I watched last week’s Supernatural episode at a Supernatural convention in Jacksonville with my friend, YouTuber Alana King. That meant we recorded our reactions live for her video, much of which consisted of me making stunned faces and needing lots of tissues, which our helpful friend Christina kept tossing over from off camera. Alana and I were in shock half the time, so there are long stretches of us frozen with our jaws hanging open (which is not very attractive NGL), but when we did get animated, there was a lot to say. Now that the con is over and I’ve had time to do a rewatch, I’ve got some deeper thoughts and some praise for pretty much everyone who had a hand in crafting this episode – and that makes me one happy fangirl!
The episode begins with Jack’s three dads sitting at his bedside, doing just what Rowena said – watching over him as he dies. (Cue my first wobbly lower lip). Sam is right there next to him, so much sadness in his expressive eyes. Dean is across the room, struggling to hold it together, hands gripping the sides of the dresser telegraphing all the emotion he’s trying not to show. Cas stands watching over all of them, blue eyes troubled.
Dean: Don’t give me that meant to be crap.
Jack starts to cough, having trouble breathing, and Dean walks out, unable to watch someone he loves suffering. He’s angry, as he always is when life hands someone he cares about a raw deal. He punches the wall like he did when Bobby was dying, even as Jack asks Sam to tell Dean that it’s okay. The role reversal here at the end of Jack’s life is painful, Jack trying so hard to comfort the three men who are already grieving him.
Jack: Sam, what happens next, for someone like me?
I think I started to tear up at that point, and Sam looks the same.
Sam: He’s gone.
At that moment, Alana and I kinda lost our shit. He’s GONE??? Just like that??? I did not see that coming so quickly, only a few minutes literally into the episode. I still don’t know if I like it, but it certainly got an emotional reaction out of me! Interestingly, it was more shock than grief, which oddly mirrored the way humans react in real life. Alana and I stared at each other with our jaws hanging open for an alarmingly long time.
I also immediately worried for Dean, who must feel so guilty that Jack slipped away before he had a chance to come back. If you’ve ever been by a loved one’s bedside as they died, it’s stressful to leave for a cup of coffee or to make a phone call because you’re always afraid you won’t be there with them when they go, and that feels difficult somehow.
The camera goes close on Dean as he processes the information and struggles again with his emotions, and of course, Ackles shows us every complicated feeling. Ouch.
The three plan “next steps”, wake and a bonfire, a hunter’s funeral – because that’s what Jack would have wanted.
Cas: Your brother’s in pain.
Dean: Just let him be, he needs his space. We’re gonna give it to him.
He knows Sam, and understands the complexity of grieving, that back and forth and push and pull of needing solace from others and needing time to yourself. If anyone has experience with grieving, it is, unfortunately, the Winchesters.
Dean makes the difficult call to Mary, who I had forgotten doesn’t even know that Jack was sick! I can’t imagine Mary’s shock at getting the news that he got sick and oh, he’s already dead – ouch. It’s sort of a sad testament to how much Sam and Dean don’t depend on Mary as a mother that they didn’t reach out to her sooner. Dean finishes the call with a vulnerable sounding “anyway, it’d be really nice to hear your voice,” which threw me right back to that iconic phone call that Dean made to his absent father in season one when we all realized just how tragic it was that John Winchester was not returning his desperate sons’ phone calls. Oh, the pain, Show! When Dean is hurting like that, it’s almost unbearable to hear the vulnerability in his voice. Ouch ouch ouch.
Cas watches Sam leave the bunker, head cocked in confusion, but he doesn’t say anything. Next thing we know, Dean is looking for his brother, clearly worried. Uh oh. Dean and Cas set off to look for Sam, who also took the Impala, which looks really weird to see Cas driving and Dean riding shotgun.
Dean: How could you just let him leave, you saw what he was like?
Cas: Dean, you said to give him space.
Dean: Yeah, space – in the bunker with us!
I really felt for Cas there, gotta say. Grief is confusing for humans, and for Cas even more!
They find Sam sitting on the ground in the nearby woods, leaning up against the Impala, looking heartbreakingly broken.
Dean, already in a panic about not being able to find Sam, jumps to the very worst conclusion.
Dean: Tell me you didn’t make a deal!
Sam is totally confused at that – he was trying to build a pyre, not make a deal. We see Sam’s attempts in flashback, angry and chopping so hard at the trees that the axe splits apart and forces him to stop.
Sam: I couldn’t…I couldn’t even do that for him. I should’ve done more, tried harder. What good is any of the spells, the lore…
Me: Oh my heart!
Dean: Sam, at least you were there for him.
I love Dean comforting his little brother, and that he said what many of us have been saying, because Sam really was there for Jack, from the beginning.
Cas: It doesn’t feel right, it’s not how I thought Jack’s story would end….it’s not right, Jack being taken before me.
All three of them are hurting so much, stuck in the wrongness of a death that happens out of time. Meredith Glynn’s script does a brilliant job of exploring grief and how it bowls us over, takes the breath out of us, renders us desperate and helpless and sometimes hopeless. Dean, Sam, and Cas all express the common and normal reactions we all have – the feeling that you didn’t do enough, that you weren’t there, that you should have died first, especially when the one you’ve lost is like a child to you.
Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins and director Eduardo Sanchez did such a good job of showing us all those emotions that I could feel them all too, in sympathy and in empathy. We have all lost someone, and so those universal feelings hit us deeply. (As someone who both is a mom and has lost a mom, the Buffy episode where her mom died is still unwatchable for me. I watched when it aired and still can’t think about it without sobbing – the Supernatural episode where they lost Ellen and Jo is the same). That’s how powerful media can be in reflecting our own emotions, and Supernatural does that here.
“So what do we do?” Sam asks, which is something every bereaved person has felt and has asked, and which again worked perfectly here.
Dean, the big brother, steps up with an answer, and it includes Team Free Will’s version of a wake – “Tonight, we get loaded.”
“Take one last look before you leave,” the music says as the three toast Jack at the bunker kitchen table. The scene starts out solemn and sad, but as they drink and talk and presumably share what fond memories they did get to have with Jack, they start to smile and then to laugh.
I get what they were going for, but Alana and I immediately turned to each other as Castiel chowed down on some nougat and broke into a smile and said: “That’s Misha, not Cas!” Clearly the same with Sam and Dean – we were watching Jared, Jensen, and Misha goof off and crack each other up as they can do so well (something they confirmed at the convention). That threw me out of the story, unfortunately, but it was also really nice to see them having fun together, so I’m ambivalent about its inclusion. Actually, I’m not, because some brilliant person managed to remove the music and let a grateful fandom hear a bit of what Jared, Jensen, and Misha were actually saying and it is GOLD. Or it was, until it got taken down. Anyway, from a story standpoint though, it was a bit jarring. Maybe because the Winchesters and Cas have NEVER been that carefree and happy!
Sam leaves first, then Cas, and Dean is alone, still struggling to believe “we did everything we could, right?”
Dean: Here’s to you, Jack, wherever you are.
Lovely transition, and we’re with Jack in heaven. He’s on a road trip with his three dads, eating burgers and shakes and all of them teaching him to read an old-school map because there’s no cell service. Jack quickly realizes that it’s not real, but it’s a nice moment. He wanders out into the halls of heaven, which we soon see is under attack by an ominous roiling river of black goo that we recognize as the entity from the Empty. Jack runs down the hall Indiana Jones style while Alana and I yell “run Jack run!”
Dean wakes up passed out on the kitchen table to Sam and Cas returning – with Lily Sunder! (who was in the opening, so we knew she was coming).
After a few staggers, Dean joins them and does a double take when he sees her.
Dean: You got old.
Way to tell it like it is, Dean. She gave up magic; it turns out. Sam has had the brilliant idea to have Lily look through Kevin’s angel tablet translations. (Yay, Kevin mention!) Dean is skeptical, but Sam and Cas want to try having her help bring Jack back – which, you know, is just SO Winchester!
She can’t read the tablet but offers the use of her magic to draw power from his soul to save him. Sam and Dean are both cautious about losing any part of a soul, which makes sense considering their past experience with soullessness. Dean calls her on wanting something from all this, and Lily admits that she wants to go to Heaven to be with her daughter.
They summon Anubis to see if they can convince him to let Lily into Heaven.
Lily: You can summon a god??
Dean: We’ve done it before.
Meanwhile, Jack is exploring Heaven – and has found his mother’s. It’s incredibly touching because Jack never got to meet his mom and she never got to meet him. Kelly says “Jack, it’s you!” and I have to admit I had to grab for the tissues.
Kelly: No no no, baby no!
Jack assures her that Cas and Sam and Dean did their best, that they took care of him.
Castiel heads to heaven, which is in distress with all the gates open, even the ones that Metatron closed. Sam and Dean do what they do best, painting sigils and signs to summon a god. Sam leaves the room and encourages Dean to talk to Lily, and when he does, he knows there’s something she’s not telling them.
Angela Cartwright then gives a masterful performance, letting us see all Lily’s pain at the death of her daughter, Mae. She’s in heaven, and Lily desperately wants to be with her, with that sliver of her soul that is left. (Yes, she made me cry – again!)
Cas finds heaven full of dead angels dripping black goo. Duma is the only one who wakes up, asking Cas not to leave her and coming with him. Hmmm. Naomi appears, telling Cas that Jack is gone and that the Entity, the shadow that rules the Empty, wants him – and maybe they should give him to them. As they argue, and Naomi points out that millions of human souls will be cast into the wind and Cas still refuses, Naomi is consumed by the shadow, and Cas and Duma run.
Back at the bunker, Sam recites a lot of Latin, which Jared does extremely well, and Anubis appears – with his abacus. I’m amused that he knows the Winchesters and finds Dean “as snappy as advertised.” You have to wonder how often the Supernatural world discusses Sam and Dean and what they say – and how much of it is full of grudging appreciation!
Anubis tells Lily that she’s going to hell. The Winchesters try to bind him to make him make an exception, but Anubis insists he can’t so they let him go. Lily is crushed. I feel kinda crushed too, to be honest.
Back in heaven, Cas and Duma find Jack and Kelly, who are each trying to protect the other. Cas hugs Jack with such relief and joy, and then Kelly, and goddammit, I’m crying again.
Kelly: You didn’t…Jack, he’s wonderful.
Meanwhile, Lily packs up to leave since she couldn’t get what she came for. Sam begs her to try anyway.
Sam: He’s our kid!
Dean: You know what I think? Burning all that soul, you’re not even human anymore. Otherwise, how could you ever, ever let anyone go through what you went through? The pain of losing a kid – don’t do this to us.
How anyone could say no to Sam and Dean saying THAT I have no idea – and Lily can’t. Looking at her picture of her daughter one last time (and I was sure it was one last time), she starts the spell, while Dean and Sam pray to Cas.
In heaven, Jack and Kelly are both reluctant to let Lily use a part of his soul, but Cas points out that it’s also the only way to save Heaven, and they agree. And of course, that’s when Duma is revealed to be the Entity, lying in wait while Cas led it right to Jack. There’s a fight, but they’re no match for the Entity.
Erica Cerra does a kickass job portraying the Entity with all the manic energy that Misha brought to his own portrayal of the creature. The way the Entity is so thoroughly unhinged and so sadistic is frankly terrifying.
Castiel, however, hears Sam and Dean’s prayer – and follows the Winchester code and offers to make a deal – he will go back to the Empty in Jack’s place. Misha also kicks ass in this scene, Castiel’s desperation and rage so palpable as he negotiates to sacrifice himself. The Entity agrees, but only if it can make Cas suffer. It will only take him when he gives himself permission to be finally, truly happy.
Me and Alana: Urgh.
Jack: Why? Why did you do that?
Cas: Because I made a promise. Because I love you, Jack. Sam and Dean, they love you, and they are fighting for you this very minute.
Jack says his goodbyes to Kelly.
Jack: We didn’t get enough time.
Kelly: It’s okay, go. Have a great life, I’ll be waiting. I love you so much.
It’s such a gift to jack, that he got to have that time with his mother, that he got to hear her say “I love you.”
Jack seems okay.
Lily coughs and sinks into a chair.
Dean leans in and hugs Jack, and Sam clasps him on the shoulder, smiling.
Sam: It’s good to have you back.
Dean turns to Lily.
Dean: Lily, thank you….Lily?
As I suspected, she’s gone.
And damned if I’m not crying again, saying please please please let her see Anubis again, and let him change his mind and let her into heaven. Sure enough, she faces Anubis, and he gets out the abacus.
Anubis: Care to try your luck again?
She does, and the black and white beads fly, me holding my breath and going please please please! And damn if she doesn’t get in.
Anubis: Say hello to your daughter for me.
Naomi stops Castiel before he leaves Heaven, and thanks him for saving them.
Naomi: I think that deserves a reward, don’t you? For example, the archangel Michael’s location.
Me and Alana: OMG yes!
Jack and his three dads share burgers and beer, everyone unable to stop staring at Jack and smiling. They know where Michael is, and Sam, who was so hopeless and broken before, is now back to being the determined Winchester we know and love. They don’t know where Dark Kaia and the spear are, but…
Sam: We will. We’ll figure it out.
Dean: That’s right. And then Michael, that sonofabitch is gonna pay.
They clink their beers and Alana, and I suddenly become terrified.
Alana and Lynn: Cas! Don’t get too happy!
I guess that’s gonna be a nagging anxiety now. Every time Castiel gets too contented, we’re gonna be worried he’s about to be zapped to the Empty. Oh Show, you’re so cruel.
When I talked to director Eduardo Sanchez about filming this episode, he mentioned that he really enjoyed it because it was an opportunity to tackle such emotional scenes, and he felt that the actors really brought it – and I have to say, he was so right! All of them – main cast and guest stars – made me feel every emotion, and the writing and the direction was spot on so that those emotions rang true each time. I got lots of Sam and Dean, a brave and determined Cas, more parent-child feels than this parent could handle without LOTS of tissues, and dialogue that felt organic and true in a psychological and emotional sense and in a story-telling sense.
I loved the way the episode was filmed, from the beautiful scenes of the Impala in the woods at night to the perspectives on the heartfelt hugs to the gorgeous close-ups that showed us every bit of the characters’ emotions. I loved the realistic way the episode treated grief and loss, which I’m teaching a graduate course on right now. Meredith? You got it right.
I also loved the in-depth exploration of parenthood, which is an equally complex and individual personal experience – not just Kelly’s feelings for her son, but Lily’s grief and longing for her lost daughter, and Sam and Dean and Castiel’s love for their son, which strikes me as a wonderfully non-traditional parenting and familial narrative that has a lot to say about found family.
This is one of those episodes that will stay with me. Thank you, everyone. I’m a happy fangirl!