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October 9, 2015

'Supernatural' Season 6, Episode 20 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 8th 2011 11:30PM
['Supernatural' - 'The Man Who Would Be King']

All-time great episodes of television, which is what 'Supernatural' fans got Friday night, aren't just entertaining, moving, impressive and/or affecting. They encapsulate and embody what's great about that particular show.

Take 'Mad Men's' 'The Suitcase' versus another episode of the AMC drama, 'Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.' The latter is one of the most wonderful, entertaining and pitch-perfect episodes of 'Mad Men' ever.

But the reason 'The Suitcase' deserves to be in the television Hall of Fame is because it captured the show's twin themes of alienation and connection so profoundly. After four years of often outstanding television, that episode provided not just an opportunity to appreciate what the show's writers, directors and performers are capable of, it was a masterful, complicated, profound distillation of what the show is about.

So 'Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency' was a great episode of television. For the reasons delineated above, 'The Suitcase' was not just a great episode, it was a Hall of Famer, an hour that is up there at the highest level of what the medium can achieve.

The same goes for 'Supernatural's' 'The Man Who Would Be King,' which wasn't just one of the finest-ever hours of 'Supernatural.' It was an emblematic Hall of Famer, an hour that was richly rewarding on its own terms and that also provided a road map of the themes that have made 'Supernatural' worthy of six seasons of attention.

When people ask me why I'm so devoted to the show, I can point to 'King' and say, "This is why."

Of course, to appreciate why 'The Man Who Would Be King' is not just a great hour of television but a great hour of 'Supernatural,' you'd have to watch every preceding episode of the show first (except 'Mannequin 3.' Oh, and 'Bugs.' OK, everyone has their dozen episodes that we would tell people to avoid at all costs, except for their comedic value.)

But we're willing to forgive the show those kinds of lapses because when it rises to another level, it's capable of extraordinary things. And as was the case with 'Justified's' 'Bloody Harlan,' 'Breaking Bad's' 'One Minute,' 'Parks and Recreation's' 'Harvest Festival,' 'Mad Men's' 'The Suitcase' or 'Lost's' 'The Constant,' to name just a few notable examples, what we saw in 'King' was the culmination of years of world-building, character development and thematic construction.

'The Man Who Would Be King' is a classic because not just because it is a rich, funny, heartbreaking blend of great storytelling, excellent acting and outstanding direction, it's a classic because it beautifully expressed the humanistic themes that have been at the heart of 'Supernatural' all these years. This is a show about characters who are constantly questioning whether they're doing the right things, even as they suffer great losses and pain. The reason fans feel for these characters is because we know that all the weird beasts in this world can't hurt them more than they hurt themselves and each other.

The show has gone from two dudes cruising the country looking for weird critters to a rather profound examination of doubt -- religious, personal, existential. The respectful and thoughtful way it treats that doubt is just one of the things that sets 'Supernatural' apart.

This week -- not for the first time -- we had a son asking his father for guidance, another lost soul looking for a sign that he was on the right path. Once again, that tortured son heard only silence.

Thanks to the brilliance of Ben Edlund's script and direction, the religious analogies in Castiel's "confession" scenes weren't overdone, and the parallels to Christ's agony in the garden of Gethsemane didn't even occur to me until the second time that I watched the episode. But this was an episode that certainly rewarded multiple viewings.

'King' has the sweep and drive of a feature film; it managed to unite humor, tragedy, a powerful story and raw vulnerability with a sure hand. It gracefully wove together elements that could have seemed random: old-timey footage of the fall of the Tower of Babel, an alterna-Bobby, angels, emotional confrontations, Cas' confessions, snarky Crowley humor and religious analogies. Yet it all felt very much of a piece, and what pulled it all together is the great compassion the episode showed toward these very flawed characters. 'Supernatural' puts these guys through a lot, but it has respect for their suffering.

In any event, I think we're very lucky that Ben Edlund writes for this show. He may have been, at one point, "the guy who writes the funny episodes," and he can do that very well, as he proved with "The French Mistake" and many other wonderfully goofball outings. But even his funny episodes often have deeper themes, and his serious episodes have shown how he uses humor and distinctive creative flourishes to examine difficult truths in entertaining and dramatically compelling ways.

In 'On the Head of a Pin,' for example, Dean had to confront his own culpability as a torturer, and in 'King,' Cas had to do some similar soul-searching: He had to admit that pride and ego led him into his deal with Crowley. He did want to protect his friends from further turmoil, but there were less noble impulses at work as well. The shame on Cas' face when Dean told Cas to look him in the eye made that clear.

Time and again on 'Supernatural,' we see characters making deals for what they think are for the right reasons, and having to confront the unpleasant truths about the choices that they made. It's not pretty to look at one's faults up close, but there was nothing judgmental about 'King.' This episode, and the show as a whole, generally make the case that screwing up isn't necessarily the problem, it's failing to confide in others and giving them the chance to help fix things that leads to near-ruin.

So in that sense, 'King' played a variation on a tune we've heard on 'Supernatural' many times before, but it may have been even more affecting for Cas to be the one who screwed up. The Winchesters don't trust anyone, but they let Cas into their lives, at first grudgingly but then completely. For him to let the brothers down, especially Dean -- that's a new kind of pain for two brothers who've already endured almost every other kind of hurt.

Castiel became part of the family business, so maybe it was fitting that he made the classic family mistake: He took a chance on a deal with a demon. Sam, Dean, John and even "the old drunk" could have told him how that tends to go. Cas' sin was pride: He thought he knew better than the puny humans, but he didn't.

"If I knew then what I know now, I might have said, 'It's simple. Freedom is a length of rope. God wants you to hang yourself with it." Ah, but that's the easy nihilism and cynicism of an adolescent. In human terms, Cas is still very young. He's been an angel for millennia, but as Raphael pointed out, most angels just follow orders and don't have to make compromises. Cas has only been on earth learning how to make tough choices for a few years. He's bound to screw up occasionally, though the deal with Crowley was a real doozy.

Perhaps the most provocative and loaded moment of the episode came when Castiel looked at the camera as he began his confession to God. Were we his God? Were we the judge and jury that was supposed to consider his sins and the kind of punishment he may deserve?

Maybe. We're the ones who've been watching this story unfold for six seasons; we are in a good position to see where Cas has gone wrong (as the Winchesters, despite their good intentions, have gone wrong before). But we're also just as flawed as these characters.

For me, that looking-in-the-camera moment, and the confession as a whole, conveyed the idea that Cas wanted to put the whole mess in someone else's lap. It's understandable. Sometimes we ask for help by explaining to our friends or family how we got ourselves into a hole. It's natural for doubt to be painful, and we want someone to take that pain away. Explaining his horrible dilemma to God and asking God to help was a way of just leaving himself out of the equation, making the dilemma someone else's problem.

But free will doesn't work that way. It's too easy to put the decision into God's hands. Free will means free will all the time, not just when it's convenient. Castiel, who sat in a garden full of the kinds of flowers that pop up around Easter (dig the symbolism), finally came clean to his friends, to his Father and most importantly, to himself. Now he's got to figure out what to do next. And what he does next will be his choice. Let's hope he's clear on that.

Here's what I think will happen next: Castiel will join forces with the Winchesters and somehow defeat Raphael and his army, but Crowley won't go away quietly. Perhaps he'll be killed for real this time, but not before exacting a great price -- I predict he'll tear down the wall in Sam's head. And maybe Sam will become the new head honcho in Hell. Maybe?

But that's getting ahead of the game. Let me get into some specifics about what I loved about this episode -- but that's going to be hard, because the episode as a whole was so well executed that it's hard to pick apart individual things that worked. All of it did.

Still, I have to give special attention to Crowley's spectacularly hellish Hell. There really is nothing worse than waiting in an eternal line, and the grey/brown tones of the place were perfectly depressing. And visually everything that transpired in Heaven was easy to distinguish from the rest of the episode. Heaven was all about saturated, rich colors that made everything seem both vivid and slightly surreal, and the eternal Tuesday afternoon was especially evocative.

Of course, one of the most entertaining things about 'King' was that it featured a ton of interaction between two of my favorite characters, Castiel and Crowley, and Mark Sheppard and Misha Collins did terrific work here. You may recall that one of my issues with 'Caged Heat' was the fact that Crowley "died" in it without having had much interaction with Castiel. Well, put those two characters in an episode in which the brothers must contend with a great betrayal and have the whole thing written and directed by Ben Edlund? My expectations for that particular combination were high, but 'King' exceeded them.

If I've got one bone to pick, it's a small bone. I think the show has presented a very muddled picture about who has souls, when they have them and where souls go when people or critters die. OK, so it's been established that the Mother's progeny do have souls, which go to Purgatory when they die. Still, there's been all this yammering about how human souls are valuable, but a wendigo or a djinn is not human -- but their souls are still valuable? What? Are they the vestigial human souls?

In last week's recap I had a whole elaborate theory about demons vs. Mother-created critters and where the souls of those individuals, if they exist, go when they die, but I think I was wrong about some of the particulars, and I'm not going to attempt to untangle that issue again. Yes, I know the upshot is that purgatory has souls that could be valuable to anyone who can access them. But all the stuff about the Mother, her progeny and souls hasn't been explained well. In fairness, none of that was 'King's' fault, the soul confusion is just an ongoing (relatively mild) beef I have with the current season.

Speaking of fairness, I take back one criticism of season 6, sort of: I've been saying for months that I'm sorry that we haven't seen more of the war in Heaven. I did miss Castiel this season, I am not taking that back. But it's hard to argue with the idea of holding back on the Civil War story, if an episode this rich and compelling is the end result.

Still, as I said last week, I really think that 'Supernatural' could have plunged into this part of the season 6 story much earlier, but, well, it is what it is. (The patchiness of the season since about the mid-point and the weakness of the mother are bigger problems with the current season, but I'm not going to dwell on that stuff at the moment, given how much I loved 'King.' I'll dive into that sort overall assessment in greater detail with my season finale review in a couple weeks.)

In any event, the episode was the great showcase Misha Collins has deserved for some time, and Castiel's confrontations with the Winchesters, especially Dean, could not have been more emotionally acute or gripping. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles did great work in this episode, but then they always do when called upon to portray heartbreak, and the final scene between Dean and Castiel was just sensational. You felt every ounce of Dean's hurt and Castiel's shame, but then it all turned on a dime when Cas said, "Or what?"

Dean is not someone who accepts new members into the family easily, so the betrayal by Cas could not have hurt more. But the twist of the knife came when Cas didn't just do what Dean asked, and intimated that he might just keep defying the Winchesters' wishes.

Yes, it could get worse: The Winchesters and Cas could go to war.

I don't think it will come to that. Will it?

A few final observations and favorite lines:

• "This is not how synergy works!" Edlund gave Sheppard a ton of great lines, and he delivered them all tremendously well. I hope the show never fully kills off Crowley, he's just too much fun.

• "You know who spies on people, Cas? Spies!"

• "It's complicated." "No, it's not, and you know that."

• "What are you Castiel? What exactly are you willing to do?"

• Was it me or was Crowley's arrival at the hunters' cabin reminiscent of 'Lost's' Smoke Monster?

• "The big lie... as long as they believe it, you get to believe it too."

• I love that, while dissecting the Mother, Crowley was listening to some classic R&B. He may be a demon, but he has good taste in music.

• So have we definitively established that Cas did not bring Sam back soulless on purpose? I know Cas said he didn't, but do you still have doubts?

• Ha! The alterna-Bobby was very funny, and his name was Ellsworth -- which was the name of Jim Beaver's 'Deadwood' character.

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'Supernatural' airs 9PM ET on the CW.

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I just can't stop gushing over this episode! I am finishing up season 6 just now. But I want to watch this again before the two final episodes.
I especially like the chemistry between Castiel and Crowley (especially the 5 minute conversation in Hell). As Crowley said to my most favorite angel, "There's a lot of angels swooning over you. God's favorite buddy boy. You've got what they call 'sex appeal.'"
Thank you, get to the point, Castiel torted back. Oh what a thing of beauty!

September 27 2011 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One of the best (if not the best) Supernatural episodes I have ever seen.
I was definitely moved by every scene! What a great acting by Misha Collins.
Wow, this is really the reason why I watch Supernatural!

September 27 2011 at 12:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Misha Jensen Jared Jim & Mark brilliant.
Castiel lost confused & having no idea what to do going to Dean but greed arrogance & pride got in the way, choosing Crowley instead. Scene affected me deeply Dean raking leaves living his normal life & Castiel turning his back on his friend just hurt Hello Season 6

Brilliant episode acting writing & directing from Ben Edlund. He is a genius.

Mark Sheppard = unique actor. Doesn’t matter what character he always owns it whether it’s a guest staring role or series regular his execution always makes his characters so great no show wants to let him go. Supernatural is no different. Moment we first met him he added so much. Castiel burning his bones in “Caged Heat” shocked & angry & sad to loose him. Thought writers were nuts!

Laughed tho it was a serious scene because Mark was fantastic. Castiel’s arrogance telling Crowley don’t worry about the boys. Loved his comeback, was he the only one concerned these bumpkins had taken out Lucifer Michael Lilith Ruby Alistair & Azazal

Bobby & Sam thinking it strange Castiel made a mistake not killing Crowley & Dean trying desperately to defend Cas but having doubt too. Bobby’s comment it would be like Superman going darkseid & needing loads of kryptonite. (Nice acknowledgement to Smallville since it lead into Supernatural & ends its ten year run)
Bobby’s counter part - hilarious & working as hard & long hours as Bobby. Mr Clean Castiel cleaning cabin too well. Didn’t take our gang long to realize something was amiss. Vicious attack by demons to kill them & would have if Castiel hadn’t intervened & saved them once again. Dean happy he was right about Cas he was still their friend. Bobby & Sam asking Castiel to forgive them. Second HUGE mistake Castiel talking about Superman going darkseid. My heart broke for Dean seeing his betrayal & deep hurt.
Castiel learned lots from two boys & a drunk who stopped the apocalypse because of free will & never giving up. Castiel was naïve. Shocked to see Castiel so deadly when he found Crowley shoving him into the wall & forcefully explaining what would happen if he killed the Winchester – downright chilling.

Dean, Sam & Bobby asking Castiel to “come on down”. Just watching Dean as they trapped Castiel in the ring of fire. Jensen brilliant, his facial expressions & his delivery dead on. Castiel telling Sam he pulled him from perdition. Everyone surprised but Sam thinking Castiel brought him back without his soul intentionally. Hate to say this but I think at first it was a mistake but Cas seeing Sam standing outside looking at Dean in his new life realizing he had a soulless Sam to maybe could use?. Cas did try to stop Dean from getting Sam’s soul back.

Castiel met up with Dean at Bobby’s tho they thought the house was angel proofed. Heartbreaking scene. Castiel trying to explain why he had to do what he did & what he has to do to win the war. Dean begging him not to do it. He’s like a brother & Dean & wants him to just trust hi

May 18 2011 at 11:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Brilliant Maureen your review awesome. I have always loved reading them but this one was so special and got to me deeply. I cannot add a single word or thought for fear of not coming anywhere close to yours. Thanks

I would like to post what impressed me or got to me, but again said no where near as eloquently as yours.

May 18 2011 at 10:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought this episode was terrific. While the writers have lost me as regards the storyboard(sorry, way too many plotholes and retcons and ???s even for what they are trying to pass off as "noir"), the characterizations have become crystal clear in these last four, IMO-and THAT has always been these writers' bread and butter, again IMO. The relationship between Cas and the Winchesters(including Bobby), but especially between Dean and Cas, was highlighted so beautifully in this episode and it has pulled me back into the show for these last episodes. I hope with all hope that Cas will find his way back to Dean before the hiatus.

May 13 2011 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You felt every ounce of Dean's hurt and Castiel's shame, but then it all turned on a dime when Cas said, "Or what?"

Mo - what did you feel when Cas said, "Or what?" My stomach dropped. NOooo!

I had a hard time believing that Cas wasn't going to change his mind. But then, the whole episode is Cas trying to process his split with Dean, and wondering if he made the right decision.

May 11 2011 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to yim_happy's comment
Mo Ryan

When he said "Or what," I thought, "Oh no." In those two words, he may have broken the relationship and trust he'd built up with Dean. I do think he's still pondering what to do, and he may well make a decision that repairs that relationship, or at least doesn't make things worse.

May 16 2011 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I enjoyed Crowley's "music to torture by" mix too. :-)

I can't believe that the speculation on fan sites has risen even higher. My favorites are...
Crowley gets his hands on 20 million souls from Purgatory, is he going to turn half over to Castiel?? eh... sure.
Crowley probably wanted Heaven devasted with a civil war.
The "scenes from next week" had a lot of Chuthulu references. I wonder what else is in Purgatory?? Maybe Purgatory's millions of souls have been eaten. :-P
Many don't believe Cas has permanently broken with the brothers/Bobby. Cas didn't even understand how wrong he was until Dean's reaction.

May 10 2011 at 1:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cierra Dominique Sha

I agree this episode is in my Top 10 (possibly Top 5) episodes of this show. I have loved it from the beginning and how it has evovled into what it is today. I will admit I have problems with Season 6 because of major plots and not a great connection to the previous season. The past few episodes have begun to change my mind about Season 6 overall. I do have questions though...
1) Where is the AntiChrist? (Since he is a powerful character mentioned in the show and was somehow swayed by Sam and Dean to be good couldn't he help in the fight in Heaven?).
2) How can or will Adam come into play in later episodes of Supernatural? I loved the addidtion of Adam but the show hasn't dwelled on what has happened to his mind and sould nor have they even mention him in the second half of the season. If they could somehow bring him back, I'm pretty sure it will be interesting to see since he is the only other one who can relate to Sam and his tormented mind.
3) Why did God bring Castiel back to life anyway? Did God truly didn't want the Apocalypse to start?
4) What has happened in the pit since we know that Michael and Adam are now unfornuate members there? Will this affect him in any way if the Apocalpyse is brought back again?
5) Could Castiel be the new Lucifer? He is God's favorite right now (considereing the chances he has given him) and he is a fallen angel based of his actions not necessarily his beliefs. And he has let his pride be his downfall the same way Lucifer did.
6) Where is the angel Joshua who could supposedly talk to god? Where is he in this war?

May 09 2011 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cierra Dominique Sha's comment

"Could Castiel be the new Lucifer?"

Very interesting idea. After all, like Lucifer, Castiel is an angel who at some point became aware of his freedom and decided to use it (except that Castiel, unlike Lucifer, have been "forced" to be free).

Maybe God's plan is to give free will to all angels. Emancipate them. This is why he never interfers (or very little). Like a father would do if he wanted to push, gently but firmly, his children out of the nest.

May 10 2011 at 1:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to LuneCarmin's comment

I don't think Cas was necessarily "forced" into freedom. I think he developed a close relationship with Dean and he decided to defy his family and help Dean. I think the choice has always been there, it's just that until he met Dean he didn't know he could choose.

May 10 2011 at 1:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I don't think that Crowley wants only the control of Hell. He is just not the type to be content with that. Crowley wants everything and he wants to kill the two brothers too.

Dean doesn't do endless suppositions and sterile political speculations. His philosophy of live is very simple and he goes straight to the point : Crowley is a bad guy = he must be destroyed. The thing I like the most in Dean's character is his way of thinking : Simple, effective and honest.

If after Crowley another demon rise as the new King of Hell, then Sam and Dean (and Bobby) will take care of him as well. One thing at a time.

Castiel's big mistake have been to think that doing a deal with Crowley could be a good strategy. This mistake is understandable, and Castiel did it because he doesn't know what to do now, he is lost in his newly acquired freedom and doesn't know who he is anymore. I think that this is an excuse for his recent actions (plus Crowley is the king of manipulation) and this is why Castiel should trust Dean and follows him because Dean learned from his mistakes and really knows, now, what is right and what is wrong.

May 09 2011 at 9:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for another awesome review, Mo. It was an amazing episode, profoundly expressed by you and your very smart readers. I'm usually reduced to "Oh, boys" type comments. :)

I don't think Cas left Sam unsouled on purpose, but maybe once he realized the potential extra power in Lucifer's abandoned prom date, he didn't try especially hard, if at all, to get the soul out. I suspect all our boys are in for a world of hurt before all is said and done.

Note to self. Stock up on tissue before May 20th.

May 09 2011 at 8:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kimmer's comment
Mo Ryan

"Lucifer's abandoned prom date" -- hahah! so funny.

Indeed. Hope the finale's as emotionally epic as this one was.

May 16 2011 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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