Monday, 25 February 2013

Review - Supernatural 8.15 "Man's Best Friend with Benefits"

As far as I’m concerned, a not so great episode of “Supernatural” is still better than pretty much anything else on TV. Even episodes that don’t totally pop my cork have some redeeming qualities. I’ll always find something to enjoy. Always. I love this damn show, possibly to a fault.

So “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits” while being far from a great episode of “Supernatural” still had stuff I found enjoyable. To be honest, I was expecting it to be the most horrific hour of television ever produced in the history of forever, going by some of the feedback I was seeing out there in the fandom…but I gotta say, I didn’t mind it at all.

I’m also happy to cut the producers of this show some slack. They’ve turned out a bunch of stellar episodes this season. Season 8 has been consistently strong and since “Citizen Fang”, has been building on that strength to where we found ourselves at the end of “Trial and Error”, with new and interesting mythology and 4 corker episodes back to back. But a TV show, hell a TV network is a hungry beast. It needs constant feeding and care and it never, ever, ever stops, like ever. This I know. Turning out a new hour-long episode of television, every couple of weeks is mind blowing. Making every one of those episodes golden is just impossible. In fact, if that was happening, I’d suggest a bit of soul selling had gone on and at the end of season 10, a whole bunch of TV writers and producers would be about to face the Hellhounds!

I remember going to see Joss Whedon at the Sydney Opera House and how he said that while making Buffy and Angel, every so often they had to let one through that they knew was sub-par, because the show must go on and they had to get on to the next episode. So there were times where they went; you know, they’re going to hate it and we’re going to get flack for it, but oh well, on to the next story. Hey, nothing and no-one is perfect, not even Whedon apparently.

So I’ll give it to you that chances are this was probably one of those episodes. That chances are TPTB looked at it and thought; we have to let it go, moving right along…what’s up next. There’s always at least one a season. 1 out of 23 ain’t bad.

But to be perfectly honest, I still had a giggle, there were a couple of pretty funny scenes, I liked the bro moments and Dean looked unbelievably hot... That in itself kept me glued to the screen.

Let’s get the squick factor out of the way.

I do think it probably wasn’t the smartest move to make an episode about a familiar who took the shape of a dog and had an intimate relationship with her witch master. It probably played better in the writer’s room than it did on the screen. But at no time did I feel grossed out by it. I figure a familiar is neither human nor animal…and when Portia looked like a woman, she was a woman as far as I’m concerned. There was never any indication that anything inappropriate was going on when she was in the shape of a Doberman. She could have removed that collar though…but then again, I know a girl who wears a dog collar as jewellery…

I could’ve done without the extended make-out scene, but that’s purely because the only people I’m interested in seeing make-out on “Supernatural” are the brothers. Wait. Ok, let me rephrase that!!!! I’m only interested in seeing Sam and Dean having sexy scenes with guest stars not 2 guest stars having a sexy scene together… unless something gruesome happens to them while their at ‘it’. Did I clear that up? Phew! So basically…a bit of a kiss and the vision would have sufficed, not because she was a dog a little while before, but because, like I said…I don’t care. Now if it was a scene with one of the brothers (specifically Dean) then the show can do a 43-minute sex scene for all I care! It would be gripping! Anyway, I digress. I think it was probably unwise subject matter for an episode, considering the taboo nature of it, but I wasn’t fazed by how it played out. I think seeing as they opened that door and chose to handle it, they handled it quite well, all things considered.

One thing I did like is that James and Portia high tailed it out of there (no pun intended). I feel like there’s a growing army of supernatural beings or people with connections to the supernatural that either owe or support Sam and Dean. It’s like this world is being built around them, peppered with critters and people who may be able to lend a hand if the situation arises. I like this a lot. James and Portia may never be seen again, but there’s something to be said to knowing that they’re out there and that the brothers are not alone in this world. If they need a witch, they know one. Aaron and his Golem, James and Portia, Charlie, Kate the werewolf, the Trans, Garth, Lee and Krissy Champers, even Benny and of course, somewhere Cass… The rebuilding of the Winchester’s Universe this season has been excellent.

Another thing that I liked was that once again, we were dealing with the concept of manipulation and control. James was unknowingly being controlled by Spencer. This has been a continuing theme of the season, people being forced to do things against their will. Okay, James wasn’t actually committing the murders, but Spencer was controlling his mind and making him think he was doing it. Then by giving a direct order to his familiar Philippe, Spencer manufactured information that led people to incorrectly perceive what was happening. This plays in to this season’s themes around manipulation, control and perception. It plays into Castiel and Naomi and whatever is going on up in Heaven…which I believe we’ll revisit immediately after the mini-hiatus. I think it’ll also play into Benny and Purgatory and how he knew how to get Dean out. It may even play into Crowley and the tablets, because, I’m never 100% sure of what Crowley’s up to! I like that we keep touching on this thread. Who’s holding the strings?

Ok, on to Sam and Dean.

It’s no surprise that the trials are going to be an ongoing issue between the brothers. Dean’s going to feel crappy about not being able to kill the Hellhound and he’ll worry about Sam’s safety and wellbeing and Sam’s going to be equal parts self doubt and standing firm telling Dean he’s fine, as the trials continue to take a physical toll on him. This is the way it always goes with the brothers. Le sigh.

I thought it was an excellent pick up from Sam, that it wasn’t Sam that Dean was having difficulty trusting, it’s just that Dean really only trusts himself. Dean spent his formative years looking after Sam and being a leader to his little brother. He was raised by his dad to take control. I mean, he obviously has control issues – look how he is with the car! Not only that, his trust in those he loves has been shaken over the last few years. He’s said that he has a hard time trusting anyone and he’s felt let down by just about everyone in his life. So Dean questioning Sam is nothing to do with Sam it’s all to do with Dean and who he is and how his brain works. The guy is never going to be comfortable with delegating…he’s spent his entire life doing.

It took a long time for Dean to come to the party when it came to Sam’s plan to let in Lucifer and stop the Apocalypse, but he got there in the end. I’m sure it’ll take a bit to get his head around Sam doing the trials too. Dean is forever adjusting his mind to Sam being a man who makes his own decisions and not just Dean's little brother. Mostly these days, he does better than he used to, but you can tell it’s always going to be a struggle for him because he’ll always want to protect Sam, it’s who Dean is.

It was very telling that Dean said nothing after Sam’s point about trust. Sam essentially nailed it and Dean had no comeback. It was a really good call on Sam’s behalf. Nice insight. Though initially I thought this scene came out of left field, I like how it ended up playing out.

The memory flashbacks on behalf of Spencer felt a little clunky, I think mostly because that scene was so rushed. But I got to thinking about them afterwards. These were scenes specifically important to the season’s arc of closing the gates of Hell. When facing their worst memories – geesh, it could have been so many things, they’ve lost so many people, but Sam remembered falling into the pit and then the perpetual burning, all the pain and horror of Hell. Dean remembered Hell too. He remembered the torture, crying out for his brother, but not only that, he remembered his mother being burnt on the ceiling by the demon that started it all; the reason they’ve been in this fight since they were children. The two things that have caused both brothers infinite pain…demons and Hell, the two things they’re currently trying to lockup for eternity. These are the brother’s worst memories prompted by Spencer's magic. It sure makes the whole thing real personal.

I’ve always thought Dean probably saw something that fateful night back when he was four. He intimated as much to the kid in “Dead in the Water” (and I feel like he said it one other time too…but I can’t for the life of me think when). Anyway, whether he actually saw Mary on the ceiling or not, he’d certainly have built his own image in his mind of what that would've looked like after thinking about it for so many years.

Which brings us to the brothers in the car. I love a good driving-the-Impala speech. This time around, it was something we’ve heard before; the brothers are better together, hanging together, working together, having each other’s back, it’s how they’ve got through and made it this far. They’re facing another horrifically difficult task and they need to face it together. Dean trusts that his brother can get it done, he has to, he needs to support him, like he said, it’s too important not too. As long as Sam’s sure he’s good, Dean will back his play.

[Cough cough blood].

To be honest, if I was Sam I’d probably sit on the coughing up blood thing until I knew if it was something ongoing. I don’t think I’d turn around to Dean and go, “Oh crap I’m coughing up blood!” So I’m giving Sammy a pass on not coming clean. I’d rather he didn't hide it, because they both know that lying and keeping secrets from each other, never goes well. They’ve both told whoppers, hidden huge secrets. When has that ever been a good thing? 

But, I totally understand why Sam doesn’t instantly want to tell Dean. If you’re not sure what it is, or how bad it is, don’t worry your loved one unnecessarily, especially after he’s just given you the… I trust and believe in you speech! Also, he doesn't want Dean to try to take over the trials, because that would just put Dean in harms way and who would wish that on their brother. But if it gets real bad, please tell him, if only to share your burden Sam, don’t shoulder it alone…hanging together is how you get through this…right? Anddddd somehow I ended up talking directly to Sam!

I really don’t want to get on the lies/angry response rollercoaster again. I’ve done that ride.

Look, like I said, this was not the best episode by any stretch of the imagination. Brad Buckner & Eugenie Ross-Leming are probably, no, are the weakest of the “Supernatural” writers. The secondary characters were pretty bland. There were moments in the script that made me frown and go, “huh?” Like Dean’s cat allergy…okay, sure, maybe it’s just never come up before, or he developed a cat allergy after the Veritas episode, or maybe we’ve just never seen him that close to cats before...but I'm stretching. I raised my eyebrows at how cool the brothers seemed with running into the bedroom to gank a chained up James. I thought the guy who played Spencer was simply awful and I had no interest in his war with James at the end. Dean would absolutely know what a familiar is, that was dumb and after saying Dean was a genius at lore the week before, well that was uneven writing. I don’t think either of the boys would’ve told Portia it was hot when she got upset with them, whether they thought it was hot or not. And if they used that witch killing spell of Bobby’s again, it would have been nice to reference the chicken's feet being chilled this time, for a bit of continuity. Actually, I think the show should just avoid witches from now on…

But, I think that scene where Portia comes into the motel as a dog and Sam rubs her belly and then tells Dean that she didn’t track any mud into the room is one of the funniest damn things! I’m sorry, maybe I have a 13-year-old boy’s sense of humour…or Dean Winchester’s sense of humour…but that was funny. 

And I didn't mind Dean’s rather awkward response to finding out that Portia and James were “intimate”. I love awkward Dean and I loved that Sam left him out in the wind. And the fact that Dean was pondering the ‘mechanics’ of James and Portia’s relationship. Well, of course he did. And Portia gave him nothing. Good for her. Dean was seriously cute… Though show, please stop using him for comic relief, he's smarter and better than that and he certainly would get, pretty quickly, what Portia was talking about when she said her and James were intimate. Come on. Dean is pretty cluey.

And did I mention how hot Dean looked. He was extra pretty or something, I dunno…and that scene where he’s walking down the stairs into the witch bar…the man has made me a legs gal (preferably bandy legs) and Jared’s throaty, chesty voice was kinda sexy…(hope he got better quick).

There you go. When it comes to this show, I simply adore it; I can’t help it. Even when it’s patchy and faulty, I can still find stuff to dig, if for no other reason than having the Winchester brothers on my screen. So yeah, regardless of the questionable hook and a sense that we took a step backwards in the characterisations of Sam and Dean, I found things to enjoy and think about in “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits” because it’s “Supernatural” and like I said, a not so great episode of “Supernatural” is still better than pretty much anything else on TV…for me anyways.

Thanks for reading.

sweetondean is Chief Editor and writer for The Winchester Family Business.

For all the latest Supernatural info and article links, follow The Winchester Family Business on Twitter at @WinFamBusiness

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