Nightmare Review

By John Keegan

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I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the previous episode, but the writers turned things around with a very compelling mythology episode with plenty of interesting implications. More to the point, they did it by focusing almost entirely on the two leads, instead of tossing in another “Babe of the Week” to hold the interests of the audience. The writers had confidence in the strength of their concept and story, and as such, that confidence was shining through in nearly every scene.

I still don’t think Jared is the best actor in the world, but I like where the character is going and how he’s tackling the challenge. The series started out with strict lines between the normal and paranormal, but now that the lines are blurring in a major way, Sam’s abilities could have come across as incredibly silly. Instead, there are shades of the issues that came up for Cordelia on “Angel”. Sam may have visions, but those visions are not a pleasant experience, and they don’t always give him a chance to change things.

The interesting part is the connection between the demonic entity that killed Sam’s mother and Jess and the abilities that he began exhibiting just before the start of the series itself. The fact that Max started showing telekinetic abilities around the same time period takes the situation to a completely different level. Forget my earlier theories about the Winchesters having a family secret; the whole battle is a lot bigger than that now.

The nature of that connection is at the heart of the series’ mythology: which came first? Did Sam and Max (and who knows who else) always have this latent ability, and is the demonic entity trying to attack, eliminate, or perhaps control humans with paranormal abilities? Or is the emergence of paranormal ability a consequence of exposure to the entity, some odd kind of spiritual balance kicking in? I would find the latter theory less conventional, but I suspect that the former theory is the one with stronger evidence.

This episode not only gives Sam and Dean a huge chunk of information about the entity they are hunting, but it also provides Sam with one of those classic “there but for the grace of God” moments. Sam may believe that his childhood was fairly screwed up (and, in fact, it was), but it could have been a lot worse. Max was pushed to the breaking point, and everything that happened in this episode is the result. John Winchester may have started a very strange family tradition, but it also gave Sam a very strong moral compass, keeping him on the straight and narrow.

I didn’t see the connection between Max and the entity coming, and that scene of revelation was quite impressive. Sam’s expression was beyond stunned. And while I could see Max’s suicide coming well before it happened, the moment itself was staged very well. In fact, the entire episode was well-constructed, with a relatively simple situation spiraling out of control. I like the fact that the episode gets resolution but much is left unresolved; it speaks to the impact of the episode on the series as a whole.

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