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6.05 Live Free Or TwiHard: I’m A Monster

6.05 Live Free Or TwiHard: I’m A Monster
 
Sam lets Dean be turned.
Hunter spy in vampire nest
Kills, but stops nothing. 
  
 
Episode Summary
 
At a bar in Limestone, Illinois catering mostly to goth types and fictional vampire wanna-be’s, nervous seventeen-year-old Kristen, sporting a fake ID with the name Emily Fang, met Robert, her Edward Cullen look-alike. She got a paper cut reaching to pull out some of her poetry, and he abruptly left their table. He came back later saying he couldn’t stop thinking about her, spouting overwrought lines straight out of the Twilight movies about how they couldn’t be together and how he’d done bad things. When she insisted she could make her own decisions and wanted to be with him, he pulled up his lip to display a fang retracted into his upper gum; instead of being afraid, she was thrilled that her fantasy was true. He told her he wanted to show her his world. Expecting elegance and velvet, Kristen was dismayed when they stopped in a dark alley reeking of urine. A metal gate suddenly swung open to reveal a scary, hairy guy who complimented Robbie on his work, and when Kristen, finally afraid, turned to Robert, he spread open his coat like wings and asked through a mouthful of vampire fangs if this wasn’t what she had wanted. She backed up, only to be grabbed and attacked by the hairy guy.
 
Outside the Limestone police station, Dean called Lisa to say he was only about a night’s drive away and planned to visit after wrapping up the current hunt, being careful not to be followed and to arrive at night. Happy to hear from him and impatient to see him again, Lisa told him to shut up and just get his ass home, observing that the phone thing was getting old. She told him to be careful. Coming out of the police station as Dean cheerfully hung up, Sam asked what he was so stoked about, and Dean said nothing about the call with Lisa, instead asking Sam what he’d learned. Sam reported six girls gone missing in seven days, all in their late teens. Dean observed they were all cute, while Sam, noting it sounded like a profile, wondered what else they had in common. Dean asked Sam in which of the six directions he wanted to start, and Sam responded by choosing number seven: a new call that had just come in.
 
Kristen’s father let them into her room, which was decorated in contemporary romantic vampire. Finding her laptop hidden under her pillow, Sam tried vampire-related passwords, scoring with actor Pattinson from Twilight. He found a series of email messages from a guy claiming to be a vampire, the last ones arranging for a meeting at a bar called the Black Rose. Disgusted, Dean wondered if they were dealing with a human pervert, but Sam suggested real vampires might be phishing for victims, finding easy prey in young women ready to throw themselves at romantically presented bloodsuckers.
 
That night, vampires in an SUV attacked a blood bank van, killing the driver by ripping his throat out and stealing all the coolers of donated blood he was transporting. On the phone with Sam the next day, Samuel confirmed he was convinced it was vampires, saying they had a pattern now: kids went missing and blood bank van got jumped, and this was the fourth town where it happened. Sam couldn’t figure out why vampires would rob a bloodmobile if they had been snatching young living donors, but Samuel told him to find the nest and figure it out. 
 
Getting drinks and looking around the bar that night, Dean suddenly asked how long it had been since he and Sam had beers together, but Sam didn’t answer, focused entirely on the hunt. They saw three potential pseudo-vampire candidates, winnowed down to two when one of them hooked up with another guy instead of a girl. The brothers split up to follow their other two targets, Dean following a young guy taking a girl outside while Sam went after a taller guy heading downstairs to the bar’s seedy basement. Following his target into a supply room only to have the vampire turn up behind him, having hidden behind the door, Sam turned and swung unhesitatingly with his machete when the vampire tried to take him from behind, decapitating it.
 
In the alley outside the bar, Dean yanked his target off the young woman whose neck he was nuzzling in a doorway, only to discover the kid was wearing fake fangs and glitter just to get laid. Dean sent the kid off with a warning, but as he turned to go, heard another voice saying he was pretty. When he turned back, the big, hairy guy who’d attacked Kristen emerged from the shadows to repeat that Dean was pretty. Thinking he was being propositioned by a gay man, Dean demurred that he didn’t play for the guy’s team and turned to go, but the vampire grabbed him and flung him thirty feet through the air to crash into a dumpster. Dazed, Dean struggled to his feet and tried to fight back despite being woozy from the blow, but the vampire flung him back against the dumpster again, pinned him there, and then bit his own wrist to open the vein and force blood into Dean’s mouth. Emerging into the alley, Sam saw the vampire subduing his brother and started to run in, but then stopped. Instead of interrupting the attack, Sam deliberately hung back, watching with an expression of satisfaction as the vampire smeared Dean’s face with blood. Only after the fact did Sam draw his machete, shout, and run in to Dean’s defense, taking half-hearted swings at the vampire. The vampire laughed and danced backward, then bolted up the wall up to and over the fire escape, leaving the Winchesters in the alley. In terrible awareness of what he’d just become, Dean said Sammy’s name.
 
Back at their hotel, Sam drew the drapes closed and started shutting off lights at Dean’s request as Dean, his senses sharpened far beyond human norms, was blinded by lights and tormented by sounds Sam couldn’t even hear, including sirens, a distant train, the television in the room next door, and the inexorable ticking of the room clock, which Dean finally yanked out of the wall to silence. Dean said Samuel would kill him when he arrived, and when Sam protested that Samuel wouldn’t kill Dean, Dean insisted he would because he would ask Samuel to do it, since Sam wouldn’t. Sam maintained they could figure this out and Samuel would know what to do, but Dean, realizing he could hear Sam’s calm and steady heartbeat, demanded to know why Sam wasn’t freaked out. Sam argued he was just trying to stay calm, but Dean didn’t buy it. He called himself a monster and said they had to deal with this before he hurt anyone. With almost clinical curiosity, Sam asked him how he felt, and when Dean incredulously asked him why he would choose that moment to ask about his feelings, clarified that he was asking about the physical sensations Dean was experiencing. Dean retreated to the bathroom for distance and privacy, escaping the sound of Sam’s heartbeat. He rinsed his face and looked in the mirror, lifting his lip to reveal a retracted fang in his upper gum. Overwhelmed, he closed his eyes in grief; then turned on the water in the sink again. Outside in the room, Sam realized the water had been running a long time. Calling Dean’s name, he opened the door to see the window open and the room empty; Dean was gone.
 
Dean stood by the open window inside Lisa’s room, watching her sleep through his altered perception. Uneasily aware of a presence, she woke up in fear, but relaxed when she realized it was him. Muzzy with sleep and surprised to see him days earlier than she had expected, she turned on a light, not realizing how it blinded him but quickly becoming aware something was wrong. He told her he’d wanted to see her, and that she and Ben needed to know that he thanked them for everything. She told him he was scaring her and moved closer, but he got up from her bed and moved away, trying to keep distance between them. Ironically realizing he was echoing the attitudes of the Twilight vampire, he told her he had to go. She protested he couldn’t just show up and then leave, and demanded he explain what was going on. He told her he couldn’t bring this crap home to her, meaning not just his work, but his life. He said it was ugly and violent, and he was going to die soon. Closing the distance between them, her heartbeat accelerating in his ears, she demanded he tell her what was going on. With unnatural speed and strength, he grabbed her and pushed her up against the wall. Slowly moving in as if to kiss her, he suddenly turned away and stepped back, hiding his face from her as his vampire fangs descended. He bolted out of her room into the hall, saying he had to go, but sleepy Ben, roused by the noise, opened his door and turned on a light. When he saw Dean, he headed toward him despite Dean telling him to stay where he was; when he got too close, Dean shoved him away hard into the wall and then ran from the house even as Lisa, frightened, gathered Ben into her arms and hustled him into the safety of her room.
 
Back at the hotel, Samuel berated Sam for losing track of his brother as they walked into the room, saying Dean was a hungry monster and he had to prepare to do the right thing. Already inside and waiting for them, Dean said he’d known Samuel would kill him, and both Sam and Samuel drew their machetes. Samuel asked if Dean had fed, and Dean responded he’d gone to say goodbye to Lisa, observing that had been a really bad idea. When Samuel demanded again to know if he’d fed, Dean sourly said they could relax because he hadn’t drunk anyone, although he’d come close. He stripped off his jacket and faced them, bracing himself; then told Samuel to go ahead and do it. Walking closer, Samuel said he’d do it if Dean insisted – or he could just turn him back. Both Dean and Sam, shocked, asked what he meant, and Samuel, pulling out his grandfather’s journal, pointed to an entry with a recipe for a potion that could undo the vampire curse, providing the vampire hadn’t yet drunk any human blood. He said the cure wouldn’t work if Dean fed, and observed it was only a matter of time until he would feed. Samuel said they had some of the ingredients but would have to get others, and noted the hardest part would be getting blood from the vampire who had turned Dean. Dean proposed to get it by going into the vampire lair, assuming they would accept him as one of their own, and injecting the vampire who had made him with dead man’s blood to incapacitate him. He insisted on going alone, telling Sam he smelled like a walking hamburger. When Sam protested they didn’t know where the nest was, Dean said he could smell them, and the nest was a couple miles east of town. He told the others to meet him there, accepted the syringe of dead man’s blood Samuel offered, and left.
 
As Sam started packing, Samuel asked him what was wrong with him, saying he’d known about the cure since they’d talked about it months earlier. Sam protested he hadn’t, that Samuel’s conversation must have been with Christian or one of the other cousins, but Samuel wasn’t persuaded. He observed that if Sam had known about the cure, it almost seemed as if he’d let Dean get turned, since getting a man on the inside of the nest could help them find the Alpha vampire they’d been looking for. Sam asked if he was serious, if Samuel truly thought he would do something like that and risk his own brother. He asked Samuel what was wrong with him, and said he was just glad they could fix Dean.
 
Having rigged the gate not to close, Dean snuck into the nest when a couple of vampires left. Inside, he ran into Robert, who recognized him by description as the guy Boris had turned outside the bar. Weirdly, he welcomed Dean with a fist-bump and then escorted him to Boris, the hairy guy in charge. Along the way, he stopped at a refrigerator stocked with blood bags from the hijacked bloodmobile and offered Dean a meal, saying he was sure Dean must be starving, but Dean said he’d killed people on his way over. Robert said the company line was they didn’t kill humans any more, enviously saying Dean would have to tell him what that was like. As they passed other male vampires, Robert told him not to worry about them, saying they were envious because the recruiters – now including Dean – were the ones who got to bang all the chicks.
 
In the main room of the lair, Dean saw Boris dictating bad lines to Kristen, who was typing them into a computer, setting up some other teenaged girl for a meeting. The walls of the room were lined with cages holding the other missing girls, all of them vampires, drinking from blood bags. Boris sent Kristen off to join them, then told Dean he’d thought the hunter had chopped his pretty head. Dean said he’d gotten away, and asked what a hunter was; Boris answered he’d find out if the hunter found them. Boris claimed to be over 600 years old, and said this was the best time to be a vampire because horny girls just threw themselves at vampires, imagining them as Prince Charming. He said he made pretty male vampires like Dean and Robert to go out and bring in more girls, who were kept in cages until they were compliant and ready to go out to bring in more boys. According to Boris, the name of the game was recruitment, and he was just an implementer making sure his new recruits fell in line; the plan came from their father. Intrigued by Dean’s curiosity and attracted by his looks, Boris offered him the private tour. Following Boris, Dean pulled out the syringe, but Boris heard the single blood drop that hit the floor and turned on him, grabbing him and breaking his grip on the syringe.
 
Before Boris could do anything else, however, the air was filled with whispering, and first Boris and then all the other vampires called out “Father!” and collapsed wherever they stood. As the newest vampire, Dean was the last to fall, and experienced a vision he seemed to be sharing with all the rest. In the vision, he saw images of viral cellular mitosis and flowing blood cells interspersed with flashes of a watching man, an old graveyard, an elegant old home, one little girl suddenly becoming twins both grinning with vampire teeth, a map of the human circulatory system becoming a map of Illinois with a circle centered on the city of Aurora, a raven weathervane, and a powerful-seeming black man – a vampire – reaching out to the twinned girls and sending them forth together, also as vampires, out the door.
 
As he’d been last to enter the vision, Dean was also the last to wake from it. As he stirred awake, he saw Boris opening all the cages and telling the other vampires to get Dean. Fleeing upstairs, Dean found Robert blocking his path; he pulled his machete out of his jacket and decapitated Robert, then turned to fight all the others. Numbers and vampire strength were no match for vampire strength paired with a hunter’s training: Dean killed his way through the nest, slaughtering every vampire in the building. When he confronted Boris, the old vampire told him he’d stopped nothing, that this was much bigger than the two of them.
 
Outside, Samuel and Sam arrived in the Campbells’ van on the street where the Impala was parked. A vampire landed on their roof and attacked through Samuel’s window; Sam killed it and dragged it off the roof, and the two of them headed cautiously into the building. They found every single vampire dead, and Dean simply waiting for them in the main room sitting on the edge of a desk with his foot casually on Boris’s severed head.
 
Back at the hotel, Samuel injected Boris’s blood into the potion he’d brewed. Sam asked Dean what he’d seen inside the nest, but Dean, fighting the pain of the blood-hunger, told him he couldn’t hear Sam because Sam’s blood was too loud. He gulped down the potion, but even after he swallowed, he could still hear their hearts beating. He started to say he thought it hadn’t worked, but in the middle of the word he cramped and threw up, vomiting out more than the volume he’d drunk and manifesting partial fangs. He collapsed to the floor, convulsing and curling up around himself, and in the midst of his physical torment, flashed backwards in memory, experiencing in reverse all the things that had happened to him right down to the moment when Boris had subdued and turned him – but this time, Dean noticed clearly what he’d earlier only glimpsed in his distorted peripheral vision: Sam deliberately holding back and watching, smiling slightly as Dean was turned. He came out of it to the perception of his normal senses, to see Sam helping him sit up and smiling at him.
 
Freshly showered and dressed, Dean emerged from the bathroom to find Sam and Samuel packing things up. Noticing him, Sam eagerly asked what he’d seen in the nest. Nonplussed, he said he was still trying to process it, but he was pretty sure they were getting their orders from the top, from their Alpha, through some form of psychic communication he used to send them messages. He said the message was a recruitment drive and the Alpha was building an army, but that wasn’t the worst: vampires didn’t fear human hunters any more.
 
Packing stuff in the trunk, Dean tried to call Lisa but got her voicemail, and gave up on trying to leave a message. He slammed the trunk to find Sam standing there. Sam asked how it had gone with Lisa, and when Dean said it hadn’t, Sam said he was sorry. Dean said that at least Sam still had his back, and turned it into a question, that he could always count on Sam; Sam smiled and reassured him, saying of course he would, but there was no trust in Dean’s eyes. They both got into the car and drove off
 
Commentary And Meta Analysis
 
My immediate reaction when this episode ended was a protest that it should have been labeled as part one of two, because it was grossly unfinished. No matter what it initially seemed, this Twilight-lampooning episode wasn’t really about Dean being turned into a vampire, having to deal with it, and then conveniently getting turned back after learning something about the vampire Alpha; that was window dressing and told us little of import in the long run, although it served to put another nail in the coffin of Dean’s attempt to mix hunting with family. The real point, and ultimately the only one I believe that’s going to matter, was Sam deliberately letting Dean be turned and then using him for his own purposes. Understanding just what exactly is going on with Sam is an essential piece of this story that we didn’t get here, and without that information, this episode just wasn’t fully baked. We’ve known from the beginning of the season that something is seriously wrong with Sam. This episode just emphasized that no matter what we thought we knew, we didn’t understand at all the totality of his change. Now that we know, we have to have answers, and have them now. We’re all in exactly the same position as Dean, just as afraid and distrustful and impatient for understanding as he is. I only hope we’ll finally get answers in the next episode, and if not all of them, at least enough to see some hope of breaking through to Sam’s heart and getting the brothers back to being brothers again.
 
On another topic, the discovery that the Campbells had a cure for vampirism that they’ve known about for generations but obviously hadn’t ever shared with any other hunters definitely reinforced the strangeness of the whole Campbell clan. Every little tidbit we learn about them is odd, and has been since the moment the clan was introduced in The Kids Are Alright. No other hunters of our acquaintance seem ever even to have heard of them; I find that virtual invisibility hard to imagine in a culture so dependent on networking. I also have to wonder how many other useful things the Campbells know and haven’t shared with the rest of the hunting world all because other hunters aren’t family. I don’t look kindly on people who hoard information that could have saved others.
 
This will be a thinner meta than usual precisely because the story felt so unfinished to me; the really juicy bits await a fuller resolution, hopefully after the next episode. For now, I’ll just revisit the brothers’ history with vampires and speculate about Sam, but I’ll spend more time in the production notes area because this was another time I got to see a little bit of the production process in action.
 
What The Hell’s Wrong With You, Sam?
 
Samuel’s question was nothing more or less than what every fan has been saying this season, but we seem to be no closer to getting an answer. I only hope Dean’s realization of just how coldly Sam used him finally brings about the crucial break that will lead him to demand answers, because we need to understand the problem before we – and they – can figure out the solution.
 
The sequence of expressions on Sam’s face as he deliberately stood by and watched as Dean was turned – shifting from almost clinical curiosity to calculated interest to … pleased satisfaction? – was the single most disturbing thing about this episode to me. Nowhere in that sequence was there an iota of concern for Dean. When Sam first saw and heard the beating, he started to move in, and I’m convinced he’d have come instantly to the rescue if Boris had been trying to kill Dean or was hurting him just for the fun of it. What stopped him, at least as I saw the scene, was his realization that the vampire wasn’t trying to kill Dean, but was intent on turning him instead. I saw the wheels of purely logical calculation turning in Sam’s head, weighing the tactical advantages of having a hunter vampire in his arsenal – inhuman speed, power, physical senses, and resiliency combined with hunter instincts and training – against the normal response of saving simply human Dean, and finding no downside to the vampirism solution to the equation because its effects on Dean as a person didn’t even enter into it, and because he thought he could handle Dean as a vampire. I could easily have seen Sam arguing later with Dean that it was perfectly possible for Dean to continue to live as a vampire within his own conscience by following the example of Lenore’s nest in Bloodlust and confining his blood-drinking to animals; I was actually a little surprised Sam didn’t pull out that argument when he was telling Dean they could figure things out.
 
When both brothers reacted – a clear beat apart, I noticed, not in their trademarked brotherly unison – to Samuel’s declaration that he could turn Dean back, it was plain Dean had no clue about the Campbell cure for vampirism, but Sam’s response struck me immediately not as surprise, but almost as a protest at the thought that Samuel would simply turn Dean back before making use of him, wasting the opportunity, as it were. When Samuel called him on it, asserting they had talked about the cure months earlier and saying it almost seemed as if Sam, knowing about it, had simply let Dean be turned so they could have an inside man on their Alpha vampire hunt, I think he hit the nail on the head. Sam’s immediate denial told me he recognized intellectually that being seen to be using Dean that callously would be unacceptable even to the hunting-obsessed Campbells, but his attempt to turn the question back on Samuel apparently rang as hollow to Samuel as it did to me. From what I can see, Sam is too invested in hunting for hunting’s sake, and isn’t factoring in any human costs to achieving success in the goal. Samuel at least has some family considerations in mind, and while I still don’t trust him or whatever brought him back from the dead, having him be the one to question Sam’s motives was an interesting twist.
 
Sam’s personal detachment from Dean’s situation also came through loud and clear in his asking Dean about how becoming a vampire felt and in his insistence afterward on learning what Dean had seen in the lair. The only time he ever asked Dean if he was okay was when they came upon him at the end of the vampire nest battle, sitting alone and still in a building full of corpses, and even that sounded more like a handler questioning the readiness condition of an asset than a brother’s concern for his brother’s well-being. Throughout the episode, he also continued to be blind to the depths of Dean’s feelings concerning Lisa and Ben; he made surface responses, but glossed over them quickly and clearly never registered what Dean was feeling. His protest to Samuel about not having thought Dean would just up and leave betrayed his fundamental lack of emotional understanding in a very telling way. He hadn’t guessed Dean had gone to see Lisa to say goodbye when he believed he’d soon be dead despite Dean having done exactly the same thing just before the last act of the apocalypse. In Point Of No Return, despite being furiously angry about it, Sam understood and even anticipated the stops on Dean’s farewell tour; now, however, he’s so removed from emotional connection that where Dean would have gone and why totally escaped him.
 
I’ll admit, when I first saw that repellent look of satisfaction on Sam’s face, I actually wondered briefly if he might have been pleased to see Dean turned because of the way it would echo Sam’s former addiction to demon blood, in effect giving Dean a taste of what Sam had experienced, but that thought – disturbing as it was – didn’t last long. I don’t think Sam is either vindictive or evil; I just don’t think he has enough actual feeling inside him to generate that kind of response. I still think his emotions, apart from such things as mild satisfaction or irritation, are largely disengaged. Everything he has is simply focused on hunting.
 
I continue to see Sam’s complete emotional detachment as a coping response to whatever happened to him in Hell. Whether it’s purely psychological or has a spiritual component as well – whether it’s simply a defense against the intensity of what he remembers or involves him having made some kind of metaphysical trade to escape Hell, perhaps surrendering part of his soul in return for having consummate skill as a hunter to accomplish some mission in return for his freedom – I think there’s still a key to turn in that lock to reopen and re-engage Sam’s emotions. I hope there’s such a key, anyway, because I’m not ready to let the loving, caring Sam we and Dean used to know go without a fight.
 
Even if Sam’s the one we have to fight in order to get Sam back.
 
Production Notes
 
This episode left me with way more questions than answers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for an episode so early in the season, but the main questions it raised were so fundamental and so urgent that they’ve got to be resolved quickly to assuage my viewer frustration. The whole point of the previous five seasons of the show was that family love could save the world; the total absence of that love this season, particularly as exemplified by our fundamentally changed Sam and to a lesser extent by Dean’s perceived inability to have any form of continuing human relationship with Lisa and Ben, is starting to make me wonder if the world was saved at all. There has always been conflict between the brothers, but that conflict was always rooted in love; now half that love has simply vanished, and its strained absence is eroding the half that remains. The hope of having the brothers’ relationship restored – fights and all – is the heart of the show for me, and right now, that heart is desperately in need of a pacemaker, if not a transplant. I’m hoping the next episode does a lot to start answering questions in satisfying ways, even if those ways involve setting up a lot more questions to resolve.
 
This was the first Supernatural script outing for writer Brett Matthews, but he’s no stranger to genre programming and comes from the best training stable around: he was an assistant to Joss Whedon on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, and co-wrote with Whedon both Firefly’s Heart Of Gold episode and the post-Firefly, pre-Serenity comic Those Left Behind. He’s been in the credits as a new executive story editor since the beginning of this season. I’m hesitant to judge him purely on the basis of this episode because I get the really strong feeling it was intended to be incomplete, to push things to the breaking point and deliberately leave us suspended there. That much, it definitely achieved. That said, however, it still felt to me like three different things clumped uneasily together in a whole that couldn’t stand on its own. It seemed to be one part amusing take-off on the current romantic vampire craze, one part too-quickly-set-up-and-resolved tale of Dean turning vampire and back again, and one part – the only really important part – the final unendurable wrong-Sam straw applied to the breaking Dean-camel’s emotional back. I don’t think I’ll really know what I think about this episode until after I’ve seen the next one and hopefully learn what happens between Dean and Sam and between Dean and Lisa to start resolving the threads deliberately and intolerably left hanging here.
 
I haven’t read the books or seen any of the Twilight films, so I’m certain I missed some of the take-off jokes, but the ones I got (the over-the-top dialogue and purple prose, the teen hormones driving the romance obsession, Lautner, Pattinson, Robert and Kristen as character names, etc.) were amusing. I had no problems with Dean knowing about Lautner; we know Dean’s a creature of television, and the Twilight actors really have been inescapable, as are teen- and tween-throbs Bieber and Efron. I’m way outside the demographic, and even I can’t escape them! I could have done with less of the initial bar scenes with Robert and Kristen, though, and had more script time devoted to the vampire-Dean story.
 
There wasn’t a lot of tension in the plotline of Dean being turned into a vampire simply because we all knew he wouldn’t stay that way; that’s just the nature of a principal character in a series and there wasn’t much the script could have done to offset it. It all went by and was neatly wrapped up with stunning speed, though, which unfortunately blunted its potential continuing impact. Dean has thought himself a monster before, particularly in acknowledging what he did in Hell, so finding himself a literal monster wasn’t that much of a stretch. I think the only lasting elements of the whole vampire storyline itself are likely to be Dean’s memories of the Alpha-driven vision perhaps helping guide the hunt for the Alpha vampire (was there a reason the vision map had a big circle around Aurora, IL, which was north-northwest of the story’s Limestone location?), and whatever lasting effect Dean’s scary nocturnal farewell visit may have on his continuing relationship with Lisa and Ben. Dean’s dismayed realization that he was bringing the romantic vampire stereotype to life both was and wasn’t funny, because unlike the stereotyped book heroes, he really was saying goodbye and intended to die, and there wasn’t any teenaged hormonal response involved. I do wish he had told Lisa something of the truth, however, even though saying he’d been turned into a vampire would probably just have sounded to his ears like another insane piece of fictional dialogue. Between the script and the direction, the timing on his visit home also felt a little off to me. Dean had said at the beginning of the episode that he was a night’s drive away from Lisa’s, yet he seemed to get there and back again in a matter of a couple of hours at the most; something was missing in there.
 
Also new to the show was Australian director Rod Hardy, out of Melbourne. He got his start doing television in Oz, but I know him for the things he’s done here, including episodes of The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, The Mentalist, Leverage, and Covert Affairs. (Amusingly enough, the episode he directed recently on Covert Affairs was titled, What Is And What Should Never Be.) Apart from my earlier note about the temporal disconnect in Dean’s visit to Lisa, I really liked what he did with this episode visually. The lighting by Serge Ladouceur was moody as hell, and Hardy made good use of it. The skewed perspective, handheld camera shots giving us Dean’s vampire viewpoint were very effective at making us share his disorientation, and when those were combined with the visual effects supplied by Ivan Hayden and his crew, we wound up mind-tripping right along with Dean. He did a lot with handheld cameras in this episode to capture vivid, immediate character movement, like Dean walking through the vampire nest or the vampires attacking the bloodmobile, and used a lot of subtle camera motion even on his non-handheld shots covering Sam and Samuel talking on the phone, contributing to the sense that events were always moving. I’m a sucker for good crane shots and overhead perspectives, and he used them to good effect both in the alley and in the main room of the nest. The quick cuts and constantly shifting viewpoints he and editor Nicole Baer used throughout all the action scenes and the weird vision montage kept us unsettled but gave us enough to cling to and follow.
 
I particularly liked the way he handled the blocking and shooting of the scene when Sam arrived to discover Boris subduing and turning Dean, given the importance of the physical relationships between the characters to what happened at the end of the episode when Dean drank the cure. Hardy was very careful to ensure that Sam would have been visible to Dean’s peripheral vision so Dean’s flashback memory could end on that unsettling image of Sam’s calculated satisfaction. We all perceive much more than we consciously notice. That’s borne out by the amazing recall of specific details subjects can display under hypnosis when a skilled practitioner helps them step aside from the emotional content and immediate focus of an experience to simply describe everything they saw, heard, and smelled around them at the time. Hypnotically augmented memory isn’t used often by the police because it’s not generally admissible in court – a hypnotist can suggest to people that they remember things that never happened, so leading questions are always suspect – but our ability to mentally record details far exceeds what most of us think. If Hardy hadn’t shot that scene so clearly, however, we’d have called foul on Dean having been able to remember Sam’s face at that moment. Under the circumstances, however, Dean was in a position to have seen Sam. He may or may not trust his memory – after all, he was dazed when it happened and under the influence of a psychoactive potion when he recalled it – but he could have seen what he thought he saw, and that was established by how it was shot. 
 
I also loved the performances Hardy got from his actors. Jensen Ackles does everything well, and now he can add smoldering vampire to the list. Dean facing Samuel and Sam in the motel room waiting for them to kill him brought a whole new meaning to intensity, and the moment he stopped running and turned to fight in the vampire lair, taking out the entire nest single-handed, redefined Dean as unstoppable hunter. His realization that Sam had deliberately let him be turned carried too many layers to dissect. Jared Padalecki’s very changed Sam is bringing out whole new aspects of Jared’s acting ability. I can appreciate what he’s doing to convey Sam’s differentness even as I deplore Sam’s lack of emotional depth and despair of his commitment to anything other than success in the hunt.
 
I’ve enjoyed Mitch Pileggi for years, and I like the ambiguity in his Samuel. I emphatically don’t trust him, but the way he challenged Sam in this episode gave the character more dimension. Pileggi invests Samuel with sincerity; you want to trust him, but at the same time, there’s something there that simply isn’t right. Making that work is a gift.
 
I enjoyed Joseph Reitman’s Boris. He definitely made a different six-hundred-year-old vampire, and I can only imagine the fun and hijinks that ensued on set with his sexually teasing approach to Dean!
 
The location team, set dressers, sound crew, and makeup folks also get special shout-outs on this one. I got to see some of the location prep and shooting on this episode, which really made me appreciate what I saw in the final results on screen. The brothers’ gated hotel parking lot and the vampire lair were both located in the same alley. The Victorian Hotel (turned into the Nite Owl, but only seen in the show from the back) was at one end of the alley, and the historic BC Permanent Building in the middle of the block was the interior for the vampire nest. The metal gate supposedly leading into the vampire lair – the one Boris popped out of in the teaser and Dean went through on his raid into the lair – was closer to the far end of the alley, actually providing access to a different building. They shot in that alley and in the BC Permanent Building for the better part of a week. The building, which once housed a bank, was a find for the location crew because it was slated for restoration work, and many of the fixtures already in the building – including that magnificent Tiffany stained glass window in the ceiling, the tile floors, and the open main area – were already perfect for the shoot. (I hope to be able to go inside on a later visit and see what it all looks like post-renovation!)
 
On the day I got to watch, they were shooting scenes inside the vampire lair, so while Jared and Jensen were on set, they weren’t generally visible. (There was also a professional paparazzi hanging out being a nuisance, so I put my camera away and didn’t even try for photos of actors.) That night, however, they shot the teaser sequence of Robert, Kristen, and Boris in the alley, and I greatly enjoyed watching the prep and rehearsal for the scene. I couldn’t watch the actual shooting because the cameras were aimed straight down the alley, so when it came time to shoot, I flattened against the front of the Victorian Hotel so I’d be blocked from view by the building.
 
Just to give you a little idea of what prep for that scene involved, here’s a little list. The location crew cleaners came through the alley the day before, swept up all the trash, and steam-cleaned the place. Then the set dressers started adding their own details, including every streetlight you saw in the alley and the dumpsters, stray pallets, and other trash (including trash bags artfully hiding the flat base of one of the pole lights they’d added) littering the alley. Just before they shot the scene, they had a water truck come through to spray the pavement so it would glitter under the lights and read better on camera, and then one of the crew came through with a bag of leaves and scattered them carefully across the wet pavement, again to provide visual interest for the cameras. So when you watch Robert and Kristen walking down that alley, look at the lights, the trash, the glistening pavement, and the fallen leaves, and know that every single one of those elements was deliberate. Oh, and the SUV in the background, driving toward them from behind in the distance and showing them up in its headlights? That was Frank, driving on cue down the alley in the next block, and turning in front of the Victorian Hotel where I stood watching. And Kristen’s bloodcurdling scream when Boris attacked? That one was added in post. If you look carefully to the right and behind them as Kristen asks if his place is going to have velvet, you’ll see the distinctive fence around the hotel parking lot that they later shot during the daytime as the Impala’s parking spot at the boys’ hotel. You’d never guess the boys were staying practically next door to the vampire lair, would you? *grin*
 
That same night, they shot the scene of Samuel and Sam arriving in the van, passing the Impala parked on the street, and being attacked by the vampire stunt man. I was on the wrong end of the block to see much – behind the van, when the area in front of it would have made much better viewing – but one little detail made me laugh a lot when I finally saw the episode. It took the crew hours during the day to successfully hang a pink neon “Parking” sign on the brick wall to the left of the alley mouth and get it to light up; they had one problem after another, but they finally succeeded. If you look very fast, you can even almost see it through the back of the driver’s side window of the van, just as the vampire attacks and breaks the window; it’s the unreadable streak of pink light running down the side!
 
The makeup crew get major props for the job they did turning Dean into a vampire, and the visual effects folks get credit for the moving appearance of the fangs. The sound crew gets a special shout for the incredible job they did in conveying Dean’s vampire hearing. Note to viewers: if you watched this show on your computer or on an ordinary television set, you missed part of the show, because the audio coming through my home theater speakers added incredible dimension my chintzy little laptop speakers totally missed when I was doing a little scene-checking for the purpose of writing this review.
 
Other fun production details that amused the heck out of me were the use of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in the score for the Black Rose teaser scene, and guys in the bar drinking Dead Dog Ale. Both of those just made me laugh. Kristen’s over-the-top fangirl bedroom was amazing in a fairly disturbing way; it made me wonder what someone would think of my house art! I’m not blatant, but there are a few fannish bits here and there …
 
On balance, I think I liked this episode despite my many problems with it, but I really want to consider it again after it’s finished – and that won’t happen until we finally get to understand what’s happening inside Sam’s head.
 
Is it Friday yet?


**************************

Photos from behind the scenes on this episode are posted here in my Photobucket. There are no Jensen, Jared, or Mitch photos; just alley, street, van and Impala pictures. And a few with me!

The icon on this is by raloria , who read my request and provided exactly what I wanted. Thank you, my sweet!!!


Tags: dean winchester, episode commentaries, jensen ackles, meta, on location, philosophy, psychology, sam winchester, supernatural, supernatural university, television production
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