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
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.
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.
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.
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 excSeasonEight/Bittennt 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 excSeasonEight/Bittennt episode mixing some grey into the black and white ideas of good and evil.