Supernatural S1E5: Bloody Mary

by thethreepennyguignol

Happy Destiel-goes-Canon day to all who celebrate! It’s November 5th, which means that it’s high time for me to go delving back into my Supernatural recaps and pick up where I left off. Especially since one of the questions I’m trying to answer in this retrospective is whether or not Dean is actually bi (or, more accurately, if the show has sewn any hints that he might be through it’s first season).

Well, quite honestly, this episode, Bloody Mary, doesn’t have much in the way of Dean queerbaiting, apart from him sitting so comically stupidly on a park bench that bisexuality must be the only remotely logical explanation (I say this sitting sideways-on to my desk in a spinny chair, so I know the facts of the matter), but it does mark one of my favourite episodes of season one, and I’m really looking forward to getting into it.

Supernatural’s at its best when it finds a way to bring folklore not only into the modern day, but also into its wider canon. And this is a perfect example of doing just that: Supernatural asks not just what Bloody Mary is, but how the legend might have come to be, how it would survive in contemporary life, and, I think perhaps most importantly, how it can be used to tease out a little more of the story between Sam and Dean and the chaos that’s been stalking them through their entire lives.

This is a really impressive episode for the show, especially considering how early it comes in the season; a deft balance of a specific myth with a major step forward in character motivation. The vengeful spirit summoned by the mirror in this instance is actually only after people who have been concealing a secret that pertains to somebody’s death, as a result of a young woman murdered in front of a mirror and having her killer escape justice. That set-up alone has a pretty good play-out to it; taking on a classic urban legend like that and giving it real shape and texture would have made for a solid story in its own right. Even before we get to the major character stuff, there’s a really early-noughties J-horror vibe to this, with the inevitable doom brought upon unsuspecting victims and the long-haired, twisted monster climbing out of a mirror frame to hunt her victims; the shots of the would-be victim surrounded by mirrors she’s covered to avoid detection reminds me of the schoolgirl segment in the original Ju-On film, that paranoia and very palpable sense of the spirit lurking around every corner.

But it’s the character stuff that really makes this episode stand out. Sam, at the start of this season, went with Dean because of the death of his partner, Jessica – he was running away from her loss, for sure, but equally, he was looking for the entity that had done it to her. This episode, though, it’s revealed that Sam has been keeping a secret from Dean (allowing him to summon and eventually destroy the spirit pursuing her hapless victims) – he had visions of her death long before it happened, and blames himself for not doing more to stop it.

It’s a major reveal for the show at this point to suggest that Sam was anything more than an innocent bystander in the death of his girlfriend, especially as Sam is the audience’s way in to this world. The set-up for the Bloody Mary plot is a neat way to pull it out of him, and this revelation allows for the show to grant him a little grace in the face of his inaction; and, most importantly, step back from that as the engine that drives Sam’s plot.

Not to say that it’s not still a major part of Sam’s story arc, and not to say that it’s forgotten from this moment out – but the moment that Sam seems a vision of his girlfriend in the wingmirror and smiles instead of bawling, it’s the second that this show moves Sam and Dean into the same place in terms of character motivation. Sam isn’t just doing this to make right what happened with Jessica – he’s doing it because it’s the right thing to do, because he can help people, because he can help his brother, specifically (as indicated by the fact he doesn’t burden Dean with the truth of what happened in the run-up to Jessica’s death).

Essentially, this episode Sam putting aside his partner’s death as the sole motivation for being involved with the family hunting business. The way the show fits this development around the villain in question, and then fits that around a famous old urban legend, is downright masterful; this isn’t just folklore and myth as part of the modern world, but folklore and myth as it relates to Supernatural in its own right, building a lore that incorporates Sam and Dean and their traumas and histories as much as it does real-world myth and legend (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron). It’s a big step forward for the show and for Sam especially, and it’s delivered in this seamless no-splash way that balances monster-of-the-week storytelling with the bigger picture. And, after the mess of last time, I’m glad to see this first season back on track.

If you enjoyed this post and want to see more stuff like it, please consider checking out my other recapping projects – JerichoLostSex and the CityDoctor Who, and Carrie are good places to start! Please also have a look at my fiction work, such as my short story collection, Misandry. And you can always support me on Patreon for access to exclusive blog posts!

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