With the second to last season drawing to a close, this episode emphasizes a lot of the primary themes of Supernatural: family, betrayal, trust, and loss. The title itself, “Absence,” conveys the sense of loss, driven home by the final scene at Mary’s funeral pyre. They’ve also physically lost Jack, he may have lost his soul, and they certainly have lost the ability to trust him if an explosion of temper can cause the death of someone they love.
A primary theme is that of trust. Dean is angry at Cas because he didn’t tell them what he knew about Jack’s soul. This withholding of information indicates to him a lack of trust. Despite this, Dean is still holding out some small hope in Jack: they don’t know for sure if he’s irredeemably a monster. When they found Nick’s burned body, he said, “We don’t know if Jack did it . . . he probably deserved it.” (He did this with Castiel too in season 6 when Bobby and Sam warned him that Cas was working behind their backs and lying to them. That made the ultimate revelation of Cas’s secrecy and lies that much more painful for Dean.)
Cas talks about Jack and, in describing his relationship with the nephilim, says that he believed he was GOOD and that his FAITH never wavered.
Sam’s words show the trust they placed in Jack: “We knew Jack was dangerous; from the beginning we knew, but we fell for him.”
Lucifer also references this thread when, as a hallucination, he tells Jack that Sam and Dean will never TRUST him, and thus he can never TRUST them.
To trust someone, you need to know that they are telling you the truth. We saw Dean’s anger at Castiel withholding knowledge from them.
Also, Rowena tells Jack, “TALK to them. They’re your KIN.”
Dean says about Cas, “He knew and he didn’t TELL us.”
Characters being alone was a huge thread. Jack screamed at Mary, “Leave me ALONE!” His momentary wish turns tragic, leaving him now feeling utterly alone, without family that he can trust.
When Castiel found out that Jack and Mary were together, he was concerned: “They’re together . . . ALONE?” Cas later tells that Winchesters that when he realized that Jack was soulless, he left, tried to fix it on his OWN. In a similar way, Sam says to Dean that, after Maggie and the hunters died, he just left: “Dumped Jack on Cas and left.”
In his memory, Castiel tells Mary that with her back from the dead, the boys aren’t ALONE. Mary tells him, “They were never ALONE.”
At the end of the episode, although the three men are in the same area, each one seems alone as they stand at the pyre, especially Dean. Cas wants to go to him, but Sam stops him, knowing Dean prefers to grieve ALONE. This reminded me of when Jack died and Sam walked away. Cas wanted to follow him, but Dean stopped him, allowing Sam to process the loss of Jack alone.
“WHAT DO WE DO?” “WHAT WE ALWAYS DO.”
These words were repeated for extra emphasis in this episode, first after Rowena informs them that Mary is no longer on earth.
SAM: “So what do we do?”
DEAN: “What we always do. We fight; we fight to bring them back.”
This comment reminds us of two common themes in Supernatural: 1) “We fight” - fighting against impossible odds, and 2) “We fight to bring them back” - bringing someone back to live after dying. Michael, as well as other angels and demons throughout the seasons, have mocked the Winchesters for trying to fight destiny or fight supernatural forces so much more powerful than they, but they have kept fighting regardless (and if one of them occasionally loses the desire to go on, the other is there to remind him). In this episode, Rowena had a similar determination:
ROWENA: I could have fought you. I might not have won, but I could have tried.
I explore the second theme of bringing someone back from the dead further down the page under FREE WILL/DESTINY.
The second time the quote was used was after the spell brought back Mary’s body. Sam says that he’d talked to Rowena, but Mary’s body was only a shell, incapable of holding life.
SAM: So what are we supposed to do now? DEAN: What we always do.
And what do they do? They have to say goodbye to someone they love. The next scene shows them at a pyre, burning the body of their mother. The Winchesters have stood at many heart-breaking funeral pyres – John, Kevin, Charlie – but this one reminded me of when they stood beside the pyre for Castiel in 13x1. Sam asked Jack if he wanted to say anything.
JACK: What do you say?
SAM: You say thank you. And you say you’re sorry. You hope they’re somewhere without, uh, sadness or pain. You hope they’re somewhere better. You say goodbye.
This episode presented memories of Mary from Castiel, Jack, Sam, and Dean. We also got the montage of Mary images as her family stood at her funeral pyre. Personally, I was a little disappointed that the show had two years to show us a maternal side of Mary but chose not to do so until she died. Mary teaching Jack to throw knives in the bunker? When has she been in the bunker? I’ve been wanting to see this caring side of her for a long time, and I felt a little manipulated with it finally being shown as she was dying.
I like the continuity of the same photographs being used over several seasons: Dean and Sam laughing by the car, Mary hugging three-year-old Dean with a bowl haircut. There was one this time that I wasn’t sure I’d seen before: Mary in a blue hospital gown holding baby Sammy in the hospital room. Was that a new one?
In Castiel’s memory, he tells Mary, “I know you know this, Mary, but, um, Sam and Dean, they’re GLAD to have you back. Whatever you still have to deal with and however long it takes, you should know they’re HAPPY. Finally they don’t have to be so . . . um, so ALONE.” This happiness was seen in the look on Dean’s face in his memory when he was driving the Impala through the night with Mary asleep on his shoulder. She was with him, and he was able to provide shelter, protection, transportation, someone to lean on. It was a small scene but he was so satisfied in that moment.
This theme was also mentioned when Duma asks Cas why he would want to bring Mary back: she said Mary was at peace, painless, complete. Later, Cas told the brothers that he’d been to Heaven and that Mary now felt “no sorrow, no guilt, just joy.” He says, “I saw your mother’s heaven and she is HAPPY.”
I can’t help but think about the show’s finale next year. The song “Carry on, My Wayward Son” says there will be peace when you are done, but will there be peace for them? Mary has found peace, but Sam, Dean, and Castiel still have not.
This topic was touched on when Sam talked about his choice to revive Jack when the nephilim died: “I decided FOR HIM to bring him back.”
Now, Sam feels that choices Jack is making are on Sam because otherwise Jack would have been dead. I can’t help but wonder if Sam was thinking about how Dean decided for Sam to bring him back when Jake killed him or when he tricked him into accepting Gadreel to keep him alive. When Sam blamed himself for Kevin’s death, Dean said that was on him because he’s the one who brought Gadreel/Ezekiel into the picture.
In this instance, the theme of free will is also interwoven with the idea of bringing back someone from the dead, trying to undo death, refusing to accept the curse that is death. This has happened so often through the years: John sold his soul so Dean could live (Dean, guilt-ridden, told Sam then, “What’s dead should stay dead”), Dean bringing Sam back at Cold Oak, Castiel raising Dean from perdition, Cas being remade several times, Sam coming back from the pit, Dean restoring Sam’s soul, Dean tricking Sam to live after the trials, the Mark bringing Dean back after Metatron killed him, and Sam restoring Dean’s humanity with the demon cure. Mary herself was brought out of heaven by Amara. Rowena called death the ultimate curse. Breaking a curse is usually a good thing in the world of SPN since curses doom people. But is reversing death wise?
Supernatural has continually asked whether you can defy destiny, even whether you should defy destiny. When Dean played Death, he learned that by saving one person, he caused death for another. In the end, he had to surrender to Death’s implacable reasoning, as much as his soul rebelled against the child dying.
Sometimes you can’t bring someone back. Sometimes you shouldn’t. In this episode, Rowena warns Jack about what he might bring back from the dead: “It won’t be her.” We’ve seen this before several times. After Dean traded his soul for Sam’s life, Azazel taunted him with this thought: “How certain are you that what you brought back, is 100%, pure, Sam?” In Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, the whole town was happy that their dead were brought back to life. No one wanted to heed the Winchesters’ warning. Jody paid the ultimate price when her reanimated son turned on his father and killed him.
When Sam came back to life in season 6, he was soulless and very dangerous. When the Mark brought Dean back, he was a demon. And in “Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes,” a brother, devastated by grief, brought back his murdered sister as a reanimated twig person, leading to questions of whether the person he now has working beside him is really his sister at all. If she were aware, would she prefer to be dead than to be a walking collection of sticks held together by magic?
Sam used to see Lucifer. Now Jack sees him. But this hallucination says, “I’m you.” This seems like the dark side of Jack luring him. When Sam was on his death bed, he pictured Bobby as the part of him that accepted death and Dean as the part of him that wanted to keep fighting and choose to live. Jack could have hallucinated the Winchesters or Castiel or his mom. That this part of his psyche manifested as Lucifer seems foreboding.
We’ve seen the theme of GOOD and evil as threads in previous episodes. Here, Cas says of Jack, “I knew he’d be GOOD for the world, GOOD for us.” Later, he says of Jack, that he is “not BAD” but that rather there is an “absence of GOOD.” (That could lead to interesting philosophical speculation about whether the absence of goodness leaves a blank nebulousness or whether the absence of good must mean the presence of evil.) Sam also mentions Jack’s GOOD heart and GOOD soul.
We’ve also noticed the motif of SEEING being referenced often. In this episode, Dean, talking of Donatello’s warning words about Jack, says, “I just couldn’t SEE it.”
FAMILY is a pervasive thread. Rowena told Jack to call the Winchesters because they were his KIN. In his conversation with Dean, Sam says they made Jack part of their FAMILY. In addition, there was an interesting discussion of parents. In Sam’s memory of Mary talking to him, Mary mentioned PARENTAL guilt. (Guilt is also a thread that could be explored.) She said that PARENTING is always a struggle. She added that KIDS will always surprise you. Dean called Jack a kid when he said that Cas “knew something was wrong with the KID.” HaLucifer mocked Jack’s desire to be forgiven by Sam and Dean: “It’s not like FAMILY isn’t everything to them.”
The theme of FEELINGS would be interesting to explore. HaLucifer says to Jack, “You don’t feel anything anymore.” But I’m not sure about that. If Jack didn’t feel, why is he so desperate and sad and afraid? I thought about Dean after he came from hell, admitting to Sam that he wished he couldn’t feel a thing, and of Soulless Sam in season 6. When he started understanding that having a soul meant experiencing suffering, he questioned Dean about how a person with a soul would react if his brother were abducted by aliens. Dean told him, “You sit in the dark and you FEEL the loss.” When they were curing Demon Dean in 10x3, Cas and Sam had this discussion:
SAM: What the hell are we doing to him, Cas? I mean, even after I gave him all that blood, he still said he didn’t want to be cured, that he didn’t want to be human.
CASTIEL: Well… I see his point. You know, only humans can FEEL real joy, but … also such profound pain. This is easier.
A final topic that could be explored would be about giving people chances and showing them mercy. Sam showed Nick graciousness, even though seeing him in the bunker was traumatic for him. Nick repaid their kindness by going on a killing spree and trying to bring the devil back into our world. Roy and Walt, as did Gordon Walker, demonstrated a ruthless hunter ethos when they determined to kill off Sam with no regard for his intentions or his repentance. The Winchesters (at least toward humans) have generally showed mercy. I don’t think they’re wrong, but, boy, does it bite them in the butt sometimes as it did with Nick. And now with Jack: Dean thought he was evil when he was first born. Sam was the one who defended him, and Dean reluctantly put up with him. Eventually, Dean grew to accept Jack as part of their family. But now Jack has killed their mother! In a situation like that, your mind will be wracked with the guilt of all the “what ifs”: What if they’d killed Jack right off? What if they hadn’t allowed him to live? I still think kindness and mercy are the way to go, but it shows the power evil can have because it can take advantage of generosity. For example, Nick acted pathetic, got the police officer to unlock him so he could use the restroom, and then he beat his head in. Compassion can weaken us. In the New Testament, Jesus told his followers to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). (Side note: the SNAKE was mentioned often in this episode!) I’m not saying Jack is evil, but he’s unleashed his power and hurt people before, and the Winchesters continued to guide and nurture him, TRUSTING him. (Other examples include Jeffrey in Repo Man who ended up wanting to be demon possessed as well as Gary who stole Dean’s body and almost killed Dean and Amy Pond’s monster son. The latter two were shown mercy because they were minors. ) It is an interesting topic to explore – to whom do you show mercy? How many times do you forgive someone? When do you decide that the danger is too great to trust someone?
I really enjoyed putting together all these thoughts and look forward to the exploration of any of them in the comments. Thank you, Nightsky, for the opportunity to write Threads this week.