We all know that we often tend to have people in our lives who, for good or bad, push certain buttons. We seek out people, get into relationships, that are often echoes (or sometimes exact copies or mirrors) of earlier relationships.
In many ways, Castiel embodies aspects of Dean’s two primary and formative relationships: John and Sam.
In the first instance (mainly in Season 4), Castiel fits into that ‘John’ shaped template in Dean’s psyche. He’s a powerful authority figure who rescues Dean and Dean responds with loyalty and trust. Unlike with John though, who Dean strove to please but felt he never could, with Castiel (at first anyway)he is valued simply because of who he is. More than that, he knows Dean’s flaws and weaknesses and still accepts and values him.
Of course , perhaps like John, Cas also is able to exploit that dynamic when it suits him, as we see when he asks Dean to torture Alistair in On The Head Of A Pin. It’s Dean’s strong loyalty to him, that means he doesn’t just tell Cas to fuck off after their confrontation over the angels’ attempt to kill Anna in Heaven and Hell, or when Cas manipulates Dean and Sam in Death Takes a Holiday.
In contrast though to the relationship with his father, Dean does question and challenge Cas right from the beginning. There are many factors in this, but I think part of it is that in a securely attached relationship, we more likely feel the ability to do this, without fearing it will lead to rejection.
And if your interpretation of Dean and Cas leans that way, I do think there’s a strong eroticised Daddy dynamic that these similarities between Cas and John taps into.
In Season 5, as Castiel is cut off from heaven and he becomes almost human – this Cas pushes Dean’s “big brother” buttons. Cas is a child in human form struggling to learn the way humans relate. Dean gets to show him the ropes, to take over the leadership role. He shows them the ropes hunting, takes him out for his first drink, and his first root. We know how strong the “look after your brother” message was imprinted on Dean – and particularly given the estrangement between Sam and Dean through S4 and S5, the pull towards Cas would’ve been strong. (Not that I’m suggesting Cas is in anyway a Sam substitute, the Cas and Dean relationship is far different than that, stands on its own merits, and as well nothing can replace Sam.)
There’s of course a parallel I think for Cas as younger brother, as he loses faith in Dean at the end of S5, finding out the person he’s admired so much is failing his expectations.
The parallels between Sam’s S4 arc and Castiel’s S6 arc are obvious. Both undertake courses of actions to do what they perceive as good, while well aware of the dodgy motives beneath the surface. To some extent both Sam and Cas are trying to define who they are, and to do it outside of their relationship with Dean. Both I think want to show Dean what they can do on their own terms, but also want to prove themselves worthy of the love and trust he has in them.
The irony of course Dean would say that they have nothing to prove to him, that he’ll love them anyway. What’s most important to Dean is to feel part of their lives, to feel needed, and that’s where both Sam and Cas went wrong.
So where now for Dean and Cas? While there is no doubt Dean feels deeply betrayed and rejected by Cas right now, we also know he has the capacity to forgive. And we have seen before how Cas is willing to lay everything on the line for Dean.
My hope is that following this week’s revelation and confrontation, Cas' choices about what he risks losing will be clear. Castiel’s whole history has been based around service of and for others, and this has coalesced now around his love for Dean.
And that way lies his redemption.