Drive by review since I’m traveling with the family, so thematic instead of scene by scene for a change. I watched last week’s Supernatural in an Air BnB in DC whose television set was large and impressive looking but weirdly distorted the picture so that the most beautiful cast in the world did not look like their beautiful selves. Boo.
While this won’t go down in history as one of my favorite episodes, there were some things I enjoyed, and the episode got me all thinky which I also enjoy. On the other hand, there were also some things I didn’t like. While I was overjoyed to have Ruth Connell back on the show, I was totally confused that Rowena didn’t seem to know that Jack was Lucifer’s son. What?? She goaded Lucifer with that when she was holding the portal open, saying that his three dads were more fathers to Jack that Lucifer himself. So why did she seem shocked when Sam told her about Jack’s father? I realize she didn’t actually know Jack, but she knew about him. Those kinds of things throw me out of the story, and I don’t like that – I like to be immersed and engrossed when I watch my favorite show.
I also got thrown out of the story by almost everything about Sergei the Shaman, who seemed like such an over the top villainous untrustworthy guy that I didn’t believe a word he said and didn’t expect Castiel to believe him either. Why did he? Cas has been oddly gullible recently, and that seems weird. I get that we all get a little gullible in desperate times, so I’m chalking it up to that. But, I mean, ‘He seemed honest.’ Did he?? Also Sergei had an accent that sounded just like Misha Collins when he’s doing his Indio-Russia thing, so I also half expected Cas to start talking the same way, which was neither here nor there but made me giggle when that wasn’t what the show was going for.
Do we even believe that the grace he gave Cas was from Gabriel? (Was there a reason to take this at face value? Has Ketch’s word become reason enough?) Or was it really Michael’s grace, and the whole thing an elaborate plot to get Michael’s influence into Jack in the same way he’s been trying to influence other “monsters”? (Was that why Dean’s vision blurred out and his mind went a bit offline a few times there? Was that Michael coming to the fore to see how his plan is going or has he left something behind that allows him to do so?) That did give us some nice close ups of Dean blinking those long eyelashes.
Now THAT is chilling, the idea that Jack might be being corrupted in some way. I don’t worry that Jack will die, because they clearly need him as a key player so other key players won’t be overburdened, but that doesn’t mean he will stay the innocent well-intentioned nougat loving son that he has been this season. And that does worry me.
I wasn’t thrown out of the show by this, but I was wishing I wasn’t engrossed during several of the Nick scenes. I realize this is a violent show, but the violence in this episode was the kind that really disturbs me. It’s easy to dismiss violence that involves “monsters” because it’s inherently unreal, but this was a fucked up human doing horrible things to other humans – and that hits too close to reality. Nick being conflicted about it and yet so drawn to it simultaneously, which was a good twist, just makes it even more disturbing. I knew that poor guy tied to the chair was gonna die, but god, it was hard to watch. I actually took a phone call in the middle of it because I couldn’t keep watching – and I would usually never answer the phone during Supernatural! Mark Pellegrino did a bang up job and made Nick’s conflict and agony and fucked-up-ness thoroughly believable, but I was left anxious and vaguely nauseous, and that wasn’t pleasant. And there was simply a lot of Nick sans Winchesters or Cas in this episode, which didn’t leave as much time for Team Free Will as I would have liked.
Nick’s eventual breakdown and pleading for Lucifer to re-possess him left me feeling about the same. I’ve been afraid all season that Nick was back because Lucifer would be back, and I don’t think that’s something most viewers wanted. All that build up to Lucifer’s death last season that made his death feel so satisfying, just to be undone in the first third of the next season? And just because a messed up human begged?? It seems to negate all that satisfaction.
Maybe that’s the point, because honestly, the Winchesters do NOT get breaks and life just keeps throwing them one horror after the other, but this one is hard to stomach. Once again, Pellegrino totally sells it. But from a plot standpoint, I feel like there’s more interest in Michael as a new villain than in the return of Lucifer as a long-time villain who I’m not as interested in anymore. And that scene of The Empty (I assume) and Lucifer being reconstituted out of the blackness? I mostly just kept saying nonononononono during it, but by the last frames I was just staring, because what?
My timeline: OMG it’s…. the Terminator??
Also, is it suddenly that easy to leave The Empty?
I assume we’re supposed to take from Nick’s fall into madness and violence that possession leaves its mark and changes the person in ways that can’t be fought against – and we’re supposed to apply that to Dean and his possession. Sam and Castiel have also been possessed though, with very different results, so it isn’t a done deal that Dean will react the same way Nick did, and Nick was possessed for a VERY long time, after all. Showrunners and writers and cast have been saying all along that we’ll see some sort of aftermath of Dean’s possession, so I’m still guardedly hopeful that brings some in-depth examination of Dean’s psychological state, and the impact of his trauma beyond oh he’s messed up just like Nick was.
Nick storyline was story arc number two, though it took up a lot of the episode; the rest of the episode was about Jack’s survival. This gave Sam, Dean, and Cas a chance to worry about him and us a chance to see the depth of the bond that all three father figures have formed with Jack at this point. Because we get less exploration of the main characters than we used to, alas, I ended up doing my own pondering about the theme of fatherhood and how it plays out for Jack’s three dads. I found myself wondering why they have all come to feel so strongly about a young man they’ve only known for a year and whose father is their arch enemy Lucifer.
I was surprised in previous seasons by Castiel’s wholesale acceptance of Kelly Kline and his determination to protect her and her unborn child, to the extent of leaving Sam and Dean unconscious on the ground somewhere to do so. That never fit perfectly for me, but if we accept that he did feel that strongly and he was convinced that Jack would be a force for good in the world, then I think his bond with Jack began even before he was born. Cas was the one protecting mother and baby, and that could instill some fatherly feelings in an angel (they do seem to feel paternal and maternal and fraternal feelings in Supernatural’s version of angels, as we’ve seen several times).
Castiel protectively draping his trademark trenchcoat over Jack’s shoulders as he left the hospital was a tender moment (and gave us a few moments of Misha Collins in a nicely fitted suit!)
Side note: While canon Cas seemed to be oddly copacetic with Kelly Kline, Sam and Dean were not – and didn’t have any reason to be. She was not a particularly good person either before or after her tryst with the devil, so why does Sam portray her that way? Just to convince Rowena to help Jack? Head scratch.
Anyway, Sam has had more chance than any of the three to bond with Jack, and was open to believing the best about him from the start. That’s in keeping with Sam’s tremendous capacity for empathy, and I also think he could relate to Jack’s feeling of being “contaminated” by blood you don’t want, just as Sam spent his childhood feeling contaminated and eventually found out he had demon blood in him. Sam too has been called “monstrous” and his character judged by what’s in his blood, and he’s also had to struggle against the impact of powers he didn’t ask for and couldn’t entirely control. I think Sam came down squarely on the side of nurture, not nature, when judging Jack, partly because of his own experience. He was there for Jack from the start, giving him the benefit of the doubt and his support even when he was afraid of Jack’s power and his relationship to Lucifer. So their bond makes perfect sense to me, and I liked seeing how emotional Sam became at the prospect of losing him.
Dean’s journey with Jack is the most complicated, and that informed this episode and brought a lot of the emotional impact. Dean’s default setting is not empathy for outsiders – it’s protectiveness. He’s skeptical and tends to not blindly believe the best about people, not because he’s a jerk but simply because he knows that might put people he cares about in danger if he lets his guard down. Sam was traumatized by Lucifer, but Dean was too – he was traumatized by not being able to protect Sam and by seeing the heartbreaking effects of Lucifer’s torment of Sam. That history only serves to increase his mistrust of Lucifer’s son, and I think that’s understandable considering who Dean is and how much of his identity is tied up with being the protector. However, he listens to his brother – more every season. Eventually, Sam, and Cas, and Jack’s own uncontrived innocence, convinces Dean that Jack is sincere in his desire to be good. Once Dean believes that, he opens himself up to Jack, and then – because he’s Dean Winchester – he feels terribly guilty about all the cruel things he said to the boy when he was sure Jack was going to turn out to be evil. I think that guilt and desire to make up for it has left Dean vulnerable to really feeling for Jack.
But that’s not the only psychological motivation at play for Dean when it comes to Jack. Dean is not just protective; he’s parental. He was a parent to Sam as well as brother, and that nurturing side comes naturally to Dean. He makes Jack a sandwich just like he’s often done for Sam when he’s ailing. You can see how easily and comfortably he falls back into that role when he tosses Jack the keys and invites him to drive – I could almost flash back and see a younger Dean tossing the keys to Sam, and Sam’s awe and joy the first time his big brother trusted him to drive his beloved Impala. It’s the same with Jack, and as soon as Dean sees the joy he’s caused, his own face breaks into a smile of such happiness that it hit me like a punch in the stomach, so hard it was almost painful. We so rarely see Dean truly happy, and there is nothing that makes him happier than being able to make someone he cares about happy. I grinned the entire way through that scene, the Impala speeding along the backroads and the vintage rock playing and both Dean and Jack looking, for the moment, carefree and happy.
Lastly, for all three of Team Free Will, the concept of family is one that is an organizing force. It’s no coincidence that we all refer to the cast and fans as the SPNFamily or that the book the actors wrote about how the show and fandom have changed their lives is called Family Don’t End With Blood (which you can still get right here). That valuing of family started with Sam and Dean, born out of their father’s mistrust of anyone who was not family. To Sam and Dean, being family is the highest compliment, the most significant description they can bestow on someone. That’s why Cas is family. Cas, who already had his own emotional connection to his angel family, also understands the significance of the term and uses it the same way now to apply to people who are not his angelic relatives. Including Jack.
The Winchesters often tend to define as family younger people who they mentor in some way. That’s why Kevin felt like family, and why Charlie felt like family, and Jody’s girls felt like family. The Winchesters instinctively look for young people to mentor and bring them into the fold to keep them safe. They have never had a chance to do that so profoundly as with Jack, who came to them essentially an infant. He had to learn everything, and they were there to teach him. That sense of generativity that all humans long for is compelling. For the Winchesters, that drive plays out in their concern for leaving a legacy. Not biological children, but people who will carry on what they’re trying to do for the world. Jack, I think, feels like part of that legacy, as much as the initials carved into the Men of Letters table.
When Cas rightly points out to Sam that despite all their losses in the past, nothing feels as hard as losing a child – a son — we all know just how right he is. The look on Sam’s face as those words sink in (and all the kudos to Jared Padalecki for how much he showed us of Sam’s emotions) made me tear up. Jack is, for all intents and purposes, their son. All three of them will be devastated if he dies.
I liked all of Sam and Castiel’s conversation in this episode, with both Misha Collins and Jared really bringing the emotional understanding. Sam explains to Cas that Dean is taking Jack’s sickness hard because he was so rough with Jack in the beginning and hasn’t forgiven himself, and I love knowing that Sam knows this about his brother. I love the reminder that they understand each other deeply, and that Sam is paying close attention to how his brother is doing and how he’s feeling, always. Dean is similarly tuned into Sam, and it’s one of the unique things about their relationship that makes it constantly interesting.
Jared, in one of the 300th episode red carpet mini-interviews, confirmed that Sam is aware of the things that Dean is dealing with post possession. I hope we’ll see more of that as time goes on, as we’re now starting to see Dean have some symptoms that tell us (and him) that everything is not all right. Of course, Dean being Dean, hasn’t mentioned it to anyone and is trying to ignore it – but I’m hoping that Sam knows.
Castiel is worried about Dean too, and he also understands just why Jack’s illness is hitting all of them so hard.
Cas: This feels different. Losing a…. a son… feels different.
Misha nailed that line, with the little break in Castiel’s voice. Kudos to Collins and Padalecki both for breaking my heart with that conversation.
Jack’s story in this episode, other than the detour on the road with Dean, is mostly tragic and heartbreaking. Cas tries and fails to cure him, while the Winchesters wait in the bunker hallway looking like male models.
That results in a hospital visit and a few humorous moments, which I appreciated in such a dark and sad episode. I was a bit surprised that Jack’s dads brought him to the ER, but I guess without his grace, he’s closer to human than angel. And we did get some of the very few humorous moments of the episode in the hospital, as the harried front desk nurse tries to get information out of the Winchesters and Cas and instead gets a whole lot of attitude and some very confusing facts.
How did his father die?
Castiel: He was stabbed…and then he exploded.
When the nurse is incredulous, Dean just repeats those rather unusual details as though it’s the most normal explanation ever, insisting that they don’t have time for this.
I laughed – and then felt kinda bad about laughing.
Jack collapses, and off he goes for treatment, his three dads assuring him they’ll be there, then hovering and watching with worried faces through the odd glass ER panel.
Meanwhile, we spend a lot of time on Nick, first with a hapless priest he tortured and killed (played by stunt coordinator Kirk Jacques with aplomb), then tracking down the cop who was in his house the day his family was killed, and along the way being tempted to kill other innocents too. It’s all very disturbing, and takes up a lot of time and makes me feel all kinds of queasy.
Back to Jack. Of course, the hospital can’t help, so the threesome break Jack out AMA, Cas taking off his trenchcoat to cover Jack’s backside – which is a rare moment indeed! Sam and Dean, who rarely need words to communicate, both decide to ask Rowena for help, because desperate times.
I was happy to see Rowena back – she’s one recurring character I truly enjoy. I was sorry the writing made me scratch my head over her not knowing about Jack’s father, but other than that, I really enjoyed Ruth’s scenes. Rowena and Sam together are always lovely, and I particularly loved that Sam told her that it was Dean who was dying so that she’d be sure to come. She has a soft spot for both the Winchesters, and who can blame her? She even brought the precious Book of the Damned to save him! I loved Smart!Sam taking advantage of that soft spot. Everything about Jared and Ruth together in a scene is almost invariably wonderful.
I also loved how Jack’s innocent expression of gratitude and especially his testimony about Sam and Dean’s gratitude (or his fabulous instincts about how to get Rowena on his side) immediately hooked Rowena in. Rowena is such a fascinating character, so hard and seemingly uncaring on the outside and so easily swayed by someone saying nice things about her on the inside. Hearing her “Oh bollocks” as she knows she’s giving in makes me smile every time, and then wince because I will forever miss Mark Sheppard and Crowley.
Ruth also gets all the kudos for her delivery of “stay close, watch over him….as he dies” at the end of the episode because oh my heart. You can hear the tenderness that she likes to disavow come through, and I wonder if we’ll ever get a wee bit more backstory about Rowena’s long history and the children she’s lost, blood and otherwise. She doesn’t want anyone to think so, but she clearly understands a lot about the complexity of parental emotions.
That said, I’m not actually feeling any terror that Jack will die or that Alex is going anywhere, because that would make no sense. To reduce workload, the other characters are needed to fill in the gaps, and Jack is the most popular character to join the show since Castiel. I should be a lot more worried than I am, unfortunately. Still, I teared up a few times – and that’s thanks to the tremendous acting talent of all these actors. And I’m also more than a little worried that while Jack won’t die, he might not remain the innocent, earnest sweet young man he is right now – and I do not want that!!!! Jack’s earnestness and openness is a wonderful juxtaposition to the Winchesters’ often closed off communication style, and I enjoy what that contrast brings out in them and Cas.
I was also happy to have some scenes with Sam and Dean in the same room after that last 100% separated episode, though once again we get a lot more of each of TFW on their own instead of together. It’s like the show is saying well we only have each of these guys for X days, so let’s space it out so it will make a whole episode. And that….doesn’t work. So Cas goes off on his own to meet with the Shaman, Sam stays behind to – I don’t know, keep researching? — and Dean takes Alex on a bucket list trip in the Impala. Why didn’t he take poor Sam with them, who has been so much a father figure to Jack? I guess I’ll go with Sam understanding that Dean feels he needs to make amends, and trying to give his brother the room to do that.
But why didn’t Cas take Sam with him to find the Shaman, when he clearly could have needed backup? I was especially disappointed because the official promo proclaimed that “Cas and Sam track down a shaman.” And then Cas went alone! I guess we’re supposed to assume that Sam was needed to keep doing research, but this is the second episode in a row where Sam has felt a bit sidelined, and that always nags at me.
That said, I really did enjoy Dean and Jack’s road trip. At first, I thought that Dean was uncharacteristically patient with Jack – until I realized that probably wasn’t uncharacteristic at all. I imagine that’s what Dean was like with young Sam, and how he taught Sam to drive that same way. Jack imitates Dean, right down to hanging his arm out the window in the same way, and I have no doubt that young Sam did the same. (Btw, how incredible would a brief flashback scene have been here? Just saying, Show)
Jack, in his uninhibited way, tells Dean right out that he looks up to him and wants to be like him, and I suddenly remember one of my favorite scenes from the show’s early years, as Sam bursts out at a dying Dean “I’ve been watching you my whole life, looking up to you, trying to be just like my big brother”. I have no doubt that Dean remembers that too, and being able to repeat some of those pivotal moments with Jack must bring back all those times with Sam. (But again, I’m filling in the blanks myself when it would be nice to have some of them filled in by the Show)
It’s a gift to Jack, spending time with Dean, being trusted to drive the car, being able to emulate a father figure he respects and loves. But it’s a gift to Dean too, in so many ways. Jack is more open with his feelings than either Winchester has ever been, so Dean actually gets to hear some of the things that I think he knows Sam has also felt but hasn’t often articulated. The fishing scene could easily have been over the top with Jack’s dialogue, but Alex and Jensen Acklestogether managed to pull it off and make it poignant instead.
As always, Ackles amazes me with how much he can say with just his facial expressions. As Jack tells him right out how important this time is to him – how important Dean is to him – you can see Dean struggle even to take it in, and then to make sense of it. But he does hear it, miraculously, letting his guard down just enough for a little healing to take place. God, I loved that moment. Dean, always mired in guilt and an overwhelming sense of responsibility, able to hear that he’s been GOOD for someone. Someone he cares about.
The scene is also a nice call back to Dean’s own childhood and his idolization of his own father, at least when he was younger. How many times did John Winchester take his boys fishing? Probably not many, from what we’ve heard about the boys’ childhood. In fact, even once is surprising. Not sure if that’s a canon fail or if it was just an anomaly and thus a treasured memory, which is why Jack correctly heard the importance of that one time that Dean told him about. I guess I’ll go with that, but it did strike me as not very John Winchester, remembering how shocked Dean was that their father took Adam to a baseball game.
At any rate, Dean may not be a father, but he is a son, and being a son has been a major force shaping his life. So Jack looking up to him and wanting to spend time with him is meaningful.
Dean: Who would’ve thought hanging around with me would make you sentimental?
It’s a very Dean Winchester way of trying to shrug off something emotional, but he doesn’t reject what Jack is saying to him – and that’s a big thing.
I had asked Jensen a while back about those scenes that have a lot of improv, and how they often end up being my favorites, and he said there were some coming up that he was able to really have fun with, and that they weren’t Dean with Sam, but with another character. Pretty sure those were these scenes with Alex, especially the car scenes. Jensen allowed, in one of the 300th episode mini-interviews, that he was a little nervous about letting Alex drive “my car,” but that Alex (like Jack) asked a lot of questions and was eager to follow Jensen’s lead. I think some of that reality bled through and made those scenes pretty magical.
Here’s the thing. I enjoyed a lot of this, but I’m also having to do a lot of the fill in the blanks myself these days to increase my enjoyment and make it seem more like my Show because we sometimes get precious little interaction between Sam and Dean – or between any of the three TFW characters. I want the story to revolve around them! We got a little bit of meaningful interaction between Sam and Cas, but I would have traded off some of the Nick scenes for more Sam and Cas exploration. With screen time often spooled out with only one main character at a time, the interactions which are my reason to watch are less frequent recently, and that makes the show less compelling sometimes.
We end with Jack ingesting the grace and Rowena reading the spell.
There’s a brief moment when everyone thinks it’s worked and actually look happy, which is always heartstopping on Supernatural…
And then the inevitable failure and Jack getting worse. Cas calls Sergei, who says this was an experiment (hmmm….like Michael was doing experiments?).
Cas threatens him on the phone, and the three dads wait once again worried while Rowena checks on Jack.
The news is not good, and Rowena looks as devastated as they do when she breaks it to them.
Boys: What can we do?
Rowena: Watch over him, stay by his side… As he dies.
Whoa. Way to nail that line, Ruth Connell! Ouch.
(We did get a lovely behind the scenes glimpse of the utter hilarity of the filming of this scene with the newly released Shaving People Punting Things video to cheer us up, thankfully)
As much as I’ve been frustrated with this season in some ways, I’m really looking forward to next week’s episode – it’s the one that I chatted with director Eduardo Sanchez about, and it’s written by Meredith Glynn, AND I get to watch it live with my bud Alana King while we video our reactions (and invariably I make a fool of myself) so YAY!
See you then for Supernatural 1408 Byzantium, and don’t forget to check out all of Lynn’s books right here.
One correction has been made to this article since publishing. Book of the Dead was actually Book of the Damned. Thank you Stacey for correcting us.