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4.20 The Rapture: Heaven, Hell, None Of That Matters

4.20 The Rapture: Heaven, Hell, None Of That Matters

Family man of God,
Jimmy gave to Castiel
More than just a host.

Episode Summary

In idyllic peace, Dean sat at the end of a lakeshore pier fishing contentedly. When Castiel abruptly appeared behind him, he resignedly concluded he was dreaming. Castiel, clearly uneasy, said they needed to talk and it wasn’t safe there, that they needed someplace more private, observing that someone might be listening in on Dean’s mind. Castiel handed Dean a note and told Dean to meet him, to go now. Castiel disappeared, and Dean awoke in bed in the latest motel. Following Castiel’s directions, Dean and Sam went to a deserted factory in the middle of the night, finding the shattered remains of an epic fight and a large symbol in blood on the wall similar to the one Anna had used to dismiss Castiel and Uriel in Heaven and Hell. Castiel was sprawled unconscious in the ruins of the angelic violence, but when Dean shook him awake, it turned out he wasn’t Castiel at all, but Jimmy Novak, Castiel’s human vessel.

Back at the motel, the brothers watched as Jimmy scarfed down fast food at a rate and with a pleasure that put even Dean to shame. Questioning him, they learned he hadn’t eaten in all the time Castiel had been possessing him. He didn’t remember the fight, only that there had been a flash of light and he had been himself again. He remembered bits and pieces of his time with Castiel, observing that having an angel inside you was like being chained to a comet, but he didn’t remember anything about why Castiel wanted to talk to Dean. He told them he was from Pontiac, Illinois – the same place where Bobby and Sam had buried Dean – and that he had a wife named Amelia and a daughter named Claire.

A year earlier, Jimmy had been a devout family man, a man of profound faith who prayed with his family, saying grace at dinner. One night, having fallen asleep in front of the television listening to a program in which a man was describing an encounter with angels, he woke when the image dissolved into static. When the disruption continued even after he changed channels on the remote, he got up and tried to turn off the set, but the sound and light intensified to the point of pain and he collapsed to the ground in front of the set, covering his ears and convulsing.

Outside the room, the brothers debated what to do. Dean favored buying Jimmy a bus ticket and sending him back to his family, while Sam was concerned that, despite Jimmy apparently not remembering anything significant about his time with Castiel, he was the only lead the boys had. Sam advocated taking Jimmy to Bobby’s and trying hypnosis or psychics to jog his memory. When Dean protested that their job used to be helping people, like getting them back to their families, Sam maintained that they would be helping Jimmy, because if they wanted to ask him questions, it was certain the demons would, too. Persuaded, Dean told Jimmy he couldn’t go home because he might endanger his family, but Jimmy insisted he’d had enough of angels and demons, that he was done and just wanted to go home. Sam refused to let him out the door.

Keeping watch while Dean and Jimmy slept, getting increasingly antsy, Sam snuck out of the room, pouring demon blood from his flask into his hand and licking it up with every evidence of desperate need. While he was absorbed in getting his demon blood fix, Jimmy – who’d only pretended to be asleep – escaped from the room, finding his way to a bus terminal to journey home. Roused later by Sam, Dean was amused that Sam had been taken in by Jimmy.

Jimmy, meanwhile, remembered the progression of his contact with Castiel, flashing back to a time after his initial convulsions when he heard static on the radio while cooking dinner. Responding to what he heard, he put his hand in a pot of boiling water, and when his wife found him and panicked, he pulled his hand unharmed from the pot and explained that Castiel had asked him to do it to prove his faith. Amelia, horrified, thought he was losing his mind.

Anna appeared abruptly in the back seat of the Impala, startling the brothers badly, and asked them about having let Jimmy get away. Dean directed her question to Sam, and Anna, looking at Sam, saw something different about him. Anna asked if Jimmy had remembered anything and said Castiel had been dragged back to Heaven, maintaining that it was a painfully, awfully bad thing to have happened and he must have seriously pissed someone off. When Dean told her Castiel had said he had something to tell Dean, Anna argued that whatever it was, it was huge and important, and they had to find out for sure. She chided them for having let Jimmy escape and speculated that Jimmy was probably already dead.

Jimmy, however, was standing outside his house, watching his wife and daughter through the window. He remembered having a fight with his wife because she believed that he was sick and needed psychiatric help, while he gently insisted Castiel was real and had spoken to him a dozen times, telling him he had been chosen for a higher purpose, that it was in his blood. Being devout, Jimmy accepted that God’s will was not his to question. He tried to persuade Amelia that this was a blessing, the most important thing to ever happen to him, but she told him that he was scaring her and that if he wouldn’t take his pills and get help, she would take their daughter away in the morning. Jimmy remembered walking out of the house and asking Castiel what he wanted from him, explaining that he was losing his family. Bathed in light, he alone heard Castiel’s response, considered what he heard, and then promised to do it if Castiel promised that his family would be all right. Castiel descended into Jimmy, and when Claire came outside to ask him a question, he told her that he wasn’t her father and walked away.

Jimmy rang the bell and a stunned Amelia answered, telling him they had thought he was dead and had stopped looking for him. She wouldn’t let him talk to Claire, saying that it had been almost a year and he should have communicated with them. Jimmy lied that he had been in a psychiatric institute trying to get himself straightened out, and said it was all over and he was okay, that he had been confused and completely delusional. He said he had believed he’d been chosen by God and it had been important, but he realized now that nothing mattered to him but Amelia and Claire. He apologized profoundly, and asked to come home. When Amelia, silently crying, said she wasn’t certain she could do that, he offered with gentle humor to start with something smaller, like dinner.

Stopping for gas at night along the way, Sam took a moment away from Dean to call Ruby, leaving a desperate message on her voicemail that he was out of demon blood and needed it. He told her to stop whatever she was doing and call him, because he needed more.

Jimmy hugged his daughter, who was radiantly happy to see him. When they sat down to a makeshift dinner of sandwiches made from whatever leftovers Amelia had handy, Jimmy declined to say grace, but said he was crying because he was happy. Roger, a next door neighbor, arrived to ask whether he’d actually seen Jimmy, and questioned him about what had happened. Jimmy passed it off as the worst year of his life, something Roger wouldn’t believe, and said it was over, but Roger – his eyes flashing demon-black – said it wasn’t, and that he was going to gut Claire while Jimmy watched. Grabbing a heavy decorative sculpture, Jimmy hit Roger just as Amelia returned with the beer she had promised, and proceeded to beat his head in, shouting that he was a demon, as Amelia watched in horror.

Jimmy hustled Amelia and Claire into the pantry, desperately searching for salt and laying down a salt line as Amelia protested that he was sick and Roger had been his best friend. Amelia fought him, telling Claire to run, and Jimmy pursued them out of the pantry to find Claire captured by the demon still wearing Roger’s bloody form. Roger’s wife, also possessed, tackled and began beating Jimmy, and Amelia, seeing her demon eyes, finally realized Jimmy had told the truth and leapt to his defense, dragging her off Jimmy. Arriving in time for the fight, Dean slit Roger’s throat with Ruby’s dagger to save Claire while Sam tried to use his powers on the demon in Roger’s wife, only to find he couldn’t hold her. Dean charged to the rescue with the knife, but the demon smoked out of the host before he could strike. They all fled the house, with Amelia appearing a fraction behind the others, and took off in the Impala.

Jimmy conceded the brothers had been right. Sam argued he had to give up his family forever to keep them safe, and he reluctantly believed. Amelia apologized to Jimmy for not having believed him, but Jimmy said she’d just done what any rational person would have done, and admitted that he’d thought he was crazy half the time. She argued against splitting up again, but he insisted they had to get away from him because otherwise the demons would kill both Amelia and Claire. Sam hot-wired a car for them, and Dean, Sam, and Jimmy drove off – and behind them, Amelia revealed that she was possessed, striking Claire for daring to speak.

As they drove away, Dean asked Sam what was wrong with him, why his power was so weak now that trying to use it nearly made him faint when only a short time ago he’d been powerful enough to kill Alastair. Dean said he wasn’t trying to pick a fight, but that Sam was scaring him; Sam said he was scaring himself. Sam’s phone rang, and it was Amelia; Sam handed the phone back to Jimmy, who heard the demon with his wife’s voice demanding that he surrender to them. They drove to the warehouse and split up, with Jimmy going in separately while the boys tried to find another way in. Before going inside, Jimmy shouted for help from Castiel, calling that he had done everything Castiel had asked and all he’d ever asked in return was that his family be safe, and Castiel had promised. Hearing no response, Jimmy went inside to confront the demon wearing his wife. She taunted him about not having come alone, and three other demons brought in Sam and Dean, looking the worse for wear. She shot Jimmy in the gut and told one of his minions to kill Claire, but as he swung on her, the girl touched his forehead and expelled the demon in a blaze of light, and then burned her bonds away. Taking advantage of the distraction, Sam and Dean both started to fight with the demons holding them, even as Jimmy realized that Castiel was inside Claire. The angel dealt with the demon who was beating Dean even as Sam managed to get Ruby’s knife back from the demon struggling with him. The knife nicked the demon’s neck, and the sight of the blood drove every other consideration out of Sam’s mind; he sucked the blood from her neck, only to see Dean and Castiel both watching him when he raised his head. Revitalized, he killed the demon with the knife, and then reached out with his mind and hand to pull the last demon out of Amelia and burn it down.

In Claire’s body, Castiel knelt beside the dying Jimmy and told him his work was done and it was time for him to go to his real home, to rest forever in the fields of the Lord. Jimmy protested that Castiel should release Claire and take him, but Castiel said Claire was with him now, that she was chosen as Jimmy had been, and it was in her blood as it had been in his. When Jimmy begged that he take Jimmy instead, Castiel warned him that he would never age and never die, and if the last year had been painful for him, he should picture a hundred or a thousand more like it. Jimmy insisted and Castiel acquiesced, transferring from Claire into Jimmy in blinding light. Castiel walked away from Amelia holding Claire with only one look back. When Dean stopped him, asking what Castiel had wanted to tell him, Castiel responded that he had learned his lesson while he had been away; he served Heaven, he didn’t serve man, and he certainly didn’t serve Dean.

On the road again, Sam told Dean to drop the bomb, to hit him or yell at him, but Dean refused, saying he was disappointed but not mad; that he was tired and just done. Sam’s phone rang, and he answered to hear Bobby saying they needed to get to his place right away. At Bobby’s, he told Sam there was something inside the panic room he wanted him to see, and Sam stepped inside, asking what the big demon problem was. Bobby answered that Sam was, and he and Dean locked Sam into the room, saying it was for his own good.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

I’m certain a lot of fans were unhappy with this episode’s focus on Jimmy, but there were major themes at play in this story that also apply to Sam and Dean, particularly Dean. In this analysis, I’m going to look at the hardship of heroism and the parallels between Jimmy and Dean (oh, my – Jimmy Dean?), the role of Castiel, and Sam’s descent into addiction.

I’m Done. I Am Just Done.

Both Dean and Jimmy have been pushed beyond their human emotional limits by what their lives have required of them, but despite that, they continue to sacrifice themselves. In this episode, we heard both Dean and Jimmy say, I’m done at different times, meaning the same thing: they were utterly emotionally spent and couldn’t give any more. Despite that, however, they’ve both continued to sacrifice and to give, and such action continues to be expected of them.

There are very strong parallels between Jimmy and Dean. It would be hard to imagine two men more different on the surface: pious, devout Jimmy, the dedicated husband and father selling ads on AM radio, and profane, unbelieving Dean, the rootless hedonist hunting the supernatural. At their cores, however, they are both men dedicated to family and committed to duty, men who will sacrifice themselves for others without hesitation.

In Lazarus Rising, Castiel characterized his vessel as a devout man who had actually prayed for what he had become. In The Rapture, we saw that reality was somewhat different. Jimmy was indeed devout and prayed to serve, but hosting an angel wasn’t something he had asked to do. When Castiel contacted him, despite Jimmy being one of the special people Castiel had mentioned who could perceive his true visage and hear his true voice, Jimmy was overwhelmed much as Dean had been in the gas station and the motel in Lazarus Rising. Where Dean had been deafened and simply unable to bear the force, however, Jimmy was thrown into convulsions. Although we didn’t see the immediate aftermath, we can guess from Amelia’s subsequent concern and the presence of the prescription pills that Jimmy wound up being treated for the seizure, if he hadn’t already been under care before then. But we can also gather that he emerged from the seizure with the ability to understand Castiel’s voice, since he later heard Castiel through the kitchen radio and reported having heard from him a dozen times before the night he accepted becoming Castiel’s host. His various conversations with Castiel evidently took place over a bit of time, not all at once in a single day.

Castiel told him that he was special, that it was in his blood, and later that Claire was also special, like him. One has to ask what it is that makes people special and thus able to perceive angels, and whether it’s linked to the kinds of different perceptions of reality that we deem abnormal and warranting psychiatric treatment. Castiel’s reference to it being in the blood also presents a mirror to Sam, whose power is also in his blood, but traces to a demonic influence through the introduction of demon blood to his developing system at a very young age rather than to a genetic origin. Have angels tampered directly with humans like Jimmy as Azazel did, or is the ability genetic and traceable back to something that happened in the long-ago human past?

Amelia’s reaction to Jimmy telling her that he heard angels telling him he was special and had a divine mission to pursue was mainstream normal: she was afraid that he was going insane. Jimmy’s quiet attempt to persuade her that her belief in God and angels shouldn’t be a long step from believing an angel was speaking to him really drove home the problem of relying on faith in our rational, science-based world. We don’t believe what we can’t see, hear, and understand, and hearing disembodied voices in electronic static – or in the air, as Anna had done in I Know What You Did Last Summer – is classed with being crazy in our books. In earlier centuries, it was classed as a miracle, witchcraft, demonic possession, or insanity, depending on the time and place. When Amelia threatened to take his daughter to her mother’s house if he didn’t take his pills and agree to get help, Jimmy found himself facing the loss of his family because of his belief in what he heard. Only then did he directly ask Castiel specifically to clarify what he wanted from Jimmy, and he agreed only after Castiel promised that his family would be okay.

Although Jimmy said that he only remembered bits and pieces of his time hosting Castiel, he remembered being shot, stabbed, healed, and transported everywhere willy-nilly. He emerged from the experience sadly disillusioned from the man he had been going into it. Seeing his family again led him to the conclusion that being with them was all that really mattered; that Heaven, Hell, demons, and angels all meant nothing against the love of his wife and daughter. That returning to them made them a target for demons was simply the awful icing on the cake; his realization that, whether he had understood it or not at the time he said yes, the bargain he had made with Heaven was forever, at least in terms of his human life. When he saw Castiel in his daughter and understood that she would be taking his place and be put through all that he had experienced, and that Amelia would be deprived of them both, he begged Castiel to take him again in order to save them. This time, he fully understood what he was doing and what it would cost both himself and them, and he did it anyway.

Dean’s past experience was different, but the sacrificial aspect was the same. Where Jimmy agreed in the beginning to give his body over to Castiel out of faith and in the belief that his family would be provided for, Dean sold his soul to torture in Hell to save Sam’s life. Jimmy didn’t realize the toll his absence would take on his wife and daughter; Dean didn’t realize what losing him would actually do to Sam, or to Bobby, for that matter. When Jimmy returned, he found everything different and realized that he couldn’t stay because of the threat he brought with him; when Dean returned, he similarly found everything different, and his link with angels has threatened Sam. Despite his disillusionment and despair, Jimmy sacrificed himself a second time, understanding the cost, to spare his daughter and his wife. I wonder what sacrifice Heaven and its angels expect of Dean to stop the apocalypse.

The similarities between Jimmy and Dean really struck me when Jimmy was railing against Castiel and Heaven for abandoning him, for breaking promises and failing him after Jimmy had done everything Castiel had asked of him. I was vividly reminded of Dean’s spirit assailing John during In My Time Of Dying for doing nothing to save him after Dean had done everything John had ever asked and given everything he ever had. Their words were almost exactly the same. Similarly, Jimmy’s response to being free, wanting to refuse any future responsibility, echoed Dean at John’s grave in the djinn dream of What Is And What Should Never Be asking why he couldn’t be happy, why he had to be the hero, the one to give up the things he wanted so that others could live.

Watching Jimmy, I flashed on the story of Jesus recruiting his disciples in the Gospel of Luke. One said, “Let me go and bury my father first,” only to be told, “Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the word of the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, but let me first go and say goodbye to my people at home,” to which Jesus replied, “Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

There’s an implacable insistence in that story on devoting oneself wholly to God, on giving up every human link and human loyalty to the service of the divine. In The Rapture, Jimmy did just that, sacrificing himself to the service of the divine. He did it this second time not at all for the honor and glory of God, as he had done it in part the first time, but rather solely to preserve his family. Still, the choice he made has taken him away from them forever. If the parallels between Jimmy and Dean continue, I fear that Dean may be called upon to do the same, albeit in a different way, sacrificing either himself or his family at the behest of the angels.

I Learned My Lesson

Throughout the course of this season, we’ve seen Castiel gradually becoming humanized through his close connection with Dean, slowly learning to understand him and care about him even though – at least, according to Anna – angels are not supposed to have emotions.

This episode was clearly a game-changer in this regard. At the beginning of the episode, Castiel was concerned for Dean, needing to speak with him, and fearful of being overheard. We know that both angels and demons have been inside Dean’s mind: witness Alastair having told Dean that he was inside Dean’s head in Death Takes A Holiday, and Zachariah having creatively adjusted his thoughts and memories for It’s A Terrible Life. Even with Alastair destroyed, Castiel could legitimately have been concerned about either side still eavesdropping on Dean’s dreams.

His fear that other angels may have been eavesdropping seems borne out by the evidence of a fight between angels where Dean and Sam found Jimmy. His dismissive attitude toward Dean after he had retaken Jimmy’s body, combined with his words, indicates he had experienced an attitude adjustment while he was gone to reinforce his commitment to Heaven.

I would suspect the disciplinary action had two immediate causes: first, that Castiel had learned something about what Dean would be required to do in order to avert the apocalypse, realized it would hurt him, and – like Chuck – wanted to warn him against the desires of his superiors; and second, that Castiel had gone too far off the angelic reservation in The Monster At The End Of This Book when he advised Dean about how to subvert an archangel to his own human purpose.

In It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester, we learned from Castiel that he and Uriel had been instructed to obey Dean in connection with Samhain, and that the situation was a test for Dean. I think that was the only time that Dean was given command of angels, even though he didn’t know it at the time. On no other occasion that I recall did angels follow human orders, unless they simply coincided with the angels’ own intent, as when Castiel and Uriel followed Anna at the end of Heaven And Hell.

I would submit that what Castiel did in The Monster At The End Of This Book went way beyond anything his masters would have approved precisely because it put an archangel, the greatest of Heaven’s weapons, at the beck and call of a human. By telling Dean an archangel would respond to any threat to the prophet Chuck, Castiel engineered and enabled Dean’s use of an archangel to save Sam from Lilith. What’s more, having that knowledge, Dean could do it again unless Heaven chose to abandon Chuck as a prophet and revoke his angelic protection. I think Castiel was reprimanded primarily for doing that, for misappropriating archangelic firepower and putting it in human hands. I suspect that Castiel, following his disciplining, is now effectively on probation, being watched to ensure that he doesn’t cross the line and empathize too much with Dean.

I found Castiel’s interactions with Jimmy fascinating for what they said about how little Castiel understood humans at the outset and how patchily he still learns. Even though Jimmy was special and could perceive angels, Castiel’s initial contact still left him damaged and insensible. Castiel clearly did not apprehend that, even once Jimmy could understand him, he would be perceived as mentally unbalanced and be medicated. I doubt that Castiel understood at all Amelia’s fear, or the depth of Jimmy’s concern and love for his wife and child. Castiel’s compassion was clearly unengaged when he first walked away in Jimmy’s body, simply telling Claire that he was not her father.

The timeline of events with Jimmy is not clear. I suspect from the events of Lazarus Rising that Castiel did not seek out a human vessel to use as an interpreter until after he had rescued Dean and then failed twice to communicate with him using his own voice, finally realizing that Dean lacked the special ability required to perceive angels in their own true form. That would imply a short span of time between his initial contact with Jimmy and inhabiting Jimmy’s body; just the days between Dean’s resurrection and the time Bobby cast the spell to bring him to them. That short time span seems in keeping with how emotionally clueless Castiel still was when he first met Dean in the flesh.

I think the limits of Castiel’s human understanding were apparent in Castiel’s attempt to comfort Jimmy as he lay dying. On the one hand, in assuring Jimmy that Heaven kept its promises, recognized his service, wouldn’t ask more of him, and would reward him in Heaven, Castiel clearly comprehended Jimmy’s fear of having been betrayed and having sacrificed himself for nothing. In using Claire in Jimmy’s stead, however, Castiel evidenced his own failure to appreciate that Jimmy, loving his daughter, would never want her to be used as he had been used, and would be willing to extend his own sentence indefinitely to spare her.

It seems that Castiel understands far more about Dean’s feelings than about what other humans feel, perhaps because he has been so focused on his mission to watch Dean. It speaks volumes of his blindness that he understood Jimmy so little, when he was sharing Jimmy’s body and mind.

I do not think Castiel was reprogrammed or brainwashed to remove his budding feelings in the time he was away being disciplined, however. I believe Castiel retains his compassion for human emotion; I would submit that compassion was what led him to accept Jimmy’s plea to take him instead of Claire, and his final look back at Amelia and Claire reflected his eventual understanding and appreciation of their pain and loss, and Jimmy’s. And while his parting comment to Dean was cold in the extreme, I think it was meant not as a complete dismissal, but as a direct and pointed warning that Castiel understood that he could not and would not be willing or able to help Dean as directly as he had in the past.

I Need More

This episode completed the picture of Sam’s addiction to demon blood, and provided a jaw-dropping payoff in the way that Dean finally learned Sam’s secret: Sam was so overcome with need that nothing else mattered, and he drank blood from a demon’s neck in the midst of a fight and right in front of his brother’s shocked and grieving eyes.

This season has built this particular story with a patience and careful subtlety that I enthusiastically applaud, although I know that many Sam fans were disgruntled by the sense that they weren’t seeing enough of Sam and what was going on inside his head. If we’d seen and known precisely what was going on sooner, however, the reveal would have lost much of its punch. I said that in my review of On The Head Of A Pin, and I still believe it now. Sam wasn’t ignored this season; far from it. His story was being built deliberately just barely below the surface, albeit with rocks that generated whitewater rapids in the relationship between the brothers, in order to make the waterfall of its discovery all the more staggering in its sensory overload. Cue Niagara Falls, because I think we’re about to go over it in a barrel right along with Sam and Dean.

Throughout the earlier episodes, we were given an ever increasing number of hints through both Sam’s behavior and allegorical stories that whatever Sam had started doing to increase his power after Dean died was addictive in some fashion. Sam hiding what he was doing from Dean and sneaking out to be with Ruby in Lazarus Rising and In The Beginning, knowing Dean would object and being afraid to tell him, piling lie on lie, was following the textbook description of an early addict, continuing in the behavior despite the knowledge that others would consider it wrong, and feeling enough shame within himself to know that part of him also judged it wrong. We saw Sam deciding to stop in Metamorphosis, fearing crossing the line into becoming a monster. Despite that decision, at the very next opportunity for a demon encounter, he suggested there might be a need for him to pull out the big guns in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester even before they got close to Samhain. Finding very persuasive, seemingly rational excuses to fall off the wagon and indulge in the addiction is a classic justification behavior among addicts. Sam’s emotional and personality changes this season were also typical of addicts, but were harder to decipher because they were due at least as much to his reaction to losing Dean as to the irritability and temper of coming down off a high or slipping into the beginning of withdrawal.

Sam’s yo-yo behavior – skating close, backing away – was more addict behavior. When he thought about what he was doing and how much Dean would hate it, how much he should hate it, he backed away, as when he told Ruby in Heaven and Hell that he wasn’t doing that any more. Rationalizing it came to the fore again at the end of Criss Angel Is A Douche Bag, and from that moment on, he became increasingly committed. He found more and more reasons to prove that what he was doing was necessary, building on Dean’s confessions in Heaven And Hell and Family Remains of what had happened to him in Hell to paint a picture of Dean as weak, unable to carry the load, a picture he described with pride in Sex And Violence. And when he sought out Ruby and drank enough from her to put Alastair under the table in On The Head Of A Pin, he crossed a line. Ever since then – apart from It’s A Terrible Life, in which the angels had tampered with his mind – we’ve seen him in steadily growing need, a real physiological and psychological addiction, full-blown reliance on having demon blood in his system in order to feel well and in control.

When the ghouls nearly bled Sam out in Jump The Shark, I wondered what that extreme blood loss might have done to the balance Sam was walking, and this episode demonstrated pretty quickly that the balance had crashed. Sam carrying around a flask of demon blood was a new wrinkle; Sam craving a drink badly enough to leave his post on watch and be so distracted as not even to see or hear Jimmy leave was a graphic demonstration of how far gone he was. His desperate, twitchy irritability during the pursuit of Jimmy reminded me of a drunk or an addict jonesing for a fix. His demanding call to Ruby, telling her that it wasn’t funny any more and he needed more, was a user’s call to his pusher; Ruby evidently not having responded to some earlier calls was a classic pusher stringing out an addict to make him desperately willing to pay any price without taking any time to think about it. Being distracted in the middle of a fight to the point of being unable to resist drinking demon blood no matter what was going on around him was the final proof, if anyone needed it, that Sam’s addiction to demon blood was full-blown. The addiction is defining who he is.

I’m not judging Sam for his addiction. Ruby very deliberately and with careful calculation gave him plenty of logical, rational, emotionally appealing reasons for doing what he’s done: she persuaded him that they shared the common goal of killing Lilith, and played up the positive aspects of feeding his powers on demon blood – that he could exorcise or kill demons while saving the human host, that he could save more people with his mind than any other way, and that he could be stronger and more decisive than the brother he had once loved and lost, but now could save along with the rest of the world. Those were powerful inducements, and Sam was desperate and lost. I don’t blame him, and I don’t believe Dean does, either, any more than Chuck the prophet did in The Monster At The End Of This Book. But the facts are these: Sam is addicted, the addiction is driving him, and giving in to the addiction would probably turn Sam into exactly what he once feared to be: a monster.

Production Notes

Writer Jeremy Carver always does a beautiful job with emotion, and that showed particularly in the genuine relationship between Jimmy and Amelia in this episode. I loved learning Jimmy’s backstory and I’ll never look at Castiel quite the same way again, since I’ll always see Jimmy in the shadows behind him. I also appreciated the way the story showed the impact of Sam’s addiction on his behavior, and revealed the truth to Dean and Castiel.

There were a few story points that irritated me a little. Dean’s unspecified plan to get into the factory/warehouse undetected by the demons to back up Jimmy, and the spectacularly unseen failure of that plan leaving Sam and Dean captured but not restrained by the demons, struck me as being a little overly convenient and simplistic, but I’ll concede that completing a story in 39 on-screen minutes (this was a short episode for this season) puts limitations on how much detail you can show. Serving the visual story was also what was apparently behind Sam pouring blood from the flask in order to suck it off his hand; we needed to see the blood to know what was in the flask, but within the story, it would have made more sense for Sam simply to drink from the flask. If he did that, however, he wouldn’t have had to leave the room and Jimmy wouldn’t have escaped, so making him sneak out to lick his drink was a necessary crutch. The brothers not struggling against the demons holding them as one advanced to try killing Claire troubled me, because despite their shock at Jimmy being shot, just standing by without fighting didn’t seem a Winchester reaction to the threat to Claire.

The story element that bothered me the most, however, was the use of Anna, simply because her appearance didn’t really seem to serve any necessary purpose and raised more questions than answers. Castiel having been yanked back to Heaven for discipline and a bit of remedial action didn’t need Anna for explanation – we’d have gotten that clearly from Castiel’s comment to Dean at the end, once he was back in Jimmy’s body – and Castiel being dragged back while openly rebellious Anna still walks free made no sense. One wonders why Anna hasn’t been sidelined as easily as Castiel was, unless it is simply that she matters less, being less directly involved in the action. Perhaps her appearance was simply a reminder that she’s still in play.

I generally enjoyed Charles Beeson’s direction, but a lot of his Impala shots bothered me precisely because of the Impala’s “now you see it, now you don’t” rear view mirror and the inconsistency of the use of wiper blades. Those are very small and picky things, but the rear view mirror in particular is a pet peeve of mine. I understand why directors often remove it from car interior shots, particularly ones using the studio green screen car; it’s a bitch to try to shoot through the windshield and not have the mirror blocking the view of a character, especially one in the rear seat. For me, though, watching the mirror appear and disappear – and it did a lot of both in this episode! – distracts from accepting the reality of what I’m seeing. I’ve been tempted to create a rear view mirror drinking game, it happens so often: “Take a drink when it disappears; take a drink when it reappears.” I’d have been wasted by the end of this episode if I were doing that with booze! On the wipers, I loved the way they worked in the final car scene between the brothers, but I was bothered that they weren’t used at all in the scene with Anna, where the water on the windshield was distracting precisely because the wipers should have been running, and weren’t.

I loved both Carver’s writing and Beeson’s direction on both scenes of Jimmy asking Castiel for help, first in the flashback when Jimmy initially became Castiel’s vessel, and second in the scene before Jimmy went into the warehouse to try trading himself for his wife and daughter. I loved the way those two scenes called back very consciously and deliberately in both dialogue and shot choice to spirit-Dean railing against John’s inaction during In My Time of Dying, and wish-Dean asking why he had to be a hero at John’s graveside in What Is And What Should Never Be. Beeson borrowed Eric Kripke’s style of compressing and overlapping image and dialogue from the latter episode in Jimmy railing against Castiel and Heaven.

One other thing I really did particularly like about the direction was the combination of practical and effects lighting on most of the angel effects shots. By that, I mean that in most of the scenes where we saw the brilliant white light of Castiel’s power, there was apparently a bright light used on set to paint the actors’ faces with light and achieve the right shadows in the background, while the specific effect – most notably the light exploding out of the demons’ eyes and mouths, and the swirling brilliance of Castiel entering Jimmy – was added in post-production. I think that the only scene where there wasn’t any practical lighting as part of the effect was Claire as Castiel taking out the first demon that tried to kill her. Look at that scene, and then look at how different it is from the scene of Castiel transferring from Claire back into Jimmy, where I think practical, on-set lighting was used to illuminate Claire’s and Jimmy’s faces, while the additional dramatic effects were added in post to create and augment the streams of light pouring into Jimmy’s mouth and eyes. The light reflecting on Claire’s face and in her eyes as Castiel went from her to Jimmy was magnificent, however it was done. Bravo to Serge Ladouceur, Charles Beeson, and the special effects people! Serge also gets major props for the beautiful opening scene. The lighting and film coloration immediately established the setting as a dream.

I’m a sucker for Jay Gruska’s emotional, poignant underscores, and his music in this episode was brilliant, particularly the piano underlying Jimmy’s return home and his flashback to his final argument with his wife before becoming Castiel’s vessel. I want that music on CD, along with the other original music for this series by both Jay Gruska and Christopher Lennertz (hear me, Warner? Soundtrack, please!).

I have nothing but good things to say for the guest cast in this episode. Misha Collins clearly reveled in creating Jimmy as a character magnificently distinct from Castiel. His love for Claire and Amelia, his steadfast faith during the flashbacks even when trying to persuade Amelia that he wasn’t crazy, his resentment and anger at realizing the price he had paid in the lives of his family, and his desperation to save his daughter from his own fate were all plainly painted on his face and conveyed through his body. Jimmy was every bit as human as Castiel is not. I grieve for Jimmy now and will for the rest of the show, and I wonder how often we and the Winchesters might get tiny glimpses of the grieving man chained to the angel comet as the story continues.

Wynn Everett was perfection as Amelia. She was absolutely genuine in her love and her fear, an ordinary woman caught up in impossible things and rising to the challenge. Her flip into the demon possessing her was chilling, but the best part of her performance was as Jimmy’s wife and Claire’s mother. I would enjoy seeing her again before the series ends, although I suspect the turns the story will take may make that impossible. Young Sydney Imbeau, in what seems to be her first professional credit, did an absolutely brilliant job as Claire both as an ordinary child, and particularly in conveying her inhuman possession by Castiel. The final scene between Claire/Castiel and Jimmy was heartbreaking, both in Misha Collins’ Jimmy begging for his daughter, and in Sydney Imbeau transitioning from powerful, remote Castiel back into a brave but frightened little girl losing her father for the second time. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing that scene play out.

Jared Padalecki was frightening to watch as Sam succumbing to his addiction. After having been subtly below the surface for most of the season, the craving and the need were out there right in the open, and Jared served it up with utter conviction. I love Sam, and now Jared’s made me terrified for him. The Sam of earlier seasons wouldn’t recognize the Sam who drank blood from a demon’s neck, and then killed her. Jensen Ackles also totally sold Dean finally discovering the truth that Sam’s been hiding. The look on his face as he saw Sam drinking demon blood, and the flinch when Sam reached out with his power and his hand in Dean’s direction before Dean realized that the demon in Amelia was Sam’s target, not him, were heartbreaking. In On The Head Of A Pin, Dean said that he couldn’t do any more in an excess of despair at realizing that his weakness had given rise to the apocalypse; his I’m done in the car wasn’t him giving up on Sam, but rather the expression of his fear and inability to go on if Sam is lost to him

While rapture is most commonly used these days to describe being transported out of oneself into a state of spiritual or emotional ecstasy, in older uses rapture implied the seizure and lifting of the mind or soul by divine power so that it might see things beyond the range of human vision. This episode seemed to invert that meaning, because Jimmy’s soul, transported back into sole residence in his body, was restored to seeing the importance of human things – family, love – and his decision to sacrifice those again for their own sake elevated the human in the eyes of the divine, and may perhaps have prompted an angel to see beyond the limited emotional range of angelic vision. There was no ecstasy in this rapture: only the truth inside hearts and minds.

Heaven, Hell – what really matters? Family and love. 

Tags: castiel, dean winchester, episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jay gruska, jensen ackles, jeremy carver, meta, misha collins, philosophy, psychology, sam winchester, supernatural, supernatural university, theology

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