Oh, Supernatural, that’s more like it! After last week’s misstep, the show rebounds this week in ratings and quality with the excellent “Blood Brother.” I knew we would be in for a treat as soon as I realized the episode had a Ben Edlund script.
Edlund is an incredibly talented writer, and while he’s mostly known for his wonderfully wacky episodes, he is just as capable of writing textured dramatic stories. “Blood Brother” is one of his serious outings and beautifully constructed. I have to give director Guy Norman Bee props, too, for knowing how to let his actors tell the story as much with the look in their eyes as the words on the page. Kudos also to the actors, who capitalized on a stellar chance to dig deep and really communicate how their characters relate to the season’s theme of identity.
In this episode, the most obvious character struggling with identity is Benny, played by the talented Ty Olsson. We learn a lot about Benny’s backstory, which helps us to understand even more Dean’s bond with him. Benny is a conflicted vampire, struggling with his lost humanity well before meeting Dean in Purgatory. Like Sam, Benny tried on a new identity to gain love, swearing off hunting humans once he met the beautiful Andrea.
However, leaving his vampire family was easier said than done. Benny’s Maker has no intention of losing his children, keeping them segregated even from other vampires by sailing the high seas as vampirates. He dealt with Benny’s stab at reinvention by killing him, which gives Benny a goal now that he’s topside again: revenge.
But while revenge is a good tangible goal, Benny is not finding being back on earth an easy fit. He’s not human, but his lifestyle means he’s not really living as a vampire, either. He’s a creature between worlds, and as I like the character, I’m worried for him. My fear is Benny will eventually choose suicide by Dean as his way back to the simpler environment of Purgatory. And from what we know so far, that will devastate Dean.
I love the writers are presenting Dean and Benny’s bond as the real deal, rather than Ruby Redux. Unlike last week’s “Bitten,” I care about this monster—in fact, it feels wrong even writing that. I care about Benny. And I love that this distinction is going to be really explored in the show.
Sam and Dean are clearly going to be on separate pages about Dean’s new friend. In one way, that seems obvious. Dean held back on sharing about Benny, realizing Sam will be gobsmacked his brother seriously befriended a vampire of all monsters, given Dean’s feelings about being turned into a toothy fiend himself. Dean paid a huge price when he almost killed his family and finally convinced Lisa she could not be in a relationship with him. I think it will take Sam by surprise to realize his brother’s time in Purgatory changed Dean as much as Sam’s year of normality changed him.
No doubt Sam will also be huffy Dean is taking a chance on Benny, since he jumped all over Sam for doing the same with a demon. However, that position is pretty shaky for Sam. Dean was right about demons’ untrustworthiness and Meg notwithstanding, we haven’t seen anything to suggest there are any demons struggling with their humanity. Fun as Crowley is, he is not trustworthy.
Last season, Meg’s status as an ally was always problematic, as she was personally involved with Ellen and Jo’s death and has done nothing to show she regrets anything she’s done as a demon other than back the losing side. Demons appear to be a different order of being than Purgatory creatures.
Eve’s children do seem to have individuality of purpose. We’ve seen more than one example of a monster struggling with morality and identity, and Sam has always held the position that deeds make a creature evil, not species. I’m not sure how Sam will be able to argue Benny is inherently evil or untrustworthy, but I am sure he will view this new blood brother with great suspicion. My read on Sam is he has been imagining his independence from Dean, but not Dean’s independence from him. Dean’s focus on Sam has been something the younger Winchester has been able to take for granted his entire life.
How will Sam feel when he realizes Dean truly cares about Benny? He’s already faced Dean having a strong bond with Castiel, but as an angel, Castiel spends most of his time on a different plane of existence than the Winchesters. Sam has always been the centre of Dean’s focus. I think it will be really interesting to see if Sam is as certain he wants to gently shoo Dean out of his life if Dean has someone who can sit in Sam’s place in the Impala. When Dean had to partner with Garth, even a love potion didn’t stop Sam from dismissing Garth with a laugh. Benny won’t be so easily dismissed.
The flashbacks where we see Dean working out his relationships with Benny and Castiel have been enjoyable from the jump and are especially strong this episode. Dean did not immediately trust his new friend; clearly, that trust grew as Benny demonstrated what he is made of. Castiel had even less trust, but even he seems to realize Benny is not easily summed up when Benny rescues him from a Leviathan. And Dean, though tempered into a fighting machine, is as loyal and focused on his relationships in Purgatory as he was topside. I don’t know what happened with Castiel during the escape, but I’ve seen enough to know Dean did not lose his humanity in Purgatory, so much as his guilt and hopelessness. And that ain’t a bad thing.
Sam’s flashbacks for me have not been as successful to date. I didn’t care for Amelia’s introduction, as she seemed nasty and manipulative to Sam, not sassy if sassy was indeed the intention. The last flashback this episode finally made her somewhat more relatable, but I am not yet on the Amelia love train. The story is telling me Sam loved spending time with her, but I’m not sure I will. I’m also waiting to see why we got the Disney special picnic flashback a couple of episodes ago, which seemed so unbelievable on every level. Hopefully, perception will be crucial to this story and we’re not to take it at face value.
However, the biggest issue for me is the flashbacks are concentrating on setting up Amelia and Sam’s common bond as sharing loss, and I don’t yet understand how Sam reacted to Dean’s loss. I want to know more about that, not more about Amelia. Sam seems to have reverted to season one Sam or perhaps more accurately for me, “What Is and What Should Never Be” Sam—and I didn’t care for that Sam.
I thought Kripke very nicely showed in that episode Sam and Dean may be different, but they bring out the best in each other. Taking away their shared experiences, awful as they were, resulted in a Sam with nothing to temper his tendency to arrogance and being judgmental, and a Dean who had nothing worthwhile at which to aim his need for adrenaline, resulting in addiction and ruined relationships. The life Sam and Dean live may be awful, but they are more suited to living it than to cruising through life collecting fancy cars or other people’s girlfriends.
But that may well be the trajectory of Sam’s arc—realizing who he really is, not what he’s held out as his ideal. Perhaps his memories of Amelia are so unrealistic for a reason—real life for Sam has always been Disneyfied. He was more interested in sharing a picture perfect Thanksgiving as a boy than sharing the occasion with someone he liked. I’m still very much along for the ride for everyone’s story this season. I don’t understand Sam yet, but perhaps he doesn’t understand himself yet.
“Blood Brother” is enjoyable on every level, helping the season recover the steam it’s had since Dean landed in Purgatory. Benny is a great addition to the story and I really hope we keep him around for a while.