Hello everyone! I’m back from my whirlwind month of cons! Anything happen while I was gone? There weren’t any significant announcements, or any important character changes, or anything like that, right? Geez! Can’t a girl go away for three weeks without the whole Supernatural world changing?? All I wanted to do was go to a few Supernatural conventions! During my first two weeks away, Jared, Jensen and Misha announced that a stalwart institution, a significant aspect of my life, is ending. Then I quietly sneak away for a few days to my hometown convention and the show kills Mary Winchester! It’s been three weeks of heart-wrenching tears and sorrow but I am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to have shared that time in history with the people who bring these characters to life. I was present to witness Jared’s, Jensen’s and Samantha’s tears (Misha less so; he didn’t really break down at the cons the way the others did). I was able to say a few words to them, express my love for them and their work, and give and receive hugs that did little more than squeeze even more tears out of the brave façades we were all trying to maintain. It was oddly appropriate that the fourth wall separating the Supernatural fantasy world and reality fell away at the exact moment I needed to share fictional grief with the actors who are experiencing it for real, since so much of my real life is also dedicated to this show and these people.
Thus, whether by coincidence or design, the latter half of season 14 has been intensely emotional both within and outside the show. We have all - characters, cast and fans alike - gone through cascading traumas: our beloved Jack’s, i.e. the boys’ “son’s” death; Dean’s desperate plan to condemn himself to a “living death” (as Castiel termed it); Sam’s total break down at the thought of losing his brother to eternal solitude and torture; Jack’s triumphant defeat of Michael, but Sam’s resulting grief over his friends’ deaths; and the accidental murder of Sam and Dean’s mom, the matriarch of this whole saga, at the hands of our innocent, gullible, confused, now-volatile Jack. That run of superbly written, emotionally captivating stories is partially what made “Jack in the Box” so infuriating.
Now (The Morning After)
One of the components that makes “Threads” unique is its timing. I watch the show on Thursday night, stay up until midnight to live tweet the show with the East, Midwest, Mountain and West Coast fans, then publish Emberlast’s superb recap. First thing Friday morning, I start writing. “Threads” captures my raw, unbiased (in as much as I stay cloistered so I am not influenced by fandom) reactions before my emotions are diluted by time. I also don’t have the luxury of rationalizing confusion, talking myself into or out of a point of view, or allowing my sub-conscious time to mull over scenes. So the only reaction to “Jack in the Box” I can share with you right now is that it annoyed me, as in it makes my list of the top 5 most annoying episodes of the series.
It started out beautifully. A touching eulogy at a wake for Mary. Friends gathered in her memory, comforting each other, supporting her sons and celebrating her life. Bobby’s hatchet to the head of a supposed mourner was jarring, but I suspect that was its intent, ala “Is the moment over? Good, because that was awkward.” (Dean, 4.09 “I Know What You Did Last Summer”)
Once some reflection about Mary and her killer (i.e. Jack) was closed out, the mood of the story quickly changed. Lucifer is back, taunting Jack with self-doubt and feelings of isolation.
Jack: You’re just in my head. I’m making you up. [Dreams/ “In my head” (“Peace of Mind”) threads]
Lucifer: or you see me because you know I tell you the truth […] I’m locked in your heart and your head forever. (Eyes/Blindness and Talking threads)
Jack: I’m not listening to you.
Lucifer: Are you out of your mind?
Lucifer is undeniably the devil in all of us, the voice that plagues us with fears that we are unworthy and beyond redemption. From a story-writing standpoint, it’s a tactically smart move – we hear what Jack is thinking while extending Mark Pellegrino’s brilliant Lucifer character. Lucifer is Jack’s father after all, so it makes complete sense that Jack would hear that image as the personification of his self-hatred.
The problem is that I’m tired of Lucifer’s interference. I’m tired of him preying on purity and innocence. I’m tired of the mental anguish he imposed on first Sam and now Jack. Would he please just die already?? We thought we got the satisfaction of watching Lucifer die last year. Then Nick surprised us all by surviving the attack (insert hand wave here) but he too was finally dispatched after Jack prevented Lucifer’s threatened return from the Empty. So would this guy please just go away! I can’t argue that it makes sense for the story but Lucifer has overstayed his welcome. How many times does goodness have to defeat him?? I suppose it’s Lucifer, so the point is that goodness can never let down its guard, but an impassioned “Be gone, Satan!” from the world’s promised savior would be extremely welcome about now!
“Ok, get over it” I told myself. Lucifer is Lucifer after all, and he’s being true to his character. But then his supposed moral and biblical antithesis, the forces of Heaven, start in on Jack.
They see an opportunity to use his innocence to their advantage, so Dumah misleads and misguides him into killing yet more innocent people. Everyone has an agenda! Rather than looking at the long game, she decides to trick Jack into actions designed to “Make Heaven Great Again.” Did she really think killing two heretics was going to move the needle in favor of Heaven? Why wasn’t she honest with Jack, and explain that Heaven needed new angels? He wants to help! He is desperate for someone to tell him what to do to achieve the destiny Kelly saw in him. Is Heaven really going to be rebuilt on a foundation of lies and betrayal? Dumah was simply the next in line to prey on Jack’s innocence. That was really annoying.
So, Jack destroys a handful of believers’ souls, whisks them to Heaven with a thought, then changes their species and gives them wings with a touch of a finger.
Jack: Did you mean it, when you said you wanted to go to Heaven?
Prayer Leader: That is the goal of everyone in this room.
Jack: and you don’t mind becoming angels?
Prayer Leader: Mind? That would be a dream!
Jack: It doesn’t have to be a dream.
There is precedent for god-like power being able to destroy souls. Amara sucked out humans’ souls as both a compassionate gift and as a punishing retribution, so it’s not unreasonable that Jack can do the same thing, albeit with a lot less effort. Making the resulting shells into angels, though? If it’s truly that easy for him, his employ by Heaven was a viable career path. He really could have asked people who have nothing else to live for or who are devoutly faithful if they want to give up humanity in favor of eternal servitude to Heaven. That would have solved the energy crisis up top and given Jack something altruistic to do. Instead, Dumah supposedly got power hungry and opted to trick Jack into creating a half dozen conscripted soldiers. That makes no sense to me.
Castiel: I know what you’re doing! You’re using Jack to solidify your hold on Heaven.
How does secretly, quickly converting humans to angels consolidate her power base? Would they be loyal to her as their first mentor? Jack created them. Wouldn’t they see him as the new God instead of her? Does she think that works in her favor because Jack is loyal to her, or because Heaven would be saved “on her watch”? Wouldn’t coming up with a long-term game plan achieve that more reliably? It was all very nebulous.
Seeing what Dumah was doing, I tweeted (during my live tweet of the episode), “Does no one have ethics or morals anymore? Using the innocent is not right.” Maybe this theme was “worming” its way into my mind since earlier it was Dumah herself who bemoaned the decline in decency and morality:
Dumah: Look at the world around you, Jack. You know, there was a time when the world had moral order. When God would punish those who did wrong and who didn’t respect Heaven, but when he left, it all fell apart.
At the time, I certainly didn’t suspect that morality would be the theme for the entire episode! Before Jack could return to Earth for his second recruitment wave, Dean hatched a plan to trick Jack into the Mal’ak box. He convinced Sam to be equally duplicitous. My irritation turned to rage.
Truth and Family
Granted, both brothers are grieving. Dean left (the Leaving/Running Away thread) the comfort of his friends and family to be alone with his grief.
That beautifully moving scene of Dean sobbing in the woods conveyed the depths of Dean’s loss.
It was a treasure for which I am very grateful. It also set up Dean’s extreme behavior, given how much he is hurting.
It even makes sense that Dean would target Jack with his rage, but does that justify the plan he hatched to “contain” Jack? Dean’s hunting persona took over, erasing all the compassion, honesty, and maturity he’s gained over the past 10 or 12 years. He reverted to his base instincts to kill first and ask questions later. Only he couldn’t kill Jack, so conspiring to trap Jack in a “living death” was the best/worst he could do.
I hated Dean’s betrayal of Jack. I hated Dean’s sudden abandonment of his feelings as a father, and his protection of Jack as a son. Only weeks ago he begged Lily to not make him feel a parent’s grief. Now, all of a sudden, Jack is "an unstoppable monster who don't know right from wrong [and must be] put down -- or the closest we can get to it" (in Bobby's words)? Sam got Dean to back off of blaming Castiel for Mary’s death so Dean redirects his rage to hating and betraying Jack?
Dean: I didn’t want it to come to this either, but I know that that kid’s head’s not right and now that Heaven’s got its hooks in him, we don’t have a choice.
Sam: Come to what? What are you talking about?
Dean: Stopping Jack, once and for all.
Sam: Alright, fine. Say I agree. Dean, he can’t be killed.
Dean: No but he can be contained.
Sam: Are we seriously talking about locking Jack in this?
Dean: No, we’re seriously talking about not having a choice…. He goes in here, it’s gotta be his choice.
While this emphasis on Dean’s cold-hearted ruthlessness repulsed me, I could almost believe it from Dean. We’ve seen him lash out before and Mary was a sacrosanct love to him. He admitted he’d “lose it” if he had to talk to Jack. I can get there if I try really hard. But Sam???
Sam is grieving too. He needed Dean to be with him as support:
Sam: I thought maybe we could open that Scotch Ketch left and hang out, talk about Mom.
Dean: "Talk about Mom"?
In struggling to come to terms with the loss of his mother, Sam consoled himself by thinking that she was now happy:
Sam: you know, I can’t stop thinking about mom. I can’t stop thinking that… Most people – it’s hope and faith, right? That’s all they have, but we know the truth.
Dean was hurting so much, he couldn’t even allow Sam this comfort:
Dean: you know what else? There wasn’t even enough of her left to try to bring her back.
Sam isn’t going to find any solace in Dean, so each brother is totally alone with his pain.
Still, it is so hard for me to accept that Sam would betray Jack like that. Yes, Sam idolizes Dean and would do just about anything for his big brother, but blindly betray Jack on the strength of just one argument from Dean? They used and tricked Jack exactly the same as his enemies. Was Lucifer right? Was all the talk about Jack being family just lip service? They didn’t really adopt him as their own? That would mean that family DOES end with blood. Dean was willing to disown Castiel and trap Jack because they hurt his true family, and his allegiance to “family first” didn’t extend to them when innocent people were threatened. He then convinced Sam that betraying Jack was for the greater good. Dean whispering in Sam’s ear wasn’t much different than Lucifer whispering in Jack’s. Both were trying to convince someone of the darkness in the world, and that they would be justified in doing something that was morally wrong. Sam was obviously conflicted about it, but he still went through with it. I was outraged at their deceitfulness and betrayal.
Harrison Tate (atheist victim): People are hungry for the truth
Dumah: and your call to reject God and Heaven – that is the truth?
Tate: It’s an attempt to replace wishful thinking with rational thought.
Sam and Dean believed they were doing the same thing – abandoning the wishful thinking that Jack could be saved, instead acting on "rational thoughts" that entrapment was justified. They were just as wrong as the professor, though. All of them ignored faith and hope, and deluded themselves into believing that the obvious, easier answer was right. They took love out of the equation, the one thing that has gotten Sam and Dean through everything their whole lives.
The alternative to their desperate decisions to lie to Jack was to talk to Jack logically and truthfully to explain the situation. Listen to this loving extension of a family’s hand to one of their own who has fallen:
Sam: Jack, I hope you can hear this. Some things, some bad things happened but we’re family. We’re your family and bad things happen in families but we want to talk with you. That’s how we can all get through this. That’s how we can all move forward. Jack, we want – we need to see you. Our mother would want it. Your mother would want it. Jack, we just want things to be the way they were. Are you hearing this?
It would have been beautifully touching if Sam sincerely meant any of that. After the constant emphasis on talking and communicating this season, I believe Sam could have gotten through to Jack with rational thoughts.
Instead, this was a despicable play on Jack’s trust of them. Invoking family and their mom to trick Jack! Really? Jack has responded to everyone’s logic! He even accepted Dean and Sam’s half-truths:
Dean: We understand, and we forgive you for the, uh, the accident.
Sam: That’s what you want, right Jack? You’d like that?
Jack: I’d like for things to go back to the way they were. I knew you’d understand.
Dean: So if we told you that we were close to being able to fix your soul; we just need to keep you safe until everything is ready, you’d be okay with that?
Sam: We want to keep you safe, Jack. That also means we… we have to keep you safe from yourself, you know, just so nobody else gets hurt. Just until we get you better.
Dean: … it’s best feature is that it’s warded so it keeps your powers below the meltdown level.
Sam: so you can’t hurt anyone and no one can hurt you.
Jack: I understand.
All the words were right. This would have been a heart breaking conversation between loved ones – IF Sam and Dean had been sincere and meant anything of what they said. Everything was the truth, except being “close” to fixing Jack's soul. Would it have been so hard to be honest with Jack? Add in Castiel’s unwavering love and support of Jack, and I think they had a real chance of getting through to him without lying to their son. They advised the sheriff in “Don’t Go into the Woods” a few weeks ago to be honest with his son, then they completely and totally forgot that advice themselves. Their actions were contrary to free will, “family don’t end with blood”, “we’ll find another way; we always do”, and every other unshakable tenet by which they’ve lived their lives. It is clear they were terrified of Jack’s temper, but they didn’t give him a chance. He was truly alone in trying to figure out what happened and what to do next.
That begs the question of whether they had a choice.
Certainly there was a danger that Jack wouldn’t believe them and as Dean said, they had one shot to get this done. So maybe the risk outweighed their moral righteousness? Let’s make an argument that Sam realistically recognized the danger that Jack posed, and agreed to box up Jack to protect the world from further “accidents”. My indignation wasn’t ebbing when I imagined that this might have been what was happening, but at least I could go there with the story if I absolutely had to. Hunters, like AU Bobby, were certainly going to get themselves killed trying to contain or kill Jack. Further faithful in God’s flock were likely to become soulless automatons, while heretics were in danger of Jack’s purges, so damned if you do believe and equally damned if you don’t. There is no doubt that Jack’s unchecked power had to be channeled, maybe even that he had to be stopped, so put him in the box? I can convince myself that Sam could justify this if he really tried, IF and ONLY IF he intended to continue to find another solution while Jack was cooling his heels in a dark, small space.
This small glimmer of hope collapsed like a house of cards when Dean secured the locks and they walked away from Jack. He was supposedly neutralized; they believed he had no way out and couldn’t possibly hurt them, yet Sam and Dean didn’t have the compassion to simply talk to him??? They could hear their “son” panic. He was alone, afraid and confused yet they locked the storage room door and walked away? Why? Why wouldn’t their love for him surface once he was no longer a threat? NO. Just no. Dean might have still been so angry that he wasn’t able to find love inside himself yet, but Sam? No way.
Castiel was the voice of reason and conscience:
You are doing what Dumah… You are manipulating him!
Leave Me Alone
In leaving Jack alone, was Sam reacting to how badly his compassion for Nick backfired? I mentioned this fear in my “Threads” review of 14.17 “Game Night”:
Sam chastised himself because he couldn’t see that Nick was beyond redemption before, but still [again in this episode] he didn’t kill Nick when he had the chance […] Sam’s going to see his compassion as the cause of all these deaths, and I’m worried that he will give into the cold-hearted hunter inside him that he tries so hard to suppress.
Did Sam leave Jack's side because he was afraid compassion would drive him to let Jack out of his coffin? Possibly. He admitted that he didn’t think he could leave Jack in the box forever but that wasn’t explicitly mentioned as the reason he abandoned Jack. Letting Jack out certainly wasn’t a fear of Dean’s, as his rage only intensified with every answer Jack gave while trying to “explain” the “accident“. Regardless of their individual emotional states, like Castiel, we were left with dumbfounded outrage that the brothers acted no better than the “dicks” in Heaven. Castiel, and we as fans, watched in horror as the Winchesters’ moral superiority collapsed under the weight of fear, grief, vengeance or some combination of all three.
Jack is Back
Warding? What warding? It seems metal welds are no problem for a Nephilim! I would say that I’m worried about his reaction to being betrayed but the trailer for next week’s finale seems to indicate that Jack forgives easier than Dean.
Dumah: So he lost his capacity for good through an act of goodness. What about the Winchesters?
Castiel: Jack’s no longer with them. He’s on the run. He’s fearful of their fury. But I am hopeful that he can be rehabilitated…
I’m hopeful for a lot of apologies, forgiveness and reconciliation. Even if that unlikely scenario happens, there is still the problem of an angry child who wields the power of the universe on a whim.
The acting, directing, cinematography and all other production aspects of “Jack in the Box” were certainly up to Supernatural’s high standards. It could be argued that it continued the emotional intensity needed to build to the season’s finale. Unfortunately, its emotional connection was lost on me since the only emotion I felt from it was anger. I’m not afraid for Team Free Will’s fate at Jack’s hands because I’m so mad at Sam and Dean for lying to and betraying, but mostly abandoning, Jack. Actions have consequences.
Have I been so taken in by Jack’s sweet nougat center that I’m choosing him over Sam, Dean or Castiel? No, but there is no doubt that I have embraced him as a member of the family. Team Free Will 2.0 means solidarity in the battle for what is right in this world, and that fight needs to start at home. Andrew Dabb tweeted a gif that he said symbolized this story:
While I can't help but maniacally laugh at this poor toddler's reaction to a Jack in the Box, it's simply wrong to take advantage of innocence, especially the innocence of a son who trusts you and looks to you for guidance, protection and love.
Also, “family” means you sit with your son even when he’s done something horribly wrong and needs a time-out. You don’t need to be a pushover, but you also don’t turn your back on him, walk away, and lock him in a dark closet, alone, forever. Sam and Dean’s abandonment of their child is ironic given they just tearfully expressed their forgiveness of John’s poor fathering skills. Maybe Mary’s reflection on parenting was more a look forward than a look back:
It's nice knowing I'm not the only one with parental guilt. How much did the two of you go through when I wasn't there for you? […] I'm just saying parenting is always a struggle. You always feel like you're failing, but then you look at them, and somehow, they're amazing. And somehow, they’re literally the bravest kindest, most heroic men on the planet. Kids. They'll always surprise you.
Boys, I have hope that you'll do the right thing. It’s time to make your mom proud.
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/