3.07 Fresh Blood: One Last Good Thing
Gordon, hunting Sam,
Becomes what he hates the most.
Dean answers Sam’s plea.
Hunting a vampire in New York state, the boys found a confused girl who’d been fed vampire blood under the guise of a designer drug by Dixon, a lonely vampire whose nest had been killed by hunters. Dixon was trying to create a new family by enticing young blondes to sample his killer high. Meanwhile, Gordon Walker had escaped from prison and resumed his nearly religious hunt for Sam in the company of Jesus-freak hunter Kubrick (Bad Day at Black Rock), using a priceless mojo bag to buy help from Bela to locate the boys since she’d been seen with them recently in Massachusetts.
Gordon’s hunt for Sam intersected the boys’ hunt for Dixon, and while the boys momentarily escaped their hunters, Dixon recognized Gordon, knocked him out, and took him back to his nest, intending to get his vengeance on hunters by making Gordon food for his two newest vampire converts. When he realized how thoroughly Gordon hated and despised vampires, however, Dixon thought that a more satisfying and fitting punishment would be to turn him into one. That proved a mistake, since Gordon broke free, killed the two young vampires, and went back on the hunt for Sam. Along the way, overwhelmed by his newly enhanced vampire senses and hunger, Gordon killed and fed on an innocent bystander. Returning to Kubrick, Gordon acknowledged that Kubrick would have to kill him, but he begged for the opportunity first to use his heightened speed and strength to kill Sam. When Kubrick refused, Gordon killed him.
Realizing that Dean was angry enough about being betrayed that he might follow through on his threat to kill her, Bela used her own devices to contact the spirit world and get Gordon’s location, hoping that the information would appease Dean. They followed the information to the warehouse but found only Dixon, weeping on his knees near the corpses of his vampire daughters. Dixon told them to kill him, professing despair at the prospect of facing eternity alone. Sam realized that Gordon had ripped off the other vampires’ heads with his bare hands.
Finally breaking through Dean’s emotional walls by proving that he could see through them, Sam prevented Dean from hunting Gordon suicidally on his own with the Colt. Their plan to hunker down and wait for daylight ended when Gordon kidnapped a young woman to use as bait. Going to the rescue, the boys got the girl, but as they were trying to leave, Gordon trapped them on opposite sides of a vertical door. Gordon hunted Sam in the dark, while Dean, trying to break his way back through to his brother, found himself unexpectedly attacked – Gordon had turned the girl into a vampire. Dean killed her with the Colt. Gordon’s fight with Sam brought them crashing through the wall into the room on Dean’s side. Dean tried to intervene with the Colt, but Gordon stunned him, threw him up against a wall, and bit his neck, feeding off him. Weaponless, Sam charged in to save his brother and took a beating, but managed to grab protection for his hands and a length of razor wire, and looped the wire around Gordon’s neck, garroting him and cutting off his head.
Later, stopped at the side of the road investigating a rattle in the Impala’s engine, Dean called Sam over, introduced him to the engine, and then handed him the socket wrench and told him to fix the car, saying he should know how to fix her and that these were things he needed to learn for the future – things his big brother should teach him.
Let me start with this: for my money, Fresh Blood was hands-down the best episode of the third season thus far, and it set a high bar for the future. The character interaction, the multiple plots, and the production elements combined to provide a Supernatural episode at the very top of its classic game.
This episode brought back flashes of so many others, especially Wendigo, Faith, Everybody Loves a Clown, Bloodlust, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Hunted, and All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2. I love the continuity that plays throughout this series, particularly in the way that the past comes back to illuminate the present and in the tendency of characters to mirror each other’s situations. There are so many rich veins to mine in this episode that I can’t hope to cover them all in a single commentary, so consider this the first of multiples.
I’m going to split this particular discussion into two separate pieces: the brother relationship, and Gordon. Let’s take the brothers first.
In the very beginning, we saw Dean and Sam continuing in the roles they’ve been playing ever since Dean’s deal and its deadly terms came to light. Hunting Lucy, Dean recklessly spilled his own blood to attract her, and barely managed to keep her fangs off his neck long enough to inject her with dead man’s blood. He definitely enjoyed the adrenaline rush of surviving on that knife edge, but Sam was appalled by the risk he had taken, and Sam’s face gave away exactly how afraid he was that Dean was cutting things too close. He followed that up, over Sam’s protest, by running into the guns of Gordon and Kubrick in order to make a distraction and buy time for Sam to escape. Surviving that one was either the devil’s own luck or the work of a guardian angel. When he announced his intent to go after Gordon on his own with the Colt, he finally pushed Sam over the edge, and we got the confrontation we’ve been waiting for all season.
Sam had attacked Dean’s façade of bravado in earlier episodes this season, trying to get him to admit that he was afraid and that he didn’t want to die, and to stop putting up a front. Most of his arguments were angry ones that usually just caused Dean to raise his walls again, but this one, while it started out angry, changed. Appealing to Dean the way he did, Sam showed his own naked fear, his own loss – and that’s the one thing Dean has never been able to resist. This time, finally, Dean listened and heard him. This had the same feeling as Sam’s one-sided talk at the end of Everybody Loves a Clown and the brothers’ confrontation on the sidewalk in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. All three times, Sam finally scored and made Dean hear him by putting his own feelings on the table, by being totally honest about how he felt, and the grief of it stripped away his anger. Sam’s pain and grief can penetrate Dean’s walls as nothing else can. In ELAC, Sam admitted that Dean had been right, that he’d been trying too late to make up for a lifetime of anger at John, and he admitted that he wasn’t all right, and that he knew that Dean wasn’t all right, either. In Children, he finally made Dean realize that his recklessness and rage were hurting Sam because Sam feared losing Dean the way he’d lost everyone else who mattered. The culmination of both of those scenes came at the end of Children, when Dean finally dropped his walls entirely and let Sam see the horror at his core, his stricken conviction that John had died because of him and that he himself was supposed to be dead. In this episode, Sam did it again, this time showing Dean that a lifetime of following in his footsteps, looking up to him, and wanting to be like him made it inevitable that Sam would know when he was afraid. What really broke Dean was Sam begging not to be shut out again behind Dean’s walls: “It’s just, I wish you would drop the show and be my brother again. ‘Cause … just ‘cause.”
We’ve always seen Dean make punch lines out of fear. The boys even had the “jokes in the face of death” discussion before, back in Faith. Even some of the beats of that discussion were the same. Compare this exchange from Faith:
Hey, you better take care of that car, or I swear I’ll haunt your ass.
I don’t think that’s funny.
Aw, c’mon – it’s a little funny.
With the following lines from Fresh Blood:
Kamikaze? I’m more like a ninja!
That’s not funny.
It’s a little funny.
No, it’s not.
This time, in Fresh Blood, Sam wasn’t willing to let the chuckle slide, perhaps because, unlike the case in Faith, where Dean’s death was imminent and he was mostly facing it head-on with bleak resignation, he’s been making light of it for months now, all the while getting more scared because this time it’s not just death – it’s Hell. And Sam is terrified, too.
The final scene of this episode is among my all-time favorites for the entire series, not just this season. Sam and Dean were in their accustomed roles, Dean under the hood and Sam sitting idly by, and the moment it occurred to Dean that he could reach out to Sam through the Impala, the resolution on his face made me choke up with instant understanding. That car is the single most potent symbol the show possesses. It’s been invested with power from the very beginning. We knew right from the pilot that Dean loved and doted on it, and it didn’t take long to realize all the elements that made it so potent: it was Dad’s, it was the last survivor of normal Winchester family life, it was the only home he’d ever known after the one he’d vowed never to return to again, and it was Dad’s gift to him, tangible proof of love and trust from a man not given to supportive emotional display. Rebuilding the car in Everybody Loves a Clown, Dean was trying to reconstruct himself, to repair what his father had left; unleashing his rage on the trunk at the end of that episode, he was lashing out at both his father and himself for the secrets he was carrying, the things he couldn’t share that built up walls between him and Sam.
That Sam understood exactly what the car means to Dean was apparent in his astonishment the first time that Dean, in Wendigo, offered to let him drive it. Sam understood even then that Dean, in extending the offer to drive, was saying without words, I love you, I’m worried about you, stay with me, feel better. And the car is fully as potent for Sam as it is for Dean, but in a different way, with different meanings. To Sam, the Impala is an avatar of Dean, something linked permanently to Dean at a metaphysical level. When Sam looks at that car, he can’t help but see and feel his brother, the same way that Dean can see and feel John. Bobby recognized that symbolic resonance when Sam adamantly refused to write off the wrecked car in In My Time of Dying, understanding that giving up on salvaging the car would have meant accepting that Dean would die.
Dean handing Sam the socket wrench and telling him to fix the car was the guy equivalent of Dean dropping all of his walls and inviting Sam inside. As ever, fixing the car is fixing Dean, and handing the tools and the knowledge to Sam was Dean’s perfect gift of love and trust. Memories and that car will be all that Sam has left of Dean when he dies; in that scene, they both acknowledged it in typical Winchester brother fashion, without actually saying a word of it.
Dean, you barely let me drive this thing!
Nah, it’s time. You should know how to fix her. You’re going to need to know these things for the future. And besides, it’s my job, right? Show my little brother the ropes?
Dean’s impromptu auto shop class reversed everything he had done earlier in the season. In previous episodes, using jokes, physical distractions, unsubtle hints, and flat-out orders, he’d done everything possible to start disconnecting himself from the world, telling Sam to step back and let him go. With this one action, he finally gave Sam what his brother had been begging for: without making a joke of it or saying anything straight out, he acknowledged that he’s going to die, that he cares, and that he wants to share the time he has left with Sam in meaningful ways, in the hope that Sam will be all right. He finally dropped the act and let his brother in, calmly, matter-of-factly, Dean at his most caring, still without making it a touchy-feely chick-flick moment. Sam understood exactly both what was and wasn’t said. And I cried.
Before the season began, I did a series of haiku in the impromptu Forty Days of Metallicar celebration over on LJ for the Impala’s fortieth birthday, and one of them – the one I wrote for Wendigo, entitled Wanna Drive? – came roaring back:
Surest proof of love:
Dean offers his kid brother
The keys to his heart.
Yep. He did it again. And Sam accepted them.
With Fresh Blood, Gordon’s story arc is now complete, and I couldn’t have imagined a better one for him. He began as a dark mirror for Dean and ended as an even darker mirror for Sam, while at the same time being entirely and perfectly himself.
When we first met Gordon in Bloodlust, we saw in him what Dean might have become, had he continued down the road of his rage and loss in the aftermath of John’s death and in the absence of his love for and unshakeable devotion to Sam. That vision of Gordon helped to shock Dean out of his self-destructive course. Between Gordon casting a dark shadow on the hunter mentality and the reality of Lenore and her vampire family having chosen to try not being evil, Dean’s world was rocked on its axis, all his beliefs called into question. Sam was his lifeline then, and Sam remains his lifeline now.
Hunted took Gordon to the next step. Utterly convinced that his course was right, Gordon added psychic humans to his list of approved prey, still considering himself a hunter and justified, not a killer, not a murderer. He rationalized that psychics weren’t fully human. He tried to persuade Dean to doubt Sam’s humanity, and given the opportunity, taunted Sam to prove him right. Sam deliberately chose to be himself, to find a way other than murder to save his brother and deal with Gordon, and winning that battle helped cement in Dean’s heart the conviction that his brother could not be evil, even if it still left Sam himself unsure.
In Bad Day at Black Rock, we learned that Gordon had reached out to other hunters to persuade them that Sam was a danger, not just a legitimate target but a vital one to hunt. We don’t know whether other hunters besides Kubrick and Creedy may have been convinced, although we heard in The Magnificent Seven that there was plenty of mistrust of the Winchesters in the hunter world because of their proximity to the opening of the devil’s gate.
Fresh Blood saw Gordon’s plot with Kubrick to get him out of prison having succeeded, and Gordon partnering with Kubrick despite knowing that the Jesus-freak hunter was around the bend. Gordon being transformed into a vampire was his own worst nightmare, and immediately in both his mind and in ours made him a potential mirror for Sam as he had earlier been a distorted reflection of Dean. But the key is that the image Gordon presented remains a distorted one, not a true reflection. Both times, Gordon became the darkness because he embraced it; thus far, at least, the Winchesters have fought it, and I believe they always will.
Gordon’s sister was turned into a vampire, and he took his revenge to and beyond the point of killing his sister out of hate for what she had become and rage for his inability to prevent it. His hunt became obsession. Faced with the prospect of killing his brother, Dean refused. He refused to hate, he refused to give in to fear, he refused to concede that he could fail to save his brother. The one and only time he did consider actually having to kill Sam, when he contemplated what would happen when the Croatoan virus turned his brother into a monster manifestly against his will, there was no hate or anger in it, but only a grief so profound that it would have taken his own life, too. Dean rejected Gordon’s mirror as false.
When Gordon became a vampire, he refused to consider, despite the example of Lenore and her family, that he had a choice. Instead, he accepted the hunger as justification for indulging in murder. He considered vampires to be monsters, and simply accepted that having become a vampire made him a monster too, and absolved him of any moral responsibility for his actions. Still believing in the justice of his cause, he adopted the credo that the end justifies the means, and used that to warrant murdering Kubrick and turning an innocent girl into a vampire simply in order to keep Dean out of the way while Gordon killed Sam. Gordon’s moral code was still operating at the beginning of the episode, while he was still human: Bela read him correctly when he threatened to kill her. At that moment, he still considered himself a hunter, not a killer. Not until he was turned did he surrender all vestige of honor, but the moment he was turned, he embraced having the excuse.
Gordon may have thought that he now understood Sam, but his vision was as warped as the mirror he thought he made. Even knowing the secret he still keeps, that as a baby he was fed demon blood, Sam has adamantly refused to yield, not accepting that evil is inevitable. And that is where Sam and Gordon will always diverge. There is still the danger that desperation to save Dean may tempt Sam into choosing to do something evil as being preferable to losing his brother to Hell, but it’s not in Sam to embrace and surrender to evil as a justifiable means toward an end. I could see him tempted to use it, but I could never see him reveling in it. And as long as Dean still lives, no matter how scared he is of going to Hell, I don’t see him letting his little brother slip even into temptation. I think that if he saw Sam wavering, Dean would instantly bring up the specter of Sue Ann, the preacher’s wife in Faith, so desperate to save her husband that she bound a Reaper to do her bidding, and then kept using it. Dean’s life has twice been bought at the price of someone else’s; he couldn’t bear it a third time, and he’d never let Sam take a path like Sue Ann’s.
With Gordon and Kubrick both dead, it may be that the worst of the hunter threat to the Winchesters is now gone. Or it may simply look that way. After all, there’s still the matter of Wandell, the hunter Sam killed while he was possessed, and while most may have discounted Gordon and Kubrick as unreliable and over the edge, we humans are always quick to doubt and wonder where those seeds have been planted.
Gordon actually did accomplish one last good thing, if not the one he expected. His implacable determination to kill Sam provided the opportunity for Dean to feel out Sam’s new hard edge and find that his gentle brother is still under there, just coming to accept certain harsh and practical realities. Even Sam beheading Gordon with razor wire didn’t lead to Dean questioning whether his brother had come back wrong; Dean’s raised eyebrow and Sam’s what else could I do? shrug said all there was to say, and Dean left the subject with just the gently chiding note that in charging Gordon with no weapons to save his older brother, Sam was doing exactly the same kind of reckless thing for which Sam had lately been criticizing Dean. Ah, brotherly love.
Sera Gamble’s script rocked hard. Here’s a note to the AMPTP: you need gifted writers to know how to write scenes where the words that are spoken aren’t even the smallest part of the words that are said. You need writers like Sera, who know that they can lean on actors as accomplished as Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Sterling K. Brown to take the words on the page and imbue them with all the power and emotion of the words that aren’t there.
As always, I loved Kim Manners’ direction. And with Kim at the helm on this one, we returned to the dark visuals that were so emblematic of the unique look and feel of Supernatural during its first two seasons, a style of cinematography that’s been missing in action for most of this season so far, washed out by unaccustomed brightness. Allow me a brief moment here to indulge in rhapsodic passion for the 15,000 to 1 contrast ratio on my new HDTV, because even in the darkest moments, I could see everything that Kim and Serge Ladouceur were putting on the screen. Kim’s tight shots love the boy’s faces and eyes, and capture every flicker of emotion. Kim loves to have action by one of the boys play out on the face of the other, and he did it this time with Sam’s flinching reaction to Dean beheading Lucy. I also loved the composition of his shot of Dean from Sam’s perspective across and through the beheaded vampire, and the downward-up angles he used on the boys in the hunt to increase the tension. His direction made the impact of Gordon’s enhanced vampire senses brilliantly clear. I also enjoyed the handheld camera work in the fight between Gordon and Sam; handheld, even with all its irritating jumpiness, has an immediacy and energy that nothing else captures. And the insets in the fight measured out its beats perfectly; I understood exactly what was happening as Sam got his hands on the wire and the stuff he wrapped around its ends to protect his hands.
I have only two very tiny quibbles. One was that it seemed that Gordon pretty much gave up the moment the razor wire began to cut; he didn’t try to grab Sam’s arms or get away. Given Gordon’s conviction that Sam was deadly, he wouldn’t have been testing him to see if he would stop before killing; similarly, he didn’t seem the type to accept giving up trying to kill Sam even in the instant that he knew the effort was doomed. I’d have expected him to struggle more.
The second one was that it seemed almost impossible for Sam not to have gotten some cuts from the wire. That would have been a bad thing, of course, given that he wound up with Gordon’s vampire-infected blood all over his hands, so it’s very good that his impromptu grips on the wire worked out so well. Fortune definitely favors the hero, and that’s a good thing. And Kripke was doubtless rubbing his hands in glee over the amount of sheer gore he got through Standards and Practices on this one.
Finally, performances. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki both hit it not just out of the park, but out of the country. When this series began, Jensen had the edge in depth and consistency of performance, but Jared has so grown into Sam that they match each other on screen. Sam’s terror for Dean’s recklessness came through loud and clear, as did his grief, fear, and loss when he finally managed to breach Dean’s walls by asking to have his brother back. The realization on Sam’s face at the end when he understood just exactly what Dean was really saying was so clear and so sad that I would have lost it just for Sam. Watching Dean finally hear Sam and drop his walls, and then at the last openly invite his brother in, just wrecked me with beauty and loss. Jensen and Jared make these boys real. That was augmented by having our rock music back, because the words to “Crazy Circles” by Bad Company just fit like a glove. Sterling K. Brown was so perfect as Gordon that I will miss him. Even knowing how totally psychopathic Gordon was, Sterling made you feel for him and appreciate what made him tick. Gordon was true to himself, and even though that made him grossly twisted, you could understand him. Lauren Cohan did a nice job with the very tiny flicker of fear around Bela’s eyes when she processed Gordon’s name, and also her flash of triumph when she realized she’d read him right and that he wouldn’t kill her. Her palpable fear when Dean hung up on her also made me appreciate her a little more. And Mercedes McNab did a lovely job with pathetic, strung-out Lucy.
I’m going to miss this show badly this week, when the CW writes off Thanksgiving night with other programming. I think I’ll hold my own thanksgiving for having this show, and I’ll pray that the resumption of negotiations on Monday the 26th may let me keep it.