“I’m No Angel” is as much about Castiel as it is about Sam and Dean. Castiel continues to adapt to being human. He must urinate, eat, locate shelter from the elements, protect himself and rest. When he is injured, he bleeds. And when he is stabbed in the chest, he dies.
Castiel has taken what he believes is an innocuous name, Clarence. Meg gave him that name in Season 6 and while Castiel still isn’t aware of its significance, she certainly was. It was the name of a guardian angel from a 1947 movie called “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The angel Clarence was sent from heaven to help the main character, George Bailey. George didn’t see his value or purpose in life. On Christmas Eve he contemplated committing suicide. Clarence showed George a world where he didn’t exist. This enabled George to see the positive effects he had no only on those he loved, but also in the community in which he lived.
Castiel has admittedly made countless mistakes since he was sent to Earth to assist Dean during Season 4. He has betrayed Sam and Dean, perpetuated a Civil War in Heaven, aligned himself with Crowley, and was the reason the Levithans ended up on Earth. He is, many fallen angels believe, the reason why they fell to Earth. Castiel often made the wrong decisions for what he believed were the right reasons. When he became aware of the consequences regarding his bad choices, he showed remorse. Remorse motivates individuals not only to see what they’ve done wrong, but to understand they need to change or rectify a wrong-doing. Castiel’s remorse differentiates him from the other angels on Supernatural. It demonstrates he is capable of change. Even before he became human, Castiel learned from Sam and Dean as well as from his own earthly experiences. These changes helped him become humane.
In Season 8’s “The Great Escapist,” Naomi chided a captured Castiel. She told him, “You have never done what you were told not completely. … Honestly, I think you came out of the line with a crack in your chassis.” What she meant was, despite repeated brain washings, she could not erase what made Castiel unique. She could erase his memory, but she could not erase his capacity for empathy. Castiel shows his empathy in “I’m No Angel.” He works in the homeless shelter and later seeks refuge with those homeless people living under the bridge. He notes that those with the least seem to be the most generous. He spends the night with April because of his empathy, curiosity and naiveté. His humanity and innocence make him vulnerable. That vulnerability is tested not only with strangers but with his relationship with Dean.
One of Dean’s major strengths is that he is all too human. He too, makes unethical decisions based on his beliefs. Dean will do anything to keep Sam and those he considers family, like Castiel and Kevin, alive. To that end, he goes against his beliefs. He asks a reluctant Ezekiel who is possessing Sam to help him locate Castiel. Once Sam and Dean confront the rogue reaper April who captured Castiel and killed him, Dean asks Ezekiel to resurrect Castiel. Neither an unconscious Sam nor a temporarily dead Castiel know the truth about the agreement.
Castiel knows he died. When he questions Dean, Dean makes up a story about making an agreement with April and reneging on it. “You lied,” the naive Castiel says.
“Yes,” Dean agrees. “I do that.” While Dean sounds flippant, his expression shows he is upset at breaking his ethical beliefs about lying to family. Dean is treading in dangerous ethical territory. Both Sam and Castiel will certainly be angry when they learn Dean has used them and repeatedly lied. Clearly, Dean is uncomfortable lying to both. By episode’s end, Dean must again lie to Castiel. Ezekiel has said he will leave if Castiel stays in the bunker. Dean sees no other choice but to ask Castiel, whose life he just saved, to leave.
“I’m No Angel” explores the ethical choices we humans must make when we are confronted with helping those we love. Clearly Castiel presents the obstacles that a former angel, now human, must handle. Not only must he adjust to physical rigors of being human, but he must understand how to maneuver in a world filled with people who are not what they seem. He presents a contrast to Bartholomew, Naomi’s lieutenant, who exhibits behaviors typical of angels in Supernatural. They are distant, unemotional and task oriented, despite the human body count. Thus when a young woman explodes because her body is unable to contain an angel, Bartholomew shows no empathy. Instead he says, “I’ll never understand these people.”
While Bartholomew and many of the other fallen angels don’t care to understand people, Castiel has always had a special affinity for the Winchesters and for human beings. Castiel will continue to enhance what his celestial “brothers and sisters” don’t want to understand- what it truly means to be a human being.