The Official Supernatural: “Meta Fiction” (9.18) Retro Recap and Review

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The cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late) and ended filming for good on September 10. Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale (and expressed sadness on Instagram when he got the final script, which said “The End” instead of the usual “To Be Continued”). In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.

There are some new trailers out for the last episodes. Finally.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat and I’ve got a house full of fosters right now. My kitty Goose is doing much better, thank you (she’s acting as if nothing happened now), but I’ve still got that bill, so every little bit helps.

Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.

Recap: Recap of the Mark of Cain, Dean’s obsession with killing Abaddon, Metatron’s lame seduction of Gadriel, and Castiel’s journey to becoming some kind of Gandhi to the other angels (plus an aside about his running on borrowed grace, currently).

Cut to Now. We’re in a pretentious-looking study with lots of stained and lacquered wood, a fireplace, books (some of them Chuck’s series, including A Very Supernatural Christmas), Fanfare Rondeau by John-Joseph Mouret on vinyl (the former theme of Masterpiece Theater), and Metatron, drinking whiskey in a smoking jacket, typing on an old-style manual typewriter. Metatron stares straight into the camera and intones, “What makes a story work?” He then pompously talks about what special element could do that – is it plot or subplot? Text or subtext? Who gives it meaning? The author or the audience? Then he says he’s going to tell the viewer “a little story and let you decide.”

Cue title cards, but they’re blasted away by a blue background with clouds, white and glowing wings, a heavenly choir, and the title “Metatron.”

Cut to a shower head starting up. Dean is the one taking the shower and he’s got dark circles under his eyes. Afterward, he wipes steam off the bathroom mirror and then looks at the Mark on his arm.

Out in the Map Room, Sam is getting off the phone with someone named Carlos and thanking him. They are talking about “demon activity,” but when Dean enters the room, all dressed, Sam also mentions “people without souls, acting out.” Sam is putting post-it notes all over the map table for demonic incidents of note. Abaddon herself has disappeared.

When Dean rubs his right arm, Sam notices and asks if he’s okay. Dean shrugs off Sam’s concern and says everything is fine. Dean, too, starts making calls.

Cut to a grotty old warehouse that Castiel is walking through. He finds a door with bloody handprints on it and enters. Inside, he finds something that uncertainly whines like angel voice and a dead person lying against a wall. Turning around, he finds a bunch of other dead bodies and a strange, glowing symbol on the wall. That’s the source of the sound. The symbol pulsates and then fades. It was drawn in blood. Castiel takes a picture of it with his phone.

A woman with her face half-bloody (and apparently missing an eye) sneaks up behind him and tries to kill him with an angel sword. He easily disarms her and knocks her down. She immediately begs for her life.

Castiel tells her he won’t kill her. He asks her name (it’s Hannah) and then what happened in the room. They discuss the symbol. She doesn’t know what it is, but she heard (just like Castiel did) and followed the sound to its source. She is an angel, too. She found a bunch of other angels in vessels, who seemed friendly. But then the doors “slammed shut” and a strange angel appeared who told them he was “working for the new God.” Castiel correctly guesses this angel meant Metatron.

Anyhoo, some angels joined up, but Hannah and her friends refused. So now, Hannah is the only one left. Castiel commiserates with her.

After Castiel heals her, she realizes who he is. She wants to follow him, but he keeps saying he’s “no leader.” But he does swear to get revenge on Metatron, though he refuses to let her and whatever remaining friends she has help. I glance at my watch because this whole subplot has just been crawwwling along all season, hasn’t it?

Castiel asks her the angel’s name. Cut to his calling Sam and Dean, while walking into a rundown motel room, and Sam freaking out over the obvious – that the angel in question is Gadriel and he’s working for Metatron. Didn’t they … already know that?

Anyhoo, Dean correctly guesses that Metatron made Gadriel kill Kevin. Castiel confirms this is a good guess, pointing out that no Prophets have been activated since Kevin’s death. He indicates that Metatron turned them off at the source (something Metatron himself told Gadriel earlier in the season). Castiel sends them a photo of the symbol that was calling the angels and speculates that it is some kind of spell. He thinks this because it is an obvious lure for angels and was made with some strange ingredients. But he’s never heard of it before and Sam says he hasn’t, either. Dean doesn’t say anything, despite having a past history of a nearly-eidetic memory for symbols. I guess Thompson is going with the Dean Is Dumb trope here.

Castiel glances over at the motel room’s small fridge, which has an “Honor Bar” sign on it, and wonders what that means: “What’s honorable about a minibar in a motel room?”

When Dean replies, “Everything,” Castiel smiles fondly and asks how he is. A bit nonplussed, Dean says fine and asks how Castiel is. Castiel says he misses his wings. He doesn’t like “life on the road.”

Sam says he’s found a match to the symbol from the police record. It’s been seen at several crime scenes of multiple deaths. All of them are in Utah. Castiel says his site is, too. By tracking the sites, Castiel determines that Gadriel must be heading north in the state, either to Auburn or Ogden (have been to Ogden, but it was a long time ago). Dean says they’ll go to Ogden, so Castiel should cover Auburn. As he gets off the phone, Castiel notices the lights fritzing.

Back at the Bunker, Dean remembers that he and Sam once did a hunt in Ogden and know a local Hunter. They decide to contact him, to see if he can tell them anything.

Cut to a car with Colorado plates pulling up to a hemp shop. It’s Gadriel. In a hoody and leather jacket, he enters the shop, where a guy with long hair and his back to him is working in front of a ceiling-high rack of glass bongs. He asks about gryphon feathers (one of the ingredients Castiel named in the lure spell) and fairy bones, pick your realm. The long-haired guy, who also has a beard, asks him what kind of monster he’s hunting. Gadriel says, “Family.”

As Castiel is hefting his packed duffel bag and leaving the motel room, the lights fritz again, the TV turns on, and Casa Erotica 14 pops up. He tries to turn off the TV, but it won’t.

A young woman in a blonde wig, white button-down shirt, glasses, and very short black skirt says the usual words about needing Casa Erotica in her life. Inside the movie, there’s a knock on the door. When she goes to open it, it’s Gabriel with his pornstache. He looks right at the screen, pulls off his stache, and asks Castiel if he remembers him. When Castiel says that he does, Gabriel appears right behind him. When Castiel turns around, Gabriel says, “I need your help, Brother.”

Castiel correctly guesses that Gabriel faked his own death at Lucifer’s hands. Gabriel’s like, well, duh. He claims to have gone into hiding in Heaven until he was cast out with the other angels. But Metatron has sent angels after him, under the impression that Gabriel is strong enough to be a threat to him. Gabriel says he’s been using most of the extra power he has left to hide out inside porn (“Thaat came out wrong!”).

Gabriel identifies the angel lure as something called “Gabriel’s Horn,” a God weapon he never got around to using. It was intended to unite angels, but Metatron is using it to trap them. Castiel corrects him slightly – he says that Gadriel is actually doing that for Metatron. Gabriel is surprised Gadriel is even still around, let alone in play.

When Castiel asks him what he wants, Gabriel says he wants to kill Metatron.

In Ogden, the Brothers are pulling up to the shop of their Hunter friend at night. The OPEN sign is still out, which seems suspicious, since the shop itself is closed and dark. When the Brothers enter, Dean finds a box of spilled feathers behind the counter. Sam opens a closet door to find the dead shop owner hanging behind it like a suit of clothes, his eyes burned out. Welp, that’s one more Hunter we barely met before he bit it. There’s a cool and gruesome effect as Dean shines his flashlight briefly and directly into the burned-out eye holes.

Dean: We gotta find Gadriel before he lights the Bat Signal.

In his car on a rainy night, with Gabriel riding shotgun, Castiel tries to leave a message on one of Dean’s cell phones. Gabriel grabs the phone from him and leaves his own, colorful message. Referencing Jesus (“not the cat with the beard and sandals”) when saying he’s the one who “died for your sins,” he tells them he’s back and will be in touch, before hanging up.

Castiel asks Gabriel what he’s seen since he fell. Gabriel mentions the chaos that followed, as well as an awareness of the battle between Crowley and Abaddon. He says that most angels are “sheep” who have not taken well to the concept of Free Will. But he and Castiel are “rebels.” They’re different. Castiel insists he’s no leader (even when Gabriel snarks about his time as Godstiel). Gabriel says that’s okay. He’s decided he’s done running, and is going to step up and lead, as he was originally created to do.

After Gabriel looks out the rainy window and comments that they are low on gas, they stop at a Gas n’ Sip. But as they come inside, headlights flash as another car pulls up to the pumps. Gabriel instantly susses them out as other angels, “minions” of Metatron.

Meanwhile, still at night, Gadriel is coming down a firescape to his car. He sees Sam sneaking down an alleyway toward the car, but hides before Sam can see him. Sam pauses to leave a rather loud phone message for Castiel and Gadriel comes out to confront him, angel blade in hand. But as he does so, Dean says from above, “Hey, douchebag!” and drops a lighter on his position. A ring of holy fire blasts up around him. It was a trap.

Sam [smiling]: Remember me?

Inside the Gas n’ Sip, Gabriel says that they can’t keep the angels out and Castiel figures that means they’d better fight. Gabriel corrects him – he’ll hold them off so that Castiel can escape(excuse me, but didn’t we just see Gabriel fly out of the porn video into Castiel’s motel room? Why couldn’t he escape with Castiel?). Castiel, being another rebel, can take his place as leader of the rebellion. Castiel hugs him in a manly hug, but just as he’s turning to leave, he goes to put his angel blade in his coat and has a flashback to earlier when it was torn. It’s not now.

As Gabriel is urging him to leave, and the head angel (a blonde) is kicking in the glass door, Castiel asks him if any of their encounter was “real.” After some stalling, Gabriel realizes it’s not working when Castiel gently pushes his angel blade into his stomach and nothing happens. Snapping his fingers, Gabriel makes the angel minions disappear and asks what caught him out. Castiel tells him about the coat and Gabriel complains about “continuity errors.”

Castiel now figures that none of it was real. Gabriel says that “none of it was real, but all of it was true.” Castiel susses out that he’s no longer in the motel room, but before Gabriel snaps his fingers (saying “hear him out” about Metatron), Castiel asks if he’s real or if he’s dead. Gabriel waggles his eyebrows and snaps his fingers (Richard Speight Jr. has since confirmed that this was a hint that Gabriel was still alive).

After the snap, Castiel wakes up in Metatron’s study, tied to a chair and gagged, while Metatron types. The music is still playing. In fact, as Metatron stops, leans forward, and asks, “What makes a story work?” it turns out that this is the same scene as the teaser and that Metatron, far from addressing the audience, was actually addressing Castiel.

Inside a warehouse, Gadriel is tied to a chair and taunting Sam (saying that he’s been inside him and he “reeks of shame and weakness”). Sam asks him how long he’s been working for Metatron, gets frustrated, and punches him. Dean restrains Sam and gets him to go cool off.

In his study, Metatron says that he was going to tell Castiel a story using Gabriel in his role as the Trickster, but that it clearly failed due to a hole in Castiel’s coat (which he fingers before taking off Castiel’s gag). When he makes a Sherlock Holmes reference (the incident of the dog in the night-time, from “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”), he gets annoyed at Castiel’s blank look. So, he gives Castiel all the knowledge he has of all books, movies and TV shows he has ever read or watched in the past “few millennia” (guess Metatron’s not much for visual static art or music). He then comments that the universe is really made up of stories, not atoms, a reference that Castiel now does get (from the poem, “The Speed of Darkness,” by Muriel Rukeyser).

Metatron’s obsession is that in a story, “every Hero needs a Villain.” He fancies himself a Hero and he needs a Villain. He actually laughs when Castiel mistakenly believes at first that he is supposed to be the Hero of Metatron’s story, then nastily says through his teeth, “I’m the Hero.”

That Villain will be Castiel. Metatron instructed Gadriel to slaughter all of Hannah’s friends, but to leave one alive. That was to get Castiel to become her leader and the leader of the other surviving angels. He came up with the idea of faking Gabriel from the Winchester Gospel books (one of which he puts in the fire while he talks). He refers to them as pulp fiction, apparently unaware of who Chuck really is.

At the warehouse, Dean tells Sam to go cool off some more. It’s going to take a while to get Gadriel to talk. Remember that Dean was present at Gadriel’s exorcism (which Sam, obviously, doesn’t remember from that angle), so this isn’t his first “torturing Gadriel” rodeo.

Sam suggests calling in Crowley to “hack” Gadriel again, but Dean says he’s “in no mood to talk to that dickbag.” He says they need Castiel, but he can’t get hold of him and Castiel’s cell phone location says he’s in the same town as when they last talked to him. Dean sends Sam to go figure out what’s going on, while he deals with Gadriel.

After Sam leaves, Gadriel sneers that Dean must be the Good Cop to Sam’s Bad Cop. Dean corrects him. That’s not the game. Dean says he doesn’t care if Gadriel ends up dead because he’s going to take revenge for what Gadriel did to Sam and Kevin directly out of Gadriel’s miserable hide.

In his study, Metatron is telling Castiel both the price and the reward for his cooperation. Castiel will basically become a sort of angelic version of Gabriel’s Horn – a Judas Goat who will lure any angel who refuses to follow Metatron to their destruction. Castiel’s reward will be to be allowed to reenter Heaven (after a suitable time). When that reward doesn’t work, Metatron suggests that Castiel is running out of borrowed angel grace. If he follows Metatron, he can have all the grace that he wants and needs.

A woman in a black business suit and short skirt abruptly enters the room. She apologizes for interrupting, but says there is an emergency and it involves Gadriel.

In the warehouse, Gadriel is doing a lot of screaming as Dean slices him up slowly, grace leaking out as white light. Dean mocks Gadriel for allowing the “snake” (Lucifer) into the Garden and corrupting Humanity. When Gadriel tries to claim that he loves humans, Dean points out that he has “a funny way of showing it.” He says that as far as he’s concerned, Gadriel can say locked up forever in his chains, inside the sigil Dean drew underneath his chair, in the dark.

Gadriel then tries to switch tactics. He claims that Sam would not go the extra mile for Dean the way Dean would for Sam and that having been inside Sam, he would know. Dean insists otherwise (though this is no big revelation to him since Sam’s two big speeches episodes ago), then admits that Sam has already told him these things “and worse.” Gadriel says that Sam has always felt that way and that he’s right. Dean is “a coward … pathetic … bottom feeder” who is afraid to be alone.

Gadriel closes his eyes in anticipation as Dean loses control and goes to stab him. But Dean notices this and stops at the last second. As Gadriel, horrified, shouts at him to finish it, the tables turn and Dean realizes that Gadriel wants him to kill him. That’s what the goading was about. Imprisonment, considering Gadriel’s history, is his worst fear, not death.

Dean refuses to give him the satisfaction and tells him that he can “rot.” Then he walks out. Gadriel is left alone, looking woeful.

The Impala arrives at Castiel’s motel at night. Castiel’s room is #7. Sam gets out of the car and goes in cautiously, gun drawn, only to find research by Castiel on missing and dead angels all over the walls. Meanwhile, Dean enters a washroom in the warehouse. Leaving his angel blade in a nearby sink, he wipes the mirror in a repeat of the shower scene earlier and splashes water on his face. He looks almost as woeful as Gadriel. His eyes look black as he feels the Mark. Sam, meanwhile, is worried that Dean hasn’t answered his call.

In the motel room, Sam encounters Metatron, who says he has Castiel and wants Gadriel back. He tells Sam to bring Gadriel the next day, around six, or he will kill Castiel (this seems unlikely, considering his plans for Castiel, but Sam obviously doesn’t know that).

Sam [disbelieving]: An even trade.

Metatron [coldly]: I’m an entity of my word.

As we get a rising electronic soundtrack, heavy with angry brass and drums, Dean’s woefulness turns to determination and something a whole lot darker. Picking up the angel sword and spinning it in his hand, he leaves the washroom, ignoring another call from Sam.

Sam comes back, having called Dean a whole lot along the way, to find Gadriel’s chair empty. He starts calling Dean’s name and spots him slumped against a wall, his knuckles bloody. Rushing to Dean’s side, Sam asks, “Dean, are you okay?”

Dean: Yeah … you gotta stop asking me that.

Gadriel lies on his side nearby, but it turns out he’s not dead. Dean just beat him half to death. He says that Gadriel wouldn’t talk (which Sam already figured). He says (with a lost look) that Gadriel “wanted to die” and that he was willing to oblige, but barely stopped himself.

Sam tells him about Metatron’s deal. Incredulous, Dean points out that Metatron is not even remotely trustworthy, but that’s not Sam’s plan. He says that the meet is a time and place where they actually know Metatron will be. So, they bring Gadriel and set a trap for Metatron.

Cut to the Impala roaring down the road and then the next day, the Brothers are at the motel, waiting. Sam complains that Metatron is late. Dean says he might not show. At that moment, Metatron flies in (no wing noise) and says that he always intended to show up. He just was waiting for them to finish setting up their trap. He walks up to where he thinks it is (note that he doesn’t actually know) and asks if they’re ready.

Depressing, but predictable, I guess. I mean, it was Sam’s plan. And Robbie Thompson does love dumbing down the Brothers to make his guest characters look better.

Metatron goads an uncertain Dean into throwing down the lighter on the holy fire circle. But after some gurning and churning, he bursts out laughing and then blows out the fire. When the Brothers pull out their angel swords in a desperate attack, he turns angry (indicating they probably could kill him with one) and knocks them back against the Impala. He then signals to have a car pull up and goes to the Impala’s trunk. TK’ing open the trunk lid as if the warding were nothing, he also snaps off Gadriel’s cuffs as Gadriel sits up (yes, of course he was in the trunk). The look on Gadriel’s face is … interesting. Not as happy to see Metatron as you might think.

Two angels get out of the car with Castiel, who gets shoved over to the Brothers. When Dean asks Metatron why he’s doing what he’s doing, Metatron claims it’s “because I can.” He says he’s going to “enjoy” watching them futilely try to take him down, even with a Bunker full of “secrets.” He leaves Castiel with an oblique warning and a smug half-salute. When he flies off, rather than wings, you hear an odd humming sound and he apparently takes the others with him offscreen (we just see the reaction of TFW).

As night falls, Dean demands to know what the hell is going on. Castiel says that Metatron is “trying to play God.” Sam points out that Metatron just did a bunch of things that no angel should be able to do, even an archangel (though personally, I think the showy nature of those things indicates a certain insecurity in his power base). To all intents and purposes, Metatron currently is God. That’s what power the Angel Tablet is giving him (um … I guess? We haven’t heard about the thing since Gadriel stole it while killing Kevin, so how would we know yet what Metatron can do with it?).

When Dean says they still have to try, Sam tells him it’s not as easy as Return of the Jedi, where you sneak on board the Death Star and kill the Emperor. Castiel surprises Dean by understanding the reference and agreeing that they have to at least try. He does not, however, understand what Star Wars has to do with Heaven, which Sam ruefully allows is a media knowledge “half-way” for Castiel.

Dean asks Castiel if he’s okay. Castiel lies and says sure, but then turns it around and asks Dean if he’s okay. He says that Dean looks “different.” Dean brushes it off, but as he goes to pat Castiel on the shoulder (a literal brush-off), Castiel grabs his arm and pushes up his coat sleeve to look at the Mark.

It turns out that Castiel has not been back since before “First Born” (come to think of it, that’s true, isn’t it?), so he didn’t know Dean had taken on the Mark of Cain. He’s horrified. Dean’s “It’s a means to an end” does not mollify him, either. Dean exchanges a glance with Sam, who looks uncomfortable and in-the-middle.

Dean: Look, you find Heaven, drop a dime. Meantime, I got a Knight to kill.

Just another day at the Dean office, I guess. Saving the world one big brushfire at a time.

He goes to get in the car. As Sam tells Castiel, “Be safe out there,” Castiel warns him to “keep an eye” on Dean. Oh, sure, after a third of a season of ostentatiously not giving a damn, now everyone’s concerned. Bit late, you two.

All healed up from Dean’s torture, Gadriel is introduced into Metatron’s study by the short-skirted, cleavage-y MIFL angel who interrupted him before. She lets herself out.

Metatron [anxiously]: Is the door secure?

Gadriel: Yes. The way home is safe.

Metatron sighs in relief and thanks him. This is a weakness he didn’t want to show to the Brothers. Or Castiel. Clearly, Gadriel is deep in his confidence. Apparently.

With surface good humor (but an underlying anger that Metatron doesn’t notice), Gadriel asks how Metatron’s “play turned out.” Metatron muses that it went off-track a bit. He’ll just have to keep at it until he’s got everything in place. He says God’s problem was publishing his “first draft.”

Gadriel starts to leave, then pauses and turns back. He asks Metatron if Sam and Dean capturing him “was part of your plan.”

With a grin, Metatron allows that “that was a surprise … good characters … surprise you.” He says, “What writer doesn’t love a good twist?” But Metatron is fine with that because he knows “the ending.” And it doesn’t matter what else happens as long as he gets that ending and “everybody plays their part.”

With another insincere smile, Gadriel leaves. Metatron gets up to put on another record. This one is “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” by Frankie Valli (the original version of the song) from 1965.

In montage, we see the Brothers driving down the road at night and into a red sunrise, Dean at the wheel, Sam riding shotgun and giving worried glances at Dean, who keeps his eyes firmly on the road. Part of the montage involves Castiel ripping down a wall of research about his fellow angels and putting up the Gabriel’s Horn lure instead. As Metatron smugly types about this, indicating he predicted it (or at least thinks he made it happen), Castiel opens the door to find Hannah and a bunch of other mild-mannered angels waiting outside, smiling. Castiel looks conflicted.

At the very end, Metatron types “TO BE CONTINUED…” which is something Jensen Ackles recently said was at the end of every script except the series finale (which says, “THE END”). As he pulls the paper out of the typewriter, the song abruptly cuts off as the screen goes black.

Credits

The show dropped like a stone to a 0.7/3 in the A18-49 demo and in audience to 1.60 million. There are a few possible reasons here. One is that there was a short hellatus between this and the previous episode. Also, as I said in last week’s retro review, episode ratings tend to reflect the audience’s opinion of the previous episode, not the episode at hand (unless they leave en masse in the second half-hour).

Unfortunately, I’m not sure where to find the half-hours on this one, or even if they’re still available, let alone Live+ ratings, since TV by the Numbers has effectively shut down and other sites don’t really fill in that historical gap. Keep in mind, though, that ratings at the time don’t much reflect how beloved an episode is later. As is oft stated, the highest rating this show ever got was with the episode “Route 666” in season one.

Review: The song choice at the end of this episode is subtly apt, especially for this week (the show ended filming on September 10 and, like Jensen Ackles, I’m still floating down the River Denial.

Metatron is acting the way he is because he has no love, and is selfishly seeking it in all the most wrong and destructive ways possible. Gadriel has found himself going down a darker and and lonelier road in his desperate quest to redeem himself and become one with the angel flock again. Dean lacked love earlier this season and engaged in reckless, self-destructive acts because he felt no one cared what would happen to him, so no one else would be hurt. Now that those chickens are coming home to roost and his erstwhile loved ones have deigned to notice him again, he’s rejecting their smothering “love.” Sam and Castiel have had love thrust upon them, as it were, and petulantly refused it until now.

Love in this show can be a destructive thing, but the song implies that the lack of love can be far worse.

With a title like “Meta Fiction,” it was obvious that we were going to get one of Supernatural‘s dreaded “meta” episodes. Sometimes, those work. And sometimes, they don’t. In the case of this episode, there was a lot inside it that I liked on first watch, but I absolutely hated the frame story and how it cheapened the events in the episode itself. So, let’s dig in and bring the tea.

There’s something out there called the Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops. Dating back to 1988, the Turkey City Lexicon is a (much more succinct) science fiction genre precursor to TV Tropes. If you’ve attended any genre workshops, become a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, or even just submitted a whole lot of science fiction, fantasy or horror stories to many professional markets, you have heard of the Turkey City Lexicon. It’s an invaluable (and brutally frank) collection of Golden and Silver Age genre cliches and how to avoid them.

If you’re a fiction writer, prepare to cringe hard because I can guarantee you’ve committed most of the storytelling sins in the Lexicon. I know I have. They’re listed for a reason.

It is, sadly, obvious that several writers for Supernatural, including the writer for this episode (Robbie Thompson) have never read the Turkey City Lexicon. They really, really should have.

The Author Insert isn’t in that one, but the White Room certainly is, as is the Dischism. And the Whistling Dog. And Idiot Plot. But mostly, the episode seems to be a combination of Kitchen-Sink Story with either Wiring Diagram Fiction or Dennis Hopper Syndrome. I’ll let y’all look those up.

Simply put, everything to do with Castiel in this episode is an overly elaborate plot to get Castiel to become a leader of the angels who won’t follow Metatron. Metatron is obsessed with the idea of having a Villain to fight and destroy (without actually giving that Villain any chance of winning, of course).

Now, obviously, Metatron is deluded in thinking he is the Hero. The new title card kinda gives that one away. But within the context of this episode, he literally cannot lose and it makes the episode itself frustrating and dull. The Angel Tablet (suddenly mentioned after being a non-entity macguffin for a third of the season) gives him every power he needs to win over and over and over again. And jeez, is that boring.

Sam and Dean are the actual Heroes of the show and they lose inside entire episodes all the time. They may have enough plot armor to survive those losses, but they still lose quite a bit. That Metatron doesn’t for 42 minutes straight makes him no Hero, to be sure, but it doesn’t make him much of a Villain, either.

It’s true that the seeds of Metatron’s downfall are sown right under his nose in “Meta Fiction.” When Gadriel realizes that Metatron predicted everything except his capture by the Winchesters, he has a wakeup call and is shaken out of his self-brainwashing, but Metatron does not notice. Metatron is not all-powerful, certainly not completely honest, and is in fact fallible. Gadriel had been too gullible and desperate for redemption to realize that before.

But the fact that this tiny flaw is about the only truly interesting thing about Metatron in this episode kinda tells you why he’s more irritating than scary the rest of the season. The smarmy bonhomie, dropping to a nasty, sinister tone whenever anyone crosses him or gets too close to one of his vulnerabilities … that just isn’t terribly interesting in terms of season-long villainy. Metatron is very one-note.

The other thing that Metatron either remains unaware of for the moment, or is too careless to care about, is the Mark of Cain. That’s gonna bite him in the butt, albeit we will cover that in due time. Something happens, during the time Dean beats Gadriel like a gong until he exhausts himself, that Thompson is unfortunately too lazy or unimaginative to show (or hey, maybe that scene just got cut for more Metatron blather or to generate false tension about whether or not Dean had killed Gadriel).

It’s critical because while Gadriel doesn’t tell Dean anything useful, Dean has actually managed to break him. He returns to Metatron a changed angel, whose eyes have been opened indeed. Sam and Dean have inadvertently (and under duress) introduced a sleeper agent into Metatron’s operation, a spy. There are some other possibilities for throwing a bomb into Metatron’s plans, in Dean’s actual Mark powers, but again, we shall cover those in a later episode.

I do think that Sam’s confrontation with Gadriel got short-circuited in favor of Dean’s confrontation with Gadriel. Yeah, technically, Dean had a lot more of a relationship with Gadriel, since he was the one who interacted with him while Sam was unaware Gadriel was inside him, who made a deal with him for a favor the show promptly forgot, who was forced to stand by helplessly while Gadriel murdered someone Dean had protected like a son, using Sam’s body to do it. So, that relationship was more fraught. But that possession was the entire source of tension between Sam and Dean all season and I don’t see how Thompson couldn’t have tried harder to get both Brothers some closure here. It felt very incomplete, how they did that one.

There’s nothing wrong per se with meta episodes and I’ve personally loved some of the show’s more experimental ones with genre and format (notably, season four’s beloved “Monster Movie” and Robbie Thompson’s own season seven “Time After Time”). But you have to be careful and controlled with them or they come off sounding like bad fanfic. This one … really treads the line. When I originally watched this, I got the impression that everything in it was just one big mind jam by Metatron, which rendered it all pointless. On rewatch, I see that’s not quite true, but it’s not far off, either.

A big problem is that if you use an Author Insert and identify too much with that character, there is a risk that the audience will identify you with that character, too. Everything that pisses them off about the show tends to get concentrated in that character or plot. And if you decide to create a spoofy kind of Author Insert that is a jerk, that’s really going to concentrate the dislike because you may subconsciously pull the same crap that the audience hates about your writing in the first place and create a character that embodies how much you can irritate them. It does not defuse the situation.

If you use that character to mock the audience, you are really getting into dangerous territory because the writers of a show can lose their audience just like that, for far less severe reasons. Unless you’re Mel Brooks, you’re not likely to get away with mocking your audience. Robbie Thompson is no Mel Brooks.

It is an unfortunate bad habit that dates back to show creator Eric Kripke with the Supernatural writers room that staff writers who were growing tired of the job tended to take it out on the audience. Apparently, it was our fault that the show’s demise didn’t happen to coincide with when said writers lost interest in writing for the show. I mean, there’s no shame to losing interest or simply running out of ideas – no writer is an inexhaustible font. But there’s no need to make everyone else around you miserable about it. Just don’t renew your contract when it comes up.

I mean, we’re pretty good about not watching anymore when we lose interest, thus putting you out of a job whether you’re ready or not.

Writers like Kripke, Edlund, Gamble, Glass and Thompson were by no means the first TV writers to get sick of their day jobs, or even to make fun of those day jobs, on the job. In fact, until the past ten years or so, it was a trendy auteur thing in genre TV for showrunners to act as though they were engaged in an arcane form of storytelling and the audience could either come along for the ride or just piss off.

In the age of social media, things like Joss Whedon’s pretentious and rather paternalistic pronouncement that he didn’t give the audience what they wanted, he gave them what they needed, have not aged well. And Benioff and Weiss’ claim that season eight of Game of Thrones was intended to be twist storytelling has definitely not aged well, despite being less than two years old at this point.

So, making Metatron his author avatar in the story and having him Evil Overlord Monologue dribble on about writing probably wasn’t Thompson’s smartest writing decision ever. The audience does not want to hear your thoughts regarding the mechanics of a good story via a character mouthpiece. They want you to tell them a good story. Save that self-indulgence for the DVDs, a workshop or a con, dude.

Thompson was about halfway through his tenure with the show at this point and there were already signs he was starting to lose interest in the franchise itself. He always seemed fairly disinterested in the original cast (one big no-no in writing spec scripts to break into a show is centering the script around your own guest character rather than the main characters; it also considerably ups the probability that said guest character will be a Sue). But to this point, he was often good at keeping it in check. With Metatron, he … doesn’t (and his next script was “Fan Fiction,” so things did not improve).

I think Thompson saw “Meta Fiction” as his version of Ben Edlund’s magnificent “The Man Who Would Be King” from season six. Don’t believe me? The script actually references that episode in this one when Metatron talks about how Castiel is old enough to remember when lungfish came out of the ocean (a scene from “The Man Who Would Be King”).

But Castiel is a lot more dynamic and popular than Metatron and Thompson is no more Ben Edlund than he is Mel Brooks. So, it falls as flat as Metatron is as a character. We get some tosh about how tough writing is, but we never get much along the lines of how Metatron ticks.

Even his plan comes off as flaky and ad hoc. What exactly is Metatron trying to accomplish here by literally playing God? Is he lonely? Does he long for companionship? Followers? Adulation? Angel batteries to power Heaven? What? We never find out. I mean, he already won about as much as he could at the end of season nine, so what the hell is he trying to do now that’s different from that? It just looks as though he’s become the angelic equivalent of pulling what’s left of the wings off his former brethren, which seems petty rather than terrifying.

What makes “The Man Who Would Be King” so brilliant is not just that it spells out Castiel’s motivation. It’s that it draws together many bits of disparate canon and retcon, some of which really didn’t hang together very well when introduced, and makes them – makes season six – into a coherent story that explains Castiel’s worldview and where he is coming from at that point in the show. It turns him into a Tragic Hero, Macbeth-style, for the entire season (a shame Gamble and Kripke then ruined all that with the next two episodes, but there you go). And then it showed most of it rather than telling. “Meta Fiction” doesn’t have any of that careful work, so it comes across as self-indulgent rather than clever or moving.

Especially frustrating is how this episode also focuses on Castiel, but it doesn’t really say anything new about him. He comes off as a defeated sad sack. At the beginning, he is resistant to becoming a leader for the lost angels because he is lost in ruminations and recriminations over his past failures. Let’s face it – he sucked at leading Heaven. Gabriel talks about what a rebel he is and he is that, however reflexively and instinctively. But that doesn’t mean he can lead worth beans.

The frame story with Metatron suffers from a complete lack of tension. Since Metatron has already gotten what he wanted and is now setting up a new plan out of sheer boredom, there’s no real urgency to what he’s doing. There might be urgency to the slowly dwindling group of angels in stopping him before they are completely gone, but Sam and Dean don’t feel much urgency in grappling with him and neither does the audience.

Okay, sure, Metatron lampshades that Castiel’s stolen grace won’t last forever, but we’re talking about angels, here. It could last him for thousands of years, the rest of the show, for all we know (or care). Big whoop.

Also, while I get in theory why Sam and Castiel are so concerned about Dean, their timing is exasperating. Sam, as I’ve been saying for a while, started off the season oblivious to the stress Dean was under (a situation Dean deliberately engineered at first, albeit under blackmail duress, it must be said), then got mad and punished his brother as much as he he could. Now that he’s finally decided he wants to be Dean’s brother again, his window of opportunity for getting through to Dean (or for Dean trusting him that much) has long since passed. And Sam is still … uh … figuring that out.

Castiel, meanwhile, has been MIA for something like seven episodes and, oh, yeah, was also mad at Dean over being kept out of the Bunker thanks to Gadriel’s machinations (all the talk aside, nobody seemed actually interested in blaming Gadriel). His “I’m shocked, shocked to find that you took on the Mark of Cain, Dean!” act reminds me of John throwing a fit over finding out belatedly about Sam’s powers, only for Dean to point out that the Brothers had been chasing him (without success) all over the country all season one and had no opportunity to tell him earlier.

Both Castiel and Sam’s responses to the Mark look a whole lot less like genuine concern and a lot more like “Dean has a new shiny superpower. We wantsss it, my Precioussss!” Their joint track record on that score sucks out loud and does not come off as sincere.

Now, I get that what Dean did in taking on the Mark was reckless, but it sure as hell beat leaving it to Cain. Cain was a complete wild card and there was no guarantee he would come out of retirement, kill Abaddon, and then quietly go back into retirement. And once he killed Abaddon (who definitely needs to go), who could take him out if someone else didn’t take on the Mark?

Manipulated or not, Dean understood what he was doing when he took Cain’s offer. And each time the opportunity came up for Sam or Castiel to take it, they leaped on it like starving hyenas, totally ignoring Dean’s warnings. Someone had to take one for the team. Who else but the person who has always been a reliable mensch standing up for everyone else?

And yeah, Dean didn’t navigate the first half of season nine perfectly. He was, after all, dealing with the consequences of other people’s actions in addition to his own (Castiel’s becoming human and being partly responsible for the fall of his brethren certainly wasn’t Dean’s fault). It was like trying to juggle chainsaws that were on fire as people kept throwing them at him. Of course he dropped some.

Yet, when Dean needed help (and was still receptive to getting some), Sam and Castiel were too busy getting mad at him to step up for him the way he did for them in the past. Lord, there are times when I just want to take those two and smack their heads together like a couple of coconuts.

Tension-wise, the Metatron story is in complete contrast to the Mark of Cain story. It’s not just that Abaddon has a plan to take over Hell that clearly implies she would then use that as a jumping-off point to conquer other parts of the SPNverse (like, say, the earth). It’s also that Dean’s deteriorating mental state is accelerating.

At this point in the story, the audience doesn’t know what that means, but it’s becoming clearer that this story is not ending any time soon and that whatever happens when Dean snaps, it’s going to be quite exciting. Hence, there’s a huge amount of tension in this plot, even if its development remains a bit nebulous at this point (Mark of Cain is scary. Kill Abaddon is necessary, but will have consequences. Check).

All we really know about the Mark’s effect on Dean at this point is that, like Eartha Kitt (or Mazikeen), it makes him want to go to the devil. He’s damned tired of being pure.

But even so, it has its perks and I’m not just talking about the sight of shirtless (and implied naked) Dean near the beginning. Dean’s actions and expressions with the mirror in the shower scene are repeated in the episode for a reason. In that scene, Dean is not just physically naked. He’s emotionally and psychologically naked. And it’s quite scary.

In this episode, it becomes especially clear that Dean is falling apart. Oh, there were fault lines before, going all the way back to the show’s pilot. But in this episode, those lines crack open like a fractured egg and out of them shines a bright and uncontrolled madness.

These scenes where Dean’s inner stormy weather is exposed to the audience – his deep depression and growing dissociation from reality – are sharply contrasted even more than the episodes before “Meta Fiction” with the scenes where he hides all that from those around him. Even when Gadriel is (almost successfully) goading him into a killing rage, Dean wears a mask. It’s frayed and cracked and worn, but it’s in place. Even when Sam finds him later, having exhausted himself, and Dean asks him to please stop asking him if he’s all right (since he obviously is not), it’s in place. When Castiel finds out he took the Mark and bitches him out, it’s in place. But now, the audience definitely knows what’s underneath and we can see the fell light shining out through the cracks. It’s about to go down, my droogs.

This is obviously a form of Dark Phoenix storyline – straight-arrow workhorse of the team gains cosmic powers and does better than average in controlling them … for a while. But these are powers that have all the edges and it’s only a matter of time before this character goes supernova. In the meantime, though, we get to watch someone downtrodden get some power in the life and push back against all those who have controlled and bullied them. While getting out the popcorn and mojitos for that impending volcanic eruption. The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last.

Next week: Alex Annie Alexis Ann: Sheriff Jody Mills calls the Brothers in on a case involving a young woman on the run from a nest of vampires.

The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14

Season 15


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