It’s been about a month since we last saw Team Free Will 2.0 ripped apart by Michael’s possession of Dean (part deux), and breaking the only weapon known to hurt him. Last week the boys returned in one of the best episodes of the season.

Nihilism begins with Dean in a bar, in a storm, with a pretty woman. So far, so typical. Except he owns the bar, and the pretty woman is none other than Pamela Barnes, the psychic blinded by Cas who was fridged –er– killed back in season five. Dean is happily serving his two best customers: himself and Pamela, and my heart aches for him. This is all the man has ever wanted; A place to call his own. Dean looks right at home cleaning his bar, which comes the requisite neon sign and passed-out customer. He and Pamela chat and he mentions waiting for Sam and Cas to come back from a hunt, and Dean’s love for his bar is proven to us when a lady tries to buy Rocky’s from him and he refuses. Fun fact: All the beers on tap at Rocky’s are actually beers you can buy at Jensen Ackles’ brewery in Austin, The Family Business Beer Company! Not gonna lie, I don’t even mind this product placement.

Dean tells the lady the bar isn’t for sale, he and Pamela kill a couple of vampires, flirt a little… and then start it all over again.

Meanwhile, outside Dean’s noggin, Michael is a being a dick to Sam, Jack, and Cas. He’s mid-monologue when Sam manages to holy-oil him and Cas somehow gets the angel cuffs on him. Michael’s pretty sure he can get out of them, but just to be extra, he’s also calling all his monster minions to come kill them. Yay, it’s a party! Sam, who has better recall than most of the audience, starts hollering for Jessica, the Reaper on his and Dean’s shoulders for help. She doesn’t show, but another Reaper, Violet, does. Sam asks the (invisible to everyone else) Reaper to zap them out, and even tries to call in a favor for fixing a problem he and Dean created. Violet initially refuses, but then poof! They’re back in the bunker.

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All of this is really confusing for Maggie and her merry band of hunters, who keep trying to get to Sam to help him, rather than, ya know, saving all the people in Kansas City, where the Chiefs aren’t the only ones losing (I’m sorry, I hate the Patriots, too).

While Sassy Pants Michael is chained up, but for some reason not gagged (I mean, I know the reason, I’m digging the smooth, if mean, voice, too), Sam reminds us about his time with Gadreel, and how Crowley made him realize he was in a dream. He and Cas take a moment to mourn the King of Our Hearts Hell, and gets a call from Maggie, telling him that now the monsters are coming to the bunker. Sam and Cas remember that the British Men of Letters were good for something, and grab the fancy old-timey brain machine from storage.

While Sam and Cas are on an archival hunt, Jack is left alone with Michael, who plays on all the young nephilim’s worries and insecurities. When Jack tells Michael that Sam and Dean will beat him, Michael tells Jack that he doesn’t mean anything more to Dean than another mouth to feed and butt to save. Jack is only one, so it’s clearly getting to him a bit.  Cas, having overheard Michael’s lies, calls Jack over, reminding him not to believe anything the Archangel says.

Next it’s Cas’s turn with Michael, who has nothing but time. And whoo boy, if I thought Lucifer had Daddy issues? Damn. Michael starts by trying to niggle Cas about being weak and useless (sounds like somebody is feeling homesick for their Nazi Angel), and when that doesn’t work, Michael decides to spill to us his motives. YAY! He tells Cas about when he and Lucifer fought in his world, it was basically just a big temper tantrum to see if God would show up. God didn’t. That’s just good parenting, if you ask me. You don’t reward bad behavior. And so Michael huffed and puffed and blew into another world (ours). He first thought he could be better at the whole “God” thing, until he possessed Dean. Then Michael learned about Chuck The God Who Is Also A Writer But Yeah Mostly God and decided that all the worlds must just be drafts. It makes some sense, if you think about it, Chuck himself has talked about “edits” and whatnot. Michael tells Cas he intends to destroy all Dad’s creations until he finds God Himself, and then kill him. Seems healthy.

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Just outside of town, while all this is happening, Maggie and the hunters are on sentry duty. A van pulls up but no one is in it, which is (of course), the cue for one idiot to wander off on his own. He returns quickly enough to say they’ve been duped and the monsters got by. Glad these guys are such a help!

Later, Sam and Cas use the brain machine to hop into Dean’s brain, which is mysteriously blank. Jack is standing guard over them and tells them that he’s willing to burn his soul to help, so hey, HE’S A WINCHESTER, AFTER ALL!

While in Dean’s mind, Cas tries to find where his bestie is hidden away by searching through the highlight reel of Dean’s trauma. Eventually, Sam recalls that Michael was saying he left Dean because he was fighting so hard, and hypothesizes that in order to keep Dean quiet, Michael may have put his somewhere good. Seems legit. Cas starts searching through Dean’s happy memories and Sam hears one that never happened. So off they go to the bar!

“If you kill a ghoul, you get a beer.” That sounds like fair compensation, so Dean’s already my favorite bartender of all time, though Sam and Cas don’t seem as impressed as they ought to be. Ingrates. Then, in case you didn’t already know the beer is Jensen’s, Dean mentions that he has a new IPA from a brewery in Austin called Cosmic Cowboy wink wink. Sam and Cas are understandably surprised to see Pamela, and have a little aside to remind us who she is, which is one of the very few annoyances I had with this episode. Sam and Cas keep trying to convince Dean that he’s in a dream that keeps looping (which is confusing AF for ⅔ of TFW). They tell him that Pamela is blind. Dean remembers, and then suddenly dream-bar-Pam is blind. They remind him that she died. Dean remembers, and then she’s gone. Cas tries to get through to Dean, but it’s not til Sam says their code word, Poughkeepsie, that Dean snaps out of it.

As soon as Dean remembers, Michael shows up. Dean tries and fails to expel him, and then Michael turns his charm on Cas and Sam. he tells Cas that Dean doesn’t even like him, but feels an obligation for Cas pulling him out of Hell. And, before too many Cas-haters can celebrate, Michael tells Sam that Dean was happiest when Sam left, since Sam was just a burden. Ouch. Cas recognizes it as a stall tactic, and they realize that Michael can’t kill any of them while in Dean’s brain so, naturally, they fight!

Let’s take a quick minute to pop out of Dean’s brain and see the real world: Maggie and her hunters show up, telling Jack the monsters are literally at the gate.  To the surprise of pretty much no one, Tiger (Tyger? Who cares), the hunter who went off on his own, busts out his monster eyes saying “We’re already here, bitch!” AND THEY ALL FIGHT, TOO! Jack, seeing that all the hunters are going to die, since no one can kill Michael Monsters quite yet, burns some soul and uses his old whammy of yesteryear, killing them all.

Okay, they’ll be alright now so we can go back to the interesting bit of the episode. Michael makes pretty quick work of TFW, but it’s not long before Dean remembers that it’s HIS brain. He, Sam, and Cas throw Michael in the “beer cooler” and lock him in. Dean says he’s in control again, and that he is the cage. Yikes on bikes! This won’t end well.

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Once the boys are back in their bodies, Maggie updates Sam on the status of Michael’s monsters. Michael got fridged (haha, one can wish), they all scattered, which, while not making them less of a problem, certainly makes them a bit less pressing. Monster Union: busted. Cas gives Jack a talkin’ to for burning his soul, but assures him he’s not angry, just worried. He didn’t say that souls don’t grow on trees but even so, damn, Cas is a good dad. Dean, meanwhile, is in his room, giving himself a pep talk while Michael rails in his brain. Billie pops in, which always means good tidings, and tells Dean that some shit happened while he was on vacation. She reminds him that she warned him about world-jumping, and that now, as a consequence, every single notebook about Dean’s death ends the same way: Michael breaks free, and destroys the world. Every book that is, except one. She is clearly not fucking around, since she gives Dean the notebook. He reads it, looks properly freaked, and asks what the fuck he’s supposed to do with this??? But, Billie is gone.

I’ve been pretty hard on this season, and there has been no shortage of disappointing and frustrating things. I’ve seen my fair share of amazing opportunities for great stories squandered. It’s been a rough season for me as a fan. This episode, however, did not disappoint. I think this show is at its best when it focuses on Dean, in large parts thanks to Jensen Ackles and his ability to make even the tiniest emotion flicker on his face. I also loved to see Pamela back, but in a, dare I say it, realistic way. As much as I love seeing Bobby and Charlie back, something about the how of it just didn’t sit well, but Pamela being Dean’s bar buddy just felt so natural. It was also interesting to see just how Michael was going to try and mess with Cas, Sam, and Jack while possessing Dean. If I’m being honest, I would have liked to see a little more variety in it, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

If I had to point out one thing that bugged me, though, it would be the asides about who Pamela was right before Sam and Cas told Dean who she was. In an episode with a lot of inherent repetition, the little aside felt like the writers didn’t trust their audience to know. I get that the show is 14 years old now, but Pamela wasn’t an unimportant person, and fans aren’t likely to forget her. I mean, just look at how often she comes up in fanfic and you’ll get an idea of the impression the character has left on the fandom. However, if that is what bugged me most about the episode (I mean, I even remembered Maggie’s name this time!!), especially in this season, then I’m pretty happy.

What did you think of Nihilism? Do you have any theories about what Dean’s book might say?