TV reviews

Supernatural 14×08 – ‘Byzantium’ – TV Review

Going into the latest episode of Supernatural, Byzantium, there were feelings of dread and worry that there would be yet more disappointment to deal with, given the last couple of offerings. However, those feelings were quickly set aside as the rollercoaster of emotions began. If you are at all like me and wear your heart on your sleeve, then you will have needed lots of tissues to make it through the entire episode, the hits just did not stop coming. A thank you to writer Meredith Glynn and director Eduardo Sánchez for pulling the show back from the edge of concern.

Things start off bleak and then get worse when Jack (Alexander Calvert) dies during the cold open, before we can even get to the title screen, and his death hits Sam (Jared Padalecki), Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Castiel (Misha Collins) hard. All four actors played the opening scenes so well, and Jack’s acceptance of his death and saying what comes next will be an adventure because it is unknown, was heartbreaking. Sam’s tear-filled eyes and having to walk away reminded me of my own reactions when I’ve lost someone I’ve loved. Dean reacted exactly how you would expect, angry complete with wall punching, and Castiel’s sense of loss was very profound, given how he had promised Kelly (Courtney Ford) that he would look after her son. All three survivors feel as though they have lost a son and the grief is very believable.

From there the plot splits into two, with half involving what happens with Jack after he moves on (because dying in Supernatural does not mean you are out of the show), and the other half remaining with the Winchesters as they try to find a way to bring Jack back to life. In this episode, the diverted attention does not feel unnecessary or distracting as it all feeds back into the theme of family and what you would do for the ones you love, which is what this show has always been about. All of it resonates with the Winchesters and their sense of family and self-sacrifice.

Jack finds himself in his Heaven, which sweetly features a road trip with Sam, Dean and Cas, but due to his nephilim powers he quickly works out that something is wrong. Heaven is under attack by something that looks black and gooey, which we know to be the Cosmic Entity, and it has left the Empty. Jack evades it and heads into the Heaven of another person which leads to even more heart-aching acting as he goes to see his Mother. It’s a bittersweet reunion – these two never met while they were alive – and Kelly’s reaction to realising that her son is also dead is exactly what you would expect from a loving mother. Courtney and Alexander pull on every heartstring in the scenes they share, which were completely unexpected, and Jack’s sadness at having to leave her, due to his impending resurrection, again plays into anyone who has experienced grief, lamenting the lack of time they had together.

It turns out that the Cosmic Entity is hunting for Jack. Due to the Nephilim being part Angel, the Entity believes it has ownership of Jack’s soul and wants to drag him to the Empty. Due to Heaven being greatly diminished in strength, Naomi (Amanda Tapping, who is once again returning to her role in front of the camera rather than as a director for Supernatural), is inclined to let the Cosmic Entity take Jack. Castiel, having arrived in Heaven, obviously objects to this plan. Another person returning to a recurring role is Erica Cerra as the angel Duma, although it was fairly obvious from the moment Duma joined up with Castiel that all wasn’t right with the other angel.

The first time we saw the Cosmic Entity it was played by Misha Collins and Erica was clearly channelling his performance in this episode but made it her own. She was superb as the demented and very creepy all-powerful being who quickly subdued Castiel and was about to cart Jack away when Castiel did the very Winchester thing of offering himself in Jack’s place. Just as Sam and Dean have fought for and died for each other countless times, Castiel steps up to save ‘his son’ telling the Cosmic Entity to take him in Jack’s place. It agrees to Castiel’s offer, but rather than take him right away it reaffirms that what it wants most is for him to suffer. It tells Castiel that it will wait until he finally lets himself be truly happy and it is at that point it will snatch him away into the Empty forever.

Jack is obviously angry at Castiel, but Cas points out that he acted out of love and that he would do it again. Cas, again just like the Winchester he’s become, points out that it would be a shame for Sam and Dean to learn of his agreement because it will just upset them. Jack agrees to remain quiet and I’m sure that all of these decisions will likely return to bite the two of them because, hey, it’s Supernatural.

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The other plot running through the episode revolves around Sam and Dean’s attempts to bring Jack back. After a very drunken wake in which the remaining members of Team Free Will drink an awful lot of whiskey, Dean wakes up to the sound of voices in the bunker. Sam, it turns out has called Lily Sunder (Veronica Cartwright), the former Angel Killer to see if she can help in any way, such as reading the Angel Tablet writings that the former Prophet Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) worked on. Dean is cynical from the start, seeing as how Lily wanted to kill Castiel for his indirect part in the death of her daughter, and this cynicism grows deeper when it’s suggested that Lily teaches Jack part of her magic that could keep him back in the world of the living. The downsides are that the spell would cost Jack a small part of his soul and also Lily will not do this for free.

In keeping with the theme of what we would do for our family, Lily knows that she’s going to end up in Hell due to how many angels she killed trying to avenge her murdered daughter. For Lily to help the Winchesters she wants a place secured in Heaven so that she can be with her daughter again. As a mother I understand her emotions – there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter – and it was easy to get caught up in Veronica’s performance. Her reasons are what prompt Dean to go through with the plan even though he wishes there was another way. He understands the deep pain of such a loss. In the end, Lily makes the ultimate sacrifice for Jack, despite thinking she’s going to Hell, and dies as a result of her casting the spell to help bring him back. Due to this she is granted a place in Heaven and told she can see her daughter, and I will admit I was bawling once again.

Yes, this episode does focus on Jack again, but the major push of it all is how Sam, Dean and Cas react to and deal with the young Nephilim’s passing, so it does not feel like a disservice to the brothers. My only criticism would be that once again Sam’s role in Jack’s upbringing felt a little less important than Dean and Castiel’s. That said, the scene in which Dean was concerned that Sam might have sold his soul for Jack, did demonstrate how the others viewed Sam’s relationship with the Nephilim.

Meredith Glynn gave us such a wonderful script, full of loving and heartwrenching moments, and every actor in it gave an outstanding performance. My worries that came about as a result of last week’s episode have been calmed (although I still do not want Lucifer to come back again), and I like to think that I’m ready to watch this week’s mid-season finale. But then I remember this is Supernatural and that episode will likely be even more of an emotional rollercoaster than this one!

One comment

  1. I’m glad that you liked this episode and it was really interesting to read your review. I wish I could feel the same. However, your criticism regarding Sam and his relationship with Jack that you found “less important” than that of Dean and Castiel’s with Jack – though I would call it “less fleshed-out” – highlights the main problem of “Jack and his three dads” storyline for me – something that made it hard for me to truly buy into it. It all comes down to the fact that the show has been using “telling” rather than “showing” in establishing this four-way relationship – quite forcefully too. I would say that the most natural and fleshed-out relationship in this case was between Dean and Jack. It started with intense dislike (to put it mildly) on Dean’s part, gradually morphed into grudging respect, while Jack desperately sought his approval and tried to prove himself, to acceptance – and even that transition happened way too quickly, largely propelled by Castiel’s return from the dead in S12 – and, finally, affection. And yet I don’t see Dean as his father figure. An older brother? Perhaps. Sometimes, I must confess, even a mother. Dean can be a pretty convincing mother hen. Jack’s relationship with Castiel was initially based on Castiel’s promise given to Kelly to protect him that Jack knew about – but can that alone build a father/son relationship and in so short a time, especially considering that Castiel wasn’t even there during his “firts steps” and “formative years”? This season we were told that Jack and Castiel went hunting together – and that, if I am not mistaken, is their first alone time together – but then why not actually show it, considering how important such a development is?! I’m certain that it would have made for an amusing and heartwarming episode at the same time. Did it help me see Castiel as Jack’s father? Not really. A guardian or a mentor at best. But I am constantly told that he is – until he sacrifices himself for him, which surely must prove that he is. But the overall narrative lacks depth to make me believe it. As for Sam, unfortunately much of his story this season is restricted to “telling”. Also, let’s not forget that at the start of S13, he regarded Jack first and foremost as a way to save Mary. For all that he accepted Jack with open arms – unlike Dean who basically blamed him for Castiel’s and Mary’s deaths – he did so knowing that he could be trained and that his powers could be used to help them. Just like with Sam’s “leader” storyline, the writers failed to develop his relationship with Jack in a meaningful way. I regard him more like his uncle. I also feel that the writers are trying to force me to accept Jack as another lead, making the first half of the season all about him – and, yes, I can’t help resenting it, because I was hoping that the focus would be on Michael!Dean, Sam, Castiel and Jack’s search for him, and Dean’s post-possession struggles. My expectations were deceived and while I like Jack, I don’t find him or his story interesting or appealing enough to keep me glued to the screen. I want to watch the show about Dean, Sam, Castiel and Jack fighting monsters and saving people – not about Jack and his three dads as he goes through trials and tribulations of a teenage life of a nephilim. Unfortunately, that and Nick were the focus this season so far.

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