The Morning After
Emotionally touching and brutally disturbing. That’s a jolting juxtaposition to incorporate into one episode but Supernatural “Unhuman Nature” carried it off extremely well. The acting delivered by the entire Supernatural cast once again elevated the story to a captivating intensity.
Jensen and Jared set the tone by genuinely caring about what happens to Dean, Sam and their family members. Dean was more at the forefront of Jack’s story, so his reactions were integral to delivering the emotional punch of Jack’s terminal illness. Dean was his frantic, worried self, the person he becomes when someone he dearly loves is fighting for his life, yet his anxiety was nicely balanced with his fun-loving self, the guy who knows how “opening it up a bit” on a long stretch of deserted road can revive a beleaguered soul. Jensen’s display of Dean’s compassion, panic, guilt, understanding, and overall complex emotional reaction to Jack was the foundation upon which Alexander Calvert was able to convey Jack’s strikingly poignant acceptance of his plight.
Dying Young and Coming of Age
Alex is an utterly amazing young actor. His interpretation of Jack’s quiet wisdom in facing death deepened even further a fascinating character that has become so much more than the trite star child or super-powered savior Jack could have been. So many moments were unexpectedly gripping:
Dean: Listen, Jack.
Jack: Since I've been alive, everyone assumed I would be this special person who goes on forever. Only now it looks like forever might be a couple of weeks, so…
Dean: We don't know that.
Jack: What I do know is I'm done being special.
My heart dropped. Dead Stop. The emotional impact of that line alone is representative of the insightful writing and delivery of this episode. That kind of wisdom and acceptance of one’s self, that all life has precious value even when a person doesn’t have a singular gift that sets them above all others, was so moving. Jack’s confession wasn’t even over at this point.
Jack: Before my life is over, I want to live it. I just want a chance to get a tan, to see a hockey game, get a parking ticket, get bored - and when it's all over, die. I don't want to waste time arguing. I know you disagree.
Dean: Did I say I disagree?
The delivery of these mundane bucket list items was inspired. Jack zoomed past all the stages of grief straight to acceptance - practical, strong, sensitive, penetrating, loving resignation to the inevitable mortality of humans. Each of Jack’s dad’s also reminded us of Jack’s youth:
Dean: Yeah, but, I mean, weird stuff happens to kids all the time…. When Jack became human, I was worried, you know, given what we do, that that something would happen to him, but I thought it'd be a vampire or a ghoul, not a friggin' cough. He's just a kid.
Sam (about Jack): He’s a great kid.
Castiel: Jack isn't just another sick kid.
Sam and Castiel's heartfelt conversation about what was happening to Jack also reiterated his relationship with them:
Sam: You know, he's lost people, we've all lost people, but,
Castiel: This feels different. Losing, a son feels different.
I have to acknowledge the writing of Eugenie and Brad here. They saw into Jack’s soul and gave him wisdom beyond his years, and into Dean, Sam and Castiel’s souls to give them very real emotions. They also thought of having Dean and Jack share the rite of passage of a teen learning how to drive in dad’s beloved car.
Eugenie and Brad were also the ones who insightfully wrote Sam’s reaction to Jack’s sudden collapse. Sam took charge. He was the first person through the door when Jack worsened despite Castiel’s healing. Although small, that recognition was extremely important to me, and one of the tiny details that contributed to the story’s genuineness. Sam then fought through his anguish to give the emergency room nurse answers to life’s everyday questions, and took the lead in respectfully (and effectively) talking with the doctor.
Sam quietly called Rowena while waiting at the hospital, thinking ahead to alternate ways to attack their problem. Sam was also watching and caring for everyone else during the crisis. He knew and acknowledged how Castiel was feeling, why Dean was reacting the way he was, and exactly how to approach Rowena to get her cooperation despite her fear and deep hatred of Lucifer. Some fans were concerned that Sam had a “back burner” role in this story, but I was touched by his compassionate leadership. I was momentarily disturbed when Jack said that dying meant he would miss Dean (instead of Tahiti) but failed to mention Sam and Castiel. It would only have taken like four more words to avoid that slight, but I decided to quit being so insecure. Jack had previously expressed his love of Sam and Castiel and I believe his sincerity and attachment to all his fathers, so I’ll give that one a pass.
Castiel was also in perfect character, offering to sacrifice himself at every opportunity because that was the best way he knew to rectifying Jack’s hopeless situation. Cas offered his grace without hesitation, and he offered to make the trip to the shaman, despite I’m sure wanting to stay at Jack’s side. By the way, it was really cool to see Castiel’s healing aura passing through his hand into Jack’s body. That’s a virtual special effect I wish we had been seeing long before now!
To complete the primary storyline, I was also struck by Ruth Connell’s portrayal of Rowena this time. The timing of her delivery of lines in the bunker hallway, when she was the “consulting second opinion” who had to explain a terminal diagnosis to three anxious fathers, then explain to Castiel why his sacrifice wasn’t compatible and wouldn’t save Jack, completely sold the moment. The lines were written on the page for her to say, but she instilled an empathy and her Scottish phrasing that somehow penetrated the cold reality.
Title Thread: Unhuman Nature
Rowena: It's as I suspected. A Nephilim, for all its power, is an unnatural presence. Part human, part angel. It doesn't quite fit. It's delicate. Its grace is what holds it in balance, and when Jack's grace was taken from him, his being fell into chaos. The cells are gobbling each other up.
Castiel: Well, if it's grace he needs, he can have mine.
Rowen: No, dear, it won't do. Jack is part archangel. He needs a much stronger force and probably some kind of magic, and he needs it quick.
Her compassion emotionally bridged finding out what was wrong to dealing with the problem – a critical story transition and another example of the effective writing and acting from everyone involved in Jack’s tale. This scene also bridged Jack believing that without his grace he was “human” to reminding us that Jack is not now, and can never be, human. Remember him initially explaining away his cough to Dean with “I’m human now”? After Jack’s sickness progressed in this episode, Dean remembered “When Jack became human…”, and Sam acknowledged “his mother was a fantastic human." After Rowena’s clarification of Jack’s composition, the characters all started reverting to referring to Jack’s true nature – unhuman. Rowena said, “There's a wee Nephilim I know who's ailing”, and Castiel explained, “Dean, the bunker's vault has a number of Enochian texts on archangels, but nothing on their half-human offspring.
Nick’s story also clarified his incomplete humanity. Once possessed by an archangel, he couldn’t return to denying the power and absolution being possessed granted him. He judged Frank guilty of the acts committed while he was possessed. By the same logic, would Nick be guilty of the atrocities committed by Lucifer? Certainly not to a sane person’s thinking, but the archangel’s discarded vessel was left changed. He was neither the human he was before the possession nor the innocent bystander he claimed to be under the archangel’s dominion. He was unable to fight his depraved thoughts - thoughts that were either there before and partially responsible for Lucifer’s attraction to Nick, or thoughts that were accentuated as aftermath to Lucifer’s possession.
I say that I do the terrible things I do because I couldn't find who killed Sarah and Teddy. And that once I did, I'd be free of this darkness and this rage but I lied. Truth is I like doing these things, and I don't want to stop. I'm bonded to you and what you are. I mean, it's how you first found me. I don't know who I am if I'm not you. No consequences. No pain. No sorrow. I want that back. I want it back. I don't want to feel now what I didn't feel then.
In essence, Nick was left “unhuman” too – part archangel, part human.
What does that say about Dean, then??? Dean’s phasing in and out during conversations was a HUGE new development in the story! Is Michael reemerging? Is this Dean’s post-traumatic-stress manifesting? Besides the major questions about Michael’s presence, Dean was possessed by an archangel who is just as powerful and forceful as Lucifer. If Nick was chosen because he would give into his darker side and secretly like Lucifer’s actions, was Dean also Michael’s perfect vessel because the dark side of Dean’s personality could appreciate Michael’s Machiavellian approach? Years earlier, Dean tearfully confessed to Sam that he liked torturing souls. That strongly suggests that taken to the extreme, Dean’s dark side would like Michael’s supreme general tactics. This is a fascinating season for character study! Like Jack and Nick, is Dean also “unhuman” now because he hasn’t yet shed Michael’s archangel influence, if not presence??
Nick’s story was just as impactful as Jack's, but in the exact opposite way. Instead of being tender and sensitive, it was brutal and disturbing. Mark Pellegrino’s acting was brilliant. As impressive as everyone else’s performances were, Mark portrayal of Nick’s grief, desperation, dissociative serial killer tendencies, and internal battle between good and pure evil was arguably the most difficult of all the acting challenges. His violence was a glaring contrast to Jack’s peacefulness. It was a powerful story dynamic, skillfully interwoven.
I have to say that I thought the violence of Nick’s final kill was excessive, though. I don’t like horror (as you all have figured out by now) so that scene went way past acceptable limits to me. Several fans defended the scene during my live tweet, saying it was pure Kripke-era Supernatural, and this is a horror show after all! I acknowledge all that but still can’t ever condone such depravity being shown on television. The point could have been made with less gore. Yes, its excess intensified the episode and the juxtaposition of father (Nick acknowledged missing Lucifer as an excuse to indulging his serial killer drive) and son, but it’s a scene that will forever be fast forwarded in my household. What was your reaction to it? It conclusively make the point that Nick was beyond redemption, foreshadowed by Nick’s murder of and confession to the priest (whose murder, by the way, was also extremely disturbing):
I know I've got issues. It's not like I want to do this, okay? I need to. I know I should stop. It's just that these feelings afterward I hate. I hate that it feels so good. Anyway, I know I've taken up too much of your time. If you say you can't tell me what Arty told you during confession, I accept that. Of course, he was the only witness to my family's murder, but I understand you got your vows to keep and all that, but You really shoulda helped me. Okay? So you brought this on yourself. But, look, I will take some of your advice. Perhaps the peace I'm looking for does lie in the power of prayer. And I do agree with you, Padre. There is a Devil, and we should try to fight him. Sometimes we just can't.
It also canonically answered the question of how Nick was chosen to be Lucifer’s vessel. Nick’s backstory was materially expanded to include his excessive drinking (leaving his wife and new baby at home while he got “hammered” – nice play on words – at the Elks Lodge) and inborn proclivity to liking violence. So vessel choices, especially archangel vessels, are not entirely random. Did you see that coming based on our prior knowledge of archangels?
It seems Nick’s family was also killed by a demon to manipulate him to do an archangel’s bidding. Lucifer claimed innocence when he introduced himself to Jack, saying he couldn’t be as bad as everyone says because he was locked in a cage the whole time. Yet Azazel manipulated dozens of families to prepare for Lucifer’s return, including killing Mary and Jessica to convince Sam to become Lucifer’s vessel. It seems that Lucifer was also scheming, presumably getting Abraxas, a new demon name that will surely become extremely significant in the future, to kill a mother and baby to emotionally blackmail Nick into being his temporary vessel.
The introduction of this new name was foreshadowed throughout the script by repeatedly emphasizing peoples’ names:
ER Nurse: His full name, please. You do know his name, right?
Dean: His name is Jack Kline.
Sam: His name is Sergei.
Sergei: But back to this Nephilim you've been fostering.
Castiel: Jack. His name is Jack.
Nick: I got in contact with the reporter, and she gave me the name of the beat cop in our neighborhood… He said his name was "Abraxas… I know that name.
Lucifer knew that name.
I’m guessing Abraxas is the beginning of the new “big bad” myth arc. You think that will get started toward the end of season 14 or not until 15?
The other new name that was introduced was Sergei. Even though his cure was unsuccessful, the boys now owe him a favor. Surely that detail will be revisited sometime in the future! It might be significant that Gabriel's grace didn’t help Jack, though. Maybe only the father’s DNA grace is compatible? Did Jack reject Gabriel's grace, like it was the wrong type blood, or an incompatible organ? Does that mean that Lucifer is the ONLY archangel that can save Jack?
Team Free Will has to discover a way to save their Nephillim. Several possible solutions were presented. If we look back at the season’s threads for foreshadowing, draining the life force from supernatural beings has been used several times to “power up” other supernatural entities, e.g. vampires’ blood to make Michael’s super-monster serum, the old man’s blood to feed the djinn, and young girls to make an old witch young. Since Jack needs an archangel to survive, presumably there are two candidates for the job. First, Michael is definitely returning at some point. Maybe his grace saves Jack, but maybe not, given Sergei’s failed “experiment”. Secondly, and heaven help us, but it seems Lucifer is returning from the Empty! Nick’s prayer seemed to have awoken Lucifer in the great beyond.
Say What Now?
It made sense that an archangel’s Nephilim, a uniquely powerful creature of the universe, might be able to raise the supernaturally dead. Now a vessel can do it, simply because he prays? One could argue that Nick and Lucifer are unnaturally "bonded" so their situation is also unique. I’m not 100% sold. First of all, how is Nick even alive? Castiel confirmed that Nick/Lucifer was “stabbed in the heart.” Humans don’t survive getting stabbed in the heart with a giant blade. Once we’re past that bump in the road, the Empty Entity said that even God didn’t have power over the Empty, and in all of forever, no one ever awoke before. Admittedly, it shouldn’t be easy to kill Satan. He is, after all, a mythological giant. He and Michael are the eternal manifestations of the battle between good and evil. So now Michael has to battle Lucifer again? If Michael is drained of power or killed, Lucifer remains? Does that also mean that Dean could reawaken Michael in the Empty were he to be killed? Lucifer’s resurrection raises a whole LOT of questions! What are other implications of this sudden left turn?
Talking and Leaving
Doctor: If he leaves the hospital, we are no longer responsible for him. You and he have to acknowledge that you're leaving against medical advice.
Jack: We're leaving.
Dean: Yeah, there's just no talkin' to him when he gets like this.
Rowena: Which I borrowed amidst the ruckus of all those folks arriving from the other world, but we can talk about that later.
Nick: I just wanted to talk to you for a couple of minutes about the night you came over to my house… Let’s talk.
Frank: Nick I don't even know what you're talking about.
The importance of talking about things was again emphasized in “Unhuman Nature”, just as it has been in so many other season 14 episodes. Dean wisely listened to Jack, then talked to him before they went walkabout. Jack’s decision to see more of life before it was over also reiterated the “Leaving” or running away thread that’s been sewn into season 14. Jack decided he was going, but rather than arguing, Dean supported Jack’s decision and, in fact, enriched the experience. Even the music echoed the threads:
And would you cry
if I told you that I lied
and would you say goodbye or
Would you let it ride?
- "Let it Ride", Bachman Turner Overdrive
Dean and Castiel also talked about how they were reacting to Jack’s sickness, and Rowena reiterated her hatred of Lucifer.
Nick especially emphasized talking to people, but for each of them, talking wasn’t voluntary. The reporter was surprised to see Nick after he “left town” but he said he wanted to “get answers”. She warned him that no one was talking:
People say things in the heat of the moment, and then realize they're not so sure. There was almost no evidence at the crime scene. The cops had zero to say to me. [Note the numbers/time threads in all these quotes too]
So Nick tortured people in order to force them to divulge secrets they had kept for a decade. We learned that the cop “left town” so he couldn’t be interviewed by the reporter. He told the whole truth to Nick, but that didn’t save him. Nick continued to talk to his victims even when they couldn’t answer, as with the priest who he crucified and the one-way confessional prayer he made after killing Frank.
Voluntarily talking was always positive, and reticence to converse was always a bad thing. I admit that when Dean started his dizzy spells, I immediately thought “Talking is a S14 Thread! Dean, tell them what’s going on!!” Maybe there’s hope he won’t hold onto his secret very long? What do you think?
“Unhuman Nature” was another intricate character study that has become so much a part of season 14. As that, and sentiments between the boys, are major reasons for my attraction to this never ending saga, I’m loving these stories.
Sam: What can we do?
Rowena: Watch over him. Stay by his side as he dies.
Yeah, I’m right there with you. Maybe there’s hope in the rest of the one rock song in this episode:
You can't see the mornin',
but I can see the light
Try, try, try let it ride
There better be light for Jack, and Dean and Sam and Cas. I truly believe that to be true. How about you? I'd love to hear your analysis of this episode, each and every thread, and what's happening to our heroes so ponder, reread, rewatch then talk to us (comments below)!
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/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=supernatural&episode=s14e07
Additional screencaps courtesy of http://www.homeofthenutty.com/supernatural/screencaps/