Supernatural: Live Free or Twi-Hard
What a bizarre little episode. It started out as one thing and then morphed into something else entirely. I think my judgment of the episode might change based on what happens in the rest of the season, but for now this episode felt very disjointed.
Opening teaser: Caveat. . .I’ve never read any of the books in the Twilight series, nor have I seen the films. And they aren’t in my future. I read the first chapter of the book and decided against it. So I’m sure that multiple jokes passed over my head. I know enough to recognize that it was a spoof of the Bella/Edward relationship, with the characters named Kristen and Robert in honor of the actor counterparts. Given that I have read a few pages, I can say that the painful dialogue is a reflection of the books — even taken directly? Yet, it was a funny little moment that proved to be nothing more than a distraction from real events. A moment where Supernatural could get their digs in about the Twilight series, and argue that vampires are bloodthirsty beasts not romantic and slightly emo boys, but it felt like an opening that belonged to another episode. Because everything that came after really had more to do with the metaphysical condition of Sam and Dean than illuminating the makeup of vampires.
Monsters: I know this season is meant to be more of an exploration of the origins of monsters — to tell more of their story than before — but as of yet, the monsters have really just been a means of showing us the degree to which the Sam/Dean relationship is fractured. Clearly there is something underlying the Campbell quest. The search so far (in the episodes we’ve seen) has been focused on alpha-monsters, but for purposes that we have yet to understand. This episode hinted that the monsters are rising and forming armies, unconcerned with hunters (for some reason this reminds me of the Lord of the Rings — evil creatures forming armies and banding together to defeat all that is good in the world) and, at least with the vampires, sending messages along a psychic network that momentarily renders them unconscious. It also results in a hallucination worthy of a David Lynch film.
Now, I’m not arguing that I need everything explained to me immediately, but I’m worried that in the quest to show just how messed up Sam really is, that we’re losing some of the richness promised in the backstory of monsters.
Random Aside: I vacillate between the Campbells having evil intent or misguided intent, and as a result I can’t decide whether they want to hunt the alpha-monsters to eliminate the monarch or if they want to capture them to create some kind of Jurassic Park. Or, even creepier, maybe they want to cross “The Island of Dr. Moreau” with “The Most Dangerous Game” and create a game reserve where the monsters could be bred and then hunted. Or I could be getting carried away because it’s almost Halloween.
Dean: Something that I started thinking about last season was that while bad things happen to Dean — losing his father, Sam dying, starting the apocalypse, his inability to save Ellen, Jo, et al. — he is never the one possessed or turned into a monster. He doesn’t have demon blood running through his veins. He’s never been taken over by a spirit inhabiting an asylum. Until this episode. In the moment that Dean is infected with vampire blood, I couldn’t help but watch Sam and wonder if there wasn’t a part of him that was thrilled to see his brother finally suffer the indignity of contamination.
Of course turning Dean into a monster — into that which he hunts — is clever. In early seasons we watched Dean struggle with his (then) very black and white interpretation of good and evil and how he couldn’t adhere to this philosophy when the monster was Sam, so this was a nice opportunity to watch Dean’s struggle with being a monster. The problem is that I’m not sure he really did. He immediately decided that he needed to be killed. Not too surprising I guess, but on some level I felt that infecting Dean provided a construct so that he could mess up his relationship with Lisa, complicating a situation that was perhaps going too smoothly for the writers? Were they worried that the audience would bristle against Lisa’s easy acceptance of the hunter lifestyle? That scene with Lisa and Ben, which will obviously have implications over the next few episodes, felt really contrived — not the acting, but the writing. Or was this a meta-reference to the girl/vampire relationship and how, in reality, it truly is impossible and messed up? (Yes, I know vampires are not real.) ((But they might be.))
Another disappointing element to Dean’s infection was that he really didn’t have any insights into vampirism, beyond the fact that they are sent psychic messages. No greater understanding of the monster itself or moment that would serve as an epiphany for the audience. It seemed that the true purpose of infecting Dean was simply to show just how screwed up Sam is, and put the final nail in the trust coffin. Knowing that Sam allowed him to get infected — enjoyed it even — was really the final straw for Dean. He knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Sam he has always loved and cared for does not currently exist. That final moment of the episode, by the Impala, where Dean asks Sam whether he has his back, knowing that the answer is going to be a lie, was pretty solid — and very disheartening.
Though I must say that Dean’s scene in the nest, when he has to take out all of the vampires, was very cool. And, again, the hallucination/message scene was fantastic.
Sam: Okay, now I really feel like Sam has lost his soul, because how else do you explain, unless he’s a demon, his callous behavior during Dean’s infection? That moment, where you realize that Sam is not going to help, would be shocking enough on any normal day in the Supernatural universe, but then to watch his face curl into a sadistic half-smile, was horrifying. It’s the scene that justified the entire episode. It’s like the writer recognized that viewers would be questioning the depths of Sam’s fragmentation and wanted to sucker-punch us all. This was no “Sam’s not right” moment; this was a “Sam is effed up in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine” moment.
Apart from Sam’s secret pleasure at Dean’s vampirism, the other thing that I found significant was his pursuit of information. Sam’s constant barrage of questions — “what did you see?” — in moments when he should have been concerned about the welfare of his brother was telling, and pointed to an underlying mission that seems to differ from that of the Campbells.
The moment where Samuel questioned Sam, wondering if he allowed Dean to become infected so that he could infiltrate the lair, was a good one. While we might not yet understand what’s going on with the Campbells, this scene emphasized that we cannot take for granted that their purpose coincides with Sam’s agenda. Samuel looked both concerned with, and disgusted by, Sam’s behavior, so I think we really need to worry about the Campbells and Sam separately.
The tone of this episode, and Sam’s place in it, made me shake my head at my naive assumptions about last week’s episode. I commented on how happy I was to see a somewhat normal Sam in “Weekend at Bobby’s” and clearly my interpretation was off. This was a wholly different creature in this episode.
While I’ve been happy so far with the season (prior to this episode), I do have a concern about pacing. I’m not sure that Supernatural always knows how to time their reveals — or balance the episodes that come between. In the early years of The X-Files, you would have episodes that pushed and developed the alien mythology, but interspersed throughout the arc they would present hilarious episodes that did nothing more than point to the inanity of the human condition. In so doing, the viewer would get a break from the dark paranoia, and would have a moment of humor. Yet they were able to do this without disrupting the path — without making it seem as though the audience was witnessing a filler episode.
I’m not saying that this episode was filler, but I question whether the reveal, regarding Sam, is proceeding at the correct pace. We know that Sam is broken, but giving us a relatively normal and empathetic Sam in “Weekend at Bobby’s” disrupts the depth of his wrongness.
Regardless, the trailer for this week made it seem like the Sam issue is about to be tackled in full force. And maybe once that issue is clarified a bit, then we’ll get even more background into the whole monster conundrum.
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