Sunday, 6 May 2012

Supernatural - Review: 7.21 “Reading Is Fundamental”

Warning: Contains episode spoilers

The Angels, they don’t care. I think maybe they just don’t have the equipment to care. Seems like when they try, it just breaks them apart.

Supernatural is a complex show. It sounds pretty simple on paper, 2 brothers travelling the back roads of America, hunting monsters and saving the world, but any one who watches it knows that there is soooooooo much more to it than that. It’s a deeply layered story, rife with multi-faceted relationships, profoundly damaged characters and rich mythology. “Reading Is Fundamental” is a perfect example of the kind of show Supernatural can be. Layered, multifaceted and rich. One that sometimes leaves you not knowing how to feel, or feeling all the feelings, or flip-flopping between the two. This was an episode screaming to be dissected, if that’s your bag, and for the first time in a long time, I actually made notes….on my 3rd rewatch….because there was so much happening, I found it hard to keep track of it all. I will, of course, miss stuff. I always do. I never read anything before I write an episode up, but after that I go and read everything and half the time I wind up going, “Awww. Nuts!” because I’ve totally misread a situation or didn’t pick up on a nuance in a certain scene. I have a feeling “Reading Is Fundamental” is going to be one that makes me go, “Awww. Nuts!” a lot and probably loudly.

Ben Edlund wrote and directed “Reading Is Fundamental” and if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a massive fan of this man, his crazy brain and his brilliant writing. Edlund knows how to tell a story. This was the 21st episode of Supernatural he’s written and the 2nd one he’s directed. Looking back at Ben’s work, one thing jumps out, there’s always more to his episodes than initially meets the eye. Even with the funny ones there are layers upon layers and he manages to bring all those elements together without it feeling disjointed. Other writers on the Supernatural team don’t quite have the same level of skill. When they attempt this layering they somehow just miss the mark in making the whole thing feel cohesive and their episodes wind up feeling tonally disjointed. It’s one of the things I love most about Edlund’s work, that he can deliver complex narrative and still maintain cohesiveness in concept and tone. On some level “Reading Is Fundamental” was baffling, because it confronted us with changes in characters and relationships that we may not have been prepared for, but tonally it never waivered. The comedy, though still there, took a back seat to the guts of the story, which built momentum as the hour progressed. It’s an episode that’s in desperate need of a rewatch. If you got everything going down on the first pass through, you’re way brighter than I am!

So Castiel is awake and he’s somewhat, errrrr, changed. Cass made me feel uncomfortable in this episode. I teetered between feeling sorry for him and wanting to hug him, to feeling frustrated by his strange behaviour, to feeling bemused by his new persona, to feeling distrustful of who he’s become. What an ever-morphing character Castiel is. There was a lot of chat about how this Cass persona was very much like Future!Cass and at first I was all, oh yeah! But on 2nd watch, I realised they’re diversely different. The only similarity to me seemed to be their ability to smile. Future!Cass was cynical, jaded, broken in spirit, human. Crazy!Cass is almost optimistic, or is it naïve, or is it self-accepting, or is it enlightened, or is it simply insane….see….I’m not at all sure what to make of this new Cass. Part of me thinks that in making that sacrifice and taking on Sam’s Hell torture, he’s managed to come through the other side with a new perspective on things, like he said to Sam, now he sees everything. He see's how everything's connected. It's like he's transcended to a new plain. When Dean asked him what he was going to do, his answer seemed to indicate a lightness, like the weight of all he’d done and all he was had been lifted, “I don’t know. Isn’t that amazing.” Here is a Being that has followed orders his whole existence, has always been duty bound. Now he finds himself free of those binds, which in itself is highly disturbing because there was nothing in him that seemed like he wanted to stay and help, not just the Winchesters, but also, mankind. He’d rather watch the bees. Apart from handing over a small vial of blood, he was flying out of the whole shebang. Unprotected I might add. Do we all remember what Cass said about giving someone enough rope? Even his line about the blood, I couldn’t quite read if he was just being new weird Cass or plain sarcastic, “You know me, always happy to bleed for the Winchesters.” What? I don’t know, I really don’t.

Then there was the game of Sorry. I don’t know, what was being said here, but I know one thing for sure, this weren’t no game of Sorry. Is it that this was the only way, in his current state, Cass could actually try to communicate amends to Dean? Get his message across? Was he trying to get Dean to apologise, or break bread first? Did he mean something more when he said, “I’m sorry, I think you have to go back to the start”? Or was he literally only talking about the game piece. “Why should I prosper from your misfortune. But these are the rules, I don’t make them.” Ok, what? I feel like there was a whole other conversation going on here that I wasn’t privy to and it’s going to keep me up at night! The other line that baffled me was before the game started when Cass said “It took everything to get me here.” I’m with Dean, “What are you talking about?” What did that mean? Is he being purposely obtuse or is he in fact, simply addled. I can’t tell. This was one loaded conversation and if I were Dean, I’d be running it over and over in my mind. All this makes me believe there’s something going on with Cass and we don’t know about it yet. I think everything Castiel said here was of some import, it just needs deciphering. I don’t know, I might be reading too deep, this episode kind of threw me into that end of the pool, but if Supernatural has taught me one thing, it’s to never expect anything to be what it seems.

The only point where I felt Cass was not speaking in circles was in his conversation with Sam. I absolutely loved this scene. Cass was lucid and sounded sane to me. He was accepting of what he’d done and I would say, accepting of this outcome being his penance for past transgressions. Taking on Sam’s pain almost gave him a new sense of purpose, a sense of doing right, like his burden had been lifted. He couldn’t see how he could improve. When Sam said they’d find a way to make him better, he was confused, because to Cass, he is better. This conversation, which was so heartfelt, made me feel like the other Cass was not being honest. Like he was hiding behind his craziness. Like he was wearing a mask. Because if in this quiet moment with Sam he can make this much sense, what was with the pull my finger routine, or the horribly awkward meeting with the other Angels. It’s almost like it was a show. Like I said, I don’t know, I really don’t. Castiel completely did my head in. I’m literally champing at the bit to see where they go with him next, because I really can’t imagine. 

Where as Sam seems to have forgiven Cass by way of understanding a shared experience, Dean of course, is still struggling with it. As well he should be. It would be out of character for Dean to forgive so easily. He will forgive, he always does, but when people this close to him disappoint him; it takes time for him to trust and move forward with the relationship. Look at how he struggled with forgiveness of Sam in season 5 and that’s Sam. Castiel is in a worse position. He did the one thing that Dean says do not ever do. He hurt Sam. You don’t hurt Sam. Sam’s Dean’s life. In fact, Cass came very close to killing Sam. I think Dean could easily overcome the issues around the betrayal with Crowley, but not what Cass did to Sam. That was the ultimate betrayal. Even though, in the end, Cass took on Sam’s pain, let’s not forget, he’s the one that inflicted that pain in the first place. But, we can see forgiveness starting, with baby steps. It’s not like Dean’s not speaking to the guy, he is and you can see how desperately sad the whole situation makes him. But anyone hoping for that relationship to find its heart again may have a long and possibly disappointing wait ahead. If in fact it ever gets back to where it once was. They’ve both changed since Cass went darkside. I hope at some point they talk it out though. Dean always gets to a point where he needs to talk, usually over the Impala. Once he’s talked, well then, he seems a lot better. I expect that will come...eventually…because Dean’s great capacity for forgiving those he loves is part of his beauty. 

“Reading Is Fundamental” also reintroduced the Angels to the show. I like the biblical mythology in Supernatural and as we’re dealing with Leviathan, it seems appropriate we deal with Angels again too. The thing is, they’re out there, we know that now, so not to integrate them in the Winchester’s Universe from time to time seems a little ridiculous. I was ready to say goodbye to the big Angel storyline, mainly because I was tired of the focus being taken away from the brother’s journey and I wanted the Winchesters to learn to lean on each other again and work through a case with out Heavenly intervention, which they’re now doing very nicely thank you, but I’m ok with the Angels popping up here and there, especially when there’s something at stake as important as the Word Of God and the Leviathan eating the earth. However, I don't want to go back to the big Angel arc. One of the things I've really enjoyed in season 7 is that we've been spending more time with Sam and Dean, the heart of the show and though I enjoy the supporting characters, to me they are just that, supporting and I don't think their stories should ever drive the main arc, as per season 6.

Both the Angels featured in this episode were great. I’d be pretty happy if Inias was an Angel that the guys crossed paths with again. I liked him. He seemed more Angelic than most of the Angels we’ve met. Hester, on the other hand fell into to the typical Angel barrel of dicks! That whole “The very touch of you corrupts. When Castiel first laid a hand on you in Hell, he was lost.” Wow. Cranky much? Like Dean doesn’t shoulder enough guilt. We know he already blames himself for, well, everything. Guilt is an essential part of his makeup and you can be sure what Hester said to him is something that's already crossed his mind and probably nestled itself into his gut. But hey, it wasn’t his idea to send an Angel down to Hell to haul him out. It wasn’t his fault that Castiel realised that humanity was something worth fighting for, when all the other Angels were conspiring against us. Great line though Mr Edlund, a real pearler! I was glad Meg stabbed Hester. Even though that confused me because I thought only an Angel can kill another Angel. Though I guess as long as you have the blade. Dean killed Zach. I always assumed that was because he was rockin’ the Michael thing but I guess as long as you have the Angel killing blade, you're golden.

And what about Meg? What’s she up to? More than she’s letting on that’s for sure. Her relationship with Cass is rather amusing. At first it squicked me out, but now I’m starting to think she has a bit of a soft spot for the Angel, which could be interesting, if it played out that way. Not romantically, obviously, but if she was forced into a situation with Cass which goes against her demon nature? Maybe there’s more to Meg than her snarky, self-serving demony ways? Probably not. I really want to dislike her, but I just can’t. I never have. I think she’s an awesome villain and I’m happy she’s managed to survive this long and I hope she continues to be a thorn in the brother’s sides for seasons to come. Plus, I really love that she reads gossip magazines! How funny was it when the other demons rocked up in that truck? They’re not sharpest tools in the shed those demons. It must have been the largest, loudest form of transport they could find! As their boss would say… Morons! I’m assuming Meg led them there to see if they’d told anyone else about seeing her. Make sure they’re stupid and alone and then do them in. Or is she really planning on handing Castiel over to Crowley in order to get back in with the King. She's such a crafty one. I liked her position, “Find a cause and serve it. Give yourself over and it orders your life. Obviously these things shift over time. We learn, we grow.” But what is really Meg’s cause? Do I believe the line she slinging the Winchesters? Nup. But I can’t wait to find out what she’s planning and where she’s gone. Where did she go?!

In a season full of great new characters, we got another one in this episode. Kevin Tran, The Keeper of The Word. The Word of God! Crikey. Just when you think Supernatural can’t reach more lofty heights, they bring in the Word of God. Poor old Kevin, being dragged into this whole Leviathan mess. At least as a prophet he doesn’t share the same crippling headaches that Chuck had. But Kevin does have a very big Leviathan problem, with Edgar now having hold of him and the God rock. But where was Kevin’s Archangel? A prophet has an Archangel tethered to him right? There should be a few more kicking around unless they all died in the war in Heaven without us knowing. I must admit to loving the way Edgar took out the Angels, driving his fist into them with black goo oozing out everywhere. I guess the Leviathan can kill Angels too? Maybe as they were God’s first creation. That’s what I’m assuming. But fuzzy Angel mythology is fuzzy…

Apart from the awesome Metatron/Megatron conversation, in an episode full of sharp and textured dialogue, my favourite line came from Dean. “The Angles, they don’t care. I think maybe they just don’t have the equipment to care. Seems like when they try, it just breaks them apart.” Oh man. That’s such a sad line. That really hurts. You can see on Dean’s face how much that really hurt, both to say and to realise. I also thought it might have been prophetic and maybe a nugget pointing towards his future relationship with Castiel. Because caring so much did indeed break Cass apart. He wasn’t built to care like he wound up caring and everything he did and become was because of that. He was corrupted, not by the evil of humanity, but by our heart and soul and the goodness that lives within us, as amplified in the Winchesters. In order to prevent this happening to Castiel again, should Dean keep him at arms length? Is that what he’s thinking? Because you know he feels guilt over Castiel's fall. You know he partly blames himself. Oh, and did you notice that Meg called Sam Bullwinkle! I also thought her “wingnuts” description of the Angels was a great term for them. The Sam/Kevin chase was damn funny too. The big guy doesn’t corner so well.

So we’re left with how to kill the Leviathan…. with the bone of a righteous mortal, washed in the three bloods of the fallen. According to the screen grab I got, the fallen are: the fallen Angel, the ruler of fallen humanity and the father of fallen beasts. Awesome, seriously awesome! Great set up for the next 2 episodes! Of course my mind immediately went to Dean when I heard the words righteous mortal, him being the righteous man from Hell and all. I don’t want him to have to hand over any part of his body, but if he did, if he had to give up a rib or some other bone he could do with out, would that assuage some of his guilt? Of course it could be another righteous mortal entirely. After all, it says mortal, not man, so it could be a woman. Yeah, I doubt it too. I have a feeling the deals the brothers are about to make to get the blood from the other two fallen, may have repercussions that ring through into season 8 (which I can say now and know it’s really happening!). I’m wondering if we finally find out that the ruler of fallen humanity…as seen in the promo…is not what we think…which has been teased and implied and analysed here and there for a ages. Probably not, but it’s still fun to consider! Sorry…being purposefully obtuse, just like Cass, in case my readers haven’t seen the promo for next week’s episode.

“Reading Is Fundamental” packed a complex and emotional wallop, while delivering an intricate story woven around deep character analysis and setting up an exciting premise for the season finale. As with last season’s “The Man Who Would Be King”, it filled in the mythology gaps and laid groundwork for the coming weeks. I hope the momentum created in this episode continues in “There Will Be Blood”. That all the pieces lain out here by Edlund are built upon. Only 2 episodes to go and I have lots of bad feelings about where we’re going! We know it’s going to be a cliffhanger…  but what kind of cliff are we going to be hanging off? Ugh. Supernatural finales always kill me. I don’t want the season to end. I really hate the hellatus.

What did you think of the episode? What was your take on Castiel?

Thanks for reading. See you next week!

All Supernatural caps produced by me, no copyright infringement intended.


  1. Nice Amy! I didn't get in nearly as much as I wanted to--after my draft it was already a 2,500 page review! actually, I felt Cas was the most honest we have seen him yet...just the way he was dwelling on the pain of others--like the poor race dogs...Awe, Ben, going to bat for the dogs against the evil racing tracks! dog racing was recently outlawed here in Massachusetts...

    I always assumed anyone with an angel blade could kill an angel--the trick is that only angels HAVE angel blades. They don't let them go. somehow, meg got one--probably cas's blade...but meg is crafty--always has what she yes, only angels can kill an angel--but a non angel who steals an angel blade has the power to kill IF they can get the jump on them. I least that's what I got out of it... awesome Amy! welcome to my nightmare of over analysis! :D

  2. I think the thing with Cas is he's hiding behind his crazy persona, because to not hide is to face what he became and what he did. He's saying taking Sam's pain made him see all things more clearly, as an Angel he would have always seen these things, but part of this new Cas is about understanding what happened to him was, as Hester said rather bitchily, because he came too close to humanity. The Angels are built to watch, to follow orders, to follow the plan. In bending those rules, by participating in the story he was only supposed to watch it lessened him as a Being. By stepping back now and hiding behind his craziness, by speaking in riddles that maybe humanity can not fully understand, he creates that separation again. I don't believe Castiel will ever be the same or have the same relationship with humanity that he once had. In many ways, this Castiel is closer to the original Castiel, in understanding his power and what he truly is. That he is better than us and in that way, he does not need to be fixed. But as you say, his awareness of his transgressions made him accept all punishment, whether it be owning Sam's pain or accepting a beat down from Hester. But I don't believe this Castiel is the true Castiel or being true. I think he's hiding, even if he is unaware of it.

    I think Dean understands this is the only way forward for Castiel, to be a Being separate, that the relationship they once had will never be again. I think that beyond his sense of betrayl, this is what carries the sadness. You can see it in his face and in his tone. As he said to Kevin, the Angels just don’t have the equipment to care. Seems like when they try, it just breaks them apart. Castiel was broken apart by his love of humanity and involvement in our story.

    This was a beautiful episode and a lot of it's beauty came from Castiel and the confusing, metaphoric creature he's become. But I think that inside that shell is Cass. He knows, he remembers, but to face it is too painful.

    It was a tricky one, but I've always been in the world of over analysis, I over analyse ever week. This certainly wasn't the first time.

  3. I think Cass has evolved to a higher level. Although he seems a bit nuts, he is becoming more like the God in Supernatural's definition. Sees beauty in everything, even Meg, whom he can see the real face. And observe rather than intervene directly.
    He will appear in the last ep, right? What he may do, ultimate sacrifice? I am not a Cass fan, just wondering what will happen.

  4. Nice one Amy. Yeah, this episode totally needs to be watched like 10 times to understand different layers.

    I mentioned in my review that perhaps Cas thinks he doesn't redemption, regardless forgiveness from Dean/ Sam. He knows he screwed up big time. Like that scene where he got beaten up but he didn't even try to fight back -- that, to me, sums up how broken he is inside. And Dean is just annoyed he is acting like this and Cas has given up and not in a fighting mode. I actually like Cas in this episode, it's a bit odd, but I get why he is acting like this. If he can help Hesta to kill him, all he needs to do is to sit there and let her kill him. He wanted to be killed.

    Perhaps, you're right, Cas is becoming more human, and he is still finding a place for his feeling, which he was never used to.

    I can't believe we are 2 episodes away from the finish line!