Most of this post will be about the characters of Ruby and especially Bela. But can I just say - whoot! Dean made a friend who didn't die! I'm really tired of Dean making connections with people (and he does do that with some regularity), only to have them be killed or crazy (Richie, Gordon, Sarge - the list goes on and on).
I was a little worried by the prospect of two new characters when the third season began. I didn't resolve to hate them, sight unseen, and I think I was worried because they were new characters, not because they were female characters. Having gotten through almost all of the third season, though, I have to say that I think the show didn't do well with either character.
I don't have much to say about Ruby. A lot of that has to do with my opinion that Katie is just not a good actress. I've yet to see her be even a little credible. It seems like she's posturing, which I would be okay with if she could sell it enough to make it clear that Ruby's posturing too. But instead all I get is someone who always looks like she's acting, and not doing it very well. The thing is, I think she might have been just fine in a less demanding role - one of the one-shot characters who stays within a particular episode.
Lauren Cohan, on the other hand, I buy as Bela. I think she's a good actress getting the job done. What doesn't work for me is the repeated use made of her character.
I spent a lot of the season thinking I disliked Bela, or that I was bored by Bela. That wasn't it. What it was, really, was that the show totally overplayed its hand with her.
Remember the way she flushed and looked genuinely excited in "Bad Day at Black Rock" when Dean beat her security system and got into her apartment? That was a great moment for her - we got to see her as someone sharp and smart. Her utter amorality clashes convincingly with the Winchesters' quest to save everyone and save themselves. That was good.
But the show started relying on her too much, and in ways that made little to no sense. We didn't need to see Bela tricking Dean in "Red Sky at Morning." We didn't need to see her give the boys up to Gordon in "Fresh Blood." And we certainly didn't need to be told that the only person who could procure African dream-root in "Dream a Little Dream of Me" was Bela. All of these things were unnecessary and actually detrimental - the boys and Bobby were made to look helpless and/or incompetent so that Bela could be shoe-horned into the storylines. Three points come out of this.
* First, we know the show can do better. Think of Ellen and Jo. The Roadhouse was clunky - it could not geographically accommodate every hunt the boys were on in the second season - but I thought the Harvelles themselves were used judiciously. The insertion of them into canon was fairly smooth - there was backstory with Bill Harvelle, with Ellen's message on John's voicemail, with Bobby and Ellen knowing each other. And even the one time they took center stage ("No Exit"), there was not egregious rewriting of the boys' characters to accommodate them. And remember how exciting it was when Jo turned up several episodes later in "Born Under a Bad Sign"? See "Third" below.
* Second, the character of Bela is interesting. Before her introduction, we'd had certain types of characters - hunters and people in the know who were fighting for good (Missouri, Jim) , rogue hunters (Gordon), bad guys (Azazel, Meg), people who have no clue about the supernatural (many victims of the week), and people who are starting to realize there's something out there, either because of a hunt they were involved in or for some other reason (Deacon, Kat, Amanda, Kathleen, Diana, Cassie). Bela is different - someone who knows quite well what's going on but isn't buying into the "with knowledge comes responsibility" idea that John raised his boys with. She's put herself out there as an active player in the game. What happens when you've got a character with a completely unheard-of worldview in a well-established world like that of the hunters? Sometimes you get clashes, of course, which is why Dean and Bela can argue every time they meet. But more often, they don't engage at all; there's nothing to discuss. And the show didn't acknowledge that, and kept trying to force Dean and Bela onto the same page when they're really from entirely different books.
* Third, as I said, the show brought Bela into all sorts of situations where her presence made no real sense or derailed the point of the story. Actresses have contracts, and I get that. But how very cool would it have been if we'd met Bela in "Bad Day," learned that there are people in the know who choose not to be hunters and are out only for themselves, and then we don't hear from her again until - BAM - "Jus in Bello," and we realize that the master-thief has snaked the Colt from the boys and tipped Henricksen off about their whereabouts? I think that would have been more effective storytelling and also, we'd have been spared seeing the boys and Bela go head-to-head so often, and always to the boys' detriment. There's no doubt the same strategy worked in season 2, where we learned in "The Usual Suspects" that there were cops who were piecing together what the boys were up to, and then got sucker-punched along with the boys in "Nightshifter" when the FBI and Henricksen showed up and took the cops' place.
With all of that said, I'm really impressed at the way the show scripted Bela's death. The pieces fit together nicely (the exposition from "Red Sky" that she killed a family member, the stealing of the Colt, her denial that selling the Colt was her motive, etc.). It's of course conceivable and maybe even likely that this was not what all of those things were tending to, but the idea of Bela having made a deal of her own and her ten years running out was played very well. I don't think it weakens her character to have been a victim of abuse, especially since she never offered her abuse as a reason for making the deal. The implication, I thought, was that she was dangerously isolated by her family's wealth, with nowhere sane or human to turn, and when the devil offered her a chance, she took it. I do wonder if the method of the killings - the cut brake line - meant that her mother was collateral damage and not an intended victim: is that the death Bela's paying for in "Red Sky"?
It's sobering, of course, to see Bela, who has always presented herself as an aggressor, and never the victim, to be so helpless in the face of her ten years ending. She's had all that time to figure a way out, and she couldn't do it. Whether we're meant to think that that's because she insisted on going it alone - not asking for help the boys surely would have offered, as Dean points out - or because deals like this really are unbreakable, either way she's terrified and then dead. She lived and died by her choices.
Equally sobering is Rufus's unwavering declaration that there are no happy endings for hunters. Even if Dean gets out of this deal, there's always something else (many something elses) just waiting for their shot. That's not news to Dean, of course, or to us, but maybe it's the first time that's been so clearly articulated. It needed to come from someone who wasn't giving a warning out of love; it needed to come from someone who simply knew.
And I want to know what happens to Bela's cat.