“Dead Man’s Blood” is not one of my favorites. It’s not that it wasn’t well written. It was written by Cathryn Humphries and John Shiban, two very strong writers at the time. It’s not the directing. This was shot by one time “Supernatural” director Tony Wharmby, who went on to establish a pretty great repertoire with the “NCIS” series and spinoffs. It’s certainly not the acting, as Jeffrey Dean Morgan was prominent in this story and did quite a layered take on John Winchester. Nope, it’s that I hate vampire stories in “Supernatural.”
There’s a generally accepted lore about vampires among the science fiction realm, but it’s not followed here. John explained it this way:
“Most vampire lore is crap. A cross won't repel them, sunlight won't kill them, and neither will a stake to the heart. But the bloodlust, that part's true. They need fresh human blood to survive. They were once people, so you won't know it's a vampire until it's too late.”
I get that “Supernatural” wanted to deviate. Be different, carve that niche. The problem is, most of the vampires on this show have really sucked. They’re vapid, shallow, listless, and very few in the bunch had any sort of charisma. They’ve been terrible villains. Dressed in leather and denim, maintaining certain lowlife swagger that's borderline mustache twirling, hanging out in barns and s**tholes partying all night long and lurking in the shadows to pounce on victims? Boring.
This episode is most significant because it is the introduction to the fabled “Colt,” aka the demon killing gun created by Samuel Colt that weaved its way through many of “Supernatural’s” seasons. It was the first late season panacea, aka the device that suddenly appeared out of nowhere to defeat a prior seemingly undefeatable foe. Or is it more of a deus ex-machina, meaning the writers wrote themselves into a corner and needed a way to get themselves out? Po-ta-to, po-tat-o. Still, it was pretty wicked when John used it in this episode to kill Luther. Quite a sight watching everyone's stunned expressions over its power.
Not that I didn’t dig the Colt. I did. It was interesting lore and honestly, was believable given its ties to the old West. After all, demonology can’t be just a twentieth century thing! I was a fan through most of the series and was really put off by its unceremonious end in season twelve. It was another “screw you fandom” by Andrew Dabb to those who wouldn’t shut up about it.
But I digress, I’m here to talk about this episode in season one. Another relevant introduction was the use of dead man’s blood to neutralize the vampires. That too has been used through the series and has proven to be a fun little weapon now and then against these listless bloodsuckers. All too often the later seasons have just relied on the same visual effect of Dean or Sam cutting off heads. Like we never see that coming. In a way, I prefer the more subtle approach of disabling them for a time to play out the story, or I would, that is, if these vampires were remotely interesting.
The title was a clever double meaning though. Not only was “Dead Man’s Blood” a device to fight the vampires, but it also hinted that John was a dead man walking and Sam and Dean were the blood left behind. That does play out that way a few episodes later. Isn’t foreshadowing in episode titles grand?
Pop Psychology of a Surfacing Family Drama in a Few Paragraphs
The real strength of the episode was the explosive emergence of the Winchester family issues. It really didn’t take long. Sam’s anger emerged fast, as well as Dean’s defense of John, despite John being a total ass to him. I mean, that comment about taking care of the Impala was a low blow!
This is not a warm fuzzy episode. It is John Winchester in full drill sergeant mode, going out of his way to be an ass to his sons. It was very off-putting. Everything he did made logical sense, but it’s still not fun to watch. But Mr. Morgan did take one subtle approach with John that hinted that everything was not alright despite his command of the situation. He was tired. He was resigned. He was lashing out because he wanted his sons to be ready to carry on the fight without him. He was not planning on surviving this. Sure, he said that too, but the body language was there first!
Still, you’ve been missing most of the season, dodging your sons, and suddenly you just hop in the back seat and you’re all business? Where’s the, “Good to see you boys,” or well, anything else? Keeping them on a need to know basis, dropping a bombshell of vampires on them without any sharing of information, the “Do what I say attitude.” No wonder Sam was completely pissed off. He gave up his dream life for this?
My favorite scene in this episode, and one of the more pivotal ones in the series, was Sam forcing John to pull over so they could have an explosive confrontation in the middle of the road. That little scene had so much meaning and was a perfect display of the Winchester family dynamic. Dean was truly the guy that held the family together. He had a power over both his Dad and brother to get them to listen to reason in the heat of the moment. It’s always been fun to watch that. If you think about it though, Dean’s actions didn’t solve the deeper issues. It just delayed them until the next confrontation. That’s been a Dean Winchester problem through the whole series as well - burying any problems that were there instead of addressing them. Suck it up and move on. That has proven to be both a big strength and a big liability for Dean.
Sam’s tirade worked though, because John finally came clean about the gun. He also softened on Sam a bit, telling him the story about putting away money for a college fund for him and Dean and this wasn’t the life he wanted for them. It was a nice moment that confirmed what we suspected about John, he still cared. I also saw his POV about the blow of Sam going away to school. That had to destroy his narrow mind set that they would fight all that evil as a family together. It did establish one thing, John and Sam were far more alike that Dean and John. No wonder they didn’t get along!
The ending in “Shadow” didn’t sit right with me. Dean was dying to get his Dad back and then at the end he said John would be safer without them? Wait, what? His changed direction at the end of this episode made far more sense. Dean and Sam together convinced John to carry on the fight as a family by disobeying an order. That had to be done jointly. If Sam had done that it would have just led to another fight. If Dean had done it alone, he would have been chastised as careless. That ending scene epitomized the mantra that has been driven home the entire series - stronger together. It has come up time and time again and any time a Winchester goes it alone, bad shit happens. John actually came up with a plan that had him getting the gun and bolting alone, but Sam and Dean coming back to save him from the vampires, and John getting to save Sam, was enough to convince him he needed the boys and they needed him. He’s proud of how far they’ve come. It also proved what his rough exterior refused to show, he did miss his boys. That’s awesome until, well, he leaves them again in the next episode, “Salvation.”
So what did we learn in the end? The Winchester have some really deep issues. :)
Favorite Line - Dean: Huh, vampires. Get’s funnier every time I hear it.
I love episodes that take place in Colorado. It gives them a chance to show those gorgeous BC mountains. The snow is authentic too, so they must have filmed up there at higher altitudes.
I can’t help but wonder if John would have surfaced if Sam and Dean hadn’t gotten the letter. That would have been pretty crappy of him. But yeah, it went a different way.
Overall, I thought the story was choppy and kind of mechanical. Not a stellar return of John Winchester. I enjoyed him much better in the next three episodes. Overall grade, a B-.
I did do full recaps a while back of "Salvation," “Devil’s Trap,” and “In My Time of Dying.” These are the old school, very detailed recaps with snarky commentary like they used to do at Television Without Pity. Grab a cup of coffee and take in the long reads if you have some time. Those are a pretty fun format, just one that obviously wasn’t sustainable for every episode.
Up next, I move into season two with “Everybody Loves a Clown.” That one disturbs me, gets me laughing, and allows me to shed a tear of two for these grief stricken boys. Kind of all over the map, but it gets the job done. I didn't get a chance to review most of the episodes in season two, so for those of you that are big fans of the season, my next chunk of reviews will be a great chance to reminisce about some really awesome stuff.
What are your thoughts on "Dead Man's Blood"? Reactions to Alice's observations? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Enjoy Alice's many episode reviews! They can all be found on The WFB Writer's Page!