So Much Love for ‘Supernatural’ Nihilism
I spent Supernatural’s mid-season hiatus guardedly optimistic about the second half of Season 14 after feeling less than elated about the end of the first half. Then I was out of the country last Thursday when my favorite show returned and couldn’t watch until now – so imagine my absolute joy when I finally sat down to watch ‘Nihilism’ and sat there riveted the entire time. I might have yelled “YES!” and “That’s my Show!” more than once, and I might have had a big grin on my face at times that probably weren’t even appropriate for big grins, but I was just so happy to have my Show back! Thank you, Steve Yockey, for that beautiful story, and Amanda Tapping for that beautiful direction.
It’s already Wednesday, so this is less a review or recap and more a few emotional reactions and thoughts as we gear up for tomorrow’s new episode and get closer to the 300th episode that I’m so anticipating.
‘Nihilism’ had some nostalgic touches, which almost always puts a smile on my face. I’ve been watching this Show for 14 years, and it feels good when the Show remembers its own history and acknowledges its own fandom. Dean’s fantasy world in his own head where Michael has trapped him is full of those touches – it’s Rocky’s Bar, complete with a stuffed squirrel wrapped around a Margiekugel’s beer bottle, a tap from “FB Beer Company” and references to “an IPA from Austin.” The little in-group nods to Dean’s nickname of ‘Squirrel,’ a Scoobynatural nod with ‘Daphne Loves Fred’ carved into the bar, and Jensen Ackles‘ real life (Family Business Beer Company) brewery in Austin were happy making.
And who’s Dean’s partner in his dreamt up ideal world? None other than Pamela Barnes, the woman who unapologetically appreciated both Winchesters’ assets and always told it like it is. I can see Dean appreciating a woman like that, and I have always appreciated her too. I also love Tracy Dinwiddie, who was a guest at some of the first Supernatural cons, and was so happy to see her back on the show.
The fact that Dean’s fantasy world has him being a badass brawling bar owner (who’s famous…) repeatedly beheading attacking monsters was so perfect – so very very Dean. You could actually spend hours analyzing the contents of Dean’s fantasy world – it’s so old school, a vintage Rolodex on his desk even. Dean values the past, perhaps a link to John Winchester and a longing for his Dad that’s never been blunted. Interesting too that he’s not romantically involved with Pamela, he just likes to flirt. There’s nothing I love more than the characterization of my favorite characters seeming so right, whether I’m reading fanfic or watching the actual Show. Cue one of those big grins.
So, we soon find out that our suspicions about Michael were right, he did indeed “see everything.” Yet he manages to underestimate both the determination of Sam and Cas to get Dean back and their smarts. In fact, Michael ends up in cuffs. Yay Sam and Cas and Team Save Dean!
Bonus points for little elements of humor tossed in, one of the Show’s signature characteristics.
“But Garth’s in the trunk.”
“It’s a big trunk….”
At some point, Sam calls the reaper who’s always around them, and they get whisked to safety. Violet the reaper, when asked how she did that, says “I didn’t.” So we all know that Lisa Berry will probably be making an appearance, and YAY!
Once Michael is cuffed to the table back at the bunker, the fun really begins. I have been impressed with some elements of Jensen Ackles’ portrayal of Michael before, but this episode, he really owned the role. Maybe it took a little while for him to settle into another character, or a little while to “find” this character in order to really inhabit Michael, but holy shit, he really did that this time! I found myself increasingly intrigued by Michael as Yockey’ script let us get some insight into what drives him – insight that made more sense than anything we’ve heard Michael say before. As so often happens on Supernatural, part of that motivation is anger and betrayal and a deep sense of abandonment, with all the rage that brings. It seems the angels and the archangels and the humans have all struggled with an absent God in all the worlds – and Michael is no exception. His dark, cold nihilistic view is of a God with no answers, a universe strewn with failed and discarded drafts, because he Just. Doesn’t. Care.
Michael is, when all is said and done, the son on a mission to destroy the absent father.
Michael: Even God can die.
Me: Rob Benedict, don’t come back this Season!!
I hate to admit it, but Michael – now that he has a personality and a coherent backstory – is not only intriguing, but downright hot. Like, wayyyyyy hot. The way he sits there handcuffed but still crossing his legs and casting almost flirty looks to his captors, looking every bit like “I might be in cuffs but you KNOW I look good” was a goddamn attack. Tapping’s extreme close-ups only made it more lethal.
And let’s talk about how Michael always acts like he’s in control, carrying out a subtly effective psychological attack on each of his captors. He taunts Sam, telling him that the last thing he’ll see is “this pretty smile – as I rip you apart.”
He does smile then, using Dean’s familiar face, the person Sam loves and misses. It’s brilliant, and horrible.
Jack is so vulnerable, and Michael tells him everything that he fears the most. And Jack, we can see, starts to believe him, despite Castiel’s warning not to. Oh, my heart.
He taunts Castiel too, comparing him to the badass version of Cas in his world, calling him “anemic” compared to the other Castiel.
With each of the three would-be rescuers, Michael goes right for their vulnerabilities.
I loved the way Ackles carried out those taunts, the same familiar face but without a trace of the warmth that Dean would feel when talking with each of them. It was chilling, and yet he’s still so goddamn distractingly pretty!
A brief interlude for the only head-scratching moment in this episode – Maggie is in charge?? What now? I have no clue what it is with this character and why Show is so determined to make her a major player, but they’ve painted her as the least likely person EVER to be put in charge and then – put her in charge! Look, Show, I know you still feel bad about Wayward Sisters, but this isn’t the way to make up for it – it made zero sense and threw me right out of an episode which otherwise had me entirely sucked in.
Sam and Cas are initially overwhelmed by all the trauma memories crammed into poor Dean’s brain, and it’s interesting to try to pick out the bits and pieces of all the awful things that have happened to Dean in his insanely traumatic life. Sam is once again allowed to show his smarts (thank you Steve!) and how well he knows his brother, because he quickly realizes that Michael wouldn’t put Dean in a traumatic memory. Instead, he’d put him in a wished for fantasy, and that would be so distracting he’d never want to leave. “Bury him in contentment,” as Sam puts it.
So in Sam and Cas go.
We got a couple of kickass fight scenes in Rocky’s Bar, with Dean fighting vampires and Sam and Cas splattered with blood and looking amusingly perplexed about it. I laughed out loud at Jared Padalecki’s expression to show Sam’s distaste – he is so good at comedy, just those subtle little things. Both Padalecki and Misha Collins were brilliant as Sam and Cas tried to get through to Dean, by turns adorably frustrated and seriously desperate.
The moment when Sam realizes that the best way to bring Dean back to himself is to use a word that is theirs, a secret code the Winchesters have shared forever, something that only they know, was the emotional highlight of the episode.
The look on Dean’s face made me start to tear up. He hears Sam. He hears him.
Dean: What’d you say?
And slowly, with more brilliant acting by Ackles, Dean remembers.
I had to reach for the tissues, but at the same time I was smiling ear to ear, because this is my Show! It’s the Winchesters’ shared history that makes this all so special – it’s what saved the day when Sam fought back control from Lucifer and tossed him into the cage, and it’s what brought Dean back to reality now.
Of course, it can’t be that easy. Michael joins the party in Dean’s brain, and resumes his psychological games with more targeted taunts. He insists that Dean doesn’t care about either Sam or Castiel, that “you just tolerate the angel, because you think you owe him…but all he’s done is make mistakes.”
Michael: You don’t care about them, you just feel responsible for them.
Damn, Michael is good. He does know what’s in Dean’s head, and he uses it to manipulate and destabilize. It almost works too. There’s an amazing fight scene with Michael throwing Sam and Castiel across the room, which I’ll just bet that Rob Hayter and Ackles, Padalecki and Collins had a BLAST filming. Eventually, Dean’s mental and emotional strength win out though – they trap Michael in Dean’s mind.
Dean, as Michael rages and bangs on the door: It’ll hold. My mind, my rules. I got him. I’m the Cage.
Ohgod. Oh Dean.
At the same time, Michael’s monsters are invading the bunker and things are looking bad for Jack and the AU hunters and actual Sam and Castiel who are still in Dean’s head (but also sitting at the bunker table).
What we all thought would happen eventually does – Jack, more determined than ever to prove himself after Michael’s taunts, uses his powers to destroy the monsters. Oh, Jack.
Once everyone is awake, Cas has a heart to heart with Jack, reminding him that using his powers like that burns off some of his soul.
Cas: I’m not mad at you. It’s about you staying you.
I loved that scene and that conversation, and how Misha Collins and Alex Calvert played it. There was tenderness and affection, and damned if Castiel isn’t getting good at this parenting thing! I worry about Jack too, Cas.
Billie appears, and as we assumed, she was the one who zapped them out of danger. And now we learn why. Seems all those many many books that had Dean Winchester dying in all sorts of ways? Now they all have Dean dying as things go south with Michael.
His face says that it’s something unimaginable.
Dean: What am I supposed to do with this?
Billie: It’s up to you.
That was followed shortly after by me telling everyone else who was home at the time how much I love this Show (which they’ve all heard a million times before, but come on, how awesome is it to be able to still squee about it after 14 seasons???)
‘Nihilism’ was a welcome reminder that Supernatural is still capable of being the most incredible show ever – and that its cast is fucking amazing. I’m so grateful that I sometimes still get to write a review that’s mostly me going OMG SO GOOD In a bunch of different ways. If I was excited about the 300th episode before, now it’s off the charts!