Supernatural season 9 episode 20 review: Bloodlines

Review Anastasia Klimchynskaya 2 May 2014 - 10:04

Fancy a Supernatural spin-off? This episode provides a bit of a taster of what that spin-off might be like...

This review contains spoilers.

9.20 Bloodlines

This week, Supernatural is doing something a little new and unusual: its weekly episode is devoted to the backdoor pilot for a potential spinoff show, titled Supernatural: Bloodlines. There’s been a lot of speculation in fandom over the past few years about potential spinoffs, with many fans hoping that one of the numerous amazing secondary characters on Supernatural would get their own show. But, despite hopes and headcanons, I’m not sure anyone actually expected a spinoff to happen. However, with the CW’s Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals seemingly doing so well (especially as a lead-in to Supernatural on Tuesday nights), it seems like Supernatural gets to follow suit and potentially get another show set in its world.

Judging by this episode, though, Supernatural: Bloodlines has very little to do with Supernatural itself. Sure, there are some parallels and allusions, but overall – in terms of style, narrative, character, and setting - this show fits much better into the CW’s numerous lineup of soap operas much better than it does into the world of Supernatural.

In fact, this show feels very cut and dried in terms of where it falls: it’s a soap opera with supernatural elements in it. And sure, with all of its family drama and whatnot, Supernatural is to some extent a soap opera – but one with so many layers and other genres imbuing it that set it apart from everything else.

Supernatural’s always had an emphasis on lore, legend, and mythology as not just a plot device, but as a defining feature of the landscape; the monsters were both myths and metaphors. In Bloodlines, though, all the supernatural stuff is less another layer of meaning and more just a plot device – just like on, say, The Vampire Diaries. Then there’s the fact that Supernatural mixes so many different genres and tropes, creating a layered narrative of horror, epic, and drama – while this show seems to focus entirely on the drama without any of the other layers.

And, finally, Supernatural has that dark, gritty, heartland-of-the-midwest Americana aesthetic to it; it unfolds on old highways, cheap motels, and classic American diners that give it a very distinctive feel, and the characters’ struggles seem grounded in that difficult, bitter, ungilded world. This show, though, is full of the high-end restaurants and fancy mansions that populate the CW’s vampire soap operas, medieval soap operas, and sci-fi soap operas. It’s got none of that dark, gritty feel, and all of that “the world of pretty rich white people and their problems” feel to it that might draw CW viewers, but probably isn’t going to draw Supernatural viewers.

Another strike against it is that, despite the wide array of incredibly interesting characters on Supernatural that could carry their own spinoff (Jody Mills, anyone? Charlie Bradbury? Hell, the adventures of Crowley and Castiel, even), this show chooses to start off with a cast of entirely new – and, for the most part, unremarkable – characters. The main of these is Ennis Ross, the protagonist whose revenge quest is billed as the center of the show. The show starts with Ennis (who is, at least, the one non-white person in this world, giving this show just slightly more diversity than one would expect from Supernatural) taking his fiancée-to-be out to a fancy restaurant the Winchesters could never dream of affording.

Shortly after proposing, the two of them are witnesses to an attack by some kind of supernatural-esque monster, leading to said fiancée’s death. This, of course, propels our protagonist on his revenge quest and gives him the motivation that sets the story going – proving that despite almost a decade of being on the air, Supernatural still hasn’t moved past the whole fridging-women-as-plot-device thing. Naturally, the parallel to the revenge quest of Sam and John Winchester that Supernatural began with is pretty glaring, emphasized even more by the really expected talk Sam gives Ennis about how avenging the dead female plot device is actually a bad idea and how he should go back to his nice normal life. Predictably, Ennis doesn’t listen, plunging headfirst into a world of monsters.

Even more predictably, Ennis has no idea what he’s doing, which means that every encounter he has with monsters end with him being saved by the Winchesters, who make some charming appearances. It’s not surprising that they’re the highlight of the episode, and you find yourself thinking that you’d so much rather be watching a spinoff about these sassy, sarcastic professionals than this clueless protagonist... oh, wait. Meanwhile, Ennis’ personality seems nonexistent, while his emotional range this episode seems to alternate between “I’m so confused” to “what the hell” with a helping of “I’m going to shoot it anyway.” If the show hopes to stay on the air, I’m hoping he develops at least a little bit of the personality the Winchesters have had from day one.

Despite his cluelessness, though, Ennis ends up teaming up with the Winchesters and shapeshifter David Lassiter against the “monster” that’s been killing everybody, which is explained away by Dean as “sometimes you have to work with the bad people to get to the worse people” (I guess that’s a moral conundrum the Winchesters stopped having a while ago). This leads to an ending that feels both rushed and contrived as it labors to set up the ensuing storyline. It turns out that the “monster” who’s been killing monsters is actually a human (which, okay, is a mildly interesting turn of events), who promptly gets shot in cold blood by Ennis (way to win viewers over, protagonist). Despite these truths, though, Ennis seems intent on becoming a hunter - even though, given his cluelessness this episode, it sounds like we’re going have to suspend our disbelief about how he’s going to survive. Hopefully his father (who is apparently alive and missing, in case you were looking for another Winchester parallel) will give him some advice on hunting as he picks up what is apparently “the family business.”

The show doesn’t spend quite as much time on Ennis’ discovery of this new world of monsters, though, as it does on all the family feuds, grudges, romance and rivalry of the rich white monster families. Among these is David Lassiter, who stands out at least slightly from the rest of the cast. A shapeshifter who left his monster family to go seek out a normal life and go to college, he’s a complete mirror image of Sam leaving his family to seek out a normal life away from the monsters before Supernatural began. This is by far one of the most interesting moments in the episode: a monster who doesn’t want to be a monster and who, like the human protagonists of Supernatural, has to struggle against that calling and that identity. Of course, he kind of has it easier in that, being a shapeshifter rather than a vampire or a demon, he doesn’t actually need to hurt people to survive. That, I suppose, makes him just moral enough to be a monster protagonist.

Eventually, though, David’s forced to return to his family, as his sister Margo Lassiter seems intent on going to war against the Duval family – they being two of the five monster mafia families ruling Chicago (as Dean so aptly puts it, it’s The Godfather with fangs). Apparently, tensions are escalating between these rivals and there’s “a war coming” (hmm, where have we heard this before?)

There are several problems with this. The first is the “there’s going to be a big scary war” plot-bomb dropped directly into the first episode. In thus eschewing a multi-season buildup of the kind that led to the spectacular war between Heaven and Hell in Supernatural, this move removes both the stakes and the viewer investment from the coming confrontation. Slightly more problematic, though, is the utter unbelievability (something unbelievable on a show about the supernatural? Yes, it happens) of the fact that a bunch of monsters control an entire city. Wouldn’t the hunter network (which is pretty extensive, as we’ve learned in Supernatural) have noticed by now and tried to do something about it? Wouldn’t the Winchesters have heard about it? And, considering that this monster underground is apparently extensive and organized enough to even have their own bars and VIP clubs, wouldn’t they have shown up during the Apocalypse and made their presence known during this climactic event? And by the way, considering that there’s five different monster families, why haven’t they all eaten each other yet? Perhaps those questions will be answered – and they'd better be, if this show hopes to survive.

Of course, if there’s war and feuding families, there also has to be romance, because nothing draws viewers like a forbidden romance, apparently. In this show, our Romeo and Juliet are the aforementioned David Lassiter and Violet Duval, a werewolf from a rival family. Admittedly, it’s actually kind of sweet to watch two monsters transcending their identities and differences to be together... or something. I admit, I can be a sap sometimes, and I’ve had my moments of having a tad too many feelings about The Vampire Diaries

The problem, though, is that this kind of cuteness doesn’t feel like it belongs in Sam and Dean’s world. Their dark, gritty reality, where hunting ruins your life, monsters kill the people you love, and there’s no getting out, has very little to do with the pretty people in expensive couture dresses with impeccable makeup and superpowers having a cutesy romance. Only a few episodes ago, Dean and Sam were conflicted about Garth’s werewolf family and whether they deserved to live; only last episode, the big moral dilemma was whether a human raised by vampires deserved a chance. It’s kind of hard to imagine that a story set in a world introduced to us by a show about hunting monsters would ask the viewers to so quickly and immediately jump to identifying with the monsters and their first world problems of who gets to have sex with whom or live in a bigger mansion.

In fact, thinking back to the monsters of the first season of Supernatural, who were scary enough to give just about anyone the heebie-jeebies, it would’ve been almost unthinkable to make a story about the problems of those very monsters. Sure, Supernatural’s changed since then and introduced a bit more gray area – but, nevertheless, if this show wants to survive and attract Supernatural viewers, it’s going to need to work a lot harder in getting viewers to invest in the stories of the very monsters they’ve spent years watching the Winchesters kill.

While it does present a few interesting scenes and callbacks to the show we love, this spinoff doesn’t feel like an expansion of the world we’ve come to love. Rather, it feels like a totally different world with different people and rules. It’s yet to be decided whether the spinoff will get made (though the episode’s ratings appear quite decent), but I know that, unless something changes drastically, I personally will stick with Supernatural rather than watching Bloodlines.

Read Anastasia's review of the previous episode, Alex Annie Alexis Ann, here.

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