After last week’s stark reminder that the Winchesters have lost many friends and loved ones to the hunting life over the years, Supernatural went straight for the jugular in the opening scenes of this episode! Reminiscent of season five’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, “Red Meat” threw us straight into the middle of a dizzying fight between the brothers and a pair of werewolves in a cabin in the forests of Idaho, culminating in Sam taking a bullet to the gut.
While Dean struggled to focus on getting his rescued civilians – a young couple called Corbin and Michelle – to safety with Sam bleeding out, it became apparent that Sam would make their escape slow if not impossible, and with more werewolves closing in, it wasn’t long before things took a sinister turn. Corbin, having been bitten himself, took the opportunity to hurry Sam’s demise along while Dean was out collecting wood to make a stretcher for his brother, suffocating the younger Winchester. With Sam apparently dead, a devastated Dean had no choice but to lead the survivors through the woods until they found help in the form of a local sheriff. The police though, apparently don’t take kindly to bloodied strangers flagging them down and then trying to leave again with no explanation, and Dean got Tasered and forcibly taken to hospital for his troubles.
Once inside the medical facility, Dean asked a guilt-ridden Michelle’s help in breaking into the drug store, having decided he would take an overdose and try to bargain with Billie the Reaper for Sam’s life. To be honest, I’m still really confused about why people are still dying in the wake of Death’s…death! I mean, he was supposed to reap God at the end of all things! Although I suppose he was one of the Four Horseman and a reaper rather than the personification of the concept. But I digress. The reapers are still doing their thing, and Billie was determined to keep her vow that next time a Winchester ended up dead, he’d stay dead. The only problem was, unbeknownst to Dean, Sam wasn’t actually dead!
When Dean realised his mistake, he was forced to sit and watch while the medics tried to revive him, which the eventually did. Sam rallied and managed to dispatch the remainder of the pack and make his way back to the Impala to call Dean. His pained running through the woods, streaked in blood, was a visual echo of the time he had to confront his own Hell memories to get back to his brother, and the tension was palpable as he finally got phone signal only to be prevented from warning Dean about Corbin by a dead battery. Sam managed to drive to the hospital in time to save Dean and Michelle from Corbin, who had gone full wolf by now, but sadly not in time to save the doctor or the sheriff.
The scene in which Dean tried to comfort Michelle, and his hollow promise that she’d finally ‘get back to normal’ was incredibly moving. Michelle called bullshit on him immediately, asking how she could ever really get over watching the man she loved die. Dean’s distraught expression was both an admission and a foreshadowing. He has watched his brother die more than once, and he knows he’ll probably have to again.
Wow. A lot to say about this episode, which felt more like a little standalone horror movie than a monster of the week special. The fight scenes were more brutal than usual, the soundtrack deliberately sparse to emphasise the sounds of flesh on flesh. Dean removing the bullet from Sam’s gunshot wound and Michelle’s infected wrist cuff wounds made me feel quite nauseous, and it’s rare that Supernatural uses violence extreme enough to do that. It set this episode apart and made it feel much more adult than the usual fare.
I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s worth mentioning that Robert Berens co-wrote this episode with Andrew Dabb, and he always smashes it out of the park. I’m such a big fan of his scripts. It was also the debut episode for director Nina Lopez-Corrado, and if this taut, atmospheric little nugget is anything to go by, I hope she’ll be at the helm of many more.
We must talk about the performances too. After eleven seasons, it’s testament to how much Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles care about these characters that they can still tug those raw emotions from us. Jared gave a great, vanity-free turn, the pain and determination warping his features, and Jensen was superb as Dean at his most vulnerable and out of control. Special mention must also go to Erin Way, whose portrayal of Michelle was so nuanced and haunting that I was crying along with her in the closing scenes. It’s always such a treat when we’re introduced to a character who can make us really feel for them over the span of forty-five minutes, and I suspect we will run into her again at some point down the road.
Final Grade: A-
+ The structure of this episode – zinging back and forth in time – worked in much the same way that “Safe House” did last week, but this felt far pacier.
+ There was actual HORROR in this installment: Tangible pain, raw grief, blood, body metamorphosis, and Dean’s ‘death’ by barbiturates showed the foaming-mouth, fitting, very human indignity of death.
+ We’re used to the Winchesters sacrificing themselves for the greater good, but in all likelihood, this is how it will end for one of them – a slip up while hunting. Seeing Dean so quiet and broken was a stark reminder that one day they will run out of options.
– If I have one major grumble, it’s that Sam waking up and escaping felt too easy, as did Dean’s revival. This may have been a timing thing, but I was expecting there to be more repercussions from Dean’s suicide mission. It seemed like a bit of a waste of Billie that she had her prize snatched away from her so quickly.
– Dean lying to Sam about what he did when he thought Sam was dead may have been a pride thing (no chick flick moments), but it felt like a step backwards in this new era of honestly and maturity between the brothers.
Extra Thoughts: I think Billie’s return definitely heralds something to do with the main season arc, but what that is remains to be seen.
So, while there was no progress on the big issues of Amara and Lucifer roaming topside, this episode was a stomach-churning, heart-pounding thriller, showcasing the Winchesters’ love and co-dependence as the bloody, beating heart of this show. But what did you think? Were you eviscerated by this lupine adventure, or was it more a case of once bitten, twice shy? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!