Warning Supernatural season 4 spoilers ahead
I have just finished watching season 4 of Supernatural which was provided a whole new range of things to make it interesting. Of course, Jensen Ackles makes it interesting enough for me, but perhaps that doesn’t work for everyone.
Anyway, up until this season, like Buffy and Angel, the demon and ghost hunting of Supernatural has occured in a largely secular world. While religious iconography and paraphenalia and language is used to fight the bad at times, over all, there is really not a sense of religion or, in particular, God. Even when they get dragged into Hell.
In season 4 however, one gets to meet the other side as the angels drag Dean out of hell and spend some time hanging out on earth. The angels do not, however, cover themselves in the glory one would expect for the heavenly host. Their engagements with the Winchester brothers leave one wondering from quite early on about where the differences between the hosts of heaven and hell lie.
While Castiel, the angel who is appointed to guide Dean most closely is generally good intentioned, many of his fellow angels’ motives are not as clear. From early on we see that Uriel is willing to smite an entire town from the earth in order to thwart the demons regardless of the collateral damage that might entail. This, to Uriel, is secondary to doing the job he is supposed to be doing. Later it becomes clear that Uriel and oothers have a slightly different agenda to the Winchesters, and are even killing other angels to achieve it. Zachariah takes Dean out of the equation to ensure that Lucifer will be released from Hell. He is even a bit skeezy, offering Dean access to Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, with Mary-Anne thrown in for free, as a distraction during the coming of the apocalypse. For Zachariah and his angel friends, armageddon is a bonus because they get to kick some demon butt in a battle they are convinced they can win. The fact that it will use the entire world as it battlefield is irrelevant, as is the number of humans who are killed in the process, as long as they ultimately achieve their goals.
In many ways the angels are very like the demons, and when Lucifer does rise, his angelic status is made very clear – he isn’t a demon, he is an angel, albeit a fallen one. Like demons, angels must use a human body to act on earth – a body which, as with demons, they use and abuse. As is made clear to the vessel that contained Castiel while he is temporarily freed as Castiel is taken back to heaven for discipline, his life will never be his own again following the experience. Giving yourself over to an angel is as likely to end in horrible death or permanent departure from your own life as being possessed by a demon.
This depiction of angels is enormously subversive. The parallels between the actions of the angels and the portrayal of the CIA in season 6 of Spooks which I am also currently watching is enormous. Not to mention the parallels with the whole Iraq War. The angels quietly allow the demons to raise Lucifer because it provides them with an excuse to wage their own “just” war which achieves their ultimate strategic goals. Lucifer, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, is the perfect excuse to whip out the Archangel Michael and his terrible sword, never mind the innocent casualties.
Its subversion goes beyond the political into the very loaded area of Christian conceptions of God. As Lucifer says to his vessel in the first episode of season 5 – either God is a sadist or he doesn’t care. Dean reaches the same conclusion – that God has left the building or doesn’t even exist and even Zachariah notes that God has checked out. I have a small fear that this season we might see a return of God or a greater emphasis on his ultimate goodness, as Castiel sees finding God as the solution to the problem, however, I also had that fear when angels first appeared, so maybe Supernatural will continue to unsettle notions of good and evil and god, angels in heaven.
And in a side note, I do like the self-referentialism that they have going on. There is enough humour in it for it to avoid the hopelessly over serious….Although the Sam/Dean slash fiction is a mite disturbing…