Review of Episode 8×04: Bitten
It’s always hard to evaluate an episode that doesn’t focus on either Sam or Dean. Supernatural is so much about these two characters and their journey, that most of the people in my family don’t even call the show by name: my dad (who has only seen a handful of episodes) refers to it as “The Two Brothers,” while my mom simply calls it “The Boys.” (“Let’s go watch ‘the boys!’”) So, when Sam and Dean are minimally featured in an episode, it’s almost like watching an entirely different show. Could be a great show, or a terrible one, all depending on the strength of the storyline and the performances. Here, I think it fell somewhere in the mediocre middle ground.
While watching “Bitten,” I found myself comparing it a lot to the episode “Ghostfacers,” mainly because of the hand-held cameras, and the general lack of brotherly goodness. I know a lot of people were disappointed with “Ghostfacers.” I myself was less than thrilled when it first aired, but mostly because we had a major storyline that year (Dean going to Hell, Sam trying to save him) – plus a writer’s strike that drastically shortened the season – and the episode “Ghostfacers” didn’t seem like a great use of one of the last four eps of the season. That said, when I watched it again a year or so later, I did have a better appreciation for it. There was a bucketful of humor in that one, plus a few genuine scares (watch it alone, in the dark, and you’ll see what I mean) and some heartfelt emotion.
“Bitten” seemed to lack many of the elements that made “Ghostfacers” work. There wasn’t much humor – just a few lukewarm one-liners about Sam and Dean’s “office romance,” and one pretty funny quip that real FBI agents would not say “awesome” that many times. (And yes, Dean, you do say it that often, but please don’t stop – it’s adorkable!) The scares were kinda lacking, too (there should have at least been a “jump” moment here or there). But I think what this episode needed, more than anything, was some emotional resonance. Supernatural has had episodes with low Sam/Dean involvement in the past – stories that were more about a different character than either of the brothers: “Ghostfacers,” “Weekend at Bobby’s,” “The Rapture,” and probably a few more I’m forgetting. The difference is that we had at least met the Ghostfacers prior to having an episode focused on them, and we already cared about both Bobby and Castiel well before either of them stepped front and center for their episodes.
In contrast, we had never met the three students in “Bitten” before. And, while it is possible to introduce new characters and have the audience quickly begin to care for them (look at Ronald in “Nightshifter,” or Molly in “Roadkill”), it’s a difficult thing to pull off, dependant on both excellent writing and some serious acting skills, and in this case, at least for me, the connection didn’t happen. I didn’t feel like we got to know any of these kids very well. The relationship between Michael and his girlfriend seemed rushed – we saw them meet and flirt, then in the next scene they were sleeping together! I know it was a documentary, and not every single moment was shown, but still…if you’re going to show them meet, then show them fall in love. Otherwise, just have the relationship already established and don’t waste time on the meeting scene.
Another quibble: As with most hand-held camera “movies,” I have a hard time believing that people would still be holding onto the camera – much less pointing it in the right direction – during some of these events. I know some of the cameras were planted/stationary, and that helped, but not enough.
There was some cool stuff about werewolves introduced in this ep. If I understand correctly, anyone within four generations of the Alpha Werewolf is considered a “pureblood” werewolf. A pureblood can change into a wolf at will, is not controlled by moon phases, and does not black out or completely lose control during the shift. That is an interesting tidbit that could be put to good use in fanfiction.
More werewolf notes: This is the only time the show has done werewolves since season two’s “Heart.” Our lycan friends were mentioned–but never shown–in season six, and personally I was kind of glad. Werewolves are my absolute favorite supernatural creatures, and, fittingly, “Heart” is one of my favorite episodes of the show. Through wonderful writing and acting, the audience made a connection with Madison right along with Sam, and when the ending inevitably came, I found myself crying right along with Sam and Dean. That was actually the first (though definitely not the last) episode that made me cry. The storyline in “Heart” so beautifully mirrored the boys’ arc for that season: Sam’s fear of turning evil, Dean’s promise to kill him if he did…
“Heart” was Supernatural at its best. “Bitten,” unfortunately, was not.
I was a little more emotionally engaged by the werewolf teacher – more experienced actor, giving a stronger performance – but he was hardly in it. I wanted to know more about his story, how he kept himself in control for so long (and what eventually made him snap) but we didn’t get that story. Instead, we got a story about three college students making a (sometimes boring) documentary. I appreciate what the writers and actors tried to do – third-wheel jealousy as a motive for extreme actions, love as a motive for protecting a murderer – but it just didn’t quite land.
As far as Sam and Dean’s limited appearances: enjoyed every single one of them! The final scene between the brothers, for me, was the real “money” scene. Sam, as usual, wants to let the girl werewolf go – she can control the change, she hasn’t hurt anyone, and she plans to survive off of animal hearts. Sam then looks to Dean, fully expecting an argument – but Dean doesn’t give one. Instead, much to Sam’s surprise (but not the audience’s), Dean agrees: “Let’s give her a chance.”
John raised his boys to hate all things supernatural, and Dean soaked up that lesson like a brand-new mop. But now, Dean has a bond – maybe even a true friendship – with a vampire, and it seems to be changing his view on monsters in general. Dean, maybe for the first time, is thinking more like Sam always has: in shades of grey. Is this the end of “Shoot first, ask questions later”? And what will Sam have to say when he learns about the reason behind Dean’s post-Purgatory change of heart?
That, I’m looking forward to. More episodes with low Sam/Dean involvement? Not so much. This episode was a semi-intriguing experiment with some cool moments, but not one I’d be particularly interested in viewing again. I’d much rather watch “The Boys.” They’re what I tune in for.