Four Days Later

Following on the heels of a fabulous season 13 premiere episode, “The Rising Son” was a tense, suspenseful, thoughtful second chapter in the story of Jack, the misunderstood all-powerful-being child. Once again, Alexander Calvert’s nuanced portrayal of the most powerful creature on earth housed inside a naïve, well-intentioned 3 day, 17 hours and 42 minute old teenager gave the character an emotional depth that was engaging and edgy. Throughout the episode, I held my breath along with Sam and Dean to see if Jack's father’s or mother’s genes would rule his actions at any given moment.

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I started the hashtag #PlzLikeHimDean during the #WFBLiveTweet, because my heart broke for the sweet kid who couldn’t understand why Dean, a guy he admired and was trying to emulate, hated him so much. Dean just experienced unthinkable nightmare horrors, and his coping mechanism is to reduce everything to the simplest terms of either good or bad so he can move forward without dealing with his pain. He doesn’t want to indulge false hopes or optimistic possibilities because he will just hurt more when the worst happens. It’s difficult to see him shut down emotionally like this, though, promising an “innocent” boy that he’ll be the one to kill him, and telling Sam that their mom is dead and it is useless to hope otherwise.

Sam:… and the kid

Dean: the kid? C’mon man, you know how this plays out. Look, when we try to bend the rules, pretend that the bad guys aren’t so bad or that things will get fixed, that’s when people that we care about get hurt. And then we end up doing what we should have done in the first place, which is end the problem. So this time, let’s start with the obvious. As soon as I find a way to take care of it”…

Sam: Dean, the problem might be our only shot at saving mom.

Dean: Mom's gone. No fixing that. 

An online fan observed that Dean was furious when Sam didn’t look for him after Dean “disappeared” (to purgatory) and was presumed dead, yet Dean is making the exact same emotional decision now, choosing to not look for Mary because logic dictates that she’s dead and it’s too painful and difficult to act otherwise. Sam explained it to Jack:

Sam: Sometimes the wires in Dean’s head get crossed, and he gets frustrated, and then he mixes frustration with anger, and fear

Jack: Why would Dean be afraid?

Sam: because Dean feels like it’s his job to protect everyone and right now we need to protect you, but we also may need to protect people from you.

Again, season 13 didn't back away from having its characters feel and express emotions and confusion! Supernatural at its best! Tough guys who acknowledge emotional turmoil! Loving this! The tension in this half of the story came from the two conflicts surrounding Jack: the tug-of-war between Sam and Dean over Jack’s soul, and the tug-of-war between the brothers and Asmodeus over control of Jack’s power.

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It was also fun to have season 11’s Donatello return as the latest unwilling prophet. On the run from both angels and demons, Donatello is like Jack in that he is just an innocent (soulless apparently) pawn who holds immense powers that are being sought by all sides in the dangerous supernatural war for power.

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Lucifer and Mary’s wanderings in the AU seamlessly continued the tension in "The Rising Son". Firebombs from Heaven, smiting angel armies, Lucifer’s snarky comments and Mary’s comebacks, then Michael!

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I wasn’t too happy with the rapey hunter and Lucifer saving the day. That was a boy-saves-helpless-girl moment that bugged me but it was fast in an otherwise exciting, well-written parallel story. The results of the Sam/Dean/Jack and Lucifer/Mary parallel wars was an exciting hour of Supernatural woven together with both old and new Threads. There were a couple of exceptions to the outstanding story, though, so let’s get those out of the way first.

Fire and Light (and Dark)

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Asmodeus’ sudden appearance into Hell really confounded things. From the moment he sauntered into the throne room and assumed to take control of the kingdom, not only were a few "Threads" theories thrown out a window but it seems so were several aspects of previously established canon.

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We were introduced to Asmodeus by his grand entrance into Hell’s throne room, complete with blinding white light and troubled looks on demons' faces. Unfortunately, for me the desired grandeur of introducing the fourth and final Prince of Hell to the story was entirely deflated by that cheesy depiction of “Hell on Earth”, which I had dearly hoped to never, ever see again. An abandoned building decorated to look like a medieval castle, with the fires of hell watered down to just a few candles strewn about hallways for light? That’s just not Supernatural’s standard of excellence. The throne room and dungeon are obviously above ground because streams of light beautifully illuminate every shot of the “castle’s” inhabitants so do they just desire the warm glow of candles for the atmosphere, or to make them feel more "at home”? “Corporate” demons wearing suits sitting around getting drunk while sniveling about feeling sorry for themselves is so ludicrously boring that even Crowley couldn’t take it anymore. Why would Asmodeus come to this throne room instead of establishing himself in the bowels on Hell? Crowley’s excuse was that he hated Hell and wanted to be on Earth, yet Asmodeus, a Prince of Hell, is content with Hell’s home away from home? Maybe it saves the hassle of traveling between realms? Oh well. It’s an established set so I guess we’re in for another season of “House of Wax”. Moving on.

Within seconds, the second “uh, what?” scene happened. Asmodeus secured his rule and demonstrated his power by smiting most of the king’s court.

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Since when do streams of white light and burned out eyes accompany a demon’s death, though? Isn’t red the signature color of a demon’s power? Exhibit A, B & C are entered into testimony, if it pleases the court!

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Angels emit blinding white light when they are killed (reference most recently, our dear Castiel), and humans’ eyes are burned out when exposed to an angel’s power (ref: Kevin, Pamela Barnes, and numerous innocent bystanders in bars and cafes in the early years) so why were these demons different? Are there other examples of white light deaths that I’m just forgetting? Again, moving on.

As I was saying, Asmodeus suddenly appeared to rule in Lucifer’s place after centuries of living in seclusion. Asmodeus’ long absence implies that either he was content with Hell being ruled by the line of kings (and queens we presume) that abruptly ended with Crowley, or more likely, like Ramiel, he simply didn’t care one way or the other what happened to Hell while Lucifer was trapped in the cage. The Dark Lord’s (did I just switch to Harry Potter?) imprisonment signaled the dark ages of Hell. Without Lucifer, there wasn’t enough power to overthrow Heaven so best lay low and wait for better days ahead. Even when Lucifer was freed, though, neither Ramiel, Dagon nor Asmodeus revealed themselves. It took the birth of a Nephilim to get everyone’s attention.

Asmodeus: At this point, we must focus on the son.

Demon: There is no sign of him either sir. Maybe a sudden infant death?

Asmodeus: He is not an infant. New to this world, yes, but he is full of timeless knowledge and unschooled power. He lives, I know it. With Lucifer gone, I want him found and trained to rule with me as his humble advisor, of course.

Demon: OK, find son but continue to search for Lucifer.

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So Asmodeus came out of retirement because a Lucifer/Nephilim combo might be enough to “Make Hell Great Again”. In season 12, I theorized that Asmodeus had not actually been absent from Hell’s rule all those years but instead, like Azazel, was playing the long game and trying to prepare the world for Lucifer’s return. By founding the British Men of Letters, Asmodeus furthered Hell’s agenda,  consolidating power through a network of blood-thirsty human lackeys. When Dr. Hess appealed to the “old men” in London in 12.22 “Who We Are”, this theory was bolstered by the mysterious, cold male voice on the computer. While it is still possible that Asmodeus’ “day job” is secretly running the BMoL, his impetuous rush to grab Jack and free the shedim suggests a demon that is power hungry and rebellious rather than conniving and patient like Azazel, eager to serve like Dagon, or careful like Ramiel. Asmodeus’ scars bear witness to his impulsiveness:

Eager to please, I freed the shedim… Hell’s most savage. Things so dark and base that God himself would not let them into the light. But I, in my pride, believed that I could train them, use them. But Lucifer feared them, as well he should, so he locked them up again. He was disappointed in me.

There’s still a shred of hope that Asmodeus is a deep character that will tie together both the human and monster troubles Sam and Dean have faced for the past several years, but I think I might have to admit defeat on this one and go with the obvious megalomaniac yellow-eyed demon mentality. That makes both the character and my failed theory rather disappointing. Asmodeus does seem to have a few tricks up his sleeve, though, since he is able to transmute himself into any form.

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Have I had a sudden lapse of memory or am I right to think that this is another departure from prior demon lore? Have we seen any other shape shifter/demon hybrids? Even shape shifters have to touch their cloning subjects, so is Asmodeus the most powerful of the Princes or is this just creative license to make Sam and Dean’s lives even more miserable? I guess only time will shed light on this question.

The Unknowns

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Lucifer: Why would I kill you? … A game plan, i.e. I don’t want you dead because I need you alive. Yeah, in a perfect world I would probably kill you and your plodding sons but life isn’t fair. Your sons have my boy so I’m going to exchange you for my son.

Mary: You can’t possibly care about raising a child.

Lucifer: You have no idea what I care about.

That’s intriguing. All of history would indicate that the only reason Lucifer wants Jack is to control a Nephilim’s power, but Lucifer seemed genuinely excited about having a child. Is survival motivating him, wanting to extend his lineage to strengthen his side of the war on God, or does him really want to see if he can be a better father than God was to him (supposedly)? A major theme in Supernatural’s 12 year story has been fatherhood. Season 13 may be less about the struggle between heaven and earth, and more about studying another iteration of fatherhood and family. Can fatherhood make a bad person good? Can it motivate evil to change, to reform, or does pure evil already have a soft side? After all, Lucifer was hurt by his father ignoring him. Does he really want to try his hand at nurturing? Donatello voiced the issue:

Sam: Jack doesn’t have to be evil. We can teach him not to be.

Donatello: The nature vs. nurture conundrum. … It’s like asking a lion not to be a lion.

Sam: but this isn’t a lion, this is a human!

Donatello: …with a strong dose of God juice.

He was talking about Jack but the question applies equally to Lucifer.  Will Lucifer’s nature overpower a nurturing instinct, if it even exists?

It is worth noting that Jack's (the father) and Mary’s (a mother) conversation refers to Jack in loving terms, using words such as boy, child and son, whereas the “good guys’” language refers to Jack as a kid, “it” and a problem to be solved (Sam) or ended (Dean). Also, while the “good guys” openly argue about ideals and theories, and struggle to figure out the right thing to do, their conflict scares Jack. The “bad” guy, Asmodeus, wears white (ala Sam’s Lucifer in “The End”), and gets Jack to do exactly what he wants almost immediately by lying and deceiving. Both approaches backfire.

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The only thing that worked was Sam talking honestly with Jack, involving him in solving the unknown, the question that scares all of them: is Jack good or bad?

Jack: This book, it mentions my father, not Castiel, but Lucifer.

Dean: He’s Satan

Jack: and that’s bad?

Dean: Damn straight. See, he turned on his father, God.

Jack: God. He’s in here too. Is he famous or something? So God’s like my grandfather. He’s family and that’s good.

Dean: Sometimes. … [later] you telling me your father never reached out to you?

Sam: Jack you alright?

Jack: yeah, good. I’m good.

Curiously, Dean just communicated to Jack that turning on your father is what made Lucifer bad. Will Jack remember that lesson and be worried that not siding with Lucifer will be what turns him bad? The conversation that Dean had with fake bartender lady also emphasized the need to please one's dad, no matter bad a father he might be. Both talks were meant to be foreboding, but I don't believe them. I'm with Sam, Cas and Kelly - Jack will be good.

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A large part of my enjoyment of this episode came from the emotional character exploration. Scene after scene focused on the question of Jack’s allegiances, and whether his power could be controlled consciously by Jack himself, by Sam and Dean for good, or by Asmodeus for evil.

Donatello: Look at you. Waves of power, so intense.

Dean: Maybe less human than we thought.

Donatello: fascinating. You know I met your father. Your power is nothing like his. Not dark, not toxic.

Sam: That so?

Dean: Not yet.

Dean hears the worst, Sam hears the hope. Even at the tattoo parlor, Dean sees bad omens while Sams sees innocent reflexes and instinct.

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(No, there was no real reason to include the picture of Sam's tattoo, except... yay, Sam's tattoo!)

[Later] Sam: You heard Donatello. No evil vibes from Jack.

Dean: Proves nothing except that you’re way too attached to this kid. You need to see this for what it is.

Sam: Dean, whatever his power is or will be, if we train him properly, it can be used for good.

When talking to Asmodeus disguised as Donatello, Sam quoted the lore:

“A Nephilim becomes more powerful than the angel who sired it, and in this case the sire is an archangel, so…

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Jack is just as scared as everyone else of his powers. He sees them emerging without his knowledge or intention:

Dean: What the hell?!

Jack: Exactly! What the hell am I? I can’t control whatever this is.

Dean: you know my brother believes you can be saved.

Jack: You don’t believe that.

Dean: No I don’t.

Jack: and if you’re right?

Dean: If I’m right, and it comes to killing you, I’m gonna be the one to do it.

Fixing Thing

At least twice Dean's dialog specifically noted trying to “fix” things that had gone wrong. In the end, Jack was able to fix his mistake of believing the disguised Asmodeus but Jack being grabbed wasn’t entirely his fault. One of the weak spots in this plotline was the notion that Sam and Dean would stay together in one room leaving Jack unprotected way down the hall. Donatello is not a hunter. He would not be able to fight his way out of an attack by either angels or demons. The brothers had already recognized that Jack’s “signal” would attract his enemies, so it was not reasonable to believe that at least Sam (not Dean because Dean’s anger was scaring Jack) would have stayed with him. (As an aside, it was also hard to believe that Dean’s fight with the demon would have gone unnoticed for so long before Sam arrived.) Will they reach a point where their mistakes can’t be fixed? Listen to see if this theme is repeated in the future.

Good vs. Bad, Right vs. Wrong

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Donatello: I sensing a power emanation along Jack’s… something dark

Dean: Do you ever have any good news?

Sam: Jasper is home to its very own gate to hell.. leads to a place where unimaginable evil emanates from creatures too evil for the pit to hold.

Donatello: They’re really bad.

Good, bad, evil, right and wrong were mentioned repeatedly throughout the script. Obviously, the episode directly explored these questions but the dialog reiterated the theme of opposites in conflict even when Jack’s power and Sam and Dean’s disagreement were not the focus. In a scene that showed a dignified, proper hellfire being opened with nothing more than Jack's thoughts, the climax of the episode was a true test of Jack's loyalty, at least for now.

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He chose his friends. Ironically, both Sam and Dean were proved right by that frightening show of power and will.

Despite the few questionable moments and the simplistic depictions of Hell and its ruling class at the beginning of the show, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Rising Son”. It portrayed honest, confused human emotions that left me on the edge of my seat wondering not only what would happen next, but what’s coming in the rest of the season. The Sam, Dean, Jack, Donatello, Mary and Lucifer scenes were all wonderfully portrayed, pulling me into both Supernatural worlds. The biggest question that the show left unanswered for me? 

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Why wouldn’t Dean let Jack watch Scooby Doo?! I grew up watching that cartoon! It’s good, wholesome monster chasing fun! Maybe that’s the moment that haunts Dean later in season 13? I think we just found a new Thread! What do you think?  

 

Screencaps Courtesy of http://www.homeofthenutty.com

A few names confirmed at http://www.supernaturalwiki.com