“Red meat” is an almost perfect episode for veteran viewers and a fantastic place for first timers to jump into the Supernatural universe. Clearly, the episode has legs to stand alone as a pure monster hunt in the horror genre. The viewer need not know the history of “Mystery Spot” or “An Appointment in Sumarra” or even the deals made in the past to pull a Winchester from the grips of Death.The “Then” montage reminds the long time viewer of all of these events. One need not have counted the times Dean has yelled out his brother’s name, acted in desperation, or Rufus’ last rule of not everyone making it on the bus at the end of a hunt, or making a choice to leave someone behind as foreshadowed in “Safe House” for the feel of the episode. Nor does one need to know the strong relationship between two brothers to feel the true emotions portrayed in this episode. Having this knowledge makes an intense episode even more so for the already addicted.The viewer need not wait until the third commercial to see the dire consequence of a monster hunt. First scene: Sam is shot. Blood gushes. Dean jumps in to help his brother and the two civilians who have been captured as red meat for a band of werewolves- “hunting things, saving people” Sam wanted this season to be about saving people, so Dean prioritizes. He pulls a bullet from Sam and quickly attends to victims.
The direction by Nancy L Corrado and her editor’s choices create a time line that goes back 48 hours much like the “Yellow Fever” episode. For a few scenes the time line goes back to how the brothers got into the hunt, how they re-hash where they have been during the hunt, and what leads up to the gut wrenching almost slow motion action of a werewolf taking direct aim at Sam Winchester. The hour rushes by with smart camera angles and lighting choices that set the tone.
Veteran viewers are forced to remember the times Dean has called out Sam’s name in horror. Here we also see Dean use “Sammy” re-issuing the caretaker’s role. The tenderness and quiet of Dean’s desperation as he has to make a choice is expressed in Dean’s red eyes which fill with tears but never cry. Kudos again to Jensen who nails both the toughness of a Winchester and the tenderness of a loving brother throughout the episode.His shock and grief are restrained, sincere, and very real.
Kudos to Jared for making us suspend our disbelief and allowing Sam to be so strong as to defeat his almost mortal wound,trick the werewolves, kill them, drive two cars, and save Dean. The camera shots of Sam falling to the floor several times show Jared’s long legs and for me he looks taller. At least in this episode his heroics are larger than life. Watching his tall, lean body crumple several times, those legs bent like a rag doll, and his blood oozing under his hunter’s plaid and hearing his grunts and facial expression of pain- so well done.
The writing team of Andrew Dabb and Robert Berens should be given an award for melding the story together so well.They have also introduced new vocabulary to the Supernatural universe: Sam’s new nick-name- the Big W, Billy as the Crazy death Machine. They dare to have Dean commit suicide, foam at the mouth, and admit to a concussion and broken ribs.Props to the makeup department for making both Winchesters look so bad and living up to the “red-meat” aspect of the story. The werewolf makeup is underplayed which works to underscore the loss of humanity in stages, and makes one wonder if the animal survival skill plays into Corbin’s choice to choke Sam. Survival is a big theme in this episode. The werewolf’s clawed hand pulling out the sheriff’s heart makes us know how evil the monster has become and this sequence deletes the need for most of the other kills to be seen on screen.
Lisa Berry’s portrayal of the reaper Billie is so calm and scary. Her answer will always be “No’ to any Winchester deal. She reprises the old question of whether Dean is dying to make the deal to save Sam for Sam or for himself”:(If there ain’t no you, there ain’t no me)”, but since Dean told Michelle( one of the victims who is saved) to get the doctor to pull him back, one wonders if it is truly a suicide attempt at all. Dean does say it is okay if he doesn’t make it back. Wonder? So Shakespearean- sort of like Romeo + Juliette but this time both survive the miscues of death. Billie reminds us that the Winchesters are vulnerable. She doesn’t care about the Darkness( reminder there is an over arching arc to the season).
And yet the writers infuse enough wit to infuse some memorable Deanisms despite the horror of the situation. Dean is hesitant to go on the hunt and Sam tells him it is like a time away camping-an activity Sam has always wanted to do with Dean. Dean responds with a classic about freezing off their nuts- he is squirrel. He does “joke” about saving the bullet as a souvenir for later to ease Sam’s concern. In Dean’s frustration to make a liter for Sam, he goes out to the woods and when a branch hits him he says,”Get off of me!” Who hasn’t reacted the same way with inanimate objects that are out to get you when you have something important to do. Ad lib or scripted? Dean’s statement of “let ’em come” when the monsters are about to attack is tempered with his job to save the victims and hold back that one tear that never drops.It is an honest emotion that comes from the actor who knows his character so well. Dean’s explanation of how Sam was “mostly dead” is a throw back to the movie “Princess Bride” which demonstrates his use of pop culture references.Dean’s quip when he is saved by Sam just as he is about to be killed by the werewolf of “what took you so long?”Dean’s response to Sam’s injury as they leave the clinic as if Sam is a car- “couple of quarts of O and you’re ready to go” and yet there is true concern. Dean says if Sam had died he would have redecorated the room with a jacuzzi and a disco ball- this is so like Dean to deflect. After a season filled with truths, Dean finally withholds it from Sam by not telling him about his attempt to make a trade. See it on Dean’s face. See the disbelief on Sam’s face. He can’t pursue it. He needs a few days of rest, antibiotics, and to let the wound heal.
One of the most strongest lines of dialogue is the conversation with Michelle. Dean tenderly tells her it will be hard but she will go back to normal. With a side shot of her face as she talks to Dean, tears visibly falling from her face, she says,
“How do you go back to normal after you watch your loved one die?” Dean has no quip, no response, no solution. It is the existential question for the Winchesters.
Save for the reminders of Cas and the Darkness in the opening montage and Dean’s speech to Billy, the arc does not play into this script. The background music adds to the suspense but no outstanding rock anthem is played to my memory as the familiar scene of Baby driving away ends the episode.
If you are new to Supernatural, the montage of Castiel as Lucifer makes no sense and that is the small deduction from a perfect score. If you are a veteran, you are reminded of the main arc as if you need to be. We are the red meat for the writers as they play with us like food on a plate and we hunger for more Winchester. This was not a Sam or a Dean episode but rather a Winchester brothers episode carefully melted by two of the best from the writing team. Dabb and Berens truly understand Sam and Dean and the fand
“Red-meat” is needed as an episode at this time to remind fandom of the existential balance the Winchesters face, how they work with and for each other, the choices they make despite their strengths and vulnerabilities in the face of the end of everything. Saving people, hunting things, being a Winchester. Well placed as we run towards the final episodes of a great season.