It's universally agreed upon that Supernatural's original five-season arc -- which led to the Apocalypse and revolved around Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) being the true vessels for the archangels Lucifer and Michael, respectively -- was the show at its very best. In the eight seasons since Sam jumped into the cage to save the world in "Swan Song," the show has had more peaks and valleys than the rhythm strip of a heart monitor, but even as the Winchesters save the world again and again from new evils that continue to arise, Supernatural always seems to return to Lucifer, and with good reason.
The concept of Lucifer as the face of true evil is a familiar one outside the complex and dense mythology of Supernatural; his identity as Satan in Christianity has obviously also transcended into popular culture, thus making it relatively easy to paint the show's version of Lucifer as the ultimate evil to defeat. And for most of the show's run, Lucifer has largely lived up to the title. Arrogant and manipulative with a cruel and sarcastic sense of humor, he's memorable not just for the delicious wickedness he brings to the battle for the destruction/salvation of humanity, but for the way he regularly taunts and toys with both Sam and Dean.
As Pellegrino has played him, Lucifer is a clever, charismatic and mischievous villain, one whom fans are always happy to see defeated but just as happy to see return, too. It's this performance that has led, at least in part, to the character's popularity, and it's arguably one of the main reasons why none of the other major antagonists introduced over the years have seemed as impressive.
But after 13 seasons of Supernatural, repetition is just as terrifying an enemy as the devil. The decision to allow Lucifer to evolve as a character this season, even just a little bit, through the introduction of his son Jack (Alexander Calvert) has breathed new life into the aging series while simultaneously acting as a bridge to the show's original story arc. Lucifer's presence in the narrative since the end of Season 5 hasn't always garnered feelings of goodwill, but this particular storyline ties into the show's overall themes and reveals there's more to Lucifer than what we've seen in seasons past.
This season alone we've seen him have to escape from an apocalyptic universe in which Michael (Christian Keyes) defeated his younger brother; we've seen him powerless without his grace; we've seen him try (and fail) to help humans as a fill-in for God; and we've seen him drunk and miserable without his son. Seeing Lucifer as a man with more on his mind than just the Apocalypse or just tormenting Sam and Dean has made for frequently fun B-plots, and although bringing Sam back to life in "Beat the Devil" and later attempting to stop Michael in "Exodus" were actions driven by Lucifer's selfishness and not necessarily a desire to help the good guys, they're part of another complicated chapter in an already very long book about the complex familial relationships that drive Supernatural's narrative.
Just to quickly recap: Sam and Dean's relationship is clearly the heart of the show, but it's also dangerously codependent. Meanwhile, Sam's complicated relationship with John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was full of resentment and in direct opposition to that of Dean's relationship with their father, which was built upon blind loyalty. Both of these relationships then echoed Lucifer and Michael's respective relationships with God, which is why the Winchesters were destined to be the archangels' true vessels. And now we're seeing how a potential relationship with his son is ultimately forcing Lucifer to reevaluate his past and reconsider his future.
Gabriel's (Richard Speight Jr.) eye-opening outburst midway through "Exodus," in which he dug into Lucifer's various shortcomings and how they related to or led to his strained relationship with God, seemed to actually hit home -- there was an actual tear, man! Although we don't expect, or even want, the Prince of Darkness to suddenly change or become a champion for good simply because he's a father and wants a relationship with his son, it's interesting to see how fatherhood affects him without necessarily changing everything that makes Lucifer, well, Lucifer.
What's more important, though, is that Lucifer finally seems to care about something other than himself and finally cares about more than just being worshipped or feared, as Gabriel said. That is enough to make this never-ending battle between good and evil interesting again. That Jack seems to be equally interested in having a relationship with his father, despite the Winchesters many warnings against it, adds another layer to it all. But because Jack is half-human, because he has, at least for now, allied himself with Team Free Will, and because Michael is now banging down the door to this universe, Supernatural is once again at a crossroads, and Lucifer is standing right in the middle. The question that remains now is whether or not Gabriel's words and Sam's "betrayal" will have reminded Lucifer of the fearsome devil he was or reinforced his desire to be the man he was trying to become for Jack. Whatever version we get in the finale, one thing remains true: although Lucifer is probably the worst thing to ever happen to the Winchesters, he's the best thing that's ever happened to Supernatural.
The Supernatural Season 13 finale airs Thursday, May 17 at 8/7c on The CW.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parents companies.)