Spoilers ahead, obviously. I'm sorry, but this is a LONG read. Hope you get thru it ok.
The State of the Game -- Your Move, Carver.
meta on 8x10 "Torn and Frayed"
1) The Tablet Storyline. So everybody knew there was gonna be an angel tablet. And if you didn't, then you need to brush up on your Literary Parallels 101.
The question for me has ceased to be "what tablets exist" and "what can they do" but is now "who in the hell made them, and what on earth for!?" That's the mystery I'm waiting to uncover.
Seriously, didn't God basically bet the farm on the angels or demons taking over the earth after the apocalypse? Having neither of them in charge at this point was not part of the plan. So why were the tablets a) made, containing such damaging information; b) buried ON EARTH, or all celestial places; and c) encrypted, but with their encryption entrusted TO A HUMAN? Unless Le Power That Be was in fact expecting for the humans to show up the celestial/infernal beings, or, in case that didn't work out, be able to discover a failsafe to lock 'em away again. If the history behind the burying of the tablets isn't explored before the end of the season, it will be really and truly a letdown, and the tablets will become nothing more than the MacGuffin they appear to be right now.
For me the genius of Season 4 was that we spent the whole season thinking we were stopping Lucifer's rising, to discover at the very end that it was always meant to happen. If a similar mindfuck doesn't come out of this season, I will be disappoint. And I am truly hoping the genesis of the tablets, and the Story Behind the Story, has something to do with Crowley.
So, Carver.... your move.
Carver's Chance at Epic Win: Revealing that Crowley knows Enochian was a good step. Heightens the mystery as to what or who he truly is.
Carver's Chance at Epic Fail: Having Crowley truly surprised that an Angel Tablet exists. Come on. Crowley knowing more than he's letting on is the whole fun of the character. Whether or not he's really God/Metatron/Angel #583920/Whatever.
2) Angels. Anyone here ever see El Hazard? Old anime OAV, great story, involving a creature so terrible that it must never, ever be unlocked.. until, of course, a foolhardy villain unlocks it. And "it" turns out to be Ifurita, an ancient goddess of destruction, who can level entire cities with a single blast but has her free will locked away in a power key that the villain wields. We see glimpses of her free will as she moves through the world of El Hazard, see her struggling with her obvious sorrow as she lays waste to things she would love if she knew how. And once the villain's hold over her is shattered, she can once more make her own choices. She was a truly beautiful character.
And then in the second OAV, a hastily thrown together sequel, it was revealed that Ifurita was not a goddess but one of a mass-produced line of humanoid weapons. She was just one of the Ifuritas. My disappoint knew no bounds. Angels used to be so terrifying they scared demons. Do you remember the waitress in Lazarus Rising? Blinded, and wailing that they were all going to die?
Now you're going to tell me that they have an operating system, and if you just drive a screwdriver into their vessels' brains, we can unlock their deepest secrets? Spare me! Again, unless this is going somewhere deeper than "we needed a way to get this information to Crowley," it resorts to nothing more than a cheapening of the whole archetype. Carver, your move.
Carver's Chance at Epic Win: The suggestion, however understated, that something is controlling the angels, including Naomi. I only got that sense for a moment, but if it exists, it plays into the "much larger force is operating here" that would also deepen the Tablet storyline.
Carver's Chance at Epic Fail: Screwdriving angels becomes a favorite method of torture, and demons no longer fear them at all. (Not to mention how stupid I think Enochian sounds, but that's a personal pet peeve.)
3) Castiel. Oh, Carver, my darling darling love in whom I placed my faith. You do realize this is exactly where I didn't want this story line to go, right? Every time this show has the chance to go somewhere truly interesting with Castiel as a character, making his own choices and living with them, it takes away his agency. The whole point of the character in Season 4 was that he discovered his free will. Ever since, it's been a step backward.
Season 5? Oh my god the consequences of his free will are that he's slowly becoming huma... oh, wait, bam, he's been re-angeled again.
Season 6-7? Oh my god he's trying to save worlds and has taken a risky choice that has possibly led him to become a villai... oh, wait, bam, he's just being affected by Purgatory souls, and LOL he's dissolved by Leviathan anyway.
Season 8? Oh my god he's trying so hard to atone for sins (which weren't his own sins anyway considering how the Purgatory souls' influence took away his free agency) and suicidal and truly looking into how he can continue living as a part of this worl... oh wait, bam, Naomi's controlling him and he's reduced to cowering in a corner.
Screw this. We didn't even see him struggle with the order to kill Samandriel. He looked scared in the chair with Naomi leaning over him, but when it came time to act, there was no hesitation. There was no Castiel Fighting Against His Programming. Not only does this cheapen Castiel, it further cheapens the angels as a whole (see point #2 above) and makes them robots that have no humanity or genuine moral fiber to them. If Castiel, the one angel who gained a heart, a brain, AND the nerve from the Wizard of Free Will, can't even struggle against a simple brain-screwdrivering, what hope is there for the rest of them? And if these are angels, how screwed are we as humans?
C'mon, Carver. Your move.
Carver's Chance at Epic Win: Have Castiel start to struggle on his own and break free of Naomi's conditioning well before she's aware he has. When it comes to the crisis moment, have him turn around and say, "Actually, no. And by the way, here are 15 other angels I've freed from your screwdrivery. Adios."
Carver's Chance at Epic Fail: Take us to the obvious climax where Castiel is ordered to kill Sam and Dean, and have him break his conditioning then. Make it about Sam and Dean being special, not about Castiel being strong and heroic as a character. Show us once again how Castiel doesn't have his own story, his own moral choices, his own free agency. If Carver takes us to this obvious a place, I will be really and truly disappointed.
4) Sam and Dean. So we have had our Separation Episode and our Boys Getting Back Together at the End. It was inevitable. But one thing was different this time, and I want to know if anyone else noticed.
It was the music.
As Sam and Dean sat down with beer and beans (or whatever that was) to watch the fight, a cello was drawing a low, mournful note across the background of the scene. It was a reunion as though someone had died. And it was probably the most effective gut-punch of the whole episode, because this time, I felt, Carver was telling us the damn truth.
The boys were together, and they'd chosen to be together, but this was a goddamn funeral.
Sam had given up his chance to be with Amelia. Dean had cut Benny off. The two of them aren't sure where Castiel's loyalties lie, to the extent that they need to have a "safe place" to talk about him. And it's not just them. Kevin's cut his mom off, too. And they're all where they have to be to get this done, but they're all damned aware that to do so they are hurting people, they are hurting themselves, and they are all, like the prophet, in the desert in order to do their work.
This wasn't "A Very Supernatural Christmas." This wasn't them clinging to each other in the absence of anyone else who truly understood them. This time, Dean and Sam had alternatives. They sacrificed them. And it felt like crap.
Gamble did this too, in Season 7. She cut off the guys, made them distrust each other, then pulled them back together, ostensibly to prove that it was Sam and Dean against the world. But when Sam and Dean were back on the job together, we were supposed to cheer. This was the way things ought to be. And somehow it was just stagnant and bleak and boring instead.
I saw this last scene as an extended "fuck you" to Gamble's storytelling. Hey. THIS is what really happens when people have to choose between the people who matter to them. THIS is what happens when you kill off your ensemble cast.
I just wish the storytelling's middle finger made me feel any better about seeing them like this.
Carver, your move, buddy.
Carver's Chance at Epic Win: Make this the low point of the story. Have them figure out, little by little (maybe through the whole saving-Cas thing) that yeah, they've changed, and their balance needs to change. Make them find their way together organically again, if it's still possible. (If demons and angels are locked away, will they become the new sheriffs in town? Maybe that's a job they'd undertake with more relish.) Have Sam get over Amelia. Little by little. Let them meet some savvy hunters to have affairs with. It's not like tough women don't exist in the job, even if Kripke managed to kill a lot of 'em off. Figure out how we go from dysfunctional, codependent brotherly love to epic brotherly love again. Show us that you don't need one to have the other.
Carver's Chance at Epic Fail: Have this be the last we talk about it. They dive right back into hunting, newly united and motivated by something we can't see or feel. Tell us this is how it's supposed to be. Let Amelia and Benny join the ranks of Lisa and Ben in the "people we once cared deeply about but will never mention/think of again" dustbin of history. So when their names do come up, it feels cheap. And make us pray that somehow we'll grow to love the boys together as much as we used to, and it won't keep feeling so damn wrong.
(Side note about Benny. As an alkie trying desperately to stay on the wagon, having lost his only friend, he's uniquely sympathetic. Am I the only one who would relish seeing the Alpha Vamp take a special interest in him? Teach him to accept himself, keep him from having to drain live humans but still groom him as a war in next season's Vampires vs. Humans war, after heaven and hell are closed down? God, what a deliciously complicated story that could be. I am hoping there are plans for him in the future, even if they're ebil!Benny plans. Because our poor Friend of Bill has just lost his sponsor.
Ooh. Maybe he could hook up with Cas again.)