Before The CW's Supernatural began its eleventh season, I detailed my lofty wishes for it: embrace its horror roots; crank up the action to compete with the b adassery of The Flash and Arrow; and shine a bigger light on Sam Winchester, who has the reputation as the geeky, weaker younger brother but is just as heroic as the one-liner spitting, pie-lovin' Dean.
“Red Meat,” a brutal nail-biter of an episode somehow manages to incorporate all of these wishes and more into one brutal and extraordinarily suspenseful hour of television.
"Red Meat" details a monster-of-the week hunt that spirals into a life-and-death disaster when Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) is shot by one of the pureblood werewolves they were hunting, and their harrowing escape when more fangs are hot on their trail. Part Running Scared, part Romeo and Juliet, this episode is wicked departure from the usual. Case in point: the cold open isn’t of a poor hapless victim getting slaughtered; instead it’s the action-packed werewolf-hunter battle that ends with Sam getting plugged in the stomach.
Despite being hunted by pureblood werewolves, the real monster of this episode is the unkillable kind, namely the complexities and depravity of human nature.
Early in Supernatural's run, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) makes an odd statement: "Demons, I get, but people are crazy." The show and current events have gone above and beyond to prove him right. Demon and monsters are like animals forged from evil. Their base instinct is to maim and manufacture chaos, and most can't help themselves. Humans, however, are blessed or burdened by free will and varying levels of morality. They can decide to help the brave men who got hurt saving them or they can choose to kill the one slowing them down because “it’s three lives versus one.”
That's exactly what Corbin did. Instead of deciding to carry his tiny, barely conscious wife or lending a hand to the bleeding man who is fighting for him even after getting shot, he opts to smother Sam with his bare hands after eerily moving closer to whisper, "He won't leave you." It’s a cruel irony that Dean's dedication is perverted into the motive for Sam’s murder.
As viscerally violent as this scene is, it offers a new, albeit gruesome perspective on what has become a Supernatural norm: How is Corbin’s dedication to his tenacious Tinkerbell of a wife any different to Dean’s for Sam?
There are very few situations that Dean Winchester can't kill his way out of, but how do you think Dean would react if someone was keeping a dying Sam from medical attention? While it’s doubtful that Dean would kill an innocent human in cold blood, the unhealthy devotion Sam has to his brother is one that compels him to make reckless decisions, ignore Sam’s end-of-life wishes and previous promises, and make deals with unimaginable collateral damage in order to selfishly save his brother and cheat death. The Winchester brotherhood and the kinetic chemistry Padalecki and Ackles is the beating heart of the show, but it’s also extremely problematic one for two guys that are often responsible the well-being of the entire world.
From there the story moves from popcorn-and-light-out horror flick and to a bizarre version of a certain Shakespearean tragedy that haunted you in high school with a twist of a dark Paul Walker thriller.
Circumstances keep Dean and a presumed dead Sam apart. Dean, learning of Sam's death, darkly decides to temporarily shuffle off this mortal coil with a handful of drugs from a modern apothecary, so he can meet with the reaper Billie (played with a cool fierceness by Lisa Berry) and beg for Sam’s life. Their conversation is the only low point of an otherwise stellar episode. Billie—who I wholeheartedly believe helped Sam cure himself in this season’s “Form And Void”—doesn't offer anything we didn’t already know about Dean’s co-dependent loyalties to Sam. "You're pretending you're trying to save Sam for the greater good when we all know you're doing it for you," Billie explains.
Though fans and yours truly tend to swoon over Dean’s canonically dysfunctional love for his little brother (Dean reaction to Corbin when he suggests leaving Sam is disappointingly tame), I am horrified by how easily Dean throws need to throw his life away. With Sam tasked to killing Amara, this encounter with Billie is at least another reminder that Sam’s probably not long for this world and no deal will bring him back. It also raises a lot of questions about the fast-approaching finale. Will Dean swan drive into The Empty then too?
Thankfully Billie is a lovely distraction from the ghastly sight of Dean’s body convulsing and foaming at the mouth from as the doctors fight to save Dean’s life.
She also informs Dean that Sam’s not dead. It’s delivered like a knife-twisting dig, but it’s the jolt Dean needs to live. Just as Sam’s refuses to be killed by a hipster honeymooner, Dean’s rejects dying from something as normal as a drug overdose.
By the time Sam staggers, drives and bleeds his way to the clinic, I am a stressed-out wreck. How is he still going?
“Red Meat” officially awards Sam Winchester with a long overdue BAMF merit badge. This man survives being shot, smothered (he was only "mostly" dead), kills three beasties and still manages to save Dean’s bacon from a feral, full-blown werewolf, Corbin. Sam’s often been painted as the weaker hunter, the lesser Winchester or a straight up abomination, but after this astounding feat of bravery and selflessness, Sam’s heart and undying need save people is as undeniable as it is magnificent.
This episode is a bloody triumph, thanks to stellar acting from Jared Padalecki and guest star Erin Way as Corbin's bereft widow, fantastic writing from Robert Berens and Andrew Dabb, and seamless direction from Nina Lopez-Corrado. If Supernatural, which was recently renewed for a twelfth season, can continue to shock, awe and transfix viewers after more than 200 episodes, then Supernatural season 15 may not be such a crazy idea. It shouldn't be too hard to keep the brotherly feels coming because…
For never was there a story of more woe
Than this of Winchester and his Deano.
What did you think of 'Red Meat? How awesome is Sam Winchester? Hit up the comments section below.
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Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.