‘Supernatural’ Review: “Stairway to Heaven”
‘Supernatural’ season 9 summons its 22nd and penultimate episode of the year in “Stairway to Heaven,” as a rash of angelic bombings leads Dean to lose his grip in the investigation, while Sam and Castiel discover the truth of Metatron's (Curtis Armstrong's) plans.
Previous ‘Supernatural’ installment “King of the Damned” saw Abaddon pressing Crowley to lure the Winchesters toward a trap, while Castiel attempted to recruit Gadreel (Tahmoh Penikett) away from Metatron. So, what does the 22nd season 9 episode bring? What strange and unexpected challenges will the Winchesters face next?
Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Supernatural’ season 9 episode 22, penultimate installment “Stairway to Heaven”!
In a Missouri ice cream parlor, a woman notices a young girl eating a large amount all by herself, just before the girl identifies herself as an angel and notices a mysterious man walking in. The man too reveals himself as an angel, drawing a blade before the establishment erupts in a white light. Back at the Men of Letters base, Dean awakens Sam with a call from Castiel about the incident, though Sam asks Dean to leave the First Blade behind and only bring it along for the major battles, to which he reluctantly agrees.
At the scene, Castiel notes to the brothers that the angel smiting curiously took out several humans in addition to the angel, what appears to be a bombing of sorts. Elsewhere, Gadreel warns Metatron that Castiel’s following has grown much larger than they expected, outnumbering even their own. Metatron admits that he failed to take into account Castiel’s apparent charm eclipsing his own, as Gadreel implores Metatron he’ll need to win over the angel Tyrus to keep their numbers even. Back at Castiel’s angel command center, the workers discover a video showing the angel entering the ice cream parlor and detonating a sigil on his own chest and invoking Castiel’s name in the process. Concerned by Castiel’s culpability, Dean sends Sam and Cas to track down Josiah, one of the angels missing from role call that morning, while he interrogates the other angels at the center.
Out on the road, both Castiel and Sam observe the aggressive changes inherent to Dean’s Mark of Cain, while Sam admits that Castiel’s followers have an unusual devotion to him, even if it doesn’t necessarily implicate him as to using suicide bombers. Elsewhere, Metatron attempts to lure a bowling Tyrus to bringing his faction over, though Tyrus admits that he likes it on Earth and considers Metatron a particularly pathetic angel all the same, but will happily play him for allegiance. Back at the base, Dean violently threatens one of the angels into revealing that the bomber Oren had two friends, Constantine and Tessa, the latter of whom Dean has met before.
Following Josiah’s trail to a mysterious warehouse radiating with power, Sam and Castiel find themselves unable to pass through a simple wooden door to enter. Meanwhile, Dean confronts Tessa on her way into a musical theater performance, having followed her when she didn’t show up for a shift at the hospital she’d been working. Finding one of the sigils carved underneath her shirt to detonate, Dean takes Tessa into custody, while the angel Constantine confronts Metatron, Gadreel and Tyrus at the bowling alley, detonating himself in the name of Castiel.
Castiel finds the “7 Ate 9” riddle inscribed in Enochian above the door, the answer of which allows them inside, something Castiel identifies as a ‘Lord of the Rings’ reference. As they enter, Dean calls to reveal that he’d brought Tessa to the command center, just as the other angels all express their worry about Dean’s continually violent behavior. Castiel’s lieutenant Hannah refuses to allow Dean to interrogate Tessa while carrying an angel blade, as all the other angels stand together in solidarity for Castiel’s leadership, leading Dean to reluctantly hand over the weapon.
Sam and Castiel find a second trap within the warehouse, this one an exact recreation of the “Penitent Man” trial from ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ and one they both survive with increased curiosity. Finding a door bathed with light, Castiel enters looking for the portal to heaven, but finds only a party room welcoming him to his own “personal” heaven with a badly burned Josiah in the corner. Sam sees that Josiah was doused with holy oil and lit aflame by another trap, as Josiah jerks to life and admits that he lost faith in Castiel and also sought the portal. Meanwhile, Tessa insists to Dean and Hannah that it was Castiel who bid them commit the bombings, though neither believe her. After Hannah leaves, Dean questions what would make Tessa want to commit suicide, to which she reveals her despair over all the lost and confused souls unable to enter Heaven. Dean produces the First Blade, threatening Tessa into revealing her other co-conspirators, but Tessa throws herself on the blade and dies.
Castiel and Sam return to the command center to find Dean bound and gagged by the other angels, as Dean insists he didn’t intentionally kill Tessa. The argument is soon interrupted by a call from Metatron, who admonishes Castiel in front of the whole garrison that his bombing only succeeded in killing Tyrus and wounding Gadreel. Castiel insists he had nothing to do with it, but Metatron asserts that enough is enough, offering any angels who defect the opportunity to return to Heaven with him. Metatron accuses Castiel of misleading the other angels for his own ends, having stolen another angel’s grace to return his powers, which themselves will soon fade away. The other angels bristle at the revelation, as Hannah demands Castiel show his devotion to the cause by punishing Dean for his actions, though Castiel finds himself unable to go through with it.
Metatron beams that the angels have begun to defect to their side, while Gadreel remains indignant at not having been told of the “elite unit's” purpose, to murder others in the name of Castiel as a smear campaign. Claiming the act to have “flipped the script,” Metatron observes that he now looks like the underdog, while Castiel’s true weakness of loving humanity has been exposed.
Sam, Dean and Castiel return to the Men of Letters base, Dean still uninterested in talking about his aggression or broken promises with Sam, and declaring himself to call the shots of their partnership until the conflict with Metatron is over. Castiel questions if Dean ever really believed Castiel could be responsible for the bombings, to which Dean points out that Castiel gave up his entire army over it, so no. Just then, Gadreel arrives looking to turn over Metatron, who has since gone over the edge with power and organized the bombings to frame Castiel. Dean reluctantly accepts the offer, shaking Gadreel’s hand before losing control and lunging at him with the First Blade, forcing Sam and Castiel to restrain him.
Apologies for our late delivery here, but with the ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ finale last night and all the Upfront chaos around, TV has been a bit abuzz. In any case, now that the “Bloodlines” are thoroughly behind us, the final episodes of ‘Supernatural’ season 9 have had a strong boon in refocusing on the main storylines, especially now that “Stairway to Heaven” managed to showcase a number of different sides to the characters we’ve been following, and even a few action sequences to “flip the script” as Metatron put it.
Metatron in particular has proven a tricky nut to crack, character-wise, as we’ve never been entirely clear on his ultimate goals and endgames beyond telling a good story, and his own apparent singular vision of how all the angels should reconcile their time spent on Earth. In that regard, it was interesting to see the character given a bit of humility here, as we saw that his efforts to prop Castiel up as a hero worked almost too successfully, while Curtis Armstrong put his “Nerd” history to work in the moments where we learn that the other angels see him as something of a weakling. Even then, the very presence of angels all around (including Tessa’s return, though it was a largely thankless role) very much helped sell the scope of the conflict, setting us up for a strong finish next week.
Elsewhere, Castiel and Sam proved a fun pairing that often gets undervalued against Dean and Castiel, while the former two had some cute moments in infiltrating the various nerd-trapped warehouses and bonding over their mutual concern for Dean. “Stairway to Heaven” even nicely drew on all the respective histories between the trio, as beneath Dean’s heightened aggression, there was a ring of truth to the suspicions that Castiel might have again gone too far with his angel army as to use suicide bombings, which themselves are a tricky subject for a CW series.
All in all, “Stairway to Heaven” was definitely a strong hour with an effective setup for the finale, and a number of interesting character shifts that will keep things moving right up until the end. It’s a shame, between “Bloodlines” and episodes like this that clearly save some of the stronger material, you have to maybe wonder if ‘Supernatural’ might be better off with 13 episodes a season, particularly as we head into the twilight years.
Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of scary ‘Supernatural’ action? What did you think about "Stairway to Heaven"? Give us your take in the comments, and join us again next Tuesday for an all-new recap of ‘Supernatural’ season 9 episode 23, season finale installment “Do You Believe in Miracles?” on The CW!