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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Man I hate backdoor pilots, not sure I've ever seen one that made me want to watch the spin-off. The Finder with Bones, the Originals with the Vampire Diaries (made even worse by the fact that the actual pilot was just a retread of the backdoor pilot from a different perspective) and now Bloodlines with Supernatural, none of those episodes were particularly interesting in and of themselves or set themselves up as being something other than pale imitations of the parent show. Now don't get me wrong, in the first two instances I did or am watching the spin-off and will probably give Bloodlines at least the first 4 episodes but honestly I'm of the opinion that Supernatural itself should have ended 4 seasons ago and while I'm sticking with that until the bitter end it's highly unlikely Bloodlines will get the same devotion. In my mind Supernatural is the last of the "old guard" of fantasy TV shows about actually fighting evil (Buffy, Angel, Charmed) whereas the newer fantasy shows are all about living with the supernatural (the Vampire Diaries, The Originals, True Blood, Being Human) the exception being Grimm (and possibly the Witches of East End but that's pushing it somewhat) which successfully treads a line between the two. Bloodlines seems like it'll fall into the latter category and also suffer from CW cliché syndrome (events every episode, love triangles, inability to kill characters or change the show in any meaningful way). But we'll see...

I absolutely love Supernatural but have to say this was, without a doubt in my opinion, the worst episode of the show ever. I know it was just a back door pilot episode but I found it painful to watch. The only redeemable thing about it was the scenes that included Sam and Dean. In general though, just awful.

I think you have it pretty right on all counts. I also watch The Vampire Diaries, as I mentioned in the review, but I only ever cared about the Original vampires when they were part of the TVD storyline, and the backdoor pilot for The Originals was so boring that I don't know how I even got through it. So I'm with you in hating backdoor pilots.

I think you make an interesting point about fantasy shows shifting from fighting evil to living with the supernatural - there definitely seems to be a shift where morality goes out the window and no matter how many people the monsters kill you're supposed to invest in them and hope they get together because they wear pretty dresses. Or something. I think from the pilot, the spinoff is going to try to go in this same Vampire Diaries, Originals, etc..direction - and that's not supernatural.

That would have made a much better spin-off, definitely one I would watch. Charlie in Oz is another idea that would have been better than what they went for.

I would so totally be behind a show about Colt (he's one of the awesome characters I forgot to mention in the article as potentially making a great spinoff). I believe Kripke originally wanted to make a spinoff about Colt as well - the wiki page on his character says that that's something Kripke was interested in. Considering how well the show pulled off the episode "Frontierland," that's something they totally could've done. Hunting in the 19th century, without modern technology? That'd be super cool.

I'm wondering if they're going to ocassionally be bringing supernatural characters onto the spinoff for a few episodes here and there - I think they're going to have to, if they want it to succeed, because you're right: a totally new cast of characters isn't going to work particularly well, especially given how bland most of them are. That is, assuming this spinoff even gets off the ground.

Well, I'd say the rapist Becky episode or maybe a couple this season (Rock and a Hard Place?) possibly get the #1 spot for worst for all their blatant sexism and awful writing, but this comes pretty close to having absolutely nothing to do with anything that ever made supernatural any good.

This episode was just naff. The Supernatural spin off if any should of been Wild West set Colt series with samuel colt and the forging of the weapon itself (think deadwood with Supernatural) Or a 50's set Men of letters

Between the fridging, the wooden acting, and the general bland, Vampire Diaries-ness of it all, when my stream started going wonky a third into the episode, I decided it wasn't worth labouring through the rest. This was just... so, so bad.

Thanks- i just finished watching this episode, and you've mirrored my thoughts exactly. Usually even the worst episode of Supernatural doesn't have me waiting for it end but this time, for the first time I think, I was bored almost immediately. David Lassiter was mildly interesting and the exposure of the protagonist as human a nice touch, but has been done far better in Supernatural (even this season). I don't think of Supernatural as soap but as human drama, while this was just... anodyne. After last week's beautifully written and multi-layered plot this week was a huge disappointment- hopefully next week's King of Hell will be much better. For me it felt more like Days of our Lives with monsters and decapitations than The Godfather.

The Original family was an interesting addition to TVD but out stayed their welcome before being spun-off, they should have spun then off a good season earlier when there was something interesting still to tell. Making Klaus unkillable on a fundamental series survival level was a mistake as whatever trouble he is in cannot possibly be fatal as the majority of the TVD cast would promptly die.

CW shows seems to be about the loss of innocence (probably makes sense given their target audience) but it devolves into trying to defend beautiful people doing horrific things for senseless reasons. And don't get me started on the love triangles and relationship woes which are purely as a result of the writers being unable to write any interesting about a healthy, stable relationship.

Bloodlines is the show the CW wanted Supernatural to be 8 years ago but Supernatural stubbornly refused to die and retained viewership. Any spin off involving a character we the viewers actually want would be too close to it's original in scope for the CW to cope with.

Well, did you see the NCIS pilot on JAG? That was a good one. Changed the dynamic and made a fantastic introduction.

I had long since stopped watching JAG (not due to any dislike just seemed to loose it somehow) when the NCIS backdoor pilot aired in season 8 so I haven't seen it or the series it spawned. However given I've heard good things about NCIS I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, I enjoyed JAG when I watched it and given its shared universe status with Hawaii Five-O which I also enjoy I would consider going back to watching them. How was the NCIS:LA back door pilot within NCIS?

Couple of years ago I read it would become a reality, instaid they are giving us, what I presume it will be, Supernatural: Vampire Diaries. Which is a shame, because the show has been very critical about Twilight-esque stuff.

It probably doesn't really matter, but I never began with the whole NCIS stuff because they are all interconnected.
It began with JAG, which crossed over with a show called First Monday. Then NCIS spinned off from JAG. Then NCIS got the spin off NCIS: LA and they are attempting NCIS: New Orleans. NCIS: LA tried NCIS: Red and crossed over with Hawaii Five-0. It makes my head spinn just thinking about it.

It was rather good. But I feel you cannot make a good comparison with Bloodlines. NCIS is and always was a direct extension to JAG. Sure, different concept - but not a different world. And it continued to focus on crimes in the military.

The pilot was executed well in my opinion - also because Harm got drilled pretty rough by Gibbs, which served as a great introduction to the tough as nails Gunny. So even if you choose to ignore NCIS, the episode can always be just another part of the JAG canon.

With Bloodlines, the points that Anastasia (may we call you Natasha? Cause that would be awesome. Remindes me of both Black Widows - Romanoff and Kerensky.) made are the gamebreaker here. Bloodlines raises too many questions and introduces a vastly different focus to the IP than NCIS did to JAG.

Honestly i found this episode okay, the episode before this was worse (Alex Annie Alexis Anne)

this was so horrible i dont know how to get the unstoppable layers of cheese to come out, they just kept coming one after the other my god.

this episode just made me think about the downfall of every great show ive been watching i know supernatural has been going for a while and slowly degrading/changing/dragging a bit but this episode just kept flashing me in the face that it might be the end of something good/decent

thank god i was happy to learn this was just a spin off attempt and hopefully this horrible prank/troll of an episode will never resurface again in supernatural.

Down to da Choppa!!!!

As I watched this pilot, I was thinking this will be another CW show made for teenaged girls. Supernatural is too good a show to have a lame, average, formulaic spin-off like 'Bloodlines.'

Agreeing with Kelpie--this was possibly one of the worst episodes on Spn ever.
Remember Kate from Season 8? A spinoff of hers would be really interesting if they still wanted to do monsters, but honestly I'd rather delve deeper into Hunter culture. They're paranoid and wacky and just plain awesome, but I don't believe the writers can pull off such unique characters on the setting we're being given.

Needless to say, I will not be watching Bloodlines.

There was definitely always a moral grey area in Buffy, Angel, the X-Files, even Xena, and it`s obvious on Supernatural too--BUT the characters living in those universes were always uncomfortable or conflicted about the moral grey, the point being to force the audience to confront the idea that our preconceived notions of good and evil just might be an oversimplification. It isn`t that aspect that bothers me, its the fact that the new wave of genre television is just exploiting it for over-wrought romantic tension, and NOT for the kind of multi-layered writing that sustains an intelligent drama.

Exactly! I agree with you completely. In our real world, literally all the protagonists of TVD are mass murderers, and yet you're supposed to invest in their emotional lives. Supernatural is much better at that grey area - the winchesters themselves are technically serial killers, but I think the show's made it clear that both Sam and Dean have a lot of darkness and evil in them, and that they're not necessarily as heroic as we might want them to be.

Again, agreed. Supernatural seems to be the one show on the CW that actually doesn't fit the CW style/aesthetic. It's dark, there's horror, there's moral grey area, there are no love triangles (and never have been), and romance is actually mostly peripheral to the story. I guess, given that, it makes sense that the spinoff went for what all the other CW shows do rather than what Supernatural does - but again, if they do that, they're not going to attract Supernatural viewers. They're going to attract TVD viewers. Which I'm not sure will be enough to sustain this show.

And yes, making the lives of the entire TVD cast depend on Klaus was kind of shooting themselves in the foot in terms of his story.

Well, just about everyone I"ve talked to absolutely hated it so perhaps we can keep our fingers crossed and hope it doesn't even get made?

I mean, it won't make up for all the plot holes that already exist in SPN but it'd be somethiing.

well, to be fair, quite a lot of teenage girls watch Supernatural and love it (despite all the horror and classic cars and violence it attracts a hugely female audience), but Supernatural is still different and special because it deals with more interesting issues than love stories and love triangles, unlike all the other CW shows.

Well, I said that Supernatural is a "soap opera" in the sense that it deals with things like family, interpersonal relationships, and emotional conflicts on a very intense level. I don't intend "soap opera" as a criticism - in fact, I would also place Supernatural in the category of melodrama for the same reason - its intense focus on interpersonal relationsihps. The thing with SPN, though, is that it takes that stuff - the emotional, interpersonal stuff, of which you find so much in melodramas and soap operas- and makes it meaningful and important through the way its told, through its relationship with the other aspects of the story. Whereas this....well, it had all the emotional relationship stuff, but it was utterly trite.

At a guess they are hoping to get some of the Supernatural viewers and lure in some of The Originals/TVD viewers to make up for those lost from the Supernatural side. Might work, but the Supernatural name may put off the TVD fans if they know of the parent show. Actually thinking about it now Bloodlines does seem to share many similarities with The Originals, clans of different supernatural creatures, few human characters, Romeo & Juliet love story.

So it looks like the CW (surprisingly) feels how we all feel about this potential series as they are not ordering it to series. And Supernatural fandom breathes a collective sigh of relief

What's wrong with you people?? I say this in as loving a way as possible, but everyone except for me has clearly lost their minds. Who cares if Ennis is basically Dean and David is Sam? It's the Godfather with fangs, what's not to like? I love seeing a person of color as a lead on a CW show, and I can't wait for the human/shapeshifter/werwolf team against not one but five rival monster gangs. Plus, bonus points to Ennis for calling Dean "Buffy". I'm still chuckling about that one.

And for heaven's sake, can Dean PLEASE stop calling people "kid"?? However old his character is, it's too young to be calling people kid.

There are a lot of already-established monsters that it'd be pretty cool to see - including Kate, Benny (I'm still not over his death), Madison, Lenore...basically everybody who's dead.

Well, at this point, what viewers it'll lure in is moot, I guess, as the CW decided to pass on making the show (*sigh of relief*). Guess they figured they would just not get the viewers they wanted.

This is suspiciously similar to Vampire Masquerade: Bloodlines. Different clans in one city? And they don't get along? A war on the horizon (Gehenna)? Unrest and plotting? One poor schmuck bumbling around? Heck, even the name "Bloodlines". I think I'll stick to Supernatural, thanks.

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