In the seventeenth episode of the eleventh season of Supernatural, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS EPISODE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
Trigger Warning: For talk of blood/gore, body horror.
“Red Meat” could have easily, easily been a very straightforward episode of this show. A couple on their honeymoon are besieged by werewolves, everything goes terribly, the Winchesters save the day, blah blah blah. Even with the violent and overwhelming cold open, I figured this would be a fairly recognizable utilization of in media res. While I do tend to enjoy this particular story technique, it’s rarely used in ways that challenge the narrative. We see some part of the present that’s ridiculous and unexplained, and then the story flashes back to give us the context we need to understand why it happened.
While this isn’t the only thing I enjoyed about this episode, it’s what stood out the most to me. We get two or three scenes in the past, and the vast majority of “Red Meat” takes place immediately following the events in the opening. Why? Why do that? I saw it as an attempt to focus on the story that was far more interesting. Werewolves were just a means to an end, not the point of this episode. Normally, we’d get to see a lot more of the case itself, but not this time. We never find out how Corbin got bit, or how he and Michelle got captured on their honeymoon. We know absolutely nothing about the werewolves themselves. They’re all nameless. Again, they’re the background. The details we need just to catch us up to speed. They affect the plot, but they aren’t the whole plot.
That belongs to Corbin, Michelle, Sam, and Dean. Look, I admit that if this show was going to invoke the death of a Winchester, they’d have to do something pretty unique for any of us to care. Winchesters can’t really die, despite that Billie said that the next Winchester to do so would be unable to come back. Yet I couldn’t help but be shocked by Sam’s “death” in the middle of a non-mythology episode. Part of that’s due to the fact that he died in such a horrific way: killed by Corbin, who feared that Sam would slow them all down. Sam died at the hands of someone he saved. And while that plot would continue to get worse and worse (CORBIN IS SO TERRIBLE), I kept asking myself: how the hell was the show going to deal with this? Sam looked very dead, there were no mystical scenes with him in the afterlife or meeting Billie, and all we had was Dean’s desperation.
They weren’t really going to kill off Sam Winchester in this episode, were they?
I’m sure some people cried foul once Sam sputtered back to life. It is a very convenient little twist, a trope we often see whenever a character who is too important “dies” and needs a way to come back. However, I’m willing to accept this plot twist because of the emotional irony provided by the story. Dean, consumed with grief and purpose, does something incredibly foolish. That’s where “Red Meat” gets me. (Well, I also feel like Jared and Jensen had killer material to work off of, and their performances are much more raw and intense than they have been this season.) Dean knows how absurd it is to summon Billie the way he does, and he doesn’t care. He does it anyway. He offers Billie an emotional justification for his demand, knowing full well that it’s bullshit. He doesn’t care. We’ve seen this kind of irrationality from him, but I don’t mean to say that he’s foolish for wanting his brother back. It’s one of Dean’s defining characteristics, and without it, “Red Meat” wouldn’t be as intense or meaningful.
And it’s not like he could have known that Sam wasn’t actually dead. But he still gambles with his life for someone else, and the episode highlights the fucked up nature of these people’s lives. Erin Way, who played Michelle in this episode, provides us with the means to understand the toll that this all takes on a person. She’s fantastic here, and the script allows her to express sadness, fear, and courage. She survives the most horrific experience of her life, only to watch the man who saved her get shot, THEN FINDS OUT HER HUSBAND MURDERED HIM OUT OF LOVE FOR HER, and then her husband turns into a werewolf and murders a cop in front of her, and a lot happens to this poor women.
Thus, the ending to “Red Meat” felt far more cynical than I expected. Dean’s meeting with Billie had not gone well, and I’m really curious if the show is going to stick with her threat. Sam survived, but Corbin was dead. Dean goes through the motions and tries to assure Michelle that someday, after all of this is far behind her, she’ll get back to feeling normal. Michelle immediately rejects this idea, and like Dean, I was shocked. But isn’t she right? Won’t she remember this day forever? Her honeymoon was ruined by WEREWOLVES. It’s just that Dean has spent so much time in this world that his idea of normal has shifted. He’s not normal at all, either, even if he’d like to portray himself that way. The man purposely died to bargain with a reaper to get his brother back, y’all. That’s not normal!
I can’t deny that there are elements to this episode we’ve seen before, but the narrative was surprising and engaging enough to keep me interested and entertained. Bravo!
The video for “Red Meat” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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