I wanted to love it, I really did. But…
You know I’m a real fan and “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” has so much to offer. For one, it’s a Dean Winchester character examination fiesta. It’s a long overdue look at those still lingering wounds inside, ones that have been hinted every time he looked at Lisa’s name on the phone with forlorn desire but didn’t call. He’s had to face so much this year and this episode forces him to deal with those inner demons, starting with the very first frame. Monsters are easy, facing the crap Dean did this week takes a real man.
There’s so much that energizes the loyal viewer with the brothers as well. After a very long, agonizing saga that pushed their relationship backwards after the closing scene of solidarity in “Point of No Return,” the brothers are finally back to that point. The setback is over. Finally, there’s the heartwarming brotherly chat at the end, the declaration of a strong brotherly bond that never fails to get a fan girl in weepy tizzy.
So…why didn’t I love “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning”?
I think I was too spoiled by last week’s episode, namely the perfect balance between the monster of the week story and the character story. “Unforgiven” was an emotional, tense, and fiercely dramatic look at Sam facing up to his past year and the atrocities his soulless counterpart committed. As the mystery unfolded slowly, so did Sam’s mental state. The plotting and flow between scenes was done flawlessly and delivered a story that was both breathtaking and gut wrenching. This week, the MOTW and Dean’s saga didn’t blend well at all. Dean is even an absent member of the team for most of the hunt. This results far less time for that in depth character examination and I had hoped. Granted the two emotionally candid conversations with Lisa and Ben that we did get were outstanding, but when that story was blended in between Sam’s MOTW scenes something got lost in the overall impact of the story.
Last week I loved the spider story. This week, I thought the mannequin story was lame. Everyone has their horror triggers though and I don’t exactly recall getting freaked out by life sized plastic dolls in Hudson’s when I was growing up, so that’s likely why it did nothing for me. Just because I didn’t prefer the MOTW choice doesn’t mean it wasn’t good though. On it’s own, it wasn’t half bad. The story about the two sisters and the unique twist with the kidney is a great touch. There is an element of mystery and unpredictability to the story. Where it failed is when it was paired with the character dynamics of the week. It’s like the two were forced together rather than one part evolving off the other. It felt unnatural and the episode overall was very choppy because of it.
I’ve read arguments that there were great parallels between the two sisters and Sam and Dean. Things like one cannot live without the other, the fact that they’re virtually symbiotic. Yeah, that could be true, but the story was too muddled to get all that effectively. We didn’t get time to learn enough about the sisters and their relationship to see those parallels clearly. Another comment I read (thanks Pete!) suggested that they tried to do too much in this episode. I agree with that. It was short attention span theater, plot points being more distracting than enhancing, leaving me more confused than fascinated by the end.
The Good Stuff
I really don’t want to drill on too much that was bad though, for often these mid season episodes aren’t usually the strongest and exist for filler. So let’s go through the real strengths of the episode, starting with Dean’s struggles with the past while trying to hold together the present. That’s been Dean’s dilemma all season and this is another compelling variation.
I appreciate how they didn’t leave us hanging this time, that they picked up where they left off from last week’s stunning conclusion. I certainly got major chills watching a frantic Dean plead with an unresponsive Sam. The things that had to be going through his head. Guilt has always been one of Dean’s issues and I can imagine that if Sam had been lost he would have blamed himself for eternity. I admire Dean for not being completely freaked out by Sam’s admission that those two or three minutes felt like a week; a week of being caught in a loop of memories from Hell. I know that admission scared the crap out of me. Dean held firm though, offering medicine and an ultimatum.
One thing is for sure, Dean isn’t going to make that same mistake again. He’s not letting Sam poke at that wall. He does have the case of “we tried it your way and look what happened” on his side. I see Dean’s point here, but in all the other times that he’s pulled rank on Sam it’s backfired. The advice of letting it out in “spurts of violence and alcoholism” doesn’t sound very stable either. However, it works for now. Sam doesn’t push back, just like he didn’t in “Like A Virgin” when Dean wouldn’t tell him the truth. He’s going to do it big brother’s way for now. He trusts him.
Sam did a way more than take orders from Dean though. He stepped up and played the role that Dean has been desperately needing all season; supportive and reliable sibling. I adore how it’s Sam that forces Dean to take Lisa’s call (or Ben’s as it turns out), forces Dean to get in the Impala and go see Lisa, taking charge of the case alone even after his traumatic seizure. Dean needed that shove. That’s probably why he hadn’t had his final talk with Lisa before now. Not that I blame him. Facing your past is hard.
I’m not sure what Dean was expecting to see when he arrived, but obviously seeing Lisa moving on took him by surprise. He wants to believe that caring counts for something, but it can’t anymore. Lisa’s words make it very clear, showing up on the doorstep has got to stop.
“I know what I want, but I can’t have it, not how you live–my phone rings, I think tiny chance it’s you, big chance it’s Sam calling to tell me you’re dead. . .no, don’t–don’t apologize for anything, it’s just that I get to this place where I’m OK and then you show up at our door–you keep doing that. Every time I think I’m never going to see you again. I’m trying to get over you. What are you trying to do? What do you want from us, Dean?
Dean needed to be asked that question bluntly. He like Lisa really needs to move on. Luckily, he knew the right thing to do by the time he talked to Ben. This conversation is the one that hit me the hardest. Hey I’m a mother of a 12 year old, I get the mindset. Ben doesn’t want to let go. He can’t. As Lisa explained in “Exile on Main Street” Ben needed a dad. Dean was the closest thing he ever had to a father. To finally get one and lose that, it’s hard for any kid. I deeply admire Dean’s choice to be honest, no matter how much it hurt Ben. I got weepy hearing Dean explain who he becomes when he’s hunting, how Ben has choices and he doesn’t. Of course Ben isn’t going to understand. The loss is too real and he’s too young. Dean isn’t going to have an answer when Ben accuses him of walking out on his family either. Dean doesn’t have to say it. As much as he wants it to be so, Lisa and Ben aren’t his family. Sam is. Someday Ben will figure that out but in the meantime, it’s easier for Dean to let him stay mad at him.
The montage of Dean remembering all his good times with Lisa and Ben while driving back in the Impala is simple, he’s saying goodbye. He’s moving on. Sure he feels guilty, he feels like crap about the whole thing, but he knows it’s best. This isn’t total warm and fuzzy closure, but I’m not sure anything could have been that way for Dean. This hurts too bad and his one shot at a family is now gone. I do wonder if he’s thinking about that strategy of violence and alcoholism at this time. What works for Hell trauma might not help with broken hearts.
What a shame those poignant scenes had to be slammed in between Sam’s MOTW drama. That Impala scene would have been way more effective if it had come in at the end, before Sam’s pep talk. Instead of that emotional moment lingering and sticking with us, it ends up exposing the greatest weakness of the episode, the bad flow between scenes. The impact is forgotten because of a sex doll.
Dean is right about one thing at the end, their string of bad luck has been pretty awful lately. It’s certainly depressing me. I appreciate a MOTW ending that doesn’t go right. They can’t win them all. However, this one is a head scratcher. Was it really necessary? It would be nice to see Sam and Dean win one without resulting in bitter feelings like a door slammed in their faces or pieces of flying glass imploding their spirits. Or a crumbling wall and a broken heart. This double edged sword that we’re getting every week of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t leaves me asking more and more why Sam and Dean even get out of bed in the morning.
Still, despite the unsatisfying conclusion to the MOTW, Sam’s talk with Dean at the end is a massive, long time coming treat. Sam has every reason to be as mopey as Dean. If you look at the recent history of Sam Winchester, he hasn’t been a glass half full kind of guy. Last week was a pure exercise in self loathing. Yet Sam knows his brother needs a lift more than ever and gets past it. He’s able to see through his recent struggles to give Dean exactly what he’s desperately needed ever since RoboSam rescued him in “Exile on Main Street” or probably as long back as when Sam fell into Lucifer’s cage. Dean needs to know under no uncertain terms his brother has his back. More importantly, he needs to know his brother means it. There’s where the fine line that they’ve been skirting recently between Sam and soulless Sam is broken. Sam with a soul cares about his brother and will to what it takes to protect him. He even thanks Dean for getting his soul back. Dean softens at the sincerity, knowing for sure these aren’t the empty words soulless Sam gave him a few months ago. Oh yes, things are finally right again between the brothers, the rest of the world and its bad luck be damned. It’s freaking beautiful.
I’m not putting “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” in the category of “Bugs” or “Hammer of The Gods,” but I would call it from one of the weaker ones in terms of overall construction. There was too much goodness smacked in between too much sloppy. There’s no denying that when Sam and Dean are together, the episode excels. These two have faced their past years now like men and it sucked for both of them. They are now at a total understanding, all they have is each other. Of course we know something’s going to come back to haunt them, like that unstable wall in Sam’s head, but hopefully that won’t take center stage like it has in this middle part of the season. The drama has played out well and it’s time to go on. Bring on the civil war among angels, Mother of All and her grand scheme, and whatever demons might be up to lately. I’m ready. So are the Winchesters by the looks of it.
My overall grade for “Mannequin 3: The Reckoning” is a B-. I put it in the filler category. That’s okay, these happen and as long as it didn’t completely piss me off, it remains acceptable. There is some really strong brotherly growth and for that I’m most grateful.