Dear Meredith,

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”
“Executioner’s Song”
“Sacrifice” and
“Swan Song”.

Some of those affected me for days afterward. They are always going to be at the top of my list of favorite episodes in this heart-rending, emotionally-gripping series. Knowing that I was missing several other epic episodes that belonged in this class of writing, I asked fellow fans to complete my list. They added:

“Abandon all Hope”
“All Hell Breaks Loose II”
“Who We Are”
“Regarding Dean”
“Do You Believe in Miracles”
“Home”
“The Man Who Would Be King”

I’m sure I’m still missing some deserving titles (in fact, I think I’ll do a "Top 10 Emotional Ringers" article during Hiatus), but without hesitation, I now add to this list of masterpieces,

“Byzantium”.

There is so much to unravel, and there are those pesky emotions of mine again tugging at me to watch and wallow in Team Free Will 2.0’s love fest rather than analyze threads.

14 8 0056 Jack Lt
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.

Leaving

14 8 0087 Deathbed

He’s gone.

The sensitivity of the first 11 minutes of the episode was immensely powerful. We all experienced Jack’s death and wake with his fathers. Sam, Dean and Castiel’s helpless as they sat with Jack in the last moments of his life, their anguish after his death, then their desperation in trying to find a way to bring him back to life (this is Supernatural after all) triggered the emotional punch of the story - and lots of fans’ flowing tears.

14 8 0107 dads grief

“Your brother’s in pain”

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.

14 8 0155 Dean Phone
Sam’s tears, then his the silent withdrawal, broke everyone’s heart,

14 8 0170 Leaving
but his sudden departure terrified Dean, worried that the endless cycle of dealing away souls was about to start over again. 

14 8 0208 Sam Defeated Lt
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?
14 8 0292 TFW
After the shock, there was the wake.

SN1408a 0234r
“Take one last look before you leave.”

Sam had learned from their past mistakes, though. This wiser, older “Chief” found a way out of Jack’s dead end, without resorting to sacrificing himself. Sam’s brainstorm of Lily Sunder gave him hope that they might “bring Jack home.”

 

Thank you Meredith for the loving insights into the bond between parents and their children.

Young/Old; Dying Young; Draining Life Force

14 8 0483 Lily Sunder

Dean: You got old.

Lily’s was the story of ultimate sacrifice for your child. Lily was driven by rage and revenge after her daughter was killed, but now that Lily is "old and dying", she faces the consequences of her emptiness. She had made a deal with magic – a deal that cost her all but a “whisper” of her soul. The brothers’ desperation gave her a possible way to unite with her daughter so initially she didn't care that her new "deal" was cruel blackmail.

Sam: Lily, I know you're upset, but you can still do the spell.

Lily: That wasn't the deal.

Fortunately, Sam and Dean’s pleas to her as a parent softened her heart.

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.

Lily agreed to let her life force drain from her, transferring breath from the old to the young. Her deals cost her her life, but her compassion saved her soul.
13.4 371 SFO Kelly Hug

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. 

14 8 0507 Castiel Planning

Meredith, thank you for giving Castiel a role that is befitting of an angel of the Lord.

Castiel’s deal was rooted in love, grief and confusion at a child being taken before his parent.  

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.
Castiel sacrificed himself to save his son, and in doing so he also saved all of Heaven’s “46,750,000,000 human souls” (as a writer, I found that figure fascinating. I’d love to learn the origin of that number. Theories?) That’s quite a legacy for our little tree topper. Of course, he helped avert the apocalypse once or twice, killed Raphael before his maniacal scheme could enslave the world, and had repeatedly sacrificed his life to save others. On Earth, he also saved Kelly and thus Jack, feeling and believing in Jack’s purity before anyone else could or did. But somehow this was different. It was Castiel’s turn to make a deal. Mary bartered for John’s life, John bartered for Dean’s life, Dean bartered for Sam’s life (more than once counting him saying yes to Michael), and although Sam made several unsuccessful attempts to barter his life for others, he ended up giving his life to save the world from Lucifer. Now it was Castiel’s turn to make a deal.

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.
Until, finally:

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.
I’m not sure how I feel about Castiel’s deal. He didn’t sell his soul and doom himself to Hell. He bargained away eons of his life. The thing is, he’ll end up where he is destined to end up anyway – in the Empty. Technically, his life is the greatest sacrifice he can make because angels don’t have souls, so this was a brilliant canonical solution. I’m bothered because deals always work out badly; the odds always favor the owner of the contract. In this case, though, Castiel has already lived millennia and his trade gave a young man a chance to see beyond his single year of life. That’s a trade every compassionate parent without exception would make.  

I’m also not convinced the Empty is such a bad fate. When the Shadow first explained the Empty to Cas in 13.4 “The Big Empty”, the entity said:

Angels and demons, you all come here when you die…sleeping an endless peaceful sleep.
That doesn’t sound so bad. Now that the Shadow “wants to make [Cas] suffer”, he changed his description, telling Jack and Kelly:

Where I'm taking you is worse than Hell because at least Hell is something.
“Peaceful sleep” certainly sounds better than being in torment for an eternity! I think he just described the Empty as undesirable because he wanted to scare Jack and Kelly and cause Castiel pain. So Castiel bargained to miss eons of existence in order to go to sleep before his number is up?

14 8 0451 Invading Shadow
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.
Castiel hasn’t yet given himself permission to be happy?  What does he want that he isn’t now getting? Destielers have an obvious answer here, but canonically, Castiel had already forsaken Heaven to stay with Sam and Dean. He’s living amongst and fighting alongside humans because he has deemed them more worthy than his own kind. He’s also been branded a rebel. Doesn’t that mean he’s given himself permission to do what he wants to do versus what he’s expected or told to do? Do you think he’s still punishing himself for his past sins? Is this part of the season’s Guilt thread?

The specific imagery of “let the sun shine on your face” was also intriguing.

13.4 497 SFO Cas Sun
That was exactly the scene that showed Castiel escaping from the Empty.

Naomi: “You’re the only one of us who ever escaped.”
Seems Castiel knew exactly what he wanted and demanded it be given to him then. Did the Shadow see Castiel’s euphoria at being back on Earth and use that image as Castiel’s perfect Heaven? Is this foreshadowing of some kind, or a flashback reference? This feels significant so toss it about a bit!

13.4 272 SFO Cas2
Castiel’s return to earth also reminds us of my theory that the Entity returned to Earth with, or in place of, Castiel. I’m reticent to admit defeat, but it seems the Shadow’s return as a separate entity in “Byzantium” shoots my theory down in flames. All those references to darkness, sleeping, disguises and not being the person on the inside that people see on the outside weren’t hinting at Castiel’s possession or impersonation? Even now, I can’t believe it. Perhaps we were supposed to subliminally remember the Empty and what angels were doing there for all time without there being any implication for Castiel? I’m still so suspicious of the Shadow referencing Castiel’s sunny meadow scene again, though! Oh well, I’ll give it a rest and see how this all plays out. If you voted against my theory, give yourself a win.

Before we move on from the Empty, I want to acknowledge Erica Cerra’s (Dumah, The Shadow) inspired acting. It wasn’t a big surprise that Dumah survived as the Shadow’s vessel, but Erica really sold the entity’s maniacal nature. I have always appreciated her work (Eureka, anyone?) but since Dumah’s “personality” didn’t exactly strain acting abilities, it was great to see Erica shine as a menacing monster!

Identity

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.

14 8 0192 Passenger

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?

New Canon

The Supernatural universe expanded yet again with the introduction of Anubis, who will surely reappear now that he’s known to the boys. That was a bit of a left turn but it was executed well so it worked.

14 8 0446 Jack Heaven

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.
Who else thinks that Jack will want to “borrow” more power from his soul than he’s supposed to? Maybe to defeat Michael? Maybe as a temptation to help people? We might just have heard the set up for the cliffhanger crisis at the end of this season!

Impressions

Thank you Meredith for continuing Supernatural’s legacy of complex emotional and mythological stories grounded in the belief in family.

14 8 0619 TFW Meet Lt
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.

In other ways, Supernatural was exactly the same as it has always been. Superb acting delivered a poignant story. Family don’t end with blood, so it was their adopted brother Castiel who made the deal to save their son, Jack. The emotional pull was just as strong as ever, and the suspense and worry haven’t abated a bit. Sam and Dean were the cornerstone of Team Free Will’s heart, faith and will.

 "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.

- Nightsky


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/