“What Made You Grow a Pair?” - The Journey of an Angel
Just today I realised that I have been in this fandom for nearly one year now. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact date, but it must have been around May 2010 when my friend practically forced me to watch the pilot and thus got me hooked to the most awesome show there is. What better way to mark the occasion than to write my very first Supernatural character study? The honour of being my first subject of choice goes to... Castiel!
An angel who loses his faith? Who has ever heard about that? How is that even possible? Well, in Supernatural, it is.
Castiel enters the show with a Big Bang in episode 4.01 Lazarus Rising. In a voice that is very self-assured and in a way that doesn't leave any room for doubt, he tells us he is “an Angel of the Lord” (and you can practically hear the capitals). He flaps his wings to an impressive background of lightning and thunder rolling. Doing that he looks every bit a fierce warrior as angels are supposed to be. But there's more to our “BAMF Angel of the friggin' Lord” than meets the eye. While telling Dean that his problem is that he has no faith, Castiel has no idea that he will have to face that exact same problem soon enough.
Even though he may already feel with Sam and Dean at that stage he is convinced that to follow the orders from Heaven is the right way to go and that everything happens and is asked of him for a reason. But already in 4.07 It's the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester Castiel lets us know that he has questions and doubts and that he doesn't know what's right and what's wrong anymore. Still, He doesn't even think about disobedience at that point. And how could he? How should somebody who was never taught to think for himself and who listened and executed orders for millennia suddenly feel the urge to rebel? It's only logical that Castiel desperately clings to his orders, even as his world is falling to pieces, because without these orders he would be lost.
It takes the treachery of Uriel, his closest friend, to finally make him see that something is really wrong and that he cannot go on like this. But even after he showed the will to rebel against Heaven and to leave a life behind that he has gotten used to in millennia, he still can't understand the concept of free will. Instead, he begs Anna to tell him what to do (4.16 On the Head of a Pin). As a result of obviously being too unsure of himself and after having been punished in Heaven, Castiel's rebellion is quite short-lived. He turns his back on Sam and Dean and sells out Anna just a short while later (4.20 The Rapture / 4.21 When the Levee Breaks).
But even this short-lived rebellion has left a definite mark on Castiel. It seems to have given him a moral compass; a compass that he can't turn off again. As much as he probably wants to stay out of trouble, this compass makes him unable to watch Zachariah playing his game with Sam and Dean. Having gotten “too close to the humans in [his] charge”, according to his superiors and having “begun to express emotions”(4.16), he has gotten to know the concept of friendship and now he unconsciously applies it: He risks everything to help Sam and Dean to frustrate the angels' plan, because he knows that's the right thing to do and indeed, he ends up sacrificing his own life for what he thinks is right (4.22 Lucifer Rising).
The fact that he then gets resurrected by God (suspected by Castiel in 5.01 Sympathy for the Devil, confirmed by Joshua in 5.16 Dark Side of the Moon) re-strengthens his faith that previously has suffered several setbacks. He can still believe in his “father” and that gives him hope. But after all, this glimpse of hope cannot conceal his desperation. We must not forget that Castiel's whole conception of the world lies shattered before him. By trying to find God he clutches at the last straw he can see in the chaos that has become his world (5.02 Good God Y'All). With courage born out of this desperation he takes his own course of action, so that he even confronts the archangel Raphael (5.03 Free to be You and Me).
The further Castiel diverges from Heaven the more human habits he adopts, such as swearing (“But today, you're my little bitch!”, 5.03), drinking (5.10 Abandon All Hope) and – most importantly – generally feeling close to people. He seems to finally get used to being an outcast and to come to terms with his new role.
Then Joshua drops the bomb: God doesn't care anymore. He leaves the world to it's fate. He's done (5.16). Castiel's last hope has been taken away from him and he's now left without anybody or anything to hold on. Now he has to pay the price for freedom in full: disorientation, loneliness, helplessness. Having learnt from the humans, Castiel seeks refuge in a liquor store (5.17 99 Problems). He has not only lost faith in Heaven and in God but subsequently also faith in himself. The way he tells Pastor Jim that he is “an Angel of the Lord” is as different from the first time we heard him say this very sentence as it can be. Castiel is tired and being an Angel of the Lord very clearly is nothing to be proud of for him anymore, it's a burden. A burden he can't carry any longer. When told by the pastor that he's an angel, all he can say is: “A poor example of one”(5.17).
As if it wasn't enough, there is one more person Castiel loses his faith in: Dean (5.18 Point of no Return). After Castiel's world has been shattered and his faith in God crushed, Dean was his last hope to save the world. Now, the hunter is ready to surrender to Michael and that finally pushes Castiel over the edge. Instead of further wallowing in self-pity, he ticks Dean off, venting all his frustration on him. Apparently, that was exactly what Castiel needed to get his strength and determination back. He may have realised that he doesn't need anybody to have faith in to fight. So he does fight, death-defyingly.
The next time we see him, he's in a hospital, his “batteries are drained”, he's “out of angel mojo” (5.21 Two Minutes to Midnight). The last bit that connected him to Heaven is gone. One could say that, in a way, before that point Castiel hasn't truly been free. It is interesting how being free always goes hand in hand with being human (or dead...) in Supernatural. Now that he is in this human-like state, Castiel continues to fight “the good fight”, even though he is more vulnerable than before. He had to lose everything to gain greater faith in himself than he ever had. Without his angel powers, only armed with a holy oil Molotov Cocktail, he confronts Lucifer and Michael to fight for what he – not the archangels, not God – believes is the right thing (5.22 Swan Song).
In the end, having faith in Heaven or in God or even in Dean never brought Castiel anywhere. Having faith in himself allowed him to make the right choices.