Supernatural, Season 8, Episode 15: “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits”
Written by Brand Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming
Directed by John F. Showalter
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm (ET) on CW
The otherworldly universe of Supernatural is comprised of numerous elements, as the show has illustrated throughout its run. While angels and demons have been the biggest allies and adversaries of the Winchesters—their respective designations changing depending on the circumstances—the brothers have also crossed paths with numerous other entities over the years, from vampires to reapers to ghosts to, most notably, leviathan. This episode throws the Winchesters back into another such tussle, this time with witches, in what unfortunately turns out to be a letdown of an episode.
It is good to see the focus of the show briefly swing back to the witching community. The idea of expanding the world of witchcraft is a fascinating one, as witches and wizards have occupied an interesting spot in Supernatural lore, not being powerful enough as individuals or a collective to cause real harm to the Winchesters, but not being meek enough to completely dismiss either, resting as a thorn in the side of the brothers and flaring up sporadically. The glimpse this episode provides into the inner workings of the witch society is fascinating, and could prove to be a valuable resource against the Thule Society, as the more powerful wizards and witches are able to incapacitate even a Leviathan, as season 7’s “Shut Up, Dr. Phil” demonstrated. The acquaintance of James and Portia now gives Sam and Dean a connection to their world, and whether the brothers tap into it at some point for help is something worth looking out for.
One major issue with the episode, however, is the behaviour of Dean. The character of Dean Winchester has shown a considerable increase in maturity and complex thought over the show’s eight seasons; this episode, however, showcases none of that. The most glaring example of this is Dean’s apparent eagerness to kill James for most of the episode; not only does this run counter to the elder Winchester’s strong sense of loyalty that he has towards those he has fought alongside, it also undermines the complex gray area that supernatural beings have come to occupy in his consciousness since season 1. The fact that Dean namedrops Benny this episode, the latest example of a brother-in-arms who Dean defended at the cost of alienation from his own brother, only serves to drive the point home more thoroughly.
Which is not to say Dean is the only Winchester to suffer from a sudden regression. Sam’s speech about Dean trusting nobody but himself is also odd. In light of everything Dean has done for Sam over the years, from selling his soul to bring Sam back to life to driving into the midst of a fight between Lucifer and Michael to help save Sam, the brotherly protectiveness and affection the elder brother has for his sibling has been made clear time and time again, and Sam has also demonstrated an awareness of that fact on numerous occasions. Dean also made it clear in the last episode that he wants Sam to have an opportunity to live a relatively normal life at some point, a desire Sam himself expressed at the beginning of the season. All these factors combined make it clear that Dean wants Sam to be on the sidelines during the three trials so that he is not heavily affected by the ensuing events and is still able to walk away from it all. Sam’s apparent inability to see that when he has spotted his brother’s devotion to his well-being in numerous other instances is also frustrating. It is out of character for both Sam to leap to the conclusion of a lack of trust on the part of Dean and for Dean to be hesitant to subject Sam to the trials due to a lack of trust in his capabilities, rather than a desire to not see him come to any harm.
All in all, this episode feels like a misfire and a missed opportunity. The potential to explore what happens to Winchester allies who get exposed to the supernatural world through them, and the moral questions this raises, is a potentially compelling subject that the episode’s premise could have explored, but which instead felt cast aside for a case of the week, two things which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. The fact that James Frampton is someone the show was introducing for the first time, even though the Winchesters knew him, also works against the episode, as the viewer’s emotional investment in his well-being is somewhat muted. Supernatural has, in the past, managed to excellently weave together the larger community in which the Winchesters operate. Past seasons are full of memorable guest and recurring characters and the simple act of bringing one of them back for this episode instead of someone new would have improved the episode by a fair amount. Despite this, however, it is still an enjoyable episode, effectively building on the larger world in which witches operate, and if and how that information comes into play, as well as how Sam’s completion of the trials affects him going forward, are both worth tuning in for next episode.