Nihilism is briefly defined as the philosophy that rejects value, morals, and embraces absolute destructiveness, or in other words, the archangel Michael. This episode ranks as the best of season 14 so far. No time has elapsed during the hiatus as the story picks up in the office with the Christmas Eve massacre with Michael inhabiting his vessel: Dean. Michael destroys the world because he can and because …surprise…he has daddy issues.
Jensen plays Michael with a full dose of nihilism and snark while smiling. The writing by Yockey acknowledges the history of Supernatural with artifacts of Dean’s worst experiences as well as “easter eggs” for the ardent fan- you only need to listen to the compartments of Dean’s mind or view the hints in Dean’s best dream. The snark and sarcasm that emanate from Michael emphasize the darkness of this formidable villain, but the quips are equally amusing and memorable. It is a complicated mix and one that engages the audience fully. (Many pieces of this episode are not contained in this essay so that you may watch for yourself while paying attention to the fan gifts highlighted within).
Amanda Tapping’s direction shows she has respect for the series as she adds details to Dean’s “the dream” that only a fan would recognize whether it be Dean as the owner of Rocky’s bar(squirrel-rocky and bullwinkle), the monkey from Harvell’s Road house, or the signage that says “Tom’s tequila”. Dean serves up shots, beer, and a drink from Austin,which exists at Jensen’s brewery in Austin, the cosmic cowboy. Pamela Barnes keeps him company in this compartment of his mind before she slowly reverts to blindness and then her death scene. The script differentiates between a dream and” the dream”; if Dean was not a hunter then…. but the vampires and ghouls keep seeping into this dream until Sam utters “Poughkeepsie” ,( full acknowledgment of Crowley).
Michael attempts to destroy all that is good by preying on the self doubts of the other characters: Jack’s uncertainty of whether he is a burden or truly loved by the Winchesters, Castiel’s past errors and his once great standing as the angel who grabbed Dean “tight and pulled him from perdition”, Sam’s fear that he will lose his brother and the last thing he will see is Dean/Michael’s smile. All of this manipulation takes place while Michael is handcuffed in the bunker.(Bobby’s handiwork and Billy’s “fondness” of Dean). Michael enters Dean’s dream to re-assert his control but he is equal to Cas, Sam, and Dean. Michael’s promise to reduce Dean, Sam, and Cas to blood and bones leads Dean to realize that this is his dream. In a well staged fight between Michael and Dean(shades of “The End”), Michael gets locked in the bar’s refrigerator:he will keep Michael locked in his mind,”my mind, my rules”…I am the cage.”
Jared emotes Sam’s complexity as the leader for Maggie and her group of hunters, the fearless hunter trying to save his brother,the concerned Dad for Jack’s decision to use his power and as the gadget guy who revitalizes the Men of Letters Mind port. Sam’s knowledge of his brother is so complete that he leads himself and Castiel to a place in Dean’s mind where contentment exists. Misha and Alex support the emotions of their characters as Michael plays his destructive game; the emotional scene between Cas and Alex are squee worthy, but the episode belongs to Jensen.
Ackles’ portrayal of two distinct characters is so well-defined by facial expressions, delivery of snark, and Deanisms, as well as differences in body language. It is particularly evident in the fight scene between Michael and Dean. Michael’s violent attempts to break out and Dean’s reaction as he looks in the mirror and to remind himself,”It is all me” separate the characters further. It really feels like 2 different actors at some points. So well done. The audience feels every nuance of Dean’s decision. It is only heightened more when Billie appears with ominous news about how all the books in her reading room have changed Dean’s death to Michael escaping and destroying Dean and the world except for one which she hands Dean. The facial expression conveys the awful choice he has been handed as he says,”What am I supposed to do with this?” Again, free will time for Dean. End episode 14 x 10. Stay tuned for 14 x 11 which may be titled “Damaged Goods”.
Michael: “you are a burden”. “I can hear you” “because I can” “God is a writer.” Smile
Dean: This is not just a dream,”it is the dream”. “Sam and Cas should be back tonight” “My mind, my rules.” “I am the cage” Smile.