I’ve been thinking lately about a reoccurring motif that we’ve seen this season - Dean praying to Cas, and Cas failing to answer his prayers.
In the past, Cas has always shown up when Dean calls for him. In fact, it became Cas’s catchphrase - I always come when you call. Even when Cas refuses to answer Sam’s prayers after returning from hell, he shows up at Dean’s request. And even when Dean and Cas’s relationship was at its most strained in season six, Cas still answered Dean’s prayers.
How many times this season have we seen Cas vanishing over the sound of Dean’s pained voice calling his name? Cas vanishes the moment he and Dean land in purgatory, and Dean calls his name. Cas disappears at purgatory’s portal, and Dean calls his name. Cas disappears with Samandriel’s body, and Dean calls his name, saying Cas, wait. Cas vanishes immediately after interrogating the demon in “Goodbye Stranger,” and Dean calls his name, and he calls for Cas again when Cas vanishes with the angel tablet in hand.
We’ve seen Cas’s disappearing act before, back in season six. He stayed away from Dean the entire year he spend at Lisa’s, and when he returned in “The Thin Man,” he was distant and reserved, and he continued to act this way throughout season six. How many times in season six did Cas vanish to the sound of Dean saying his name?
And we see at the beginning of season eight that Cas has stopped answering Dean’s prayers.
We see it in “What’s Up, Tiger Mommy,” when Dean finds Cas in purgatory and finds out that his prayers haven’t gone unheard.
I prayed to you, Cas, every night, Dean says in a tone of disbelief, and Cas’s eyes drop down as he looks away. I know, Cas answers, and Dean explodes.
What the hell’s wrong with you? Dean demands.
In “Hunteri Heroici,” Cas informs Dean that he’s no longer in communication with heaven, that he’s turned off the angel radio. And after Samandriel’s recovery and subsequent death in “Torn and Frayed,” Cas vanishes, and from that moment until Castiel reappears in “Goodbye Stranger,” Dean has no idea what’s happened to him.
No word from Cas, Dean says in “LARP and the Real Girl.”
Anything from Cas? Dean asks Sam in “Everybody Hates Hitler.” Not a peep, Sam responds. Why? You? Dean says, No, he’s, uh – he’s not answering.
Where the hell are you, man? Dean asks, praying in earnest at the end of “Remember the Titans.”
And when Dean finally sees Cas again in “Goodbye Stranger,” he’s visibly upset at Cas’s radio silence. You heard me, didn’t you? Dean demands when Cas reappears.
Yes, I heard you, Cas answers. But that’s not why I’m here.
It’s a situation that’s reminiscent of “The Thin Man” - Dean prays to Cas, but Cas shows up with his own agenda rather than in answer to Dean’s prayers.
But the real question is this: why isn’t Cas answering Dean’s prayers? Because we’ve seen Cas answer the prayers of a young mother with a sick baby - he can obviously hear prayers. (I think probably prayers are a different channel, so to speak, than the angel chatter.)
The thing is, Cas has shut down all his lines of communication. He’s not in communication with his family in heaven, he’s not listening to the other angels. He’s not in communication with Dean, nor Sam, his family on earth.
Cas has shut himself off completely from everyone he knows and loves. In “Torn and Frayed” and “Goodbye Stranger,” Cas only communicates with strangers - the unnamed humans whose prayers he’s been answering, and with Naomi, an angel he’s obviously unfamiliar with, an angel Castiel’s never heard of before, even surrounding himself with a group of strangers on the bus.
And what I see here is a really big indication of Cas’s mental health.
Because shutting yourself off like that - that’s depression. Depression is locking yourself in a room just to get away with your family. Depression is never answering the phone when your friends call. Depression is seeing emails pile up in your inbox and shutting your computer down because you don’t want to read them.
Why does Cas abandon Dean in purgatory? Why does Cas chose to stay in purgatory? Why doesn’t Cas answer or acknowledge Dean’s prayers? Why does Cas keep vanishing?
Because it’s hard for Cas to be around Dean. Just as hard as it would be for Cas to return to heaven - maybe harder. Because it’s painful, because it hurts to be around Dean, because Dean’s a reminder of everything awful thing Cas has done.
Being around Dean is a source of guilt for Cas, not only because of what Cas has done to Dean himself (and that’s an awful lot - Sam’s wall, the leviathans, purgatory) but also because Cas probably feels that he has personally failed Dean in so many ways - failed to help Dean or give him what he needs.
And every prayer Dean sends Cas’s way is something else to feel guilty about. Dean asks for him, Dean needs him - and Cas can’t come through. Cas isn’t able to give Dean support or be there for Dean when he calls.
And Cas knows how badly his absence hurts Dean - and yet he can’t stop hurting Dean, over and over, and Cas’s physical violence against Dean in the crypt is just a visual reminder of all the ways in which Cas has hurt Dean.
It’s no accident, I think, that we see Naomi as though she’s inside Cas’s head, the way his mind flickers between reality and Naomi’s office. Because Naomi is in Cas’s head - she’s a physical manifestation of Cas’s depression.
Naomi lists for Castiel all his crimes, lists for him everything he’s done to feel guilty for. Naomi punishes Castiel endlessly by forcing him to kill Dean, over and over again, in the same way depression can send you in a spiral of vicious thoughts, a pattern you’re unable to break free of.
Depression leaves you cold. Depression numbs you, leaves you completely drained of emotions, and we see this in the emotionless way Cas destroys a thousand false Deans, the cold, calculating way Castiel hurts the real Dean. And depression leaves you unable to look ahead, to even conceive of having a future or making plans. Cas has been aimless since his return in “The Born-Again Identity,” aimless when angels are meant to have a mission.
But Cas picks up the tablet. And he hears Dean tell him, one more time, that Dean needs him. And his connection to Naomi, this metaphor for his depression, is shattered.
And now Cas has broken out of Naomi’s grip. Cas has regained feeling - the walls of Naomi’s office change from stark white to pinks and reds and purples - Cas has emotions again. Now Cas is on a bus, with a mission of his own once again. I don’t think Cas broken free from depression - I think Cas’s depression and guilt and self-worth is something he’ll always struggle with - but I do think that this alteration in this pattern might be a sign of change.
You know what I want for Cas? I’d like a scene similar to one Dean has in “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” I want Cas to recover some sense of self-worth. I want Cas to say, to Naomi and to himself, that he doesn’t deserve to be manipulated. That he doesn’t deserve to have his agency and free will taken from him.
I want to see Cas break free from this cycle of pain and punishment.