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8.23 Sacrifice: It Was Always God's Intention, The Ultimate Sacrifice

Metatron's Heaven:
Exile angels for revenge.
Closing Hell is death.

Commentary and Meta Analysis

My reaction to this episode was mixed. On the one hand, the performances, direction, and technical production aspects were absolutely stellar, and it filled my eyes and broke my heart in good ways; on the other, I had serious issues with aspects of the story, especially the divine metaphysics of falling angels, and it took a couple of viewings for me to get comfortable with the dialogue concerning Sam's confession to Dean and Dean's response. In this discussion, I'm going to address Metatron's expulsion of the angels and the emotional situation between the brothers.

Expel All Angels From Heaven, Just As God Cast Out Lucifer

The major aspect of this story that absolutely didn't work for me was Metatron implementing a spell using Castiel's stolen grace and the elements of the spell begun by the killing of the Nephilim and the harvest of the cupid's bow to cast the rest of the angels out of Heaven to dwell instead on Earth. Admittedly, the visual effect of thousands of angels falling, wings aflame, in a veritable meteor shower through the night Earth sky was spectacular – but the entire concept was also awkward in the metaphysical extreme and took me right out of the moment.

Metatron's plan harked back to story decisions Kripke made in Heaven And Hell. I called those decisions stupid then, and I still think they're stupid now. I had problems then with an angel's grace being separable from the angel and with an angel seen falling from Heaven literally as a meteor through Earth's sky. Now I have even more problems, because from all we know, angels don't have human-style bodies of their own, so what bodies will they wear on Earth; will they be born into human babies, like Anna, or assume the bodies of the last vessels they inhabited? And if Castiel now lacks his angelic grace and is mortal, essentially human, where is the soul of Jimmy Novak, the human who owns the body Castiel wears – and where are the souls of any other human vessels who may now embody angels? And why would Metatron have believed that Castiel would be considered to have a human soul slated to wind up in Heaven after death, to come tell him stories? None of that made any sense to me based on everything that went before, and I hope the writers bend some thought to providing answers.

We have always seen angels in Heaven as on Earth wearing human guises, but as Zachariah explained back in Dark Side Of The Moon, that was simply due to the peceptual limitations of our human consciousness. I'll never forget that Kurt Fuller's favorite line as Zachariah was In Heaven, I have six wings and four faces, one of whom is a lion. You see this (the Kurt Fuller/Zachariah body) because you're – limited. In Family Matters, Castiel told Samuel Campbell that his true form was approximately the size of the Chrysler Building, and in The Third Man, he said that he had spent the last year as a “multidimensional wavelength of celestial intent” – ergo, not wearing a physical body of any kind. Seeing all those angels in this episode falling from Heaven in human bodies and being severed from burning wings in the process just made me shake my head. That was of a piece with my inability to tolerate the totally idiotic idea in As Time Goes By that Dean kept a numbered stash of Castiel's shed wing-feathers in the Impala's trunk and the Men of Letters had similar stashes in their clubhouse and in the bunker to use in time travel spells. Just – no. Dumb ideas.

According to all the lore we have, angels and humans were separate and distinct creations. So said the bible and all we learned from Lucifer in The End and from Castiel in It's The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester and The Man Who Would Be King, among other episodes. As Father Reyolds noted back in Houses Of The Holy, men cannot be angels; I would submit that angels similarly cannot be men (or women). In Lazarus Rising, The Rapture, Sympathy For The Devil, Free To Be You And Me, Point Of No Return, and other episodes, we learned angels borrowed human vessels to physically walk the Earth, particularly to be able to communicate with humans who couldn't perceive them in their true form, and that they could not possess a vessel without the explicit consent of the human owning the body. That applied to fallen Lucifer as much as to any other angel. An angel in Heaven had no need of a human vessel; Castiel being hauled back to Heaven for re-education in his own angelic form in The Rapture was what allowed us to actually meet Jimmy, and we saw that Raphael in Free To Be You And Me had simply abandoned his vessel when he had no immediate need of it, taking back Donnie's body only when summoned to it. Talking with Crowley in The Man Who Would Be King, Castiel noted that angels didn't have souls, and thus couldn't be drawn into crossroads-style deals. We saw how angels could use the power of human souls to magnify their own strength, but an angel's own essence appeared to be different. Apart from Castiel's perverse resurrections, which were unique, we were given no indication that angels had any destination after death, unlike humans who went to Heaven or Hell, or monsters who went to Purgatory. When killed, they simply – died.

Given all that, I'm troubled by the idea that a simple spell done by a rogue angel could transform angels into mortals in human bodies, evidently with souls bound for Heaven or Hell upon death. And I wonder whether they will still know who and what they are, as Lucifer did following his expulsion, or if the spell Metatron used to cast them out would have stripped away their angel memories. Since Metatron dealt with Castiel separately, sending him on his way as an individual before he worked his spell on all the other angels, it's distinctly possible that Castiel's situation may be different from that of every other angel; for example, if Metatron's expulsion spell tampered with memory, Castiel might be the only one to remember being an angel. And strictly from a show perspective, I don't for a moment believe Castiel will have lost his memory; they did that once already in The Born-Again Identity, so they won't plow the same furrow again.

I have to wonder what impact Metatron's actions will have on both Heaven and Earth. I'm guessing there will be enough accumulating negatives on both fronts to encourage the brothers and Kevin to explore the angel tablet for ways to counter Metatron and restore angels to at least some aspects of their proper, non-Earthly place in God's scheme of things. In particular, if Metatron expelled every angel but himself, I wonder whether the virtual machinery of Heaven may start to break down for lack of routine angelic maintenance and if that may let us see certain human souls again ... that wouldn't be any sillier than some of the other things already going on. The angel tablet might even speak to how other angels who died might be brought back as Castiel has been, several times.

If the angels do remember who and what they were, I suspect the factions that existed in Heaven might also appear among angels now on Earth, meaning that competing forces might pursue acquiring the prophet and the angel tablet to be able to restructure Heaven as they see fit. And Hell's demons will not be idle. What power could they extract from fallen angels? Hell would also have a vested interest in preventing the restoration of the heavenly host, since angelic smiting is one of the few ways a demon could be destroyed.

It Was How Many Times I Let You Down

The heart-to-heart between the brothers in the church was the most deeply moving moment of the episode, but I'll confess, it took me a couple of viewings and a number of hours of thinking to fully appreciate it. Before you throw eggs and rotten tomatoes, let me explain – and let me start by saying Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles knocked it out of the park on their performances and I love them unreservedly for it, although I have a few choice words for Jeremy Carver's oddly clumsy dialogue from Dean to set up the situation.

The real curse of the Winchesters isn't that they're hunters. It isn't that their mother was killed or that Sam was dosed with demon blood when he was six months old. It isn't that they were deliberately designed and shaped to serve a destiny engineered by rebellious angels. It isn't that they've lost pretty much everyone they've ever loved. It isn't that they've both been to Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and back again. It isn't that they feel responsible for everyone else and punish themselves whenever they fail to save someone. It isn't any of those story-hero-only kinds of things.

The real curse of the Winchesters is that they keep having to relearn the same basic lessons about themselves and each other over and over again, precisely because each is the one person most essential to the other and thus the greatest source of personal insecurity.

Since I started writing about the show at the beginning of season two, I've done more analytical pieces on the relationship between the brothers than on any other single topic. If you've got a LOT of hours (say, during months and months of Hellatus), you can check out all my past couch sessions with the Winchesters through the following links, both the meta only pieces, and the myriad episode commentaries with meta incorporated, like this one. In every season, multiple articles have looked specifically at how Sam and Dean both perceive and disastrously misperceive each other, and what happens when they finally realize what they've been seeing wrongly or simply not seeing at all. And no matter how many times they relearn their most basic truths – that Sam is the heart, soul, center, and end of Dean's universe, and that Dean is the one essential person Sam most needs to have believe in and approve of him to affirm his own value – they keep doubting themselves and each other time and time again in every new situation, saying thoughtless, sometimes angry, often hurtful things that drive them apart, and then having to relearn the same lesson of exactly what they mean to each other. They did it again in this episode. They make me want to scream in frustration, shake them, and smack them upside the head for being such blind, repetitive idiots about each other, especially when I can see the clumsy setup happening from a mile away (and sorry, Jeremy Carver, but Dean's confession and chaperone lines here just pinged way too obviously on the deliberately thoughtless meter, given how carefully supportive he'd been of Sam lately).

But you know something? I realized I'm guilty of making the same repeated stupid mistakes as Sam and Dean, if on a less world- and family-shattering basis. I think most people are. And I think that is in part why the brothers speak so strongly to us; we see ourselves in their mistakes, and we want to see ourselves in their salvation, too.

Not seeing it? Let me share something personal.

I have two older sisters. All of us are close, albeit not remotely as codependent as Sam and Dean. My middle sister is a registered nurse who spent almost 20 years in ER and critical care nursing, and then transitioned into IT, designing computer software for medical records and diagnostic information. She's brilliant, incisive, quick to make and implement decisions and judgments, and impatient with people who don't see or respond to situations as quickly, directly, and competently as she does. She impresses the crap out of me. When our mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, my sister kept her home and took care of her, first going part-time and then retiring from her own job when mom's condition deteriorated to the need for full-time care.

I love my middle sister to death and I know that she loves me, but we're very different people. We're both intelligent, independent, and well educated, but personality-wise, we're light-years apart. Where she does her factual research and then makes snap judgments, I step back and consider things in depth from multiple angles, more interested in the process than the outcome. My sister always wants anyone she's with to make a quick, firm decision and act on it; unless it's a topic I'm passionate about, I prefer to cruise and seek harmony, feeling out and going with the group desire rather than imposing my own. I'm a talker and a singer; she works in silence with no background music. Her mindset is mechanical and precise, given to practical engineering solutions; mine is philosophical and psychological, given to theory and exploration. She's fierce about family and always lived close to our parents; I moved 900 miles away from home to go to law school when I was 19, and although I always remained in very close and loving touch with home base, I've lived quite happily alone in my remote outpost ever since.

Because we're both so close and yet so far away, we can push each others' buttons with an accuracy no one else on the planet could match. With a cutting word, a withering look, or an exasperated sigh, my sister has the unerring ability to make me feel stupid, worthless, and clumsy. In turn, I can piss her off just by humming absently or by rolling my eyes, or by not saying something when she expects me to, which she interprets as intentional passive aggression.

Sound familiar?

Now let me add that my sister has been part of my life for all of my almost 57 years, and yet I still have to remind myself multiple times a year that when she says something I take amiss, eliciting my reaction wasn't her intent; ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it simply wouldn't have occurred to her that I would have taken her comment to heart and been hurt by it. And while I love seeing her and always enjoy time spent with her, by the end of a visit, I'm relieved to leave because I can shed the strain of feeling that I always have to be quiet, competent, busy, and decisive to live up to her expectations for me when she's around.

My sister can definitely be a Dean, and I can give Sam a run for his emo title and insecurity. I've got 20-plus years on the Winchesters. If I still haven't figured out the right sibling balance to avoid conflict and always dwell secure in my absolute knowledge of my sister's ever-present love, why should I expect the brothers to have done better in less time and under much greater stress, hmm?

Once I sorted all that out, I was able to settle in and thoroughly appreciate the scene, especially because it took the brothers another very important step on their road to a mature relationship. I rejoiced that Dean's response to Sam's accusatory hurt about not being trusted and about his brother turning to others instead of him wasn't to pull out again his own old “turnabout is fair play” hurt about Sam choosing Ruby over him, or the even older pain about Sam having left his family for college. They've had that “who hurt the other more first” fight before, and it's a no-win scenario. Instead, Dean went straight to the heart with the simple truth that he needed Sam to see and finally, absolutely know there was nothing, past or present, Dean would ever put in front of Sam. No one and nothing could ever be more important to Dean than Sam, and nothing Sam could be or do or say could ever change that. We've always seen that, right from the beginning of the series. But I don't think Dean ever fully undersood until just now that his regard, his approval, is so vital to Sam's existence and self-image that it's the one thing Sam has always been most insecure about, despite all the times Dean's proven his unconditional love.

I believe something that's complicated that knowledge between the brothers is that they perceive and express things in different ways. Sam is intellectual and verbal; he talks things through to understand and express them, and always has. Words are important to him, and he uses words to shepherd thought and process feelings. Just think of all the times over the years when Sam pushed Dean to talk about things, to share verbally what was he was feeling: John's death, the fear of going to Hell, what happened in Hell, what happened in Purgatory. Words are also how Sam always expressed his own feelings and fears, and words were always how Sam tried to explain his choices, apologize for his mistakes, and attack when he was angry.

Dean, on the other hand, is sensory and tactile. Words have much less value to him than actions do; he's not nearly as comfortable with using words to express what's most important to him. Dean's deepest apologies tended to come with a trust action attached, such as giving Sam the Impala's keys and letting him drive. Dean's love expressed in words tends to come out as a joke; the genuine warmth and truth of it lie in his supportive physical touches and hugs. When he's been really angry, he's spoken with his fists instead of his tongue.

I think many times when the brothers were trying to communicate with each other and failing, it's because they were each giving the other information in the way they themselves best understood it – Sam in words and Dean through touch and action – when that was exactly the wrong way to best reach the other. And when the message each was conveying was different on those two wavelengths – for example, Dean using teasing, disparaging language along with a supportive action, or Sam apologizing verbally but not offering a reinforcing physical action – the brother receiving the message gave more weight to the communication aspect more personally important to him, which was the opposite of the speaker's intention. So Sam felt more picked on than supported, while Dean felt more betrayed than reassured.

I don't think the brothers have ever really thought through how and why they so often miscommunicate, but this may have been a start: Dean finally gave Sam very specific, very direct words to emphasize how important Sam is to him, and then followed that up with a fully consistent, fully supportive physical action, bandaging his hand and pulling him into a hug while encouraging him to let go of the trials and the pressure.

I loved it, and Sam heard him, felt him, and tried to comply.

Something else I loved was the way Dean argued that they didn't have to seal the gates of Hell. Instead of just using emotion, his usual weapon, Dean used words and logic: he gave Sam the rationale that all the new knowledge they had acquired already through the bunker and the quest could give them enough of an edge to make a difference, and the price of going further would simply be too high.

From Salvation on, Dean never accepted Sam's death as an acceptable price for revenge, no matter how willing Sam would have been to pay it. He would never have traded Sam's life for anyone else's. He accepted Sam's self-sacrificial determination in Swan Song only because Sam insisted he had to fix his own mistake and save the world from Lucifer the only way they could, and Dean, respecting his brother, also had to respect his brother's mature choice – and with the world apparently ending, Dean fully expected to die at his side, anyway.

This quest to close Hell was something entirely different. While closing Hell and banishing all demons forever could save other people, it wasn't necessary to save the world the way shutting down the apocalypse had been. When they first undertook it, Sam's whole purpose was to be able to do enough to make the world safe that he could stop hunting and have a normal life. As he stated so eloquently in Trial And Error, he wanted to do it instead of Dean precisely because he still had hope for a different future for both of them, while Dean saw it only as a worthwhile swan song of his own, something likely to kill him but worth it to leave Sam safe and free. Once Sam started the trials, getting him through them alive became Dean's new goal. Learning that completing the trials would kill Sam made the price something Dean would never be willing to pay.

The most heartbreaking thing for both Dean and us was to see from Sam's reaction – So? – that Sam had been so worn down by the trials that he had already lost all his hope and expectation for any end other than his own death, and didn't even care. The most joyous thing was seeing Sam respond to Dean's argument and decide that he wanted to live, and wanted to stop.

We won't learn until next season what effect abandoning the trials will have on Sam. We don't really know what they were doing to him physically, although I do like the idea he himself put forward about the trials purifying him of whatever the demon blood Azazel fed him when he was six months old had done to his human self. I hope there's not a backlash; that letting go of the trials will just release the pressure, not snap the pulled-taut rubber band. On this count, waiting for season nine will be torture!

Production Notes

Despite the story issues I've noted, I enjoyed this episode a lot and can't wait to see how the story progresses in season nine. And in terms of all the performances and production values, this was feature film-quality work, and no mistake.

I liked most of Jeremy Carver's script, apart from the awkwardness in the setup and some of the dialogue between the brothers in the lead-in to their heart-to-heart. The date between Jody Mills and Crowley was inspired. The brothers trapping Crowley with the offer of a deal only to lock him in spell-etched handcuffs from the bunker was sweet, and to have that happen in Bobby's old junkyard near his derelict Chevelle was almost poetic. Naomi finally realizing how the angels had strayed from their mission and resolving – too late – to begin trying to make things right, even accepting Castiel back into the heavenly host, helped transform her from just a villain to yet another candidate for redemption, and made her loss hurt. Metatron decided to become the author and god of his own story, rewriting Heaven and Earth and becoming an enemy. Crowley's cleverness in finding a way to call for help only to realize Abaddon intended to take his place as King of Hell was delicious, and clearly set the stage for part of Hell's story in season nine. Dean managing this time to reach Sam and persuade him to stop as he hadn't been able to do in Lazarus Rising gave the brothers a fresh place to start from. And while I have many, many issues with the whole thing about angels falling, I have to say that exiling the angels from Heaven to Earth is a true game-changer and opens lots of doors for fresh stories in season nine and beyond. Showing all the apparatus of the bunker reacting to that cosmological change further pointed out that the brothers are still far from understanding all the potential inherent in their Men of Letters legacy. The whole purpose of this script wasn't to wrap old things up, but to set up a whole new game, and in that, it succeeded.

Phil Sgriccia has been a favorite director of mine for a long time, since the early 1990's. Of all the Supernatural directors, he's the one who most integrates music into a scene, and he's been a key picker of much of the music Supernatural uses; I enjoyed everything here, from Crowley's ringtone to the demon singing David Bowie's “Changes.” He's also crackerjack at shooting action in a way that keeps everything that's happening perfectly clear. But most of all, I love his signature perspective, including the way he uses extreme crane shots like the ones outside the church, showing the building itself and looking sharply down on the brothers at the end, as well as low shots looking up from the ground into faces – like Nathaniel in Heaven or Crowley talking to his blood radio – or putting a character into the close foreground against a backdrop of distance and sky. Sometimes, his eye reminds me of Kim Manners. In terms of how he directs actors, I thoroughly appreciated the comment Osric Chao tweeted about Phil having gotten him to brighten up Kevin's “I don't have any friends” line just enough to keep it from being totally depressing. And shooting down from Kevin's perspective as all the bunker machinery came to life was amazing.

Serge Ladouceur's cinematography is always exquisite, but everything he did with the lighting in the church and the night outside was particularly fine in the way the light and shadow played on the faces of Sam, Dean, and Crowley, and showed us Castiel reacting to and realizing what he was seeing as the angels fell. And I love the lighting in the bunker at all times!

Jerry Wanek and his set building and decorating crew worked wonders! The church was a marvel; only two walls and a roof at that gorgeous location, with the interior built on set at the studio. And the bar where cupid's bow made heart shots was a complete re-do of the often-reused old diner on the backlot, so totally transformed with a magnificent hardwood bar – well, with what at least looks like a magnificent hardwood bar! – and bar fittings to match that I almost didn't recognize it. And since this is my last chance to do it this season, I have to contiue to applaud the Men of Letters bunker set, which is an incredible piece of work I hope we get to enjoy for a goodly time to come.

The visual effects crew has been doing amazing work all season, but this episode was in a class by itself. The angelic meteor shower was breathtaking, exquisitely beautiful and horrible all at once, and epic in scope. Abaddon burning and smoking out would have been the certerpiece effect in any other episode; here, it was just one small but magnificent piece of the whole. Crowley's tiny blood radio was a lovely callback to past seasons, as was Abaddon breaking the floor to break the devil's trap around Crowley. Sam's glowing arms waxed and dimmed as the end of the trial drew closer, but never detracted from the emotion of Jared's scenes with Mark and Jensen. The bunker map board coming to life was a great visual on its own, but was a particularly effective way to tell the big-picture story by displaying the global nature of the expulsion of the angels.

The performances throughout the episode were superb. It was a delight to see Kim Rhodes essaying Jody Mills again, and she brought both the funny and the genuine to Jody venturing into the dating world with exactly the wrong guy. I have no doubt whatsoever that Dean's “I surrender” came in time to save her life – but I can only imagine Jody shaking her head afterward over what supernatural ploys have done to her relationships! Amanda Tapping has walked a fine line this season making Naomi someone to fear while still hinting to there being more going on that we could see on the surface. Her reaction here, when Naomi realized Metatron's duplicity but also came to see the flaws in what she had done, serving the archangels, made her – while not entirely sympathetic – someone whose actions and motives made sense enough to appreciate. While we definitely haven't seen the last of Abaddon, I will miss Alaina Huffman, who gave the demon presence and snark to stand up to Crowley. I will look forward to seeing more of Curtis Armstrong's Metatron as the Heaven storyline continues. I'm content that my limited human consciousness needs “Marv” as a comprehensible avatar, because Armstrong brings so many layers to Metatron.

Osric Chao makes me feel great sympathy for Kevin. He's changed so very much since we first met him; that's got to be a treat for an actor to play, and it shows. After Castiel forced Kevin back to work on the angel tablet and repeated the adage that he was stuck being a prophet until he died, it seemed pretty apparent to me that Kevin was planning on doing a runner at the end, when we saw him heading out of the bunker wearing his backpack; I would bet he intended to go undercover on his own again, escaping before the Winchesters returned and using hex bags to hide from both demons and angels. I wonder if the sheer immensity of what he saw blooming on the map board as the alarms shrieked may have changed his mind; I hope so, because the Winchesters are going to need Kevin!

Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins were classic. While I wished Castiel could finally escape his curse of always trusting the wrong being, I was glad he finally went to Dean for help and even listened to him, at least about the Cupid – even if he still failed to trust Dean's instincts in the end and insisted on returning to Heaven. Misha continued to rock Castiel's peculiar mix of innocence, naivete, conviction, and determination, from asking Metatron what God was like through flatly informing Kevin that he was stuck with being a prophet – well, until he died and the next one came on line, and Misha's delivery of that made me laugh out loud – and finally announced that he was going to fix Heaven. I suspect Castiel's history of crucial mistakes will continue to complicate his future with the Winchesters. Jensen conveyed precisely how torn Dean was between leaving Sam and responding to Castiel's plea for help, and when Dean returned to save Sam, the scenes between Jensen and Jared were pure brother magic.

I still have major issues with the whole “curing a demon” thing – see my comments on Clip Show – but Crowley's gradual transformation from King of Hell to an almost-human man wondering where to start to make amends was an acting tour de force on the part of Mark Sheppard. And Mark, in turn, brought out the absolute best in my highest award winner of the night, Jared Padalecki. Jared was sublime, covering every beat of Sam's determination, commitment, uncertainty, confusion, rededication, love, loss, relief, and pain. Genre shows – particularly a horror gem on the CW – aren't recognized by Hollywood awards, but Jared's performance here was worthy, and then some.

I will point out a couple things. For one, the completion of each of the two previous trials required the recitation of the Enochian words of the spell Kevin identified before Sam experienced the physical effects. Even after completing the actions called for in the earlier trials – killing the hellhound and bathing in its blood in Trial And Error, and rescuing an innocent soul from Hell and conveying it to Heaven in Taxi Driver – it wasn't until after Sam recited the spell each time that he was hit with the light and the pain demonstrating his dedication to the trials. Sam's arms glowing here after each dose he delivered to Crowley was something different, perhaps because he was coming so much closer to the end. But I have to wonder: could Sam have taken the last step in curing Crowley, having Crowley drink blood from the cut on his palm, without actually having completed the trials and thus triggered his own death? If the trial wasn't complete until the Enochian dedication words – which were significantly different from the cleansing exorcism – were spoken, wouldn't it have been reasonable to assume that, so long as Sam didn't take the final step of speaking the Enochian spell, the trial wouldn't have been complete?

And that leads me to the second thing. From all we understand, Crowley's “demon cure” was left incomplete; he'd been dosed with Sam's purified human blood to the point where he was actively repentant, but although Sam had spoken the words of the curative exorcism, he didn't clap his bleeding hand over Crowley's mouth to deliver the last oral dose. So: when season nine begins, what will Crowley's status be? Will Sam's purified blood dosing wear off to leave Crowley still the snarky demon King of Hell, with even more reason to resent the Winchesters knowing his weaknesses and holding him prisoner, or will Crowley still be more human than demon and interested in seeking redemption? How quickly will Abaddon move to displace Crowley's control over Hell, and would the Winchesters even contemplate supporting the devil they know over the knight of Hell, if Crowley either reverts to being the evil we've always known or maintains that, in his partially redeemed state, he would be the lesser and therefore better evil? The possibilities boggle the mind.

I was intrigued by Metatron's choice of quote, when he challenged Naomi and then dismissed her as not much of a reader. More than Metatron's decision or Naomi's situation in Heaven, it spoke to me of being in fandom, but to explain that, I need to provide more of the source than the single sentence Metatron quoted.

The line in question – Of the blessings set before you make your choice, and be content – is part of a longer speech from a character in The History of Rasselas, a fable about searching for happiness, by Samuel Johnson.

"Every hour," answered the Princess, "confirms my prejudice in favour of the position so often uttered by the mouth of Imlac, that 'Nature sets her gifts on the right hand and on the left.' Those conditions which flatter hope and attract desire are so constituted that as we approach one we recede from another. There are goods so opposed that we cannot seize both, but by too much prudence may pass between them at too great a distance to reach either. This is often the fate of long consideration; he does nothing who endeavours to do more than is allowed to humanity. Flatter not yourself with contrarieties of pleasure. Of the blessings set before you make your choice, and be content. No man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers of the spring; no man can at the same time fill his cup from the source and from the mouth of the Nile."

Basically, the Princess's message was, we can't have it all; we need to choose our joys. If we try to seize everything, we may miss it all; if we debate too long which choice to make, we may accomplish nothing and even lose the opportunity to be happy. To have one good thing, we may need to give up another – rather like the Winchesters having to choose between closing the gates of Hell or having Sam remain alive.

And here's my point. You've doubtless noticed my joy in this episode was not unalloyed. I have issues with the metaphysics of falling angels and with the idea of curing a demon by making it artificially feel remorse though injections of human blood. I've had criticisms of other episodes in this season, and throughout the run of the series.

But you know something? My delight in this show goes beyond my criticisms of the specific details that didn't work for me in a story or a season. I'm not concerned with having everything the way I want it to be. What makes me happy is having Supernatural itself: the story of two brothers who love each other and build a family of much more than blood, for whom saving people is the family business. What makes me happy is the passion and love of all the people behind the show who consistently make it more than an hour of entertainment; the quality it has that makes me think and write about it for long hours after an episode – or a season – has come to an end. What makes me happy are all the people I share my passion with, and the way they give it back to me.

Those are the blessings set before me, and with them, I'm content.

But really impatient for season nine.

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