Not Your Everyday Episode – Supernatural’s ‘Bloodlines’
This week’s episode wasn’t a ‘normal’ Supernatural episode, which means this won’t be a ‘normal’ episode review. Everyone knew that ‘Bloodlines’ was a backdoor pilot for a new CW show as well as an episode of Supernatural, so my expectations were different than usual. Which was a very good thing. Otherwise, I might have been jumping up and down screaming at my television WHEN THE HELL ARE WE GETTING BACK TO THE MARK OF CAIN STORYLINE??? Or I might have been repeatedly tweeting #NeedsMoreSam&Dean. I didn’t expect much progression in the main story arcs since this was essentially a standalone episode in order to introduce new characters and setting – but I have to admit, it’s difficult having a standalone this late in the season, when all I can think about is OMG we only have three more episodes!!!
Fandom’s reaction was mixed (as always), but on reflection, it was difficult having a pilot episode as Season 9 Episode 20 of a long-running Show which has struggled with pacing this season. We’ve all been on the edge of our seats, waiting patiently (or not) to find out what’s going to happen with the Mark of Cain, the Crowley and Abbadon battle, Metatron, the angel war – the Show has multiple major storylines and none of them seem anywhere near sewn up. No wonder, then, that it tried some fans’ patience to have a standalone episode interrupt the momentum. I had a hard time believing that the Winchesters would run off to Chicago to investigate some killings instead of spending all their time in the search for Gadreel, Metatron and Abbadon. Last week it made sense – it was Jody, and she’s like family. This week, everyone in Chicago was a stranger to Sam and Dean.
Therein lies another problem. Everyone in Chicago was a stranger to us as well. Spinoffs seem to work well with established characters who have been on the show long enough for us to care about their wellbeing and know a little about their backstory. The Originals’ main characters, for example, were established on The Vampire Diaries for a string of episodes before the spinoff separated them out. If Bloodlines had featured Benny, or Kevin, or Garth, or Jody, or Charlie, or anyone we’ve come to know and care about, then Sam and Dean interrupting their search to come help would have been more believable – and fans would have been invested enough in the characters to accept the new Show as part of Supernatural. Instead, it didn’t really feel like SPN – it felt like an episode of another show that happened to have the Winchesters as minor guest stars. In other words, this was an episode of Supernatural that wasn’t an episode of Supernatural.
In all fairness, this was not entirely a surprise. In a USA Today interview before the episode aired, executive producer Jeremy Carver noted that even in the opening minutes, “you are abundantly aware of how this is a different show than Supernatural, in a good way.”
I admit that my kneejerk reaction was “There IS no good way to be different than Supernatural!”
I’m empathizing with Singer and writer Andrew Dabb’s dilemma here though – in an interview for TVLine, Dabb said:
“[Supernatural] is going into Season 10 – and we all very much hope it’s going to go beyond Season 10. You don’t want to do another show that’s just about hunters because then you’re competing with Supernatural. So it really was a conversation between myself, [series creator] Eric Kripke and [executive producers] Bob Singer and Jeremy Carver about what can we do to make it in the world of Supernatural, but not an exact clone of Supernatural. “
That makes sense to me, and I admire Dabb’s loyalty and protectiveness for Supernatural – it’s something we all feel. But it put Dabb and company into a bit of a Catch-22. Making Bloodlines different than Supernatural but simultaneously making it an episode of Supernatural turned out to be a rather confusing (and at times frustrating) experience. Fan tweets:
“Okay, but where are Sam and Dean?” — Everyone watching Bloodlines
Never enough Sam & Dean, and that goes for shows they aren’t even on
(In fact, Sam&Dean trended on twitter during the episode as fans tweeted about their absence).
That’s an unfair expectation to have for a backdoor pilot that has a whole cast of new stars to introduce. But because it was placed as a Supernatural episode – and especially because it was placed just four episodes from the end of the season with major loose ends still dangling – it was difficult not to be impatient with the lack of Winchesters.
The other thing that impacted reception to Bloodlines was that very protectiveness that Dabb and the rest of the cast and crew share with the fandom. We’re freaking passionate about this Show and that makes us all very protective. Even some of the cast were taken aback by their strong feelings. Kim Rhodes tweeted that she was feeling oddly competititve, adding “I don’t want sibling rivalry, help!”
The network clearly expected fans’ passion to seamlessly translate to anything Supernatural, but that’s not always the way it works. Fandom is emotional as often as logical, perhaps moreso. Some fans felt used – as though by giving this new show the name Supernatural, TPTB took it for granted that we’d flock over there like lemmings. TV Guide’s review (ouch) said it seemed like “a blatant attempt to exploit a preexisting fanbase.” Some fans felt the new show threatened the longevity of the original, replacing SPN with what seemed to be a cast of much younger actors and a more CW-friendly standard fare romantic plotline.
Network tweet: Who’s excited for a new Supernatural love story?
I’m not sure what the answers were, but that hasn’t exactly been the draw of Supernatural until now (except in fanfiction).
Carver and company succeeded in distinguishing Bloodlines from SPN, but in the process, may have changed some of the things that Supernatural fans watch for. Bloodlines is prettier, less gritty, with a larger ensemble cast and a set-up that does fit better on the CW. Let’s face it, Supernatural has never fit in there – it’s been described as the ‘red headed stepchild’ of the network more than once. Bloodlines, in contrast, does fit in. The problem is, most of the people watching Supernatural cherish it for all the ways it doesn’t.
Tumblr post: DAMN IT, WHERE IS MY SHOW??
As far as Bloodlines characters go, the two leads, Ennis (Lucien Laviscount) and David (Nathaniel Buzolic), a human and a shapeshifter, have some chemistry and they already squabble like brothers even though they just met. There are plenty of callbacks to the Winchesters, with Ennis pulled into hunting by the death of his girlfriend and David pulled back from his attempt to escape the ‘family business’ by going to college. There are clear daddy issues, and sibling rivalries. Ennis is fond of saying “awesome” and David has snappy lines like:
Dean: “You and me, Romeo.”
David: “Sounds good, Buffy.”
Many of the themes are familiar Supernatural territory – loss, revenge, monsters versus humans (and humans who are monsters), the demands of family versus the freedom of escaping family bonds. Then there’s the evil mobstress big sister shapeshifter Margo (Danielle Savre) and the tragic victimized little sister werewolf, Violet (Melissa Roxburgh), referred to as a bitch by everyone, including herself. I get that she’s a werewolf, but urgh. I suppose some of that is familiar Supernatural territory too…
Some aspects of canon seemed to be altered a bit – don’t shapeshifters shed their skin ala Dean in ‘Skin’? I seem to remember that was pretty disgusting, and not nearly as seamless and pretty as it was on Bloodlines. Sometimes fandom isn’t such a stickler for canon continuity, though. Seen on Twitter:
Sam looks like he’s in a L’Oreal commercial though, so there’s your continuity.
While Bloodlines clearly drew from Supernatural, what it took from Supernatural is not necessarily what has made the Show such a success. It’s not the monsters that drew most of us into the Show and made us fall in love. It’s not the eye candy, or the canon romances. It’s Sam and Dean Winchester, and the incredible chemistry between Ackles and Padalecki, that has set Supernatural apart. It’s these characters, their relationship with each other and with the other important (well drawn, nuanced) characters — Cas, Bobby, Jody, Gabriel, Kevin, Charlie — that make the Show so popular.
Bloodlines may have worked better as a standalone pilot. It seemed aimed at a slightly different audience, which is fine unless you happen to be jammed into an existing Show, and a framework that doesn’t quite fit. Of course, an embedded pilot makes sense financially, but not if it jeopardizes the pilot’s pick-up.
There was actually quite a bit to like about Bloodlines – it was beautifully filmed, has an interesting premise with the five monster families, and it was cool to see the Winchesters in the big city for a change. The idea of changing the point of view from hunters to monsters is an interesting one. As Ackles said in the USA Today article, “You’ve seen the monsters through Sam and Dean’s eyes, and now we’re taking a whole different perspective on them.” An interesting idea, but a very different show.
We also got a little bit of Sam and Dean interaction with some classic lines, as quoted with Twitter commentary:
“Yeah, I see ya…” — GUEST STAR Dean 1000000% done with you Winchester.
“I could go into detail, but I’m not going to.” – Dean Winchester is so done with everything.
I’m always happy to get a peek into Sam’s headspace, and we got a few comments from him on how he sees hunting now –
“You get in this too deep..there’s no getting out!”
“What we do…it’s messed up.”
Each time, the camera lingers on Dean’s reaction to Sam’s words. He seems to be trying to figure Sam out as desperately as I am!
I also admit that I squeed out loud when Sam introduced them:
“That’s my brother, Dean.”
He used the B word!!! Oh, my heart!
I also love that Bloodlines was filmed in Chicago. This gave some fans in the US a unique opportunity to watch filming. Winchester Family Business staff writer Nightsky, who lives in the Windy City, spent three crazy days trying to track down filming locations, and finally succeeded. Her adventures in fangirl persistence and creativity are here, along with behind the scenes photos:
Filming in Chicago also meant that some lucky fans actually got to contribute to the Show they love! There’s nothing that warms our hearts more than the reciprocal relationship Supernatural has with its fans, so we were thrilled when a fan (Lisa Diamont) contacted us to share the story of how they were able to help the Show out during the filming of Bloodlines.
A few months ago, Impala owner and SPN fan Rick Blevins was approached by the Show, asking if they could use his Impala for the spinoff. Shipping Baby and all the weapons in her trunk across the border from Canada would have been a logistical nightmare (and cost a fortune). Rick is part of a group of Impala owners (as Lisa said, the ultimate cosplayers!) formed at the Dallas Creation convention in the past few years. He has helped many Impala-owning fans figure out what specific Impala parts are canon and where to find them, and even the color number of the interior paint! When the Show called him, Rick had helped build and then sold his own Impala, but he recommended another from the group. The only problem was, this car (belonging to SPN fan Stefany Torres) was not quite finished. There ensued a mad rush to finish the weapons trunk, which didn’t have some of the items seen prominently in many screen shots. The Impala group sprung into action, everyone digging through their prop stashes – in true SPN Family teamwork fashion, each car contributed some items to complete the weapons trunk.
One particularly crafty member (Claudia Drinovsky aka @swissmom8873) hand made the bullet box (wood with silver inlay) and the dream catcher (seen in the episode), and the evil eye beads that hang near the dream catcher. Ariel and Jay Horcher loaned the grenade launcher (shown in the episode), the cross on the trunk lid and a large wooden stake. Lisa and Adam Diamont supplied the long arrow usually seen at the top of the trunk lid and the compass that hangs near the brass knuckles. Once the Impala was fully decked out, Rick and Stefany headed to Chicago – and a fan Impala became part of canon.
When Lisa shared this story with us, she also shared the emotion, something we’ve also experienced:
“How amazing the feeling of finally being able to give something back to Show after all the joy (and sometimes misery) Show has brought to us as fans. I just thought this was a great example of our awesome Fandom!”
The promo for next week’s episode made me literally jump up and start screaming. Finally we’re getting to the main story arcs – Abbadon, Gadreel, Metratron, the Mark of Cain! Are you all as excited as I am???
Share your thoughts with us in comments – we’d love to know your reaction to Bloodlines!
For more fangirl adventure stories, read
Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls and Fan
Phenomena: Supernatural. Click the links
at the top of the page to order