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TV Review: ‘Supernatural’ – “Bloodlines”

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” (9x10) and “Hunteri Heroici” (8x8). As he has in the past, Dabb imbues “Bloodlines” with snappy dialogue and…

Review Overview

Reviewer's Rating

Summary : "Bloodlines" is quite a departure for Supernatural.

User Rating: 1.61 ( 7 votes)
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spn 9x20-4Supernatural’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.

spn 9x20-2In “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.

spn 9x20-3At 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.

spn 9x20-1Dean, 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.

What did you think of “Bloodlines”? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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About Lyda Scott

Lyda Scott is a freelance writer and editor, among other things. A good day is one spent over-analyzing film, television, and literature. Follow her on Twitter @Lyda_Scott.
  • percysowner

    i will point out that shifters not shedding their skin also happened in Blade Runners when Cuthbert Sinclair’s shifter took his shape. There is the real world explanation, special effects cost money so minimizing the changes is a good idea. And the in world explanations, which we have not yet heard, but can range from “since the families have maintained the purity of the line we don’t need to shed our skin” to “Eve changed everything. Deal with it”.

    • Lyda Scott

      I forgot about Sinclair’s shifter – that’s a good, more recent example of the change in the shifting process. In terms of lore-explanation, I also wondered if it won’t be tied to the bloodline, that human/shifter hybrids go splat while pure shifters don’t. As with the reaper changes, though, I’d still appreciate some in-text discussion/explanation – however brief.

      Thanks for reading & commenting – and reminding about the “Blade Runners” example!

    • kaystiel

      Well, we know the reason they’ve changed it, because the effects cost money, and it would take time from the story every time they go through the process (I suppose) but it makes monsters bland, not unique and not in the Supernatural sense of old, much like sparkly veggie vamps, I have no use for them.

  • Teresa

    One particularly difficult issue for me was that this ep is that it’s supposed to be the story of why Ennis becomes a hunter, yet his girlfriend was killed by a human who he shoots in cold blood. Is he the next Dexter?

    • Lyda Scott

      I didn’t like that myself. It made me think of Dean killing Roger in “#THINMAN,” but that’s Dean, who’s been hunting for almost his entire life and who’s under the Mark’s influence. Ennis doesn’t have the same “excuse,” if that’s even the right word. I guess there is the chance that the scene was meant to show Ennis realizing that nonhuman doesn’t equal “monster,” which goes along with his dialogue, but it still doesn’t gel with SPN’s usual moral code.

      It makes me wonder, assuming the series is picked up, how his character will be developed? I thought it was a really cold and chilling moment that, for me, interrupted any connection I was feeling with Ennis. It’s hard enough watching Dean go dark, and I *love* his character; I can’t give the same understanding to one I just met!

      A true Dexter in spn-land could be interesting (and disturbing!), though…. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • percysowner

        I’m glad to see this bothered someone else. Here’s this older guy who loses his daughter(?), discovers there are monsters in Chicago, has no idea there is a hunter network to turn to for help, decides (like every other hunter we have seen) that he is going to save people and hunt things and then Ennis (a POLICE OFFICER for goodness sakes) murders him. The guy’s only real sin was not being young and hunky.

        • Lyda Scott

          I found that whole scene troubling for all the reasons you mention. I guess it’s meant to be a twist on “how far is too far” but – really – can anyone from the SPN-verse make a statement on that?

          And I’d agree that his presentation and manner suggested strongly he wouldn’t survive the scene. I still can’t figure out the googles – were they for nightvision? Or just Burton-esque odd?

      • Ginger

        That scene left me wondering if Ennis’ character was supposed to be a vigilante or a hunter-in-training. I also think that scene can be used as an example to show that none of the characters were really brought to life; that none of the actors nor the writing raised any of them above stereotypical TV tropes.

        • Lyda Scott

          That’s a really good point!

  • Ginger

    Just the concept for Bloodlines creates all kinds of conflict with Supernatural, and I think we have already seen some of that in the SPN episodes this season — the Garth one, for instance. I am afraid if Bloodlines gets picked up, Supernatural lore will continue to accommodate the spin-off.
    First off, there is a problem with the monster groups that were chosen. Why would vampires be prepared to live under werewolves or any other group of monster?

    Secondly, ost of the monster groups they picked for Bloodlines are strictly territorial and strictly loners (even though they trashed the werewolf lore in the Garth episode). Waiths, ghouls, djinn, and shapeshifters are loners that hunt alone. They do not live in groups.
    I really, really dislike that Dabb lifted direct dialogue (especially Dean’s) from SPN and had this bunch of what looked like children up alongside the Js spouting it. Bloodlines is supposed to be it’s own show, so they need to create their own characters — not copy Sam and Dean.
    I won’t say any more, except that I really did not like the Pilot, thought the whole concept was bad, and that the cast chosen does not have the acting chops to pull off what Dabb hoped to achieve in the script. They were unable to add any layers to the words written, nor build any sympathy for not one of the characters.

    • Lyda Scott

      I’m similarly concerned about lore uses, etc. — I actually think that if this series had been launched independently of SPN, it’d have worked better. As is, you’re right: the changes will affect both series, and that could be very bad. If “Bloodlines” is picked up, I wonder what changes they’ll make based on fandom reaction… I hope many.

      The repeating dialogue is interesting to me; several episodes have essentially re-used lines, often in parallel situations, and I feel like it’s leading up to something. The “Metafiction” episode cinches for me that something’s afoot with the overall narrative, though when we’ll find out exactly what that is I don’t know.

      I am so looking forward to “King of the Damned” and hope it gets us all back on track! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • kaystiel

        Yeah, when fans kept telling writers to go back and look at previous episodes, we didn’t mean steal from them wholesale, look at the mess that was the Vesta episode, (which took from Veritas and the dragon/rise of Eve ep in season six). the lack of original ideas has been a problem the last two seasons. And they keep wrecking canon to no point, it’s not making the show any better, it’s making it blander and less unique. (but easier to write I suspect) I miss the days of real scary strange monsters on SPN.

  • kaystiel

    It was deadly dull, and the breaks from canon (skin shedding shapeshifters and tattooed blue eyed Djinn) were jarring – Supernatural developed it’s own unique monsters over the years, which in the last two seasons the sub-par writing team lead by Carver watered down and made bland – (for example, Reapers who can be bribed and killed with angel swords, angels who can be killed by something other than angels, werewolves who can choose to change) If people want to follow Bloodlines, it won’t be because they are SPN fans and want more of Sam, Dean and Castiel’s universe. The whole episode was a string of CW cliche’s thrown at a wall, the female morphing was laugh-out-loud bad, and the titular hero Ennis shooting the human (villain? for seeking vengeance for his dead son and accidentally killing a girl) didn’t endear him to me in the slightest, I could also see any future stories about Ennis being overwhelmed by the weak romance storyline, there was no reason at the end for Violet not to tell David about what Sal did, it’s a way to manufacture tension but ends up only frustrating the audience – much in the way that most of the season of SPN had manufactured tension between Sam and Dean and Dean and Cas.

    • Lyda Scott

      The canon breaks and narrative repetition bother me. The canon breaks drive me crazy, especially when they’re simply errors. But the narrative echoes have been *so* blatant… if the writers aren’t purposefully using them to lead up to a big narrative reveal, I’m going to be disappointed. I hate to think the repetition is just pointless recycling (especially in eps like “#THINMAN” that recycled, essentially, entire passages of dialogue) so I’m hanging on to hope that we’ll get some pay off from it. And I agree that manufactured tension = audience frustration! Thank you for reading & sharing your comments!

  • Mayu

    Slow storyline, no chemistry, no Supernatural feel, and um… a shape shifter who doesn’t need to shed his skin between shifting? That’s only been the main way to identify one since they were introduced on Supernatural. They’d have been better off either getting a bunch of new characters together in something that resembled Supernatural… or get some Supernatural characters who already have a fan base (Like Garth or the GhostFacers) and do a spinoff revolving around them.

    • percysowner

      Shape shifters could also be identified by camera flare in their eyes. Skin shedding would be an extra expense for special effects, plus Cuthbert Sinclaire’s shifter did not shed its skin. If this goes to series, either they will go with shifters don’t have to slough off skin if they are pure blood, or Eve changed everything.

    • Lyda Scott

      Did you hear today’s (April 8th’s) news? CW passed on the SPN spin-off. While I’d love to see a strong spin-off from the show, I also think that Bloodlines just wasn’t a good bet. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • Mayu

    Slow storyline, no chemistry, no Supernatural feel, and um… a shape shifter who doesn’t need to shed his skin between shifting? That’s only been the main way to identify one since they were introduced on Supernatural. They’d have been better off either getting a bunch of new characters together in something that resembled Supernatural… or get some Supernatural characters who already have a fan base (Like Garth or the GhostFacers) and do a spinoff revolving around them.