Shy girl’s vengeful ghost
Targets men whose prank killed her.
Dean gets parent-trapped.
Alone, helpless, desperate, and very afraid, Dean tried to revive Sam from the seizure he suffered at the end of Unforgiven, but Sam, although alive, was unresponsive. After a few minutes, he finally gasped and woke up, the image of flames in his eyes fading to simple disorientation. Dean got him to his feet and out to the car, eager to put Bristol behind them.
Meanwhile, in Paterson, New Jersey, a janitor mopping the floor of a chemistry lab at a community college saw his breath in a sudden chill and began to bleed from a cut that appeared mysteriously on his forehead. He was attacked and killed by an anatomy dummy that came bizarrely to life, only to return to immobility after the murder.
Stopping at a roadside catering truck, Dean asked Sam how he felt, and Sam, wincing from a headache, said he felt as if he’d been hit by a planet. Dean offered caffeine, food, and pills, but Sam declined the pills while accepting the coffee. He admitted that, although he’d only been unconscious for a few minutes, it had felt like a week to him. Dean pressed him to admit that the seizure had been Sam getting a face full of memories of Hell, and refused to accept Sam’s attempt to deflect his concern by saying he was fine. Dean insisted Sam take what happened seriously, asking if he realized he could have died, and insisted they leave his memories alone in the hope of avoiding more cracks in the wall in his mind. He advocated Sam doing what he did: shoving his memories down, and letting them emerge only in spurts of violence and alcoholism. For distraction, he asked if Sam was up for a case, and described the janitor’s murder, which the newspaper reported as pretty much a locked room mystery since no one else had been in the school at the time.
At the school posing as FBI agents, Sam dismissed Dean’s concern about smelling sulfur, pointing out they were in a chemistry lab, but he couldn’t explain away the EMF meter reacting when he was near the anatomy dummy. When Dean’s phone rang and he declined the call, Sam correctly guessed it had been Lisa’s number, and asked when Dean was going to talk to her; Dean dodged, and changed the subject when he noticed security cameras on the lab walls. The brothers watched the video footage, hoping for a clue, but the coverage fuzzed out at the critical moment, leaving them with no images of the janitor’s killer. They split up to investigate, and while Dean waited outside the janitor’s girlfriend’s apartment to pick up Sam, he declined to listen to a voicemail message. Sam reported the girlfriend telling him how perfect a guy the janitor had been, while Dean reported finding nothing unusual about the lab building or its grounds.
That night at a clothing factory in Passaic, New Jersey, a night watchman heard odd noises, saw his breath in sudden cold, began bleeding from a cut across his forehead, and was murdered by mannequins.
Investigating, Sam’s EMF meter reacted to a bin of mannequin parts the same way it had to the anatomy dummy in the lab, and he guessed that perhaps a ghost had possessed and animated the dummies. Dean questioned a ghost having jumped county lines to hit both the college and the factory. Checking files and the internet, they found nothing on either victim, but Sam located a news story about a seamstress, Rose, who had vanished from the factory a year before, survived only by her sister Isabel, and Dean bet on the perpetrator being a vengeful spirit. As they were about to leave to question the sister, Dean’s phone rang, and this time, Sam insisted he answer it. Instead of Lisa, however, the caller was Ben, who pleaded for Dean’s help because he said his mom was in trouble, having locked herself in her room and refused to respond to him. Dean promised to call Ben back in five minutes, and Sam persuaded him to respond to Ben’s plea, arguing that he could handle the ghost case for 24 hours while Dean helped Ben and Lisa.
Interviewing Isabel, Sam learned Rose had been shy and socially awkward, but very close to her sister. Isabel said she had defended Rose all her life, but that Rose had done more for her than anyone else ever could. Looking at a photo album, Sam saw a photo from a company party a couple of years earlier, and realized that not only had both sisters worked in the factory, but so had the janitor who’d been murdered at the community college. He called Dean, on the road to Lisa’s, to report that Steve – the college janitor – had quit the clothing factory just after Rose’s disappearance, and then proceeded to interview other employees at the factory. One man, Jonny – a friend to both the victims – aroused Sam’s instant suspicion because of his nervousness at being questioned.
At the Braeden house, Dean rang the bell insistently, only to be surprised when Lisa answered the door, obviously dressed for and looking forward to a date with another man. He realized he’d been deceived by Ben attempting to bring him together with Lisa again to prevent her involvement with another man, and Lisa, understanding the situation, reluctantly invited him in. He asked about her date, and she told him the man was Matt, a doctor. When Dean reacted with snarky jealousy, Lisa asked him if that was how he was going to be, and he backed off. Irritated, she said she’d called him six times, and he responded he’d almost called her back a hundred, telling her, if she wondered whether he cared, that he’d dropped everything to respond when Ben said she was in trouble. She said that didn’t help, and when he asked what she wanted from him, she said she wasn’t asking for anything from him. He told her to ask for something, and they stared at each other, lost for words. When Ben tried to interrupt them, they both told him in unison to go to his room, although Dean softened the snap with a little acknowledging smile.
After Ben left, Lisa told Dean she couldn’t ask for something. She said she knew what she wanted but couldn’t have it, not the way Dean lived. She said when her phone rang, she thought there was a small chance it would be Dean, but a much larger chance it would be Sam calling to tell her Dean was dead. She told him not to apologize, but said she was trying to get over him, and that every time she got to this place where she was okay, Dean would show up at her door, every time she thought she was never going to see him again. She asked him what he wanted of her and Ben, and he couldn’t answer.
At the factory that night, Jonny talked on the phone with another friend, saying he was flipping out because he was being questioned by the feds and because two of his friends were dead. Hanging up, he found himself bleeding from a painless cut across his forehead. As he began to freak out, he found himself confronting a mannequin – and then Sam grabbed him, bundled him into the break room, and salted the windows and doors to protect against ghosts. Having realized Jonny was involved because of his suspicious interview, he told Jonny that Rose was back trying to kill him for being a dick, and demanded the truth. Jonny finally admitted he and his friends at the factory, seeing shy Rose as an easy mark, had planted things in her locker to make her think she had a secret admirer who invited her to his apartment for a romantic dinner. When she arrived, however, she found only a dressed-up mannequin and at least six guys from the factory who ridiculed her for falling for their prank. Steve, the janitor, had grabbed her wrist when she tried to leave, chiding her to take a joke; when she tried to pull free, she lost her balance and fell, striking her head on the corner of a table and dying instantly. Although Jonny initially tried to call 911, Steve persuaded them all they needed to hide her death, and so they buried her in a shallow grave. Sam got the location from Jonny and ordered him to remain inside the salt lines until Sam called to say he was safe. Sam found and dug up the grave and burned the bones, and then called Jonny to tell him it was over.
At Lisa’s, Dean talked with Ben in the boy’s room, gently chiding him for having lied to get Dean to come and telling him that his mother going on a date wasn’t an emergency. Ben objected that it was if it was a third date, and plaintively asked why Dean didn’t just say he was sorry and come home. Dean said he couldn’t, and when Ben asked if he meant “can’t” or “won’t”, Dean admitted it was both. Ben jumped to the conclusion that Dean either hated his mom or was reacting to something Ben had done wrong, and Dean tried to assure him both that he still loved them and that it wasn’t anything Ben had done that had driven him away. He told Ben that just because you loved someone didn’t mean you should hang around to screw up their lives. He said he couldn’t be there, not because he thought something would follow him home, but because he thought his job turned him into somebody who couldn’t sit at their dinner table, and if he stayed, Ben would turn out just like him. Ben asked why he said that as if he was so bad, and Dean answered he wasn’t anyone Ben should aim to be. He apologized, but said that without him around, Ben had a shot at living whatever life he wanted. He told Ben to pick one, or even five, saying that with him, it was just the one road. Ben lashed out by calling him a liar, saying Dean said family was so important, but asking what he called the people who cared for him and loved him even when he was a dick; he challenged Dean to acknowledge he knew he was walking out on his family. As with Lisa, Dean, stunned, had no answer to give.
Driving back through the night to meet Sam, Dean recalled all the memories of turning up at Lisa’s door to be welcomed with every conceivable emotion from surprise to delight to concern to regret, and recalled happy memories of times with Lisa and Ben, now all turned bittersweet and redolent of loss. He kept driving.
In Passaic, Isabel and some of her friends from the factory entered a local bar called McOwen’s just before Jonny, freed by Sam’s call, arrived and went upstairs to his apartment above the bar. Jonny talked to the mannequin he treated as a girlfriend, telling the doll to pack because it was time to leave – and the doll turned to look at him and then killed him. Arriving at Jonny’s apartment to check out the police call, Sam saw the doll sitting on the sofa, and called Dean to tell him the case wasn’t over; that burning the remains hadn’t stopped the ghost, indicating she was tied to something else. Getting Dean’s voicemail, Sam left the message that he was going to talk to Isabel. At Isabel’s apartment the next day, he looked though the scant box of Rose’s belongings, finding nothing. Seeing some chemistry textbooks on the table, Sam asked if Rose was a student and where she went to school, and she reported attending the same community college where the janitor had died. Realizing she had been at the college and at the factory on the days the men had died, he asked if she’d been at McOwen’s bar the previous night. When she said it was the local hangout for everyone who worked at the factory, Sam realized Isabel was the common element, and asked what thing of Rose’s – a ring, a locket, whatever – she always carried with her, insisting there had to be something. Increasingly freaked out by Sam’s agitation and his insistence that she was at the center of the murders even though she hadn’t committed them, Isabel finally realized there was one thing of Rose’s that had become part of her; she told Sam Rose had donated one of her kidneys when Isabel was 16. He promised to tell her what it was all about, but said she had to come with him.
That night, Dean rendezvoused with Sam, who left Isabel waiting in his car. Dean asked what Sam wanted to do about the girl’s haunted kidney, noting they couldn’t exactly burn it since she needed it. Sam argued that they couldn’t leave her walking around with it because the spirit was attached and wouldn’t stop killing, using Isabel to get close to anyone Rose had a grudge against. Dean suggested calling Dr. Robert, the associate of John’s who had killed him to let him contact Death in Appointment In Samarra, to see if he had any non-haunted, black market replacement kidneys; Sam countered with the suggestion they use hoodoo instead to at least buy them some time to figure out a permanent solution. Overhearing just a part of their conversation, Isabel incredulously asked if they were talking about voodoo, and realized they weren’t FBI agents. Before she could take the thought further, however, the Impala’s engine roared to life, and the brothers realized Rose was possessing the car despite Dean’s objection that the car wasn’t a sex doll. As Sam ushered Isabel back to the relative safety of his car, Dean ran from the Impala, eventually – with apologies to the car – suckering it to smash through the front wall of an abandoned store. The car shattered the plate glass window and ground to a halt. Having come closer to watch, Isabel was stabbed in the kidney by a piece of flying glass, and collapsed. As Isabel died, Rose appeared to apologize to her, saying she’d never intended that to happen, and the ghost vanished with the same burst of flame as the brothers had seen when they’d burned a ghost’s bones.
At Bobby’s salvage yard during daylight some time later, Sam brought Dean a beer as Dean worked to repair the damage to the Impala. Dean asked just what they’d done, and Sam agreed he didn’t put it in the win column either. Dean observed they’d saved a few dicks and killed an innocent girl, and observed he had a heartbroken kid and a woman who was too pissed at him for words. He said all they did was make a mess. Sam objected that wasn’t true, saying they did save lives sometimes. Still depressed, Dean said he was just tired of all the bad luck. While Sam noted bad luck was in the job description, he offered that it wasn’t all bad, telling Dean to look at him and saying at least Satan had left the building. When Dean responded half-heartedly in kind, saying it was the little things, Sam pointed out he had a soul because of Dean. Realizing he hadn’t thanked Dean for that, he thanked him then with all sincerity. Still trying to cheer Dean up, Sam told Dean they’d lose some but hopefully win more, and earnestly said he had Dean’s back. With a faint but genuine little smile, Dean finally responded that he knew.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
While the monster-of-the-week story left me distinctly unimpressed, the relationship pieces between Sam and Dean and among Dean, Lisa, and Ben were positively stellar. In this discussion, I look at the foundation and development of Dean’s family relationship with Lisa and Ben, and ruminate about the restoration of the brother dynamic between Dean and Sam.
I Know What I Want, But I Can’t Have It
I’ve loved Dean’s involvement with Lisa and Ben right from the beginning, and never found it forced or unreal. I also hope this isn’t the last we see of them, because they offer something Dean sorely needs: a different view of himself and his role in the world. He sees himself as something broken, damaged, tainted, and dangerous; they see the beauty of his heart and the purity of his need to help others. He needs their mirror, because he’s unable to see those things in himself.
To start this off, let me explain why I accept Lisa and Ben so fully. One major criticism I’ve heard of the Dean/Lisa/Ben storyline was that Dean had never wanted that suburban normal life and hadn’t been in love with Lisa. I know a number of fans argued that Dean’s fixation on Lisa and Ben came out of the blue, that Dean had never expressed any desire for the life he wound up living with them, and particularly that his going to Lisa in 99 Problems seemed totally random.
There’s some logic to that position. After all, who could forget Dean’s dismissive comment in the pilot, asking Sam if he was going to live some normal, apple-pie life, or Dean saying in Bugs, Growing up in a place like this would freak me out. Manicured lawns, “how was your day, honey?”, I’d blow my brains out. … I’d take our family over normal any day. Dean’s horndog, woman-in-every-port nature was also often on display, and we learned as early as Route 666 in season one that he was known famously for one night stands, not for commitment of any kind, and had only tried for commitment once, totally backing away after Cassie shut him down. And when Dean first brought up Lisa at the beginning of The Kids Are Alright, it was only as a particularly memorable sexual adventure, not a love relationship. I don’t question any of that.
I would submit, however, that while his nature prompted Dean always to make the best of his situation, including finding satisfaction in hunting and taking perverse delight in his rootless, footloose existence (remember him extolling the benefits of motel living and absent parents in After School Special?), Dean also always exhibited some ambivalence about his life. It came out only in odd moments when desires he’d shoved down as unattainable or unrealistic emerged, but it was there. For example, remember the shapeshifter in Skin taunting Sam with assertions that Dean resented him because he’d had dreams of his own he’d given up because of John and Sam; Dean telling Sam offhandedly in Devil’s Trap that he’d wanted to be a firefighter; Dean in No Exit, telling Jo, No one in their right mind chooses this life. My Dad started me in this when I was so young … I wish I could do something else.; or Dean confronting himself at the climax of Dream A Little Dream Of Me and lashing out at the life that had made him what he was.
What else Dean might have wanted first showed up most openly, I think, in What Is And What Should Never Be. In his djinn dream of a world where Mary hadn’t died and John had never become a hunter consumed with revenge, Dean was an auto mechanic in a steady, committed relationship with Carmen, an idealized figment of his imagination who tempted him to stay in the dream with the lure of having children and building a family of his own in a world where Sam was happy and safe. And while that dream was far from perfect – Dean would never have chosen to be estranged from Sam – the elements that tempted him to remain all came from his core.
I don’t think anyone would argue against the point that family is at Dean’s very heart. For most of his life, “family” had a very simple definition: it was Sam and John being together with Dean, augmented with memories of Mary. He had no other real-life experience of family and his heart yearned to keep what little he had, so that was the dream he frankly admitted in Shadow. Still, at least after John died, if not before, Dean’s notion of family had clearly expanded to include Bobby, and later also encompassed Ellen and Jo, among others.
I think the truest expansion of his concept of family came in season three, and I believe it came about precisely because he was confronting his own imminent mortality when he came face-to-face with the road not taken and all the dreams he’d given up. Returning to Lisa in The Kids Are Alright in the simple hope of scoring yet another mind-blowing sexual experience before he died and went to Hell, he instead discovered Ben, a kid who might very well have been his son. As he’d done before with other children in Dead In The Water and Something Wicked, Dean forged an immediate bond with Ben, seeing in the boy an echo of himself as well as a shadow of the younger brother he’d basically raised. The changeling threat to Ben and Lisa prompted an instant protective response in Dean, and Dean saving Ben’s life and Lisa’s brought him a surprising and unexpectedly satisfying emotional response from them he had never expected. Looking at Ben, he ruefully admitted to Lisa regretting the boy wasn’t his. Your life, this house, a kid – it’s not my life, never will be. Some stuff happened to me recently, and I – uh, anyway, a guy in my situation, you start to think, you know, I’m gonna be gone one day, and what am I leaving behind besides a car? … You know, just for the record, you’ve got a great kid. I would have been proud to be his dad. When Lisa invited him to stay, at least for a while, the temptation was clearly there, but not the opportunity: I can’t. I got a lot of work to do, and it’s not my life. He already knew his life was coming to an untimely end, and there wasn’t room in it for a woman and child.
But that didn’t mean he didn’t dream wistfully of a different fate, and of having more family to share it with than just Sam and Bobby. And that’s what I think we saw in Dream A Little Dream Of Me, when Dean’s subconscious threw up the image of Lisa inviting him to a romantic tryst before picking Ben up from baseball practice. He denied to Sam ever having had that dream before, but that was obviously a lie. At the same time, I don’t think Dean having that dream suggested Lisa was the love of his life. Instead, I believe it presented an impossible but seductive idealized version of something he hadn’t let himself consciously acknowledge he desired: life with a family of his own, a woman and child who loved and welcomed him. I think the lure of that dream was all the stronger precisely because it incorporated details and people he knew were real into a beautiful but heartbreakingly unattainable picture of family perfection. He knew he’d never have it; he knew he’d be dead in weeks or months at most. But it was something he demonstrably could have had, if things had gone differently, and Lisa and Ben were the only such concrete example in his whole life. He didn’t truly know them as real individuals then, but under the circumstances, it would have been a wonder if they hadn’t made an impression and come to represent all the things he’d fought all his life to save, even if he himself couldn’t have them.
So it wasn’t a stretch to me that the next time he faced the end of his life – planning to surrender to Michael and fully expecting he wouldn’t survive, at least not as himself – he made Lisa and Ben the final stop on his farewell tour at the end of 99 Problems. I believe they were his stand-ins for all the nameless, faceless people for whom he was gearing up to sacrifice himself, and also the stand-ins for Sam and Bobby, the family to whom he truly wanted to say goodbye but couldn’t, because they would have tried and been able to stop him. I think Lisa and Ben were the idealized images of the people he planned to save; they were the family he might have had. They, and Sam, and Bobby, were why he was ultimately willing to die.
When Sam in Swan Song forced Dean to promise to go to them if Sam succeeded in the plan to trap Lucifer again in his cage in Hell, Sam did a wise and compassionate thing. Without someone and something else to live for, I think it’s a safe bet Dean would have died in short order after seeing Sam’s fall, overcome by loss and despair. His promise to Sam sustained him until living with Lisa and Ben began to have its own direct impact, bringing the moments of peace and happiness we saw in his flashback visions and in photographs around the house. He clearly never forgot or surrendered the past – witness his continued drinking, his confessed paranoia, and the empty sadness we saw in his eyes as he lay awake before the alarm in Exile On Main Street – but his new role as father and lover gave him purpose, direction, and more than a little satisfaction. It didn’t make up for losing Sam, and working construction clearly didn’t content him or satisfy his adrenaline addiction the way hunting had, but having Lisa and Ben as his family was obviously balm for his slowly healing heart. For her part, I think Lisa welcomed him back for multiple reasons, including her deep compassion for someone so broken, gratitude for him saving her life and Ben’s, and most of all, the recognition of the instant bond that had formed between Ben and Dean during the changeling case and what that meant for her son’s happiness. I don’t think Lisa truly loved Dean in the beginning, but I’m positive love didn’t take long to grow and is still there. She acknowledged in Exile On Main Street that she’d known what she was letting herself in for when she took him in, and was very up-front about the year spent with Dean being a father figure to Ben having been the best year of her life.
When Sam returned, Dean was clearly torn between the warring desires to hunt with his brother, becoming again the person he was accustomed to being, and somehow to keep the love, trust, and happiness he’d found in living with Lisa and Ben. The absolute truth of that latter desire was established when Dean was compelled to tell the truth in You Can’t Handle The Truth. Cursed by Veritas to be unable to lie or dissemble, he admitted he’d told himself he’d wanted out, wanted a family. When Veritas assumed he’d simply been lying to himself, however, he flat-out told her no: he had wanted it. That was the inescapable truth. With resignation, however, he went on to say he’d realized that what he was good at was slicing throats; he confessed to being a hunter, and in his own mind, that made him unsuitable to be a father. Given his own family history, and especially admitting seeing in himself during Two And A Half Men frighteningly unwelcome echoes of the unstable, driven man John had become, Dean assumed his dream of family was forlorn, something he couldn’t and didn’t deserve to achieve. While it certainly sped things along, I think staking the family relationship may not even have required his ill-advised attempt to say goodbye when he’d been turned into a vampire and believed death was his only option. Even if he hadn’t made that visit, I think he’d eventually have sabotaged his own dream simply by believing himself unworthy. What cemented it as things fell out was Dean not being willing, after the call in which Lisa told him she and Ben couldn’t be part of his life, to find out whether her six later calls possibly held out the hope that she’d changed her mind.
Hearing Lisa say she’d tried to call Dean six times and having Sam know, as soon as Dean declined a call, that it had been from Lisa, caught me by surprise. Unless I’m much mistaken, until this episode, we hadn’t seen Lisa’s number turn up on an incoming call or heard any hint that she’d ever called or left a message since their last disastrous phone conversation in Truth. We’ve seen Dean staring at his phone several times in episodes including All Dogs Go To Heaven and Like A Virgin, obviously contemplating and then deciding against calling her, and soulless Sam even remarked on all the times he’d almost called her in Clap Your Hands If You Believe, but we were never told she had called him again.
I wish we had known, because hearing that she had tried to call changed my understanding of what’s been going on between them dramatically. I thought she hadn’t called him again, sticking by her decision, and that Dean’s own reluctance to initiate a call wasn’t due just to his own feelings of being dangerous and unworthy, but was also rooted largely in his belief he had no right to intrude after she had shut the door, magnified by his conviction she would have slammed it on him again if he’d tried to open it. Knowing now that she had called and he had simply refused to answer changed that dynamic. It told me Dean wasn’t avoiding her because he was afraid he’d be rebuffed and hurt again, but was instead afraid precisely because he thought she might have welcomed him back, when he didn’t believe he deserved to be with them.
Even during their farewell call in Truth, Lisa was clearly taken aback by how harshly she’d characterized his relationship with Sam. She immediately apologized for the brutal way she’d expressed some of the things Veritas’s curse had compelled from her. I find it easy to believe that in the aftermath of that call, she’d reconsidered her conclusion as well and wanted to reopen the door to seeing whether they could make the arrangement they’d agreed on at the end of Two And A Half Men work. Judging from the happy tenor of their call early on in Live Free Or Twi-Hard and Lisa’s expressed impatience then to see him again, the system had been working while they stayed in close touch; I think Lisa’s fear of a call meaning Dean’s death didn’t begin to grow until the calls between them stopped entirely after Dean’s inexplicably frightening nighttime visit, and then stayed silent after she’d told him off in Truth.
It’s true that cops, soldiers, and firemen have some of the highest divorce rates in the nation, with one driver being spouses learning they couldn’t deal with the constant fear of a husband or wife leaving for work in the morning and being reported dead in the afternoon. But I think the ones who learn to deal with it are the ones who keep their lines of communication open, who share their feelings and their moments, and realize sudden death is an option for everyone, not just those who walk deliberately in harm’s way.
So I think, if Dean hadn’t gone totally silent, Lisa’s fear wouldn’t have reached its current proportions and become another rationale for her to decide she needed to get over him and move on with her life. Because the love is still there on both sides, however, fed and supported by Ben, I don’t think Lisa’s fear is insurmountable. I think there could still be hope if they found the will to try, but the real stumbling block is Dean’s own fear of becoming John and screwing up Ben’s and Lisa’s lives in the process. I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to get over that, but I’d like to hope he could. He needs to see in himself what they see in him, because his own inner view is skewed.
For What It’s Worth, I’ve Got Your Back
I loved all the interactions between the brothers in this episode. Dean’s desperation and terror in the beginning brought back instant memories of Sam dying in Dean’s arms at the end of All Hell Breaks Loose Part 1. Sam telling the truth about how bad he felt while simultaneously trying to play down how serious the situation was while Dean refused to let him minimize the danger was perfection, especially with Dean both recognizing and espousing his own coping mechanisms: repression, denial, booze, painkillers, and cathartic violence. They’ve rarely been this frank with each other, and it felt so good.
Sam instantly recognizing Dean’s issues in ducking Lisa’s phone calls and pushing him into answering the phone and dealing with the situation demonstrated a lovely piece of the new balance between the brothers. They traded off on pushing each other to do needful things, displaying an equality in their partnership rather than an echo of their old big brother/little brother dynamic. That’s such a healthy development, it warmed me right up. The two of them staying in touch on the case by phone was another welcome piece of that partnership – they were exchanging ideas and sparking off each other the way they used to, even while apart.
And the last scene just nailed it. Throughout the first three seasons, when one of them was down, the other always tried to bring him up. Sam feared being overwhelmed by his powers and his fate, and Dean promised to stand right there with him and make things right; Dean felt crushed by failure or futility, and Sam promised he was making a difference and it mattered. They know each others’ tropes so well; when they’re on the same wavelength, each provides exactly what the other needs at the very moment he needs it. Neither one could fully carry the other in those extreme moments, but when they’re in tune, each could at least shore the other up enough to keep him on his feet until he could walk on his own again.
That’s what was so painfully missing throughout most of seasons four and five, not to mention the first soulless half of this season. As they each became fixed on their own separate views of their respective missions, they lost touch with being a team, with anticipating and supporting each others’ moves, and it cost them dearly. Knowing they have each other to lean on if they need the support makes each of them stronger, not weaker, because it adds to their confidence in their ability to handle the situation and do the job. Knowing someone has your back makes you better able to concentrate on the challenges ahead and to the sides, and makes it less likely you’ll be distracted or blindsided. For the benefit to be there, though, trust has to be there first, and trust was the first casualty in their relationship. With the return of Sam’s soul and the new honesty and balance between the brothers, the trust is back.
And it’s worth a lot.
This episode felt oddly unfinished to me when I first saw it. There were many things about it that I loved, particularly all the interactions between Sam and Dean and among Dean, Lisa, and Ben, but the monster-of-the-week storyline really didn’t cut it for me. This is still one I’ll rewatch for all the good things, however, so don’t think I marked it as a total failure in my book!
As usual, though, let me get my criticisms out of the way, and I’ll admit this time they’re pretty sharp. All of them concerned the script by Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, the new writers on staff who gave us You Can’t Handle The Truth earlier this season. While the animated mannequins were certainly creepy, I found the MOTW storyline ultimately unsatisfying because it was far too arranged. For example, making Jonny peculiarly enamored of a mannequin girlfriend just so he could conveniently be killed by the ghost in his apartment above the bar strained my normally willing suspension of disbelief. How would his factory friends, who were so quick to make fun of Rose, not have known about and ridiculed him for having a doll girlfriend? That was just silly to me.
The resolution of Rose’s tale is what really irritated me, however, because it felt pointless and lazy. Having Rose’s ghost be linked to the kidney she’d donated to her sister Isabel provided a potentially interesting ethical and tactical dilemma for the Winchesters, but it was wasted before we even had a chance to explore a solution. Rose possessing the Impala to go after Dean, when she’d only ever animated mannequins before and attacked the men who’d humiliated and killed her, stretched the show’s established lore of ghosts following set patterns. The car’s crash killing Isabel through the fluke flight of a random shard of broken storefront window glass and the ghost destroying herself out of regret for the unintended consequence of her actions were both empty and contrived. I was disappointed the brothers never even suggested trying a séance with Isabel to attempt to convince Rose to give over her vengeance, for example. They’d seen other cases where a ghost, rather than being destroyed, had been persuaded successfully to move on: just think of Father Gregory in Houses Of The Holy or Molly in Roadkill. Admittedly, those ghosts hadn’t been specifically vengeful, but they at least demonstrated the potential that ghosts could be approached and influenced with the right leverage, and the extremely close relationship between Rose and Isabel – an obvious echo of the codependency we’ve always seen in the Winchester brothers – might have been an adequate fulcrum, with Isabel’s distress about what Rose was doing, once she learned about it, as the necessary lever. In addition, that might have played up the importance of the human empathy and compassion Sam so recently reacquired by illustrating how they could be used as the solution to a hunt. Instead, I got the sense Charmelo and Snyder had written themselves into a box and used the handy, instant ghost M.O. change accompanied by bizarre coincidences to provide a fast, easy way out, because anything else – such as the séance idea – would have taken too much time to execute and explain in the few minutes left to a 40-minute episode, and wouldn’t have had the visual impact or compelled humor of the action scene of Dean being chased by his possessed car. Even understanding those likely reasons for the choice just didn’t make the solution work for me. And the cheap sense that the sisters’ interdependency might have been intended as a parallel and caution to the Winchester brothers against blinding themselves to the consequences of saving each other – since Rose having saved Isabel by donating a kidney led later on to Isabel accidentally dying because of Rose’s actions – didn’t work for me either.
The other thing I didn’t like was the story cutting away from Dean both times he was asked to realize and confront a truth head-on, first when Lisa asked him what he wanted from her and Ben, and second when Ben challenged him to acknowledge he was abandoning his family. We saw the impact of the words on Dean when they were spoken, but both times, we were denied his response. What he said next to each of them was left to our imaginations, and I didn’t want it to be; I felt it was something vital for us to know. We were left to infer his farewells just from seeing him in the car driving away, painfully reliving all his now only bittersweet memories of having been with them. That broke my heart, but also left me feeling cheated. It was also one of the rare times where an original musical cue in the show didn’t work for me; Jay Gruska’s piece under the montage of Dean’s memories simply didn’t have the feel or the power of the themes he’d created before to capture Dean’s love for or loss of family. I can understand using a different theme than the one associated with the three Winchester men, but the melody he came up with here didn’t seem to fit the show’s overall musical vibe.
The things Charmelo and Snyder definitely got right, however, were the reestablished connection between Sam and Dean and the scenes we did get among Dean, Lisa, and Ben. I loved the brothers’ discussion in the aftermath of Sam’s seizure, with Dean refusing to be put off or to allow Sam to minimize what had happened. I loved Sam pushing back to make Dean answer his phone and then go off to deal with Lisa and Ben, and I loved Sam and Dean staying in close touch by phone as Sam worked the case alone. And finally, I loved Sam at the end trying to encourage Dean by emphasizing the bright side, promising that what they did was worth what they gave up to do it, and saying honestly and with feeling that he had Dean’s back, and Dean acknowledging and appreciating that. That real emotional support, so commonly handed back and forth between the brothers during the first three seasons, has been missing far too long, and it’s a joy to have it back where it belongs with the sense it’s here to stay, rather than just being an isolated flash.
This was the first Supernatural episode by director Jeannot Szwarc, but he has a distinguished TV resume extending back to 1968. Shows I actually remember him from include It Takes A Thief, Alias Smith And Jones, Kojak, The Twilight Zone, JAG, Heroes, Smallville (including three episodes from the season Jensen Ackles spent on the show), Bones, and Fringe. I really enjoyed the way he shot the mannequins to emphasize their presence and heighten their creepiness, and how he covered the passage of time across Sam’s interviews in the factory. The blocking of the two-shots featuring Dean with Lisa and Dean with Ben, with the characters side by side but carefully not touching at all as they talked, brought home both the closeness and the gulfs between them, adding to the heartache of the scenes.
We did get a little rock in this episode, but this was one time the choice pushed the wrong button for me. While Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” fit the insipidity of Jonny with his mannequin girlfriend, it felt scathingly trite to be following what happened between Dean, Lisa, and Ben. But that’s just me. It still stays on my Supernatural master playlist; just not quite so close to Dean’s pain.
Jensen Ackles brought the funny interacting with the mannequins and fleeing from his possessed car (and yes, considering his relationship with his car, it’s the closest thing to a sex doll for Dean!), but the best parts of his performance in my eyes were his serious scenes with Lisa, Ben, and Sam. He brings a depth of feeling that makes my heart ache for Dean even as I want to shake him. It was great to see Jared Padalecki’s Sam fully back on form, focused and intense on the case, but compassionate with Isabel and supportive and honest with Dean. Watching Sam trying to cheer Dean up at the end warmed my heart after the chill of the first half of the season. While it was a little overly convenient that the crack in Sam’s memory wall apparently scabbed over on its own, and I have to wonder how often more fissures are going to open, dropping Sam to the floor – hopefully not too often, or it will lose its punch – I appreciated Jared’s take on Sam in the aftermath, first being disoriented and then, while honestly admitting his discomfort, still trying to downplay it. I love the way Sam is making the effort to walk the line of being himself and standing on his own while also giving Dean the honesty he needs to feel comfortable having his brother back again.
I know many fans would not agree with me on this, and that’s fine, but I really hope we haven’t seen the last of Cindy Sampson as Lisa and Nicholas Elia as Ben. These aren’t simple characters; they have depth and scope and they’ve grown since we first met them. I continue to enjoy what they bring to the table and bring out in Dean. I loved Dean’s realization of Ben’s ploy and Lisa’s instant understanding of the parent trap, and I adored the way they simultaneously told Ben to go to his room. Oh, yes: these people lived together for a year and forged a family in the process. And I’m certain this reflects my own bias, but I’d love to see them genuinely try to make a hunter’s family work as a family, rather than the cold military unit we’ve seen from the contemporary Campbells. And I want to see Dean learn from Ellen’s example with Jo that trying to stifle a child’s interest in being like Dad is apt to blow up in a parent’s face; better to approach Ben with understanding than automatic rejection.
I hope we get the chance to see that happen.
The animated icon by this is by hellybongo . Thanks!
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