This may have been an episode of Supernatural, but it certainly had its own feel. “Bloodlines” adapted the Supernatural world to its own story---taking it places that may never be seen on its parent show. All of these things have potential. “Bloodlines” wisely also shows us that it's not going to try and be Supernatural. Instead, we see “Bloodlines” draw upon some similarities to Supernatural while shaping the story around its setting: Chicago. As rural and back-road as its parent show can be, “Bloodlines” appears that it will take the urban route----thus playing up the urban in its genre: urban fantasy.
First, let's look at the similarities that “Bloodlines” drew from Supernatural---in order to wisely ground it.
When we're first introduced to Ennis Ross and Tamara, it's the calm before the storm. They are a young couple on a date---and Ennis is planning on proposing. There's no hint of monsters or hunting. They're two normal people having a normal and pleasant conversation. We're shown that not all is well when Ennis asks to have his ring put into the champagne---and he has his first brush with a wraith. The man's face is distorted and disfigured in the glass. Ennis brushes it off, but decides to take Tamara out to the ferry---where they first met in fifth grade.
It'll be a fatal mistake.
Meanwhile, we, the viewer, get to see the VIP section of the restaurant. It's a monster hang out full of vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, and more. This is where they hang out as they really are without human eyes to pry. There they are able to tussle back and forth---with fangs showing. The club is chic, modern, and seemingly upscale. The monsters that frequent it can also talk like monsters---such as expressing a desire to “eat Taylor Swift's heart.”
That's until the club's attacked by someone wearing sharp metal claws. It is this moment that disrupts everything for everyone: monster and human alike.
As the shape-shifter, Sal Lassiter, stumbles out into the street, bleeding, he comes across Ennis and Tamara. This proves fatal to Tamara as she's shoved aside violently by the attacker with the metal claws. Her head connects just right with the corrugated metal of a door, leaving her dead on the pavement. This moment reflects Sam's loss of his own girlfriend, Jessica. Supernatural fans recognize this as a catalyst for Sam's return to the “family business.”
We're also shown the shape-shifter's brother, David, as he goes about sneaking into a professor's office to steal the answers for their upcoming math final. He's young, attending college, and seems rather normal despite his ability to assume other people's faces. We learn, as he goes home to his family to mourn his brother Sal's death, that David was out. He had left the family, left his monster life behind for a normal one. This, too, reflects Sam's time at Stanford.
As Ennis tries to figure out what happened---and find answers to what he saw the night Tamara died---we see him go through a box of personal affects. It is his fathers. Just like Ennis, his father was a cop. He still possesses the service weapon his father would have carried, but as he takes out the foam encasing, he finds a small compartment. Inside are silver bullets. It's a clue---a truth about Ennis that he didn't even know himself.
This is another similarity for “Bloodlines.” We're told that Ennis Ross's father was killed when he was a young boy---and therefore his father is absent from his life. Not only that, however, we learn that his father was a hunter. John Winchester, Sam and Dean's father, was a hunter, too. He, too, was absent at the start of Supernatural.
Family. This is a key component of Supernatural. Under the monsters, demons, angels, and apocalypse storylines, we see a show that is centered upon family connections and understandings. Its the backbone that keeps the show knit together. Close family is central---be they blood relatives or close friends. It's partly why Supernatural has endured for so long---and will do so for another season.
“Bloodlines” wisely chooses to tap into this potential by introducing us to five new families: the werewolves, the shape-shifters, the vampires, the ghouls, and the djinn. Each family has their own cares and concerns. They have their own strife and struggles---but each family is trying to protect their own in their own way. By having family a central component, “Bloodlines” could take this concept and build its storyline around it, too.
But the biggest similarity is that between Sal and David, the shape-shifter brothers. Sal is the elder brother, and as he dies, he tells Ennis, “David, I'm sorry. I didn't have a choice.”We don't learn until the end of the episode what he meant by that.
David was going to run off to normal and a “human” life with Violet, a werewolf. They had set an appointed time to meet at Union Station---one that Violet missed or so David thought. It would have tainted the bloodlines of both monster families. Just as Violet was going to the meeting place, Sal tells her to either leave or to die. It's his job as David's big brother to protect him---even if it means sending his brother off to college without his girlfriend. He knows that if Violet and David do this, the shape-shifters and werewolves will go to war. This cannot happen.
And so, Sal sends Violet away from the rendezvous point.
Supernatural has built its story through its nine seasons on Sam and Dean and their brotherhood---so it made sense that “Bloodlines” would reflect this aspect on some level. It's a nod to the parent show that grounds it while not trying to replicate it entirely.
But what about the differences that take place in “Bloodlines?” If this spin-off doesn't want to simply try being Supernatural, what does it do to establish its own world and its own feel?
The first major difference is the stationary setting.
Supernatural, from the very beginning, built itself upon moving around from city to city, state to state, location to location. It has no fixed place---despite key locations such as Singer Salvage or the Men of Letters Bunker. Each week, Sam and Dean get into the Impala and chase down the next hunt. They hunt for the next monster or rush to stop the next apocalypse. For nearly every state in the union, there's a corresponding hunt that's taken place at some point.
“Bloodlines,” on the other hand, will take place exclusively in Chicago. With the monsters stationary, it makes sense that those that will be hunting them will become stationary, too. It means we'll see some of the same locations---the various monster family homes for instance. It means the city of Chicago will become its own character, shaping the fabric of the story in its own unique way.
We saw this already from the very start. Supernatural has typically been a darker show---both in appearance and in subject matter. In “Bloodlines,” there was a distinctive brightness that played into the story, even if it was never addressed verbally. It's in the shots that show the various characters moving through the city. The skyline is almost as much a character in the scene, dominating with its architecture and lighting.
This is especially clear when we see Baby driving down the street. She almost looks a bit out of place, so often seen on the back-roads or in the dark alleys rather than in a brightly lit area for almost everyone to see. It's as if the Winchester's cover is blown, exposing them in many ways.
The city lighting wasn't the only difference in the appearance, either. The housing the monsters live in is key, too. So often, on Supernatural, the monster of the week lives in a rural area---a small cabin or a derelict house. They're often secluded from the humans, living almost minimalistic lives as they pick off their victims. The monsters on the show are often metaphors for the outcasts of society---either as misunderstood or exposed for the vicious beings they can be.
But in “Bloodlines,” we're shown monsters that are not only living largely in the open, they're living in large mansions. They're powerful and wealthy---elite in many regards. They are able to largely pick and choose their prey---and in turn have taken the police into their control to maintain this. These monsters go to swanky nightclubs, they have servants, and they have nice cars. They've managed to set up a nice life for their various families, carving Chicago up for their various species.
Another key difference we see in “Bloodlines,” is the focal point.
On Supernatural, we are centered on Sam and Dean---from them story is filtered outward either in metaphor or literal action. It's the engine that drives the story each season, each week---in one way or another, it's all about the Winchesters. They're the vessels, they're the target of Heaven and Hell, they're the most wanted by the Leviathans. In some shape or form, it is the Winchesters that Supernatural revolves around.
But in “Bloodlines,” we're shown six different character trees to follow. We have our five monster families and all their members. In Ennis Ross, we have a hunter being born. It will be these families that shape their story. It'll be how they interact, clash, and cooperate with one another that will drive what happens. Instead of seeing a two lead story, we'll be following a multi-cast story that can branch out into various directions.
The biggest difference, of course, is that Sal, the elder brother is dead before the pilot finishes. This is a wise move in many ways. It prevents “Bloodlines” from trying to duplicate that relationship Sam and Dean share. It makes certain that it will have to find the story in a different avenue, allowing for “Bloodlines” to differentiate itself from its parent.
So, just what is “Bloodlines?” Supernatural has always been an urban fantasy show. The genre is defined by the modern real world having an aspect of the supernatural mingled within it---either known or unknown to the public. Examples of these types of shows are Buffy, Angel, The X-Files, and The Vampire Diaries---and its own spin-off The Originals. In these shows, we're shown a modern landscape that has fantastical elements---monsters, magic, and ghosts to name a few. In some ways, this allows the show to ground itself into a form of realism while allowing it to branch out into the unknown or the mystical.
But Supernatural has always been far more rural than urban. For every major city we've seen Sam and Dean hunt in, we've seen them hunt on far more back roads or in little towns. They've hit little known spots on the map such as Windom, Minnesota, found in the southwest corner of the state for instance. They've built their story on hiding in plain sight on the road less traveled hunting down the evil that does the exact same. It's what has given Supernatural so much of its flavor---thus making the setting as much a character as anyone else on screen.
In most fantasy tales prior to the twentieth century, we saw most supernatural beings on the edges of the community---they were in the forest or in caves for instance. They hid in remote castles---like Dracula. The Grimm Fairy-tales take place generally in remote locations---see Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. This was the norm for a reason. To be shunned or exiled from the community to these edges or into the forests was to be condemned to certain death---especially when English settlers started to colonize America.
Forests were considered dangerous and full of unknown threats. They had bandits and wild animals that could waylay travelers. The foliage could hide various things---and the human imagination immediately started to envisage everything from vicious creatures such as werewolves and vampires to the Devil himself. They were where witches conducted their rituals. It was the natural setting for so many fairy-tales.
Due to Supernatural's filming city, Vancouver, this landscape also allowed the show to shape itself into this more classical sense of fantasy while retaining an urban and modern edge. We often see the Winchesters near or in trees on various hunts---be it the Blackwater Ridge facing down the Wendigo or the forest of Purgatory. Forest is a key component that makes up Superantural's story---adding to its rural nature.
When we couple that with their primary remote location in Vancouver---known as the North 40---we see everything from the Roadhouse to every crossroads they've ever used. It's flat, full of grass and trees and bramble and paved roads that can mirror any rural location in the Midwest. Rural is what Supernatural does best.
“Bloodlines,” however, takes the urban part of urban fantasy and makes it much more an element. In urban fantasy, we see more city landscapes become the stomping grounds for supernatural beings. As more and more people moved into cities and formed major metro areas, it became more common for people to find themselves afraid of being lost in the shuffle. Those that went missing due to violent attacks were sometimes considered to be attacked by some monster. We see these stories crop up now because our imagination is piqued by what it all means to be part of a major city.
We aren't exiled to the edges anymore as we once were, but we can often feel alone in major cities. We're only one face of millions, after all. If we were to go missing, it's likely that the search might not last long before we're listed as a statistic and forgotten. It's easy to see where more murders and crimes may happen---due to the higher number of people---that we would translate that into a fantasy story that it's not simply we humans doing it to ourselves. It has to be an outside force that is causing the mayhem.
And so, we turn to urban fantasy to understand, to explore, and to expand our world. It allows us to take our reality and not only ask questions about why we feel isolated while surrounded by so many or why these crimes seem to happen more in these areas---anyone who watches a local news cast of a major city knows that murders are often headline news---but what it means about us as human beings. Who are we? What is it that we're trying to change or understand? What is our condition in this setting?
By putting monsters into the mix, as “Bloodlines” does, we're able to also question just what it means to be a monster and what it means to be human. The monster families are left reeling by what happened to Sal---the shape shifter family wants war, the werewolves find glee in it for instance. But if they're not responsible for his death and this isn't some monster infighting, then who did it? It turns out that it was a human, driven by his grief. It turns things on its head that we see a human being as the monster here---leaving us to wonder who is good and who is bad. It causes us to ask questions about how far is too far?
When Sam and Dean arrive with Ennis to find Irv, the human perpetrating these attacks, the young cop declares the man to be the only monster he sees in the room. We've seen this grey area on Supernatural before---but “Bloodlines” can take this concept perhaps in directions we may not see on its parent show. We know not all monsters are evil---Lenore and her vampire nest were feeding on animal blood for example. But most of these monsters that do not feed on humans are often only seen in flashes---an episode here or there. With David and Violet---or with others yet to be met in the various families---we may see that aspect become a front and center debate.
The biggest potential for “Bloodlines” may come in a possible unlikely and wary alliance between David and Ennis. They seemed to connect in various ways throughout the episode, and while Ennis might not trust David, we can see that they may have to rely on one another later on. Making them have to work with one another might strengthen both characters, allowing each one to balance out the other's weaknesses. It almost might allow for viewers to focus on a couple characters more frequently than the multiple players we'll be seeing.
“Bloodlines” has a lot of potential to show us a different story than Supernatural. It can certainly take this urban fantasy concept and flesh out its world. Only time will tell if it'll get a chance to do so. If anything, “Bloodlines” won't try to be Supernatural.
And that's a good thing.
Bryce Johnson played the older brother Sal Lassiter---and while we only saw him briefly, his performance had impact. Johnson makes Sal very cocky and suave in that opening scene at the bar. He seems to enjoy the power his shape-shifting allots him---conveyed well in the gesture changing his hair from dark to blonde. The verbal spat between Sal and Julian establishes Sal's brand of humor and wit. Johnson puts it all in his line, “Hey, where you going, Old Yeller?” Before we can get too attached, however, we see Sal killed brutally---but that's not the last time we see him. In the flashback where he confronts Violet, we see Johnson give Sal a somber and serious tone. There's almost a sadness in him as he has to turn away his younger brother's love. Johnson puts a lot of gravity into that moment. We believe him when he earnestly tells Violet that it's his job as David's older brother. He has to protect him, and this is the way he's going to do it. While Sal didn't survive the backdoor pilot, Johnson made Sal meaningful.
Danielle Savre played Margo Lassiter, the new rising leader of the shape-shifter family. She's ambitious and driven---yet clearly shaken by what has happened to Sal. Savre hides it well under her forceful accusations towards David. She communicates Margo's resentments towards David well, too. We can tell that she envies David's time among the humans living a normal life in the way she delivers the line, “You ran away to be a human. You always had a soft spot for them.” Savre also shows that Margo's not as certain of her position---that she's holding on tight to maintain the appearances of her control. Her brother had been groomed to take her father's place, and now it's up to her suddenly. When we see her at the end with David, Savre conveys Margo's mixed feelings on her brother's return to the family. She wants him back and yet she doesn't want his interference with the war she still wants to wage. Only time will tell if she'll actually get to attempt waging it.
Sean Feris plays Julian Duval, the werewolf leader. When we first meet him, he's just as cocky as Sal. We can tell that he's trying a little too hard perhaps, wanting everyone to see him as an alpha. Feris gives Julian some charm in that opening scene, particularly with his line, “And I want to eat Taylor Swift's heart, but we don't always get what we want.” When we see him again later, he's more menacing with Violet, and any likability he may have had disappears. Feris makes Julian cruel in that moment---making his potential to be more bad than good tangible. We know he's on the side of war, and it's obvious that he's ambitious. Feris conveys that well in the meeting Julian has with the leader of the djinn. It'll be interesting to see how much he'll profit---if the spin-off should be greenlit.
Melissa Roxburgh plays the young werewolf Violet Duval When we first meet her, she seems a little timid, backing down quickly to Julian. Roxburgh conveys to us that Violet is trapped in a rather tenuous situation. Her brother, Julian, has no issue with going to war---even if she knows it will be bad for all in the end. When we see Violet spot David, however, Roxburgh shows us the real werewolf. She's passionate and drawn to the young shape-shifter by their connection. When she's captured by the human killer, we see her start to really come out of her shell. Violet may be afraid that she's going to be hurt or worse here, but she doesn't seem as timid here as she did at the mansion. Roxburgh shows us that Violet's smarter, too, when we see her put two and two together, understanding that this man wants the monsters to go to war after what happened to his son. She also knows that many children will die---and the way she delivers that line makes us sympathize with her. Roxburgh really begins to make Violet her own, though, when David is captured, too. As David is threatened, Roxburgh transforms and attacks. Afterwards, when we see Violet and David, we see her in the flashback---seemingly younger just by the innocence in her face. It makes us wonder what happened in those years since she stood David up---and it's largely on Roxburgh's performance. Only time will tell if we get to learn more about Violet.
Lucien Laviscount plays our new hunter cop, Ennis Ross. In the beginning, he's charming and sweet, trying to propose to his girlfriend. Laviscount makes him a likable character in that first meeting. After they leave the restaurant, he gives Ennis a boyish charm as he tells Tamara about their first meeting as children. It's a touching moment shattered quickly by her death. After, Laviscount conveys all of grief and anger, particularly at the police station. He shows us that Ennis is smart enough to know this is more than a normal human killing. Ennis is impulsive, however, and we can see all the potential for danger for him. We can tell that it's one reason that both the detective and the Winchesters both choose to tell him not to get involved---that “Monsters aren't real.” However, there's so much promise and potential for Ennis to grow as a character---especially the more he learns about this other world running parallel to his own. Only time will tell if we get to see that potential blossom.
Nathaniel Buzolic played our shape-shifter David Lassiter. He was charming, smart, and charismatic on screen. Buzolic made David a subtle character---we can tell in how he reacts to his brother's death and how he approaches others. David is a cautious man, not wanting to make any hasty moves. It's why we see him rely on his ability. That doesn't mean David isn't emotional or impulsive. Buzolic shows how David can get a bit in over his head, too. His love for Violet seems to get him into trouble, after all. Buzolic gives David great wit and subtle humor as they search for the young werewolf. His quip, “Sounds good, Buffy,” is a great example of this. In the final scene between David and Violet, Buzolic makes us sympathetic with the young shape-shifter. We can tell that his love for Violet and his loss of his brother have him emotionally on the rocks. We'll have to wait and see if we'll explore just how much both shape David going forward.
Jensen Ackles played a business like Dean in “Bloodlines,” focused on the case. From the moment the Winchesters arrive at the police station up to the moment Castiel calls, Ackles shows a Dean finding comfort in the hunt. He's making wise cracks, delivering killing blows, and working to figure out what's going on. Even when they learn about the monster families, Ackles shows us that Dean's not so much surprised as exasperated. Dean seems to connect well with both David and Ennis. Despite one being a shape-shifter, he shows a willingness to bend and work with the young man. As we come out of the young “Bloodlines” universe to come back to Supernatural, Ackles shifts to a much more serious Dean. We can tell that the phone call has struck a nerve and put the elder Winchester on alert. As he talks it over with Sam, Ackles conveys all of Dean's urgency just in how he says the name Metatron. In the moment that they switch from trying to figure out what to do for Ennis to possibly stopping the rogue Scribe, we see all of the tension and weight fall back onto Dean's shoulders again, leaving us anxious for the remaining three episodes of the season.
Jared Padalecki plays a gentle Sam Winchester in “Bloodlines.” From the moment the brothers enter the police station to the moment they drive away, we can tell that Sam sympathizes with Ennis. It's all in how Padalecki carries himself. His expressions are softer and his voice is quieter. We can sense a sadness around him as he sees another person's life shattered by a supernatural force. Even though we see him earnestly plead with Ennis not to pursue things, we can tell that he knows his advice won't be heeded. When the phone call comes, we see Padalecki shift his focus from Ennis to Dean---yet almost as if he's straddling both situations. He doesn't want to leave this young cop to his own devices, and yet he knows they must take this shot at stopping Metatron. Padalecki conveys all of Sam's worry well, too. He can tell that the reprieve that Dean experienced on this case has now come to an end, and now he'll have to be back on the watch to see how his brother handles the stresses of the Mark of Cain and the impending battles. It makes us worry with him---and wonder what Sam will do to pull Dean back from the brink.
Best Lines of the Week:
David: Sound good, Buffy.
Sam: All right, look, my name is Sam Winchesters. That' my brother Dean. We kill vampires. And werewolves, and demons and ... Basically, we chase down evil and we cut its head off.
David: We shift... our shape. It's kind of all there in the name.
Dean: Hey Sammy. This is full of blood and meat... a lot of meat, actually this one's labeled Susan.
David: Margo, what's with the NRA Christmas?
Next week, it looks like the Winchesters will face the beginning of a two front war---one against Metatron and the other against Abaddon.