Supernatural – Season 14 Episode 17
Supernatural continues to explore the question of whether Jack still has a soul as a familiar antagonist makes an unwelcome return.
The restoration of Jack’s powers countered by not knowing the extent of the consequences attached to this has been a source of intrigue over the past few episodes. Jack is being keenly watched by Sam and Dean -as well as the audience- for signs of abnormal behaviour that would indicate the loss of his soul. This has been handled fairly well with Jack still exhibiting signs of compassion as well as that wide eyed innocence that makes him so endearing. There is also something off about him that may or may not indicate the loss of his soul.
This episode further explores that idea through the return of Nick who shows up with a very deliberate plan designed to bring Lucifer back from The Empty to possess him again. Naturally this is a horrific plan that should be stopped at all costs because Lucifer is pretty much the most dangerous being in the universe so shouldn’t be given the opportunity to return. Nick’s arc across the season has been really interesting ranging from overwhelming guilt and confusing to completely embracing the darkest aspects of his personality. The transition from tortured survivor to fully fledged serial killer happened fairly organically and was backed up by a string of predictably excellent performances from Mark Pellegrino who never failed to make every step of that dark journey distinct.
From Sam and Dean’s perspective Nick’s actions like kidnapping Donatello seem like random acts of malice with little purpose behind them. The audience knows that he has been trying to get Lucifer back but that information hasn’t been made available to any of the characters outside of Nick at this point. It makes sense that Sam and Dean would be fairly cautious in handling Nick as he’s very unpredictable but the major failing of the episode is that they aren’t cautious enough when it comes to dealing with him as they take a lot of what he says at face value without considering if there is a deeper plan behind it. His request to speak to Jack is a clear example of this as they refuse outright at first before letting it happen because Jack insists that he isn’t afraid of Nick. Letting Jack speak to him is one thing but agreeing to the demand that Jack speak to Nick alone seems very short sighted on their part. To an extent this is understandable as Nick knows where Donatello is and they don’t but there are still concerns about Jack at this point so it makes little sense to not set up so much as a hidden camera in the room to monitor the situation. Once again common sense goes out of the window for plot movement.
Despite Sam and Dean’s lack of foresight there’s a lot going on here that works really well. Nick’s characterisation is absolutely spot on throughout. He is at the very end of his journey where he is completely irredeemable and has shed any semblance of humanity he had. Not only does he feel compelled to kill and cause suffering he takes a great deal of pleasure in carrying out his brutal acts. At every point in this episode he has the upper hand because there’s nothing he won’t do in pursuit of his goals. Mark Pellegrino’s almost delirious performance as Nick watches everyone play into his hands makes for great viewing and capably sets him apart from Lucifer who is more deliberate even if he wants to appear aloof. The characters are entirely different and somehow Nick hasn’t worn out his welcome quite yet.
The strongest scene in the episode was the one shared by Nick and Jack. It was very brief but it manages to cover two things in a really succinct way. Firstly it confirms that Nick has a plan that extends beyond the suspected random malice. He is so clearly trying to get a reaction out of Jack and taking great pleasure in doing so. The second thing it covers is that there is something not quite right with Jack. He reacts violently to the suggestion that he doesn’t have a soul because he wants to believe that he hasn’t lost it after repeatedly hearing that losing his soul would be a bad thing. It’s clear that he doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between right and wrong so needs his soul to act as his conscience when it comes to a crisis point. Nick talking to him as if he definitely has a soul provokes the necessary reaction which means that Nick can move onto the next phase of his plan while appearing to be giving in.
It’s basically all a distraction so that Nick can engineer his escape and use the blood he appropriated from Jack to summon Lucifer back from The Empty in order to make him feel less alone. Thankfully this doesn’t work as Jack steps in and prevents Lucifer from possessing Nick but putting a stop to this comes with its own problems. Jack is so consumed by his own resentment for Lucifer that he turns the full force of his power on Nick and starts to burn him to death. The completion of this act is never actually seen which leads me to believe that Nick won’t actually be dead but the fact that Jack didn’t hesitate to give into a violent urge is enough to raise plenty of red flags. It should be noted that the visual representation of Lucifer emerging from The Empty is excellent.
His conversation with Mary after the fact seems to confirm that Jack has lost at least a vast chunk of his soul. He attempts to justify what he did to Nick by pointing out that he’s a bad person and needed to be dealt with. Mary tries to point out that there are always better ways but Jack wants to hear her say that what he did was ok which she will never do since that isn’t what she believes. Jack’s focus is in the wrong place as he’s more distraught about Mary having a negative opinion of him than he is about what he just did to Nick. This calls back to Donatello’s advice about considering what the Winchesters would do when faced with moral choices and indicates that he’s aware he has made the wrong one but can’t do anything to fix it. Mary’s disapproval sets Jack off in a big way with his final action left ambiguous as the episode ends. Something bad happening to Mary is hinted at early in the episode when she makes a point of telling Dean that she greatly values the time she’s had with him and Sam. This suggests that Mary’s days could be numbered as dialogue like that is rarely an arbitrary addition. It’s also possible that it’s a red herring designed to attach tension to the end of the episode.
Loneliness is the recurring theme for this episode. It is best explored through Castiel going to Anael for help in finding God. Her former position in Heaven means that she might be best placed to find a method of contacting him. The mechanics of this are largely busy work that provides an opportunity for Cas and Anael to debate God on both a personal and conceptual level. Anael doesn’t think very much of God because she sees him as having abandoned his creation to deal with untold suffering while he stands by and does nothing about it. She frames it through her disbelief over God turning his back on his own creation. It has been explained to her as God not being one to meddle but Anael couldn’t stand by and watch people suffer on a global scale so resolved to do what she could. Castiel points out that she helped people for money though Anael states that she actually does it for herself and is happy with her life choice in that regard.
The loneliness aspect comes into it through her interpretation of existence. She thinks that everyone is lonely because at their core they are completely alone no matter who or what they are. It’s something that can never be fixed because every being is by its nature solitary even through social interactions. It’s a fairly bleak outlook but it’s easy to see how Anael would come to that conclusion considering her experience of the world and how active God has been in interacting with it. Castiel argues that he does meddle such as bringing him back to life but Anael sees that as a small gesture in the grand scheme of things. Basically she is far from impressed by God and his approach to his own creation. There is a lack of understanding on both sides as to the reasons God has for choosing to leave those he created to fend for himself but the idea that he isn’t living up to his responsibilities is certainly worth exploring. Getting as many perspectives on God’s actions as possible is also a good thing as it serves as a reminder that there are many angles to explore. Cas remains hopeful and tells Anael that God is always with them even if they don’t feel it which comes across somewhat empty to Anael who has long since abandoned the notion that God will do her any good. This contrast is great and adds further layers to Anael’s character by exposing her to different situations.
Castiel comes across as really desperate in this episode. His main focus is restoring Jack’s soul and the only thing capable of doing that is God himself so he has to find a way to contact him. This is where Anael comes in as she worked for an Angel who communed with God. For reasons that remain unexplained Cas chose not to tell Sam and Dean what he was doing which makes for the second big secret that he has kept from them this season. In this case it feels very artificial as there’s no reason for Cas to keep this from them since what he’s doing isn’t overly dangerous. Sam and Dean have met God so know what to expect there and Anael is at worst a frenemy who doesn’t represent a large threat to them because she’s only out for herself so wouldn’t engage in anything that would place her in too much risk. I feel that this exists to provide conflict in the coming episodes and it’s such an obvious manipulation.
The interactions between Cas and Anael are really strong as I’ve mentioned above. His forced optimism is a fun contrast to her pessimistic outlook. Anael’s life choices are perfectly valid for her because they’ve kept her alive and the suggestion that she isn’t as selfish as she appears to be has a lot of potential for her to grow over the coming episodes should she come into play more significantly.
A strong episode that deals with some lingering questions, continues to show how much of a threat Nick is and adds layers to a compelling side character. Whether Jack has a soul or not has been a lingering question since the restoration of his powers. This episode uses the return of Nick to further that plot as he is able to get under Jack’s skin by winding him up about being soulless in order to provoke a violent reaction. Jack is very much playing into Nick’s hands here which marks an oversight on Sam and Dean’s part for not being more cautious around him. Ultimately the episode is building to the point where Jack is pushed far enough to burn him apparently to death just before Lucifer can make a comeback. It’s a shocking moment and Mary’s reaction helps it to hit home combined with Jack desperately looking for validation for his actions and not getting it. Mary declaring that she values the time she has spent with Sam and Dean earlier in the episode suggests she may be on her way to a bad end. Nick’s characterisation as well as Mark Pellegrino’s performance is spot on in this episode. He’s a genuinely intimidating antagonist even if his plan working is largely because Sam and Dean are made to underestimate him.
Loneliness is a recurring theme in the episode that is best explored through Anael and Cas. A great deal of depth is added to Anael including further texture to her overall motivation and how that relates to her views on God. She doesn’t approve of how he treats his responsibilities and looks to help people in her own way. It very much benefits her but also gives her purpose along with financial success on Earth. She sees every being on Earth being alone by definition which is the root cause of beings feeling lonely as far as she’s concerned. It’s a bleak view but is well justified while adding further angles to the debate over God and his responsibilities. Cas is a bit more optimistic but he’s also coming from a place of desperation as he really wants to restore Jack’s soul. For some reason he keeps this hidden from Sam and Dean in an effort to artificially manufacture drama without it making sense. Cas and Anael’s interactions are excellent throughout and adding depth to Anael is certainly welcomed.
- Nick’s characterisation and Mark Pellegrino’s performance
- the visual representation of Lucifer trying to return
- the strong handling over whether Jack has a soul at this point
- Jack desperately seeking validation from Mary after going too far
- adding depth to Anael
- Anael and Castiel’s strong interactions
- Sam and Dean underestimating Nick for plot reasons
- Castiel hiding the truth from Sam and Dean for no justifiable reason
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