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I’ve been reviewing “Supernatural” a long time.  I started way back in season three and a few hundred episodes later I’m still looking at each one of these episodes under a microscope.  It’s amazing how many of these eps, especially in the hands of lesser writers, become paint by number affairs.  Tell a standard MOTW story by using the same formula – Sam and Dean play Feds and interview witnesses, engage the MOTW, suffer a setback, maybe get a lesson learned, and then triumph over their adversary, ready to live another day and do it all over again. 

This was NOT that episode. 

Holy cow, is anyone breathing yet?  I’ll admit, when I re-watched this episode and took a closer look, it wasn’t as impressive as when I first watched.  But I found myself rewinding constantly the stuff I truly did love, aka the scenes that ripped my heart to shreds.  There was plenty to satisfy the fan that adores Hurt!Sam and Hurt!Dean, and even those that don’t.  

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Werewolves have been on “Supernatural” a lot.  More times than not, they end up being pretty lame.  I mean, remember how awful and painful “Sharp Teeth” was?  (On second thought, I’d prefer to keep that one forgotten).  If you break down “Red Meat” in its simplest form, it is exactly what I described above.  The pacing wasn’t all that brisk at all and the brother’s lives are always on the line.  Then why am I having a full blown freak out?  

The reason Ben Edlund was an exceptional writer for “Supernatural” is because he had this gift to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary.  I truly believe Robert Berens has that same gift and “Supernatural” is blessed to have him.  I certainly feel blessed after this episode.  I’m sure when the idea was pitched, “The werewolf shoots Sam” in the beginning, other writers were thinking a weepy hospital scene and lingering melodrama.  That’s been done a few times on both sides.   How about one of the people they’re rescuing kills a badly wounded Sam because he’s slowing them down?  Especially when Dean is outside none the wiser?  Oh yes, now there’s a twist.  

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I also offer big kudos to Andrew Dabb for stepping in and finishing the script (Berens was given a last minute assignment of writing episode 22 when Jeremy Carver had to step away from “Supernatural” for his new CW pilot).  For the most part he let the original idea run and didn’t try to burden it with emotional speeches.   Of course, he’s probably the one who wrote that ending, which was a bit of a let down after the rest of the story.  Sam and Dean lying to each other is too easy a fallback in a Dabb script.   

I’d like to give a big welcome and a big “hope you come back” to first time SPN director Nina Lopez Corrado.  Because the pacing of the story was slower, that gave her a big opportunity to use shots that built tension and enhance the dire nature of the situation.  I mean, look at the shot at the top of the page with a wounded Sam being embraced by the Impala with the white light off in the horizon.  Gorgeous!  I’m giving her credit though for the best shot of the season by far (perhaps the series), the long slow swipe from feet to head of Sam’s mostly dead body.  Talk about twisting the heartstrings of the viewer!  My stomach dropped that’s for sure.  Even though I would have predicted Sam waking up, it still shocked me when it did, all because of that slow swipe.  

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There were plenty of other great scenes too.  There’s Sam’s shooting and the full slo-mo as he collapsed to the floor.  So dramatic, so gorgeous, and enough to send a vulnerable fan girl into a tizzy. Corrado seems to know us!  Then there’s Dean pulling the bullet out and letting Sam bandage his own wound.  That was pretty intense because Sam was bleeding badly and that bandage was well soaked by the time he finished (nice stomach shots!).  This was definitely more than a flesh wound.  

It was the ranger station scenes though that just about killed me. We’ve seen the Winchesters face some grim situations but this was up there.  Sam was losing the fight but of course Dean wasn’t going to leave his brother there alone and badly wounded when werewolves were circling.  Watching Corbin smother Sam “to death” while Dean was outside had me gasping, and so little freaks me out about this show anymore.  From a visual standpoint, it was a stunner.  Ditto for Dean discovering Sam’s body.  It was only a minute, but Dean’s silent agony told their lifetime story.  And yes, those were two single man tears when he was leaving.  How many times have these guys died?  Why is this season eleven and I’m still getting misty over Dean discovering a dead Sam?  Because Jensen nails it every time, that’s why.  

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It wasn’t just Sam’s peril though.  Dean’s crazy plan to summon Billie was also jarring.  I applaud the act of just following canon.  I often wondered if the writers  forgot that the only way Sam or Dean could summon a reaper is if they die.  Dean’s Death summoning ritual in last season’s finale didn’t sit right with me.  Dean once again goes reckless where Sam is concerned, and his act of offering himself in exchange is pure Dean.  Watching Dean go through that seizure while Sam tumbled down the stairs leaking blood by the gallon both were too shocking for me to nitpick the semantics of such a setup, which in retrospect is a little unbelievable.   

There’s a few things in this episode that also made me wonder, what if the circumstances were different?  Would Sam have killed himself in the hospital to talk to a reaper to save Dean’s life?  I don’t think he would have.  I think he has learned too much from his past mistakes, especially letting The Darkness loose on the world.  I really, really love that Billie made it perfectly clear to Dean, no more deals, no more second chances.  I think Sam got the message when he met her back in episode 11.02.  Dean needed to hear that.  Not to mention Billie was right.  Dean doesn’t need Sam to stop The Darkness.  Dean just needs Sam.  Perhaps watching poor Michelle accept a painful life without Corbin, knowing that from there on out things would never be the same, shows Dean what its like to let go of someone.  Of course Dean has had plenty of opportunity to learn that lesson, but maybe this time it will stick.  Hey, a girl can dream, right? 

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While I could stop there and remain ecstatic in my fan girl glee, realistically there were some flaws to the episode.  Fans are smart and once the excitement wears off, its time to analyze.  A few things just didn’t add up.  First, the werewolves were still cardboard cutouts.  They were hardly fearsome.  The bartender and goon in the bar, the so called masterminds of the pack, were easily taken out by a badly wounded and hardly stable Sam?  I get Sam had the element of surprise but it just goes to show, werewolves are kind of stupid.  

Second, what was up with that overzealous sheriff?  He forced Dean back to the hospital?  Why?  What was wrong with letting Dean go back for his car and brother? He wasn’t hurt of harming anyone.  It seemed like a lame plot trick to separate Sam and Dean and setup Dean’s scene with Billie.  

Third, this episode didn’t do anything to move the season long mytharc, or anything for that matter, forward.  I’m not even sure Sam and Dean got any lessons learned out of this, and the ending seems to be proof.  Sam flat out asked Dean what he did when he thought he was dead.  Why would Dean lie?  To spare Sam’s fragile feelings?  I really, really, really thought we had gotten beyond that.  I wasn’t expecting a weepy speech or outpouring of emotion, just the damn truth.  Let Sam get mad.  He’ll get over it.  He always does.  It can’t be any worse than, “I tricked you to say yes to having an angel possess you and then didn’t tell you.” 

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Then, there’s just the medical stuff.  I’m not a doctor or a nurse, and I do accept that the human body does strange things, but I still marvel how Sam and Dean can be so superhuman sometimes.  Perhaps it’s from all those angel healings?  What happened with Sam could strangely work if you look sideways. When a person is shot, the biggest risks they face is blood loss and shock, especially if the bullet didn’t hit a major organ.  It makes sense that being suffocated would send Sam into shock before he died given his condition.  Sam was losing a lot of blood.   It also makes sense that by everything in his body shutting down because of the shock, the bleeding drastically slowed down.  So, during that time his body kind of healed itself a bit, kind of like a computer being rebooted.   He just had to deal with the horrible pain when he woke up.  Of course the bleeding kicked up again when he started moving, but it should have.  If the bullet had hit an organ, then Sam wouldn’t have fared well at all.  That’s probably why in the end all he needed was a patch up and a transfusion at an urgent care.  

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As for Dean, anyone watch Pulp Fiction?  Nuff said.  A shot of adrenaline through the heart trumps all.  He was still shaky afterward, so his case I believed.

We were also fooled by the timing.  If you remember when they got to the ranger’s cabin, Dean said it was almost daylight.  Chances are Sam was only on that floor for an hour or less.  He probably was less than a 20 minute drive away too, so the time elapsed between the time he was shot and the time he got medical attention could have only been a couple of hours.  Dean removing the bullet had to have given him some time.  I think Sam should have at least had an overnight visit in a real hospital, but considering we don’t know just how long they were at the clinic after Sam arrived, it could have conceivably been next day or much later that day.  The show made it look like it was practically real time.  

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Red Headed Monster

Recently, I decided to brush off the old season two DVDs and re-watch that season.  To be honest, I haven’t seen it in years.  I wanted to go back and see the show right when it began to hit its stride.  My youngest son, who was only 3 when “Supernatural” first went on the air, now at 14 decided to watch with me.  He wasn’t impressed at first (the melodrama of John’s death early in the season is probably not all that appealing to someone picking up the series there), but once we hit “Nightshifter” he was hooked!  Before continuing with the DVDs, he decided to watch “Red Meat” with me.  He didn’t like it at all. 

Why didn’t he like it?  “Nothing happened!” was his two word critique.  You see, in season two, all the episodes were used in some way to move the plot forward.  Sam and Dean dealing with the whole “You’ve got to kill me if I go evil” thing in “Hunted,“ “Playthings,” and Born Under a Bad Sign,” the run-ins with the law in “The Usual Suspects,” “Nightshifter,” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” Sam and Dean’s issues of faith because of their situation in “Houses of the Holy,” Sam’s meltdown in having to kill Madison (a monster) in “Heart”… it was all part of the greater plot - all of these intricacies coming together into one climactic moment.   The plotting was a lot tighter.  Sure, there were a couple of stray episodes in “Tall Tales” and “Hollywood Babylon,” but those were just plain fun.  

Season Eleven is a much improved season but it’s still suffering from the same problem that the show has had since season six.  These mytharcs have lost their complexity and instead of being front and center, they’re nothing but annoying background noise.  By the time you hit episode 17, the mytharc should be so much further along!  It should be more complex than God’s sister roaming the earth having a tantrum and then disappearing for a good number of episodes so Sam and Dean could hunt monsters.   Where has Amara been all this time?  Where is Lucifer in a Castiel suit?  Why is his presence nothing but a random thought right now?   Why is every episode at this point (even it if was entertaining) reminding us that there’s still a mytharc  by only simple statements of frustration from Sam and Dean in the beginning?  “We haven’t forgotten, but there’s this case in Idaho…”  Ugh.  That’s not continuity.  That’s lazy writing.  

In season two not only were Sam and Dean dealing with the yellow eyed demon they were running from the law, running from other hunters (Gordon), looking for other “special children” like Sam,  as well as dealing with their own inner demons, like Dean’s grief over losing John and Sam’s struggle over his dark destiny.  They had a lot on their plates and it played out each and every week.  At the end all those threads came together in one nifty and climactic conclusion.  I hate to call foul when I’m getting good individual stories, but the lack of attention to a sweeping mytharc and pulling everything from the season together is a glaring disappointment in the later seasons when you go back to watching the early ones.  

I challenge this writing team, which I do think has a good balance of talent now (even though there’s a couple I’d like to see leave), to do better in season 12.  Give us a mytharc that’s actually worthy of our attention and time.  Fans love to over-speculate and the outcomes of the last several seasons haven’t been worthy of our imaginations.  

Overall grade, a B.  Amazing story, amazing directing, not so amazing ending, no lessons learned.  There were just enough plot holes too to separate this from last week’s brilliant “Safe House.”  Next week, oh no…Brad and Eugenie?  Judging from the preview, we are back to the cartoonish ways of the mytharc.  Expectations are pretty low folks.  Pretty low.