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In the run-up toward Supernatural's ultimate climax, the story of ultra-powered part-human Jack has been one of the most tragic, bittersweet aspects of Sam and Dean Winchester's ongoing adventures in the Impala. Scared, misunderstood, and desperate for approval, Jack’s arc from the child of a loveless affair to world savior to murderer has been fraught with misguided intentions and frayed emotions. Through his short-lived life as a one-of-a-kind celestial oddity, the show provides a dark take on one of pop culture's most enduring beacons, Superman, and ponders some complex ideas in the process
Some background: Jack, played by Alexander Calvert, is a Nephilim: a half-archangel, half-human hybrid with unprecedented sacred powers. His mother, Kathy Kline, became pregnant when she had an affair with the president of the United States while he was possessed by Lucifer, and subsequently died during childbirth. This left Jack, the literal son of Satan, in the care of Sam, Dean, and Castiel as they tried to find a way to rescue Mary Winchester, who became trapped with Lucifer in an alternate reality during a stand-off to keep the fallen angel from getting to Kathy. (Stay with us. This was all in the climax of Supernatural's 12th season, and we’re now staring down the end of Season 15, so we're doing some heavy bridge notes here.)
The parallels between Jack and Kal-El are evident from the get-go. He's the only one of his kind, an orphan of intense ability on an extremely vulnerable planet, left on the proverbial doorstep of unexpected parents who understand all too well that he is absolutely their responsibility. They're both fundamentally lonely characters, born amid intense conflict, now stuck somewhere far away from what home should be, forever searching for a sense of genuine, lasting security.
Making the wise choice of glossing over his childhood, Jack ages into early adulthood within hours of being born, meaning instead of Sam and Dean trying to babysit Jack-Jack from The Incredibles, we get straight to the meaty stuff. After Jack initially goes awol and the boys track him down, Sam believes he can be taught to control his abilities, and put on a righteous path. Dean is less optimistic and thinks they should contain the kid before he has a chance to do any real harm. A couple of monster-of-the-week adventures later, and some input from Castiel (who promised Kathy he'd take care of Jack), Dean comes around to keeping the eager, young honorary Winchester onboard.
But Dean never truly lets go of his underlying fear, and his paranoia soon manifests in self-fulfilling tragedy. In addition to helping Jack manage his telepathy and other psychic powers, Sam, Dean, and Castiel gradually teach him morality, too. Jack, through their exploits, sees the value of killing monsters, and saving people, and becomes enamored with the cause, but struggles to not hurt others when using his abilities. This creates friction, as it becomes best for Jack to stay home, feeding his paranoia that one day Sam and Dean will have a more severe tactic for managing Jack's angelic strength.
In Jack, Supernatural tells a Superman story in which our allegorical last Kryptonian is dogged by anxiety that his adopted family will never truly trust him as long as he's so powerful. Such intense capability begets a fail-safe, which breeds fear of crossing the line, which spirals into antagonism over where the line actually is, which turns into conflict, making said fail-safe a radical necessity. It's that old adage that Batman has precautionary measures in place for every member of the Justice League if he needs them — except where his safeguards exist with implicit permission from Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and so on — Jack isn't so comfortable. He's never had Themyscira, or the Green Lantern Corps, or the quiet tutelage of Jonathan and Martha Kent to give his moral compass a true north. All he knows is the seesawing of Sam and Dean as to when his presence becomes altogether too much, breeding a quiet, pervasive dread.
Insofar as Jack is driven to find uses for his celestial endowment, like saving Mary Winchester from the Apocalypse World, that he hopes will make the case for him being one of the good guys, the series deconstructs the waning relevance of Superman as an archetype. As the platonic ideal of a superhero, Clark Kent represents a cultural period where an everyman hero was deeply inspiring and compelling as a narrative engine; a distillation of America as the land of the free and home of the brave, standing for what's right no matter the cost. Nowadays, post-Vietnam War, the occupation of Iraq, and a long, growing list of other egregious horrors committed by and within the United States, that symbolism rings a little hollow. Dean's apprehension towards Jack reflects an acute awareness of post-World War II America, and the danger underpinning Superman, which is that his mere presence invites challenge, or worse, he'll purposely provoke his next target because he needs an endless stream of calamity to feel essential.
Jack's capabilities become an explicit cross-to-bear when he loses his grace and becomes more-or-less human in a stand-off against his father, Lucifer, and the archangel Gabriel. Now just one of the team, Jack gets a taste of normalcy, and settles into a regular life as a rookie hunter under the doting eyes of Castiel and Bobby. But without grace, his body degrades, and he eventually dies, getting to meet his mother in heaven. The meeting is short-lived, though, as Castiel is forced to trade Jack's soul for his life on earth so he doesn't end up in the after-life for angels. Ironically, Jack can't exist without the very things that prohibit him from being a semblance of a regular person.
Regaining grace from slain archangel Michael, Jack is once again suped-up, but now somewhat amoral, too, lacking the wherewithal of a soul. Lucifer begins haunting him in lucid hallucinations, like an unwritten sequel to Zack Snyder's Man of Steel wherein Kal keeps seeing General Zod everywhere. Goading his son to lash out, the phantom Lucifer needles his way into his son's psyche, creating a spiral that eventually leads to Jack panic-killing Mary so she wouldn't tell Sam and Dean about him misusing his abilities. In a last ditch maneuver, the Winchesters try and lock Jack away, causing him to go into overload, spurring God himself to show up and kill Jack once and for all.
Jack's storyline is one that acknowledges questions rarely asked of the last son of Krypton because to do so is to confront 80 years of cultural baggage coming to a miserable end. Now in Season 15, Jack's been brought back to full health and had his soul restored because he's the only one who can kill God, and all he feels is trepidation and self-doubt. Superman is fantasy comfort food, reliably saccharine, a hero absent of so many of our inherent weaknesses. Jack is the opposite, wracked with heartache and folly. Yet, he wants to do good anyway, embodying not only the courage that's allowed Superman to endure for so long, but the deep-seated hope in humanity, too. He may not be able to save everyone, but he's willing to try, and inspiring us to do the same has always been Superman's greatest power.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.