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Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.
So, let’s kick off. We start with a Then recap of the storyline so far this season, with a focus on alt-Michael’s possession of Dean and Jack’s death/resurrection. We also get a brief recap of the Gadriel storyline from season nine.
Cut to Now.
We’re in Rocky’s Bar and the soundtrack is “Searchin’ for a Rainbow” by The Marshall Tucker Band. There’s a storm brewing outside and in comes a woman in a leather jacket with an umbrella.
It’s Pamela Barnes (wearing a t-shirt that says “To Hell and Back”), who’s been dead for ten seasons, so you already know something’s up.
It turns out she was out in the storm (which people are treating “like the End Times”) to buy limes so she and Dean can do shots of the House Special (“tequila shot and a beer”). Yes, Dean is there. He’s the bartender. And he owns the bar. Hence “Rocky’s,” as in “Rocky the Squirrel.” Yes, there are a lot of other Easter eggs in this scene that I am missing.
In conversation, they note that Sam and Castiel are doing a ghoul hunt in Wichita.
At that moment, a woman in a suit (like an angel) comes in from the rain, treating Pamela like the Help and making a snarky comment about the lack of customers (aside from one suspicious-looking drunk in a hoodie, passed out at the bar). She has papers for Dean to sign to sell the bar. Dean isn’t interested and, after offering her a drink (which she refuses), politely tells her to go away, saying the bar is the “nicest thing” he’s ever had and he’s not giving it up. The woman leaves in a huff.
Later, Pamela brings Dean a shot while he goes over the books (damn, she’s buff!). They talk about how Pamela has the latest in a series of dates. Pamela teases Dean that “you want what you can’t have” (her) and that he doesn’t really mind because “you don’t want me. You just like to flirt.”
When Pamela wonders why Dean isn’t willing to sell the bar when he’d get so much money for it, Dean says (looking and sounding an awful lot like Demon!Dean), “Sell? This bar? This is my dream.” And Pamela gets a funny little smile at that.
Later, Dean goes into a storeroom to get some beer when Pamela calls to him. The storm is still raging and the same song is still playing. As he comes out, Pamela tells him they’ve got “trouble.”
At that moment, the door busts in and an angry vampire who claims Dean and Sam took out his entire nest enters. The “drunk” on the bar turns out to be a fellow vamp. The latter attacks Dean. Dean drags him over the bar and stomps on him. Then he tosses a saltgun to Pamela, who shoots the second vamp while Dean pulls out a machete and beheads the first vamp. Then he beheads the second vamp.
Afterward, as she’s wiping blood off his face, Pamela comments that “the worst thing” about working at Rocky’s is having to deal with all the angry MOTWs who come looking for Dean and end up dead.
“Well, what can I say?” Dean says with a charming smile. “I’m famous.”
Cue title cards.
If the above sounded long, that’s because this is a very long scene, over six minutes long including the recap.
Cut to Dean’s eyes again, looking blank inside the office building from last episode. They glow Michael’s customary blue and then we have Michael again (Ackles is really good at those transitions). Having snapped his fingers, he is now back in his suit, albeit sans the coat. With a gesture, he causes manly cramps in TFW 2.0, making them sink to the floor in pain. Though the Evil Overlord Monologue may be equally painful, at least to them.
Michael snarks that hope is a funny thing, but they “never really had a chance.” He says he saw “everything” and we get blurry flashbacks to Dean watching Rowena fill in TFW 2.0 on Jack’s condition. He claims that his plan all along was to have them come there so he could get back his “perfect vessel” (AKA Dean Winchester) and EVOL!Kaia’s spork so he could destroy that.
As he monologues, Sam is pulling out a lighter and skidding it across the floor. Castiel attacks Michael to distract him (Michael easily tosses him aside after coldly saying “Don’t interrupt me”). This gives Sam time to light a holy oil Molotov Cocktail. It blows up in Michael’s face, though interestingly, it only affects him for a second or two (“our” Michael inside Adam was affected for several minutes and had to fly away to put himself out in “Swan Song”). But that’s enough for the double feint of Castiel coming back with the angel handcuffs and slapping them on Michael’s wrists. This little bit of choreography is a bit awkward, but hey, whatever works.
At first unimpressed, Michael says the cuffs can’t hold him. Well … they do. One could argue that this was part of Michael’s plan (kinda unlikely, since there’s no real advantage) or that Michael knew about the cuffs, but ignored them out of arrogance. Thing is, Michael is definitely arrogant, but he’s also very, very smart and he made plans for every other contingency TFW 2.0 brought to this point. And he got cuffed right in the middle of a speech where he unveiled his entire plan to trap TFW 2.0. So, I don’t think he knew about the cuffs.
The really interesting thing is – Dean did. So, whatever else Michael claims, his claim that he knows everything Dean knows must be a lie.
Sam tries to get through to Dean, but Michael just says, with fake courtesy, “Dean’s not home right now. Please leave a message.” I love this line. Oh, hell, I love half of Michael’s lines, anyway. Ackles just has so much fun delivering them.
We then hear police sirens and a helicopter, and Michael calmly reminds TFW 2.0 that he’s got monsters all over Kansas City, turning people. As Jack picks up their weapons and Sam locks the door to the room, Maggie calls Sam’s cell (yeah, I know. I just can’t with Maggie, either).
Maggie is freaking out. She’s driving a car full of Hunters whom she got together to deal with the monsters (per Sam’s instructions), but they’re overwhelmed. There are just too many calls and too many monsters turning too many people (instead of killing them).
She asks Sam where they are. Sam gives her the location and says they’ve got Michael (“Do you?” snarks Michael). He tells her not to worry about them, that they’ll figure things out. She and the other Hunters should go save as many people as they can.
Good idea, since those Hunters are all redshirts and would only end up dead around Michael, anyway.
Sam’s ad hoc plan is to bring Michael downstairs and stick him in the trunk with Garth, before driving away (I mean, what could wrong?). But this gets nixed when monsters start snarling outside the door, trying to beat it in. Castiel TK’s the doors shut, but that can’t last.
“I called them,” Michael says, with a fake-deprecating little shrug as TFW 2.0 rushes to reinforce the door. “It’s a party!” Did I mention how much I love Michael’s lines and Ackles’ delivery? Michael is such a bastard, but damn, is he funny.
Jack comments that none of them can fly (I guess Jack’s wings don’t work without his powers). “Well, one of us can,” Michael says cheerfully. Sam worries about getting “Dean” out of there. Of course, leaving without Dean, with Michael still inside him, would be disastrous. Assuming TFW 2.0 could even pull that off.
Sam gets a Hail Mary idea worthy of Dean. He calls Jessica, the Reaper, but gets a Reaper named Violet, instead. She politely explains that there is now more than one Reaper watching the Brothers. “It’s my shift. We have shifts now because you mess up so, so many things.”
Violet’s a keeper. Can she come back, show?
Sam wants Violet to fly them out of there. Violet points out that she can’t interfere, but she’s rooting for them.
Only Sam and Michael can see her. Michael analytically observes that “in my world, we locked Death away and enslaved the Reapers.”
“Lovely,” Violet replies, holding it together but clearly terrified of him (she swallows visibly). “Well, look at you now.”
Sam tries to persuade, claiming Death owes them a favor from “that Rowena thing,” but Violet isn’t impressed. It’s simply not within the rules or her powers. But then she shushes him as she appears to hear a voice. Then she agrees to his demand. Abruptly, TFW 2.0 and Michael are all transported to the Bunker.
To Sam’s query, she only admits that she’s not the one who did it. She then tells them, “Have fun” and with a last trade of bladed looks with Michael, she vanishes again.
They chain Michael to a post in the library. When Jack and Castiel wonder why he’s not in the dungeon, Sam points out that if the cuffs don’t hold Michael, the dungeon certainly won’t.
When Michael points out that he can hear them, they move away to whisper and he’s like, “Really?”
Sam tells the others that when Gadriel possessed him, the angel put him inside a dream world. Crowley was able to bust in and show Sam how to cast Gadriel out. Alas, Crowley is dead (Michael would probably be above his pay grade, anyway).
Sam gets another call from Maggie, who is now at the office building. Sam explains that they’re now back at the Bunker and asks Maggie to pick up Garth and the Impala. Confused, Maggie tells Sam at the monsters have left the city and are heading west.
At this moment, Michael notes that the Bunker is points west of Kansas City. He’s calling the monsters to the Bunker.
Castiel takes Jack to batten down the hatches, while Michael calls cheerily unhelpful advice after them. Once alone with Sam, Michael insists nothing has changed. Either his monsters will break in or he’ll break loose and then “everybody dies.” And he will personally rip Sam apart, smiling a “pretty smile” that looks downright predatory.
Sam pulls out Lady Wonder Twat’s dreamtime rig from the best-forgotten LoL plot in season 12. He tells Castiel he’s going to go inside Dean’s head and try to wake him up so he can expel Michael the way Sam expelled Gadriel. Sam admits it’s not a very good plan (well, not least because once Michael’s out, he’s just going to find another vessel and start all over again), but they don’t have any others. By the way, the woman Michael possessed last episode is not mentioned this week.
We cut to a loop montage of Dean from the bar, running through the same scenarios with only slight variations. At the end, Dean looks up, confused, and almost remembers.
Jack gets first shift of guarding Michael, who proceeds to mess with his head. Michael completely shifts what he said before about wanting to recruit Jack as family and says he won’t ask again. I guess, now he has his “true” vessel back, he no longer cares.
Jack tells him that the Brothers will beat him. Michael snarks that Sam “is so far in over his head, he’s drowning” (true, but Sam has learned to swim before). With rather less conviction, he claims, “I’ve got Dean under control.”
Jack notes that “Dean is strong,” to which Michael retorts (again, protesting a bit too much), “He’s a gnat. I’m a god. Who would you bet on?” Michael insists that since he is “inside Dean’s head, I know everything.” But he didn’t know about the angel cuffs, now, did he?
Michael then does something vicious and almost gratuitous (though, considering much of his confidence about having Dean under control is likely bravado, he does need to divide and conquer). He shakes Jack’s faith in Dean by claiming that while Dean was devastated by Jack’s death, he was also relieved because Jack was just a burden to him, “a weak, helpless thing … a job, a job none of them wanted.” This is obvious bullshit, but Jack is young and naive (and vulnerable) enough to believe it.
Castiel walks in on the middle of this as Jack is rushing off, about in tears, and warns him that Michael is just trying to get under his skin.
Michael says he’s not lying and reminds them that he can still hear them.
Meanwhile, plucky Maggie is setting up a plucky roadblock of Hunters to keep the monsters away from the Bunker. I’m sure that will end well.
In the Bunker, on second shift, Castiel is now getting the patented Michael mindfuck treatment. After some insults aimed at how Castiel doesn’t measure up to his alt-version (who was such a panto villain that it’s kind of hard to take this bit of dialogue seriously), Michael asks why Castiel loves this world so much he’d die for it.
Castiel counters with his own question – why does Michael hate this world so much that he wants to destroy it?
Michael’s response is chilling: “Because I can.”
Michael explains that when he and his version of Lucifer fought in their world, they honestly believed the duel would bring back God, who would explain to them what the Plan had been all along and give meaning to their war. Instead, God never returned. There was no response to what they did, even after Michael killed Lucifer.
Michael now realizes (having access to Dean’s memories) that God – “Chuck” – never intended to return. Michael calls God a “writer” who created draft after draft. Michael believes that both his world and this one are “failed drafts,” that when God realized they were “flawed,” he simply moved on to a new draft.
Perhaps the most frightening part of this scene is the realization that Michael as played by Christian Keyes is a very different character than the version played by Jensen Ackles. This is not because of a lack of continuity in the acting or even writing, but because the character’s entire worldview was shaken and shattered, after some 14 billion years, once he entered his intended vessel and saw the truth (or, anyway, what he now feels is the truth) about Chuck’s involvement (and lack thereof) in the Amara saga. He saw that everything he had ever done for his father was pointless because Chuck would never return, never give him the answers he sought, never even love him as much as Lucifer.
In short, this ancient, subtle, dangerous being went insane. And became even more dangerous.
Ackles, here, has to evoke an entirely offscreen change in the character’s entire motivation and he gets it across very well. Michael’s mask of calm sarcasm slips and underneath, we see a volcanic rage to match Dean’s toward his own father. Michael says that his first thought was to outdo his father and become the new God. But then he changed his mind.
Now, he wants to burn it all down, world by world, timeline by timeline, until he can “catch up with the old man.” When Castiel asks what he intends to do then, Michael says, with bared teeth, “Even God can die.”
Meanwhile, Maggie and her merry band of hapless redshirts are failing miserably at even catching up with the monsters, let alone stopping them from reaching the Bunker. Also, her alleged right-hand man is looking mighty shady, especially after he disappeared into the bushes for a few minutes.
At the Bunker, Sam is still setting up the equipment for the dream machine. Jack tentatively suggests he could use his soul power to access his abilities to stop Michael somehow. Sam says Dean would never want to be freed through such a sacrifice.
Sam gets hooked up to the machines, as Castiel hooks up Michael (who says, “Cool science project!” and flirts with Castiel in a seriously creepy way). Michael then unsettles everyone even further (if that’s possible) by claiming that out here, he may be chained up, but inside, he can do whatever he wants to them. Well, alrighty-then.
Sam goes in with Castiel and at first, they find … a dark, endless space. In fact, it looks just like the Empty set. I don’t know if that’s intentional subtext and foreshadowing or just a cheap budget, but yep, that’s what it looks like.
Sam is confused and has to confirm with Castiel where they are. Castiel has been inside Dean’s mind many times, but Sam never has. Sam then wonders where Dean is and Castiel replies, “Excellent question.” This confirms that this is not how Castiel normally found Dean’s mind in the past.
Castiel raises his hand, the center of which glows, and begins to search through Dean’s memories. There is a lot of screaming and, as Castiel notes, a lot of “trauma” and “scars.” Notable quotes that stand out are “We had a deal!” from the end of last season, Dream!Dean screaming “You’re gonna die! And this … this is what you’re gonna become!” from season three’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “Somebody help me!” from Dean suspended in Hell in the coda to season three finale “No Rest for the Wicked.”
Looking a little freaked out as he finally begins to process just how much trauma his brother’s been through over the years, Sam acknowledges that “Dean’s been through a lot, but he’s strong!”
Gently correcting him, Castiel says that “You’ve both been through a lot and Dean is more than strong,” but what he’s really looking for is a way to follow a memory to where Michael has locked Dean away, “drowning.” In a cage, as it were. This means he has to scan through Dean’s worst memories, which isn’t exactly pleasant.
Sam then has a brainstorm (uh … as it were). Remembering Michael’s complaint from last episode that the reason he’d left in the first place was because Dean fought back so hard, Sam wonders if Michael isn’t actually torturing Dean, but doing the opposite. “Dean thrives on trauma.” (Well … I wouldn’t say “thrives,” personally, but it’s definitely his “normal.”)
Sam says that if he wanted to “distract” Dean, he’d do it another way. “Contentment,” Castiel guesses, correctly. So, Castiel starts looking through Dean’s good memories, not his bad ones. And yes, Dean has a few. “I think I’m adorable!” (from season three’s “Jus in Bello”), the “strippers” speech (from season four’s “Sex and Violence,” and it makes Sam a bit uncomfortable), the “posse magnet” speech (from season six’s “Frontierland”), and the “pie” complaint from season seven’s “The Girl Next Door.” Among others. Why, yes, I do watch this show a lot. Why do you ask?
Then they hit on Dean’s speech about not wanting to see the bar and Sam realizes it’s not a real memory. Dean has never owned a bar. This couldn’t have ever happened in real life. So, Castiel takes them there.
Sam opens his eyes to find himself and Castiel in the bar. Dean turns around and recognizes them, but doesn’t realize it’s not real. He offers them a beer (“Cosmic Cowboy IPA” is a beer sold by Ackles’ new brewery, The Family Business). Then Pamela strolls in and starts chit-chatting with them.
Castiel whispers (really, when are these guys gonna learn?) to Sam that Pamela is the psychic whose eyes he accidentally burned out. Sam retorts that she’s also been dead for years. Sam tries to tell Dean that this isn’t real and Castiel tells Pamela she’s a “complex manifestation of Dean’s memories designed to distract him” (I have a feeling she’s more than that, but we may be getting ahead of ourselves). Oh, and it’s still raining.
At that moment, the scene resets, with a very confused Sam and Castiel getting caught in the middle of Dean’s memory montage. When it comes back to the same setting, Dean and Pamela are in somewhat different positions.
When Dean echoes Sam’s question on what is going on, the montage kicks in again. Sam tries to explain that Dean is caught in a loop designed by Michael. This confuses Dean, who only remembers that “our” Michael is in the Cage and doesn’t seem to remember alt-Michael at all.
Pamela suggests that if this is all inside Dean’s head, he should be able to control everything, but turns into a joke. However, Sam accidentally creates a crack in Dean’s amnesia by reminding Dean that Castiel blinded Pamela (Castiel, uncomfortable, notes that it was an accident). When Dean looks at Pamela, he’s shocked to see she’s blind and has a flash of how it happened. Sam presses this advantage by reminding Dean she’s dead, too, which Dean also remembers (goodness, Ackles was a baby ten seasons ago!), as the music grinds to a halt. Pamela vanishes from the bar.
Dean is in denial, at first, though Castiel’s impassioned speech that this is just a dream and his loved ones in the real world need him shakes him more than a little. But it’s when Sam remembers “Poughkeepsie” that Dean is really shaken.
To refresh everyone’s memory, it’s the code word the Brothers had for “Drop everything and run.” It first popped up when Dean gave it to Crowley to tell Sam when Crowley went inside Sam’s head in “Road Trip” in season nine to get him to expel Gadriel.
When Dean, looking shocked, says, “What did you say?” Sam repeats it, looking triumphant. He’s hit the right button.
And indeed, he has. A montage of Michael memories, recent ones, ensues. Then Dean says, “I remember. I remember everything.”
The sound of clapping comes from the door. Guess who just walked in? Michael.
So, in case anyone was wondering why it was necessary to reduce the season to 20 episodes, this scene is probably a good hint. Ackles it playing two distinct characters for the price of one and remember how exhausting that was for him in season five’s “The End”? Yeah. But he pulls it off brilliantly here. This must have been quite the episode to film, especially on the road to recovering from the head cold/flu he had while filming the last episode. He’s in practically ever scene.
Dean tells Michael to get out of his head, but Michael tells Dean he doesn’t really want that. After all, Michael is Dean. He proceeds to mindfuck with Dean by mindfucking with Castiel and Sam right in front of him (sorry, but there’s not really a less profane way to put it). Michael, imitating Misha Collins pretty darned well, says that Dean only feels beholden to Castiel because Castiel “gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition.” Sadly, since then, Castiel’s been prone to making a lot of messy mistakes.
And as for Sam, well, Sam abandoned Dean with his dad and Dean, deep down, knows that Sam will always abandon him. It’s at this point that Dean starts to tell Michael to shut up.
I’ve seen some fans suggest that Dean doesn’t start protesting until Michael cracks on Sam because Dean doesn’t care as much about Castiel, but I don’t think it’s a Sam vs. Castiel thing. I think that for one thing, what Michael says about Castiel isn’t as on the mark as what he says about Sam.
Castiel makes mistakes, it’s true, but Dean has always still cared about him and it’s not because Castiel raised Dean from Hell (Dean even stabbed Castiel right after the angel uttered that first line in season four’s “Lazarus Rising”). Dean keeps Castiel around because Castiel is family. If there’s any darker motive, it’s also because Castiel is very useful to have around, an angel in Dean’s pocket, as it were. But an obligation? Not so much.
Sam, on the other hand, made a distressing habit of abandoning Dean, in many different ways, until very recently. The discomfort on Sam’s face is the Tell that Michael’s hit a sore nerve there. Dean loves Sam, anyway, which is why he comes to Sam’s defense. But it doesn’t make that one any less true.
The other thing is that this is part of a longish rant from Michael about how Dean feels, “deep down,” about the people he loves, in which Dean’s anger builds to boiling-over point. It’s much like the speech from Dream!Dean about John in “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” It’s not that Dean cares less about Michael insulting Castiel. It’s that the effect of Michael’s mean-spirited, gaslighting “truths” is cumulative and Dean gets really tired really fast of Michael “speaking” for him and damaging his relationships with those he loves. Remember that Michael keeps telling people that Dean’s big weakness is “love.”
Michael says, “You don’t need them. You don’t even like them. They’re not your family. They’re your responsibilities. They’re a weight around your neck. And deep down, you wanted – you were desperate – to get away from them. And that is why you said yes.”
Well, we know the last part, at least, is a lie, since Dean was pretty backed into a corner when he said yes and he did so, as Michael himself admits to Anael (Sister Jo) in the season premiere, for love.
But what is Michael’s end game, aside from Castiel’s dawning realization that he is stalling for time? Remember that Michael has said that he is angry with his father, God, for abandoning him. And though he chose to come over to this world, it’s true he is now a stranger in a strange land. He wanted love and he never got it. He was always passed over. But by Chuck, he is gonna keep the one thing/person he knows is his, by right and breeding and genetic engineering over billions of years. And that is his sword, Dean Winchester.
But why is Michael stalling? We cut to Jack, watching over everyone, as Maggie comes in with the other redshirt Hunters. She says the monsters are right behind her and everyone gears up for battle.
Inside Dean’s head, Sam posits that Michael needs his monsters to come and rescue him. Michael insists that’s not true, but Dean calls his bluff. Michael asks if that’s what Dean really wants and Dean says sure. Then Dean says Michael can’t do it. Castiel says that inside Dean’s mind, Michael is just a “mental projection” like the others.
Dean attacks first and gets smacked down. Sam and Castiel then get beaten up by moves Michael has pretty clearly picked up from Dean’s mind. In the Bunker, Michael is smiling. One big problem, of course, is that he can do more than one thing at once, be in more than one mind at once.
Sure enough, Maggie’s lieutenant turns out to have been monsterized while he went off into the woods. The other monsters bust in and Maggie’s redshirts are killed/beaten up in short order until only she is left conscious (did I not say that anywhere near Michael and they’d end up toast?). At that moment, Jack freaks out and uses his powers to disintegrate the monsters. But it takes a lot out of him because he tapped into his own soul.
Inside Dean’s mind, TFW 2.0 are still getting their asses kicked, unaware that Michael’s plan has suffered a setback outside. The only sign Michael gives that things are not going entirely his way is to warn them that even if they managed to “force” him out, he would destroy Dean in his wake, leaving “nothing but blood and bone.”
This would have been a problem, anyway, since they can’t afford to kick Michael out. He would be free. Dean then makes a split-second decision. Opening the storeroom door, he grabs Michael, who tosses him aside. But this is enough distraction for Sam to shove Michael inside, and for Sam and Castiel to slam it shut, before Dean comes up and shoves an icepick into the latch, creating a makeshift lock.
As Michael rages on the other side, Dean rather shakily assures Sam and Castiel, “It’ll hold – my mind, my rules. I got him. I’m the Cage.”
After everyone wakes up, Sam talks to Maggie, the redshirt exception who proves the rule. In an indication that at least some of the other Hunters survived, she tells Sam that “we” will clean up in the foyer. She also lets drop an interesting nugget of info – Michael’s monsters have all lost their focus and gone their separate ways. It appears that Michael no longer controls them.
Maggie also tells Sam about Jack using his powers and seems weirded out that he still can. Sam looks worried.
In the kitchen, Castiel is giving Jack a lecture on not using his powers, anymore. They burn off his soul and once it’s gone, it will be gone. Jack apologizes and Castiel softens his tone. He’s not mad. He’s worried. He knows what happens when someone doesn’t have a soul, anymore, and it’s not pretty. Jack utters the usual Famous Last Words: “It won’t happen again.”
Speaking of, Dean is in his room, telling the mirror, “It’s just you, it’s all you,” over and over again, as Michael rages against the door of the Cage inside Dean’s mind.
A voice calling his name startles him. He turns around to see Billie, holding a book. “So,” she says, “not all good news. I did say I’d see you again soon.”
When Dean grumps that she “could have knocked,” she says she figures Michael’s already giving him enough of a migraine.
Dean assures her that Michael is safely locked away, but she’s not buying it (well, she is Death). When Dean correctly guesses she was the one who brought TFW 2.0 to the Bunker, and teases, “You broke the rules,” Billie deadpans, “I took a calculated risk.”
But then she turns deadly serious (if that’s even possible). “I warned you,” she says. She told him not to travel between worlds, but he ignored her. Dean shrugs it off, saying that he had to rescue Jack and Mary, and the others they brought back.
A quick note: Normally, at least in the past, the show would have made this a rather vague “you” that referred, at the very least, to “Sam and Dean” or even to all of TFW, past and present. But this is not a plural “you.” This is most unambiguously a personal, singular “you.”
Billie does not appear to give a zombie rat’s ass that people like Kaia have been dreamwalking to other worlds for centuries, millennia or even tens of millennia. She shows no particular concern in this conversation even about Jack. She makes the warning (somewhat retroactively) specifically about Dean crossing over to an alternate reality. And only Dean.
But she doesn’t leave him, or us, in suspense as to why. First, she reminds him about his library full of possible (and probably past) deaths. Dean rather uncomfortably acknowledges he remembers it.
Billie tells him that an unsettling thing has now happened (she doesn’t specify about when the change occurred, just that it has). All of Dean’s death books now end the same way – with Michael escaping his mind, taking over, and using Dean’s body (and soul) to destroy the world. Well … all except one. Which she hands over.
Whatever Dean sees inside the book shocks him, because he says, “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“That’s up to you,” she says, and vanishes before he can ask any more questions.
Ratings for the episode came back with a 0.4/2 and 1.44 million viewers, which was pretty steady from the fall (also, SPN often starts out the spring with a dip and goes up a bit). This tied it for third in demo (after The Flash and Riverdale) and put it in fourth for audience (after The Flash, Roswell, and the 24th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards).
The preview is up and highlights continuity from this week. So, it may not be the MOTW the synopsis originally made it out to be. There’s also a preview up for the 300th episode (which will air on February 7 and yes, I will get a retro recap and review out of the 200th, “Fan Fiction,” before then).
My, that was a long recap, wasn’t it, my droogs? Well, some episodes have more narrative meat than others and this one was a doozy of a bistecca alla fiorentina. Also, it was a Deancentric episode, a very Deancentric episode, and I do so love the Deansanity.
One of the most frustrating parts of this show is how often it hasn’t respected its own canon, right from the very beginning with creator Eric “Why give a decent ending to my own stories when I can drop them and just go on to the next bright and shiny?” Kripke. But one of the cool things about the show is when a good writer comes in, ties together a bunch of old and dropped storylines, and makes new and satisfying canon with them.
“The Man Who Would Be King” from season six fairly leaps to mind. I’d almost call “Nihilism” a version of that, except that Dean doesn’t really need to explain himself and Michael doesn’t care what anybody else thinks of him – except for Dean, of course. But it did tie a lot of dropped plots (Dean has so, so many) together into a satisfying new direction for Dean.
Not so much on first watch, but on recap watch, I actually began to feel sorry for alt-Michael. He is undoubtedly an unapologetic villain of the first water. And I don’t see a happy ending for him at the end of the tunnel (that light’s probably a train) the way I could see for Amara if the showrunners had the guts to go there.
He is a world-busting threat. And by “world-busting,” I mean that he intends to burn down the entire Multiverse. He’d probably bad-touch the Empty if he could, just to get back at Daddy. It’s quite a to-do list, but he seems well up to the challenge. So, he’s got to be neutralized.
But in a weird way, Michael works as a god-like being with massive Daddy issues much better than Lucifer. No one has ever loved Michael best. Michael was never spoiled. Michael was always loyal. Michael loved God with all his being. And then God ditched him.
And the worst part? Michael didn’t even learn the truth from Chuck directly. He had to find out once he got inside Dean. The moment of his greatest triumph to this point was the moment he found it was all pointless, that Daddy had ghosted him. Of course he went insane. We weren’t really aware of that until now, but we sure know now. Michael is totally bonkers.
Of course, it doesn’t help (though it’s fun to watch) that Michael is, by a large margin, the least human-like of any of the angels, including the archangels. Michael has been inside Dean’s head for weeks, knows full well why Dean said yes, but still doesn’t understand the emotion of “love.”
He gets filial loyalty. But he can’t equate it to what Dean feels for his family, blood-related and otherwise. Even his conversation with Jack from last episode may have been just manipulation. Or it could have been as simple as missing being in his vessel. Either way, Michael didn’t seem very interested in Jack this week, except as another way to break Dean to his will.
Because, while Michael may not consciously understand love in the human sense, may openly mock it, he sure gets how it feels to not have it. He gets loneliness, envy, jealousy, romantic covetousness. Every conversation he had with or about Dean this week screamed, “Mine! MIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNEEEEE!!!!!” in its subtext. It was all about dividing Dean permanently from his family, not just to beat them and subdue Dean once and for all, but to make Dean Michael’s Precioussss forever and ever. And when a 14-billion-plus-year-old being like the Archangel Michael says “forever and ever,” he means it in cosmic terms.
According to all angel canon we know, therefore, this once again makes Dean immortal (as the showrunners only sorta, kinda admitted was true during the MoC storyline). Got an angel inside you, especially an archangel? You’re not dying any time soon. And by “any time soon,” we mean that baby black holes forming right now will age and die before you do. That the archangel is not currently in charge does not appear to change this canon in any way. And Dean won’t become technically mortal again until Michael’s outta there. I say “technically” because, as the end of this episode made clear, Dean’s too important to die any time soon, anyway. But more on that in a bit.
Michael’s insanity is probably why Billie warned Dean in the first place. It’s sort of Dean’s fault (albeit as an unfortunate byproduct of Chuck ditching Dean with basically Michael’s job), and alt-Michael happily took advantage of the entire situation, but if Dean had never said yes to alt-Michael, alt-Michael would never have found out why and how Chuck had abandoned him. Or at least, come up with a really devastating theory.
Does this theory hold water? Castiel protested that it didn’t, but from what we know of Chuck, yeah, it’s possible. Chuck’s a fan favorite, played by a fan favorite, and was originally introduced as a hapless nebbish Prophet being bullied by the angels. Rob Benedict was very good at playing Chuck as a slacker writer in way over his head. It’s hard to let go of that warm and cuddly identification with the character’s “humanity.”
But Benedict is also a good-enough actor to have shown us a darker side. Whenever anyone challenges Chuck on his “hands-off” strategy and calls him out for the deadbeat he is, Chuck starts to get pretty cold and nasty. And I think that’s when we start to see why Michael, Lucifer and Raphael were so messed up, and why Gabriel went into Witness Protection. Long story short, it’s doubtful Michael just happened to end up this way. His obsessive loyalty and sense of betrayal hint at what a tyrant Chuck may have been back in the day, before he decided to ride the pine and let Free Will go up to bat. Let’s not forget that Chuck’s next experiment after the archangels and locking his sister away was creating the Leviathans.
The show’s worldbuilding also has a pattern in which whoever/whatever is created first in a race of beings is by far the most powerful, the most unruly, and the most unpredictably dangerous. Michael, the Leviathans, Eve, Cain, even Dean all show this pattern. They’re experiments and experiments have a tendency to blow up in their creators’ faces. Chuck probably put a bit more splintery oomph into Michael than the other archangels and may well have preferred Lucifer because Lucifer couldn’t credibly displace Him or kill Him.
It’s probably not an exaggeration for Michael to say that he could replace God. Just in passing this week, he commented that he put Death’s entire administration under angelic control in his own timeline. We saw enough during the Apocalypse to indicate that was entirely possible. What is curious is how that compares to Dean.
Most of what Michael says about Dean, in particular, is airy bollocks. Sam and Castiel, for once, are smart enough to see through the MOTW’s claims (even if Jack is still young enough to get his head turned by them a bit) that Dean doesn’t love them and step up to the plate to save him. We even saw Sam squirm under all of the admiration from his new team, knowing perfectly well how many lessons he learned from Dean and how many times Dean came through for him when Sam was disappearing up his own ass or even abandoned Dean. I like this new, more mature, learned-my-lesson-on-that-score Sam.
Yeah, it would have been nice to see Dean get a chance to play Grumpy Old Hunter with the newbie Hunters, but one character can’t hog all the storylines and Dean is currently too much in god-mode to gear down to that kind of storyline very comfortably. The other Hunters respect Dean because Sam respects him, but to them, Dean is probably just Sam’s Scary Older Brother Who Holes Up In His Room All The Time And We’re All Okay With That. To them, Dean is borderline-MOTW. Very borderline.
Also, I got a bit of a giggle at Michael’s flirty jealousy of Castiel. Boy, that’s gotta be confusing for Castiel. I mean, Michael’s his big brother and all. But maybe angels work that out more easily.
Anyhoo, Sam and Castiel know Dean’s track record. They know he has always put others first, expanded their family, expanded TFW, in some surprising ways. And they know that as much as his own choices have led him to saying yes to Michael, there wouldn’t even be a world, several times over, without Dean Winchester’s unorthodox and ad hoc choices. This week, they chose to put their faith in Dean and Dean’s decisions.
That’s good because, as Billie made really clear in the coda, ten seasons after “On the Head of a Pin,” the SPNverse’s fate once again rests with Dean. Unless Dean can figure out how to make that one fate Billie gave him turn out right, the entire Multiverse is screwed and Dean will get a front-row seat to it. Michael claimed that Dean was a “gnat,” but Dean’s fate is now tied directly to that of the Multiverse. If that’s not a god-like power (or at least, responsibility), I don’t know what is.
The thing is that Dean appears to be in direct opposition to Michael. In power inside the narrative, all of Michael’s protestations aside, they are actually evenly matched and were at an impasse until the end of last week. Michael’s wiliness and billions of years of wisdom (“old age and treachery,” and all that) temporarily put him on top, and could again, but Dean’s relationships with his loved ones were what tipped the balance in his favor. Dean may have thought of locking Michael in the storeroom, but Sam was the one who shoved him in, Sam and Castiel slammed the door, and it was Castiel who noticed Michael was stalling in the first place. For Dean, love isn’t a weakness at all. It’s a significant advantage, one that Michael sought to neutralize by destroying TFW.
But why would these two be tied together like that? Well, remember what I said last episode about how in so many of the good stories, especially horror, the antagonist is a metaphor for the protagonist’s darkness? Just as with the Mark of Cain, alt-Michael is, metaphorically speaking, a dark aspect of Dean. But alt-Michael is an actual different character who wears Dean’s face and body. An actual alternate personality inside Dean’s head.
He also represents a somewhat different aspect than the MoC. The MoC represented Dean’s bloodlust and love of killing. Michael is a superpowered manifestation of Dean’s Daddy issues. He’s what Dean would be without TFW, without his family. He’s how Dean feels when his loved ones have let him down and abandoned him and stepped all over him and chosen others over him. He’s Dean when Dean’s ranting in season seven’s “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters” about how being responsible for saving the world all the time sucks and he’s tired of taking away the SPNverse’s “belt and pins” so it won’t do itself in.
That’s why there’s such a resonance when Michael tells members of TFW that Dean finds them a burden and resents them for abandoning him, why they look so guilty even while Dean is pissed on their behalf. Like the shapeshifter in season one’s “Skin,” Michael identifies a leeeeetle too much with Dean’s dark side. Well, “our” Michael did a lot to create that dark side, so I guess that makes sense.
The whole idea of the new Cage was an interesting one. Michael created a part of Dean’s mind to lock him into (like a cage) and then Dean locked Michael inside that same part. Boy, that must have been a pretty strong cage in the first place. Tells you something about how strong Dean is, not just in containing Michael now, but in needing that kind of prison to be locked inside. And even then, Michael had to distract Dean to make it work. Of course I’m all perky to see how that turns out.
Lastly, there’s the question of … WHAT’S IN THE BOOK??!! What is the one thing Dean can do to stop Michael taking him over and destroying the world, Dark Phoenix style? Expulsion apparently isn’t a possibility, anymore.
Dean seemed to think it was far out, even for him. Billie was pretty deadpan about it, but there seemed to be a hint of “Yeah, I know this one’s weird, even for you, but hey, you’ve done pink satin panties, so I’m reasonably confident you’ll figure it out.” Gotta love how much snarky subtext Lisa Berry manages to fit into a stony look.
I suppose Dean could contact Chuck and/or Amara, somehow. But I think it’s too soon, still, after season 11 for these writers and there’s still too much story in play for this to be the last season without a whole lot of loose ends (even just one more season probably wouldn’t do it). And how would he even do it?
Recruiting the Empty, somehow, is a possibility and would certainly account for Dean’s WTF?! look, but they may be reserving the Empty for another season. We also still have Heaven’s imminent crash-and-burn in the background.
The most likely possibility seems to be a visit to the Cage and saying yes to “our” Michael there. Have them duke it out, or something. Or maybe chain alt-Michael to Heaven as a powerhouse. I suppose it’s possible Dean might find a way to talk Michael down, but after what he did with Amara, that seems redundant.
Anyhoo, we’ll know more next week.
The Kripke Years
The Gamble Years
The Carver Years
The Dabb Years