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Thoughts on Bitten

When I first saw the promo and heard the premise of this episode, I was skeptical. After it aired and I had yet to watch it, I became more skeptical after catching wind of the very split reactions this episode seemed to garner. Though I make a point to not read others reviews until I’ve written my own and I certainly didn’t read anything until I’d seen the episode, the reactions were so strong it was hard not to at least be aware of their nature. So I waited a few days until I had the right time and clear focus to think only about what I was seeing, leaving any preconceived skepticism out of the equation. Now that I’ve finished the episode there is only one reaction available to me: love. Surprising to me, I found this episode engaging, well written, beautifully filmed and gracefully poignant. Not sure what exactly the controversial elements that were stirred are about, but sitting on the awesome episode side of the fence, let me try and break down why this worked in so many ways for me.


Eyes of the Beholder

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Visually this was more engaging than I expected. Typically I do not like handheld camera effects – I was very unfond of it when Hollywood dabbled in this phase a few years back and, in my opinion, ruined what would have otherwise been good movies. That was not the case here however. Instead, the handheld aspects didn’t adopt the boat-on-a-choppy-sea quality to my eye but simply served to add degrees realism. Had this been filmed in the typical style as opposed to how it was done, I do not believe the characters and story would have resonated and connected to the audience on the same level.

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The episode opens on a visceral picture of a living room well and truly painted with blood, which Sam and Dean enter acknowledging that they’re too late for whatever happened. And then they catch sight of the laptop and find out the whole story from the beginning, as do the viewers. Unlike most "Supernatural" episodes, this one in particular followed the monsters from before they were monsters, and gives us context to all the violence that will later arise at their hands. What really worked about this is that without much context or individual back story there is an easy connection to these three, or at least there was for me.

Character Connections

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We’ll start with Brian, a college student who is clearly lost and struggling with his self confidence. What’s apparent from the outset is that Brian has feelings for the love interest, Kate, and that Mike is not only his best friend but that Brian serves as almost a social sidekick to the more confident and socially well-adjusted Michael. Brian’s arch was very clever in this story and where it seems at some points that the audience is encouraged to feel sorry for him, or maybe root for him as the “hero” of this love story he quickly became the villain. Granted Brian seems to have been bullied to some degree by Scott and his group, most of Brian’s troubles feel self-inflicted. He’s a tad too invasive with the camera at some points and for the most part makes no effort to speak up about his feelings for Kate.

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The inclusion Lord of the Flies in this episode works on many levels: at the beginning Brian comes across most similar to the Piggy character and does identify with Piggy throughout the episode. By the end however the writers have transitioned Brian into the Jack archetype, and he is the one responsible for the slaughter and chaos. In the end Brian has become the monster that Brian so wanted to investigate at the start. Brian was a very complex character and considering he has a one episode character arch the writers did a very good job with the layers and development. I did not like Brian’s character much and as the episode progressed and he became more obsessed with power, I was very ready for this character to go away. Once again "Supernatural" does an excellent job illustrating the very human causes that lead to such bedlam and destruction.

The Best Friend

Moving on to Mike, the Ralph of the group (sort of). Mike is the character who suffers from having power thrust upon him and his struggle not to succumb to the innate evilness of it. In many ways, Mike reminded me so much of early Sam, when he was struggling with the demon powers from Azazel etc. This is another successful callback to the earlier years of "Supernatural". Mike is a compelling character too. Mike is a good friend, loving boyfriend, lovably bad student and all around the proverbial “nice guy” of the episode. Like the Ralph character in the book, Michael is more or less the glue of the little threesome, the leader. Somewhat akin to Ralph, Mike is overcome to a point by his primal (wolf) side such that he partakes in a killing. And though Michael does end up killing someone early on as he is coming into his powers, it is not really his fault, at least not at the same level of deliberate nasty action that Brian will engage in eventually.

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In this episode I found Mike to be a very genuine and raw character. Both the actor and the writers did a good job of conveying his genuine misery and struggles with his new abilities, not to mention his initial thrill with their discovery. My favourite scene is when Michael first transforms into the beast and is looking at his face in the shattered bathroom mirror. The dual identity symbolism in the mirror aside (which was very well done visually), there was a great deal of emotion in this short, wordless scene: pain, fear, panic, distress – it really ran the gamut.

The Girl

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Finally we come to Kate, who is the love interest for both boys and the ultimate architect of the video Sam and Dean watch. There isn’t actually a whole lot of focus on Kate at the beginning, other than she is Michael’s girlfriend and also bonds with Brian over their mutual like of filming/cameras. Like the other two, Kate feels very genuine. For example, when she refuses to involve the police in what Mike did to Scott, her very raw emotional struggles are palpable. Kate becomes the driving investigative force that leads to spying on Sam and Dean and learning about the pureblood werewolf. In the end, Kate was my favourite character in this episode. Her absolute sorrow at losing Michael and being turned against her will, followed by the way she gains control of herself and eliminates Brian, or rather the monster that he’s become, knowing he’s no longer human in his obsession with power, left me feeling like I was watching an actual documentary on Dateline as opposed to a fictional fantasy show.

In short, what worked about the characters is that I felt connected with them. Their realness and wholeness as people totally eclipsed that we’d only known them about forty minutes by the end. Even the pureblood professor with his limited screen time felt legitimate as a man struggling to stay clean; instead of feeling contrived his thank you to Sam and Dean was real to me. These characters were utterly believable as college students trying to get through life. Even their speculations about their futures felt authentic, including when they were shown after Brian and Michael had died and Kate had been turned. This should have felt contrived, as I expected it would, but somehow it all worked. The acting was strong as was the writing and even Sam and Dean were moved by the documentary in the end, enough that they made the decision not to hunt down Kate but to give her a chance to live.

Brothers Winchester

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Alright, that’s the characterization of the “guest” characters, so let’s talk about Sam and Dean now and all the implications this episode left me with. For his part, Sam felt tired. He was insisting to Dean that there was not really a case. By the end however he was sympathetic toward Kate and was surprised to find Dean was too. Sam seemed quite taken aback when Dean agreed with his suggestion they leave Kate be for now and I’m curious how long it will be before Sam pointblank says something to Dean about his changing attitudes towards hunting. I also wonder what it was about Kate’s story that spoke to Sam. Was it the love element because of his recent dalliance in that arena? Or that he really relates to the quest for normal once you’ve been yanked into the supernatural world. If anyone can understand the struggle against being pulled unwillingly into something and forced to do things one never imagined they would do, Sam can. Dean was particularly contemplative at the end and I believe his sympathy and willingness to let Kate go (for now) comes from his relationship with Benny. This was someone who illustrated how a “monster” can fight against their nature and overcome intrinsic evil. I’m damn curious for the back story of Benny and Dean now, even more than before.

Final Thoughts

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In my opinion this episode was brilliant. It was a clever commentary on so many things and illustrated in what I felt was a new way, how power in any form or incarnation corrupts absolutely. Brian wasn’t the one with the actual powers but it overtook his humanity anyways. Brian was the one with the knife threatening the so-called monster to get what he wanted. It was not the werewolf bite that corrupted Brian, but his jealous nature. Another point that this episode made was about what is human. Michael was the beast in this one but his human conscious and heart was driving him, the same can be said for Kate by the end as well. This seems to be a running theme lately, in keeping with last week’s episode where the humans were willing to kill to keep their Mayan god prowess. "Bitten" was another excellent episode mixing some grey into the black and white ideas of good and evil. 

 

  • Absolutely lovely write up Elle!<br /><br />I agree, the camera technique added to the intimacy of the episode to me and allowed me to feel closer with and have a better understanding of the characters.<br /><br />I'm really excited about this grey/black/white evil thing. We've dabbled with it from the beginning of the series, but it does feel like Dean is about to have to deal with it more profoundly.<br /><br />I'm excited!

  • Great review!

  • Great review Elle!! How refreshing it is to read positive input on this episode. It sure has caused a ruckus on the chats and personally I'm tired of hearing all the whinning about getting more information. There is so much more that we will get in the coming episodes so I cannot believe how inpatient a lot of folks are. I like that you reviewed each character and did it very well might I add. I think you were spot on for each and everyone of them. I too, am very curious to see Benny's back story and we'll get some answers next week I believe. Hopefully JC will cover Sam's year away a little more down the road but I am not giving up on him or the show. Great job again Elle! I look forward to reading your thoughts each week.

  • I wasn't going to comment on Bitten anymore, since the episode left me with a deep sense that Carver isn't going to deliver on correcting the mess of the last few years, but all of the reviewers here have touched on the deeper issues of the episode as reasons for liking it. Those reasons are exactly why I did not like it, so I decided to address those issues. It's easy to dismiss not liking an episode as whining or because there wasn't enough Sam and Dean to fangirl over, which I find to be shallow dismissals of valid perspectives. So what I'm going to do here is offer a differing perspective and I'll use the points you used, Elle, because they cover the issues presented by most of the reviewers on this site.<br /><br />Visually: This is the 'experiment' that most reviewers here liked and think worked. I found the handheld camera very annoying for the first 15 to 20 minutes. After that it didn't bother me. It didn't work in this episode for me (like it did in Ghostfacers) because if this technique is going to be used, there should be some reason to use it. I didn't get any reason for using it in this episode, except to showcase three one-off support characters and their story (Hello, S7).<br /><br />Both Ghostfacers and Bitten were episodes from an outsiders POV. The difference is that with the Ghostfacers using the handheld, we learned something about Sam and Dean. We saw Sam's level of frustration with Dean and his coming up deal. We saw where Dean was at, getting as much out of his last year as he could. We laughed at what we all know is realistic Dean foul language. We saw two real hunters from civilians who didn't know them and those two hunters came off as hardened, tough guys...dicks, as they were called. All of that, and we also saw a gay love story unfold, as well as several young friends, how they felt about each other, and what held their friendship together. A very layered episode.<br /><br />In Bitten, we got Sam and Dean in a few walk-on scenes with a couple of gay references nodded to the audience. We learned nothing new about them or what they were feeling or thinking.<br /><br />I like the gay references the show throws in here and there. I find them hilarious. But our two favorite characters have been shown since Ep. 8.01 as anything but a committed couple. Sam wants out and he's put Dean on notice that he wants out. Dean represents everything that Sam does not want in his life right now, or thinks he doesn't want and certainly doesn't need. <br /><br />Dean's biggest fear is Sam dumping him. That's been Dean's fear since Ep. 1.22 (Devil's Trap) and maybe even back to the Pilot. Dean, being Dean, is not going to talk about it or let Sam know how he feels about it (especially in a lunch time chat that would lead a teenager to think they were a gay couple re-uniting after a year break-up.) That is not how Dean Winchester handles things. <br /><br /> I see a big blow-up coming between the brothers or, possibly, something terrible happening to one of them,, and Robbie Thompson throws out a couple of cheap gay references by characters who don't know Sam and Dean and that doesn't fit their character set-ups for the season...and Carver lets him get by with that. <br /><br />If the running theme for the season is that humans are willing to kill to keep their loved ones, where's that going in relation to the Winchesters? Is Sam going to kill a human, ally, friend to save Dean? Maybe he'll kill Dean to keep Amelia. Maybe he'll kill Amelia to save Dean. Is Dean going to kill Cas or Benny to keep or save Sam? If this episode was addressing that running theme, then it was badly misplaced for viewing, because what has been presented to date is some very intriguing questions about Sam and Dean's year apart and what both of them did...and those stories are separate stories right now. I'm one audience member who is dying to see how the two stories connect the two leads, and this episode did nothing to advance my knowledge to that question.<br /><br />The visual didn't work for me because there was no connection to what has been set up for the two lead characters or the mytharc for the season. Without an established purpose of any kind, why use the 'experiment' or 'take the risk?' Bottom line, we learned nothing new about the leads or the mytharc by using this different kind of technique, why use it. <br /><br />The characters: I'm going with Thompson was attempting an allegory story. If so, it was poorly executed.<br /><br />Was Brian a metaphor for Sam and how Sam embraced the power of the monster to kill Lilith? Is he a call-back to Sam being manipulated (Brian bullied) and that's why he embraced the monster? Well, Sam's long past that and has been introduced this season as rejecting all that Brian stood for.<br /><br />Maybe Brian is a metaphor for this new PSTD Dean. Dean's running on the rush of the hunt and he's matching his power against the power of evil, while hiding his hurt that Sam simply did not look for him. Hell, Dean's even planning this season and seeing the big picture. Yet, Dean is anything but a character who gets high on power or embraces his dark side. In fact, we know he was devastated when he turned torturer in Hell. We all know it's there in Dean, but we also know Dean is a big softie at heart.<br /><br />Kate, I'm guessing is a metaphor for Benny. Big failure on this one for the mere fact that Kate was shown throughout the entire episode to be driven by her emotions...by her "love" for Michael. I'm seeing Benny as anything but driven by his emotions. The problem for me with this is that I don't buy for a minute that this young, emotio- driven girl who spent the episode making excuses for her organ-eating boyfriend can overcome any basic werewolf tendencies even for a short time. Should Sam and Dean have killed her? No. That's not the rules of the game as has been established by canon. Is she a good metaphor for Benny? No. She just isn't. <br /><br />Bottom line, the metaphors for the leads and/or mytharc were poorly done, if Thomspson was going for an allegory, that is. Who could tell, because the two male supports could have fit and not fit either Winchester.<br /><br />Perhaps there was a moral question raised in this episode. Can there be good monsters that shouldn't be killed? The problem with that, if that is the question the episode was supposed to have raised, is that the question was not brought home. Why spend an episode setting up the question and then just have both brothers instantly agree with each other, episode over. Poor excution, maybe? Who knows. Poorly done? Most definitely.<br /><br />What did work was that we got a complete monster origin story about three teenagers we don't know who were in a love triangle. Unfortunately, I don't care. Looking back, I guess there was a point where I realized that I should feel sorry for them, but that feeling wasn't strong enough to find them or their story engaging when I was expecting a SPN episode or something like it.<br /><br />I strongly, strongly disagree with Alice's view that Robbie Thompson is becoming a Ben Edlund. Ben's episodes are multi-layered, nuanced, and funny and they deliver something about the Winchesters or the mytharc. Even if some fans don't like them, they deliver on these levels. This episode by Thompson tired and failed on every level. Maybe it was a one-off for him, and that's forgiveable.<br /><br />This post is too long already, but I think it covers the opposing perspective as to why some of us thought it was a terrible effort not worthy of the writer, the showrunner, or the fans.

  • Spencer

    In reply to: Ginger Report

    Personally, I didnt mind this episode, though neither did I like it. However, I do not understand the hate that it gets. It was an experiment, and whether you loved it or hated it, I think we should acknowledge the effort, and then move on to next week. Theres really no point in lingering on this episode.

  • Well said.

  • I agree completely with every point. But I'm going to stop reading any more "Bitten" views. The sugar is getting to me.

  • Thanks sweetondean! I was very excited about this episode too - I'm so looking forward to how our boys are going to be dealing with the grey - I agree that it's been a running theme from the start of the series, but there are times it gets more in depth and it definitely feels like we're approaching that. <br /><br />I'm loving this season!

  • Thanks!

  • Thank you so much for your very lovely comments! This was my favourite review to write in a long time. I am not giving up on Sam either - this season feels like it's off to such a great start.

  • Hi Ginger: <br />I'm sorry your didn't enjoy the episode - I understand where you're coming from and you've certainly articulated your thoughts very well. I don't agree with you, but I totally get it. <br /><br />I hope the rest of the season is more enjoyable for you.<br /><br />Thanks for your comments.

  • I'm going to have to say as well that I didn't care that much for this episode and not because there wasn't much Dean and Sam. Its just that I felt like I've seen this kind of story a million times sans monster part or maybe not. <br /><br /> I found Mike to be pretty interesting and I felt for him when he was changing. But Brian's character just felt kind of cliche to me, typical nerd becomes the bad guy because he hasn't got everything he's wanted in life. Th love triangle part also. The part after Mike killed that guy was really interesting especially how Kate was justifying it then Mike was angry. That part felt real.<br /><br /> I guess they needed to find a quick way to end the episode, but it could've have gone so much differently. Mike all of a sudden using violence against the professor werewolf then biting kate. And his motivation was what? To become strong, to get the girl? I'm not saying that these are bad reasons for becoming a monster just that it gets done over and over so now I don't find it interesting<br /><br />Visually it was great! Hand held cameras usually just give me a headache but in this ep it was cool and i liked it plus i like the outside view of Dean and Sam, 'office romance' lol. <br /><br />So in the end, to me the episode was alright still fun to watch, just didn't love it.

  • Hey, Elle! I agree with you. I liked this episode a lot! Heck it's really grown on me and I love it! I thought it was well executed by all the parties involved and a nice change of pace. After all, Supernatural has never been scared of taking risks and that's one big reason that I love this show. (besides Sam & Dean, the store lines, etc.) Anyway, I think it was also a way of setting us all up for the things to come...and boy, I really do think that the stuff is going to hit the fan soon! :D

  • Hi Elle, I loved your review. I rewatched the episode over the weekend and I liked it even more. I really concentrated on the story of these three kids and the camera work. Unlike you, I enjoy this type of filming, although Hollywood went gangbusters with it after "Blair Witch". You actually have a screenshot of one on my favourite shots in the episode. Kate & Brian are just chatting near the computers, and one of the cameras captures them in one of the computers. Beautiful.<br /><br />Brian was only sympathetic in the first twenty minutes or so. I think the story showed us that you can have a monster inside you without being one. Brian let his jealousy of Michael and Kate get the best of him. He was so obsessed about not being Piggy, he lost sight of the big picture. Michael on the other hand stayed human while becoming a monster. And then there is Kate. The fact that she was transformed totally against her will was heartbreaking. And the entreaty she left for the brothers war heartfelt. I really hope she can survive without killing humans. <br /><br />I was glad to see that most reviewers enjoyed this episode. EW, Buddy TV, this site and a few others I checked out. I understand it was not everybody's cup of tea, but I don't get the deep hate that it garnered. :-? Oh well, this Wednesday's episode looks like it will please everyone. :lol:

  • I am sure I will find enjoyment some of the future episodes and, I hope, in the season as a whole.<br /><br />If the rest of the season draws me in (which the Purgatory story has) and I feel the emotions of the two leads, live the story as they live it like I did in the earlier seasons, I'll be quite happy. I just don't want to sit through too many episodes where I'm thinking about camera angles, set design, political commentary, or social justice issues. I do want to see and appreciate the cleverness and characterization of the lead characters, like in the earlier seasons; but not the support characters. I'm hoping Carver manages to achieve a balance between what was and what came to be. If he does, I'll be satisfied.

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