Raising a Family of Hunters - John in The Benders
As with the majority of episodes in Season One, John does not physically appear in this episode. However, his presence is still felt.
There are obvious parallels in this episode between the Benders and the Winchesters. Here we have two families that hunt as a family, shun society, can defend their family against anyone or anything, and are a group of very efficient killers. Now, the difference is that the Benders hunt humans where as the Winchesters hunt the supernatural, but it is still a nice parallel.
Both John Winchester and Pa Bender brought their children up in the “family tradition” of hunting. They armed their children with the skills they would need to defeat their enemies. The difference between them is a moral one. John Winchester raised his children to fight evil and to save the lives of those who did not understand what could be waiting for them in the dark. Pa Bender raised his children to hunt humans for pleasure and as a sport to prove that they were the above the laws of society. So although the manner in which the fathers raised their children was similar, the message behind what they taught was not.
The Benders also confirms once again that John put the responsibility of taking care of Sam on Dean’s shoulders. Dean confesses to the Sheriff in the car that he has always felt responsible for Sam. He admits that ever since the fire that killed Mary, it has been his job to look out for Sam. You can easily trace this back to John becoming so obsessed and immersed in Mary’s death and his revenge, that he pushed the responsibility of raising Sam onto Dean.
Although John raised his boys to be an effective hunting team, he also raised them quite differently. Dean is the oldest, he is the leader. It is Dean‘s responsibility to take care of Sam and to be his fathers second in command. Sam is the youngest, he is the follower. Sam was not an equal in their hunting lifestyle. By focusing on Dean taking care of Sam, and not on Sam taking care of himself, John forced his sons into roles that they still play today.
Dean’s panic when Sam first disappears is his reaction to his failure. He has let his father down because he has not succeeded in his #1 job - the protection of Sam. So Dean begins to search for his brother the way his father taught him. He is methodical, he checks every angle, he works every clue. This case is more important than any other because the victim he is working to save is his brother, but he tries for a clinical detachment in order to focus on the task at hand.
And for Sam’s part, he also fulfills the role John has molded him to. He actively tries to free himself using his training, but he also is comfortable in the knowledge that Dean is coming for him. Sam is never without backup, and John trained his boys to work as a team. That’s what they’re doing here. Both trying their best to find their way back to one another.
As an episode, The Benders could have spent a little more time focusing on the surface similarities between the two families. There was a lot of great material there that was a bit lost in the "we don't kill humans" black and white debate.