Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Review - Supernatural 8.05 "Blood Brother"

I have a confession…I’m as much a fan of Ben Edlund as I am anyone else associated with this show. This is not to say I have pictures of him around my room, I don’t…but I’m not adverse to the idea. Would I like to meet him? Yes. Have a photo with him? Yes. Spend some time in a panel with him? Hellz yes! Have my favourite quote from my favourite episode of his tattooed on my arm…erm…yes, actually, that one’s done and dusted. Ben is a creative individual. A writer and an artist with a mind that darts and leaps from one idea to the next, sometimes making it back to finish a thought, sometimes not. He inspires me in my creative endeavours and makes me want to be better at what I do. Whether it’s trying to write a novel, writing these reviews, writing a 30 second script or telling a story with pictures to try and get an audience to tune into a movie or a show. Creative people inspire my creativity and Ben is one hell of a creative. So yeah, I like his scripts. If we add into that Guy Bee, who as a seasoned TV director is very good at story telling, accompanied with inventive yet unobtrusive camera work and a knack for action, you have a duo that seldom misses a beat. And that’s just what we got with “Blood Brother”. The other wonderful thing about these two is their understanding that you can tell a story without words, that not everything has to be laid out in dialogue and a lot of what isn’t said fills the gaps for what is. They also have an innate appreciation of the talent of the actors performing their scenes and their ability to deliver. They simply let them do the work.

“Blood Brother” was an excellent example of a finely tuned “Supernatural” episode. A story that never stopped moving, developed the arc central to the key relationships and gave us a nuanced character study that informed us of the headspace these characters are currently living in.

We got quite a few flashbacks in “Blood Brother” and for me these have been the most seamlessly integrated of the season so far. The first flashback to Purgatory was simply stunning. The ramping of the slomos, the black and white flash transitions, the eerie whistling. It felt like a fractured memory. It was nicely shot and beautifully edited. The edit on that initial Purgatory flashback was masterful.

These flashbacks to Dean’s time in Purgatory helped us to understand his relationship with Benny and why he stands by him so steadfast. Benny proved himself in battle, not just by looking out for Dean’s back, but also Dean’s friend Castiel. He saved Castiel and I suspect that happened more than once and this was even though he knew the Angel drew the monsters and even though he knew Dean and his chances of making it out alive, were lessened by the presence of the Angel. This would have gone a long way with Dean. Loyalty is very important to him. He’s not leaving his Angel friend behind and now he’s seen a monster, which you could tell he was still treading somewhat carefully around, also pledging his loyalty to Dean by this act of friendship to Castiel.

One of my favourite moments in the Purgatory scenes was when Dean, exasperated, tried to make peace between Benny and Cass. Who else found themselves thinking of a similar moment when Dean tried to make peace between Sam and John? It seems no matter what Dean goes through and no matter where he finds himself those traits remain. I’ve always got the sense that he simply can’t handle it when the people he cares about don’t get on. It all boils down to his need for a family, in whatever form that takes. He doesn’t want them to fight, he has so few people, he needs them all to get on, because he wants them to be around him. It was an amusing scene but it kind of made me sad, because I thought, geesh this never ends for him.

It was great to see Cass being Cass once again. Smiting like a ninja, making off the wall (yet relevant) comments about the metaphysics of Purgatory and not getting the Aunt joke. I’m thankful that crazy, comic relief Castiel seems to be a thing of the past. He was always most amusing and endearing when he was funny in spite of himself. Not because he was saying or doing something funny, but because he wasn’t and yet still was. He’s an Angel. I feel like he should be treated with a degree of respect. I never liked the drinking a liquour store or the kissing Meg…it just seemed, forced. By simply not understanding the reference, you’re reminded who he is and what he is without making him seem less, if you know what I mean. I hope that when he’s back in the land of the living again, this Cass remains. I liked Purgatory Cass. I’m looking forward to finding out why he never made it out with Benny and Dean.

Benny of course was right, Dean could have dumped his soul in any grave, or in a bin, or a river, or a drain or whatever really, but that wouldn’t be Dean. Monster or otherwise, he made a promise to someone who became a friend and he loyally followed through on it. Like Benny said “You and that whole friend thing, man.” It’s one of my favourite Dean traits, that loyalty, that heart and I’m so happy to see, no matter what he goes through, no matter how much he’s hurting, that remains intact.

His friend needed him and he went to his side. Should he have told Sam? Yeah of course. Would he? No, of course not! The brothers are great at keeping secrets from each other. Let’s not forget, they were raised to keep secrets. But it’s more about knowing each other so well that they know the other will be pissed and they don’t want to face that or deal with that. It’s true for both of them, not just Dean. Both are guilty of sweeping something under a rug rather than bring it out into the open. It’s easier to do that, than face the ire of your brother and probably the fact that you’re definitely wrong and have to slog it out with someone who knows you better than you know yourself. As hair-pulingly frustrating as that is for us, it always amuses me because avoiding confrontation is such a human thing to do and the brothers are experts at it, even though it always bites them in the ass.

I liked seeing Dean’s friendship with Benny. That there really is a sense of camaraderie and not just duty when it comes to this unlikely ally. Benny doesn’t get Dean’s humour anymore than anyone else. The whole Vampirates thing was fantastic. “It’s like the third thing you say.” “No…it isn’t.” Dean’s face! No one gets Dean’s humour! (It’s ok Dean we get it and love you for it). I also thought, Dean is spouting off stuff about the Zone Diet and Fabio and I’m quite sure Benny has no idea about any of that either, but he didn’t flinch, that made me like him even more. Everyone just kind of tolerates Dean’s bizarre pop culture references. Oh and Dean pocketing the money…looking over his shoulder. Bless! Little moments like that were priceless. And I need to say…Dean in the vampire's nest, was BAD ASS! Oh gosh….I know he has issues and I know part of his gruffness and inability to deal with anything is all part and parcel of his time in Purgatory and it’s not healthy and all that, but give me this Dean any old day. Sure he needs balance….but oh my, Dean wielding that knife is one sexy mo-fo.

I think it was no coincidence that the conversation about Benny’s history happened in the Impala. It’s also no coincidence that Benny’s story parallels Sam’s as well as Sam and Dean’s. ‘Born’ into a family where you didn’t question the life, with a father who ran the ship with an iron fist, who kept his family together but apart from the rest of the world.  Who does that sound like? Benny was part of this life until he met a woman, until he found “it”. This could be Sam’s story with Jess, but it could also as easily be Sam’s story with Amelia. In the Impala is probably where Dean hears the best. Whether it’s the familiar surrounds or what, but that car has experienced some of the most profound conversations of Sam and Dean’s life, so to have Benny relay this very familiar story in this environment, hopefully will spark something in Dean to make him think. Dean can be a great listener, but only when it’s something he wants to hear, because if it’s too painful for him to think about, like Sam wanting to move on, which to Dean means Sam not wanting him, he’s just not going to hear it until he’s made to hear it.

Of course the other possible parallel to Sam was Benny’s memory of Andrea. He remembered their love; he remembered their romance, who they were together. He had romanticised her and it helped him get through Purgatory. He thought she was dead, but she wasn’t. She was a monster now too. Those sunny memories of happiness and love were just that, memories. He couldn’t go back, that life didn’t exist anymore. I wonder if this is foreshadowing what’s to come for Sam, what he must face and what he’ll eventually realise? I wonder if this is why Sam’s flashbacks are golden and shiny.

I adored Sam’s flashbacks in this episode. I loved to see how he was trying to get by, being a handyman and even though he was so alone, he was still Sam, paying attention to people, making a point of getting to know the kid at the hotel. He’s always been great with people. Where his brother is the slightly abrasive one, Sam’s the empathetic one, the one who connects…though Dean’s pretty good when it comes to connecting with a chick. He knows how to work it then.

I've read that some people think Sam is being written unsympathetically this season, but I don't see it like that. This is probably the most sympathetic I’ve felt for Sam in a long time. Now, before you rip me a new one, I’m not saying I haven’t been sympathetic towards Sam in the past, I have, as much as you all see me as a rampant Dean girl, I love Sam too, but this is the first time in a long time that the Sam we’re dealing with is a very human Sam, enduring very human emotions. There’s no visions, demon blood, Lucifer, soullessness, broken wall crazy hanging over his head. Sam, for the first time since season 3 is simply Sam and he’s dealing with everything that’s passed, with no supernatural intrusions.

I said a couple of weeks ago that the detachment we’re seeing in his character towards his brother and their life together, for me, felt like fear. He’s scared to get close, scared to completely let Dean in, scared to fall back into their old ways because he’s terrified of losing his brother, terrified to go through losing everything and everyone again and all the pain that brings.

This is a man who saw his brother ripped to shreds by invisible dogs, shot in the chest, hit by a car, he cradled Dean as he died in his arms at least 4 times that we saw. We often talk about how Sam means everything to Dean. Dean has said it himself, “Watching out for you... it's kinda been my job, you know? But more than that, it's... it's kinda who I am”. We’ve accepted that Sam is Dean’s number one. No matter who else may cross Dean’s path, his brother is an intrinsic part of his physiology and that will never change. But what we forget and often don’t discuss is that for Sam, Dean is all he knows. Sam was at loggerheads with an absent father whom he wound up being estranged from. For Sam, the one person, the one constant in his life, has always been Dean. His older brother raised him and was there for him, loving him ferociously from before Sam could even remember. Sam may not have the outward franticness to his love that Dean sometimes appears to have, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel his love as deeply. He even said in “The French Mistake” when Dean, tentatively suggested that the fake world of Jared Padalecki was better than Sam’s reality, no, “We’re not even brothers here man.”

Now picture this, the one person whom you’ve spent your whole life looking up to, trusting and relying on, is killed over and over in front of your eyes. Then, just as you’re getting your wits back together, after the latest supernatural abomination perpetrated against you, that person disappears to parts unknown and you’re left alone, well and truly alone. Surely that would traumatise Sam. I imagine him spending the ensuing days, weeks, months, reliving that and every other nightmare him and his brother suffered through, agonising over every dreadful scenario that Dean may now be experiencing. Then, after a year, when he’s obviously still struggling to find his feet in this strange, new world, poof…his brother miraculously returns and wants to hit the road. Go back to their old life, the life which has caused Sam untold pain and which could once again mean death and loss.

The Sam we saw looking for Amelia on the bridge, the Sam we saw raging at Dean, angry with his brother for keeping secrets and taking risks, racing to his brother’s aid with his foot pressed hard against the accelerator, is a Sam unhinged by fear. I look at him and think, oh man; he’s scared out of his wits, he’s scared he’s going to have to relive all that torment again. Sam is breaking my heart in two. I want to sit next to him and hold his hand and tell him, everything is going to be all right. I no longer see detachment; in fact I see the opposite. I see a love so powerful that it’s making him frantic at the thought of losing it again, of the pain of losing that one constant in his life, the pain of losing Dean. Sam, you make me hurt. Unsympathetic? I don't see it.

All of this is also why I don’t have an issue with the whole not looking for Dean thing, even if Dean does…which obviously, being Dean, he would. Sam has seen the consequences of their continual need to sacrifice themselves for each other and the world. He’s seen the catastrophic ramifications both cosmically and personally. He’s lived through it. Even if he had a clear idea of where Dean was and how to bring him back, who’s to say that wouldn’t start some crazy new cycle like the Apocalypse part-deux, who’s to say that Dean wouldn’t come back damaged…like you know, soulless or worse, who’s to say that retrieving Dean wouldn’t be part of some bigger evil scheme that the brothers have been unwittingly sucked into and more importantly, who’s to say Dean wasn’t in Heaven and pulling Dean back would rip him away from somewhere he’d finally found peace? Sam didn’t know. So in amongst dealing with the sudden loss of the person that’s anchored him his whole life, in amongst dealing with a mental clarity that he’s not had for a while, that allows him to think about all the tragedy that’s befallen him and his brother because of this life they were raised in, he’s also got the possible weight of the world and all it’s inhabitants crushing him and the possibility that dragging his brother back to earth wouldn’t be the best option for Dean or maybe even humanity. 

There is a natural order, the brother’s have said, “Screw it” over and over and have been smacked in the face for their troubles. When do you learn? When do you look at the big picture and go, um, I gotta stop messing with this stuff because every time I do, something worse happens. I’m not seeing anything here that doesn’t feel like Sam and quite frankly, I’m falling head over heels in love with Sam all over again this season. I love me nothing more than a damaged, flawed hero (hence the whole Dean thing), and this Sam, with all his humanity is just so beautiful to me. It’s a problem I have, I know….but this is a 100% human Sam, dealing with human emotions and showing, once again, how achingly human he is. Sam is going through a deep emotional struggle and I’m there with him every step of the way. 

I know none of this has been openly discussed by Sam, but I think it's being subtly revealed bit by bit. It's a slow burn mystery that I'm enjoying.

I even warmed a little to Amelia in this episode. When Sam astutely pointed out she was alone, you saw that guard drop. You realised that bitchy front was to keep people like him at bay. Incredibly tall, handsome, serial killer types! In that one moment you saw how they came together, out of a common pain. Like people who find each other through shared trauma. Kind of like Benny and Dean. I’m pretty sure I said this a couple of weeks ago too, there’s a symmetry between the relationships that the brothers worked into their lives in each other’s absence.

And those brothers were my absolute favourite part of this episode. Their bickering was fantastic. I’m weird I guess, because I don’t look at them and see them drifting apart, I look at them and see them desperately trying to cling to being together.

You don’t bicker at each other that much if you no longer care. You don’t question where someone is going if you don’t care if they go. You don’t go to text them because they’re the first person you think of, if they’re no longer important to you – even if you don’t go through with it. You don’t freak out all over the place and rush to their side; because you think they’re in trouble if you don’t want to have a relationship with them. You don’t ring them when you need help, even though it means facing a situation you know is going turn ugly, if you didn’t trust them above everyone else and in fact, if you didn’t want them to know your secret. Dean nearly text Sam he wasn’t alone but changed his mind, but in the long run, he made the call even though he knew the outcome. I think it was his way of bringing Sam in, without having to tell him.

I loved every single conversation Sam and Dean had. From the Kevin Tran bitchiness from Sam, which was epic, “Well he was in advanced placement” to the phone conversations; “You don’t know him, he’s a friend,” “A friend? Dean you don’t have any, all your friends are dead” “It’s not what I called to talk about!” And then the, “I get the separate lives thing, but this is a hunting thing.” “Oh God, stop talking.” Each moment was beautifully written and beautifully performed and felt like a true and honest representation of a couple of siblings driving each other crazy. I know they’re frustrated with each other, not the first time, I know they’re hiding stuff, not the first time, but nothing in this episode made me think they’re drifting apart or trying to get away from each other, just that they’re trying to figure it out, figure themselves out, each other out, their duoness out, in amongst all the damaged, because let’s not forget the most obvious thing here, they’re damaged, both of them, deeply, by what they’ve gone through over the past year. There’s going to be emotional fallout.

Then there was that final scene. I replayed it over and over and over. The brothers don’t have to speak. One look and they both know what the other is thinking. Dean was stoic, because he knew Sam would figure it out, he just stood firm and watched. Sam figured it out and his first move was that of a hunter. He may have been out of the life for a year, he may say he doesn’t want it anymore, but there he was, at his brother’s side with his hand reaching for his knife because he knew there was a monster standing in front of him. But one small head shake from Dean and he stopped. He gave his brother the benefit of the doubt, even though a mask of anger clouded his face. It was beautiful. Beautifully written, shot, edited and performed. This scene was made by a group of people at the top of their game. As is this show. This no longer feels like a genre show about a couple of ghost hunting bros, that’s housed on a small youth skewed network, this feels like a grown up drama that would be able to sit on any network. It’s mature and gritty and challenging and heartbreaking and I LOVE IT. I’m sorry; I know I sound like a broken record, but season 8 man, its some good TV.

Of course I want Sam and Dean to find some happiness together, I want them to be cool with sitting next to each other in the Impala riding the backstreets, joking and teasing, enjoying being brothers, but I also recognise them to be men in their thirties who have changed and grown together and I’m good with that, in fact I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying seeing them traverse each other’s emotional minefield to try to get back what they, in reality, haven’t had for a very long time. That's the thing about Sam and Dean, they never stop trying, they never give up on each other, they never give up on being brothers. No matter how much they fight, no matter often they walk away from each other; they find their way back, because they want to. At their core, they want to be together. No matter what Sam is saying, look at what he’s doing. No matter who Dean is friends with, look at who he stays with.

Next week, I’d say Sam and Dean are going to deal with the aftermath of the Benny thing. Hey, at least they’re talking.

Until next time Supernatural family.

sweetondean is Chief Editor and a Staff Writer for The Winchester Family Business

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