Though it feels like so long ago, it wasn’t that many moons back that we watched as Castiel confronted his own likeness in an inky abyss while Sam and Dean struggled to overcome grief and loss in the same breath as trying to teach a newly born Nephilim the ins and outs of humankind and hunting. ‘The Big Empty’ was emotional, exciting and certainly unique when it originally aired, and in the grand scheme of season thirteen, on second viewing offers some familiar refrains and perspectives as well.
No Such Thing As Face Value
Episode four was all about shapeshifters and the supernatural concept of identity theft, more or less. Of course, our creature de jour was motivated by vengeance rather than money but I digress. What’s key about the ‘Big Empty’ in relationship to the rest of season thirteen, as we now know it will play out, is the idea of duality. This episode saw both Castiel and Dean played by malevolent entities adopting their images. As we come to see, many familiar faces will say hello throughout season thirteen – but they aren’t the same character that we – or the Winchesters – have come to know.
Nurture v Nature v Choice
One of the most powerful exchanges in this episode is Jack and Mia. Jack requests that Mia takes the form of his mother so that he can see her – and hug her. This is a very sweet moment and, of course, Jack’s relationship to his mother versus his father defines much of his character through the season.
“Jack, it doesn’t matter what you are. It matters what you do.”
Jack’s journey through the season is establishing if he is in fact “good” versus the so-called “evil” of his father – and what this might mean. In Mia, we have a character who is by definition a “monster” but who makes a choice to do good acts. This is not a new theme in the Supernatural world, certainly, but plays a significant part in Jack’s evolution from start to end. In particular, as Dean is so adamant that Jack is inherently evil and then the example of an “evil” creature is again put in their path demonstrated doing good as a reminder that not everything is black and white.
For all the oddity that is The Empty itself (and that…umm…unique) accent with which It is portrayed, the primary choice of villain in episode four is the classic shapeshifter. Both of these scenarios present the opportunity to lay heavy foundation for the concepts of the dichotomy that becomes heavily woven into the DNA of season thirteen the more the plot advances. The two shifters, Mia and Buddy, of course present two sides of the same coin – the good and the evil – in the same creature.
The Empty itself is the total unknown element – and it remains unknown for the rest of the season – but in this particular episode, Castiel versus The Empty again presents the duality: ominous opposing light. This dual-sided element runs boldly through most of season thirteen (take for example the idea that Ketch was a twin with an evil twin: he wasn’t actually, but again – dual-sided coin concept). ‘The Big Empty’ is especially unrestrained with the overt delivery of the double-natured theme to the story’s advantage. This makes for a sharp and dark tone in Castiel’s predicament that is consistent through to the end. In fact, it remains to be seen whether he is in fact our Cas fully and completely.
In regards to Jack – the storytelling seems obvious at first glance – an evil creature that isn’t really evil – but paired with the outcomes of the season, offers some deeper nuances to consider.
Bonds of Brotherhood
One of the most significant pieces of ‘The Big Empty’ is that it marks a turn around for Sam and Dean from where they started the season after so much (seeming) death. Until this point, Sam has been determined and hopeful that mom is alive, they’ll get her back and Jack is good (he will prove to be right). Dean, completely shut down, is convinced that Mom is dead and Jack is evil. Both are operating in accordance with these beliefs: i.e. Sam is rallying and Dean is coldly ass-like.
As I’ve said many-a-time, I love the direction that the relationship between the boys had this season. Mature and adult. Here we see that with a conversation where Sam confronts Dean on his behaviour toward Jack and the entire situation with Mary and, Dean admits what he is feeling. They support each other. This also marks a turning point where the boys begin (keyword because it’s definitely a transition) to shift roles: Sam mentions he is losing faith and we will see this come full circle later.
Jack can’t be left out of this either. He is included in the undercover story as one of the “brothers” and though this services their reason to see Mia, the bonding time with Sam makes this seem more real. Again, by the very end Jack will consider the boys his family, so the payoff for these moments – watching them now in infancy and understanding how they come to fruition makes it all the more sweet. Even Dean’s salty attitude.
‘The Big Empty’ had the sweet, the unsettling and teases toward the future that are only visible in retrospect. Season thirteen did a decent job weaving motifs into the fabric of its stories from day one as only Supernatural does. A perfect path to the end? No. But certainly a strong foundation. On it’s own, this episode is a great one with the classic Supernatural creature, some brotherly love and some humour too. Plus, the accent really makes it worth the watch!