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Review: Supernatural 13×04 “The Big Empty”

After weeks of simmering tension between the Winchesters and their unusual charge, things came to a head this week when Sam persuaded his brother to let Jack come along on a case.

The investigation into the murder of a young man by a woman fitting the description of his late wife allowed the boys to teach Jack a thing or two about salting and burning the dead. But when a second woman turned up eviscerated, apparently by the hand of her long-dead son, the boys found themselves undergoing a spot of family therapy.

What started as a routine ghost or revenant hunt got complicated when the grief counsellor both victims were seeing prior to their deaths turned out to be a shapeshifter. Interestingly, before Mia the therapist’s true nature was discovered, Sam and Dean ended up airing a lot of issues in her office, with Sam confessing he didn’t want to believe Mary was gone for good because that would mean he’d never get to have the bond with her that Dean had, and storming out of the session.

Mia seemed to be the prime suspect when Sam discovered human remains in her bathroom, but she assured them she was only using her supernatural powers for good, morphing into the dead to visit loved ones for a last time to give them closure.

This led to a touching scene in which Mia shifted into the form of Kelly Kline to give Jack some sage advice about choosing the right path. Echoing Sam’s belief in him, Mia’s decision to help mourners achieve a sense of peace held up a mirror for the troubled lad, and demonstrated that being a ‘monster’ or a ‘freak’ doesn’t necessarily mean you’re damned to a life of evil-doing. I thought the parallel between Jack and Mia worked really well, and the boy using the shifter as a mom proxy to cuddle was truly heartbreaking.

Mia’s bad ex-boyfriend plot strand worked less well. The reveal of a monster who kills and tortures and destroys lives for thrills just seemed a little lazy and under-developed, especially given that someone as intuitive and empathetic as Mia would probably have noticed his behaviour was a little off. Similarly, I thought the conflict between the Winchesters seemed a little forced. Sam accusing Dean of sounding like their father and being jealous of his brother’s relationship with their mother seemed like over-egging the pudding, given that it’s been made perfectly clear that Sam identifies with Jack, and Dean has been surly and unbearable since losing Cas and Mary.

It was a relief when Jack was able to use his abilities to save Sam, the one act guaranteed to earn him some brownie points with Dean. Seeing Jack go nuclear to protect Sammy finally convinced Dean that the kid should be given the benefit of the doubt, and the scene in which Dean implored Sam to keep the faith that Mary could still be rescued was moving enough to make me forgive how much of a dick he’s been for the past month.

While the boys were working through their emotions, Castiel was trying to talk his way of the titular Big Empty. Yes, we finally got an explanation as to where angels and demons go when they die, and it seems that it’s an infinite black space in which they sleep forever. Sounds pretty nice to be honest. I found it interesting that angels and demons get the same afterlife, implying there’s actually no ultimate benefit in being good…

Cas, however, by sheer dint of being awake, had managed to piss off some ancient entity charged with maintaining the status quo in the dark void. This being took the form of Cas, so their conversations had a distinct Gollum vibe about them. It’s not clear exactly how Jack is responsible for waking Cas, or how the angel can be inhabiting the same vessel when Jimmy Novak’s meat suit has been destroyed repeatedly, and most recently salted and burnt, but it seems that somehow Cas has managed to blag his way back into existence simply by being incredibly annoying. Atta boy!

So the Winchesters are reconciled for now, Jack is as happy as a pup with two tails to have Dean’s approval, and Cas has cheated eternal oblivion. So far this season, there’s no obvious Big Bad or main arc, unless Jack is indeed destined to go the way of Anakin, and after this week, I’m still unsure as to where the show is headed this year. It was an interesting premise to bring back a creature that had a link to the past, and emotional connotations for the brothers in order to help them work through their current issues, and to remind Dean that monsters can find redemption too, but essentially it was a monster of the week episode, and one that trod well-worn ground.

Final Grade: C

+ It was a relief to see Dean relent a little, as his cruelty towards Jack was becoming something akin to a character assassination. And it was reassuring that it was his need to protect Sam that broke through his shell.

+ I liked the reversal of brotherly angst from Season 1’s “Skin”, using the shifter as a catalyst for the brothers to air their anxieties about one another.

+ I’m not quite sure how Misha Collins arrived at some of his acting choices, but they were certainly entertaining!

– It felt a bit odd when Dean was willing to accept Mia was good, given the issues he’s dealing with at the moment.

– I am not 100% sold on the way new afterlives keep cropping up. It was a brave decision to say angels and demons end up in the same place, but if beings can escape this final stage of death, where does the show go from there? Death truly has no sting anymore in Supernatural terms.

What did you think? Did this episode restore your faith, or did it leave you feeling empty? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter.

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Katie Young

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