Something a little different this week, as the Winchesters found themselves fighting not an external, monster adversary but something entirely more relatable – Jack’s seemingly terminal illness. After Castiel’s healing hands failed to stop Jack coughing up blood, the brothers and their angel had to resort to taking their young charge to a regular hospital. This episode did a really nice job of balancing the desperation of Cas and the Winchesters with the humour derived from the absurdity of having Lucifer’s son – one of the Nephilim – treated by human doctors. Their inability to answer simple questions like Jack’s date of birth understandably made the receptionist question why three men had a barely conscious and much younger boy in their care. I think it’s remarkable the police didn’t get called.
When the medics confirmed that Jack was going into total systems failure, but couldn’t find a cause, the Winchesters discharged him and called upon their old frenemy and everyone’s favourite Scottish witch, Rowena. Rowena determined that Jack’s failing health was down to the loss of the archangel grace holding his body together. Simply put, his cells were destroying each other like a strange case of celestial cancer. Dean took the news particularly hard, a couple of blurry, shifting POV shots conveying his shock and horror at the bad news. We rarely get this level of insight to how the boys are actually feeling, and anyone who has received devastating news at some time would have recognised that dizzying, sick sense of impending doom.
While Sam focused his concern on Dean, and Castiel went to try and find a miracle cure, Dean set about making the kid’s last days as happy as possible and whisked him out in the Impala, teaching him to drive, buying him junk food, and taking him fishing. You know, just the usual father and son things you get up to when you’ve three-way adopted the son of Satan with your brother and an angel. Alexander Calvert continued to make the Jack purest thing in creation, as he eschewed Dean’s offers of dodgy dive bars and women, choosing instead to spend some quality time talking with one of his dads. Dean Winchester demonstrated his legendary lack of appropriateness in familial relationships by calling Jack ‘a cheap date’, but it was a joy to see him so fond of someone that he let them drive his car. And Baby did look glorious in all those overhead shots – a welcome return for the Most Important Object in the Universe.
Castiel’s hopes of Jack’s recovery were dashed when the shaman recommended by Ketch turned out to be less adept than he first appeared. Having given Cas some of Gabriel’s grace (than angel sure did spread it about), and a powerful spell to ‘reboot’ Jack’s circuits, Sergei appeared to be on the level, but the grace only seemed to exacerbate the problem, and when pressed, the shaman admitted it had been an experiment. One more person struck off the Winchesters’ Christmas card list!
Rowena didn’t have a huge amount to do this episode, other than look concerned and wave her hands over the afflicted boy a bit. It was smart of Sam to trick her into coming to the bunker by lying and saying Dean was the sick one, knowing how the witch would have felt about helping Lucifer’s progeny, and I would have liked to see her struggle more with being won over by Jack. Rowena has been used as a bit of a Deus Ex Machina in recent years, so it was refreshing that she didn’t have all the answers to this particular quandary.
While Lucifer’s son was making peace with the world and his mortality, his former vessel, Nick was set down a much darker path. In fact, he was going full-blown serial killer masquerading as a vigilante seeking justice for his dead wife and son. After murdering his old neighbour, Nick found a lead from a journalist who gave up the name of the police officer who attended the crime scene and left town shortly afterwards. It transpired that said cop was actually responsible for the killings, having been possessed by a demon at the time. Nick, who more than anyone should understand what it is to have your agency taken away by a supernatural agent of Hell, proved that his time with Lucifer had left an indelible mark on him by brutally killing the man anyway. It’s not clear whether Nick had the makings of a violent murderer before he was occupied by The Devil, but regardless, his appeal to Lucifer – who appears to be inhabiting the same nothing world of black goo that Cas was brought back from by Jack – looks set to result in a resurrection.
The monstrousness of humans is a theme which Supernatural has explored since day one, but I actually think this episode demonstrated the most extreme brutality we’ve ever seen on the show. Nick’s violence towards a man who was essentially blameless was disturbing, to say the least. It worked brilliantly as a counterpoint to Jack’s goodness despite his inherent ‘monstrousness’, something which we’ve also seen in Sam since the show’s beginnings. However, my gripe with this story line is that bringing back Lucifer undermines the concept of finality and permanent death once again. And in an episode where the stakes are based on a beloved character dying, that’s problematic. By moving the goalposts of possibility continually, death truly loses its sting. Nick’s very soul has been compromised. Surely that’s far more horrific than anything Lucifer can throw at us.
Final Grade: C+
+ It was lovely to see Dean trying to give Jack a bucket list. The big softy!
+ While it was all too convenient that the shaman had some archangel grace, I’m glad this episode avoiding using it as a quick fix solution.
+ I am enjoying the Three Men and a Little Nephilim dynamic of this season. On the surface it is adorable and funny, and on another level it is a sneaky queering of heteronormative domesticity. Well done, Show.
– The VFX on Lucifer at the end were like something from a straight to video Terminator rip-off. What were they thinking??
– Yet another way of bringing Lucifer back means we’re less invested in Jack’s health issues, because it’s almost guaranteed there will be a way to revive him at this point.
– While I don’t want the show to stagnate, I do miss the days of Sam and Dean striking out alone.
Extra Thought: Does the killing of Nick’s wife and child by a demon mean he was being groomed as Lucifer’s back-up vessel in the same way that Sam and Dean were ‘made for’ Lucifer and Michael?
What did you think? Was the focus on humanity a welcome change of gear? Or should Supernatural stick to the lore? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter.