fannishliss (fannishliss) wrote,
fannishliss
fannishliss

META: Are Angels Monsters?

Why Angels on SPN are essentially Monsters.

Spoilers through 5.06.

Given, that Kripke has always set out to write a horror genre show.  He wants to see gore, he wants to see victims screaming, and he wants to see the Winchester brothers with engines roaring drive off into the sunset, battered but more or less in one piece, to fight another day.

Another very important Given for SPN is that  the show is based on the American folklore we commonly call "urban legend"  -- the stuff that kids in America hear growing up that lurks in the back of our minds as possibly happened to our friend's friend's cousin when she was at band camp.

In s1&2, we rapidly cycled through some of the best outlandish American urban legends: Hookman, Bloody Mary, and cursed Indian burial ground, being three of the best there are.  We even dealt with Alien Abduction through the Trickster's machinations, werewolves, vampires, all kinds of vengeful spirits, poltergeists, death omens, and women in white, and soon enough, hoodoo, voodoo, crossroads deals and demonic possession.  All these things make up the spooky landscape of 20th C. American mythology.

Now we've entered into a trickier stratum of American mythology:  that is, the parts of the American folklore that actually engage with religious belief -- beliefs about God, the Angels, the Devil, the Apocalypse -- these things are a bit more serious than the previous fuzzier dealings with the Afterllife ("don't fear the reaper!") or demons, deals, and possessions ("Went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees").

Here is my interpretation of Angels in s4: we met an Angel, Castiel, who was sent to Hell to grip Dean tight and raise him from perdition -- but not in a timely fashion.  We hear from Castiel that Dean should do what he is told, or he's in danger of being sent back.  We soon meet Uriel, a specialist, who has great disdain for the mud monkeys, and then we meet Anna, who used to be Castiel's commanding officer, but who made the decision to tear out her "grace" in order to become human -- a capital crime among Angels.  We next learn that Uriel is actually a traitor to his own kind -- he's been recruiting amongst the Angels on behalf of Lucifer, and he's killed the Angels who don't go along with him.  Anna kills Uriel before he kills Cas.  Castiel seems to become more susceptible to Dean's line of reasoning when he sees how passionate Dean is on behalf of the value of human life.  Eventually, Castiel is recalled to Heaven to relearn his mission -- it might be at that time that he learns that the Angels are not actually trying to prevent the Apocalypse -- that's just a cover story for the grunts on the ground.  Because the human experience seems to be nothing but misery and suffering, Castiel believes that the Angels' goal of bringing about the Apocalypse in order to recreate Earth as a paradise is a plan he should go along with. We meet Zachariah, who seems too supercilious and sleazy to actually trust. In the end, though Castiel has gone along with the Angels' plan by letting Sam out so he can go free Lucifer, he cannot resist Dean's arguments in the Green Room that Sam should be stopped, and he banishes Zachariah and goes up against the Archangels to buy Dean enough time to try to stop Sam.

If we examine Angels in s4, we see four individuals who can perhaps be understood as representing a spectrum of possible SPN Angels.    Uriel is an angry, disdainful Angel who sides with Lucifer in his belief that Angels are superior to the nasty mudmonkeys.  Uriel is even willing to kill other Angels who don't agree with him.  Zachariah seems powerful and friendly, but we soon see that his attitude towards humans is patronizing at best, and that he is only interested in humans inasmuch as they are tools useful to him as he furthers his own agenda.  Actually, he treats the Angels further down in the hierarchy as tools as well.  Anna at first seems fearful and confused, but once she gets her memories and her grace back, she is an interesting character, strongly sympathizing with the humans-- she even has sex with Dean.  Castiel represents an Angel who is all about following orders and doing his part in the Angelic hierarchy -- he speaks reverently of Heaven and lovingly of his brothers and sisters - but he is also susceptible to Dean's way of seeing the world, and eventually follows Dean rather than staying in line with Zachariah.

At this point in s5 (5.06) we've met two more Angels -- Raphael, the extremely powerful but despairing Archangel, and Lucifer, the fallen Archangel. Lucifer seems sympathetic at first, but like other Angels, treats humans as tools and with disdain.  It's Lucifer who prompts Dean not to regard him as simply a jerk, but as an actual monster -- because he's cruelly possessing the body of Dean's beloved brother during the confrontation, not to mention the fact that he has just killed a future version of Dean himself.  Dean says: "You're the same thing, only bigger -- the same brand of cockroach I've been squashing my whole life -- an ugly, evil, belly-to-the-ground, supernatural piece of crap. The only difference between them and you is the size of your ego."

In its storytelling, Supernatural has never shied away from dealing with extremely powerful characters -- sometimes, with extreme prejudice.  Some monsters are sympathetic -- such as the werewolf Madison, the vampire Lenore, the ghost of the woman in Roadkill, the Reapers, or the rugaru  -- but most simply pose too great a threat to humans for the Winchesters to tolerate, and thus become defined as monsters. The Winchesters have gone up against, and actually killed, entities defined by the show as "pagan gods"  in "Scarecrow," "A Very Supernatural Christmas," and now  in "Fallen Idols" --not to mention the Trickster. (In this, the show owes much to the redefinition of American folklore and its relationship to Old World and New World gods by writers such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and other DC horror / Vertigo comic book writers.)

For the Winchesters to go up against demons, then, is standard horror fare, and for them to go up against Angels, while trickier, is after all to be expected.  DC/Vertigo writers first started going up against Angels and their peculiar brand of self-righteous amoral behavior back in the late eighties/early nineties whilst staking their claim in no-holds-barred horror writing.  And of course, there's the horror cult classic of humans caught in the crossfire of angel-on-angel violence, "The Prophecy" (1995), starring Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer and Christopher Walken as Gabriel.  (Dude, I've got to rewatch that pronto!!)

This is just to bring us to a particular understanding of Angels:  as far as we can tell, no Angels in the Supernatural universe are acting as Guardians for humans.  They are not agents of God, or even of Good, especially not as humans understand it.   They are not even doing "God's Will"--   since they have stated that God has left the building and the Angels are bringing about the Apocalypse simply because they are tired of the world. They believe that God is dead and that they have inherited the right to do whatever they want with the world -- and they want to end it and replace it with Paradise on Earth. The Angels who claim themselves as the Host of Heaven, additionally want to destroy Lucifer once and for all -- not content with his imprisonment in Hell, they helped free him and want him finally destroyed.

So then, when Dean defines Lucifer as "an ugly, evil, belly-to-the-ground, supernatural piece of crap"  he is speaking from a position of horror, fury and outrage -- but he is calling it like he sees it.  Lucifer, to Dean, is not a fallen Archangel with a legitimate complaint  against God and Michael -- he is a monster.   And if we define "monster" as "powerful, dangerous, supernatural threat to humans"  the other Angels are monsters as well -- though some are more sympathetic than others.

I think we see a beautiful portrait of the innately monstrous nature of Angels in 5.06.  Now, please don't get me wrong -- I love the character of Castiel and what he represents on the show -- but nearly a year after the Winchesters have refused to allow him and Uriel to smite a town to prevent the rising of Samhain, here he is, pulling a dagger on a little boy!   Castiel is a soldier, and even though he has decided that his leaders have lost their way, he can't stand by and let the cambion live -- it could destroy the host of heaven with a word.  This is something that Castiel can not abide.  Very nicely, the writers have set up the little boy as a monster to Castiel by the exact same definition the Winchesters would use -- he is a powerful, dangerous, supernatural threat to the Angels -- so Castiel must try to kill him.  The Winchesters, however, have learned that monsters have to be made to show their evil intent before they should be destroyed -- some (like Lenore, or Tessa, or indeed, Castiel himself) though powerful and dangerous, are actually strong allies. 

Sam and Castiel have a fascinating argument in 5.06 that is essentially about how monsters must be defined:

Sam: So we tell him the truth.You say Jesse's destined to go darkside - fine. But he hasn't yet. So if we lay it all out for him - what he is, the Apocalypse, everything - he might make the right choice.

Castiel: You didn't. And I can't take that chance.

Dean then steps in and says that they can try to take the boy to Bobby to be trained.  Dean thinks that if Jesse believes he is a superhero being trained to fight on the side of good, he will essentially be good no matter what his origin was.   I think the argument can be extended to cover Dean's attitude toward Sam and Castiel as well -- even when Sam had powers that were corrupting the other Azazel kids, Dean felt that Sam's training would keep him on the straight and narrow. (It was when Sam allied himself to a demon that Dean freaked out.)  Likewise, Dean has spent a lot of energy trying to educate Castiel about what humans believe is important and The Right Thing to Do.  As I mentioned above, this sort of horror genre writing portrays Angels not as the Agents of God, but as powerful, self-righteous and largely amoral beings -- they will do whatever they want as long as it is purportedly the Will of Heaven (an argument very convenient and circular).    Dean thinks that Castiel, as dangerous as he is, is essentially Good, and therefore capable of understanding what humans believe and value -- as long as Dean can spell it out for him.  So far, Castiel has been going along with this, and so has remained sympathetic.

Now there is one farther step for Supernatural to take, and that's to actually bring on God.  Will they do it?  Maybe.  Philip Pullman did, and he took a lame way out, showing a decrepit, senile horror as the creator God gone antique and ineffectual.    I really hope that Supernatural does a much better job than that!!  But still, it is a horror show, and not a seminarian's senior thesis.   Kripke and Pals are not setting out to justify the ways of God to man.  Just the contrary -- they are setting out to showcase the heroism of two young men in a crazy world, where all kinds of supernatural threats are ranged against them, and they pull through by the skin of their teeth. Even Castiel has been shown on a path that depowers him to human levels to make him less a monster and more a hero (though a tragic one).  So I think, if they DO meet God, he'll be more like George Burns than we might have expected:  old, cantankerous, and cranky at the very least.    Or, you know, now I'm thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- where a cross and irritable God gives Arthur and his knights a random quest that eventually leads nowhere.  

My peaceful little brain dreams and wishes for a peaceful reconciliation between Lucifer and Michael.  But this is the show that killed Ruby, and I liked her a lot more than I like Lucifer!  So I doubt it.  I think it likely that God's end game has to do with separating the sheep from the goats -- and most of the Heavenly Host have revealed themselves to be goats without God's direct presence giving them explicit directions. Up with Anna and Cas!  the new Angels to be admitted to God's presence by the end of s5!
 
Tags: angels, episcopagan, meta, s5
Subscribe

Recent Posts from This Journal

  • Bucky and the cursed weapons cache!

    Bucky, honestly, I'm not sure about this weapons cache. Are you sure it's not cursed? I mean, look at that angry monster head! Steve,…

  • Jaskier with mouse

    Here is a clip from the latest Witcher Trailer. Everyone is super pleased to see Jaskier who seems chipper and relatively unharmed. Though, the…

  • "Topless and Corn Flour"

    this is a quick illustration for a comment. I'm reading a story called "Topaz and Cornflower"…

  • Post a new comment

    Error

    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

  • 14 comments

Recent Posts from This Journal

  • Bucky and the cursed weapons cache!

    Bucky, honestly, I'm not sure about this weapons cache. Are you sure it's not cursed? I mean, look at that angry monster head! Steve,…

  • Jaskier with mouse

    Here is a clip from the latest Witcher Trailer. Everyone is super pleased to see Jaskier who seems chipper and relatively unharmed. Though, the…

  • "Topless and Corn Flour"

    this is a quick illustration for a comment. I'm reading a story called "Topaz and Cornflower"…