Review of Episode 8×15: “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits” (AKA “OMG, What’s Wrong with Sammy?!?”)
Overall: Well, the streak had to end sometime. This ep, which explored (in possibly too much depth) the relationship between witches and their familiars, was decent but not off-the-charts great. The final five seconds were the most significant of the whole ep, and I’ll howl about those later, but first:
Sam: What happened to the conversations these guys had last week? The ones about each guy wanting to do the trials so the other one would survive? Apparently those conversations went *poof!* and the issue of who should complete God’s trials became a trust issue. Since when does Dean not trust Sam to get the job done? I would think that completing the ultimate task – the one where Sam took control of Lucifer and stopped the freakin’ apocalypse – would be good enough to earn Dean’s trust forever. Obviously, Sam is more than capable of pulling his weight when the crap is hitting the fan, and Dean should know this. Therefore, the “trust problem” raised in this ep seemed a bit contrived – like the writers really needed something for Sam and Dean to fight about during the ep, and resolve at the end. Sure, you could argue that a lot of stuff has happened since Sam stopped Lucifer, stuff that might make Dean a little hesitant to put his faith in Sammy, e.g. Sam covering up the seriousness of his mental illness in Season Seven, or Sam not looking for Dean after Dean was blasted to Purgatory (I like to just pretend Number Two didn’t happen). But bottom line: the trust argument didn’t ring true for me, and I was glad it only spanned one episode.
Sam’s reaction to the dog was cute. We know he loves pooches, so of course he’d let the dog come right in. I also really like how Sam speaks to dogs – I like his “dog voice” and I like how he talks to them as though they can understand exactly what he’s saying – which, in this case, was actually true. His nervous anticipation of Dean’s reaction was funny, and the brothers’ collective reaction to seeing the woman on the bed was priceless. There was a lot of humor in this one (Dean: “That was hot.” Sam: “It was pretty hot.” Sam: “I proud of you, Dean – twenty-four hours and not one bestiality joke.”), though some of the “funny” bordered on icky.
Dean: Is allergic to cats, apparently. I don’t remember him sneezing when that cat popped out during “Yellow Fever,” but then again, he was probably too busy shrieking like a five-year-old girl for the nasal allergies to kick in. This episode also told us loud and clear that Dean doesn’t like dogs. I wonder if this is a lifelong distaste, or something that cropped up more recently because of his experience getting mauled by a hellhound.
There may actually be some merit to Sam’s line “You can only trust you.” In some ways, Dean really is the only person who has always, without fail, been there for Dean. John dropped the ball numerous times, leaving Dean alone to care for Sam when the boys were young. Sam went off to college and has wavered in his commitment to the hunt at various points. Sam also didn’t try to find out what happened to Dean after the exploding-Dick incident, but like I said, I’m not dwelling on that part. So, you could make a case for Dean not trusting Sam to complete the tasks – but that’s not what I felt from Dean in the previous episode. I felt his emotion when he said he wanted Sam to live – and that’s all. Not “I don’t think you’re up for it,” or “I think you’re going to wuss out and go to back to college halfway through the final task.” Just “I want you to live.” Plain and simple. Truth is, Sam’s always been there when Dean really needed him to be, from showing up in the orchard in “Scarecrow,” to dragging himself back to consciousness after Cass knocked down the mental wall. And although Dean eventually came to the whole “we’re stronger together” realization after looking at some flashbacks, this is something he should have known all along.
James: So, Sam and Dean have a cop friend, who’s now a witch. In “Malleus Maleficarum,” the witches gained their power by unknowingly swearing themselves over to the Dark One. The demon in that episode told a member of her coven, “You sold yourself to me, you pig.” So, I thought that’s how witches got their powers – by calling upon dark forces and essentially making a pact with a devil. I’m not really sure how the witches in this ep got their powers, or what they were using them for (aside from James, who apparently only uses his for good), but I was a little confused at the inconsistency. Then again, we’ve seen Sam, Dean, Bobby and Henry all cast spells and perform incantations without the assistance of dark forces, so clearly magic is something that can be learned and used by anyone with the right spell book. Maybe the difference is that the witches in “Malleus Maleficarum” were using magic for their own personal gain, while Sam, Dean, James, etc only use magic for the benefit of mankind?
Portia: A really awesome dog…er, person. I was kind of uncomfortable with her wearing a collar and calling James her “Master.” She obviously has human-level intelligence. She also has strong morals and a great capacity for forming emotional bonds. All of this says to me that she – and the other familiars – should not be subordinates to their witches, but equal partners. Yet, when cat-boy (LeChat) got a “direct order” from his master, he had no choice but to obey. That is just all kinds of wrong. Another thing that’s all kinds of wrong: cropping the ears and tails of dogs. I wish this episode had used a dog with natural ears and a natural tail – not only because I disagree with cropping, but because cropping didn’t make sense with the animal-to-human transformation. I mean, I don’t know about the tail, but wouldn’t parts of her ears be missing in human form, if she’d had them cropped in canine form?
The Last Five Seconds: So, moments after Dean finally declares that he trusts Sam, Sam starts coughing up blood. My first thought: the episode isn’t over, and one of the other witches is hexing Sam. But then the episode ended, making the possibilities so much worse. It could be: A) Something terribly, physically wrong with Sam that has nothing to do with the supernatural. B) A reaction to having his dangerous hell-memories dredged up. Or C) A physical symptom having to do with the trials, which the boys foolishly started without having all the information, because they only have half a tablet. Option C is the most likely, and probably the most terrifying. My best guess for why Sam is suddenly not doing so good: the trials probably have some sort of time limit. Maybe once you start the tasks, you have to finish them within a certain time frame, or you’re screwed. Right now, Sam is screwed. And the worst part is, Dean likely isn’t going to find out for a while, which will make the situation fifty times worse.
Final Thoughts: The worst thing that could happen to Dean: something bad happening to his little brother. The worst thing that could happen to a Dean-girl: something bad happening to Dean’s little brother. Bad things are happening. My heart is a giant, beating lump in my throat.