“Hope is an amazing thing, isn’t it? You had no chance of winning this. None. But you had hope…”
There is nothing more soul-crushing than a fight you can’t win. And now that Michael’s back in the driver’s seat, crushing Dean psyche as far down as can be, with his plan to unleash his horde of monsters in full swing, it really doesn’t look too good for the white hats. Then again, it’s Supernatural, and the Winchesters always find a way. Though, it’s generally not without casualties.
For the first episode of the new year, “Nihilism” offers a nice reset to this fourteenth season of Supernatural while also reminding viewers that, even when you think you know, you have no idea.
Picking up where the 2018 finale left off, Sam, Jack, and Cas have to face Michael, who has once again ensconced himself into Dean’s body…his “perfect vessel”. Thanks to the villainous grandstanding trope, they’re able to cuff the archangel and, with a bit of Reaper help, find their way back to the Bunker. From there it’s figuring out how to reach Dean, no doubt buried in the recesses of his own mind by the cocky and in control Michael. Using some of the techniques Crowley (R.I.P.) employed to rid Sam of Gadreel back in Season 9, Sam and Cas brave the trauma-filled unknown of Dean’s psyche. It’s a gamble, considering they may run into a fully-powered Michael, but one they have to take if they expect to rescue Dean and put a halt to Michael’s hordes that, since he’s been taken, are heading straight for the Bunker.
Though there are a few action pieces in “Nihilism”, much of this episode revolves around the prospects of doubt and hope. Showcasing his ability to twist words to attack a person’s fears as well as Lucifer, Jensen Ackles once again shines as Michael. The calm arrogance he displays, as if being chained up and powerless is nothing more than an inconvenience to him is such a pleasant treat. Yet it’s his surgical attacks upon Jack and the others that stands out as the darkest poetry. His words are brutal and unfeeling and, though they may not be totally accurate, are honed in such a way that even if only pieces find their mark in his targets, that is enough for him. \
Yes, he’s taken down in the end—locked up in Dean’s mind by the latter’s force of will—but he’s not gone. And the scariest part of that is, when he does get free, the measured, patient antagonist may be gone; replaced by a more vindictive, focused, and angry archangel who doesn’t care for gloating. Only laying waste to another one of God’s worlds.
- Anytime a show properly delves into a character’s psyche, it makes for a compelling story. Considering that viewers have been with Sam and Dean for so long, to catch a glimpse of some of Dean’s worst moments in whispered echoes was a stark reminder of the pain the Winchesters have experienced. Dean’s ability to regain control over his mind—however tenuous that may be—was a testament to Sam’s line about how his brother thrives on trauma.
- Though she seemed like an afterthought, it does appear that Maggie’s character will be an important cog in the fight over the remainder of the season. With Mary and Bobby out on their own and Ketch and Charlie doing the same, the trio needs a fourth wheel, so to speak, as they move forward. It looks like Maggie’s up for that job.
- While there are moments where the writers highlight the fact that angelic entities are not human, thus do not think like humans, it generally comes back to the fact that they can be just as petty and cruel as the beings they often loathe. Michael is no different. His quest to burn the world to ash amounts to nothing more than a child throwing a tantrum because his daddy won’t pay attention to him. True, it stays with the irony that angels are more human than they’d like to believe but such motive lacks a bit of the umph I was expecting when peeking into Michael’s end goal.
- Despite hitting some very sharp notes, “Nihilism’s” progression was a bit rushed in parts. It’s as if the writers don’t want to overdo the Michael-as-Dean narrative, thus decide on Sam and the others solving the problem a tad too quickly. It’s understandable considering that Supernatural has always been about the relationship of Sam and Dean (and now, Jack and Cas), thus having Dean parked away for an extended period of time takes away some of the show’s foundational strength. But there has to be a way to do both without the antagonist being so quickly dispatched (even if it is a temporary solution).
- Even if it was but a memory, it was a treat to see Pamela Barnes back on screen. It’s been nearly 10 years since her character’s last graced Supernatural and her easy, flirtatious persona is something that would be a welcome change to the show…if only she were still alive.
- Jack finally did it; he tapped into the powers of his soul, the only thing that’s currently keeping him alive. It was a necessary moment for a character who has felt so lost and useless but such a display did come at a cost. He burned away part of his soul. That is not just one of those bits of knowledge that will go to waste; odds are, Jack will have to make some sort of terrible decision in the near future that may leave him a soulless husk. And if Sam’s soulless arc back in Season 6 wasn’t enough to touch upon such dangers, I don’t know what is.
- Once again, Supernatural has its second Infinity War. When Michael snapped his fingers at the end of “The Spear”, it played like an homage to Thanos. Billie’s arrival in “Nihilism” and her reveal that Dean’s story ends the same way in every iteration but one, harkens back to the Avengers chance to beat the Mad Titan. Based on Dean’s reaction to seeing that one reality where Michael doesn’t burn their world to the ground, the alternative doesn’t seem to be too appealing.