackles keeps it going. After Dean falls to the church floor, he immediately forces himself to get up, jaw set. If you look at Dean in the background as Sam and Jack are investigating to see if Lucifer is really dead, Dean’s shoulders are heaving and he is clearly in distress.

This leads directly into Dean’s valiant effort to make everything okay one last time for his family before he becomes locked in a deadly struggle for control with alt-Michael and has his body taken over. Even the lines of strain as he fights smooth out in that transitional moment when he straightens up, blank-faced, after losing this second, internal battle. This moment is one of the most heartbreaking in 13 seasons of a show that regularly deals in tragedy. Ackles’ portrayal of Dean being taken over by alt-Michael is chilling, a moment of true horror. Even without the gruesome, Leviathan-like sound effects.

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Some fans have asked why Dean didn’t have an exit plan for dealing with alt-Michael after dealing with Lucifer. There’s the point that Dean didn’t have any other “good” choices besides making a deal with alt-Michael at the moment he said yes. But also, if you watch, Dean is still clutching alt-Michael’s archangel blade the entire time after he kills Lucifer. The logical fallback plan would be to stab himself with the archangel blade once he knew Lucifer was truly dead. Since he had an archangel inside him, suicide ought to have done the trick. It takes an archangel to kill an archangel. Nobody said it couldn’t be the same archangel.

So, why didn’t Dean do this? Well, remember that Lucifer had just smote him. No, Lucifer didn’t get the chance to finish the job, but we saw Dean screaming in pain before he stabbed Lucifer, following Sam’s “Wind beneath My Wings” moment of tossing him the archangel blade. Lucifer scrambled his brains pretty good. Lucifer had also just been beating on him and Dean was dazed.

While it’s true that Dean had an archangel inside him, so he could take more damage than usual, he was up against a charged-up fellow archangel, and he was in the driver’s seat. Dean probably took more of a beating than alt-Michael did and was still dazed afterward. That, and reassuring Sam and Jack, distracted him from immediate suicide, and alt-Michael took advantage of that distraction.

But one might ask, why would alt-Michael need Dean to be distracted in the first place in order to take over? Isn’t the archangel, not his vessel, usually the one in charge? Well … not necessarily. And probably not in this case.

Here we are getting into projections and predictions for next season. It’s really important to remember that Dean’s “yes” was conditional, that the dire consequences of breaking deals has been reiterated time and again the past couple of seasons, and that alt-Michael himself used exactly the same words Dean did later in the same episode (“We had a deal!”) to protest Lucifer’s breaking of their pact. Shortly thereafter, Lucifer ended up karmic toast.

It’s not exactly rocket science to think that might be some foreshadowing for how things pan out for alt-Michael’s betrayal of Dean. These writers are not subtle. They also tend to leave big plotholes. We may never find out, for example, why alt-Michael was so enthusiastically determined to beat Dean to death when he already knew Dean was the Michael Sword. That seems counterintuitive, but never mind.

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So, what deal, exactly, did Dean make? It was pretty simple – he would let alt-Michael in and be his “sword” if, and only if, alt-Michael took an extreme backseat and let Dean be in charge. Alt-Michael might be able to advise, but Dean would make all of the decisions.

We know that Dean is under direct watch by a Reaper, Jessica. She can’t interfere, but she can report back to her boss that an interloper from another timeline is curb-stomping Billie’s (and Chuck’s) designated caretaker in this timeline and trying to take it over. We already know that Billie wants to “fix” that kind of bleed and is unlikely to take kindly to alt-Michael’s crossing over to conquer a world not his own.

We also know that Billie!Death firmly believes in honoring deals (on top of rigidly maintaining the Natural Order). She’d be the first to point out to alt-Michael that he had a deal with Dean and the deal means that as long as they share Dean’s body, Dean is the one in charge. It’s a way for the storyline to continue after Dean has regained control over his body, and possibly for Dean keeping alt-Michael as a prisoner inside. Dean could effectively continue being an archangel (the Michael Sword is sentient and runs the show), while being unable to manifest or use those powers most times because then he’d risk losing control to alt-Michael again.

What makes this storyline more possible is that there is the awkward wrinkle that Billie’s not liable to feel very kindly toward the refugees from alt-Michael’s timeline, either. Or Jack. So, that sets up a dilemma for Team Free Will and even Dean (as he fights back against alt-Michael’s possession), because they won’t be quite as eager to accept any help Billie offers – or even contact her – as they might, otherwise.

In addition, the presence of the refugees is likely to complicate any rescue efforts for Dean (and it’s really unlikely that Dean will not survive this storyline. Really). TFW 2.0 will be anxious to save Dean from alt-Michael and expel alt-Michael from Dean’s body without harming Dean (or, at least, I certainly hope they will, but more on that in a moment). The refugees who’ve already suffered under alt-Michael are going to be a lot more sanguine about Dean’s fate. As long as they can take out alt-Michael permanently, they’re liable to see Dean’s death as tragic, but necessary. He made a decision (however much under duress). He alone faces the consequences.

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This will set up direct conflicts between Sam and them, of course, but also Jack and them, and between Mary and alt-Bobby, between whom a romance of sorts has been brewing, especially in this episode. Even Rowena, seeking redemption, is going to want to help save Dean, but alt-Charlie? Not so much.

Let’s say the writers don’t take the obvious and stupid way out, that they really want to drag this storyline on a bit (which, Bob Singer’s past ohgodohgodohgoddeanhasamytharcstorykillitwithfire kneejerk reactions aside, they really should want to do rather than wrap it up quickly and scramble to fill up the rest of the season with … something). A Saving Dean storyline has plenty of inherent conflict. The people who can mostly likely deal with alt-Michael are going to be divided on at least three fronts (TFW 2.0, Billie and her Reapers, and the alt-SPNverse refugees), so there will be some natural infighting there.

Dean himself can be portrayed pretty easily (and inexpensively) in his interior struggle to regain control as trapped in a nightmare version of a concentration camp in the alt-SPNverse. Regardless of whatever happened to alt-Michael’s previous vessel, Christian Keyes could return and play alt-Michael inside Dean’s head, taunting and tormenting him (one possible reason Keyes has suddenly joined the Creation con circuit). That would leave Jensen Ackles off the hook for playing against himself all the time, while also giving him a chance to play alt-Michael in the external SPNverse scenes.

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Dean could, for example, initially “wake” in the season premiere in a grotty cell with his hands cuffed behind his back, dazed and trying to piece things together, while alt-Michael makes plots and comes into conflict with TFW. I’ve seen fans argue that alt-Michael would put Dean in a paradisiacal fantasy world, but that would probably be more expensive to film (when they’ve still got that alt-SPNverse set to use) and wouldn’t fit the horror theme of the show. It’s more likely alt-Michael will torture Dean, however much that might be stupid in light of its giving Dean a reason and a way to fight back. Alt-Michael is sufficiently arrogant that he’d go that route, anyway, so it’s at least in character.

Once Dean remembered what happened, he would have a dilemma – does he try to expel alt-Michael, only for alt-Michael to find another vessel (or return to his old one if the poor guy isn’t already dust) and continue with his plans for multiverse domination? Or does he try to regain control and hold alt-Michael prisoner inside his own body? Or is there a way to toss alt-Michael into the Cage (though that’s been damaged, so it might not work) or even kill him in a way that won’t kill Dean permanently?

Yes, killing himself to kill alt-Michael would certainly occur to Dean, but folks, the show is just not going to let Dean kill himself permanently. So, a Harvey (yep, that’s both a James Stewart/giant pooka/rabbit and a Farscape reference) storyline seems pretty likely after the first few episodes, or maybe even half a season, if we’re lucky.

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The thing I dearly hope will not occur, though, is the writers continuing with their gratuitous Dean abuse. I’m thinking of stuff like “Soul Survivor” in season ten, where we see Sam strap down a very psychotic, demonized Dean in a dungeon, drug him up with consecrated blood against his will, and force him into a semblance of what Sam feels is “appropriate” sanity – and this ugly assault is apparently rewarded and condoned by the writers (the Nepotism Duo in this case. Shocker) by the end of the episode. I’m also thinking of Dean’s lifelong struggle with suicidal ideation. Remember how he outright committed suicide early last season and no one, not even Death, was surprised?

Dean is a popular fantasy character who has struggled for 13 seasons with severe mental illness. Suicidal levels of depression and low self-esteem, occasional bouts of psychosis, alcoholism, self-medicating, self-harm, social and separation anxiety, a total inability to fit in with “normal” society, and (of course) rampant PTSD, he’s got ’em all. Many people in this world look at a fictional character like Dean, who feels their same pain and despair, and take hope from the way he keeps soldiering on and being a Hero, even when he stumbles, even when he just wants to lie down and die.

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But writing a character like that involves taking responsibility for the message one sends. Too often, the show has generated some pretty ugly subtext through the way characters treat Dean and take advantage of him. Just as the writers have not done a particularly stellar job of portraying Sam’s own issues (Sam’s mental illness and addiction storylines seem to exist, going all the way back to Kripke, solely to prop Sam up as the woobiest woobie Hero ever), the way they have portrayed the responses of people around Dean to his mental health issues has been … kinda gross.

This needs to change.

It’s not just that it’s problematical for your lead actors to have launched a mental health charity (Always Keep Fighting) while your show writers continue to treat mental illness as a character flaw when it comes to Dean (talk about undermining your cast).

It’s not even that some fans agree.

It’s bad enough to hear people refer to Dean’s sacrificial act in this episode as a mistake or a flaw, that Dean “gave in” and “let” alt-Michael trick him, that that’s just Dean. That he’s always looking for ways to be self-destructive and that this isn’t heroic at all. An act that would be seen in any other character as putting the needs of literally everyone else over their own selfish survival is perceived in Dean as just another Thursday. As weakness, as not fighting his own darkness hard enough. “Sloppy, needy Dean,” as a demon once put it.

What is worse is to do it now, in the middle of a national debate about suicide, especially in the wake of the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Over and over, plaintively and sometimes angrily, friends and families of loved ones who have committed suicide, as well as survivors, point out that depression is not a mistake or a lack of moral character. It doesn’t make you weak if you feel despair and cannot see your way out of it.

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Supernatural desperately needs to change its tack on how the characters around Dean respond to his illness. It’s unrealistic for Dean to recover magically from something he’s suffered from all his life. That would be like expecting Tyrion on Game of Thrones to grow six feet tall.

But the writers can certainly change how they have characters respond to it and put Dean on a slow road to some kind of recovery. No more mean-spirited rants like Sam’s at the end of “Metamorphosis” or “The Purge.” No more of characters incessantly choosing anyone else over the needs of their own, clearly traumatized child standing right in front of them (Mary in season 12 and just a few episodes ago, lookin’ at you). No more “beating some sense” into Dean, or expressing how disappointed the character is in Dean for something that is really that character’s fault, the way Castiel has done over and over again.

Look, I get it. Trauma is drama and bad guys are gonna bad-guy. Angels and demons and monsters who resent Sam and Dean getting in the way of their smashing up the joint will always trash-talk the Brothers. No one expects either Lucifer or Michael (any version) to treat Dean (or Sam) well or do anything but tear away at his self-esteem. They’re the villains.

But it’s way past time for Sam and Mary and Castiel to stop disappearing up their own backsides whenever the black water threatens to pull Dean under. And while I appreciate that Jody wants to help and Claire thinks Dean is awesome, damage and all, it’s not helpful to keep ragging on Dean that he needs to treat himself better. He knows that. He just doesn’t have the first clue how to do it.

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Yes, it’s uncomfortable when someone you love seems locked in a death spiral, but the writers could be improving all of their recurring good-guy characters by having them stop projecting all their own crap onto Dean. Look at Jack – he doesn’t do that. He worships Dean. Yet, the show still managed to establish a relationship with interesting conflict between the two of them.

In fact, a Saving Dean storyline, where Dean is absent for a while (unlike Demon!Dean or MoC!Dean, who was basically just Dean with his anger and bloodlust externalized as a magical metaphor), could conceivably give the characters the story space needed to deal with that without trashing Dean even more. Ackles would still be in the story (he’s not going anywhere; he gets to play alt-Michael now), but Dean the character would be elsewhere, fighting a new battle. The other characters would get a chance to truly miss him and fight to get him back in a way that heals him rather than tears him down.

I think this is a really important thing for the writers to put at the top of their checklist this summer. This is a chance for them to change up a tangle of character arcs that has become toxic and unhealthy even to watch. It’s a way for them to truly represent and join the debate on mental illness (a debate in which their cast already has a voice) in a productive way. It’s time to grow up, Supernatural writers. Do it now.

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Fun lines:

Castiel [listening in on a pack of redneck werewolves]: They’re talking about whether Kylie Jenner would make a good mother. The consensus is “no.”
Dean: Yeah, well, that’s why I’m a  Khloé man.

Alt-Michael [being tortured by Jack]: Lucifer, we had a deal!

Lucifer [to everybody]: I’m not currently the bad guy here.

Lucifer [compelled by Jack to tell about Maggie’s murder]: She saw me when I was scouting out the Bunker. She saw me and she screamed. So, I crushed her skull with my bare hands. And it was warm and wet, and I liked it.

Alt-Michael: This is the end … of everything.
Dean: No. What if … what if you had your Sword?
Castiel: Dean, no!
Dean: I am your Sword, your perfect vessel. With me, you’d be stronger than you’ve ever been.
Alt-Michael: Oh, I know what you are.
Dean: If we work together, can we beat Lucifer?
Castiel: Dean!
Dean: Can we?
Alt-Michael: We have a chance.
Castiel: You can’t!
Dean [to Castiel]: Lucifer has Sam. He has Jack! Cas, I don’t have a choice! [to alt-Michael] If we do this, it’s a one-time deal. I’m in charge. You’re the engine, but I’m behind the wheel. Understand?

Jack [to Sam as he’s about to kill himself]: I love you. I love all of you.

Lucifer [to DeanMichael]: You let my brother in.
DeanMichael: Turns out we have something in common. We both want to gut your ass.

Dean [to alt-Michael inside him]: We had a deal!
Alt-Michael [to Dean after taking over]: Thanks for the suit.


Next: I’ll be finishing my live recap of “Funeralia” this week. I’ll try to catch up with the recaps of the rest of the season and do reviews over the rest of the summer.


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Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.10: Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets


By Paula R. Stiles


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Castiel’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of a vengeful woman and the sinister angel comrade who made her that way.


Hi, guys. I’m trying to get back into these reviews and catch up with them to the present season. However, they take a lot of time to do right. If you’d like to see more of them, you can help out by buying me a coffee, or opting into my Patreon page, which includes perks.


Recap: Quick recap of Dean’s early relationship with Castiel and the boring Lucifer “baby mama drama” (as Dean puts it in the following episode episode). Can Kelly Kline please ride off with her hellspawn pregnancy to the Island of Forgotten Guest Characters and Dropped Plots?

Cut to Now and a striking African American woman playing a video game at a bar. The bartender notes that she does this every night and it’s closing time. She ignores him. He also notes that she beats the game every night and doesn’t have to. She ignores him.

A redhead in an eyepatch shows up and is a total bitch to the first woman. She refuses to get out of her way. When the first woman uses angel powers on her, the redhead calls her “Benjamin” and is unaffected. A brief fight ensues (excuse me if I don’t buy that any ordinary human, using the power of her soul or not, would have much of a chance a chance against even a de-winged angel). Benjamin gets beaten and calls for help, with the redhead encouraging her to do. We see three other angels, one of them Castiel in the Bunker, hearing it. The redhead says, “I’ve waited so long” and then stabs Benjamin to death. White light comes out and the redhead leaves.

Title cards.

Cut to Dean looking at a board in the Bunker, trying to figure out where Lucifer’s boring baby mama scampered off to. Sam comes in with coffee. It turns out Castiel set up the board. Dean is not thrilled that Castiel lost Baby Mama Kelly and wonders how she could have gone to ground the way she did (seeing as how she’s carrying a creature that every angel can sense for hundreds of miles). Sam then changes the subject to whether or not Dean has heard from Mary. Dean says yeah, she’s hunting a shapeshifter in Atlanta. When Dean offered to help, she said no, she could handle it alone.

Dean wonders aloud if Mary is getting back into hunting too quickly. Sam brushes off Dean’s concerns, even though Sam isn’t actually the one keeping in touch with Mom (bit passive-aggressive, there, Sam). Sam also calls Dean out on not speaking to Castiel. Dean points out that Castiel did something the previous episode (killing Billie the Reaper) that is supposed to have “cosmic consequences” and avers that doesn’t sound like a good thing.

As Sam is hemming and hawing over that, Castiel comes in, snarks at Dean, and tells them about Doomed Teaser Angel, who was once a comrade. Sam volunteers to come help and when Castiel, still in sarcasm mode, asks if that means both of them, Dean rather reluctantly says he’ll come along. To prevent Castiel from doing anything else that’s “stupid.”

Dean drives, of course. In the car, Sam tries to engineer a detente, which is ignored by both Dean and Castiel. Sam then tries the guilt trip to paper things over. Castiel finally tells them a bit about Benjamin, that he would never have put his vessel, a devout woman he’d found in Madrid, in harm’s way. She was his “friend” on top of being his vessel. Dean riles Castiel up a bit by being sarcastic about how Benjamin probably wouldn’t have run off half-cocked the way Castiel did the week before.

At the scene of the teaser crime, we see a charcoal outline of broken wings on a wall and meet the bartender again. He is shellshocked. Castiel is rude to the guy. Dean sees the bartender out, while Sam asks Castiel if he’s okay. Castiel is upset. Meanwhile, Dean finds an angel blade, which Castiel realizes isn’t Benjamin’s.

In a motel room, the annoying (sorry, mysterious) redhead is lying on a bed, whispering a spell. She opens her eyes and says Castiel’s name. As she grabs her suitcoat and leaves, she kisses her fingertips and touches a sepia photo of a little girl.

Outside a diner, Castiel tells Sam and Dean that before he led his own battalion (except, um, wasn’t Anna actually his commander?), he served under another angel named Ishim. Ishim is inside the diner, but Castiel doesn’t want the Brothers to come in with him. Ishim doesn’t like humans. “Ishim,” by the way, is an entire class of angels (and their leader may be Azazel or Metatron) who are closer to humans than any other angels, but here it’s used as a name for a single angel.

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Dean’s like, pfft, no, to that, especially when Castiel gets snarky again. So, no surprise that shortly after Castiel comes in and greets two angels (Ishim and Mirabel, who still have their vessels from the old days), Dean comes in. Neither angel is happy to see Castiel, blaming him for the fall from Heaven and the deaths of many angels (Balthazar and Uriel get name-dropped).

Right before Sam counts down to Dean “storming in,” and Dean enters the diner (insisting on sitting between Sam and Castiel across from Ishim), Ishim and Mirabel say that they’ve lost two other angels besides Benjamin since the Fall, in the same way. Despite this, Ishim sends Mirabel out alone to check whether anyone besides the Brothers has showed up (because splitting up isn’t dumb, or anything).

Predictably, Mirabel is caught off-guard in the alley by the redhead and quickly dispatched. And neither of the angels inside notices, despite all the hand-wringing over Benjamin’s broadcast-by-angel-radio death and previous episodes of angels noticing when another angel died nearby (I mean, it’s pretty darned bright and loud). Okeydoke.

Ishim and Dean don’t like each other. I mean, they really, really don’t like each other. There’s a staring contest as Ishim dumps a metric ton of sugar in his coffee/tea (what’s that about?), on which Dean comments with a nasty smile. Ishim calls Dean and Sam “monkeys,” while Dean tells him to “go to Hell.” Good times.

After Ishim leaves to find Mirabel, the Brothers dress Castiel down on putting up with Ishim’s crap. Castiel storms off after Ishim, who is getting attacked in the alley by the redhead after finding Mirabel’s body. Ishim recognizes her and tries to smite her, but she laughs and says she’s no longer “powerless.” Well, neither are demons and they can get smited, so I don’t really see how that works, but okay.

She grabs Ishim around the throat, but Castiel comes out and slashes her in the side, knocking her down (Castiel also recognizes her in a brief flashback to Olden Tymes). When the Brothers back him up with guns, she insists that she has no desire to hurt humans and blasts out light from her raised palm. Mind you, the Brothers have plenty of time to shoot her while she’s doing this, but nope. Dean ends up temporarily blinded and Sam dazzled. But Sam is still able to get the license plate number of the white convertible in which she roars off (because that car’s not inconspicuous, or anything).

Later, at an old church, Castiel tends to a wounded and weakened Ishim. Ishim can’t heal himself. Castiel clues Sam in that he recognized the woman and Dean (who has already noticed this) insists Castiel tell them what happened. We then get a saturated-color flashback to Orono, Maine, 1901.

Ishim is leading the way to a house through the woods. Mirabel and Benjamin are there, as is Castiel inside a young white woman. Ishim tells them that one of their angel brothers is living in sin with a human wife, and that the two have a daughter, a naphil (the show uses the plural term “nephilim” because hey, why do research?). Ishim says the girl has “a human soul mixed with angelic grace,” which is very dangerous. Is this more dangerous than Dean having hundreds of thousands of souls inside him last season? Who knows?

Despite the fact that the angels can actually track Lucifer’s unborn naphil child because they can sense nephilim (mentioned early in the episode), the angels in this scene just take Ishim at his word that the girl inside the house is a naphil. Um … show? Wouldn’t they be able to sense if the girl’s a naphil or not for themselves?

As they stride up to the house, the two other angels who later die offscreen (a man and a woman) join them. Not sure why these two weren’t in on the conversation that required a round robin of infodump, but I guess roles with lines are too expensive.

A man and a woman come out. The woman is the redhead. She calls the man “Achamel.” He tells her to go back inside and whispers in her ear. Looking frightened, she obeys. Achamel, who looks like Jesus, comes down the steps to have it out with Ishim, who goes off on his patented “filthy animals” rant about humans. Achamel hints that Ishim is the one who has something to hide with a retort about “shame.” Meanwhile, Castiel and the others look on coldly.

Achamel further hints that Ishim is being dishonest, then attacks him. The others grab him and Castiel pronounces judgment on him. When Achamel hears the charge of fathering a naphil, he looks shocked, but Ishim grabs him by the throat so he can’t speak. The other angels, being dumb as a box of hair, don’t notice any of this unsettling subtext. Mirabel stabs Achamel, killing him.

Ishim then tells the others to get rid of the vessel’s body, while he goes into the house to deal with the wife and the naphil alone. You know – the superpowerful, potentially world-killing naphil. Inside, out of sight, the woman shouts to Ishim to stay away from her daughter and then the child screams.

As I said, angels are dumb as a box of hair.

Case in point: In the present, Castiel insists it was a just mission, even though there are red flags all over the story and the Brothers are thoroughly disgusted with him and Ishim. Ishim identifies the redhead as Lily Sunder (of the episode’s title) and says he spared her. Dean guesses the obvious, that she now seeks vengeance. Hmm.

Ishim says she was a professor in apocalyptic literature (in the grand scheme of things, this is probably the least-idiotic dumb thing in this episode, but that’s still pretty anachronistic, especially for a woman) and that she is fluent in Enochian. He says she must have made a pact with a demon to remain young and gain powers. Except, you know, the part where she has angelic not demonic powers.

Dean says he and Sam will go talk to her, since she allegedly has no wish to hurt humans. Castiel begs to differ, saying it will take all of them to defeat her (well, I don’t see why, but Castiel can get off on these ridiculous tangents). He also says he still has to heal Ishim’s wound.

Castiel also gets pissy when Sam suggests that Lily’s got some justification for being angry, what with having her entire family murdered in front of her. Castiel swings it way the other way and asks if Sam thinks he and all the other angels deserved to die for that. Sam hedges because, well, yeah, that’s how blood vengeance is supposed to go. Castiel puts Sam on the spot by asking him if he’d let it go were he in Lily Sunder’s place. The answer to that, of course, is “no.”

Dean cuts off the rest of the conversation by saying that he and Sam are going alone to talk to her and that’s that. Meanwhile, Lily Sunder, in her motel room, is healing her own wound with white light and looking stern. Or something.

While he waits for the Brothers to come back, Castiel talks to Ishim and then heals him. Ishim is still on his anti-human rant, saying that angels are supposed to stay away from humans because humans are far more of a threat to them than the other way round (think Lily and the Brothers might feel differently). Ishim also doesn’t much like the way he perceives Sam and Dean “bossing” Castiel around. Castiel insists that his friendship with “Sam and Dean” (we know he mostly means Dean) has made him “stronger” not weaker. He discovers that Ishim’s wound is more serious than he’d thought, so it really drains him when he heals Ishim.

At the motel, the Brothers arrive at Lily Sunder’s room. Sam says Lily’s car was a rental. They find her in the hallway (right after Dean admits they may have to kill her if she won’t stop going after angels). She has two angel swords now (even though she left one behind at the scene of Benjamin’s murder) and seems to think the Brothers couldn’t stop her from killing Castiel. Stop laughing in the back, there.

Sam tries to talk her down with the reasonable approach while Dean looks skeptical. She is also skeptical, since (shocker) it seems Ishim fibbed a little. And left some things out. Well, that is why they decided to go get her side of the story. Once she realizes they’ve been lied to and don’t want to hurt her unless they have to, she unbends and tells them more of the flashback story.

A brief conversation over a doll between Lily and Achamel (shortly before the angel posse shows up) confirms that he is not the father. So … who is? Is it, say, Ishim, maybe? The daughter’s name was May and we find out that what Achamel whispered was for Lily to take her and run.

Does Lily do this? Well, not right away. Inside the house, she starts dithering over which papers to take while reassuring her daughter everything is okay. This, of course, gives Ishim time to blast the door open and come inside.

It also makes Lily look very stupid. This makes me not very sympathetic to her bitterness in the present when she admits she summoned him in the first place as soon as she found the spell to do so. She says she was always fascinated with angels and thought Ishim was “perfect” when she first met him. She also says that her daughter “was human,” that she had her before she ever did the summoning, or met an angel. But in doing so, she admits that she intentionally endangered her daughter by summoning a supernatural being with a child in the house.

In the flashback, Ishim bitterly calls her out on using him to get his secrets “for your precious studies.” When he tells her that he had confided in her because he loved her, she claims he never did and was just obsessed with her. Because yelling at your creepy ex when he has all the cards and you need to get out of the house with your daughter always works well in Lifetime movies – oh, wait.

Anyhoo, he gets angry about Lily having summoned Achamel to protect her from him (Ishim sees it as throwing him over for Achamel, which is … kinda true, actually). He pins Lily to a column and kills her daughter right in front of her, calling her “powerless” to stop him.

So, huge plothole here. If Lily is an expert in Enochian and knows more about angels than angels know about angels, why couldn’t she just make an angel-banishing sigil and blast everyone away as Ishim was coming in the door? Hell, as soon as she saw the angels coming? Then take her daughter and run like hell? Achabel wouldn’t have died. Neither would May. At least not then. And we know the episode writer knows this is an out because it’s a major plot point in the climax of the story.

I hate these sorts of plotholes because they’re so hand-wavy and lazy. Kind of like the ongoing thing since season five (thanks to Kripke) that Lucifer can’t be killed. Even though we’ve seen two archangels bite the dust, and even God and his sister nearly flatlined last season. But nooooo, we’re stuck with Lucifer until the end of time.

Back in the present, the Brothers are freaked out by Lily’s story and Dean tries to get hold of Castiel. Who doesn’t answer because a rejuvenated Ishim has stolen his phone. It seems Ishim hasn’t felt this good in a long time and Castiel is temporarily drained. Uh-oh.

So, Sam stays to watch Lily while Dean goes to warn Castiel. I’m sure this will end well.

In her motel room, Sam asks Lily the obvious question of why she waited so long to go on her roaring rampage of revenge. She says she couldn’t find the angels while they still had wings (which seems iffy when she could hear them talk, but okay). But she doesn’t explain why it’s taken her over two years to find all of them since they fell. I had a bit of trouble with that.

Sam asks her about Ishim’s claim that she made a pact. She says that no, she uses Enochian magic, fueled by her soul. But it’s not finite. She will eventually end up with no soul. Sam says that yeah, he gets that. She admits that she used to dream about her daughter, but now she doesn’t dream at all, because losing her soul makes her more and more emotionally detached. Sam gets that, too.

She warns Sam that Ishim will kill Dean. She claims that Ishim is “a big man in Heaven” and can’t afford to see his sins brought to light. This makes no sense. If Ishim really is that important in Heaven, 1. why have we never heard of him during all the many plots involving that place and 2. why didn’t he and his brethren just go hide back there? After all, the angels were forcibly called back to Heaven not long after they were thrown down. Some went willingly, of course, but some were killed because they refused. So, why are Ishim and his lieutenants out wandering around on earth now? They’re not Grigori.

Anyhoo, she loses a bit more of my sympathy when she says she’s fine with the current situation. Once Ishim kills Dean, Sam will be fine with killing Ishim, so she gets what she wants, eventually, anyway.

Cut to Dean entering the church and finding a weakened Castiel. Castiel explains that he healed Ishim. Dean tells him (without looking around for Ishim first) that Lily’s daughter was human and that he thinks Ishim “is playing you.”

Up pops Ishim behind Dean. Nope. Sure wasn’t expecting that. [/sarcasm]

So, Castiel belatedly compares notes with Ishim, who lies like a rug. Dean snarks that Ishim lies a lot worse than Lily. Mutual manly bitchiness ensues. Ishim tries to separate Castiel from Dean by insulting Dean and asking Castiel why he lets Dean boss him around. Castiel’s finally not buying it, though, and bears down on the question – was May human or a naphil? Ishim admits the truth by refusing to answer the question straight. In other words, May was human.

The fight breaks out when Dean pulls out his angel blade and gets slammed into a wall. Castiel tries to attack Ishim, but gets his ass handed to him. As Ishim beats him up, he pours out his anger and jealousy and envy. Castiel was the one who got to go to Hell and raise the Righteous Man. Now Ishim is going to cut out Castiel’s “human weakness” with his angel sword, just as he cut out his own. And he goes straight for Dean. Ohhh, dear.

Fortunately, while Castiel is getting beaten to a pulp (albeit getting in a punch or headbutt or two), Dean is thinking quickly. He cuts his hand and makes a banishing sigil. When Ishim approaches, Dean warns him to stay back. But Ishim has Dean’s number. As a helpless, beaten Castiel watches, Ishim points out to Dean that he would survive being blasted away, but Castiel might not. Unwilling to put Castiel in mortal harm’s way, Dean very reluctantly drops his hand. Then, with a grim and fatalistic look, he grasps his angel sword as Ishim smirks and comes after him.

But Sam and Lily arrive with good timing. Lily calls Ishim off by shouting his name. He turns to confront her, sarcastically calling her “my love.” As Sam rushes to Dean, apologizing for bring Lily along (Dean quickly forgives him), Ishim and Lily fight. It’s a pretty good fight, but he’s much stronger than before and soon bests her.

The Brothers come in and distract him by slicing him on the limbs. Enraged, he tosses them into a corner, but this gives Lily time to pull off her eyepatch and do a white-light jazz hand. Her blind eye glows as she declares she will “never be powerless again.” She Tks him into a wall. He’s not impressed, pushing away from it and approaching her the way Dean did Abaddon when he killed her. Before he can strike, though, Castiel stabs him from behind. Afterward, Castiel sinks to his knees, telling her “You held him for long enough.”

We get an overhead shot of Lily staring down at dead Ishim and his broken wings. Sam wonders if that’s it and Dean asks Lily, far more pointedly, “Are you done?” When Lily hedges that she’s been seeking revenge for over a century, Dean, even more pointedly, tells her it’s over (i.e., that he won’t let her kill Castiel, too.).

At that point, Castiel intervenes. He apologizes to Lily and tells her that if she can’t let it go, he will wait for her to come and finish him down the road. She thanks him and then just leaves. Oookay.

Back at the Bunker, Dean gives Castiel a beer, telling him “You earned it.”

The Brothers go into a stereo, extremely cleaned-up paean to how nice Castiel has been to them over the years, leaving out all the times he’s turned on them, betrayed them, run off with the butterflies, or just plain made dumb decisions. And Dean admits he’s not angry so much as “worried” that Castiel’s killing of Billie will turn ugly, what with all the “cosmic consequences” deal.

Then we get a boring retread of the whole nephilim plotline, how Lucifer’s child is dangerous and scary beyond measure, and they may have to kill a kid (assuming they can kill the kid). Which is just eye-rolling post-Amara. A group drinking session ensues.

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Review: I mostly enjoyed this one, but my goodness, were there enough plotholes to drive that truck through, or what? Also, Castiel acted childish for most of the episode. I wanted to slap him half the time. And Ishim was remarkably transparent in his motivations. Not that Lily Sunder was any great shakes as an anti-heroine.

Still, Ishim was a great villain and foil to Dean, specifically, in the sense of Ian Tracey and Jensen Ackles having a crackling good time playing off each other as brittle antagonists. There was never going to be any peace between those two. Their instant and mutual hatred had too much destructive resonance. Lily’s revenge story was bland in comparison.

It’s no secret that I’m as big a fan of Ian Tracey as of Jensen Ackles, so imagine my delight in seeing him return to the show and get some meaty conflict and fight scenes with Ackles this time round. Tracey is A-list in Canada (and, to my mind, Canadian A-list, consisting mostly of seasoned character actors rather than “stars,” is generally much stronger than Hollywood A-list), so it’s a rare treat to see him, Ackles, and Misha Collins get face time. Padalecki got that chance last time (season seven’s “Adventures in Babysitting”), but Ackles didn’t and Tracey’s character had a much smaller role in that one. However much I liked Lee Chambers, they killed him off between episodes and brought back Lee’s annoying daughter Krissy. That gives you an idea how disposable a redshirt he was.

I was rather put out that they killed Tracey’s character off again this time and made him a one-shot, though at least he had a lot of fun and scenery to chew in this one. I was further put out because Ishim was actually a much more interesting character than the title character.

Lily Sunder is a blah Vengeful Sue character and I have no desire to see her again. She’s got about three settings – frightened and helpless, angry, and smug – with little connection between them and equally little emotional connection to the audience.

Also, she’s far too overpowered in her initial scenes versus the two angels we see her kill, making her subtext too much of a predator and not enough of an avenger, even once we find out the truth (all Tell, no Show). This put the sympathy on the angels (especially Benjamin) and it never really came back to Lily. I felt sorry for Achamel and certainly for May, but I never felt very sorry for Lily.

After all, this is a woman who intentionally summoned an extremely powerful and deadly being, which resulted in the death of her daughter. Even if she had done it before her daughter was ever born, it was a dumb thing to do. If Lily had summoned a demon or used the Necronomicon to call up Cthulhu, the audience would hardly be sympathetic to her. The show indicates that humans in the SPNverse are really dumb about the true nature of angels and think they are good (which is the intended way of making her sympathetic, despite her reckless stupidity), but the audience knows better at this point.

Plus, any professor of apocalyptic lit would know that it is incredibly dangerous to summon angels. In traditional Christian lore, demons are just fallen angels. Even they serve God. Christ allowed some control over demons by humans in order to exorcize them. But unfallen angels still serve God directly and represent manifestations of His power and glory. Not only are they much more powerful than demons, but their position in Creation compared to humans is very different. Summoning them can be perceived as directly interfering with God’s will, so while angel grimoires may be considered white magic, they are still very iffy in moral terms.

This leads directly into Ishim’s bigoted rants about humans and angels remaining separate, and his resentment of Dean and Sam giving Castiel orders. This makes perfect sense if you consider that for an angel, like a demon, summoning is a compulsion. It’s unclear how compelled angels feel to answer (it probably depends on the power of the summoner versus the power of the summoned), but Castiel and other angels have made it clear they find a direct summons by a human to be a peremptory and insolent command, and they don’t like it.

Episode writer Steve Yockey makes Ishim look like a jealous, bitter, racist ex, but in the rules of the show itself, Ishim’s will may have been abrogated by Lily in the initial summoning. It appears she may have compelled him to love her and serve her, which makes her all kinds of unsympathetic, dead daughter or no. Regardless of how much Ishim was (or felt) compelled to do her bidding early on, she is the one who created the instrument that murdered her daughter by twisting an angel in the first place.

While Yockey probably didn’t intend any of that subtext, it therefore makes some sense that Castiel has no sympathy for Lily until Ishim threatens to murder Dean right in front of him. Castiel isn’t just being dumb about the daughter not being a naphil or inhuman in his indifference to the child’s death. Lily’s daughter is innocent, but her loss is just punishment for Lily’s defiance of the Natural Order and implied abrogation of Ishim’s free will.

But Ishim misreads what’s going on between Castiel and Dean. Dean did not initiate the relationship with Castiel and Dean. Yes, Dean commands Castiel loyalty and obedience, but both he and Castiel perceive this as just, both because of their friendship and because Castiel participated in the destruction of Dean’s family. Castiel serves Dean entirely of his own free will and Dean respects those terms.

Dean is not a parallel for Lily (as the dialogue states); he’s a parallel for her daughter. Therefore, he is an innocent. When Castiel kills Ishim to save Dean, he is belatedly making up for failing to save May. And the audience is all for this, not just because of the emotional investment in the “profound bond” between Castiel and Dean, and not just because, as the Firewall, Dean may not only have the ability to exercise true free will and even change Natural Order, but may even embody the Natural Order. It’s because Dean in this story is truly innocent.

Ishim drastically misinterprets the relationship between Castiel and Dean, perceiving it in the same toxic way as his own relationship with Lily. Lily does, too, at first, but changes enough to end her vendetta with the death of Ishim (the angel who actually murdered her daughter) at Castiel’s hands. However dimly, Lily senses that if she went after Castiel, Dean (and Sam) would end her. She may not want to hurt humans and they may be willing to let bygones be bygones if she stops there, but they’ve killed humans who practice black magic before. And they are very good at it.

I will give Alicia Witt credit for not making her as irritating as I expected Lily to be, and her fight scenes looked pretty good. I’m not a fan of Witt’s sarcastic delivery, and the character itself had some issues, but Witt did okay with the role, aside from the above problems of lack of range.

I suppose, if the writers do insist on bringing Lily back, she could mellow into a sort of Rowena-like frenemy, but I’m not nearly as into watching Witt as I am Ruth Connell. Also, I don’t like how Lily cold-bloodedly killed the vessels of the angels she also slaughtered (who were misled, not evil) and shrugged off all the collateral damage as an okay consequence of becoming sociopathic through using her soul to fuel her angel-like powers (something I have suggested was possible since season six).

Yes, Ishim murdered her daughter, but she’s the one who chose revenge. And being fine with standing by while Ishim murders Dean, or murdering innocent angel vessels while insisting she doesn’t want to harm any humans, doesn’t jibe with her claim that she’s a vengeful heroine in her story. I also wasn’t impressed by her never once showing an ounce of guilt over her inadvertent role in her daughter’s death in, y’know, summoning her daughter’s eventual murderer in the first place out of little more than religious fanaticism and academic curiosity. And there’s no sense she ever had any feelings for Ishim aside from accomplishment at having summoned an angel, so one can kind of see why he felt rejected.

It doesn’t help that she comes off as a bit of a user, summoning another angel to help her with her first angel when he becomes a problem and getting that angel killed without much remorse on her part. Or that the show has her kill off the other two angels in female vessels so that we’re left with fewer female characters at the end (really, show, it’s not necessary to have only one significant female character at a time in an episode. We’re 51% of the population, not something exotic like dancing bears).

Plus, there’s the plothole that she apparently knows Enochian and all this stuff about angels that Ishim taught her but not the banishing spell that Dean tried to use and she could have used to save her daughter. Not the sharpest tool in the shed is Lily Sunder. Then again, the characters in general have been written all season unnecessarily as thick as posts, similarly to how characters are written on other CW shows. It seems the new writers think this is the way to do things now.

Castiel rhapsodizing about Benjamin and his loving relationship with his vessel (and our seeing yet another PoC angelic character bite the dust in as many weeks) doesn’t make Lily look very sympathetic, either. I wish TV writers could figure out how to write female guest characters more sympathetically, or at least not so much like bitches all the time, because ugh. And no, the “surprise twist” didn’t improve things on that front. In fact, it made things much more confusing. In the Devil’s Baby Mama storyline, it’s clearly stated that angels can sense the conception of a naphil. Yet, the twist is that Lily’s little girl is just an ordinary human. How could the angels outside the house not sense that? It’s a big old plothole that’s never explained.

I still think that Ishim with his dark, angelic obsession was far more intriguing than Lily (hell, Benjamin was far more intriguing than Lily and I was sorry to see him/her go). He would have made a fabulous recurring antagonist for Castiel over the course of a season or so. He was so obsessed and they had so much history, and the hate chemistry with Dean was fantastic. Maybe we could get a flashback or two in a future episode (no-no, don’t burst my bubble of denial).

Part of the intrigue was the way the writers straight-up gave us a parallel to Castiel’s relationship with Dean in Ishim with Lily, one that went horribly wrong. As I’ve said in the past, I think Destiel (in the sense of a relationship that uses romance tropes) is canon on the show, just as Dowley is canon. In addition, these relationships aren’t just one-shots and don’t just exist to add tension. They actually change the plot and characters over time.

Crowley’s jealousy of Dean’s relationships with other men (including not only Castiel, but brother Sam) is the core of his personal conflict with Team Free Will, just as his loneliness stems from the persistent emotional rejection by his mother Rowena (hmm, something Crowley kinda has in common with Dean this season). Meanwhile, in Castiel’s obsession lies the core of his faith in God and the reason why Chuck keeps favoring him and resurrecting him. Castiel is the Firewall’s literal wingman and bodyguard.

Are we going to see teenage kissing and holding hands? Hell, no. These characters are a grown human man with emotional walls like Ancient Troy and a half-billion-year-old seraph. Note that the relationship between Ishim and Lily didn’t involve any cute teen romance tropes, either (unless we’re talking about this commercial and campaign about the difference between Young Love and abuse, which gets quoted in the episode). In fact, the idea that Lily’s daughter was a naphil turned out to be a red herring deliberately engineered by Ishim so that he could take revenge on Lily by killing the girl, and use his angel comrades to help him do it.

The story of Ishim and Lily (and even Benjamin and his ancient unnamed vessel) once again raised the specter I have talked about in the past that angels are designed to be obsessive. It’s in their DNA, as it were. They were created (possibly by the archangels rather than Chuck directly, as hinted late last season) to worship their father in every way possible and to obey their angelic superiors without question (as I said, dumb as a box of hair). When an angel transfers this obsessive love to a human, it can be overwhelming, even terrifying, for the human. With the power balance between them so far out of whack, it can become abusive in a human heartbeat.

Up to this point, we hadn’t known of any other such relationships between a human and an angel (unless you count Dean and Anna, which ended very badly), so we had nothing to compare. Anna seemed relatively fine, albeit suspicious of Castiel, until she was captured and reprogrammed. So, we had no way of knowing if the circular pattern of Castiel obsessing over Dean, becoming enraged with Dean over the least disagreement or mistake, possibly harming or betraying Dean, and then feeling remorseful, was how things went with angels and humans. Well … apparently, that’s about as good as it gets.

Naturally, the slashiest and most parallel it gets is when Ishim cannily calls Dean’s bluff about the angel-banishing sigil and Dean chooses not to use it, knowing full well that doing so will probably get him killed. This is right after Ishim tells Castiel he’s going to murder Dean right in front of him to get rid of Castiel’s “human” taint the way he did his own (by murdering Lily’s daughter and incurring her hatred). It’s also right before he sarcastically calls Lily, upon her arrival with Sam as part of the cavalry, “my love.” The subtext of curdled romantic obsession isn’t exactly subtle.

Castiel returns the favor by stabbing Ishim from behind to save Dean the way he did Billie the Reaper last week to save Mary (which was also, in a weird way, to “save” Dean – from watching his mother get killed again). Castiel’s reaction is the opposite to Ishim’s in that Ishim murders Lily’s family, whereas Castiel kills other angels in his own family (literally backstabs them) to save Dean’s family. And Dean chooses to give up a spell that could save his own life, even though he’s quite angry with Castiel, because it could kill Castiel. If that’s not true love on this show, I don’t know what is.

An historical aside: There was unlikely to be such a thing as a professorship in Apocalyptic Literature in the late 19th century. It would be a professorship in Divinity or in History of Religions, and women were not getting those back then. No American woman even got a Bachelor’s degree in Divinity until 1878 and it seems pretty unlikely such a woman would be residing in Maine in 1901. In addition, no respectable Victorian Era woman, widowed or single, would be living alone with her daughter in a swanky mansion without any servants or companions, angel guardian dude or no.

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Fun lines:

Sam: So, what’s the plan?
Dean: Well, we knock on [Lily’s] door, ask her nicely not to kill any more angels.
Sam: And if she says no?
Dean: Well, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

Ishim: I loved you.
Lily: You didn’t love me. You were obsessed with me. That isn’t love.

Ishim: [Lily]’s a liar.
Dean: Well, if she’s a liar, she’s pretty good at it. You, on the other hand, kinda suck.

Ishim: I used to envy you, Castiel. Can you believe that? You survived Hell. You were chosen by God. But now, look at you. You’re just sad and pathetically weak. So, now, I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna cure you of your human weakness, same way I cured my own. [pulls out his sword and goes after Dean]

Dean: [Ishim]’s dead. Are you done?
Lily: Revenge is all I’ve had for over a hundred years. It’s what I am.
Dean: Wrong answer. You’re done.


Next: Who We Are/All Along the Watchtower (season finale): British Men of Letters and Lucifer clash with Sam and Dean and Mary and Castiel. Hopefully, we end the season with a few less annoying antagonists.


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Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Herland” and Feminist Utopias


By Paula R. Stiles


Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Moving the Mountain (1911). Forerunner Magazine.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland (1915). Forerunner Magazine.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. With Her in Ourland (1916). Forerunner Magazine.


Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that many dystopias are really utopias but from the viewpoint of a narrator who hates them. If you look at Brave New World (1932), for example, most of the people in that story are actually happy with their situation. Never mind that they’ve been both natured and nurtured that way, or that they are in a permanent state of shallow indulgence in seeking the next new pleasure. They like it. They aren’t suffering as the characters are in, say, We (1921) or Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Sure, you’d hate the World State if you were deeper than a puddle or an outsider, but it’s questionable whether John Savage (or any of the other Alphas) is all that deep. This becomes especially true as our society’s tolerance wanes for whiny man-children who feel entitled to a girlfriend who understaaaaannnds them, or for Huxley’s reflexive assumption that all women can only be, at best, Betas. Gee, thanks, Al.

This is important to keep in mind when reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist utopian Herland trilogy. It comprises Moving the Mountain, the narratively unrelated Herland, and Herland‘s direct sequel With Her in Ourland.

Moving the Mountain is not set in the same world as Herland. It’s really Gilman’s version of Looking Backward from 1888 (her male narrator even mentions this early on) and is her vision of the mid-20th century circa 1950. Some stuff she gets so right that it almost elicits a shrug from the reader (Well, yes, of course regulated, cleaner food and water happened, and that was an improvement, but it hardly resulted in a utopian world). Other stuff (no more war in 1950? The Temperance movement was a success? Yeah, sure) she gets pretty wrong.

The male narrator, John Robertson, goes off to Tibet, gets bonked on the head, lives there in a state of amnesia for 30 years (which Gilman dismisses as of no account with an off-hand contempt for Tibetan culture), accidentally meets his sister Ellen, gets his memory back of his previous life while losing all memory of what he did in Tibet, and returns home, only to find that the wimminfolk have changed into emotional aliens and basically taken over society.

No, I’m not kidding. That’s really the plot.

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In Herland, in what sounds eerily like a precursor to Lost Horizon (1933) or even At the Mountains of Madness (1931), three male explorers travel up a river and past some kind of old lava flow to discover a country full of millions of women and no men. After the natural disaster of a volcanic eruption, these women somehow evolved two thousand years ago into giving birth parthenogenetically. To their chagrin, the male explorers are quickly captured and “educated” like children in the new culture, with varying success. Part of this education includes falling in love with three of their captors and getting married, which is written as natural, straight male aggression and sex drive, but comes off a little bit like Stockholm Syndrome.

In With Her in Ourland, two of the men go back home with one of the men’s Herlander wives, who is acting as a scout for her people to see if it’s worth opening up communications with the rest of the world. Her husband tries to explain to her how civilized his world really is and then they land right in the middle of WWI. Awkward.

Personally, I liked Herland better than Moving the Mountain, albeit in a lukewarm way. There’s actual conflict and it is written better as a story. While Herland and With Her in Ourland have a lot of the usual extended and wordy exposition about the culture that you find in utopian novels, Moving the Mountain is almost nothing but, save for the beginning and end of the story. Herland has more of a plot than Moving the Mountain and more of a story arc and structure.

The three men in Herland represent a continuum of manhood from Jeff the romantic lover of All Things Woman, through the milquetoast narrator Van, to Terry the creepy date rapist (Van even admits at one point that he and Terry’s other friends never let any of their female relatives be alone with him back in school. Nice). Needless to say, Terry doesn’t take being deprogrammed out of super-macho douchebaggery too well and things end rather badly for him.

(There is an unintentional irony in that in all three books, the POV is male, and the female characters are idealized and one-dimensional. Not only do the women of Herland dress alike, they also act alike for the most part (save for some distancing exposition about off-stage bad behavior here and there) and are blandly amiable. She even has her Herlander heroine bear a male child at the end of With Her in Ourland, signaling a sea change that probably wouldn’t bode well for the Herlanders in real life. Though Gilman writes the men in the story as overgrown children, it cuts into the feminist message just a tad to write her women entirely through the Male Gaze. It also cut down on my enjoyment of the stories.)

The Herland novels also don’t have quite as much “Good Lord, did she just say that?” stuff in them as Moving the Mountain. For example, the future society in Moving the Mountain advocates eugenics on the level of euthanasia for physical handicaps, long-term mental illness, and hardened criminals, but also women who like sex too much or alcoholics/drug addicts who flunk rehab after one try. And yet, when the men mention to the women of Herland that women in their own culture have abortions, the Herland women are utterly horrified. Hmm. Okay.

In all three books, Gilman also shows a general dislike of sex except for procreation and the women of Herland are obsessed with the ideal of motherhood, which also derails any discussion of why women who have spent two thousand years without men would be attracted to them, let alone what those women are getting up to together in the bedroom without any men around (for that, check out Joanna Russ’ unnerving and often wickedly funny “When It Changed” (1972)).

The women talk incessantly about how regretful they are that they can only have one child, due to having to keep the population down to accommodate their environment. They’d happily have the full five kids their unique biology allows them, so having just one kid is awfully hard. Even with Gilman’s enthusiastic endorsement of “It takes a village of women to raise a child” forms of child rearing, that she considered this idea remotely feminist, even in 1915, gets a Spock eyebrow from me. I mean, what if a Herlander doesn’t want to have kids? Does that make her some kind of freak?

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Also, they are all white – and by white, I mean Northwestern European. Gilman doesn’t beat away at this fact repeatedly, but she does make it very clear. Women of Color are absent from her two utopias for a reason (in fact, the only Man of Color we meet is near the end of Moving the Mountain and he’s a walking submissive stereotype). Even if she doesn’t rodomontade too much about that reason, her ideas of the genetic superiority of some women over others (who shouldn’t be allowed to breed) make the unpleasant extrapolation pretty easy.

Gilman also shows a distinct antipathy toward the messiness and chaos of nature in both books. In Moving the Mountain, most wildlife except for some birds (Gilman had a thing for song birds), vermin like rats, cats and dogs, and even cattle, have been eliminated. Herland has no dogs and no non-productive trees, just one big orchard. Cattle have been phased out. And cats have been bred to become complacent, never go into heat, and never hunt birds. Ha.

The trilogy hasn’t aged well post-WWII. The Nazis did an excellent job of killing the Eugenics Movement, while Prohibition did a number on the Temperance Movement. Moving the Mountain, in particular, puts forth some ideas that must have appeared entirely sensible to Gilman at the time, but didn’t play out well at all in the reality of the Nazi Fatherland.

What’s especially odd is how these books (which detail what Gilman saw as perfect societies) contrast with some of her other work, particularly the horror classic “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892). That story is told from the point of view of a woman suffering from postpartum depression and subjected to a chilling social isolation treatment by her dim-witted physician of a husband. Motherhood is not idealized in this story and the women on either side of the wallpaper in their violent and psychotic rebellion would not be allowed at all in either of the utopias of the Herland trilogy.

Gilman was perfectly capable of writing unruly women, as “The Yellow Wallpaper” amply demonstrates, so it’s a bit of a shock to see how placid and bovine the women of Herland frequently appear. Even the women in Moving the Mountain are spikier and fiercer than that. I suppose this is a classic example of why utopias are almost always so creepy. What seems normal and desirable to one person can have an unintended dark subtext for others. While I don’t think everything fictional should be grim or sturm und drang, I wonder if an attraction of horror (and of dystopias) is that intentionally and consciously grappling with our dark sides can evoke a certain honesty not present in utopian fiction.