"Being human didn’t just change my view of food. It changed my view of you. I can relate now to how you feel (...) And now, I know what that guilt feels like. And I know what it means to feel sorry, Sam". - Castiel (9.11 First Born)
Castiel became human(ish) when Metatron stole his grace in Sacrifice, the Season 8 big finale. Since then, Castiel has been powerless and mortal for 9 episodes. In Supernatural timeline, a few months. The episodes in which we’ve seen Castiel being human are the following: I think I’m gonna like it here (9.01), I’m no angel (9.03), Heaven can’t wait (9.06) and Holy Terror (9.09). (I decided to exclude the final seconds of Sacrifice because they didn’t really tell us anything on this matter).
Castiel’s time as a human has been short, but the question is: has it been short-lived? Here are some of the things that human!Castiel has experienced:
- Human kindness (9.01, 9.03 (until April turned out to be a reaper))
- Being in a car crash (9.01)
- Being thirsty (9.01)
- Abandoning his trenchcoat and stealing clothes from a laundromat (9.01)
- Feeling alone and lost (9.01, 9.03)
- Being homeless (9.01, 9.03, 9.06, 9.09)
- Being hungry (9.03)
- Having sex (9.03)
- Being tortured (9.03, 9.09)
- Dying (9.03)
- Being kicked out of home by his friends/family (9.03)
- Getting a job (9.06)
- Being mad and feeling like a jilted lover (according to a note by Carver) (9.06)
- Getting a date (9.06)
- Feeling hearbroken and babysitting (9.06)
- Killing (9.06)
- Hunting (9.09)
- Getting drunk (9.09)
And of course we have to add all the things that happened off-screen or that are just left to the imagination. A lot of things happened to Cas while he was human, both good and bad. Things that can be considered “good” such “experiencing human kindness”, “getting a job” or “getting a date” are things that can happen to all humans. “Bad” things that happened to him such as “feeling alone and lost”, “being tortured”, “dying” or “killing” are things that don’t happen to all human beings. The reason they happened to Castiel is not because he misbehaved as a human or had bad luck but because of his previous experience as an angel. The fallen angels were looking for revenge. And here I’m also counting the things that are supposed to be “good” but ended up being “bad” for the same reason (eg: having sex with April).
When Castiel talks to Hael, he says that he sees humanity as “an opportunity to finally do what you would like to do, not what you’ve been told”. So Castiel sees his angelic side as duty and doing what you’ve been told, and humanity as honesty and free will. What he used to associate with Sam and Dean is what he knows associates with his “new opportunity”, humanity. Even though we all expected Cas to be completely devastated by what he had done (and he was), it was a nice surprise to see that he saw his new situation with a positive light.
However, Castiel struggles with humanity. He doesn’t have a home, he doesn’t have any friends (Dean has kicked him out), his family is chasing him and it seems like he can’t find the way out no matter how hard he tries. The only time he finds someone who really cares about his situation and is kind enough to take him home (April), that person ends up being a reaper who tortures him in the morning after.
But Castiel doesn’t give up and he keeps trying to survive, day after day. He actually gets a job at a gas station and sleeps in the supply closet. And he’s good at his job, he is “responsible” according to his boss. He tries to fit in by drinking coffee like others or getting dates, cause “that’s what humans do, right?”. But again, it doesn’t go like expected when he ends up babysitting and later being attacked by Ephraim.
“I won’t be much use, I don’t have my powers”, Castiel says. “So? I’ve never had powers”, Dean replies. That was a slap in the face to everyone who ever said Dean only needed Castiel for his powers. Yes, Dean had been selfish and mean to Cas when he had laughed at his attempt at getting a job after having kicked him out. But Dean was later able to see that things were actually working out well for him. The next day, he tells him he’s proud of him. “Me and Sam, we’ll deal with the angels. You’re human now, it’s not your problem anymore". But this hunt has had a different effect on Castiel, who doesn’t see it that way anymore. The angels are their family, after all. And he wants to help his fallen brothers and sisters in any way he can.
Which brings us to Holy Terror. Sam and Dean find Castiel in a hunt. “If angels are slaughtering one another, I have to do what I can to help", he says. The angels (led by Malachi) end up holding him captive and torturing him to find out more about Metatron’s spell and his plan. Thankfully, Cas (who was an excellent strategist back when he was in his old garrison) fools the angel who was keeping him captive and steals his grace. This event puts an end to human!Castiel. At least for now.
Re-taking the part in which I talked about the good things (regular human stuff) and the bad things (angel-related stuff) that happened to Cas, it could be said that humanity is something that Cas might prefer.
Dean: You’re back? You’ve got your mojo?
Castiel: I’m not sure, but I am angel.
Dean: And you’re OK with that?
Castiel: If there’s going to be a war, I need to be ready.
He doesn’t answer if he’s OK with that. He doesn't give his opinion on the matter. He just says that, right now, under these circumstances, having his powers back is an advantage.
So here’s the question: why make Castiel human only to have him angel up again after a few episodes? Are the writers nuts?! No. Because now Cas has something to compare his experiences to. Sure, they could have handled it better but now we know that Cas isn’t the same anymore. This is an angel who now knows what feelings and emotions are, who has known the worst of humanity and still believes in it and who knows how fragile humans lives are: "when I was human I died, and that showed me that life was precious and should be protected at all costs".
Castiel tells us that he prefers peanut better and jelly to jam. He is able to say this because now he knows how those things taste like. This means that, from now on, Castiel is gonna be able to compare not only his experiences but his actual feelings and thoughts on things and situations from two different perspectives: the human one, and the angelic one.
Going back to the quote that inspired this post, “being human didn’t just change my view of food. It changed my view of you. I can relate now to how you feel”. Castiel has earned one of the abilities he lacked: empathy. He can know observe other people and relate to how they are feeling because he’s felt those things too.
Castiel said himself that he feels he has changed. He finds himself now in a position in which he can look at things in a different way and offer a more helpful view at Sam and Dean (who seem to be so lost these days). Yes, Castiel might still be socially awkward, but he's not clueless anymore. He knows who he is and what he wants.