Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 5 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "Blood Brother."
After two weeks of standalone "Supernatural" episodes, it was good to get back into the meat of Season 8's mytharc again, and with an episode written by the incomparable Ben Edlund, we knew we'd be getting a story full of wit, heart and believable character beats.
While I was initially dubious about a story focused on Benny so early in the year, it was a wise decision for the writers to enlighten us about his motivations and why Dean is so loyal to him before we get too deep into the season. I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop in regards to Benny's true motives, but after watching "Blood Brother" and talking to Ty Olsson about what's ahead for the character, I'm actually feeling vaguely optimistic that perhaps he isn't just Dean's version of Ruby or Meg, willing to sell him out when a better offer comes along.
One of Dean's most endearing traits is his loyalty, both to his family and to the few friends he's been able to make over the years (all of whom, as Sam pointed out, are now tragically dead), and after seeing how nihilistic and emotionally shattered he was last season after losing Bobby and Castiel, it would be nice to think that the poor guy might be able to regain some equilibrium and find another person whom he can trust to have his back, since as far as Dean knows right now, Castiel and Bobby are gone for good.
From early in Season 1 (the fantastic "Scarecrow") we were shown that Sam was the one who could instantly relate to anyone, with his puppy eyes and "aw shucks" demeanor, whereas Dean's bluntness tended to put people off. Those traits have seemed to endure throughout the show's run; unless Dean is seducing a woman, it's usually Sam who is sent in to play good cop to victims or to charm witnesses with his dimples, and that has always struck me as tragic, since Dean seems to be the one who desperately craves human connection -- mostly because he hasn't really had it outside of his insular hunting family. Sam at least got to experience college and friends and Jessica, but the only normalcy Dean has ever known has been the family business, and even when he tried to quit and live with Ben and Lisa, he was still looking over his shoulder for the next evil thing waiting to attack. After all, the dude was desperate to befriend Gordon Walker just to fill the hole his father left, at least before the other hunter turned into a Sam-hating psycho.
Thus, if someone gives Dean enough reasons to believe in them, he's prepared to go to hell and back for them, as evidenced by his determined search through Purgatory for Cas and his loyalty towards Benny in this episode.
Considering the morally dubious way Benny was introduced to us in the season premiere, having forsaken his own kind just for the chance to hitch a ride out of Purgatory, it was good to see that Dean was still suspicious of his motives during the flashbacks in this episode. We saw him ragging on Benny for failing to understand the value of human life, and snapping at the vampire when he continued to suggest that they should leave Castiel behind, so even if we weren't able to see much of Purgatory in one 42-minute episode, I feel as though that trust between them was hard-won, and therefore a little more believable.
I also think that Dean has probably been on a knife's edge since they escaped, waiting for Benny to slip up and kill someone, and had that been the case in "Blood Brother," Dean still would've done what needed to be done and taken Benny out, given the resigned way he asked "what did you do?" during the vampire's initial call for help.
Though the writers have played a little fast and loose with Sam and Dean's justifications in the past, it still seems like both brothers are willing to kill a monster as soon as it actually kills a human, unless said monster is too powerful to destroy (as was the case with James Marsters and Charisma Carpenter's witches last season). Side-note: I think that's somewhat of a cop-out, given the powerful angels, demons and Lucifer that the boys have managed to take out in the past, but I think that if Dean knew Benny was a threat to anyone, he'd have stepped up to the plate himself or asked Sam to do it for him. That Benny proved himself to once again be trustworthy, only taking out other vampires in this episode, likely solidified their bond.
While Benny forsaking his bloodlust for love seemed a little trite on the surface, in the capable hands of Edlund and given Olsson's understated performance, it still felt believable, and Benny recognizing Andrea's monstrosity helped emphasize his own humanity. The vampirates were an unsurprisingly genius touch from Edlund, and I'm glad that they weren't portrayed as too campy or Jack Sparrow-esque -- snobby, yachting vampires were a hilarious twist, but the fact that they were played straight instead of as winking caricatures meant that the episode didn't feel silly, despite the surreal concept.
I also enjoyed the fact that Benny's relationship with his monotonous maker shared plenty of parallels with Sam, Dean and Castiel's own journeys -- Sam and Castiel's rebellion against their father-figures and their desire for free will seemed mirrored in Benny's decisions, while the vampire's nihilistic outlook after losing Andrea was eerily reminiscent of Dean's own defeated mood last season.
I was equally engaged by all of the episode's story threads, both flashbacks and present, and it was good to finally see Amelia showing some personality and a little humor this week. She didn't come across as particularly sympathetic in her first meeting with Sam, which was a risky strategy on the writers' part, but her suspicion -- and then grudging empathy -- made her endearing this week. I wouldn't blame any woman for being suspicious of a drifter handyman white supremacist serial killer who buys his clothes at Army Surplus and has sideburns, but that ol' Winchester charm always wins out in the end, and I'm looking forward to learning more of her secrets and why she felt like she was going nowhere when she first met Sam.
Dean's storyline was spectacularly active (and full of vampire ass-kicking) this week, while Sam's was more passive, but we've had a few seasons of Sam's issues driving the mythology (dead girlfriend in Season 1, visions in Season 2, his demon blood addiction in equal balance to Dean's time in hell in Season 4, his destiny as Lucifer's vessel in Season 5 and his lost soul in Season 6) so I don't think the fact that Dean's time in Purgatory is driving the mythology in the early part of the season is a bad thing. Sometimes one brother plays more of a supporting role, or their plot is more emotionally-driven than action-driven, but the writers have always done a fairly good job of balancing the two, so that's not a cause for concern for me. Fans might think that Sam's emotionally-driven storyline is boring, I suppose, but that's a different issue, and I don't feel like either Winchester was being short-changed in terms of character development this week.
For my part, I like seeing Sam fixing things around the motel, being domesticated and interacting with normal folks, since it's something that has always brought him obvious satisfaction; he easily connected with Everett, while Amelia had spent three months at the motel and still hadn't bothered to learn the owner's son's name. This episode also seemed to illustrate, for perhaps the first time this season, how Sam is slowly being drawn back into the hunting life despite himself. His first instinct upon hearing a strange noise in the motel room was to go into fight mode, and he was suitably infuriated (and obviously worried about his brother) upon hearing that Dean had gone into a vampire nest without him. You can take the guy out of the hunt ...
Since this was an Edlund script, there were also a number of beautifully subtle character moments, like Sam realizing that Benny's hand was unnaturally cold and starting to reach for his weapon before a discreet head-shake from Dean stopped him from drawing. Likewise, I loved Dean predicting that Sam would keep bitching at him for going off alone and using that loud noise from the speakerphone to distract a vampire and allow Dean to behead him; that additional attention to detail always makes Ben Edlund's episodes a joy to watch. And when paired with a confident director like Guy Bee, who shoots action so beautifully and knows exactly how to make a script even more engaging, you get one of the strongest episodes of the season to date. Perhaps even the strongest?
I only have two complaints: One, that we have to wait until next week to see Sam and Dean's awkward talk, and two, that I'm missing Castiel. Misha Collins always makes his scenes count, even when they're brief, and Edlund still gave the angel some great lines, but -- as awesome as those Terminator-esque Leviathan were, and as much as I enjoyed Benny and Castiel snarking at each other while Dean rolled his eyes at them both -- I'm still itching to see our favorite little nerdy dude with wings in the present-day storyline. Aside from that, I've already watched the episode twice and would happily sit through it again, which I haven't been able to say about many episodes over the past two years.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
What did you think of Benny's backstory? Do you find him trustworthy, or were you hoping for more emphasis on Sam and Dean? Weigh in below!