Wow. If Ben Edlund's "The Man Who Would Be King" didn't prove to you that he's the most important member of the Supernatural team, I don't know what else he could possibly do. Should he take over as showrunner? Should he hold the camera and play all the parts at the same time? Maybe he could cook up the breakfast burritos at the catering truck for 5am calls? Edlund almost did all that more with Friday's episode, writing and directing the high point of the show's sixth season.
The season's questionable start is now well behind us (and let's face it, a tired topic). The last four episodes have been sequenced perfectly, but Friday's "The Man Who Would Be King" is by far the best of the bunch—and essential to understanding the events of "Mommy Dearest" and the series as a whole.
I saw flashes of the Lost classic "Ab Aeterno" in this episode, which opened the information floodgates and filled us in on the perspective of a character whose story was dying to be told (Richard Alpert's Lost episode was from a series-long perspective; Castiel's was only season-long, but nearly as effective). But "The Man Who Would Be King" revealed more than what has been kept from us all season, it contained grave consequences for the future.
I don't think any of us really thought that angel and Winchester buddy Castiel had gone completely to the dark side; every time we saw Castiel dodging questions he looked guilty, not sinister. And while his measures may be extreme, his heart is in the right place—he's trying to save the world. This comes at the cost of shaking hands with the King of Hell, the deliciously despicable demon Crowley (seriously, if you don't love Crowley, you simply don't appreciate the great work Mark Sheppard is doing with the role or the fantastic job the writers did in creating the character), because Castiel's options are extremely limited. The other angels don't share Cas' belief in the idea of "free will"—Archangel Raphael is heaven-bent on reigniting the Apocalypse because that's in the script and that's the only option. So I excuse Cas for working with Crowley, who told him that if they work together, they can stop Raphael by cracking open Purgatory and blasting their enemy with a nuke made out of monster souls. Welcome to civil war in Heaven.
The formation of Castiel & Crowley LLC obviously didn't fly with the Winchesters, and the emotional boulder shouldered by Castiel as a result of being less than truthful to Sam and Dean was the driving theme of "The Man Who Would Be King." He was an angel doing what he felt was right, even if that meant doing some things wrong. He let his friends down even though he saved their lives. He wrestled with the fear of making the wrong choices even though dire circumstances left him no other real option. This was the most human we've seen Castiel; even more so than when he was actually human in Season 5's "The End," where he smoked weed and hosted orgies.
But again, the real hero here was Edlund. His words, his shots, his pacing, his decision to flashback to the Season 5 finale... it all came together so well. When the episode felt like it was halfway over, only 15 minutes had passed. It was incredible storytelling that was more than just about dropping shocking revelations or sprinkling in action scenes. There was no looking away, not for a second.
Supernatural is off next week to make way for a two-hour Smallville series finale, and returning in two weeks for its own two-hour finale. What's in store? Dude, I have no idea. But I do expect Sam's mental drywall—as the mention of it at the end seemed to hint—to break down a bit and cause some problems.
Question of the day: Do you think we'll see God in the finale?
... Bobby's demon counterpart was great! I only wish he stuck he around a bit longer.
... Holy Perfect Strangers reference! Comparing Castiel to Balki was ten types of ridiculous, in a good way.
... Ken Lay, former founder of Enron, getting into Heaven shows just how much upstairs is messed up. If that doesn't convince you to take Castiel's side, I don't know what will.
... How about Crowley's creepy underground medical station, where he was examining Eve's corpse? That's the kind of stuff Edlund dreams of.
... The new Hell? Waiting in line. Very nice.
... For the forever Tuesday afternoon Heaven of an autistic man seems like a pretty amazing place to spend eternity. Great choice, Castiel.
... I loved Castiel saying "It's Not Broken!" in reply to Dean insisting his plan needed to be fixedso much so that I had to make the response the headline this article.
Follow/heckle TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom