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.Powered by Sidelines