For Halloween, a holiday that is to Supernatural as Thanksgiving was to the Waltons, the show makes the unexpected decision to get its ADD under control, stop running, and dig into the vexing question of just what Sam and Dean were up to during their summer hiatus. To my surprise, this didn’t stop the show itself in its tracks. The best thing about it is the way that Benny (Ty Olssen), the vampire who befriended Dean in Purgatory and, in the words of one of his associates, “crawled… out of God’s ass for another ride on the merry-go-round,” establishes himself as a fitting surrogate brother for Dean.
It’s a position that Castiel held for a while, but had to surrender as he became more damaged and incapable of truly connecting to human beings. At one point in tonight’s episode, Sam tells Dean, not for the first time, that he doesn’t have any friends because “they’re all dead,” and I sometimes get the feeling that many hardcore Supernatural fans would just as soon Dean never had any relationships important enough to distract him from his brother, the way fans of The X-Files used to get bent out of shape on those rare occasions when Mulder, when his relationship with Scully was still stuck ar the mutually-unacknowledged flirtation stage, would notice that some of these lady guest stars weren’t half- bad-looking. But Jensen Ackles has made Dean one of those loners who craves limited doses of human (or at least humanoid) contact. He may have gotten past his brother’s desire for a normal life, but he blossoms a little with the right company. “Blood Brothers” has a moving undercurrent that comes from the way Dean and Benny, both close-to-the-vest types, understand and, without making a show of it, care about each other.
In his earlier, brief appearances since the season premiere, I failed to pick up on the fact that Benny is a vampire (or, as Dean—always the josher—calls him, an “undead blood junkie”). I knew he was some kind of monster, but if he ever explicitly defined himself according to species, it went right past me. (Those lumpy Klingon foreheads that vamps used to grow on Joss Whedon’s shows always did look like of stupid, but when you were trying to keep the players in the battle scenes straight, they sure were a convenience.) In any case, Benny is on the trail of his vampire maker, though there are two possible outcomes for their reunion: Benny says that he’ll “kill him, or he’ll kill me. Again.” While out hunting, Benny runs into some of his nest-mates. They don’t survive the encounter, but he himself is badly banged up, and has to call Dean to ask for some assistance. Dean tells Sam he has to take care of some “personal” business, finds Benny, and the next morning, Benny is right as rain again. “A little rest and half a cooler of AB-negative,” Benny explains, “most wounds short of amputation will heal up vampirically speaking.”
Benny fills in his own pre-Purgatory history, speaking in a thick, gravelly bayou accent that I also don’t remember from his previous appearances, at least not laid on so thick. His maker maintained a nest of vampires who kept busy by taking ships on the open sea, raiding them for blood and plunder. Vampire pirates—“vampirates,” mutters Dean, who’s really on a Snigletsy roll tonight. It’s actually a wild enough idea that I wouldn’t mind a few flashbacks later on, but right now, Benny is focused on destroying the creator who sent him to Monster Hell. Benny had rubbed his maker wrong by bailing on the nest, but even before then, he had begun to step away from feeding on living people; something he saw in humanity left him with a soft spot. He even fell in love with a beautiful Greek heiress and joined her as she went “sailing in a 42-foot sloop to the Canary Islands.” “Was Fabio on the cover of that paperback?” asks Dean. It’s a sharp knife of a line, but he delivers it with a soft edge, the same way he says “Idiot!” when he sees Benny let his guard down and be taken captive. He never sounds as truly irritated with Benny as he does when he’s tiptoeing around a house filled with vampires and Sam, being Sam, picks that moment to dial Dean’s cell phone.
Wandering through the woods in the dark, Benny turns lyrical, talking about how weird it is “being back in the world,” adding, “What do you do with it all. All the—everything?” He also goes in for some grad-school philosophizing, asking whether the real world, experienced after returning from the dead, feels… real. Dean has no patience with this sort of guff. We’re real, the world we live in is real, and there’s no point in dicking around with questions of what being real means: Accepting it all at face value is “the only way to play the game.” It’s a smart little throwaway moment that clarifies the ways in which the two of them, who have the bond of two people who've seen combat together, are radically different, and if it’s an easy irony for the vampire to be the more soulful of the two, what’s been established about Dean’s character doesn’t really leave room for any other options.
“Blood Brothers” includes flashbacks to Dean’s time in Purgatory that point up reasons for his trading in Cass (whom Benny refers to as a “crazy aunt”) and also flashbacks to the beginnings of Sam’s year without Dean. But it ends with Sam meeting Benny, whose cold-to-the-touch flesh has Sam immediately reaching for his knife. Dean silently waves him off, taking on the role of the advocate of peaceful co-existence with monsters who say they mean us no harm. It’s an unfamiliar role for Dean, but he went there last week, too, when he voted to leave the reluctant werewolf woman alone and give her a chance to find her own way. Benny didn’t even appear in that episode, but the connection makes it seem that, even when Benny has been offscreen this season, he’s been there anyway, if only in Dean’s head.
- Benny confronts his lost love, whom his maker, of course, has turned into a vampire and taken for a mate. She fumbles about, trying to explain herself: “You remember what it’s like at first. Life is blood, that’s all—and whoever gives it to you.” Benny: “I know. It’s complicated.”