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TV Review: Supernatural – “Bitten”

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This week’s Supernatural was one of the show’s periodic experimental episodes where the writers play with form as a way to tell the Winchesters’ story. Historically, I adore these kinds of episodes. “Ghostfacers,” “Changing Channels,” “Mystery Spot,”” The French Mistake” – sign me up. I’ve also enjoyed Robbie Thompson’s scripts; he’s a great addition to the writing room. But he’s no Ben Edlund, as it turns out. To my surprise, I thoroughly dislike “Bitten” in every way possible. I dislike it more than “Route 666,” and that episode is a stinker. At least it was a stinker which added some valuable details about the Winchesters’ back story.

“Bitten” has no redeeming features I can see. First off, the “found-footage” technique is no longer groundbreaking. It can be an excellent storytelling method, but there needs to be a reason why it is the best technique. I see little value in using it just to use it. Changing form for the sake of changing form is not strong story telling. I watch Supernatural to follow the Winchesters’ story. So my question is: why use found footage to follow these college kids’ story with the Winchesters doing occasional walk-ons?

A compelling answer would be that it allows us to get another perspective on Sam and Dean and what’s going on right now in their story. In “Ghostfacers,” I loved the way we got to see the brothers from an outside perspective. Usually we see the story from their point of view, so seeing it from the eyes of the Ghostfacers allowed Edlund to show how it might actually feel to meet Sam and Dean if you had no knowledge of their backstory and were not plugged in to their point of view. And that’s interesting.

At the same time, though, Sam and Dean’s first entrance into the documentary is arguing about why they would be at this house when Dean has only a few months left.  Edlund clearly shows us he’s still telling Sam and Dean’s story.  Form does not trump content, it informs content.

Edlund used the form to have some metafun with the story—we got to laugh at Dean’s foul mouth, knowing this is exactly how Dean would talk if he were not part of a network, as opposed to cable, show. There was some wonderful dialogue about how seeing the world through a camera lens distances us and allows us to construct our own “reality.” But at the same time, the main storyline was served as we got to see how frustrated Sam was with Dean’s attitude toward his impending death. And Sam’s inability to save Corbett served as foreshadowing for (spoiler alert!) the dark end to Dean’s story that season.

Edlund always writes stories with multiple layers which all play well together. Not only did his documentary style allow us to get another perspective on the Winchesters, the footage also tells the stories of the Ghostfacers, allowing us to discover the real friendships that bind them together and in Corbett’s case, the love he feels for Ed. And that love story is told matter of factly, with no preciousness about being ground breaking. It simply unfolds along with the other elements of the story, eventually saving all our heroes except Corbett himself.

To my eyes, “Bitten” fails to deliver on any of these kinds of layers. I was not intrigued with the college kids we saw through the camera lens. They were not engaging and I didn’t get caught up in their stories. I was able to predict how the friendships/love stories were going to go, particularly as we started at the end of the story. I figured out a werewolf was involved immediately. I wasn’t frightened or on the edge of my seat. Instead, I was glancing at my watch, unable to believe how long this episode was taking to be over. I have never felt like that during a Supernatural episode. Ever.

Even though I wasn’t intrigued with the college kids themselves, there was the possibility I could love the episode for what it showed me about Sam and Dean. But “Bitten” fails to deliver there, too. We’ve seen Sam and Dean from an outside perspective before, done well, so the writing has to do more than just show me them walking through a scene to be interesting. I want to find out more about what’s up with them and now is a particularly difficult and nuanced time in the brothers’ relationship. Seeing them through a dispassionate lens should have given us an interesting perspective on both boys.

However, I didn’t notice anything relevant to where we are with Sam and Dean’s stories. Thompson uses his found-footage technique to make a tired Wincest joke, which besides having been done many times before in ways that were actually amusing, doesn’t fit with this current story line at all. The set-up this season is that Sam and Dean are most definitely not a committed couple. Sam has moved on from needing Dean and now views him as emblematic of what he does not want in his life. He’s hunting with his brother reluctantly, because he feels guilty.

Dean in turn knows his relationship with his brother is off. He is surprised and hurt that Sam apparently moved on without feeling a need to save him. The elder Winchester understood last episode that Sam was trying to tell him he doesn’t need Dean—a nightmare of Dean’s the demon picked up on season one when he told Dean everyone he loved would leave him because they don’t feel about him the way he feels about them. However, Dean has no intention of addressing his or Sam’s feelings because of where it all might lead.

This is all complicated and disturbing and something I very much want to know more about. I don’t believe for a minute Sam and Dean spent their lunch hour sharing their feelings in a way that would lead outsiders to assume they are a couple. That’s lazy storytelling, relying on a weak joke instead of nuance.

There’s still the possibility the college kids are metaphors for Sam and Dean on a larger scale. And again, this aspect does not work for me. I don’t think it’s even clear which kid would relate to which Winchester. The best guess for me is Brian is supposed to stand in for Dean, because he’s attracted to rather than afraid of the power of the beast. However, Dean is much more nuanced than this. He is not Dexter, a killer who finds a lifestyle that lets him indulge his need for violence and power.

The story so far has Dean being able to see the big picture of why violence is necessary and being able to make the tough kills. There are complicating layers in that Dean does love the adrenaline of his life, he spent the last year in a war zone and now he is suffering from PTSD. He’s also the guy who was tortured in Hell to the point he finally accepted being the torturer—but I never gathered we were supposed to think that was because he secretly felt he was a beta male and lusted for power. I think the torture was supposed to have been of such magnitude it broke even Dean, who held out longer than most would. I’m not even sure we were supposed to believe Alastair when he told Dean his father had not broken. The first seal was always meant for Dean.

I don’t think Mike as Sam holds up, either. Michael does fear the power he has and clearly sees why it is far from a good thing. Sam in season four was attracted to the dark power within, which helped Ruby manipulate him into using it for darker and darker purposes. Sam was addicted to the rush he got from demon blood. Any parallel here with Mike is very weak. Sam probably has a stronger parallel to Brian in some ways, as Brian also feels the rush of power. But Sam’s relationship to his demon blood is so different in nature from Brian’s attraction to being the alpha male, that parallel just doesn’t stand up. I didn’t feel I learned anything new about the Winchesters by watching Michael and Brian.

I also didn’t think Kate’s fate showed any progression on Dean’s part from the Amy storyline last year. Letting Kate go was consistent with letting Amy’s son go. Neither had killed yet, therefore by Dean’s code he has no sanction to kill them and he didn’t want to kill them. Come to that, he didn’t want to kill Amy. He just accepted the need. Again, Dean is not Dexter. What is surprising about the Kate situation is that Dean and Sam are so easily on the same page. If Thompson goes to the trouble of setting up a decision like this, to fit with the current arc, Sam and Dean should have had different perspectives they had trouble communicating to the other one. Otherwise, why bother setting it up?

Obviously, the episode was a bust for me. I felt I wasted an hour where I learned nothing new about Sam and Dean, was not entertained by the case and not interested in the new lead characters. I think putting this episode in at this stage of the season was a big mistake. Supernatural has a great deal of momentum built from the intriguing Purgatory set up in last year’s finale and the added energy of the new night with a hit lead-in. Last night’s episode is not going to hook potential new viewers into the Winchesters’ story. And that’s a shame.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • skoobie79

    What a fantastic, detailed review! Hit all the nails on their heads – the film format, the lazy writing, that lame Wincest joke, the zero emotional punch of either Sam & Dean’s story, or the 3 students’. I cannot agree more with you about looking at the clock for it to end (never before in my seven year history with SPN since ep 1), and I lost that battle and bailed after about 20 min.

    I’m still reeling from the shock of disliking an SPN ep so viscerally. Part of it was my motion sickness – the found footage business was terribly exaggerated, even the cheapest cellphone cameras are not jerky like this now, but mostly it was the atrocious storytelling and the lacklustre cast that made this just a shabby home video. A total waste of the momentum built up this season.

  • Gerry

    Hi Skoobie, thanks for your comment. I’m reeling myself from how much I disliked the episode. I’ve always liked the experimental episodes. As I think over the ep, I think one problem is it is basically an episode of “Being Human” made with generic actors rather than an episode of Supernatural. Robbie Robertson has to figure out how to push the boundaries while still staying in Supernatural’s world.

  • Emma

    the episode was written by Robbie Thompson, not Robbie Robertson, you may want to change that in your review.

  • Judy

    Totally agree. First time in 7+ years I turned off an episode after 25 minutes. Hated the filming hated the other characters lol. But hey I figure there’s always one I won’t like.

  • Gerry

    Emma, you are so right! Aack–I’ll get right on that.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    writer’s name has been corrected

  • Gerry

    Thank you!

  • Nate

    Wow, first review of yours I have read, and I disagree with everything you said. I thought this was an excellent hour of television. Supernatural does “out of the box” episodes so well. I will provide my more detailed comments later, but I could not disagree more with this review.

  • Gerry

    Hi Nate, free to disagree–I love discussion! We can already find some common ground in that I agree that Supernatural usually does out of the box really well. Just not this time. (-:

  • Maggiemae

    Utterly awful and absurdly borung

  • Nita

    This is the worst Supernatural episode ever. Boring, boring, boring. For a few minutes I thought that perhaps the original Bitten had got destroyed by mistake and at the last minute the Jeremy Carver rustled up something to fill in the time slot. I thought, how can the other team members be okay with this? Surely they should have worked overtime to fix the problem, and re-shoot the original? Anyway my disbelief turned to contempt. That is what I feel towards these makers now.

  • Michael Pendragon

    IMHO last week’s Heartache was one of the worst Supernatural episodes ever. Bitten, otoh, was a masterpiece.

    Bitten captured the essence of what Supernatural is about (when it’s at its best): the supernatural. The college kids seemed real, their gradual awakening to the fact that Mike had become a werewolf was real. And their reaction to it was tragic in the truest sense of the word.

    Heartache, otoh, threw all believability out the window. One of the organ-recipient-monsters actually paused in mid-punch to introduce himself to Dean (“I’m the guy from Phoenix you were looking for”). And he had no way of knowing that Dean had been looking for him. Then he and the chubby jogger-recipient-monster held Dean down while Randa straddled him cowgirl style … and told him her life story in monologue. And if that weren’t bad enough, all three of the organ-recipient-monsters were blindly ignoring the 250 lb moose in the room!

    And let’s not even get into the campy silliness of the concept of an auction attended by gods, angels, and demons the week before that.

    The story of Bitten appears to foreshadow the coming episodes and the role that Benny will play in them. Dean allowed Kate to go free just as he helped Benny to escape from Purgatory (both contingent on their not becoming killers).

    And it brings up some very thorny issues: Kate hasn’t killed yet … at least not anyone who was human. Kate’s killing a werewolf would make her no different from a hunter. A good hunter.

    Sam and Dean, otoh, haven’t always been good hunters (good as in doing what is right). They’ve killed people. Intentionally. As collateral damage to serve their own ends. In What’s Up Tiger Mommy? they murdered three demon-possessed humans on the grounds that exorcising the demons from them would have allowed the demons to report to Crowley.

    And that’s just one example of many.

    Have Sam and Dean become more monstrous than some monsters (like Kate)?

    Here’s hoping that Supernatural is moving to more realistic, thought-provoking episodes like last night’s and as far away as possible from the joking, campy, monologuing monsters of episodes 8.2 and 8.3.

  • username

    I think there was a meaning behind this form of storytelling. It allowed us a better glimpse into how innocent people can get turned into monsters. I think Dean’s time with Benny showed him that not all monsters were bad. That most didn’t ask to become monsters. So when Dean chooses to not chase after the girl in the end, it shows a shift in his perspective, that he can sympathize better now, unlike when he killed the kitsune. Overall, I think this episode tried to show a civilian’s story about becoming a monster on a much more personal level, and tried to get us to sympathize with the other parts of the supernatural world that aren’t as highlighted in the show. It had to take the whole episode to get us to sympathize with the characters, so that when Dean chooses to let the girl go, we can somehow relate to his decision (after becoming buds with a vampire). He’s not about to hunt a monster that hasn’t harmed anyone innocent. I think maybe somehow the college kids story ‘ is somehow symbolic of Dean and Sam’s supernatural world, or may be foreshadowing something (whether symbolically or what) in the future.

  • aurens66

    Thanks for the great review, I have to agree with you here, a non Sam and Dean centric episode can work if it is writing that shows us another side of the characters or relates to the overall story arc. I thought perhaps they might go with ‘Sam and Dean as the enemy/monsters, but this theme was never developed. The ‘kids’ were not very remarkable, their love triangle was tepid and their acting towards the end was cringeworthy. I have to say, a few seconds of Benny and Dean in the impala in the teaser for next week was more enjoyable than this hour of filler.

  • Gerry

    Hi Michael, username and aurens66–thank you all for your thoughtful comments! Supernatural is a layered show, so it’s not surprising there are many viewpoints. Discussion about them is always welcome.

    Michael, I don’t disagree that Heartless had some plot issues. In my review, I said it was a pedestrian MOTW plot elevated by Jensen’s directing (which I thought was excellent) and the brother moments, which worked very well for me. To me the essence of Supernatural is the brothers’ journey, showing the human cost of a heroic narrative. Sam and Dean have had to accept collateral damage in their quest to save the larger community. What keeps them sympathetic is their own loved ones are part of that collateral damage. They may save the world, but they can’t save anyone they love. And yet they keep on going.

    With that in mind, I didn’t find Kate to be a compelling figure making me doubt the boys’ morality. I found it completely consistent with Dean’s code that he let her go. It was the same decision he made in Girl Next Door when he let Amy’s son go. He hadn’t killed yet. I was unsurprised Dean and Sam were on the same page and won’t be surprised if he applies the same logic to Benny. The situation with Benny will get sticky if it’s no longer clear Benny is choosing not to kill. That could have been an area they explored more with Amy. A possible point of contention that carries some weight would have been whether to trail her until the full moon, since it is so very unlikely she will resist her werewolf nature. She showed all episode she is ruled by emotions, not a moral code. Her response to her boyfriend killing and eating someone was to find a way to excuse it because of her emotions. I see little reason to think she’ll rule her animal emotions when they surface. So, should giving her a chance mean they wait until she kills someone before taking action? They didn’t make that decision with Madison and they were right. I’d have liked to have seen the boys argue about that, since the current arc is all about their differing perspectives.

    So that aspect missed the mark with me, as did making larger parallels to Sam and Dean or Lord of the Flies. Dean has nothing to do with Piggy and if he is worried about how Purgatory has changed him, it’s not because he’s a beta male who used Purgatory to prove his masculinity. The analogies were weak and undeveloped.

    I don’t mind risk taking on Supernatural–and I usually love these kinds of episodes. This one just felt more like a poor episode of “Being Human” than an interesting one of Supernatural.

  • Gerry

    Sorry, I meant “Kate” instead of “Amy” in “That could have been an area they explored more with Amy.” I must lacking coffee, sleep or both (-:

  • Mary

    Worst episode ever.

  • TK

    One word: allegory.
    Two words: poorly executed
    Three Words: WORST episode ever

  • Isabella

    If I wanted to watch jerky student films, I would watch student films. I thought I would be watching a polished, professional SPN episode essentially about the Winchesters, as usual, and instead I got a piece of crap not worthy of the Supernatural imprimatur. What a waste of time. Can’t imagine how the producers got talked into doing it. It only served to damage the Supernatural franchise and made me wonder if this was a sign of (awful) things to come. I truly hope this is not an omen of another awful season like the last one. I thought this was the year that SPN was supposed to get back to its roots of solid story-telling about The Boys. I’m hungry for details about Dean’s year in purgatory but instead I get a place-marker that really has nothing to do with Sam or Dean.

    It occurred to me well before the halfway point that this might be a way to introduce a new series about whichever werewolf survived the hour. I really hope that’s not the case because a) what a lousy series that would be and 2) I really don’t want to think that SPN would whore itself out like that.

  • JaneWinchester

    Agreed, it’s 1st episode I truly disliked,… some have been weaker than others, but this one was just dissapointing.