9:00 am EDT, October 18, 2017

What could Alexander Calvert’s promotion mean for ‘Supernatural’?

When Supernatural returned last Thursday, we finally learned more about Lucifer’s son Jack. Unusually, this role has been upped to series regular status — so what could be in store?

During Supernatural’s summer hiatus, it was announced that Alexander Calvert, the 27-year-old Canadian actor who we barely glimpsed as the instantly-fully-grown nephilim Jack Kline at the close of the season 12 finale, was being upgraded to series regular for the show’s October return. Supernatural’s season 13 premiere “Lost and Found” aired last Thursday, and now that the dust has settled, we need to talk about the cosmic shift that Jack’s potentially permanent presence could bring to the show.

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For starters, even before the fall TV season began, the mere notion of this promotion on a show with a history like Supernatural’s allowed the dedicated viewer to extrapolate a fair amount about how significant this character will be. Apart from an oddity back in in season 3 — introducing Lauren Cohan’s Bela and Katie Cassidy’s Ruby as regulars and promptly killing them, a backlash-heavy structural choice made a decade ago, during the show’s growing period — the rank of Supernatural series regular has been limited to the four men who undeniably dictated the story as its key point-of-view players: naturally, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as Sam and Dean Winchester, plus Misha Collins as Castiel and Mark Sheppard as Crowley.

Ackles and Padalecki remain the only truly permanent factor of Supernatural — they’ve both appeared in every single episode, and the show will undoubtedly end the day one of them isn’t able to — and Collins’ promotion came in season 5, after an entire year’s worth of character establishment. Even this wasn’t a done deal – in season 7, he was downgraded to “special guest star” and killed off. His death was, according to many reports, initially intended as permanent, but Castiel was written back in, had his series regular status reinstated by season 9, and has been pulled even more tightly into the Winchester clan ever since.

Sheppard has now departed Supernatural for good, but despite entering the show in season 5, he didn’t make series regular until season 10 – that is, until Crowley became a true antihero, with an allegiance firmly tied to Dean first and foremost. In whatever twisted way, after season 9 Crowley held the title as the world’s #1 Dean stan, and the idea of him ever becoming a true enemy to the Winchesters ever again surpassed the realm of plausibility. This upwards trajectory of his character arc continued, and became extremely overt in season 12, culminating in his rather noble death.

So what does all this tell us about Jack? Well, firstly, with the exception of that failed season 3 experiment, no-one who plays a bad guy has been made into a Supernatural series regular, and even among the good guys, you have to be a pretty hard hitter to earn the status. Even Jim Beaver, who appeared in over 50 episodes as Bobby Singer, never got it. This season does see another slight spin on that historical precedent – allegedly Mark Pellegrino, who plays Lucifer in his most commonly recognized vessel, has also been upgraded, but the CW glossed over this, offering no press release or fanfare about his presence on the show, just a change in his name’s positioning in the opening credits.

But where Pellegrino has been a staple of the show for quite some time, with weight to throw around in terms of behind-the-scenes negotiations about his potential indispensability, Calvert and his character are practically unknown to viewers, with no such bargaining tool. The signs could not be clearer: this is a story choice. Jack is huge, Jack is crucial, and therefore, Jack is very likely not evil. Even during season 12, the debate over Kelly Kline’s unborn nephilim set up this tale: is the son of Lucifer inherently bad merely because he’s the son of Lucifer?

No way. Team Free Will’s initial assumption that he would be never sat well within the canon, or the show’s central principle that family doesn’t end — or start — in blood. Over the years, they’ve encountered another nephilim and an Antichrist (a child born while a demon possesses a human vessel) and granted both personhood, deemed them blameless and capable of choice. Over the season, the Winchesters struggled with the idea of killing Kelly and her child, the threat stemming more from the baby’s uncontrolled power than his potential moral compass, and eventually — too late — they developed a plan to turn the baby human and make him safe.

It was clear that season 13 would address nature vs. nurture in a more prominent way than ever before, and even before the teaser trailers for Supernatural’s return started circulating, my assumption about Jack was that he would be a naive, untainted, likely very socially inept blank slate, with the power of angelic grace but no allegiance to Lucifer or desire for destruction. To quote another son-of-Satan story, Good Omens, the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel that deeply inspired Supernatural creator Eric Kripke: ‘Saying he’ll grow up to be a demon just because his dad became one is like saying a mouse with its tail cut off will give birth to tailless mice.’ Indeed, “Lost and Found,” penned by showrunner Andrew Dabb, confirmed this theory to the Nth degree – Supernatural wasted no time in showing us exactly how they want us to feel about Jack, and the emphasis was even more extreme than I expected.

Jack is, in the local parlance, a total woobie. He is a beautiful cinnamon roll, too good for this world, too pure. Within the episode’s first act, despite magically throwing Sam and Dean across a room and knocking them out, he’s established as the ultimate innocent, filled with confusion and childish earnestness. He’s picked up, naked and clueless, by a local sheriff and her son, and although there’s a sinister, light-flickering setup where one could assume Jack’s dragged his new friend off to, I don’t know, eat his soul or something, the reveal — that they’re using Jack’s powers to get free candy from a vending machine — is such a thorough bait-and-switch that there’s instantly no room for the audience to feel anything for Jack other than love, sympathy and protectiveness.

As if “I like nougat!” wasn’t enough to sell us on this kid — and seriously, I now totally get why Cas believed the hype, Jack’s enthusiasm is infectious and mood-heightening, like One Direction, Disneyland, and kitten videos — “Lost and Found” then took us into unexpected territory that furthered his claim on our hearts irrevocably: Jack thinks Castiel is his dad. The newborn manbaby’s quest for his absent father was predictable, and I was fully prepared for an inaccurate assessment – Jack knowing he wanted his father, but not knowing that his father was Lucifer, or not believing he was evil. I was seriously shook, right alongside Sam, by the disclosure that no, when Jack was asking for his father, he actively meant Cas – that, imbibing the knowledge from his mother without really understanding it, he’d chosen Castiel as his father.

Castiel, of course, is dead – “more dead than usual,” which means that his death will have some serious consequences. He’ll return, and quite soon, and although the CW is making damn sure that the audience knows it, the characters, of course, do not. Rather than kicking off with an action-filled plot setup, Supernatural chose to let its premiere linger, dwelling on the grief and dissonance that follows such an immense loss, with each of the major players expressing their feelings differently – Sam trying to power through the practicalities and hold it together, Dean totally, utterly, nihilistically checked out, and Jack, scared and bewildered, unable to process what it all means.

There will be a lot – like, a lot – more about this emotional arc to explore in upcoming weeks, including an episode literally focusing on grief counselling, but what’s immediately clear is the fact that the Winchesters stripped back to basics, with only each other to rely on, is not something that Supernatural wants us to see as a positive thing. Sam and Dean alone against the world is not what Sam and Dean want; it is not enough for them anymore. Dean’s prayer to an absent God is not a cry for help about the Earth being in peril. He’s not asking for backup, he’s not talking about the threat that he believes Jack to be. He’s just begging for his people back, people he feels he did not deserve to lose, because without them around him – Cas, Mary, even Crowley – he is not okay. That’s literally it. The show wants us to want the boys to get their family back, to get the comfort that they now finally (*praise hands*) believe they’re owed.

Not only is it very likely that Jack (who allegedly can’t raise the dead – yet – but did unknowingly opened a rift to the other world, where Mary is now trapped) will be instrumental in the mission to recover Mary at the very least, the forces of Heaven already want to use Jack for their own means. Hell will be sure to follow, with Lucifer’s claim being worst of all. Jack’s powers, which he admits feel very external to him, and his choices, which matter a hell of a lot more, open up dozens of potential doors, especially – if the show is winding down in the next couple of years – those leading to a new permanent balance between Heaven and Hell. As an all-powerful ally loyal to the Winchesters, he could eventually fill Chuck’s shoes, or Crowley’s, putting an end to the interference of angels and demons on earth once and for all, allowing the Winchesters to lay down their load. He could literally be the solution to all their problems.

Alternatively, he could opt out completely, and request the removal of his own grace, taking himself off the board and remaining a genuinely pure human soul. Either way, it’s almost certain that before that point he’ll be tested or corrupted – something will go terribly wrong, but Supernatural has made it very clear that we are meant to root for him, which means that sooner or later, he’ll atone and Sam and Dean will be rooting for him too. Right now, Dean isn’t exactly pro-Jack. How will that change when he learns how Jack feels about Castiel? This provides a potential outlet for healing – will the kid ask about who Castiel was and what he was like, forcing the brothers – well, let’s not sugarcoat it, Dean, it’s always Dean who represses the most egregiously, and it’s Dean who’s wrecked beyond composure right now – to talk about Cas, memorialize him rather than lock him away out of mind and pretend he never existed, like Dean’s done so many times before with so many other lost loved ones?

Jack also fills a void – right now, Team Free Will has an opening, and Jack is the best possible example of free will that the show could ever hope to portray, so it fits that he should fill it. As the official club mascot, he’s a near-perfect mirror for all three of them – Dean’s lost childhood, forced to grow up too fast; Sam’s curse of powers beyond his control, which made others view him as unclean; and Castiel’s displacement, often unwelcome, uncomfortable and unequipped to live as a human. Each of the guys has a ton to learn and reveal about themselves from dealing with a character like this – fun for the whole family! The unusual parent/child/responsibility dynamic shift on Supernatural has always been a tough one, but it’s also built into the show’s DNA. There’s even a lot of room for humor here, bittersweet or otherwise, as set pictures show Jack – dressed very closely to Castiel’s trademark look – tagging along with Sam and Dean like the work experience kid.

Parenthood is a factor that the show’s executive producers have mentioned will feature heavily this year – season 12’s story saw the Winchesters as children of an unknown mother, and season 13 propels them to parents of an abandoned child – an old burden for natural nurturer Dean, but very new for center-of-his-family’s-universe Sam. But it’s Cas that Jack imprinted on like a newly-hatched duckling. When Castiel’s return places him in the leading role of parent and protector for Jack, it gives him a valuable new purpose, which could see his relationship with the Winchesters as friends and equals really, truly genuinely blossom in a way he’s never allowed it to before. Cas has never been quite comfortable just being part of the family, and the guys have never verbalized well enough that they want him around just to hang out, not as a weapon or as their self-appointed guardian. I’ve got a feeling that the mourning Supernatural will be exploring will bring a lot of things to the surface and emphasize the value of those they’ve lost more than ever before, resulting in bringing Sam, Dean and Cas closer than ever, and if Jack and Cas also stay bonded, then Jack becomes extended family too.

Plus, he’s so freakin’ cute. I mean, will you just look at him? Please just look at his face. Given the average age range of the stars on every other CW show, and the demographic the network has historically looked to attract, it’s not a stretch to think that keeping a peach of a kid like that around on a show that features a cast pushing 40 may be something that the CW brass sees as a big plus. He – and his new friend Clark, the shockingly enigmatic Rob Raco, who pulls focus like nobody’s business and who I’d bet money we’ll see again – are also well within the vaguely teen-adjacent age range to jump over to Wayward Sisters as future peers of those girls.

Right now, though, Jack is still learning – about shoes, and funerals, and candy, and kindness. He’s learnt that he’s near indestructible, that he doesn’t want to hurt people, that he’s in danger. He’s yet to learn what kind of man either of his fathers is, or how that will affect who he chooses to be. But the choice is the key: he is not a tailless mouse. For now, Sam and Dean are taking him home – Sam, because he believes in Jack’s innocence, and Dean, to keep the rest of the world safe from him. Given his naivety and helplessness, it’s hard to imagine any excuse that would allow him to be left by himself, so you can count on Jack appearing closely alongside the Winchesters in most episodes for the foreseeable future. Heaven’s already had a crack at him, and next up, we’ll find out what another Prince of Hell plans to do with the heir to his master’s throne.

In the long run? We know he’s the “golden ticket.” We know we’re on his side. And we know he’s here to stay. With the introduction of Jack, what we’re looking at is a truckload of symbolism that’s significant not only to the development of all three existing lead characters in unique ways, but to the biggest central themes of the show itself. We’re also looking at the only being with enough juice (despite his soft, sweet, nougaty center, or perhaps because of it) to go head to head with Lucifer once and for all, and win – the nephilim lore is that the nephilim becomes more powerful than the angel who sired it, claimed Padalecki after the season premiere. If Calvert’s series regular status does mean that he’ll carry over into the next — and potentially last — season, then Jack Kline is going to be Supernatural’s huge closing statement, the ultimate proof in the pudding about free will and found families. And he might just be the glue that binds the universe back together. At last, he might be the one who sets Sam and Dean Winchester free.


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