This week features the return of Castiel – the angel who seems to always get the short end of the stick. Castiel’s been around through seasons four and five. He was first introduced as the angel who pulled Dean out of Hell, but has since rebelled against the divine plan by thwarting the apocalypse. Last we saw him, in the season five finale, he had been bloodily blown up by Lucifer … and then miraculously healed in the final moments of the episode, presumably by God (or something).
The episode begins in a police locker room. A cop is changing to go home, washing his face, when he notices a little cut on his face. Further washing makes things worse, as he peels half of his cheek off. His feet are bleeding, and then his back, and then his mouth. “I think I’m bleeding,” he says before he collapses to the ground … and splat his body erupts into a liquified pile of blood and flesh. (Far more blood than flesh.)
Cut to Dean having a sex dream about Lisa and waking up alone in the Impala. Sam’s wake-up routine seems a bit more driven, as he’s doing a hardcore workout. Still, he apparently likes his distractions, as a woman is in the room. As she’s leaving, Sam reminds her that he owes her money. She apparently almost forgot. “Next time, you can call me on my night off,” she says. Go Sammy!
A cop in a speed trap gets a phone call, presumably about the dead cop from the intro. We’re only privy to one end of the conversation. “Calm down. This has nothing to do with you and me. You’re just working yourself up.” After he hangs up, however, his face busts out in boils. Presumably they’re choking him, because he can’t even call into dispatch.
Sam and Dean meet up, investigate the boil body at the morgue, then proceed to check on the cop who witnessed the first death. The man doesn’t want to talk, but Sam kicks in the door. This aggressive move leaves Dean in a bit of shock. Not quite as much shock as when the man falls over dead or when they remove his hat and find locusts crawling out of his head.
Before this cop died, he told them that he’d be the last one, because God would be satisfied. It turned out the three cops were involved in the shooting of a kid named Christopher Birch, then planted a gun on him to justify it.
The problem is that the blood, boils, and locusts theme is reminiscent of the biblical plagues, which goes a bit beyond the scope of your average vengeful spirit. Sam has been trying for a year to get in touch with Castiel, but he won’t answer. Dean tries. Sam says, “Like I said, the son of a bitch doesn’t answer.” Pause. “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” He is.
Indignant, Sam demands to know why he hasn’t answered all the time he asks, but answers the first time Dean calls him. “So, what, you like him better or something?”
“Dean and I do share a more profound bond.” Apologetically, Cas says, “I wasn’t going to mention it.” Cas doesn’t know how Sam got back from his imprisonment.
The reason Cas showed up this time is that it turns out a number of powerful heavenly weapons have been stolen from heaven. This particular series of problems is being caused by the Staff of Moses. (However, Cas believes that Moses can be ruled out as a suspect, since the staff isn’t being used at full power.)
After some investigation, it turns out it’s Aaron Birch, the slain Christopher’s teenage brother, who is wielding a sawed-off portion of the Staff of Moses. (Contextual note: According to the Bible, Moses’ brother was named Aaron and he had a rod, with powers similar to the staff. It is actually Aaron’s rod, not Moses’ staff, which turns into a snake when they confront Pharoah’s priests.)
Turns out that Aaron Birch got the staff from an Angel … in exchange for his soul.
According to Cas, there’s never been a case of Angels buying souls. However, to figure out the name of the angel, Cas has to search for a mark which is inside the kid. It won’t cause permanent physical damage, but will be excruciatingly painful. Dean is the only one to protest. Yikes, he’s now become the reserved moral center of the group.
Cas gets the name of the Angel who’s buying souls. It’s Balthazar, a close friend who he thought had died during the recent war between Heaven and Hell. Suddenly, another angel bursts into the room. The two angels fight, resulting in a header out the window, landing on Sam’s car.
Turns out this angel is a servant of Raphael, an Archangel who wants to take over Heaven and put the apocalypse back on track. Cas and some other angels are opposing him, but he has a lot of support. He hadn’t told them about the civil war in heaven because he was ashamed of the way his brothers were behaving.
Performing a quick ritual to find out where Balthazar is, Cas teleports them to a mansion. Sebastian Roche, the actor who plays Balthazar, is great at playing decadent, as I learned from his stint in the short-lived Odyssey 5. Here are a handful of his lines that give you a flavor for this character:
- This morning, I had a menage-a- … What’s French for 12?
- You proved to me we could do anything, so I’m trying everything.
- My advice, grab something valuable and fake your own death.
What’s most disturbing is that his basic argument makes sense. Cas’ belief that he can actually bring peace to heaven seems fairly naive, given everything that’s happened over the last two seasons. Their little heart-to-heart ends with the arrival of Raphael, who beats Cas severely, but at the last moment Balthazar shows up to rescue him … by turning Raphael into a pillar of salt.
Apparently, this was all part of the plan, because Sam and Dean catch Balthazar in a ring of angel fire. They force him to release the marker on Aaron Birch’s soul, which he does. Then Cas lets him go, so that his debt with Balthazar is paid. Neither Dean nor Sam are happy about this, but both angels vanish before they get a chance to protest too much.
A lot of good material in this episode, related to the overall storyline and future plot hooks:
- Even the angels don’t know how or why Sam got out of his imprisonment.
- Balthazar is running around selling off heaven’s “nukes,” as Dean calls them, in exchange for human souls. Is he just an opportunist or does he have a bigger strategy? How does he plan to use the souls?
- Raphael is trying to take over Heaven and get the apocalypse going again.
- Again, we’re getting hints that Sam’s dancing along the edge of the dark side, hiring prostitutes and not protesting torture of children.
Question: Is it possible that Balthazar is also the one who brought Samuel (Sam & Dean’s grandfather) back from Heaven? Or could Samuel be working for Raphael? It turns out there are a couple of angelic loose canons who could have let him out. Why would either of them be collecting monsters?