Thank you for a stunning, emotionally captivating “Byzantium”. My recent "Threads" review of 14.05 “Nightmare Logic” praised your talent, as evidenced by the exceptional episodes you had written for Supernatural. “Byzantium” confirms your place on the list of the series’ best writers.
The Morning After
After watching Supernatural 14.8 “Byzantium”, I awoke today with a painful ache in my chest from the adrenaline-fueled tension I held inside of me during my two viewings of Meredith Glynn’s superbly written story. Just as an actor’s body doesn’t know that the emotion they portray is a pretense, my body didn’t know that the outpouring of love I was feeling for Jack, Kelly, Castiel, Sam and Dean was due to my attachment to fictional characters. It is truly difficult for me to begin analyzing the Threads of the episode when my emotional response is overwhelming my logical discernment. There have only been a few times that I have reacted this emotionally to a Supernatural episode. The stories that immediately come to mind are:
“Don’t Call Me Shurley”
“All Hell Breaks Loose II”
“Who We Are”
“Do You Believe in Miracles”
“The Man Who Would Be King”
Meredith, thank you for transitioning Jack’s storyline from life to death and back to life again, and his family’s story of complete acceptance and love for him, with a grace and tenderness that reflected Jack’s innocence.
Castiel provided a comforting presence and strength. Sam needed space. Dean took care of the rituals surrounding such a loss – deciding arrangements, making notifications – but amid all that he needed to hear the consoling warmth of his mom’s voice.
“Your brother’s in pain”
Sam’s tears, then his the silent withdrawal, broke everyone’s heart,
but his sudden departure terrified Dean, worried that the endless cycle of dealing away souls was about to start over again.
Sam felt guilty because he couldn’t find an answer. He felt he had failed Jack.
Everything we got -- the spells, the lore -- what good is any of it if we couldn't even save him?
After the shock, there was the wake.
“Take one last look before you leave.”
Thank you Meredith for the loving insights into the bond between parents and their children.
Young/Old; Dying Young; Draining Life Force
Dean: You got old.
Sam: Lily, I know you're upset, but you can still do the spell.
Lily: That wasn't the deal.
Sam: We have nothing to offer you, nothing to say, but He's our kid!
Dean: You know what I think? Burning all that soul? You're not even human anymore, not really. Otherwise, how could you ever, ever let anyone go through what you went through? The pain of losing a kid? Don't do this to us.
The other mother in the story was Kelly. Courtney Ford beautifully reprised her role as Jack’s wise, compassionate mom. It makes perfect sense that Jack would look for her in heaven. He sought his grandparents’ comfort when he was confused, and he repeatedly found ways (video, shapeshifter) to connect with the mom he never knew as he tried to discover his identity.
Their reunion lovingly bridged the emotions of grief, happiness and hope within the episode. Kelly released Castiel from any guilt he was imposing on himself for Jack’s death. She thanked Cas for “raising” her son to be such a fine young man – a moment of pride for them both. Jack and Kelly had so much catching up to do. They wanted to learn about and protect each other.
Kelly's love for her son enabled her to let him leave. Sure, he didn’t have much of a choice – he was either going to leave by force with the Shadow and face the true end of his existence, or he had to face his human frailties and hardships (along with joys and triumphs) again as a result of Castiel’s negotiation. Kelly genuinely wanted her son to return to his human life, though, even if she'd have to sacrifice time with him. She went along with the plan willingly, just as Castiel offered to "go willingly" if it meant saving Jack.
Meredith, thank you for giving Castiel a role that is befitting of an angel of the Lord.
This doesn't feel right. It's just not how I thought Jack's story would end. The certainty of death, even for angels, it's always felt natural, but this doesn't. Jack being taken before his time. I mean, taken before me.
Dean to Sam: Tell me you didn't make a deal.Sam: A deal? What? No! [Later to Dean] taking risks, making crappy deals -- that's what we do.Dean: Yeah, and they usually bite us in the ass.
Castiel: Take me in his stead. Take me. I'm the one you want. I'm the one who woke you up.Entity Shadow: You? But you're already mine.Castiel: Not for years. Eons maybe. But if you'll agree, I will go now, and I will go willingly.Shadow: Deal.
Angels and demons, you all come here when you die…sleeping an endless peaceful sleep.
Where I'm taking you is worse than Hell because at least Hell is something.
Shadow: Deal. Oh, but not now. No, no, no, no, no. No, you see, I meant what I said. I want you to suffer. I want you to go back to your normal life and then forget about this and forget about me. And then, when you finally give yourself permission to be happy and let the sun shine on your face, that's when I'll come. That's when I'll come to drag you to nothing.Castiel: I accept.
Naomi: “You’re the only one of us who ever escaped.”
Thank you for a story that seamlessly pulled together so many characters’ journeys.
Dean was a supporting character in this story. He was angry and frustrated by his helplessness but Dean doesn’t process emotions quickly. He drank away his pain, and awoke to Sam’s new plan to save Jack.
Literally and symbolically, Dean has not been in the driver’s seat for the past two weeks. First he let a teenager drive Baby, surrendering control of his beloved car to a novice kid. This week, worried that Sam was doing “something stupid” like making a deal to save Jack, did it surprise you that Dean allowed Castiel to drive through the night searching for Sam? Sam had Baby, putting himself in the driver’s seat of finding a solution for Jack, but it’s hard to accept that, enraged and frantic, Dean calmly climbed into the passenger seat rather than storming about and barking orders.
The underlying symbolism applies not only to Dean’s circumstances in cars, but also to his situations with his brother and with Michael. [Spoiler Alert IF you didn’t watch next’ week’s trailer] The trailer for next week’s mid-season cliffhanger clearly shows Michael is in another vessel, ergo, he is not still in Dean. What then did the Djinn see? Why is Dean having dizzy spells? [End Spoiler]
The symbolism of him relinquishing his usual position of authority in vehicles is that he isn’t in the driver seat of his life either. He participated in finding Sam and saving Jack, but he wasn’t really calling the shots. Dean wasn’t the hero of this story. He and Kelly were emotional support. The heroes were Castiel, Sam and Lily. Besides saving Jack, Castiel learned of Michael’s location. Hadn’t Castiel previously asked Heaven for help in locating Michael? The angels knew Michael’s whereabouts yet they didn’t immediately help Castiel with his mission to save humanity? Well, I suppose plots have to advance somehow!
Meredith, there’s one question you might be able to answer: Why on earth did you name this episode “Byzantium”?! Do you know how hard it is to type “Byzantium” quickly? It reduces me to consciously hunting for combinations of keys that my fingers don’t know naturally! Also, in 10 years when I’m listing my favorite episodes of Supernatural’s 24 seasons, how am I supposed to remember what “Byzantium” was about when I don’t even understand the reference? 😉
Title Thread… Say What Now?
Meredith tweeted that "Byzantium" refers to the turn-of-the-century poet W. B. Yates’ work, “Sailing to Byzantium.” Trust me, that’s deep stuff. It’s about the young and the old, and sailing to holy cities. Truth be told, I’m not enlightened enough to appreciate the intricacies of the poem. Please, English majors, share with us the insights that my Honors high school English teacher tried to drill into our adolescent brains way back when. Byzantium was also an ancient city at the heart of the Byzantine Empire. Now I’m thinking of my high school Honors History teacher! History majors, here’s where you shine! So while I dig into the emotional and mythological significance of this masterful story, could someone else please analyze the title thread for me?
The interesting new canon was that Jack’s human soul could compensate for his lack of angelic power – a back-up generator if you will.
Lily: My magic draws power from the soul, the human soul. It could save him.Sam: You'd give your soul up?Lily: Not my soul. His. It's not his entire soul, obviously. As long as he's only using it to sustain his body, it won't cost much. He'll never miss it… Resurrection and a cure.
Thank you Meredith for continuing Supernatural’s legacy of complex emotional and mythological stories grounded in the belief in family.
In some ways, this episode was different from the early years of Supernatural. A Winchester wasn’t fighting for his or her life. Neither Sam nor Dean were making demon deals or dealing with monsters. They’re now experienced enough for it to be somewhat routine for them to summon a god, the significance of which was appropriately shocking to Lily but rather matter-of-fact to them. Sam didn’t act rashly. Dean listened to reason.
"Byzantium" answered questions about Castiel's past and temporarily resolved questions about Jack's illness but it opened up huge questions about Castiel's and Jack's futures. What messages do you take away from this episode? Did you react as emotionally as I did? Do you have anything you want to add to my letter to Meredith? Comment below!
Thank you Meredith for “Byzantium”. It’s a treasure to watch, and a pivotal turning point in so many stories. I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.
You can catch up on my previous Threads articles (and all my other writing) by going to my Writer Page. These might help you consider these new threads!
Transcript Quotes courtesy of https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/
Additional screencaps courtesy of http://www.homeofthenutty.com/supernatural/screencaps/