It’s been an unofficial tradition for “Supernatural’s” 20th episode to mine the treasures of eccentricities possessed by recurring star, Misha Collins, and/or to lay the groundwork for the season finale. Last year, I was riveted by the fantastic “The Man Who Would Be King” that detailed Castiel's fall from fierce, righteous angel to collaborator with demons. This year, I was mildly entertained by a funny, albeit meandering episode that detailed Castiel redefining his grace.
It irritates me when the boys are written stupid, so I’m a little chaffed to find that after sending Charlie Bradbury (the awesome Felicia Day) out of the country, the boys decide to hole up mere miles away from a literally steaming Dick Roman to poke at the very thing the monster had been searching for the second he was topside. To their credit, I doubt Dick Roman would survive a night in South Chi-town.
If the alarming height, chiseled features, and trunk full of weapons didn’t inform you that Sam and Dean Winchester are man’s men, seeing them smash open a mysterious magic rock from the “vault of the earth” definitely should. The second they touched the rock, thunder rumbled and lightning flashed in a foreboding, blaring warning. But they’re men, so they shrug and hammer away like Thor himself only to find…another rock covered with ancient script.
The next morning they discover that their mini-archeological dig created a “continent-wide” lightning storm that baffled expert meteorologists, awakened prophet duties embedded in the blood of an overachieving high school student named Kevin Tran (aka everyone I went to high school with), and overloaded maternity wards nation-wide. A nod of congratulations to the show’s own stars Jared and Genevieve Padalecki as it was Jared’s first episode back after becoming a father to healthy and probably enormous baby boy.
A call from Meg (Rachel Miner) interrupts the Winchesters' plans to haul ass to Rufus’ cabin Wyoming for research. The demon had been watching over Castiel while he’d been comatose after absorbing Sam’s sickness a month ago, informs them that Castiel has awakened. Yet another bit of proof that the intercepted rock is Heaven-made and probably detrimental to the Leviathans. They hightail it to Sam’s favorite psychiatric hospital to pick up the best weapon they ever had. The only problem is that while Castiel remembers who and what he is, he straddles the line between batcrap crazy and perfectly sane, landing somewhere near the weird guy on the bus who sings to himself. I was startled by the “pull my finger” gag ending with exploding lights, not room-clearing farts, and tickled by his random observations: “Did you know that a cat’s penis is sharply barbed along its shaft? I know for a fact the females were not consulted.”
As kooky and cryptic as Castiel seems, especially in scrubs and his beloved trenchcoat, he identifies the fancy rock as the writings from Metatron—not Megatron, the Transformer—the scribe of God who “took down dictation when creation was being formed.” Castiel looks at Sam and Dean with reverence and pride. “If someone was going to free the word from the vault of the earth, it would end up being you two. I love you guys.” Much to the fangirls’ delight, Castiel hugs those giant man’s men, who react accordingly, patting him awkwardly and all but shoving him off.
The new version of Castiel is all rainbows and starbeams, even though he thinks Meg’s “thorny pain” is beautiful, and cannot stand fighting. The second Dean and Meg began to squabble over The Word, he bleats, “Don’t like conflict!” and vanishes so quickly, The Word almost spins like in cartoon, falls and in his hasty retreat. I’m not sure why, but I laughed out loud and rewound it multiple times.
Dean leaves to collect Castiel while Sam carefully tries to unscramble the broken word. If anyone has learned that demons should never be fully trusted, it’s Sam. So he ignores Meg’s pleas to be read in on the current battle their fighting. Frustrated, she prepares to leave with Castiel, the angel she’s cared for months. Not be demon’s advocate, but I can’t say that I blame her. She has done a lot of the heavy-lifting, and has even eeriely gained the trust of a wayward Castiel. Sam (stupidly) leaves The Word on the floor to run down the locked ward with Meg. It takes less than a second for it to swiped by none other than the overachieving nerd from Michigan. Blessed with the legs of a giraffe, Sam Winchester easily catches up with Kevin (a competent, and fantastically coifed Osric Chau), who veers and ducks his impressive reach. Even when he’s clothes-lined by Meg, he clutches The Word like his firstborn, grating out, “I’m a Kevin Tran, I’m in Advanced Placement. Please don’t kill me.” Rolling his eyes, Sam hauls him upright, tugging on the bag, but Kevin physically cannot let go of it, even though he’s sobbing and apologizing. Something greater than himself is compelling Kevin to protect The Word, and he can’t stop, no matter how many tests or cello lessons he misses. On the bright side, this will make a fantastic admissions essay!
Meanwhile, Dean and Cas finally meet up to have a heart-to-whatever-angels-have. “You realize you broke God’s word,” Dean utters without a flicker of irony. He did that about three seasons ago, dude. He asks if Sam’s illness broke him. Dean looks devastated and torn between hearing him out or stabbing him in the face. Castiel, on the other hand, looks serene and oddly divine. “It took everything to get me here. Dean, I know you want different answers.” “I want you to button up your coat and help us take down Leviathans. Do you remember what you did?” If you don’t, Castiel broke the wall in Sam’s head cursing him with months of horrendous torture, freed the Leviathans, who killed Bobby and are planning to raise and eat humans like KFC chickens.
Castiel sighs and holds up SORRY!, the boardgame, in a warped visual apology.
Dean Winchester is not a patient man, so it’s perversely amusing to watch him struggle to be. Jensen Ackles plays this scene masterfully. Every emotion crosses his face as Dean essentially converses with a transcended brick wall. Castiel won’t bend or yield or respond in the way that Dean needs. Instead, he ruminates on having courtside seats for evolution and forces Dean to play the boardgame. “We live in a Sorry! universe. It’s engineered to create conflict. These are the rules I didn’t make them,” Castiel rambles. “You made some of them when you tried to become God. When you cut that hole that into that wall,” Dean seethes. Will the real Dean Winchester please stand up? And he finally does with a burst of anger, knocking the game off the table and not accepting Cas's garbled apology. “You’re playing SORRY!” He grates out. And Castiel can’t even bother appearing upset. It’s not the reunion anyone planned, but it’s very telling. The Castiel who raised Dean from Perdition and the one who made alliance with the very things he was created to destroy is gone, and another one has taken its place and he’s not willing to shift the masterplan he now sees. He’s removed himself from the fight to “watch the bees.” If you’ve ever seen an interview with Misha Collins or had the pleasure of visiting a “Supernatural” convention, you may agree when I say that Misha seems to be guest-starring as himself, moreso than Castiel. He’s brilliant, cerebral and wonderfully eccentric.
Back in the hospital room, Kevin’s touch has reassembled the The Word and he’s struggling to read it, although it hurts. It might detail how kill the Leviathans, but he can’t focus on it long enough to find out. Meg’s eyes flash black as the lights exploded with no one pulling Castiel’s finger. Two angels arrive and toss Meg against the wall and hurl insults at my Sammy—“a demon whore and a Winchester…again.” Will he ever live that down? Hester, the female angel who is absolutely werkin’ her pants suit, announces that Kevin is a prophet and has come take him. Prophets, like Kevin and Season 5’s Chuck, are humans with a special bloodline that can do God’s work. Chuck wrote chronicles Sam and Dean’s lives in the form of underappreciated paperbacks. Kevin is the protector of The Word, who should be exiled “to the desert to learn the word away from men.” Meg fends off Inias with a purloined angel blade until Castiel arrives.
The angels both feared that Castiel was dead, after he waged a war in Heaven and smote thousands, and sadly, there are few of them left. Dean takes advantage of Castiel nattering at the angels and draws and angel-repelling sigil on the wall outside of the door, dashing the angels, including Castiel, to all corners of the earth. Dean seems remorseless about Castiel’s unplanned vacation and strides inside to rally the troops. Kevin, still clutching The Word, hollers hysterically from the bed. “What is that?” Dean grumps, sounding suspiciously like his surrogate father, Bobby Singer, and it's hilarious.
The rest of the episode unspools in a choppy, dialogue-heavy exposition, but it’s not without its great moments. Sam, Dean, Meg, Kevin (and eventually Castiel) head up to Rufus’ cabin in Montana so Kevin can transcribe The Word and hide from their enemies. At a rest stop, Sam catches a news story about an abducted high school student fed to the press by a fierce federal agent who never blinks. Monster alert!
At the cabin, Sam and Castiel finally have their moment. “You seem troubled, although that’s a primary aspect of your personality, so I sometimes ignore it. You’re worried about the burden I lifted from you.” Sam confesses that he thought he was going to die, although he puts it in a very old-timey cliché that I can’t even type. He might harbor some guilt that Castiel has accepted his hallucinations, even though he shouldn’t. Castiel explains that he did see Lucifer at first, but it was an “aftertaste” of Sam’s. “Now I see everything. The weight of all my mistakes, all those lives and souls lost, I couldn’t take it either. I was lost until I took on your pain.” Castiel confesses. It’s hard for me to make sense of that, but in a way, it’s poetic that he was saved by righting one of his wrongs. It’s even more noteworthy that the torment Sam tolerated for almost a year, while saving lives and looking after his brother, rendered an angel catatonic for months. If that doesn’t make Sam Winchester the Greatest Badass That Ever Lived, I don’t know what does. Sam promises to get Castiel help at any cost, and this is something I can’t swallow. Castiel is still the being that released the Leviathans, the very creatures that murdered Bobby. I need Sam to unload on Castiel, even if his anger peters out like a weak firecracker, because he damaged him and left him broken out of spite, and doing so also broke Dean's heart. I also would have loved if Bobby’s ghost had the strength to bitchslap Castiel back to Perth, because he still doesn’t know that Bobby’s dead. This isn't Sam being above it all and forgiving Cas's trepasses, this is lazy writing. Sam and Dean have essentially checked out emotionally for the last few episodes, and I’d really like to kick their gorgeous asses for it.
Downstairs, Kevin’s having a panic attack as he realizes being a prophet won't get him into Princeton. The Dean that shoves a brown bag into his face and offers stale platitudes is a heightened version of our Dean Winchester. This is how normal people perceive Dean: a seen-it-all rogue mystery man who handles sickles and machetes like pens and paper and barely has the energy to give a damn. “You’ve’ been chosen and it sucks, believe me. The angels don’t care, and when they try it breaks them apart.” But honestly, Dean’s so far beyond his breaking point, he can’t even find his way back. “I just wanted to be the first Asian-American president of the United States,” Kevin whimpers. “Then do your homework,” Dean advises him in a way that promises that he might have a life beyond prophet-dom.
Another thing that bothered me about this episode episode is that Meg is having all the fun. She kills the demon-truckers who spotted her at the rest stop. She kills Hester when the angel, twisted by her own taste of free will arrives and almost pummels Castiel. She even clues the boys in that Crowley, the King of Hell is a very real threat. “Crowley ain’t the problem this year!” Dean barks. I bet he will be in season 8 now that “Supernatural” has officially been renewed! I prefer my Winchesters kicking (demon) ass and taking names, but in “Reading Is Fundamental” they’ve done a lot of talking and deep thinking, and it’s boring. This is "Supernatural" not "The Good Wife." Kill something!
When Kevin finishes his transcription and the dust of Hester’s angel wings has been swept away, Inias kindly orders Kevin’s protectors to guard him at home, so he can an almost normal life. Sam skims Kevin’s dictation and it indeed is DIY instructions on how to purge earth of Leviathans. They need “three bloods of the fallen” to start. Castiel, a fallen angel, offers up his own with a smile. “I’m always happy to bleed for the Winchesters.” And then disappears to do whatever he desires.
Back home in Michigan, Kevin’s mom is being handled by the creepy federal agent when her missing son plops down in the living room with a fluttering of wings, still dutifully clutching The Word and flanked by angel bodyguards. It takes less than a second for the G-Man to reveal his evil colors. He’s a Levi as I had guessed. What I didn’t even consider is that “Leviathan beats angel!” The agent is none other than Edgar (Benito Martinez), Dick Roman’s second in command, and he pumps both angels full of black goo, killing them faster than Sam can devour a salad, and then turns on Kevin and his mom. Leviathans can kill angels! I have no idea why I’m horrified by this. It makes sense. Leviathans were created before angels and the earth as we know it, and then walled away in Purgatory for being too vicious. Sadly, it makes it seem all the more harder to kill.
I can’t say that “Reading Is Fundamental” lived up to other Castiel-centric installments. It feels like a waste of an episode because it lacked the action that it should have so close to the end of the season. However, it highlighted what a true and unusual talent Misha Collins is, so I can be grateful for that.
What did you think of the episode? Did you enjoy the new Castiel? Do you think Kevin's still alive? Did you want Sam and/or Dean to tear Castiel new wingholes? Sound off in the comments section.
Next week could be epic: The King of Hell, an alpha and a double cross! OH MY!