Mark Watches ‘Supernatural’: S01E15 – The Benders

In the fifteenth episode of the first season of Supernatural, there are not enough NOPES in the world for this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to be utterly and truly freaked out by Supernatural.


So, there’s a lot to address here. I’ll be splitting this up by the various things I want to address.


Despite that I mentioned both of these in the video commission for “The Benders,” I want to start this off by saying that this episode is basically “Home,” the extremely fucked-up episode in the fourth season of The X-Files, and “The Most Dangerous Game,” an extremely fucked-up short story by Richard Connell. That means this is EXTREMELY FUCKED-UP. And John Shiban wrote this! He was a staff writer and writer and co-producer and producer and executive producer for the show from the start of season three through the end of the show. I KNOW ALL THINGS ABOUT THE X-FILES, so you’re just going to have to deal with me constantly talking about it.


Television is a lot more unique in what I see as a phenomenon that’s often restricted to this medium. When you only have thirty or sixty minutes to convey an idea, showrunners and writers will frequently rely on the easiest way to get a theme, idea, setting, or characterization into the audience’s hands. I’ve brought this up before in the way writers often treat mental illness. This show (and Buffy) used it when depicting asylums. American Horror Story does it all the time. And I think there’s an example of it in “The Benders” that makes me uncomfortable. Sort of.

I’m not always the biggest fan of when writers think they can just show us poor people who live out in the woods and assume they’re all murderous assholes. Like, the Deliverance vibes from this episode are intentional. We are meant to assume that all backwoods, hillbilly folk are just waiting to gobble up any passersby because incest? Oh my god, this episode hits every aspect of this trope squarely on the head. And it’s that lack of development that makes this so brazen. We don’t know anything about these characters at all, aside from the fact that Missy is slightly inquisitive and that eating people is tasty? So where does the fear come from on our end, or at least, how is it expected that we should fear them? (I have another theory about this that’s more personal. I’ll get to it in the next section.)

I’m a little shocked that this takes place in Minnesota, though, because that doesn’t fit the traditional narrative. These kind of stories either take place in the South or Appalachia. Regardless, there’s no nuance here, no exploration of why these people chose to live so far from society, no reasoning as to why they turned to hunting humans for sport and food beyond tradition. That being said? That’s probably why this is so fucking horrifying. There is no reason at all for this beyond tradition. There’s no redemption, there’s no sympathy. What we see here is pure brutality and evil, and it’s kind of the point of the episode, no? That humans can do things to one another that are a million times worse than our demons and monsters. So I both completely understand the writing choices here and wish there was more.

If there’s anything I’ve learned through Mark Does Stuff, though, it’s that wading through stuff like this is complicated. I rarely feel only one way towards fiction.

Real Horrors!

Now, for me, “The Benders” touches on something that only a small handful of people might legitimately fear: FUCKED-UP WHITE PEOPLE WHO DO FUCKED-UP THINGS WITH IMPUNITY. It’s not lost on me that this family, who clearly practices inbreeding, most likely has some terrifying views about the rest of the world, particularly a world that doesn’t have the same skin color as them. “Home” touched on these themes in a less oblique way. That episode featured one of the most downright despicable acts of murder I’ve ever seen on television, and it scared the shit out of me. (Spoilers in this parenthetical aside for that episode if you don’t want to watch it but wish to know what I am referring to: Gur znva furevss naq uvf jvsr, jub ner obgu oynpx, ner fnintryl orngra gb qrngu juvyr n irel rrevr pbire bs Wbuaal Znguvf’f “Jbaqreshy! Jbaqreshy!” vf oynevat sebz gur pne.)

So I wanted to critique this episode through multiple lenses because I experience two very jarring emotions. The whole “murderous hillbilly” trope is boring, but as a person of color who has been in extremely white towns in the boonies, I have an absurd fear of something like this happening. Sundown towns – explicitly whites-only ordinances that often used signage placed at the city to warn specific ethnic groups – have left an ugly legacy in the United States. The city I grew up in, Riverside, expelled its Chinese population in 1893; the closest town to the west, Norco, was once advertised as a whites-only town, and that wasn’t even that long ago. And even as recent as 2005, white supremacists were still threatening people of color in the Inland Empire, the stunning jewel where I grew up. (Trigger warning for that link, by the way. Violent racism/white supremacy.) (I’m sure it’s still going on and getting worse. I hold Riverside in low standing until the end of time.) (I should also note that the majority of sundown towns were explicitly anti-black.) (These are the most serious parenthetical statements I’ve ever made.)

All of this is to say that I have a very real fear of a group of white people doing something like this to me. This fear is absurd when you think about it, of course, but it’s based in a sad reality. The only time I have ever been to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I had a shotgun pulled on me within seconds of entering a convenience store because, as the owner later explained, he had “never seen anyone who looked like me.” I got called the n-word in the outskirts of Omaha once (which shocked me because YOU AREN’T EVEN BEING CORRECT IN YOUR RACISM) when someone pulled their truck up next to me while I was walking. He let me know I clearly didn’t belong there. And this story has variations based on where I was and who interacted with me, but the end result was the same. I was always terrified I’d stumbled into something that would escalate into a disaster. So this whole scenario? This is some atomic-level NOPE, and it made me feel HORRIFIED.


Oh, those goddamn Winchesters. Seriously, I should have realized that Dean’s claim at the end of “Nightmare” that he would protect Sam at all costs would be tested. And it is, literally minutes into this episode. SWEET BABY WINCHESTER, there are so many feelings all over this episode. And Dean Winchester is the one in the spotlight. I think it’s pretty damn awesome that the person emoting the most in this episode is Dean, especially since he’s characterized often as the one who is quick to shy away from any displays of affection or emotion.

But you can’t ignore that Dean’s journey in this episode is purely emotional. He takes a lot of risks to get Sam back, and when it seems like they’re not going to work, he NEARLY STARTS CRYING. Y’all, that scene in Kathleen’s car is not Dean acting like he’s upset. HE IS EXTREMELY UPSET. He’s been taking care of Sam since Sam was a baby. And that’s a literal statement, as he explains to Kathleen that he saved Sam from a fire. (Well, it was a fire caused by a demon that killed their mother, but who’s splitting hairs?) Sam is his responsibility, whether he likes it or not (HE DOES LIKE IT, YOU CAN TELL), and he can’t just give up and let fate do what it wishes with his brother.

It’s also not lost on me that what the Benders represent is a perverted form of the family that Sam and Dean cherish. The Benders do look out for one another, and the world they’ve created out in that forest is one of love. To them, that is. There’s no question about the morality of what they’re doing. No, this is about survival and protection from their point of view. So it’s fitting to me that when Kathleen finally confronts the father of the Bender family, she is the one who points out that he destroyed her family, too.

She does her part to destroy the Benders as well.

All in all, I thought this was a truly scary and disturbing episode of the show, one I’ll surely look back on as being eternally fucked up. Oh, and there were lots of feelings, of course. I think I have come to expect that every episode is going to pack a punch hidden in the story at this point. Trying to be prepared??? Who am I kidding, that’ll never work.

The video commission for “The Benders” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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