In typical "Supernatural" fashion, the playful "LARP and the Real Girl" was a tonal 180 from the emotionally fraught events of "Torn and Frayed" -- which is liable to give anyone marathoning the show emotional whiplash at a later date, but probably comes as a relief for those of us who are still reeling from last week's intense installent.
At the top of the hour, the show acknowledged that Sam and Dean have both been through the wringer the past few weeks, with Dean expressing his desire to have a night off and see a movie or hit a bar; playing at normalcy the way the Winchesters can tragically only ever accomplish in small doses. Thankfully for Dean, their latest case unexpectedly managed to combine work and play, as the brothers investigated the whimsical world of Live Action Role-Playing.
Also in typical "Supernatural" fashion, neither brother seemed particularly eager to talk out their feelings (at least not with each other, although it was implied that Dean indeed gave Charlie the "wiki" on what they'd been up to since they last saw her), which meant a lot of distracting themselves with the job. It illustrated that when Sam's head is in the game, he's a darn good hunter, and proved Dean's earlier point that Sam needed to be all in or all out in order to be reliable.
Although the brothers clearly have plenty of issues still to work out, this was the first episode all season (and arguably in the last three seasons) where we got to see Sam and Dean letting loose and having fun. Hell, I might even go so far as to say that they actually seemed to be enjoying each other's company. While that's a tragic indictment of how far they've fallen, it's also realistic and surprisingly poignant, given all these two have suffered. These two have been through so much, apart and together and as a result of each other, that it's nice to see them both slowly fumbling their way back towards that brotherly bond that made episodes like "Hell House" (remember that?) so enjoyable.
While Sam initially seemed stuck in brood mode at the beginning of the episode, it was a relief to see him stop focusing on his own loss and realizing that Dean was in desperate need of a change too -- finally agreeing that having a little fun would do them both good and allowing for the hilariously insane scene at the end of the episode which saw Dean gloriously recreating Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" speech.
As Castiel pointed out earlier this season, Dean is the kind of guy who takes the burdens of the world on his shoulders, whether they're his to bear or not, so I don't blame him for feeling drawn to the escapism inherent in being a LARPer. Once again, Jensen Ackles did a spectacular job with the episode's comedic elements, from his enthusiasm for playing dress-up to his enviable skill at advising Charlie about where best to place her fictional army. That boyish enthusiasm is one of Dean's most charming traits, and despite the boys' bemusement about LARPing initially, it was fantastic to see both brothers embracing the hobby without judgment by the end of the episode.
I've seen a few people on Twitter complaining that Charlie's observation, "So, [Sam] found some normalcy with this chick, and now it's gone again, thanks to you," was the show's way of blaming Dean for Sam's decision about Amelia, which wasn't what I got out of that exchange at all (although I can understand the interpretation).
To me, given that the only thing Charlie knows about the events of the past few months is whatever Dean told her in this episode (conveniently off-screen), our infuriatingly self-loathing hero probably painted himself as the villain of the piece, despite the fact that Dean actually did the mature thing in "Torn and Frayed" and offered Sam a guilt-free escape route, allowing him to make his own decision about his future with Amelia and resolving to support him either way. For someone who has historically proven himself to be terrified of living and hunting on his own, that was a pretty huge step for the elder Winchester.
Still, even though Dean's penchant for taking responsibility for things that aren't his fault is another indication of his terminally low self-esteem, he was pretty zen about pointing out that Sam's break-up was an inevitability. While he did admit that sending Sam a phantom text from Amelia was a dick move, he didn't admit that Sam ditching Amelia was wrong (or that he was wrong for encouraging it a few weeks ago), only saying, "trust me, this life ... you can't afford attachments, you've got to let go."
Charlie clearly didn't make Dean feel ashamed or victimized in that exchange, which was a refreshing change for the show, especially compared to Seasons 6 and 7, when Dean's depression was mocked or minimized by everyone from Bobby to Frank, even when the guy was arguably a suicidal alcoholic. Charlie and Dean's relationship seems to be one of true equality, with her unafraid to speak her mind and him able to hear her wisdom without feeling defensive. This was later emphasized when Dean returned the favor for Charlie, insisting that she was a hero in the outside world for helping them to take down Dick Roman, and that she had no reason to disappear into LARPing to find a sense of purpose.
Our tech guru is also not a very reliable person to talk to about normalcy -- she clearly feels bitter about the fact that her introduction to Sam and Dean ruined her comfortable life and forced her underground and into a new identity at the end of last season, so it's logical that she would chide Dean for "ruining" Sam's chance at a normal life (even though we all know that such a life is completely impossible for either of the Winchesters or Charlie, knowing what they know), which is probably another reason why Dean didn't seem offended by the accusation. We also don't know how Sam would've reacted to Charlie's words had he been in the tent -- or whether he actually blames Dean for the end of his relationship with Amelia (which he shouldn't, since Sam made the choice of his own free will and, oh yeah, she's married).
I'd like to give Sam the benefit of the doubt on this one and think that he would've agreed with Dean in that moment, especially since it seemed like both brothers were actually trying to be sensitive to what the other was going through in this episode, at last.
Charlie also perceptively noticed that Dean was quietly dealing with his own loss (which Dean shrugged off) asking him whether he had suffered his own break-up recently. Obviously, Benny wasn't dating Dean and their split has now robbed Dean of his only chance for a picket fence or a rescue dog, but living through a warzone with someone and becoming a literal blood brother with them is no small thing either. Dean is also entitled to mourn for losing that relationship, even if he seems determined to keep it quiet and not let Sam know that he even cut ties with Benny. I also wonder how much of that moment had to do with Dean's worries about potentially losing Castiel again, given that the Winchesters now suspect that the angel has been compromised and Dean spent the first few episodes of the season angsting over abandoning him in Purgatory. Either way, a lot of fascinating character dynamics to ruminate on in that scene.
While Sam still seems to be pretty guarded (and once again internalizing his feelings about Amelia), the episode did show him beginning to relax more than we've seen from him thus far this season. In a lot of ways, Sam and Dean really don't seem to know how to be around each other anymore, after their long periods of separation due to Hell, Purgatory, Sam's soullessness and his hellucinations -- we've hardly seen Sam and Dean being Sam and Dean since Season 3. Despite their tentativeness with each other, this episode seemed to show Sam starting to unclench, and actually seeing him let loose along with Dean at the end of the episode was a welcome change. Dean asking Sam whether he still remembered what "fun" was seemed to be a pretty valid question, since the younger Winchester has hardly cracked a smile in the present-day all season.
Both brothers obviously have a long way to go before all the damage of the past few years is repaired, but "LARP and the Real Girl" seemed to be the first step on the road to recovery, proving that the Winchesters truly can enjoy each other's company and just be brothers again, if they try.
The other highlight of the episode was the return of Felicia Day as Charlie -- undoubtedly one of the show's best ever creations, and one who offers a wholly unique dynamic compared to any of the random hunters that the series periodically introduces. Much like Castiel, Benny, Kevin and even Garth now that the writers have found a niche for him, Charlie allows us to view the brothers in a new way, and as a lesbian, can interact with both brothers without the specter of sexual tension looming.
There are disappointingly few characters on primetime broadcast shows that unabashedly embrace their sexuality while simultaneously refusing to be defined by it -- Max on "Happy Endings" and Anne on "Go On" are the only two that immediately spring to mind -- so it's fabulous to see "Supernatural" utilizing a character whose sexuality is treated as a non-issue, just as a heterosexual character's would be.
It's sad that the realistic treatment of LGBT sexuality is still rare enough to merit special notice, but until there's more equality in the representation of queer characters, "Supernatural," Felicia Day and writer Robbie Thompson deserve commendation for their portrayal. Charlie is just as much of a flirt as Dean, and her brief fling with the fairy wasn't filmed to objectify the actresses or titillate the audience, which is especially rare in the representation of lesbians in the media. Fingers crossed that this kind of writing will become mainstream enough that we no longer have to single shows out for good behavior, but until then, kudos to the team for making it happen.
There were so many hilarious lines that it was hard to single any out, although "these kids today, with their texting and murder..." was probably a favorite, along with Dean and Charlie's identical reaction to Belladonna -- alas, the poison, not the porn star. The boys' reaction to learning that their FBI badges were no longer accurate fakes was also hilarious, and Thompson's episodes are always deliciously stuffed with pop-culture references for eagle-eyed viewers, so I'm looking forward to hearing your favorites in the comments.
Overall, "LARP and the Real Girl" was just what "Supernatural" needed after "Torn and Frayed," both as a palate cleanser for the fans after a particularly heavy episode, and from a character perspective as Sam and Dean work to regain their footing with each other. It proved to the characters -- and the audience -- that they're still capable of having fun, and that's especially important after 10 episodes of discord and miscommunication. And from what I saw on set for next week's episode, things are only going to get more epic from here.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.
What did you think of "LARP and the Real Girl"? Were you glad to see Charlie again? Weigh in below!