Supernatural took a brave and bold step last season when part-time villain and resident King of Hell, Crowley, sacrificed himself to help the Winchester brothers defeat Lucifer and return to their own world. Of course, in the realm of Supernatural, death is about as permanent as a snowman on a summer day but something about Crowley's parting shot felt final and absolute - a belief proven by the fact that it was later confirmed actor Mark Sheppard would not be returning to the series.
The exit marked a huge loss for Supernatural, a show that has built its long term success around the central fab-four of Dean, Sam, Castiel and Crowley. Sheppard's character has, at times, been a fully-fledged baddie, but he's spent most of his Supernatural run as more of an antihero figure. Crowley's human side has been thoroughly explored thanks to the inspired addition of his witch mother, Rowena, and more often than not the King of Hell has found himself sharing common goals with those pesky Winchester brothers. This trope succeeded largely thanks to Crowley's enduring charisma and Mark Sheppard's 'worn-down politician' performance. Undoubtedly, the character did some despicable things during his time on Supernatural but fans often found themselves cheering him on regardless.
Inevitably, Crowley's death creates an antihero shaped-hole in Supernatural's tapestry but rather than introducing a new lovable villain for season 13, the show appears to be filling that vacancy with none other than the Devil himself, Mark Pellegrino's Lucifer. Popping in and out of Supernatural since season five, Lucifer has been an undoubted highlight of the show. Pellegrino's madcap, Daddy-issue-riddled, eternally sinister interpretation of Satan has been consistently entertaining but, unlike Crowley, his sheer evil often takes center stage and (a short-lived alliance against The Darkness aside) the character has been a bona-fide villain thus far.
Season 13 appears to be drastically altering that dynamic. With the alternate universe version of archangel Michael and Prince of Hell Asmodeus taking up this season's villain slots, a different approach was required for Lucifer and the first step in the Devil's transformation into an antihero was the introduction of his kind-hearted son, Jack.
The nephilim has developed a strong and touching bond with Sam and Dean and has a genuine desire to help people, rather than burn them all in eternal damnation, but Jack's biological father is still desperately searching for his offspring. Certainly, Lucifer's ideal scenario is probably to rule over mankind alongside his son but nevertheless, the Devil appears to harbor a genuine concern - and possibly even love - for his child, something that likely comes from Lucifer's dysfunctional relationship with his own Dad.
Interestingly, Supernatural used a similar technique when first attempting to humanize Crowley. By introducing Crowley's human son, Gavin - also a kind-hearted young man - Supernatural was able to highlight a new and more emotional side to the villain and although it's early days, it appears that the intentions are the same for Lucifer. Once Jack finally comes face to face with his father, the Devil's true plans for the boy will likely be revealed but undoubtedly, Lucifer has far kinder designs for Jack than Asmodeus does.
Another step in Lucifer's transformation into the new Crowley has been the powering-down of Mark Pellegrino's Devil. It's never easy to establish a character as an antihero if they could rip apart your protagonists atom by atom with a wave of the hand and so for Lucifer to take on such a role, the archangel needed to be knocked down a peg or two. This service was duly provided by the alternate world's Michael, who siphoned off some of the Devil's grace to fuel his attempt at traversing dimensions. This process left Lucifer vastly under-powered and barely able to hold his own against a gaggle of regular demons, let alone the likes of Asmodeus and Michael - a crucial step on the path to making Lucifer easier for fans to sympathize with and relate to.
This angelic demotion pushes Lucifer even further towards antihero territory, as it forces him to take the drastic step of teaming with other characters. So far, season thirteen has seen the devil saddle up with Castiel and despite not being featured heavily, the duo have made for a compelling double act. It seems to be only a matter of time until Cas and Lucifer join with the Winchester brothers to take down some bigger enemies and in this foursome, Lucifer is very much playing the Crowley role of "guy that can't be completely trusted but the Winchesters kind of need." He's the outcast; the wildcard; the Ringo.
Certainly then, the omens seem to be pointing towards Lucifer taking up Crowley's old position but a huge question mark still hangs over whether or not Supernatural can successfully pull this transformation off. As Dean Winchester might say, this is the "actual freaking devil we're talking about here" rather than just a moody British crossroads demon. Can a character of Lucifer's notoriety and standing ever be anything other than an outright villain?
In Mark Pellegrino's hands, absolutely, albeit perhaps only for a limited run. Pellegrino's incarnation of Lucifer has shown enough charm and hints of emotion to suggest that a genuine stint alongside the Winchesters and Castiel could be an entertaining and fruitful arc for all concerned. After all, they do say that fatherhood changes a man. Realistically however, there's surely only so long Lucifer can stay away from utter villainy. Unlike Crowley who became progressively more "good" with each appearance, Supernatural's Lucifer is sure to come back with an evil vengeance once his full power is restored and his dalliance with the Winchesters comes to an end.
Supernatural season 13 continues January 25th on The CW.