TV reviews

Supernatural 14×10 – ‘Nihilism’ – TV Review

nihilism
noun
1. the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless.

It’s been a long five weeks since we saw the Winchester Brothers (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) go up against the Archangel Michael and lose, and the promo images and a video released by Supernatural‘s Post Production team didn’t calm any fears. There was also the underlying worry that the return of Supernatural after its midseason break might continue in the same vein as some of the previous episodes. A combination of lazy writing and mistakes made infuriated longtime fans, but thankfully those fears have been quashed, for now, thanks to the writing of Steve Yockey and the director skills of Amanda Tapping.

‘Nihilism’ focuses strongly on Sam and Dean, with Castiel’s (Misha Collins) assistance, both in the real world and inside Dean’s mind, as his brother attempts to boot the Archangel out, and quite right too. Although other characters do feature in this episode, there’s no real secondary storyline to divert the viewer’s attention and everything is connected back to Michael. We are even treated to seeing both Dean and Michael share the same scenes together, during which Ackles continues to excel in keeping the two characters very separate. Michael oozes menace throughout, picking at all the insecurities that each member of Team Free Will has in abundance, but their shared belief that they break Dean out of this unites them.

The Archangel tries to derail each member in turn, telling Jack (Alexander Calvert) that Dean was relieved when he died, that he was one less burden to worry about but the standout moment is his conversation with Castiel. On being asked why he’s so intent on destroying worlds we find out what Michael’s motivation is and where the episode title comes from. In his world, during the Apocalypse, both he and Lucifer believed that God would return but, just as with the Winchester’s world, he didn’t. Michael then went on to believe he could emulate God, do things better, but in learning more about how God appeared as Chuck (Rob Benedict) in this world, he realised that his Father just doesn’t care about any of them. In his opinion, God is just a writer churning out incomplete drafts and just abandoning each attempt. Michael intends to destroy each of God’s worlds, with the plan to catch up to his Father so he can kill him.

Using an old Men of Letters device, Sam and Castiel enter Dean’s mind while Jack keeps guard over them all. Michael’s monster army is no longer running amok, turning people in the city, but now heading to the Bunker. In a scene that’s full of references to so many past episodes and events, we hear Dean’s voice, multiple times, within a black void, with cries of pain when he was in Hell, on experiencing Sam’s death, and seeing himself within Bobby’s dreams. All the voices share the same thing: trauma and pain. Castiel has no clue where to look for Dean within all of this as there’s just so much of it. It then occurs to Sam that if Michael wanted to keep Dean buried it wouldn’t be within a traumatic event. Dean lives his whole life dealing with the insurmountable, and it’s his brother who figures out that if you want to keep Dean contained you’d have created something happy. It’s because of Sam that the two of them are able to pinpoint one of the voices talking about events that are not real.

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Dean has been living in a time loop within a bar that he apparently owns, and again the attention to detail in the bar set is a testament to the those set builders. You could watch the scenes over and over and likely spot more Easter Eggs but the obvious ones are the squirrel and moose taxidermies, and how one of the beers is from the brewery owned by Ackles himself.  

The one thing that felt a little odd about the perfect time loop was the inclusion of Pamela Barnes (Thunderbird Dinwiddie) as the waitress. Pamela hasn’t been seen since Season Five, during which she died, and although it was great to see her again it felt a strange choice when there have been a number of other female characters that could have been chosen. Perhaps it came down to there being the least amount of trauma connected with her character over some of the others.  

On Sam and Castiel’s arrival, it takes a lot of effort to try and convince Dean that something is wrong, but again it’s Sam who manages it, using one of their codewords – ‘Poughkeepsie’. First introduced in Season Nine the word is the Winchester’s secret code for ‘drop everything and run’, and it was used in a similar situation when Sam was being possessed by the angel Gadreel. Dean snaps out of the loop, but that, of course, brings Michael down upon them. A thank you again to Amanda Tapping for not using the fight scene style as seen in the first episode of season fourteen: there are no slow-downs or speed-ups, and the fight is both brutal and full of tension. It also seems unwinnable. Michael might not have his powers while in Dean’s mind but he’s still a formidable opponent, and with his Army getting to the Bunker’s door the Winchesters are running out of options.

Which is when Dean comes up with the plan which we just know will end up biting him, and everyone else, in the arse at some point. He decides to trap Michael in his mind.

“My mind, my rules, I got him. I’m the cage.”

Michael is shoved into the Bar’s cold storage and locked in, enraging the Archangel who continues to try to smash his way out. This felt a little anticlimactic with the next scene being back in the real world, but given the nature of the events, it probably would have felt that way no matter what the resolution, and of course it doesn’t mean that Michael is no longer a threat. Far from it.

The supporting scenes revolved around the AU Hunters and their bid to stop Michael’s army from getting to the Bunker, and these were the weakest parts of the episode. Elevated into a position of authority that seems so out of her league, we’re expected to believe that Maggie (Katherine Evans) is leading this group. Maggie’s character development, what little there has been, hasn’t at any point suggested she could fulfil such a role, and it felt a little odd to see her in it now. Really it perhaps should have been Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith) stepping up, rather than having the Boys’ mother be absent, yet again, from pivotal events.

Although, having fought in a war against Angels, the group of Hunters feel completely out of their depth, and it’s really not a surprise when they’re duped and one of their number (Brendon Halcrow) is supplanted by a monster and they get easy access to the Bunker. Honestly, the ineptitude of the group felt it was written as a way to thin out the numbers of people calling the bunker home. Although the bunker felt far too crowded and busy there were other ways that these other hunters could have been rehomed rather than killing a good number of them.

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It’s Jack though who thwarts the attack and saves the day when he decides to use the magic keeping him alive to replicate his Nephilim powers and disintegrate the invading monsters. This burns off a part of his soul and after being talked to by Castiel about the perils of losing your soul – a conversation that perhaps would have been better suited coming from Sam – Jack promises that he won’t use his magic again…. Which of course means he will.

The last scene shows us Dean repeating into a mirror how he’s fine and in charge; all the while he can hear Michael raging inside of him. Billie’s (Lisa Berry) arrival to talk to him isn’t that unexpected given how one of her Reapers (Panta Mosleh) had stepped in to help earlier. Again mimicking Infinity War, as they did with Michael snapping his fingers, Billie tells Dean that all of her books have been rewritten, all ending with Michael destroying the world, except one. This book she passes to Dean to read the ending of. We don’t know what’s written there, but Dean’s shaken look combined with his question of ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ will no doubt have fans postulating theories.  

A much stronger start to this second half of season fourteen and hopefully the rest will follow suit.

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