The Morning After
Shocked!! What a surprise ending to both Jack and Michael’s plotlines! Chalk up a major win for Team Free Will 2.0, and a major relief for a fandom dreading a season cliffhanger of Dean being buried alive in a coffin at the bottom of an ocean! Let’s look at the scoreboard. Michael is not only out of Dean’s head, he’s definitively dead (well, sent to the Empty at least). Dean is completely free of Michael’s possession, the fear of humanity’s downfall being his fault, and the looming threat of an eternity of torture and solitude. The world is saved from another psycho archangel. Jack is back to fully-powered Nephilim, and from the terminal diagnosis of being either a soulless human or a grace-less Nephilim. Rowena is herself again. The price of all this? The AU hunters’ lives. Rest in Peace, Maggie. I really liked you.
So let’s talk about this unexpected turn of events!
Jack is Back
Michael: How dare you! Burning off your soul? You'll run out soon enough.
Jack: It's worth the cost.
Michael: I should have killed you when I had the chance.
Jack: I feel the same.
Michael: I am the commander of the host! I am the cleanser of worlds! I will not be challenged by a child!
Jack: I'm not a child! I'm the son of Lucifer. I'm a Hunter. I. am. a. Winchester!
Cas: Jack! No!
Jack: You won't hurt anyone ever again! - Michael. He's dead. I'm me again.
Stand up and cheer! Way to go Jack!!
Jack declared that he was not a child, and was perfectly capable of making his own choices and killing his arch-enemies, thank you very much. Was this the climax of the old vs. young thread? Probably not, but I’ll take it as a significant milestone in Jack’s adolescence!
When the smoke cleared, though (pun intended), what happened in this climactic scene?
Say What Now?
How was Jack able to overpower an archangel? My best guess is that Jack burned up a major portion of his soul to get enough power to forcibly extract Michael from Rowena. Jack’s soul was fueling the little bit of Nephilim grace Jack still had (or had regenerated). There wasn’t enough grace to sustain his body, but there was enough of a spark to light a raging fire that "burned bright" once it was doused with the soul's energy. Since the soul is the most powerful force in the universe (or some such words that have been said many times), Jack used his human half’s nuclear reactor energy source, and "pulled out all the rods" to power up his grace. Soulless Michael’s archangel grace wasn’t enough to withstand soul-powered archangel grace – or so I’m speculating.
Once Michael was incorporeal, Jack was able to burn Michael off BUT retain the essence of archangel, the grace, Jack needed to survive. Using up his soul’s energy would have left Jack moments from death had he not been able to consume the grace he needed to recharge. Instead, he’s himself again – or is he?
Is Jack the new Michael? I don’t think so. I believe the burning in the swirling grace was Michael – his character, history, etc. His grace transferred, but grace seems to be power, not personality. Sucking up Jack’s grace didn’t all of a sudden make Lucifer take on Jack’s goodness. When Castiel has consumed another angel’s grace in the past, his character didn’t change. So I don’t think there’s precedent for Michael somehow corrupting, or being present in, Jack.
Is Jack now soulless? My best guess on that is no, he’s not. With Michael’s consumed grace, Jack no longer needs his soul as a battery for his powers, but he does need it for conscience and judgement and values. Given Sam’s experience, Jack simply wouldn’t be himself - empathetic, compassionate, loving or genuine - without his soul. If you watch closely, though, Jack hesitates and seems to do a diagnostic self-assessment before he smiles and declares, “I’m me again.” Soulless beings rarely smile, and they certainly don’t smile out of pure happiness or relief. If only a sliver of his soul was saved after his battle with Michael, would that be enough to keep Jack’s goodness? Using Lily as the example, it would seem yes, that’s enough. When Lily came to the bunker, she had only a “sliver” of her soul left, yet she compassionately chose to sacrifice herself and help Sam, Dean and Jack. So it seems only a sliver is needed for ethical and moral guidance.
Maybe the archangel grace restored Jack’s soul? Not sure that makes sense. With it no longer being drained for power, maybe the soul restored itself? We’re in unchartered territory here as far as Nephilim canon goes. I’m guessing we’ll get a few sentences of explanation next week as to how the writers chose to fix Jack, but for now it seems, he’s back – and he found his identity along the way. He’s as powerful as the son of Lucifer, he’s as courageous as a hunter, and he’s as righteous as a Winchester. He saves people and hunts things. He machetes (it’s a verb to hunters) cannibalistic demi-gods. He slays megalomaniac archangels. That’s who he is. That’s what he does.
I just got chills. I love this kid.
So was Jack the chicken or the snake - or the egg? That was sure a convoluted, long monologue the bad guy got to spout before Jack killed him. As Dean said last episode, “They always talk too much!”
Castiel: Well, it's a story about greed mostly. But I guess it's also about being willing to give up the thing you love in order to kill the thing you hate.
Jack: He said that he didn't know if I was the chicken or the snake.
Emberlast asked this question in her “Let’s Speculate” recap so I’ll leave the massive amount of theorizing and symbolic untangling of this parable to her review and comments. I’ll just repeat one representative thought sent to me on Twitter (by Heather Rose). Jack started as the chicken, i.e. he sacrificed something dear to him, his soul, to defeat a predator he hated, before becoming a snake and cannibal himself by consuming his own kind (Michael’s grace).
Personally, I don’t see him as entirely any of the three choices. The chicken sacrificed her chick but not herself. Jack chose to put only himself at risk. The snake destroyed others but according to Castiel, it was killed by its greed. Jack purposefully killed only once (so far). Emberlast sees the egg as the thing that was helplessly used as a weapon of destruction. True, Jack was used as a helpless little puppy but I don’t think that qualifies as a weapon! When it counted, Jack was not “used” as a weapon. He chose to kill the enemy, involving no one but himself. I also don’t think he will be “used” by Michael. Jack burned off Michael’s existence so I don’t see that as a body swapping game anymore. With less than one day’s pondering, there might be more to that long story that I’m missing. I’ll give it half dozen more rewatches before passing final judgement (or you can just enlighten me in the comments!)
What is with this season’s one word titles that need a dictionary to understand??
Wikipedia defines an “ouroboros” as “an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail.” Google says it is a symbol of wholeness or infinity; another has it as the symbol of death and birth. In the sense of coming full circle, Jack was robbed of his powers by an archangel, but then he turned around and restored those powers by stealing them from another archangel. Round and round we go. From the standpoint of the snake consuming itself, Jack used up most of his soul in order to be reborn. Like the snake skin Jack found, Jack shed the dead part of his soul and his decaying body, as he majestically donned his new skin – angel’s wings and glowing, golden eyes.
But why on earth would Jack want to keep that snake as a pet?? That’s worrisome. Lucifer often disguised himself as a snake.
Does the title thread refer to Dean and Michael? I’ve seen some fans question why Michael wouldn’t just take control of Dean again, once Michael had freed himself from Dean’s mental cage. Why would Michael choose to battle Dean a third time? Both prior times Michael possessed Dean, Dean fought back, making himself a nuisance to Michael. Yes, Dean was Michael’s perfect vessel, but who needs perfection if it’s going to be a constant pain in the neck (or head, or any other body part inserted here). Been there, done that. Michael chose not to re-engage in the infinite cycle of possession/resistance/expulsion/possession. Not every vessel will be as strong willed as Dean Winchester.
Dean is Dean
Rowena: You say, "Oh, it's just some magic," and you think I'll leave it at that?
Sam: Okay, listen. Jack is all right. You don't need to worry.
Rowena: Oh, I wouldn't say worried. More curious. Speaking of which, I'm also curious as to how your brother is managing to keep an archangel locked away inside his mind.
Sam: Because he's Dean. And Dean is Dean.
So Dean is back too. I’m thrilled! I realize some fans are disappointed by the abrupt end to Jensen playing the part of Michael, but I love Dean as Dean. I had enough of the cat and mouse game of chasing Michael and trying to save Dean. There were certainly enough hints that Dean couldn’t hold Michael for long.
Dean: Michael's in there, and he is fighting hard to get out. And I can't let my guard down, not for a second. I'm barely even sleeping.
Cas: Well, that's not sustainable.
Dean: No. No. It's probably not. But no point in complaining about it. It's on me.
Cas: No. It's on us. We are here to help you.
Dean: I know. I know that. And I appreciate that. I do. Look, before the kid gets back -- I know I agreed to give you guys time.
Cas: Hey, Dean, and we will find a solution.
Dean: Okay. But if -- if you don't we still have Plan B. Coffin. Ocean. Done.
Dean’s unconscious, or dream-like, fights with himself were a sight to behold. I thought it was inspired to have him act out the mental battle he’s been fighting.
The twist of having Michael possess Rowena was also unexpected. She has to really HATE archangels!
Michael: Then how about this: I'll leave you alive, find another host, and then I'll kill every one of the people in this bunker, everyone you care about. And you do care about them, no matter what you tell them, no matter what you tell yourself. So say yes. Choice is yours.
I was thrilled that Ruth Connell got a chance to play Michael. Not only did his conversation reveal a bit about her character’s growth, but it gave Ruth a chance to be the center of attention and play someone new. It’s about time they see her as useful, and not just as someone to be used.
Despite the hints, Dean’s battle, and Rowena’s possession, I was stunned that Michael’s plotline closed in episode 14! What is going to happen in the rest of the season?? If I believe that Dean is Dean (I do), and Jack is Jack (I do), what is going to happen to destroy this unique moment of triumphant bliss? Nick resurrects Lucifer? The snake’s prominence in this episode would suggest that is true. That is not good news. Jack goes evil? Don’t even go there! Castiel is happy so the shadow returns? I don’t think they’d punch that ticket so soon. Then again, you never know.
Time, Old vs. Young, and Leaving
The word “time” was mentioned 16 times in the script! That might be a new record. Two particular remarks about time stood out to me. Both of them were spoken by Castiel.
Cas: But, Jack you know, Sam and Dean, they're human, and they're very extraordinary, brave, special humans, but they're still humans. And humans burn bright, but for a very brief time compared to, you know, things like us. And eventually, they're gone, even the very best ones, and we have to carry on.
I was struck by how confident Castiel was that he and Jack would out-survive Sam and Dean. That’s the type of prediction that is made so the plot can be upturned and prove the person wrong. Castiel made a deal that can come due at any time. He just assumes it will be after Sam and Dean die, but I think the Shadow will come for him much sooner than that. In fact, most likely this season or next. Which ties into the rest of his talk with Jack:
Cas: It's part of growing up.
Jack: Losing people?
Jack: What's the point? What's the point of being a cosmic being if everyone I care about is just gonna leave [Leaving thread]?
Castiel: The point is that they were here at all and you got to know them, you -- When they're gone, it will hurt, but that hurt will remind you of how much you loved them.
Jack: That sounds awful.
Castiel: It is. But it's also living. So when Dean wakes up -- and he will wake up -- we just have to remember to appreciate the time that we all have together now.
Castiel’s words echoed almost exactly what John told his family last week:
All right, we can think about what's coming. Or we can be grateful for this time that we have together. Now, me I choose grateful.
I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that the writers are trying to prepare us for everyone leaving us, i.e. for the end of the series. One by one, they are killing off the supernatural entities, e.g. the king of hell, almost all the angels and all the archangels. Castiel is the spanner in the works. Even Naomi called him that. He’s a brother so Sam and Dean don’t need to kill him, but my vision for the end of the series is that Sam and Dean have defeated all supernatural entities. All that will be left is humanity. That means either Castiel and Jack have to die and go to the Empty/Heaven respectively, or become human themselves. With Michael’s death, “Ouroboros” brought us one step closer to that reality, and Castiel (and John) are both telling us to cherish what we have, while we have it, because time is short.
Jack: Do the black lips mean something?
Rowena: Darling boy, everything means something.
For me, Rowena’s words punctuated Castiel’s warning. Her observation is the entire basis for "Threads"! Words are chosen very carefully in these scripts. Everything means something. The snake skin. The snake in the bunker. Rowena’s consolation that it will be Sam who kills her. Michael’s confirmation that Rowena is growing fond of Team Free Will. Her constant reminders that she drops whatever she is doing and comes when they need her. Dean’s admission that he was glad Rowena was working with them this time. Dreams. Leaving. Eyes.
Demigod: "Dean, I see you standing alone by the truck reading this note. I see you and the tall man and the red-headed witch chasing me. I will always see you. Stop, or I will make you stop.
Emberlast pointed out to me that eyes and sight were recurring themes in “Ouroboros”. Ominously, Castiel and Jack were both “invisible” to the gods in this episode. Was this their symbolic departure from Sam and Dean? Is it possible that Billie also can’t see Jack in the workings of the universe, so all her books of fate about Dean couldn’t foresee Jack’s intervention? At the climax, Sam, Dean and Cas were struck blind by Michael. Does this mean they are not seeing something about Jack that they should be and need to be seeing? What does sight, or lack thereof, mean to the story?
Notice that even the gorgon said he would make our heroes stop. Is that a reference to the end of the series, or something more immediate this season? We’ve been tracking “Stop” as a thread for a while, and it was again very noticeable in this episode.
Dean: There's this pounding in my head. It never stops.
Dean: Where is he?! Where is he?!
Sam: No, wait! Dean! Dean! No! Stop! Dean, stop it! It's me! You're in the bunker!
Dean: I know where I am! That's not… He's gone. Michael. He's gone. [Leaving thread]
In “Ouroboros”, Michael was stopped, Jack’s illness was stopped, Dean was stopped from sacrificing himself, and the monster of the week was stopped. Was this the climax of his thread or is everyone hinting that something else needs to be stopped?
Dreams/Sleeping, Deals, Talking, Good/Bad, Right/Wrong
The gorgon’s long conversations with his victims gave the writers a wide open opportunity to include this season’s threads:
Gorgon: He's being good and quiet, isn't he, Felix? Because we made a deal, didn't we? He stays quiet, no talking, no screaming, and he doesn't have to die like all those other men. Oh. Do you think he has any vegetable oil? 'Cause Felix can't actually talk, so you should respond… Maybe you just have a concussion. Maybe this is all a hallucination?[...] Good for them. Bad for you. It's so bad for him, isn't it, Felix? […]Ohh! you know the rules. Screaming's a deal breaker.
That whole story was so oddly matched with the episode’s conclusion. They were hunting as a “distraction” from finding a permanent solution to Dean’s situation? The problem was so dire that he wasn’t sleeping while he was fighting to hold an escaping prisoner, and yet they were chasing their tails for weeks, involving even Rowena to track a killer while the AU hunters played cards? What was the point?
What’s the Point?
Determining the “point” of events was specifically mentioned eight times. That’s new. I haven’t talked much about the first half of the episode, the monster-of-the-week hunt. What was its point? Its “shock effect” took the form of gross dismemberments and cannibalism. Frankly, this type of crude visualization insults Supernatural’s history of intricate storytelling. For me, it was disgusting and a snooze to watch. I was thinking the whole episode was a waste until the second half of the story when Dean’s unconsciousness brought things to live (ironically), but it was a long way around to set up Dean “letting his guard down.” I have to concede that it housed a lot of threads. Maybe its point was the foreshadowing and parallel events. It will be interesting to see if the symbolism in the gorgon’s actions is meaningful later in the season, or was only relevant to set up Jack’s revival and Dean’s freedom.
Just as in “Lebanon”, the mundane aspects of the boys’ lives didn’t fit well with the spectacular events that took place in the second half of the story. I’m not sure if this approach is better than “filler” episodes separated from “myth arc” episodes. At least each episode has something of value. The lettering on my remote’s fast forward button is wearing out from overuse as I burn past burning clowns and plucking eyeball scenes.
Overall, I’m still thrilled with season 14, though. The acting by our leads was all excellent - again. If they can all stop getting hit on the head and thrown against walls, they might just survive to show us what happens next. I know not everyone was happy with “Ouroboros”, but I loved the plots’ conclusions. Yay for Dean & Jack! I’m happy to have them back. I’m also happy for Sam and Castiel, and for myself, to not have to worry about that accursed box. I’m all in and enjoying the ride.
Please add your thoughts below, then catch up on my prior season 14 Threads reviews, and all my other reviews and articles since season 8, by going to my Writer Page!
Additional Screencaps courtesy of https://www.homeofthenutty.com/supernatural/screencaps
Transcript Quotes courtesy of https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/