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Thoughts on 8x05 - Blood Brother

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This episode was by and large a relaxing, time filler type episode - it allowed everyone to take a breath, process what we know and laid some ground work for the coming weeks. And I enjoyed it. Like some earlier episodes such Home or Provenance, it was a good episode that can be viewed almost independent of the big-picture plot arc. This was one of those episodes that could have easily been a flashback installment, and in a way it was except that the flashbacks gave us brand new information.


Now, I'm not going to dive into the debates about whether or not this character is being overlooked or that character's history is being whitewashed to suit the writer's agenda. What I will say is this: as far as unveiling information and storylines goes the slow and steady approach that we seem to be neck deep in right now is working well for me. The way both Sam and Dean's respective years are being unraveled feels thoughtful and informative and not at all rushed as this type of thing has been handled in the past. These stories could easily be told in one episode flashbacks or emotional monologues but instead each foot forward is carefully considered before being placed, or at least that's how it seems to me. What's more is that season eight does feel like a genuine renewal of "Supernatural": it has a new energy, new maturity to the boys and an overall lighter atmosphere. Again this is not to say I didn't like past seasons simply that I'm enjoying the fresh air breezing into the world of Winchester and the less dejected attitude it's imbuing into the series (in my opinion).

Okay, that out of the way let's get right down to what worked and what didn't work about Blood Brother:

Purgatory

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The purgatory flashbacks gave us a new understanding of Dean's relationship with Benny and how they ended up being such decent friends, despite that whole vampire-hunter dynamic. At first we witness Benny trying to convince Dean to leave Cas behind because he's too much of a beacon to the baddies but Dean's not having any of it. If there is one thing we know about Dean absolutely it's that his sense of loyalty knows no bounds, particularly when Sam isn't around (because when Sam's there, Dean's loyalty goes as far as it can until it risks his brother). Here we have Dean clutching to Cas' presence and swearing he'd rather not leave than leave without Castiel. Even the angel struggled with this sentiment and the illogical nature of it. Nevertheless the three trudged on only to be ambushed by leviathan later on. And in this fight we see the moment Benny moved from "convenient ally" category to something more for Dean: he saved Castiel's life, unprompted and unmotivated to do so. Benny could have simply let the leviathan devour Cas and ended all the problems related to Cas tagging along and it would have been done through no fault of Benny's so Dean couldn't punish him by not taking him across state lines, so to speak. In spite of that we watch Benny slice the leviathan head off.

This says a lot about Benny to me, particularly that he sees value in life beyond its specific use to his own ends. We learn later that like Lenore, Benny learned to stop feeding on humans long ago. This too added a new dimension to the character because it's not a promise to Dean that keeps Benny from snacking on the "Happy Meals with legs" but rather a decision he made years before. All of these discoveries about Benny in this episode gave me much more faith in the character than I had on that first encounter. I'm eager to explore his relationship to the boys further, in particular how he'll interact with Sam.

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Finally, we saw how Benny and Dean operate as a fluid, silent and efficient machine when fighting. They tagged on another, communicated silently and generally functioned like a well oiled machine. Even without detailed verbal explanation it's becoming clear how much trust and reliance existed (and still exists) between Benny and Dean in Purgatory. They really react to one another like brothers in arms.

Normalville

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Sam's flashbacks this episode also gave us some information, this time more about his relationship with Amelia. First of all, unlike Benny, nothing I saw in the flashbacks made me like this character more or trust her for that matter. Amelia seems just a tad judgmental and presumptive for my liking: Sam where's casual clothes like denim and flannel which automatically makes him a creepy drifter? Okay. We also see Sam in the flashbacks as a man without a purpose "“ he's on the lookout for something to occupy his time and in fact, was looking for people to connect with. Sam got to know the motel family well enough to be familiar with their problems and to offer his help too. This is very much like Sam, he's a friendly guy always willing to lend an ear and a hand if he can. In one way or another, he was probably glad the dog gave him something to occupy his focus and a reason to hang around. We still don't know at this point what prompted Sam to not pursue Dean and we may never get an actual scene where he considers his options. For me, knowing the Winchester history with pursuing disappeared family members is enough knowledge to understand how Sam may have come to that decision.

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What I really enjoyed about the flashbacks was the look it gave us into Sam's head and his character at that point in time. He's just lost his brother (and about everyone else too) after having a series of trauma-filled events, including being ridden by Lucifer, visiting Hell and losing his soul. Where we're at now is a sort of new status-quo in the world "“ same old usual beasties as before without Heaven and/or Hell knocking at the door either. Sam has the quiet opportunity to heal, and he seems to be healing (this is my honest opinion, which I know will be challenged, but please play nice). This Sam is gentle, attentive and helpful. Yes, he was these things all along but this time there is not an added tension that comes with knowing there's a ghost or ghoul and that's how you're helping. Sam finally has the chance to be a real boy "“ he can help the family by doing some handyman work around the motel because the father is sick. He can be a caretaker to the dog. He can have conversations about real things, using (I presume anyways) his real name and not an alias. Yes, Sam can take a breath or two and maybe even start to relax. At least, this is was I saw in Sam during the flashbacks. For that matter, it's a lot of what I'm seeing in the present-day Sam except with the added element of confidence that Sam in the flashbacks doesn't quite seem to have fully.

So, Flashback Sam was something light and despite Amelia, who was too snappy for me and who is bound to have some story meant to garner audience sympathy eventually, I liked these parts of the episodes. Even the flashback lighting was bright and softer, in keeping with the birthday scene earlier. Despite missing his brother, Sam had the opportunity to be happy and ordinary during the last year; and he took it.

Vampirates and Lost Loves

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We learned a lot about Benny in this episode, particularly where he comes from. It's clear that Benny is quite old and for a long time was your typical evil vampire. Until he fell in love. Benny seems to be somewhere between Sam and Dean: he's quiet and practical, thoughtful and smart, quick witted and a good with a blade too.

My initial read on Benny is he's a good guy, generally. In particular, it was the way he didn't try and stop Dean from killing Andrea. Benny knew and accepted that she was not the woman he loved all those years ago and that she couldn't be allowed to live now because she was dangerous and not a non-human eater like he was. It was also telling how Benny offered his hand to Sam and recognized that the brothers needed space to talk without being asked. These are markers of a perceptive and respectful friend, who's likely heard a lot about Sam over the past year.

Deception and Days Off

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In the present, Sam and Dean are hot on Kevin's trail in Enid, Oregon. At least as hot as he'll let them get and it's starting to get to the boys the way small annoyances can, that he keeps evading them so surely. This leads to a short discussion about killing Kevin's mom (or trying to) while Crowley was where her. So far this season there have been some interesting allusions and/or outright references to where this type of thing falls on the moral spectrum. I can't help but wonder if this will become a more prominent focus later this season. "The Winchester Holy Grail Shut the Gates of Hell Forever" case gets sidelined when Dean steps out to help Benny, leaving Sam wondering where he's going and who he's going to help. The entire motel exchange was done really well. It's obvious that both boys are tired and also that neither is really used to explaining themselves, not anymore. Dean wants to offer this vague explanation and hopes Sam will take it without question, which of course he doesn't.

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In the end, Sam's face says it all: Dean has serious explaining to do. I am very much looking forward to this discussion next week.

Final Thoughts

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As a transitory, information episode this worked. Blood Brother had the markings of a decent episode of "Supernatural": key information, brother moments, some carnage and action and on the whole plot advancement. The writing here felt tight overall, as usual I enjoyed the acting but in particular the nuances of the flashback versus present day versions of the characters as well as the new recurring characters. This was a good episode and one I will certainly enjoy as a rewatch.

What did you think, fellow viewers?