Summary : "Bloodlines" is quite a departure for Supernatural.
Supernatural’s “Bloodlines” is definitely a departure from its parent show. In a recent interview, director Robert Singer said that the episode “introduces a dramatic Dallas-like vibe and even a Mob mentality to the Supernatural landscape.” I can somewhat see the supposed allure of putting that sort of twist on the show’s universe, but I wish a little more emphasis had been given to the would-be show’s heart.
Andrew Dabb wrote the backdoor pilot, and he’s penned fantastic Supernatural episodes, including “Road Trip” (9×10) and “Hunteri Heroici” (8×8). As he has in the past, Dabb imbues “Bloodlines” with snappy dialogue and employs the parallels and mirrors that have proliferated season nine. The episode still falls short, though.
The premise of “Bloodlines” has little to do with the Winchesters or the Supernatural landscape we’re used to. Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) are in the episode for maybe 15 minutes, though that’s not even my main complaint. I usually enjoy episodes that take risks with framing and perspective. I like “Bitten” (8×4) because the brief glimpses of the Winchesters show the brothers from an outsider’s point of view. Last week’s “Alex Annie Alexis Anne” avoids the “brothers bookend” by framing the episode with interactions between Jody Mills and Alex that, consequently, present Dean and Sam from a different angle. In this episode, however, neither Winchester is well-utilized, and it’s easy to forget that this is Supernatural until Ackles and/or Padalecki pop up. Maybe that disconnect is intended since this is a backdoor pilot, but as an invested viewer, I simply feel cheated of 42 minutes of season nine storytelling time.
In “Bloodlines,” Ennis Roth (Lucien Laviscount) takes his girlfriend since fifth grade, Tamara (Erinn Westbrook), on a romantic date at a fancy restaurant, Il Secundo, where Sal Lassiter (Bryce Johnson) and his buddies are joining the party happening in the Very Important Monsters room. Shapeshifter Sal tussles briefly with nemesis werewolf Julian Duval (Sean Faris). As they walk away from their argument, the lights go out and something attacks the monsters in attendance.
Meanwhile, Ennis and Tam have left the restaurant, and are at the conveniently nearby ferry station, where Ennis is trying to propose. An injured Sal comes near, collapses, and the attacker attacks again, throwing Tam against corrugated metal, killing her. Sal’s last words are, “David, I’m sorry. I didn’t have a choice.” Post-title card, we see David Lassiter (Nathaniel Buzolic) breaking into his professor’s office by posing as said professor and stealing the final exam. A phone call from his sister Margot (Danielle Savre) informs him about Sal’s death, and he goes home.
Broken-hearted Ennis is debriefing at the police station when FBI agents – Dean and Sam, finally! – show up. They listen to his story about the attacker that Ennis is sure wasn’t human. Dean’s response? “I don’t know what to tell you, kid. There’s no such thing as monsters.” This is definitely a shift from the Dean in “Nightshifter” (2×12) who didn’t want Sam to lie to Ronald about the “mandroid.”
Margot is angling for war with the werewolves, whom she blames for Sal’s death. She taunts David with his ex’s impeding marriage; Violet Duval (Melissa Roxburgh) is set to marry a New York wolf. In one of the more noticeable echoes in the episode, David tells Margo, “I’m not saying don’t fight. I’m saying be smart about this.” I immediately thought of Sam stopping Dean from killing Samuel Campbell with, “I’m not saying don’t. I’m saying not yet” (6×16).
The episode moves from the Lassiter family dynamics to the Duvals – and, oh my. Julian actually tells his sister, “You’re the bitch in this pack, princess. Your job is to be pretty and silent. So, war? No war? You don’t get a vote.” Do I even need to say why these lines are problematic? I surely hope not. (By the way, notice that we’re not even 15 minutes into the episode yet.)
Back to Ennis, who’s actually a rather interesting character. His deceased father is a veteran, and when going through his things, Ennis finds a silver bullet carved with Xs. Coincidence? I think not. Once prepared, Ennis breaks into Il Secundo, where Maurice, a vampire, smells him and attacks. (I’m not supposed to laugh when Maurice pops his fangs, am I?) The Winchesters burst onto the scene, and Dean tells Ennis to leave. When he won’t, Dean says, “Alright, Sammy, give him the talk.” Sam gives the super-condensed version, bottom-lining with, “Basically, we chase down evil and cut its head off.” The conversations between Sam and Ennis point back to larger season nine issues, and this one is an example of that as Sam says, “I get it. Believe me – I’ve been there. But what we do, it’s messed up. So do yourself a favor and stay out.” Of course, Ennis doesn’t listen.
At home, Ennis is researching Sal when Freddie Kosta (Stephen Martines), the cop who interrogated him, shows up. Now alert to the world of monsters, after he picks up on odd behaviors from Kosta, Ennis uses his cell phone to confirm that he is, in fact, not human. Ennis pulls a gun loaded with the lone silver bullet he’d discovered, and Kosta morphs into David, who explains, “I’m a shapeshifter. We shift our shape – It’s kind of all there in the name.”
And about the shifting: In “Nightshifter” (and other shapeshifter episodes), shifters leave a mess of sloughed skin and yuckiness behind when they transform. The alpha shifter in “Two and a Half Men” (6×2) transforms cleanly, but he’s the alpha; the baby in the same episode transforms in an explosion of skin and goo. In addition, shfiters take on the appearance of others, so who is David Lassiter – that is, whose appearance has he taken on? Are there canon loopholes being exploited here or is canon simply being sloughed off like shifter skin?
After David escapes from Ennis, we have a brief moment of Dean and Sam talking while leaning against the Impala, right outside the Duval grounds. David has infiltrated the estate by taking the butler’s form; Violet recognizes him and calls him out. David wants Violet to persuade Julian to talk to Margot in order to avoid the imminent war between the families. (Got all that? I didn’t until my rewatch.) Their conversation devolves into a private moment that exposes their star-crossed romance and gives us another undeniable dialogue echo when David says to Violet, “I was there. Where were you?” Dean says these same lines to Castiel in “The Man Who Would Be King” (6×20). David replicating the famous single-Ackles-tear drives the scene home.
Though David and Violet have a relationship that apparently runs deep, Violet sees them both as misfits, and she voices that in a way that I find disturbing: “You’re a runaway. And I’m a bitch. We don’t matter.” Their tête-à-tête is interrupted by an attack of the “monster” that killed Sal. (How did he get past security and climb on top of the house?) Ennis has also managed to sneak onto the estate without alerting the Duvals or the Winchesters, but when shots ring out, Dean and Sam come running. The monster takes Violet, and the Winchesters round up Ennis and David and swiftly exit the scene. During the ensuing car ride, David explains that five monster families run Chicago (ghouls, djinn, werewolves, shapeshifters, and vampires). The Winchesters and Ennis work with David to find the attacker and Violet. Ennis protests against working with the “transformer.” Dean explains, tellingly, “Sometimes you’ve gotta work with the bad guys to get to the worst guys.”
While the rescue mission’s underway, we see Violet restrained in a lair. During the villain’s helpful exposition, we learn that he’s trying to start a war between “freaks” as revenge for the death of his son, who’s memorialized in a hunter’s wall of photographs and newspaper articles. Similar to “#THINMAN” (9×15) the “monster” in this episode is a human, who says, “I’m just a man with some fun little toys.”
As the Winchesters & company divide up to search the tunnels, Dean tells David, “You’re with me, Romeo.” I laughed when David retorts, “Sounds good, Buffy.” The expression on Sam’s face in that scene is priceless.
Moments later, David and Dean are separated, and the former’s taken captive too. When David’s threatened, Violet wolfs out and attacks the human. (Did anyone else laugh when she launched into the air?) However, David talks her down from killing him, which is perhaps foreshadowing for what will happen at some point with Mark-of-Cain-Dean. By this time, the Winchesters and Ennis have found the lair, and the human/monster apologizes to Ennis about his “girl,” saying “she was in the way.” Ennis declares, “I only see one monster here,” and shoots the guy, which breaks the “we don’t kill humans” code Supernatural has revolved around, with very few exceptions, for nearly a decade.
After the anticlimactic climax, David walks Violet home, and we get a flashback revealing why Violet stood David up. Sal is the one who thwarted their rendezvous, telling Violet that her relationship with David would lead to in-fighting and death between the families. Sal initially speaks under the guise of protecting his brother, but he also threatens Violet with death if she doesn’t comply. She doesn’t tell David any of this, not even when he’s trying to figure out what Sal’s last words meant. Violet’s silence at least somewhat works as an illustration of Karen Singer’s advice to Dean about protecting those you love (5×15). Violet kisses David, showing that this Romeo and Juliet story isn’t over yet. David goes home and talks to his ailing father, who tells him, “Your sister – she wants war. You have to stop her.” David obligingly tells Margot he wants back in, and by the look on her face, there will be an ongoing power struggle between the siblings.
The Winchesters drop Ennis off at home, and Sam is talking to the younger man when Dean’s phone rings. The elder Winchester steps away and speaks briefly. We only hear one side of the conversation, which ends with Dean stating, “We’re on our way.” He gets Sam’s attention, but his brother is shocked that Dean wants to leave while Chicago is crawling with monsters.
Dean, however, is in full-on business-mode, and Ackles plays him in this scene with an intensity and urgency: The Winchesters are leaving and they’re leaving now. As Dean explains to Sam, “Cas has a line on Metatron. This is our shot.” Sam looks like he wants to argue, but he doesn’t. He assures Ennis that he’ll call in other hunters and that the young man should stay away from it: “Ennis, Seriously. Don’t. You get into this too deep, there’s no getting out.” Dean’s anxiously waiting to get in the Impala, but the expression on his face shows that he hears Sam’s words and their loaded message loud and clear. The two get into the Impala and leave.
The very last scene is Ennis back in the lair of the human he killed, pondering events via a voice-over that reminds me of Sarah Connor’s narration at the end of Terminator. He fiddles with Tamara’s unused engagement ring, which he’s wearing on a chain around his neck, as he reads the wall of articles. His cell phone rings, and in a so-obvious-it-hurts parallel, his dad’s on the phone: “If you start hunting, the monsters will kill you.”
And that’s it. That’s the show.
I think that “Bloodlines” has potential, but this initial episode doesn’t work for me. It’s overloaded with characters, many of whom die: Of the six named characters (Ennis, Tamara, Sal, Mindy, Julian, Maurice) introduced in the opening sequence, half are dead within five minutes; Dean beheads Maurice 11 minutes later. It’s a busy episode, with so much happening that I don’t feel invested in any of the characters, including the Winchesters. And the funny moments – and there are some great moments of Dabb’s brilliant dialogue – are too quick to be enjoyed, which is unfortunate. For example, we get a brief glimpse of Dean’s legendary smart-assery when he’s posing as an FBI agent and dismisses the real Kosta with, “I could go into detail. But I’m not going to.” But the scene progresses with little to no time for reaction from Sam or Ennis or even Kosta (and I feel sure the dismissed cop would react).
My favorite scene is at the end with Dean, Sam, and Ennis: The phone call from Cas is finally a direct tie into the world of Supernatural as we know it. But I practically giggle when Dean says Metatron’s name because it seems so incongruous to the “Bloodlines” setting. I think it’s a bad thing if disbelief can’t be suspended between locales supposedly in the same universe. Perhaps I’d be more receptive to “Bloodlines” if it weren’t in the #20 slot of a 23-episode season that’s had too many uneven MOTW episodes. It also doesn’t help that in an internal and character-driven season that’s left us all knee-deep in the turmoil of beloved characters, we’re being asked to care about so many new characters so quickly. There’s a lot of caricaturizing going on, too.
I’ll likely give Supernatural: Bloodlines a chance if the series is picked up, but in terms of “Bloodlines” as an episode of Supernatural’s ninth season? Sadly, it’s one of my least favorite episodes of the season, despite the excellent Dabbian dialogue. The bright side? Now it’s time for the myth arc and the final three ass-kicking episodes of the season. According to the preview, “King of the Damned” is all about Sam, Dean, Cas, Abaddon, and more. Supernatural airs on Tuesdays at 9 pm EST on the CW network.
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